Sam stopped phasing when his third child was born.

Letting go was difficult. The wolf had opened up another world for him, one where he was a leader, a warrior, a protector, a man with a higher purpose. Over the years it had become a part of him in ways he did not fully understand himself.

So letting go was difficult. But it would have been infinitely more difficult to continue living with Emily's anxiety. In fact, he was fairly sure that that would have been impossible for him to bear.

She never asked him to stop, never even consciously dropped hints… Except maybe that one time last Christmas when she knitted him a sweater, pure wool, thick, luxurious, then laughed, rolled her eyes when he hugged her, mumbled "Yeah, cos you really need a sweater to keep you warm."

Emily was not one to make demands, even her requests were well-chosen and few and far between. She didn't ask Sam to stop phasing, but she hoped he would, she hoped it desperately, daily.

She never told him but he knew. She was his wife after all. By now he knew her so well that he could see most of her thoughts played out on her half-perfect face, and for the past few months she had been thinking God what if he never wants to stop, what if he just keeps on living and living...

When Sam cradled his newborn son in his arms, smiled and told Emily he was going to age with them, be a real family, the five of them together for the rest of their lives, she smiled back wearily, her hair still plastered to her cheeks with a film of sweat, tried not to look too relieved.

--

Less than a week of domestic bliss. That was all.

By the time Sam cooled down enough that he started wearing a shirt around the house, he knew something wasn't right.

It was as though his balance was off. He would be walking down a corridor and then all of a sudden find himself lost and reeling, grabbing onto the doorframe to keep from falling.

It reminded him faintly of a rush he and his cousins had chased when they were kids. They would spin around and around, then stop abruptly and laugh while the world kept racing without them. It was like that, except a lot less pleasant, accompanied as it was by fist-clenching nausea, beads of overheated sweat at his brow and a nagging thought in the back of his mind, like there was something he'd forgotten, somewhere he was supposed to be.

He was the first of the pack to stop phasing, so there was no way of knowing what kind of an effect it would have on his body. The records Harry had left behind were of little help on the subject and so Sam attempted to take the strange episodes in his now unsteady and unfamiliar stride, attribute them to the rapid loss of his heightened senses, super strength and speed, to the sudden need for his body and mind to find a new equilibrium.

After a few more days the dizziness lessened, the ground stayed reasonably solid beneath him, he kept his breakfast down… but the feeling didn't go away. And he quickly decided that the feeling was the worst part.

Something I've forgotten, somewhere I'm supposed to be.

--

Over the next few weeks Sam found himself taut and irritable, too often angry like he had been in the very beginning while the wolf had been taking hold, like he hadn't been in so very long.

It was ironic that while he had been phasing he had always been able to rely on a core of peace, a sense that however out of control a situation might be, his body, his mind, his heart would keep it together.

Now he was lost, reeling and pretty pissed off that apparently he didn't get to keep the intense calm he had worked so hard to cultivate in order to tame the beast inside him.

That was mine. That wasn't the wolf's. That was fucking mine.

--

He'd never really liked his job. He wasn't sure how you could really like working in a small-town hardware store, even if you were this close to becoming a partner in the business.

Sam had never enjoyed working at Dicksons, but still… He was pretty sure he hadn't hated it before.

Now he found himself in a foul mood every evening when he came home from work, bitching about his boss, who was actually a pretty cool guy, not to mention his ticket to a goldmine. He was muttering things under his breath, kicking doors shut, wanting to scream at the baby when it cried.

Emily noticed the change in him, tried not to wonder how much longer it was going to take for him to get back to being Sam.

She had assumed there would be a period of transition when he stopped phasing, but she hadn't been quite prepared for him to be so...

She thought maybe it was partly down to the stress of having a newborn in the house, hushed the voice inside that reminded her how easy and full of smiles he'd been with the first two, got her mom to take the kids on Friday so they could have some peace and quiet together.

--

She heard the door slam shut, spread gloss over her lips and hurried into the living room.

