of all the gin joints

of all the gin joints

Of all the girls in all the world, Quil just had to imprint on a little kid.

He huffed, clutching Claire to him with grumpy affection, letting her play with his scraggly hair and smiling at her delighted laughter. He wondered if he would ever learn the patience of Jacob or Sam; wondered if it wouldn't be easier to turn into a wolf until she was old enough to look at him and actually understand.

Part of Quil was excited to see her grow, to be in all her earliest memories, and part of him was terrified. What if she thought of him as a brother? What if she didn't like him?

"Having fun, honey?" He asked her quietly, giving her an Eskimo kiss on the nose.

Claire giggled, lightly tapping his forehead. "Yup yup yup," she sang before dropping promptly off his lap and trundling over to the sandbox.

He watched the five-year-old with a wistful smile. "Can I trick you into loving me, honey?" He asked softly, to himself.

"She already does."

The voice behind him was soft and tinkling and familiar, and Quil rolled his eyes as he turned to face Alice Cullen. "Is that what you foresee, O Wise One?" He asked with a wry smile.

She merely smiled at him, sinking down beside him. Quil stiffened for a moment, centuries of historical animosity coursing through his veins. But then it settled and he smiled at her, relaxing into himself.

Curious, he asked, "It doesn't bother you? The smell?"

Alice raised her eyebrows, frowning. "Of Claire? She's human, Quil. Not a mangy mutt like you."

"Ha, ha," he deadpanned. "So not what I meant."

The beautiful, perpetual seventeen-year-old simply laughed, the sound light and musical as she shrugged. "No," she answered. "Not anymore."

Quil nodded, looking back at Claire as she swung with the grace of an unworried child from the monkey bars. He was relaxed but ready—should she begin to slip, he would have her back in his arms before she even noticed she was falling.

"So how's my favorite bloodsucking fiend?" He asked after a long pause, once Claire had decided it was more fun to play in the mud than dangle from the jungle gym.

Alice punched him lightly on the arm. "You're much too sweet, Quil," she snarked good-naturedly, "Your adorable nick-names just make me weak in the knees." Without even pausing, she added, "Claire's about to swallow a rock."

She was gone and back before the child could notice anyone had moved; Claire looked, baffled, at her empty hands before she began to cry. She stood up and ran towards Quil, arms spread wide, and he heaved her once again onto his lap as she cried into his shoulder.

"My fav'rite rock," she bawled.

"Do you want me to find you another?"

She shook her head, settling against him. "No. Wanna stay here."

Over her head, Alice smiled at him. "Do you see what I meant?" She asked gently. "You don't have to trick anybody into anything." She hesitated. "And how's Jacob?"

He glanced sharply at her, cuddling Claire against his chest with brotherly affection that he knew would one day turn into something else entirely. "He's good," he answered after a moment. "He met someone. I don't think he imprinted, but it's… it's a start, you know?"

"Good for him," Alice murmured. "Bella will be happy."

"How is she?"

And then Alice as almost glittering. "So much better," she gushed. "We were all worried, in the beginning. She was—it was hard work trying to keep her in check. You know how she gets." She smiled, despite the morbid implications of the phrase. "But every day is an improvement. She's herself again, more or less. Sometimes she struggles with the thirst, but every passing hour she learns to ignore it. And Edward is…"

She trailed off, glancing sideways at Quil. "Bella is good," she finished succinctly, knowing that for all the progress made between the Cullens and the Quiluetes, Edward would never again be a welcome name in La Push.

It had taken a year and a half to convince Jacob to return to Forks, and another half year for him to get back to his old self. And to the inhabitants of La Push, it was Edward's fault—Edward, for stealing Bella; Edward, for breaking Jacob's heart; Edward, for being the Emily to Jacob's Leah.

There was a long, awkward silence, broken finally by Claire's cheerful laughter. "Quilllll," she whined. "'M hungry."

Quil laughed. "Sure, honey. We'll go eat. Go get your stuff from the sandbox, okay?" She kissed his cheek with practiced ease and hurried off to obey.

Alice stood. "I should get going," she said regretfully. She hesitated for a minute and then squatted down as Claire came scurrying back. She reached out and put her hands on either side of the little girl's head. Quil sat stiff at her side, eyes never once leaving the pair.

After a moment, Alice let go and smiled brilliantly. "You're a lucky girl, Claire. Do you know that?"

The little girl nodded, awed by the woman who glittered down at her, and reached for Quil's hand. He took it without hesitation.

"What was that?" He asked, lifting Claire onto his shoulders.

"It's harder for me to see, with humans I don't know," Alice explained. "Sometimes I have to be making actual contact." She smiled at him. "I still couldn't see anything."

He looked disappointed, and Alice rolled her eyes.

"That's a good thing, Quil. It means she stays at La Push." She brushed her lips against his cheek—both of them grimacing at the smell—and then smiled once before winking at Claire and hurrying off in the opposite direction.

From her comfortable perch, Claire wrapped her little hands around his forehead. "Can you sleep over, Quil?" She asked, leaning down to nestle into his hair. "We can have a tea party."

Quil laughed, starting to walk as he kept the fidgety girl balanced on his shoulders. "Sure, honey. Whatever you want."