It takes another half an hour for Norah to open her eyes.

By that time, Grace has been pacing from her bed to the door so quickly that I keep looking for the dent I'm sure her feet have made in the floor. Mary hasn't moved from beside Norah, but her gaze keeps flickering over to Edward, standing in the doorway, whose mind-raping powers have actually come in handy for the second time today. I know, I'm shocked too. Apparently, all Norah is thinking about is the same thing we're all waiting for… opening her eyes.

"The anesthesia Rosalie injected made her incredibly tired," he tells us, watching Norah's fingers open and close again. "Just give it a little longer to wear off."

Mary rolls her own eyes, but doesn't answer— just slips her other hand into Norah's newly opened one. I lean against Nahuel's side, feeling his arm go around my waist even as he never stops looking at Norah: the freckles across her nose, the way her breaths get faster when Mary bends over to lay a kiss on her temple.

"This is ridiculous," Huilen murmurs from Nahuel's other side. Considering the distrustful glances she keeps giving Edward, I'm pretty sure she holds the same contempt for his freaky-ass power that I do. "How much anesthesia did you give her? She's a girl, not a horse."

Maybe I'm imagining it, but I think Norah's lips might have twitched into a smile at that. Then I remember how exactly that anesthesia got into her system: through the openings in her stomach, the only way to get anything inside her. Impenetrable skin really can be a bitch. I look down at the thin blanket covering her, and then wonder why the hell I did. It's easy to see the dark, jagged lines through the fabric, scars even her half-vamp body won't be able to heal. Carlisle came in earlier to check on her, and Mary had asked about that— apparently, even normal vamps get tiny hairline cracks in their skin when limbs reattach to their bodies. According to him, Norah's scars wouldn't have been nearly as bad if he hadn't had to reopen them after they had already sealed closed to take out all the grass and dirt that had gotten inside.

"How's she doing?"

I glance up, then do the instinctive thing and make a face. Bella is peering around Edward into the room, her still-red eyes flickering over Norah.

"Fabulous," Mary says, before I can interject with my own answer (read: insult). "It isn't as if she's lying on a bed unable to open her eyes or move any major limbs. I always find that quite encouraging, myself."

Damn. Where the hell did this family get their sarcasm gene? Bella's face crumples for a second, but she evens it out a lot quicker than she ever could have as a human. Oh, God forbid anyone is rude to her. I'm sure that's never happened before. She's too special. I do notice that she directs her next question at Edward (since he's too whipped to be so much as impolite to her). "When will she wake up?"

"She is awake, so to speak. Just too tired to open up her eyes."

"Oh! Well, that's good, right?" Bella turns to us, brightening. "Right?"

Yeah, Bella-Skank. Just right.

Luckily, I don't have the energy to actually say that out loud, and Mary doesn't seem to care about Bella anymore. Then again, not many people do. I sigh, untangling myself from Nahuel, and announce, "I'm going to go find Jake. Come get me when she's talking."

Nahuel murmurs his assent. I duck around Grace on the tail end of her pacing routine and slide past Eddie and Bells, who are busy staring into each other's eyes and doing their "oh my gosh, we're so in loooove" thing. I mean, fuck spending time with their daughter— they're busy being in eternal, everlasting love. And I'm pretty sure that thought is making Edward wanna trip me as I walk past him, but he restrains himself. How amazing.

"Yes, I know."

Ugh. I take back the 'amazing' comment.

"I had a feeling you would," he calls to me. Dude, I'm halfway down the freaking hall, I think that's an indication to stay the fuck out of my head. I roll my eyes and flip him off without looking behind me, which I happen to think is quite a nice feat.

Okay, time to find Alpha Dearest. And he would be…

"The living room."


"I knew that," I mutter, stalking to the left. At least I remember where the damn room is; the last thing I need is to get lost in this labyrinth of a house and have Seth find my skeleton in a few years or something.

There isn't a door to the living room, just a wide archway. I can smell Jake and Nesserella right when I step inside, and, cue shock, they're both sitting in front of the fireplace. Jacob looks up as I'm walking (barefoot, of course) over the plush white carpet, and he smiles nervously at me.