Sam smiled mid-yawn, kissed her cheek. "Hey."

Emily smiled back, maybe a little too brightly. "Hey! How was your day?"

He shrugged, muttered "Yeah okay, I guess," as he slumped down on the couch, turned on the TV. He kept the volume down low, so it just buzzed incoherently at him. It was sort of soothing that way, like it toned in nicely with the distant mess of his mind.

Emily paused for a moment, eyes flickering from the back of his head to I Love Lucy. Then she went back into the kitchen to fetch the sandwich she'd made for him and headed back to the couch with it, nestled herself in beside her husband just like always and held the plate under his nose.

"There's avocado in it," she said with a knowing smile. "And extra mayo."

Sam glanced at the sandwich and somehow he felt threatened by it.

I'm threatened by inanimate objects now. Tasty, nutritious inanimate objects prepared by my lovely wife.

He rubbed at his temple, like his mood was a just headache, something asprin could take care of, and maybe that was a good idea, asprin, yeah, because maybe it really was just a headache, maybe he was fine and it was just a headache. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to concentrate, but physical and emotional were impossible to disentangle these days.

Finally he opened his eyes again, said "Thanks Em, it looks great," then took the plate from her and set it down on the coffee table. "I'll eat it later, I'm not too hungry right now."

Emily's brow furrowed. She smoothed it quickly.

Keep it light, light, light.

"Wow, the change is really messing with your appetite, huh?" She chuckled, nudged Sam gently. "Oh well, I guess that means less work for me from now on."

His laugh was short and strained and before Emily could stop herself she asked him if he was okay.

He nodded, mumbled "yeah, just tired," turned the volume on the TV up a little, flicked the channels aimlessly.

Emily bit her lip, studied his face. He knew she was watching him, knew she was trying to understand him and suddenly it irritated the hell out of him, even if he knew it really shouldn't have. She was entitled to be concerned, more than entitled. It was nice really, it should have been nice.

Why isn't it nice?

He kept channel surfing, cleared his throat a couple of times, and after a few moments Emily smiled to herself and seemed to relax, like she'd convinced herself he really was just tired and everything would be alright. She shifted, snuggled in closer to him and he instinctively slung his arm over her shoulder.

"Did you notice how quiet it is?" Emily asked. She fiddled with a button his shirt, whispered sweet-suggestive into his neck "The kids are at mom's place tonight."

Sam just nodded tightly, felt his hand twitch at her arm, forced out "Well it's nice of her watch them for us."

They sat like that for a few minutes and Emily could feel the seconds ticking by while she tugged lightly at his button and he politely ignored it.

Finally she pulled back a little and then she was trying to read his face again. "Sam, baby, are you sure you're alright, because you're - "

Sam interrupted her, voice low, just the tiniest bit clipped. "I'm fine, okay? Jesus, I just don't want to cuddle right now, is that a crime?"

Emily blinked, stood up and stumbled away, turned her face to the side like she was hiding, like she was shielding herself with her scars.

Sam sighed. "I'm sorry sweetheart, I didn't mean - "

She shook her head quickly, and her next words were muffled under her hair and hands, but he heard them, he heard them loud and clear in his own mind. "It's not that."

It's not that.

Emily didn't demand. She rarely even requested, most of the time a suggestion was all she would venture.

Whatever she did ask of Sam, he always gave willingly, unconditionally.

He had never turned her away, never.

He had never wanted to, no matter what the circumstances.

He swallowed and it felt like he was swallowing the earth whole.

Lost and reeling, something I've forgotten, supposed to be, supposed to be, and grabbing onto the doorframe, trying to find a new equilibrium because the world is racing without me and I'm falling, I'm falling all over again because fucking gravity moved, because...

In that moment Sam knew what had happened to him. He knew why his peace had been stolen away with the wolf.

Sam knew, Emily knew. It was suddenly blindingly obvious, like somebody struck a match to a cloud of gas that had been lingering all along.

It was gone. The imprinting was gone.