The Half Life

Chapter 19: Like Pieces of a Puzzle

By: L. B. Dreamer5914

Disclaimer: Yeah, still don't own Twilight.

A/N: Not dead. I know. Please don't hate me. Before you read, there's a bit more bad language in here. I apologize if it offends anyone. It only happens twice. More notes at the end.

"Abby?!" Claire launched herself at her sister, "What in the hell are you doing here?"

Abby laughed as she stumbled backward, caught off balance by Claire's enthusiastic hello. "Crazy woman, get the hell off of me," she laughed, even as she returned her sister's hug. "You spilled your water, you dumbass."

At that, Claire pulled back from her sister. "Crap." Sure enough, the fallen glass was rolling across the floor, one huge crack running the length of it and water spilling across the tile. Emily was already on her knees beside the ever growing puddle, armed with a roll of paper towels. Sam made his way over to the still-moving glass, and Claire silently thanked the world that at least it hadn't shattered. "Sorry!" She apologized, dashing away from her sister and over to her aunt. "Let me!"

Emily rolled her eyes. "It's only water. It's fine."

"But-"

Emily fixed her with a stern look. "Leave it."

She threw up her hands in defeat and stood up. "Alright, alright." Abby grabbed her hand and pulled her backwards.

"Come on, help me unpack," she said, motioning to her suitcase.

"You're staying?"

At this, Abby rolled her eyes. "No. I just flew across the country and brought a suitcase with me to say hello. I'm actually leaving tomorrow."

Claire's brow furrowed, "When are you leaving then?"

Abby tossed her hair, "I've been here less than an hour, and you're already trying to get rid of me? Love you too, little sister."

Claire sent a pointed look at Abby's high heeled boots. "Well, sorry for being surprised. You're not exactly the out-doorsy type."

"This isn't exactly uncivilized country," Abby tossed back with a glance at Sam's 60" flat screen. "And don't scowl at my boots; these are my favorites."

Claire rolled her eyes, "Not uncivilized, no, but not New York. And you are a city girl, through and through."

Abby shrugged carelessly. "Eh, I decided it was time for a change of scenery."

Claire scoffed. "Sure you did."

"Well, that, and Emily called me to tell me that my dumbass little sister had gotten herself knee deep in a bout of really awful depression and stupidity and had decided to leave the only home she's ever known."

She should have guessed, of course. Should have known that Emily was the reason Abby was standing in front of her. She had been surprised by how easily Emily had accepted her decision to leave. "This is not the only home I've ever known," she said, petulantly. "I love New York."

"You like New York," Abby inserted, "but you've never been happy there. Not the way you are here. So why are you running with your tail between your legs?"

Out of the corner of her eyes, Claire saw Sam reach for Emily and tug her towards the door with one gentle hand on her elbow.

"I'm not running," she said, snapping her gaze back to Abby. "There's just nothing for me here."

"Nothing?" Abby released her hold on her suitcase in favor of crossing her arms. "That's such bull shit, little sister. Do you hear yourself?"

Abby had never been one for gentle words and hand-holding, but Claire found herself more annoyed than usual at her sister's brutal honesty. Already, the joy she'd felt as seeing her sister's familiar face was fading. "I hear myself fine," she snapped. "You don't know what it's been like for me."

"I know it can't be bad enough for you to run away," Abby parried. "Come on, Claire - over a boy? Really? You've gained so much since coming here."

Gained? Claire wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh or if she wanted to cry. What had she gained? Heartache? Loss? "It's not worth it, Abby. And you're not going to convince me that it is, so just save your breath." She turned on her heel, determined to put the topic to rest. "Follow me. I'll show you where the guest room is."

Abby caught her by the arm, "Oh, no . We are not leaving it like this. You want to tell me that the pain is too much? Well don't just tell me it hurts then, tell me why."

Claire shook her sister off. "Does it not occur to you that digging up all the reasons I'm in pain just makes the pain worse?"

"Of course it does-"

"Then what the hell is your angle here?"