"'Sup, Leah?"

I pull a Nahuel and ignore the couch beside the imprint couple, flopping down onto the ground. "Don't ''sup' me."

He snorts. "You forgot to call me 'young man.'"

"My mistake."

We lounge in silence for a minute, me leaning my head against the cushions of the couch behind me, him watching Nesserella and whatever she's scribbling on a piece of paper. I open my mouth to start the inevitable, to ask what we're going to do about what happened Norah, but Nesserella reaches up and presses her hand to his cheek before I can say a word.


Jacob laughs after a few seconds, patting her on the head. "I know it's boring. Just do it for a little bit longer, okay?"

She gives a plaintive sigh, but grips what I can now see is a crayon in her hand again. Man, is she actually coloring? "What, is she recreating the Mona Lisa?" I snort. "Hey kid, you should go color somewhere else. I need to talk to your babysitter."

Jacob starts to say something (probably reprimanding me for calling her 'kid,' but hey, I don't really care), but Nesserella blinks up at me and cuts him off with, "Somewhere like where Norah is? Yes, this sounds enjoyable. Goodbye."

I slap my hand over my mouth before Jake catches my grin. I believe that I may have… somewhat underestimated Loch Nessie. She's standing up and halfway across the room with her paper and little box of crayons before Jake manages to make sense of what she's doing. "Hey!" he yells.

"Daddy says hay is for horses," Nesserella calls back, one hand on the doorframe, and then she's off down the hallway. Jacob stands up too, intent on keeping her away from the Scarred Chick. I sigh and grab his hand to tug him back onto the floor (well, to pull him forcefully back onto his ass, actually).

"Dude, she's not getting past her parents. Let it go."

He nods. "Right. But I don't know why they won't let her see Norah… Ness likes her a lot…"

"Um, Jake, you may not have noticed since you were sheltering Nesserella inside, but her stomach looks like it came straight out of a fucking horror movie." I pause, a realization dawning. "Wait a minute, why the hell were you inside the whole damn time?! Did you not see me and Nahuel fucking battling it out?"

Jacob's mouth falls open a little. I have the urge to stick a dog bone into it. "Wait, what? 'Battling it out'? The hell is that supposed to mean?"

Ugh. Men. "It means that Nahuel wanted to go and rip Sam's pack a-fucking-part, and I had to friggin' tackle him to get him to stop."

"…You emphasized a lot of words in that sentence."

I wonder if general annoyance is an acceptable defense for murder.

"Focus!" I spear my fingers through my hair, groan, and let my neck tip forward so my forehead rests on my knees. "This is some serious shit, dude. This is like Emily, the Sequel."

Jacob blows out one long breath of air, reaching out to rub his hand over my shoulder. "I know. And we'll deal with it. I'm the goddamn fucking descendant of Ephraim Black— I can handle it."

I laugh as he adds, "And I'm really sorry about the whole 'Nahuel death battle' thing, too. Must've been hell."

"Something like that."

I open my mouth to ask if maybe it would be okay to, y'know, go dismember Sam (man can't keep control of his pack, that's for damn sure, so until we get the name of who did it I'm blaming him), but there's a bang, then a curse, then the smell of trees and leaves, and Seth pokes his head around the archway.

Aw, I haven't seen Seth in forever… well, a couple of days, anyway. He's been hanging with Mom and trying to chill out the Elders, who have apparently been freaking just the tiniest bit now that three wolves have imprinted on half-vamps. His hair's all mussed from running in wolf form, and although he has a shirt hanging over his arm, he doesn't seem to be in a hurry to put it on. "What happened?" he asks, stepping into the living room and leaving smudges on the carpet with his dirty feet. Not that now is a good time to mention that.

Jake holds out his hand when Seth reaches us and they do that weird masculine hand clap thing. "What've you heard?"

"I was running over to see Leah and Quil was phased. He showed me how he saw her carrying Norah back here. What happened? Who did it?"

"Emily the Sequel. No friggin' clue," I answer. "One of Sam's pack."

