"And then we continued blissfully into this small but perfect piece of our forever." - Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Chapter 1

January 1st, 2007

I watched as the first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon. Technically, the new year had started hours ago, but this felt like the real beginning. Maybe I should have considered the Volturi's departure yesterday a new beginning of sorts, but it didn't feel like one. Don't get me wrong, I was just as relieved as everyone else to not have fought and died. A huge part of me hadn't expected to make it to 2007, which had put me into an odd sort of existential mood.

It didn't help that I'd rung in the year with sixteen rowdy guys, three lovestruck imprints (technically four, I suppose, but Claire was out by eight), and my mom and her new-ish boyfriend who I'd known my entire life. I wasn't feeling so great about this year's prospects. Dying would have been the easier route, but fate had proved it hated me.

I hated how negative I felt about it all. I wanted to be more positive, not that anyone believed me, but I couldn't no matter how hard I tried. Who wanted to be known as a bitch? But I was quite literally a bitch. I was in a fucking pack of wolves. The only bright side was that pack no longer included my ex-boyfriend.

Jake defying Sam was the highlight of my 2006. Or, rather, escaping my ex-boyfriend was the highlight of my 2006. I didn't have an enviable year.


I startled a bit even though I shouldn't have been snuck up on. I'd had my defenses down, not expecting anyone to be out here this early on New Year's Day. I turned to scowl at Embry as he sat down beside me. You'd think he'd realize that I wanted to be alone.

"Have you slept at all?" he asked.

I shook my head, turning back towards the sun.

"Who sleeps on New Year's?"

"Everyone eventually. I'm pretty sure we're the only two still awake."

"More than half of the pack is under fifteen. Of course they've all went to sleep."

Embry smiled. "Quil was the first one out."

I shrugged, forcing myself to appear amused.

"Quil might as well be five. That's why Fate gave him a three-year-old as an imprint."

"Honestly, I have to agree with you."

He said it like I should be surprised, but we all knew I spoke the truth the majority of the time. It's just that it was all comments others were too nice to say out loud. Even Paul most of the time. I had lost all patience with false pretenses.

"It would've been nice if Jake could have stopped talking about bringing Nessie to La Push for the first time tomorrow," I said.

If he was going to stay, we might as well talk. Embry adjusted the way he was sitting to be more comfortable on the hard, cold ground.

"Let him be excited. It'll be the first time she's been here, and you know how they all get about their imprints."

"It's pathetic."

Embry didn't respond, but I knew he agreed and didn't want to say so. It was another instance of me telling the truth that no one else would admit.

"Why are you out here, Leah?"

I wrinkled my nose at his question, especially the use of my name. Embry did that a lot. Insert my name into his sentences more than was normal in most conversations. It was weird.

"Isn't the new year a time for introspection?"

"Not out on a cliff before dawn."

"I think a cliff overlooking the vast, wide ocean is the perfect spot for it."

"It was pitch black not half an hour ago. The ocean wouldn't have been visible to humans."

"But I'm not a human, am I? You and I both know I could see it just fine."

I could also sense him pouting beside me without having to look at him.

"You know you're not the only one who feels like shit going into the new year, right?"

"Do regale me about your terrible misery, Embry. I'll enjoy it so much."

He ignored my sarcasm as he continued to speak.

"Most of us phased this past year, including me. And you may tack on all the shit with Sam to your year, but I found out the three prime candidates for my father, and none of them are exactly ideal."

"There was an ideal candidate before?"

"Anyone who isn't the father of one of my best friends."

"So, we're rooting for Joshua Uley then? I'll go for it. Anything to upset Sam."

He made a noise of frustration that caused me to smile for the first time in the new year.

"Although," I continued. "We might as well start saying it was Sam's dad. He was complete shit anyway. Like father, like son. It wasn't Quil's dad, and it sure as hell wasn't Billy. We all know that even if we can't prove it."

It was the closest to nice I'd ever come when discussing Embry's father. It was Embry's weakest point, and I didn't want to stop using it. I chanced a glance at him to see him staring out over the water, same moody look that he always got when thinking about his father.

And there was that stupid sympathy that I only ever felt for Embry, Jake, or Seth these days. When it came to my little brother, it was fine, but I really needed to get away from the pack. They were ruining my walls.

"You were saying about the hard year?" I prompted, pulling him back to the present.

Not as eager to share his thoughts anymore, Embry shrugged.

"Just that we all fought the newborn army, and the other day we were all prepared to fight again. Not to mention I had to deal with one of my best friends running off into the wilderness for months while you mocked us for being worried when we could still hear him in our heads."