"Well, you may have noticed but ignoring the pain doesn't exactly make it go away. You want so desperately for me to understand and support you? Then tell me why I should."

"Because you're my sister. You shouldn't need any other reason."

Abby's expression never changed. "I'm your sister. That's why I'm here. And that's also why I'm not going to let you go back to your life in New York just because of a guy . Claire, I've never seen you as happy and at peace as I did the other day. You'll give this all up? You'd go back to New York to be with mom again?"

"Yes!" Claire exploded all at once. "Yes, I would. Because it hurts. It hurts so bad that it feels like I'm dying every day, and I have to remind myself that the pain I feel here," she slammed her open palm against her chest, above her heart, "isn't real. It's a phantom. It's in my head." The first of another flood of tears began to fall, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe because I want him so bad. I can't feel anything but pain because he isn't here, with me. But I can't keep dragging myself behind him the way I've been doing, because it only ends with me standing here, in this kitchen, alone and filled with ache.

So yes, I want to run away. I want to hide. Because I can't sit here and not think about him. Because I can't step outside and not be reminded of him. Because I need to feel alive again, and I can't. Not knowing that he's just outside that door. Just beyond my reach."

She inhaled deeply, trying to steady her pounding heart and push back her tears. "You don't know, Abby. You don't know what it's like."

At this, Abby gave her a sad smile. "Oh, little sister. I understand better than you think." She stepped closer, pulling Claire into a hug. "So much better than you think. And that's why I'm telling you. Ignoring the pain... it doesn't make it go away. Here, you have Emily, Sam, and so many other people who care about you. Who want to help you through this. In New York... it's just Mom. And you and I both know she's never been the best at comfort."

Claire pulled back out of her sister's embrace, turning away to hide her tears. "Mom might not be the best at comfort," she acknowledged, "but she doesn't lie to me; not the way everyone here does."

"What do you mean?"

Claire opened her mouth to respond, but before even the first word could slip from her mouth, there was a forceful knock at the door.

Claire wiped frantically at her face in attempt to hide the fact that she'd ever been crying. She was fairly certain she failed miserably. Regardless, she pushed past her sister and toward the door.

Abby caught her by the wrist. "I'll get it," she said, motioning with her free hand to Claire's tear stained face.

Claire shrugged, "Alright. Thanks."

As Abby disappeared back down the hallway, Claire reached for her sisters bag and began making her way towards the back of the house and the staircase. Unsurprisingly, the suitcase was about twenty pounds too heavy. Likely due to the overwhelming number of shoes.

And then-

"You get the hell out of here. What are you doing here? Leave!"

Abby.

With a frown, Claire abandoned the bag and quickly turned to follow her sister's voice toward the front door. She couldn't remember the last time she'd heard her sister so irate.

"I came to see Claire."

Jacob. She felt another pang in the pit of her stomach. It was going to be hard saying goodbye to him.

"Well, see Claire another day. Today, leave."

"You can't just-"

"Pretty sure I just did. Leave already!"

"I need to see Claire. Quil is-"

"Quil, schmil. He broke my sister's heart. I don't care. Get out."

"Well, I do. Care, that is."

Claire finally rounded the corner, "Jacob? What are you doing here?"

In retrospect "here" might not have been the most appropriate word to use. The fact of the matter was, Jacob had only a foot and one hand in the actual house. And even that was being generous. He's clearly scrambled to stop Abby from slamming the door in his face, and all that he'd managed to wedge between the door and the frame had been his foot, which was currently allowing him just enough space to wrap one large hand around the door and part of his face.

Claire would have laughed if she hadn't been confused.

"Abby, what are you doing? Let him in. Jacob's a friend."

Abby spun around to look at her, hands and body still pressing against the door. "No way."

Claire blinked. "Why-"

"This is ridiculous," Jacob grunted, and suddenly, Abby was stumbling forward and Jacob was fully in the house. He tossed an annoyed glance in Abby's direction, "You weigh all of nothing," he stated by way of explanation. "I was trying to be polite."