Seth, actually behaving like a normal human being, falls onto the couch. I lean my head against his leg with a sigh as he wonders out loud, "Who would be stupid enough to do that?"

"Dunno," Jacob says, spreading his arms wide and resting them on the cushions behind him. "I've been thinking maybe one of the younger ones. Y'know, the ones who phased when all the other leeches came down?"

This sparks my interest. "Why them?" I demand, then move my head and mutter, "Bro, you have way too much leg hair."

"Huh. That does make sense." Then to me, ignoring the leg hair comment, he says, "Because Sam doesn't want them to phase much, right? Makes it easier for them to go back to normal. So they probably missed all the mind-images of Nahuel's sisters."

"…And so they didn't know it was my imprint's sister when they attacked her?" I venture.

"Right," Jacob says. "It makes sense."

Hmm. "But what about, you know, Jared and Colin and Brady and Paul? Especially Paul. Plus Jared was human at the meeting thing earlier with me and Jake and Sam. Maybe that had something to do with it…" Wow, I'm making so much sense.

"Paul has a temper," Seth allows, apparently seeing my point. I seriously need to make an effort to talk to him at least a few times a day. Kid's pretty awesome. "Quil said the whole pack was there in wolf form, right? Maybe he got pissed about how Nahuel's gonna bite the mom—"

"Wait, how the hell did you hear about that?" I interrupt. "You haven't even been around."

Seth stares down at me. "Uh, you know that thing where we all share thoughts? Yeah, that comes in handy sometimes."

…Okay, okay, so I'm not the only sarcastic Clearwater. Sue me.

"That still doesn't make it okay," Jacob points out. And he is very, very right. "I mean, it isn't like she was trying to, y'know, drink from somebody… that'd be different. But Norah's what, eighteen?"

"Seventeen," I correct thoughtlessly. "In real years."

"Right. We've got age in our side— she's really young. She's younger than Leah."

"Way to make me feel like an old crone."

Jacob rolls his eyes. "You know what I mean, girlie wolf."

Much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news… "But she was over the boundary line, Jake. Yeah, by like a dozen feet, but still. She was over it. And you know Sam's gonna go all technical on us and say that means they could do what they wanted with her."

"But they had to scar her?" Seth raises his eyebrows. "That's going way too far. They couldn't have just freaked her out a little? Jumped out from behind a bush and growled like the devil or some shit?"

Seth really can be the personification of 'awesome' sometimes. "That's true. Why couldn't they have, Jake?"

"Who am I, Buddha? I don't know."

"Well, I don't think of you as a fat religious figure, actually…"

"Really? 'Cause I just think of you as fat."

"Bastard," I say lightly, kicking his shin as hard as I can from this position. "I'm damn sexy and you know it."

Jacob smirks and uses one of his outstretched hands to mess up my hair even more. "Not as much as Nahuel does."

"Um, ew," Seth mutters. "Can we get back on track?"

"Right," I nod. "No more talk of my sexiness."

"Or lack of."

"Shut up, Black."

"Anyway," Seth says deliberately. "Christ, how are you guys Alpha and Beta? Ephraim Black's probably rolling over in his grave."

"Gee, thanks for that vote of confidence." I tip my head back so I can see Seth's face. "So what do you suggest, baby brother? Since you're so all-knowing and everything." Though we really do need a game plan for this. And soon. Seth slumps against the couch, looking pensive, still with

his shirt flung over his arm. Is it the werewolves' goal in life to spend most of their time shirtless?

"We could call an Elder meeting," he finally suggests. "Or get Mom to call one, whichever."

Woah. I shift uncomfortably, wrapping my arms around my knees. "Hmm, yeah, Elder meetings always work out so well. Remember that one about me? That I wasn't at? And how Dr. Vamp has to give me a gynecological exam?" So Nahuel's dad is a creepy bastard… but the drama he brings has at least pushed this out of my mind for a while. Until now. Thanks, Sam's fucking pack. Ugh.