We both knew I'd been as worried about Jacob as anyone else had, but I was thankful he was pretending he'd believed my comments.

"Okay, okay," I gave in. "We both had a terrible year. Yay for us. So what? Does that mean I shouldn't be allowed to wallow in my misery? Sorry I can't get into whatever optimistic 'it's a new beginning' mood you're looking for."

"That's not what I'm saying at all." He sighed. "It's just that you've been in this same mood for more than a year now. Doesn't it get tiring?"

"I turn into a giant wolf, Embry, and until a few months ago, I had to be in my ex's head all the goddamn time. That's what's tiring."

"But you're not anymore. Isn't that as good a reason as any to try to make 2007 better?"

The sun finally broke free from the horizon as I chewed on the inside of her cheek, breaking the skin and feeling it immediately heal over. It was always a constant reminder of how much of a freak I was.

"Sam and Emily's wedding is this year," I said after a few moments of silence. It's not like I was admitting anything Embry didn't know, but I still knew my cheeks had gained a bit of color.

Embry didn't say anything for a while, allowing us to sit in silence as the sun continued to rise. After a while, he stood up. Before moving to go back into the forest, he looked down at me.

"Maybe that's an even better reason to try and make this year better."

He was gone before I could respond. The stupidest part was he was right. Sam and Emily being married was the biggest push I could get to actually get on with my life. But how could I do that when I was stuck being a fucking shapeshifter in La Push? There was no escape for me.

There weren't any guys either. La Push didn't exactly have an endless supply of them, and of the few that hadn't become one of my pack brothers, most of them had been scared away. If my ex becoming the head of some creepy gang that no one could figure out wasn't enough to keep them away, my constant bitter attitude definitely had.

I'd done all of the pathetic things I could think of to make it better, and I'd read countless advice on how you had to date again before you could really move on from a failed relationship. But my options were completely nonexistent, so how could I ever move on? It was just part of the giant disaster that had become my life.

I caught the movement in the trees this time before Seth came out of the forest. I rolled my eyes. No one in either pack had any concept of privacy. Probably because they knew each other's thoughts. They couldn't just let me have one morning to myself.

"What do you want, Seth?"

He shrugged as he sat down in the spot Embry had vacated.

"Mom woke up and saw you weren't home. She's not freaking out or anything, but she was a bit worried, so I came to look for you. I came across Embry, and he told me you were here. I probably would have wound up here on my own anyway though."

"Has it occurred to anyone that I'm here alone for a reason?"

"Obviously. But you do this all the time, and you never actually want to be alone. If you did, you'd go to your room and lock the door."

I scoffed. It wasn't like I had given it that much consideration. I'd just wanted to see the sunrise. Why did that have to be an invitation for interaction?

"I do have something to tell you though," Seth continued.

I glanced over to let him know I was listening.

"The Cullens' guests all left. Some of them had to be escorted across tribal lands by some of the pack. They're all gone."

I nodded. "I heard some of the noise. I figured that's what was happening."

Seth sighed. "I just wanted to let you know." He stood up but continued speaking to me just as Embry had. "That's one huge scare over, Leah. Maybe focus on that instead of all the bad stuff?"

He ambled towards the forest shouting something about how great 2007 would be. I allowed myself a small smile at his antics.

It was officially daytime now. The color in the sky was fading into its usual blue. I didn't feel like I'd really gotten to see the first sunrise of the year. I sighed and laid my head on my knees, which I'd pulled up to my chest.

"Please let this be a good year," I muttered, closing my eyes.

I thought of all the horrible things that had happened over the past year. My father's death was the one that stood out the most. Neither Embry nor Seth had dared to mention that, although it was inextricably tied up with my phasing. At the time, I hadn't thought I would ever have a worse day than the one where Sam broke up with me, but that had been proven wrong.

The past year had been the worst of my life, but no matter how much I hated to admit it, maybe I was just a tad bit optimistic about the next one.

It would be ruined within the first month.

January 7th, 2007

I dreaded pack meetings. They reminded me far too much of the few Girl Scout meetings Mom had forced me to before I wormed my way out of it. Except the small elementary school girls were replaced with giant teenage boys who turned into wolves, the overbearing mothers had been reduced down to Emily, and instead of counting badges or cookie sales they counted vampire kills. It was all the same thing really.

The only good part of these things was that Emily's food was unfortunately decent, and usually I could get a few jabs in at a majority of the guys.

I had thought I was finished with these particular pack meetings when the pack split in two, but the Volturi had forced the two packs to work so closely together that we might as well have stayed one. Well, other than there being two alphas and the fact that we still couldn't hear each other's thoughts except through Sam and Jacob.