Abby very maturely responded by sticking her tongue out.

Jacob rolled his eyes and turned to Claire. "I need to talk to you."

Claire slipped her hands into her pockets, "Ok."

He cast a glance in Abby's direction, shifting uncomfortably for a moment before releasing a resigned sigh. "Quil is a mess."

"Are you serious?" Abby was livid, "Who the hell cares?! He broke her heart remember?! Seriously, get out."

Jacob sighed, "I know. Believe me, I know. But this is ludicrous. They're both miserable."

"Well, his misery is self-inflicted. He should be a grown up and deal with it."

"He is dealing with it; I'm the one standing here."

"You're making my point for me. If he cared and he missed her that much, he would be."

Jacob growled, running his hand through his hair, "He can't."

"No?" Abby was clearly doubtful.

"Physically," Jacob snarled, "he can't."

Against her own will, Claire the knot of growing concern in her stomach bubble up into her throat. "What do you mean, Jake? Why can't he come?"

"It's a..." Jacob trailed off, then shook his head. "Fuck this. You want to know? You really want to know what our secret is?"

Claire fought the sudden urge to strangle him. "Why are you even ASKING that question? After all you've seen me go through do you really have any doubts?"

Jacob threw up his hands, "I know, I'm sorry." He inhaled, "Quil is going to kill me."

"Jacob!" What was left of her patience was fading quickly, "Either tell me what's going on, or leave. I mean it. I'm done with these games you guys keep playing."

"Youwereright." The words came so quickly out of his mouth, that for a moment, she honestly had no idea what he was saying to her.

"What?" She blinked. And then, "Oh my god."

"You were right," he said again; slower this time, so there was no way she could misunderstand him.

Somewhere in the pit of her stomach, she had already known the truth, but hearing it out loud was another thing entirely.

You were right. You were right. You were right.

"Claire...?" Jacob's voice cut through her haze. "Claire, are you okay?"

Abby touched her shoulder, "Hey there little sister. What's going on?"

"Claire-" Jacob moved toward her, but Abby cut off his path.

"No way. I don't know what's going on here, but I think you need to leave."

Claire forced her mouth to work instead of just letting it hang open stupidly. "Wait - no."

Better than nothing, but not exactly the coherent sentence she was hoping for. She closed her mouth, swallowed, and tried again.

"Don't leave." She swallowed again, "I'm just... processing."

Jacob nodded, pulling his arm out of Abby's grasp and settling down in one of the kitchen chairs. He motioned with his hands, "Ask me anything."

"How long?"

"Since we were sixteen."

There was something in the way he said it that made her pause. "And... how long ago was that?"

"Fifteen years ago."

She was never very good at math, but thankfully, Abby answered her question for her.

"You're 31?!"

Jacob nodded. "It's hard to explain. Since the change... we don't age."

"At all?"

"Not as long as we're shifting."

"Shifting?" Abby clutched her hand tightly, "Will someone please explain to me what the hell is going on."

Jacob's eyes settled on her. "I'm surprised you don't remember. We never hid it while you were here. And you were old enough."

Abby narrowed her eyes at him. "Hid what?" Her brow furrowed.

"Think back. What do you remember? Sam. Quil. Me. The-"

"Pack," Abby finished his sentence, and Claire watched the blood drain from her sister's face. "Oh my god."

There was something odd in Jacob's expression as he watched her sister. "You do remember."

Abby touched her hand to her forehead. "Oh...wow...Sam...no wonder he hasn't changed...you, Quil, Embry, Jared, Seth."

Jake nodded. "Everyone."

Abby gaped up at him. "Everyone."

"What's it like?"

Jacob turned his eyes back to her, "It's a bit difficult to explain," he laughed mirthlessly, "it's been awhile since I've had to. Shifting is... instinctive. Early on it's hard to control, but after it gets easier. It becomes a natural part of who you are. The pack becomes essential.

After awhile, you realize that without your brothers, you would be lost. When we shift, we share one mind. My thoughts, Quil's thoughts, Embry's thoughts, they're all one voice. If I'm shifted, I can hear my brother's thoughts as clearly as my own. I can see what they see. I feel what they feel.

We, each of us, belongs to the pack. We owe it our complete allegiance. We owe our Alpha our unquestioning obedience. We die for him, and for each other, without a second thought."

She furrowed her brow in question. "What's an Alpha?"

"Sam is our Alpha. He leads the pack. His orders might as well be written in stone. We can't say no."

Claire frowned, "Can't?"

"Can't. Physically. We can't do it. Denying his order goes against everything in us. Our physical body will actually bow under the weight of his command," he paused, "that's why Quil can't come to you. Sam told him to stay away."

"What?! Why?"

"Because you're his niece, Claire. And you're running away from La Push because Quil hurt you that badly. He wants to protect you."

She wanted to be mad at him. She wanted to yell. But the truth was, she could understand and even appreciate where Sam was coming from. "Can he take it back?"

"What do you mean?"

"Can he rescind the order?"

"Yes. But you can also work around it."

"What do you mean?"

"Sam told Quil he couldn't come to you. He didn't say anything about you going to him."

"Oh... I... Jake, I don't know if I can do that."

To his credit, there was nothing but understanding on Jacob's face. If anything, his brown eyes softened. "I know," he said, "but I also know that running away from this isn't going to change anything. You're still going to need him. He's still going to need you. It's the nature of your relationship. It's why you're his imprint."

Claire tilted her head, "Imprint? What does that mean?"

The corners of Jacob's mouth twitched, "That's something I'll let Quil explain. He knows what it's like, much better than I do."

"You're assuming I'm going to speak to him again. Why are you doing this?" She swallowed the tears in her throat, "Why now? I begged you all, for so long, and no one would tell me anything. I made myself vulnerable in so many ways, and my heart got shattered because of it. And now you're asking me to do it all over again. To go to him all over again. When you have to know that I made my decision. That I'm leaving."

He looked away from her, his gaze falling somewhere in the woods. "Because beyond everything that's logical, I'm kind of hoping you'll stay. Because I know that you're hurting, but I'm hoping you'll be able to get past that eventually and understand that La Push will always be your home. That the pack will always be your family.

I would understand if you don't trust Quil anymore. Hell, I can't blame you for it in the slightest. But he's a wreck right now; he hasn't eaten, hasn't slept, hasn't showered... he hasn't even come home. Hasn't shifted back. He's operating on animal instincts right now because he's afraid to feel anything else. Because he knows he screwed this up and he can't fix it

He didn't know how to fight for you, but I think he understands now. And if I had had the opportunity, even after everything that happened with… with Bella… to go back and work through everything, I know I sure as hell would have taken it. Nothing is worse than looking back and wondering if you could have done something differently. Or living with the regret of not acting when you had the chance, even if it meant sacrificing a little bit of yourself." He paused, tilting his head as though he had just had a revelation, "But then, that's what love is, isn't it? Giving up part of who you are, so you can be whole with someone else."

"It's not fair for you to do this to me," she whispered. "I made my decisions. I was at peace with them. And now you come here, with all of your thoughts and questions and regrets and you throw me right back down the rabbit hole. I can't keep doing this, Jacob. I can't keep trying alone. It isn't fair. I deserve better."

Jacob nodded again, shoving his hands in his pockets as he took a step back toward the door. "Just... think about it. Think about it for another day. And then make your decision, alright? Just... think about it."

Abby squeezed her hand again, this time in a gesture of solidarity. "She'll think about it," she told Jacob, "but whatever she decides, you need to respect it."

Jacob nodded. "I can do that." He reached for the door knob, "I'll see you later. Even if it's just to say goodbye."

Claire tilted her head yes in response, "Alright."

And then he was gone.

Abby had wanted to accompany her - something about how she shouldn't be alone while undergoing severe emotional distress - but Claire had insisted on being alone. She needed to think. Think without Emily or Abby's eyes watching her. Think without Jacob whispering in her ear about ideals that were pretty but hard to come by in the real world - love and sacrifice and selflessness.