I had been holding out hope that the Volturi leaving meant I would no longer have to go to these things, but it wasn't even a week later and Jacob had forced me to Sam and Emily's for another one.

"He just wants to go over everything that happened," Seth explained unnecessarily as we approached Sam and Emily's house together.

"We're all aware of what happened. We were there."

"Yeah, but you have to regroup after these things, you know?"

I didn't know. And I was pretty sure there was no shapeshifter manual that everyone else was going off of either. I stayed quiet as Seth continued.

"And I think they want to figure out how having two packs is going to work now that things are normal." I snorted at the word normal. We couldn't be "normal" anymore. "Like, who's going to patrol when and all of that."

"Why do we need to be there for that? Sam and Jake are the alphas. Let them deal with it."

"We both know you'd complain if you didn't get a say in it."

I shrugged. There were ways I could have a say in it without attending a crappy meeting.

The guys were already there. The promise of food was the only way to get them all in one place on time, and everyone was eating when Seth and I entered. The growth in our population since September meant that every seat was already taken. I sat down on the floor with no complaints. It allowed me to blend into the corner and be left alone like I wanted.

Seth, on the other hand, got right into the midst of the chaos, going for some food and messing around with the guys.

When she offered me a small smile, Emily was the only one to acknowledge I had come in. I ignored her and focused on Seth instead to have somewhere to look. The best part of the guys' ferocious appetites was that they finished eating in record time, leaving less time for me to sit around waiting for something to happen.

Sam and Jacob both stood once they had finished, not waiting on the others. It was weird to see them side-by-side and working together instead of as antagonists. They looked like brothers again even though they had permanently split the pack in half. I hated everything.

Jake hadn't settled into his role as leader yet even though it had been three months since he accepted his role as alpha. He was more than happy to let Sam steer the meeting. It made me feel like Jacob had never stopped being the beta of the pack. He wasn't acting like an alpha anymore. It irked me.

I was going to have to work on that. Maybe if I got Jake to take everything on and rely on Sam less, he'd be less inclined to make us have meetings with Sam's pack.

I only half listened as Sam spoke.

"Jake and I discussed earlier what we're going to do about patrols. The youngest will be taking fewer, and we're managing it by age. Those still in high school will take a bit more, but we're taking school into account for everyone."

Sam and I were the only two no longer in high school. I didn't like where this was going.

"That means Leah and I will have the most patrols."

I scowled as the majority of the room glanced my way, showing they were, in fact, aware of my presence. The older guys snickered while the younger ones, all somewhere between ten and thirteen, forced their eyes to flicker away quickly as they were scared of my wrath. Sam continued on like he hadn't noticed any of it even though he had superhuman senses.

"We're putting members of the same pack on patrol together as much as we can, but sometimes you'll be with a member of the other pack. We've decided you'll meet up here first whenever that happens so you can figure out who's patrolling where. Only being able to communicate through howling may be a disadvantage, but it shouldn't be detrimental."

I bit at the inside of my cheek. More reasons for me to have to come to this stupid house. I was never going to escape. La Push had become my own personal hell, and there was no hope of getting out.

The meeting didn't last much longer. The guys had short attention spans individually, and it only multiplied when you put them all together. Plus, Jared desperately needed to see Kim for whatever reason (it was probably stupid), and of course Sam would be super supportive of that.

Seth had wandered off somewhere with Collin, Brady, and Ethan. They were the wolves closest to him in age, but they were all in Sam's pack. They'd taken to forming a little group of sorts over the past months.

I was all set to walk home alone when my alpha who couldn't act like an alpha and his doofus best friends showed up beside me.

A week into the new year and all of my hopeful wishing had already been for naught.

"You don't have to glare at us as if we've come to torment you," Quil said, arms up in defence. "We're walking home just like you are."

I rolled my eyes. It was only half true. They all did live in this direction, but all the members of Jake's pack had been pushing themselves into my presence since we became our own pack. I couldn't prove it, but I suspected that Jacob had said something to them that made them fear me less. It kind of made me want to punch him in the face, but I was pretty sure there were magical shapeshifter rules that prevented me from doing so.

The fortunate part was that all of their houses came before mine, and there was no way they would walk all of the way there with me. I would still get a bit of a peaceful walk home.

They messed around in that stereotypical teenage way. Even I was slightly amused at their antics. I hated to admit it, but things had slowly been becoming this way even before the split. As cheesy as it sounded, the pack did have a certain type of bond that was new to me, and that had only grown stronger since the split for those of us in Jake's pack.