Her mindless walking had led her to the same section of woods that she'd been in before with Matt. Only this time, she'd actually ambled into the forest. Everything was quiet, peaceful, perfect. And she couldn't help but take note for the thousandth time that she really loved this place. La Push had become home, and leaving it was anything but ideal.

She ran a hand over her face. What the hell was she supposed to do now?

"You shouldn't be out here alone."

She spun around so quickly that she fell from the rock she'd been perched on and tumbled toward the dirt. Before her face met the ground, two familiar arms caught her around the waist and steadied her.

"Careful," Quil's voice cautioned.

She blinked up at him in disbelief. He looked terrible. There were dark circles under his eyes, and even she could see that he'd lost weight. He looked like someone who'd been run over by life a thousand times.

He looked like she did.

And he was still holding her.

She sent a pointed look to where his arms were still around her, and he hastened to step back, his arms falling limply by his side. "Sorry," he mumbled.

His voice, she noted, was coarse with disuse. Jacob had put a crack in her armor with his words, but looking at Quil, she felt a piece of it fall of entirely.

"I thought you couldn't... Jacob told me that Sam..."

"He... rescinded," Quil said. "Your sister insisted."

"My sister?"

Quil gave a short nod. "Yes. Jacob, too."

"And Sam just... gave in?"

"They're a surprisingly effective team. Even I was surprised." She saw the hints of a wry smile at the corners of his lips. "But then... that isn't what I want to talk to you about."

She glanced down, looking at her nails with sudden fascination. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

He cleared his throat, "I...I'm sorry."

She didn't look up at him, but she could hear him shifting uncomfortably.

"I'm so sorry." The raw pain in his voice was almost enough to move her. Almost.

"Fuck," he cleared his throat, and tried again. "The truth is... the truth is that nothing I saw is ever going to be enough. I can't give you a good explanation, because I don't have one. All I can say is I'm sorry. I'm an idiot. I know I'm an idiot. And if there was a way for me to go back... for me to change how things happened, then I would."

Claire bit her lip.

He cleared his throat again. "Jacob... he... I heard... I heard him say that you were leaving. And I... I saw you with him. With that boy from New York. And I thought... God, I thought maybe it was all true. The whole scenario I'd created in my head. And it destroyed me to think about it. To think of you, with him. To think of you being away from me. And who knows, maybe... maybe I was right. Maybe you are better off with him. Maybe that is what you want. But it isn't what I want. Because I want you. I need you. And I'm not going to pretend that it isn't true. Not anymore. I love you."

Something inside her snapped. "You love me?" She snarled. "You love me?!"

He didn't show surprise at her anger; he nodded. "I love you."

"How can you say that to me?" She cried. "How can you say that to me now?!"

"There wasn't... there wasn't another time to say it. You're leaving."

"I'm leaving because you broke me," she shoved at his chest, and though she knew her strength was nothing compared to his superhuman muscle, it still made her feel better. "I begged you. Begged. I had no pride, I put myself at your feet, I told you that I loved you . All that, and you threw it right back in my face. You turned away and walked like I meant nothing to you. And now that I'm leaving, now that I'm determined to move on, you come here and you tell me that you love me. Who the hell do you think you are?"

"I know," he said. "I know I fucked up. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say, but I'm sorry. It broke me too."

"All for what?!" She screamed. "What was the point?!"

"You were a child!" The passivity in his voice finally cracked, and she saw a glimpse of raw fear in his eyes. "You were a child. I held you in my arms when you were just a baby. And I knew then that I would do anything to give you what you wanted - to give you a choice. This life isn't easy. The secret keeping, the constant worry, the burden of knowing so much more than anyone else. I didn't want you to be forced into that the way we were."

She reared back in confusion. "I was... Quil... what are you talking about?"

"Jacob didn't tell you?" He asked, voice falling back to a more regular tone. "He didn't tell you about imprinting?"

"No... he said he would leave that to you. That you would know better."

Quil didn't respond immediately. Instead, he settled onto the ground, his long legs unfolding in front of him. He rested one arm on a bent knee. "I... I don't even know where to start. I just...

I was sixteen when I shifted the first time. And I was confused and frightened and had no idea what the hell I was getting into. Sometimes, I loved it. I had my best friends back. Jacob and Embry. They shifted before I did. And the thing is, the first time you phase... you find out how volatile those animal instincts are. Your mother will be yelling at you, and you find yourself losing control over your own body.

It's what happened with Sam and Emily."

"What do you mean?"

Quil motioned to the side of his face with one hand, "The scars. They're not from an accident. Well, not from the kind of accident other people think they're from. They're from Sam. He got upset. He lost control. He was the first one to shift, you know... there was no one there to keep him sane."

"You're lying," she gasped. "Sam would never do that. He loves Emily."

"He didn't have any control," Quil's eyes were burning as he looked at her. "He wanted to kill himself when he saw what he'd done. And he would have, too. But someone was there to stop him."

"Emily," she guessed.

"Emily," he confirmed. "Their bond is like nothing I've ever seen... But I'm not answering your question, am I? Emily is Sam's imprint. Imprinting... it's a wolf thing. There are plenty of different theories about why it happens, but the truth is, we don't know. All we know is that it's irreversible. And it's more powerful than anything else you'll ever feel. We know from the Quilete history that it's rare, but honestly... it's happened to enough of us that I don't know if that's really true.

Wolves imprint on sight. The second they see their imprint, everything else fades to the background. It's not just love... Jacob called it gravity. Like suddenly everything that was tying you to this world - your family, your hobbies, everything - suddenly snaps. It's all gone. And suddenly, the only thing that is keeping you connected to this world, is her.

It doesn't have to be romantic love. Not at the beginning. You are whatever your imprint needs you to be. Brother, friend... it doesn't matter. You live to serve. You are hers. You no longer belong to yourself."

She was beginning to understand where this was going. "And I..." she paused, "I'm your imprint?"

He met her gaze head on, hazel eyes burning into her. "You're my imprint."

"So this... this connection that I feel with you. That's what it is?"

He waved his hands helplessly, "I didn't know that... I didn't know that the connection worked both ways. The truth is... no one had ever turned away from their imprint before. We didn't know what would happen. Didn't think that..."

"Who else has imprinted?"

"Jared," he said. "He imprinted on Kim just a few months after he phased for the first time."

"So Sam, you, Jared. That's it?"

"Paul. Embry."

She blinked in shock. "But... oh my god. Natalia."

He nodded. "Yes."

"So... when you first saw me... I was just a child."

"Yes. And I thought... I thought it was so selfish of me, to pull you into this so young. We had all suffered. We'd all struggled through it. But you deserved a chance to live out life the way you would have otherwise. Without having to worry if I was going to come home alive or not. I wanted that for you more than anything.

I felt selfish, keeping you here."

"But, I... I needed you. I missed you. Always. I always felt empty. I was always looking for you."

He hung his head, "I didn't know that." His voice shook and his eyes were desperate, "I thought you were okay. I resigned myself to it. To not having you. To being without that part of myself. And then, all of the sudden, you were here. Standing in front of me. And I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

I saw that you felt a pull, but I didn't want this for you... I wanted you to have chance. And I thought... God, I don't know what I thought. Embry says I'm a coward. I think he's probably right."

"I deserved for you to give me all the facts. For you to let me make that choice."

He nodded.

"How am I supposed to trust you now? How am I supposed to trust you to let me make my own choices? To let me live."

His eyes were anguished. "Help me fix this," he said, "please, tell me how to fix this."

She ran a hand through her hair, "I don't... Quil, I don't...You can't do this to me. You can't just come back and expect me to fall into your arms. That's not the way it works. That's not the way this works."

"If I could undo everything," he said again, "I would."

"I thought..." She pulled her knees up to her chest, "I thought you didn't want me."

"No," the raw pain in his voice made her flinch. "God, no. I just didn't want you to want me. You deserve better."