I was working on all of them not knowing that though, so I kept my eyes in the distance as we walked, walking far enough in front of the boys that they couldn't make out that my scowl wasn't as strong as usual.

"School in a week," Jake commented as we got closer and closer to his house. He would be the first of us to split off.

"How could we forget?" Embry remarked in feigned annoyance. "You and Sam had to go and remind us tonight."

"Sam did the reminding," Jake pointed out. "I'd happily skip class and patrol all day if I could."

"Haven't you burnt out the living as a wolf thing?" I asked. "After two months straight of it, has to be nice whenever you're human again."

"How could you get tired of being a wolf?" Quil asked. "I still don't get why you complain about our powers all the time, Leah. Phasing was the best thing that ever happened to me."

"You say that because you got your two co-dependents back thanks to it. For the rest of us normals, it isn't as great."

I glanced back to see Quil's smirk right before his remark.

"You can't really call yourself a normal, Miss Wolf."

I wrinkled my nose and made a noise of disgust, causing Quil to laugh behind me.

"I'll see you guys later," Jacob announced as we reached his turn.

I even stopped for a minute to wave goodbye with Embry and Quil. I hated that I was becoming like this. They were four years younger than me for fuck's sake. I would have died before being seen with them before my life turned to shit. Back when I actually had a reputation worth caring about. Now everyone on the rez expected to see me with them. Pathetic.

I'd become even softer around the youngest wolves. In my defense, Robbie and Warren were only ten, and as much as phasing sucked for all of us, I felt the most sympathy for the youngest. They were also the quickest to bounce back from it, so maybe that sympathy was misplaced.

I felt the most sympathy for Al though. I think we all did. Or at least those of us in Jake's pack who could read his mind. He hadn't learned how to hide his thoughts before we found out his secrets, and as he was still in the process of figuring it out, he still slipped up a lot. I was surprised by how gently Jake, Embry, and Quil treated it. No one ever bothered Al, and even as we all started picking up on the same sort of thoughts from Seth and Robbie, it became an unspoken pack rule that no one would talk about it until they did.

I think it was bringing us closer together.

Embry and Quil had grown quieter since Jake left us, allowing me to get lost in my own thoughts. I was startled when Embry spoke again.

"So, Jake's birthday is a week from today," Embry said.

Quil and I nodded. It had been easy to push everything out of our minds in the time leading up to the supposed showdown with the Volturi, and it was difficult to bring any semblance of normalcy back now.

"Rachel's texted me at least five times about it," I said. "Trust me, I'm not going to forget."

"Right." Embry nodded. "But have either of you bought him a present yet because I haven't."

"Nope," Quil said matter-of-factly. "I'm completely broke, and I'm too busy being a wolf to get a job, 'specially once school starts."

Embry and I voiced our agreement.

"So, what about a pack-wide gift then?" Embry asked. "We should be able to pull something together with the seven of us, right?"

I raised my eyebrow at him. "You're thinking to mention this just a week before his birthday?"

Embry smiled at me. "You'll ask Seth then, Leah. And whichever of us sees the kids first will tell them. If they don't have anything to contribute, we'll go ahead and put their names on it anyway."

I frowned, biting the inside of my cheek. It was such a family thing to add the names of someone who hadn't given money towards a present.

"Any ideas what we'll get him then?" Quil asked.

Embry shook his head. "None. We should just go shopping wherever and see what we find."

"This is sure to be the greatest present he's ever gotten," I muttered. Embry and Quil both snickered.

"Friday then?" Quil asked as he prepared to go his own way.

"Yeah, sure," Embry confirmed. He continued on to me as we walked, "You can come if you want or you can not. It's whatever you want to do."

I nodded, and the two of us continued to walk in silence. I liked this about Embry. Despite the fact that he jammed himself into my life just like the others, he was more likely to allow me to go into my own thoughts without pestering me like the others did. I appreciated it.

In fact, he didn't say anything until we reached his house, and even then it was just to say goodnight. Not that it was that important or anything, but Embry was the least annoying member of the pack.

January 14th, 2007

Unsurprisingly, I hadn't gone to parties since Sam and I broke up. I hadn't even been that into parties before that, but I did have some semblance of a social life that had disappeared after the break up. I think any sort of pack gathering could be as crazy as any high school party, but it was a bit different when it was the same group of people every time and there was no alcohol or hooking up involved.

Jake's birthday wasn't that different. They weren't even calling it a party, just a get-together. Rachel had put herself in charge of the whole thing, which was odd for her. I thought she had to have some sort of motive behind it, but I couldn't find one other than wanting to do something nice for her brother after being gone for so long. Anyway, she thought calling it a party put too much pressure on her as the planner or something, so they weren't using that term.