"I always wanted you."

"Wanted? So... when I saw you and... That's what you want then?"

She allowed herself to truly study him. To take in the full impact of his shaking voice, his sunken eyes and his shrinking frame. His crumpled clothing. And she remembered, as he spoke, the heartbroken howl she'd heard just a minute after kissing Matt.

She tried to imagine, for a second, what it would feel like to see him in someone else's arms.

Just the thought made her sick.

"I don't want to hurt anymore."

The words slipped out without her permission. And even to her own ears, they sounded weak. They sounded small.

Running away won't fix anything.

He nodded, a wall coming down over his eyes. as he stood up. "I understand."

The bile rose quickly up into her throat. No, no, no. He didn't understand. He thought she didn't want him. He didn't understand.

"I'll go."

But she did want him, she just didn't want the version of him that hurt her. The one that knew she was in pain, but did nothing. She wanted the Quil who took care of her. The one who loved her.

He was walking away, and she thought again of all those hundreds of dreams she'd had over the years. Dreams of running after him. Dreams of him slipping through her fingers.

And in flash, she understood. She truly understood.

She understood that he'd looked at her, a small two year old with no cares in the world, and he'd wanted more for her. It was his insecurities and his perceived inadequacies that had kept pulling her from him. His sense of unworthiness. And now... now it was her pride that was pushing them apart.

They were fools - both of them - for not seeing it before.

"Wait!"

He paused, mid step, but he did not turn around.

"Wait," she said again, softer this time. "I need you."

He turned, and his hazel eyes were wet with tears.

"I need you so much it hurts," she shrugged helplessly. "It doesn't matter that I don't want to. I still do. And I want you more than I don't." She laughed. "I love you." The truth bubbled out of her mirthlessly, helplessly, hopelessly. "I can't breathe properly without you. And I-"

In two long strides he had her in his arms. "God," he buried his head in her hair, "thank you. I was so scared. I thought... I thought for certain... I thought I'd lost you."

She moved to stand on her tiptoes, winding her arms around him and breathing deeply. He smelled just the way she remembered - like the forest. Like home. "Never," she reassured him, "you could never lose me. It doesn't matter how angry I am." She drew back to cup his face in her hands, "But we're together now, and that means no more secrets. It means we talk about things."

He nodded. "I promise. Whatever it takes."

"Whatever it takes," she confirmed. "Now shut up and kiss me."

Quil laughed, ducked his head, and obeyed her command.

A/N: THE END. Mostly. Epilogue to come. It's halfway done and should be up within a week or two (knock on wood). Jacob's story, also to come. Prologue is written, first chapter is halfway finished. We'll get there. Reviews are love. Ask me anything. Yell at me for taking so long – I deserve it. I'll try and answer all your questions in the next round.

I want to throw something out there about Jake's story though, so there are no illusions about what's to come – it will NOT be a Jacob imprint story. I know, I know. That's not usually how this kind of thing goes, but… here's the thing. I really liked that part in the series where Jacob goes off about how much he hates imprinting. How it made things slightly… less real. Because I think he's right.

Call me naïve, but I think a lot of the best things about falling in love come with the obstacles and the choosing to work through them. And that's on both sides. With imprints, I kind of have to believe that the wolf-side of things is absolutely obligatory. There's no way for a wolf to just come themselves off from their imprint; it would be like cutting off a limb. And while that's not to say everything will work out perfectly (ahem, see above) I think you lose a fair amount in falling for someone that way (hypothetically, because obviously wolves and imprinting aren't real…sadly). So my point is, I want Jacob to have a choice. I want him to fall in love the human way. And I want him to go through all the heart ache and awkwardness of piecing himself back together and falling in love all over again because the poor guy deserves it.

So, before the A/N, which is already ridiculously long, gets any longer, let me just say that when In Pieces makes its way onto Fanfiction. Net sometime in the next week, expect it to be a more serious piece than THL ever was. It's going to delve a lot deeper into issues on both sides of the romance.