And it wasn't going to be all that eventful. The only humans that would be there were the imprints, Billy, Charlie, and my mom. Everyone else was either a wolf or a bloodsucker. Yep. Jake had specifically asked his sister to invite Bella Swan. Cullen. Whatever she was going by these days. And Edward Cullen.

He hadn't even bothered to play it off as not being able to invite his imprint without inviting her parents. He'd just invited them. Bella wasn't surprising in the slightest obviously, but I was a bit thrown off by Edward coming along, I'll admit. It felt like pretty soon the entire Cullen Clan would be on the reservation. I knew Sam didn't like it. That was the only reason I was getting enjoyment out of it.

What I didn't get enjoyment out of was the fact that my alpha was entangling himself so neatly into a family of vampires. It was shit that fate had decided he needed a half-vampire imprint, but did he have to be so happy about it? Not even six months ago he'd been ready to rip Edward limb from limb and now he was all buddy-buddy with his future father-in-law. If I'd ever needed more confirmation that fate and imprinting were stupid, this was it.

I could smell their stench a mile away from Jake's house. Even with just the two leeches and Nessie, it was potent. Almost the entire party would be dealing with unpleasant smells the entire time. Why was I going?

I hadn't gone with the others to get the present. I was the only one from Jake's pack, other than Jake, who didn't, although I knew exactly what they'd gotten from Seth. They'd stopped in exactly one store and gotten the first thing they saw because they hated shopping. I rolled my eyes even though no one was around to see it.

As usual, everyone else was already there when I arrived. I headed straight onto the porch, even though most of the guys were a bit away from the house trying to air out their noses. I ignored the smell, regrettably used to it after my time spent protecting the Cullens. Rachel was talking to Billy when I found them. Emily was nearby with Kim, and she tried to say hello when she saw me. I ignored her, trying to make it seem like I hadn't noticed her presence even though no one here would believe it.

Rachel smirked at me when she saw. She was the closest thing I had to a best friend. I would have preferred it if she hadn't become close to Emily too since becoming an imprint, but I had to deal with it. All of the imprints had some weird bond. Even Nessie was being pulled into it now as she played some type of pseudo-tag with Claire out in the front yard. It had been a bit amusing to watch Nessie purposefully run at Claire's speed in an attempt to make things fair.

I sat down next to Rachel on the porch steps. She was watching Nessie and Claire with a strange look on her face.

"Your future sister-in-law has a heart of gold, doesn't she?" I quipped.

Rachel's nose wrinkled. "Stop calling her that. She's four months old."

"And looks like she could be sent off to preschool," I muttered. "Besides, she is your future sister-in-law. There's no way of getting around that. Blame fate and imprinting for that. Not me."

Rachel shook her head, face contemplative. "I'm not angry." She glanced at me with a small smile. "I know you think the worst of imprinting, but I don't. I trust it. I know that Nessie is who Jacob should be with once she's old enough." She looked back at the girls, her more serious face returning. "I just can't think about it when either one of them are so little."

"If it helps, I've been in Jake and Quil's heads, and most of the time I don't think they remember there's ever supposed to be something romantic between them and the girls. It's as platonic as it can get."

"I know that, but it's not going to make it any less weirder when it stops being platonic."

I shrugged. I'd given this more thought than I'd like to admit thanks to being inside both Quil's and Jake's heads.

"We don't know how it'll happen though. I think the biggest thing I've learned since phasing is that imprinting is weird. They'll probably have some magical way of making falling in love with girls they've known since they were babies not weird."

Rachel laughed. "I guess so." She was silent for a moment before speaking again. "You are right that it's strange knowing that I'm watching my future sister-in-law grow up. There's not even a question. I'm watching a half-vampire, half-human girl grow up, and she's going to marry my little brother who not only turns into a giant wolf but is alpha of a wolf pack. My life was so normal six months ago, and I'm not sure I've adjusted to all of this yet."

I snorted. "Hey. You're talking to someone who turns into one of those giant wolves herself. I know how weird it is. You chose this though. You could have escaped again no problem and gone back to normalcy. I'm stuck here."

She looked at me with that infatuated smile all the imprints got. I hated it.

"No, I couldn't have."

I made a small retching noise, causing her to laugh.

"I know you hate it, Leah, but it's true. I'm as tied to La Push as you are for now."

I rolled my eyes again. I heard a small gasp of surprise and turned to see Claire stumble. She didn't hit the ground that hard, but Nessie and Quil were both to her in seconds, Nessie's attempts at maintaining small, human girl speed forgotten. Quil began dotting over his imprint while Nessie hovered, wanting to know everything was okay. Tears were streaming down Claire's face, but she might've been milking it for the attention. Jake rushed over as well, wanting to make sure Nessie wasn't too upset her friend had gotten hurt. She wasn't used to the fragility of humans yet.

"I hate imprinting," I remarked. I hadn't said it loudly, but Jake's and Quil's super hearing allowed them to pick up on it. They each turned to glare at me, and Rachel laughed yet again. I smirked at my packmates before they turned their attention back to their imprints.

My eyes scanned the rest of the people at the party. Most of the wolves had grouped off by age like normal. Emily and Kim hung close by Rachel and me. I had no problems with Kim, but she stuck so close by Emily's side that I usually avoided her anyway. Mom, Charlie, and Billy were inside.

Bella and Edward were the two who stuck out. They'd been talking to Jacob when I arrived, but now that his attention was occupied with their daughter, it was just the two of them standing about and looking out of place.

It was the first time Bella had been on the reservation since she became a vampire, and probably Edward's first time since the treaty had been signed. While nothing official in the treaty had been changed, we had all taken it as a given that things would be lax with the Cullens now that Jake had imprinted on one. Everyone was taking it surprisingly well. Everyone except Jake ignored Bella and Edward, not bothering to antagonize them.

Bella was watching Jake and Nessie with a close eye. She was far too overprotective of a mother, which was inconvenient for her when her daughter was an imprint. Jake was overprotective enough and didn't leave much for Bella to do.

Edward, on the other hand, looked content to let Jake handle Nessie. While he'd been against the imprint at first, he had not only accepted but welcomed the imprint since the confrontation with the Volturi. Instead of his daughter, he was watching everyone else at the party. His eyes found mine not long after I had looked at him and Bella, and I knew he was reading my mind.

I scowled. Get out of my head, I sent him mentally.

He smiled in amusement but turned his head to humor me that he had tuned out of my thoughts. I scoffed as I watched Seth approach them, the first to do so besides our alpha. I couldn't stand how close he and Edward had gotten. He almost considered the leech a big brother of sorts, which I didn't get when he had an abundance of those that didn't suck blood to survive.

I watched as Jacob rejoined them, Quil even at his side this time. I turned my attention back to Nessie and Claire. Unfortunately, this resulted in me making eye contact with the little monster. She waved happily at me, and I sighed, offering her a slight wave as well.

Rachel chuckled beside me. "Hi, Nessie," she called out. I rolled my eyes as she bonded with her future family. "Having fun?"

Nessie affirmed that she was in her wind chime-like voice. My frown deepened as she began hurrying (as fast as she could with Claire's hand latched in her own) towards Rachel and me.

At only a few months old, Nessie had proven she was one of those people who considered it a personal failure if someone didn't like her. It was something she had to rectify. The more I tried to be cold towards her, the more she had to try. It didn't help that even I felt bad about being mean to a little girl, which meant I didn't always try my hardest to fend her off.

Claire, being an actual human child and therefore even more fragile, had never faced any sort of anger from me. I wasn't sure if she even understood I had a reputation for being like that. She'd never shown any sort of hesitance to be in my presence, but she also tended to leave me alone because I never bothered to play with her like most of the guys.

Both girls were smiling happily as they approached Rachel and me. They were holding hands like the best of friends. Jake and Quil were probably wetting their pants in happiness. This was the fifth or so time the two girls had played together, but I wasn't sure how long this level of friendship could hold up as Nessie continued to age quicker than normal. She already appeared a little older than Claire, and that illusion of a reverse age gap would only continue to widen.

"Hi, Rachel. Hi, Leah," Nessie greeted us, taking a seat at the foot of the porch steps in the grass. Claire followed obediently, also greeting us.

I nodded and allowed Rachel to verbally respond.

"I've decided I like birthday parties," Nessie said.

"You're four months old," I remarked.

I wasn't sure why I said it. Sometimes I was so struck by the oddness of Nessie's existence that I couldn't help but comment on it. Jake would always glare at me when I had these outbursts with him around (which was most of the time I had them), but I wasn't doing it to be rude. I just couldn't process the way the girl aged.

For her part, Nessie was unoffended. She shrugged with a bright smile.

"I do a lot of things I'm apparently not supposed to. Dad says I'm like a three-year-old human right now. Like Claire!"

Claire beamed at this, but I don't think she understood what Nessie was saying. No one had ever hidden the wolves and vampires from her, but I was never certain how much she took in, especially when it came to her new friend.

"And how old are you mentally now?" I asked, unable to resist. "Thirty?"

It was Nessie's intelligence that freaked me out more than her physical growth. It was hard to take in a child that looked three but came across as smarter than you at times.

Nessie just shrugged. She watched Claire, and I thought she was thinking about her own intelligence in comparison to Claire's.

"Older than three."

It wasn't said in a mean way. I don't think Nessie realized such a comment could be rude. It was just a fact to her. Her remarkable intelligence usually came across as far more book-oriented than social. In that way she still seemed to be three. However, Claire didn't get the comment, also being three and all, so there were no hard feelings among the girls as they began picking through the clover in the grass around them. Nessie had never seen a four leaf clover before, she said, and she had enlisted Claire to help her find one.

January 17th, 2015

I still felt weird sometimes watching Seth get ready for school in the morning knowing that I wasn't going with him. I had graduated more than two years ago, but recently I had felt stuck in some sort of limbo that made it hard to remember I was an adult.

Seth pouted as he ate his cereal. He'd never minded school before phasing, but now he was disappointed to be going back after his Christmas break.

"Only three and a half more years," I remarked.

Seth nodded forlornly. I knew his status as a freshman was part of the problem. The older guys who were still in school were all juniors and the younger ones were in middle school. The Quileute Tribal School was K-12, meaning they'd all be around, but Seth was disappointed to not have his friends around more.

"Are you running patrol today?"

I nodded with a frown at my mother's question. With everyone else being in school, it was up to Sam and me to run patrol during school hours. That also meant going to Sam and Emily's alone. Something I had carefully avoided doing until now. I had planned the exact time I'd get there. Too close to my assigned time for any unnecessary conversation but not late enough Sam would think it necessary to reprimand me. I didn't want to deal with either scenario.

"At least he won't be in your head," Seth pointed out.

I glared at him. Usually my family was good about avoiding any direct mentions of Sam and Emily, let alone my continued antagonism towards them, but Seth just shrugged this morning. Going back to school appeared to be having a weird effect on him that hadn't happened before. I thought I might know what it was but decided not to bring it up. I wasn't sure how Seth would handle it.

"You should get going," Mom told Seth. "You don't want to be late."

Seth shrugged to show his indifference towards showing up late, but he got up and put his empty bowl in the sink anyway. He grabbed his bag on his way out, calling goodbyes to Mom and me.

She sighed once she was sure he was out of hearing range.

"I'm a bit worried about him," she admitted. "He's been down lately."

I hadn't told her what me and all of the guys had witnessed going on in Seth's head. Seth did such a careful job of hiding it that we knew it was important we not mention his few slip ups. Between him, Al, and Robbie though, the entire situation was starting to get confusing for the entirety of our pack. It didn't help that Moses had just started figuring out why it was so many guys liked girls. The younger wolves were forcing me, Jake, Quil, and Embry to relive the confusing years that were the beginnings of puberty.

None of this affected Quil and Jake much. They had lost any sex drive they'd had in the past after imprinting on toddlers. For my part, I found it amusing. Mostly because it all felt so innocent compared to some of the things the older guys had subjected me to in the past. Embry, though, had a tendency to panic as if he had no idea how to react when the boys let a thought slip on accident. He was more amusing than the guys.

"I'm sure he's fine, Mom," I told her, thinking back to Seth. "It's just growing up, you know? You're not doing adolescence right if you're not angsty as fuck."

She nodded, but I could tell she wasn't satisfied.

"Look," I continued. "I know it's Seth, so that makes it weirder, but he's still human, Mom. He's bound to have low points. It doesn't mean he's given up all hope in life or anything. I can hear his thoughts, remember? I think he's doing pretty well all things considered."

Much better than me, and we had both lost our father and phased over the course of the last year. Seth's continued levels of optimism were impressive to me. Even in his thoughts he remained cheerful most of the time, but I hadn't decided if it was fake or not. It seemed genuine, and Seth had never been all that great of a liar.

Mom didn't accept my assurances though. She was still frowning when she left for work, leaving me behind to get ready for my patrol.

Things were calmer than they had been the rest of the time I'd been a wolf. While in the past we'd had a wolf patrolling at all times, these days we had scaled back to give everyone a short patrol every two days or so. Mine and Sam's would be daily during the weekday now that school had started, but they would also be short. Plus, I wouldn't be assigned any other patrols until school let out for Christmas except for a night patrol once a month. At least in theory.

I wasn't sure if putting up with Sam for even five minutes before patrol was worth that, and I was becoming increasingly sure it wasn't as I neared his and Emily's house.

I hated how well I had memorized this walk by now. The universe was forcing me to be a masochist. It was unfair the other wolves got imprints and I got the presence of my cousin and ex forced upon me. Why were the guys always surprised I was bitter? They hadn't shown quite the same level of annoyance towards Jacob, and he could have gotten away from Bella if he wanted. That was his own damn fault, but he received far less shit for it.

Emily was sitting alone out on the porch when I arrived. I knew she'd been waiting for me from the way her eyes lit up when she saw me. I worked on deepening my frown so she'd know how unhappy I was about this. Sam was nowhere in sight, and I wondered if that was a coincidence or because Emily had wanted to get me alone.

I had timed myself to arrive right on time perfectly, but if Emily wanted something, Sam would give it to her no matter what the patrol schedule said.

By the time I reached the porch and Emily's smiling face, I had decided I wasn't going to show the slightest bit of patience.

"I have to patrol. I don't have time to talk to you."

I could tell it was a struggle for her to keep her smile on her face. It wasn't as bright as before. But what had she been expecting? Today of all days wasn't going to be the one where I gave in and treated her like I had in the past. If that time was ever coming, it was a long way off.

"Right," she gave in easily. "Sam will be out in a minute."

Sam walked out the front door as soon as the words left her mouth, proving he'd only been waiting for Emily to give him a sign. I rolled my eyes at their obviousness and made a noise of derision that Emily, at least, had the decency to look sheepish at.

I turned to head towards the forest, not wanting to see their goodbyes. It was sure to be cheesy and disgusting even if they were conscious of my presence. I could hear their whispers easily, and I stomped my feet harder as I walked in a desperate attempt to block it out, even going so far as to recite a song in my head.

I didn't wait for Sam to phase. I knew the area that needed to be patrolled, and if we ended up overlapping, so what? I would take unnecessary patrolling to any extra time with Sam.

Even though we couldn't get inside each other's heads, I was close enough to hear him phase. He went in the opposite direction of where I was heading, and I knew exactly which areas he would take. I would cover the rest and go home without the check-in that should have been mandatory afterwards. It's not like anyone would punish me, and Sam no longer had the power of the alpha command over me. I could treat this as nothing more than a peaceful patrol alone with my own thoughts.

I didn't go directly home after my patrol, choosing to wander around in the forest on a winding path that would eventually lead me to home. By the time I got there, school had been let out for the day, and Seth was perched in front of the TV. His books were open in an attempt at homework, but he had pushed them to the side and was flipping through channels instead.

"You need to ease up on the pouting. Mom's worried."

I nudged him over so I could take a seat on the couch too. Seth sighed as he landed on some paranormal show where a girl fell in love with a vampire. I couldn't help but let out snort of amusement.

"I'm not pouting," Seth protested while pouting.

"Whatever." I didn't want to get into an argument about this anymore than he did. "All I'm saying is that Mom is worried about how different you've been lately."

Seth chewed on his bottom lip before answering.

"Maybe I'm just growing up."

"Being confused and upset over everything isn't being an adult, Seth. It's being a teenager."

"Says Leah Clearwater."

He was smiling a bit, so I refrained from my usual glares or light punches.

"I don't think I'm an adult either. Twenty or not. I still feel like a teenager. Right down to feeling trapped."

"In La Push?" He didn't wait for my nod before continuing. "It's not the rez that's the problem for me."

I was aware of that, although I had tried not to let that on to Seth. I wasn't sure how aware he was of the things he'd let slip in his head recently.

"I just don't know who I am anymore. Like, how I'm supposed to act."

"Also a completely normal teenage thing," I assured him. No one could ever accuse me of being a terrible sister. I came through when it mattered.

"Yeah, but probably not like this."

"You mean the wolf thing or something else?"

"I didn't mean the wolf thing, but now I feel like that should be included too. You know, I realized I have no friends my age. I didn't talk to anyone in class today."

"You ate lunch with the guys though, right?"

One good thing about the tribal school being so small was that the entire high school ate lunch together. There was no worrying about who would and who wouldn't be in your lunch period.

"Yeah, but that's not the point."

"Then what is?"

"It kind of feels like no one's going through what I am. No one I can talk to at least. Besides, what could I really talk to the guys about and not have them laugh at me for?"

I leaned my head back onto the back of couch.

"I don't think they'd laugh at you if it were something serious. Well, Jared would, but I think you'd be okay with everyone else."

"I guess."

We both knew he wouldn't talk to anyone about what was bothering him, not even me. With most other things I would have pushed him, but this time I could feel that he still needed to figure it out for himself before he would be comfortable saying it out loud.