Seth's hand comes over the top of my head, where he rubs my hair the same way Jake did. What is up with them and my hair? I'm not a poodle. "Sorry, sis. I didn't mean to…"

"Yeah, I know." I shrug away from his hand. "Whatever."

There's a tiny awkward pause. Until Jacob looks over at me and says, I swear to God, "Damn, Leah. You know what I just realized? If you and Nahuel had a kid, it would totally bring about the fucking apocalypse."

What. The. Hell.

"Excuse me?!"

Is there an even an appropriate response to that? Besides bashing Jake's head in, I mean. But he goes on obliviously:

"Well, it'd be part vampire and part shape shifter, right? So it would be pretty much invincible against everything and… holy crap, wait, no, it wouldn't cause the apocalypse, it would take over the fucking world."

We're all silent again… but then Seth starts cracking up. And that makes me crack up. Because shit, the kid would have my fucking temper, so hell yeah it'd take over the world. We laugh so hard that Jake has tears in the corners of his eyes, and I'm ignoring Seth's leg hair of doom by burying my face there since every time I look at Jacob I start giggling even harder.

We only sober ourselves up when Nesserella skips into the room, still clutching her crayons in one hand. She's sort of half-pouting, apparently having been denied access into Norah's room. Instead of crawling into Jacob's lap like she usually does when he's near her, though, she waves to Seth, stretches up to pat his cheek (leaning really clumsily over me, I might add), and then crouches down to look into my eyes.


"Momma said I should come get you, Miss Leah," she says softly, only after she half reaches out her hand and then drops it in a hurry to her side. Good memory.

"Um, what for?" I ask, even while I stand up. Is it—

"Because," Nesserella says, sinking into the spot I've just left, "Norah wants you."




Norah yawns and lets her head fall against Mary's chest again, eyelids drooping. Mary runs a hand through the tangled strands of her dark hair, scooping them off of her neck to cool her. "Are you hungry?" Mary murmurs, even as Carlisle leans over her to open Norah's mouth gently and look inside. For what, I have no idea, but he seems pleased with the results. "Or thirsty? I'll hunt and bring you back something, if you'd like."

A head shake instead of verbal answer. Rosalie had brought another blanket a few moments earlier, to hide the dark shades of the scars from their owner. No need for her to see those until she had to bathe. Aunt Huilen shifts from her position at the foot of the bed, surveying the scene with unmistakable ill ease— Mary sitting one side of the mattress, Norah leaning on her like a rag doll; Grace on the other edge of the bed, and me standing over them where I will not fit.

My aunt and I have never been one for intense displays of affection… and so I must admit that I haven't the slightest clue on what to do right now. Mary knows because she was meant, from the marrow of her bones, to be a mother; Grace knows because she has always shown what she feels without restraint. How to relate to Norah how much love I hold for her, my youngest sister? Her constantly changing language, forever crookedly-parted hair, endless supply of useless knowledge...

Is this any fraction of what Mary felt when she saw her children lying still and dead in her arms? Norah looks so sickly pale, yet I can't stop staring, burning her image into my eyes— is that why Mary insisted that she hold her babies, every last one, even when childbirth left her weak and panting? So that even when she buried them, she'd have that memory?

My thoughts trail off when Norah looks up at me. Everyone pauses, in fact, waiting in tense silence. "Where is Leah?" she mumbles, glancing around as if she has already come to expect that Leah will usually be found at my side. Of course, I would prefer that she were, but she has things that must be spoken of with Jacob and Seth at the current time.

"Bella's just told Nessie to go get her," Edward assures her from where he stands in the doorway. I don't believe he's moved since we brought Norah inside of here.

Norah nods. Her eyes slip shut, and I wonder if she is going to sleep again, but then she says, still so softly that without advanced hearing it would be difficult to discern, "And what of Father?"

Out of instinct Mary and I look at one another. "To Mexico," my eldest sister says guardedly. "To check on the mother of our sibling."

Or so we assume. It seems the most likely of all explanations— after all, Father was never around for the birth of Mary's children… or for their burials. He conveniently disappeared when Grace got into a fight with a rogue vampire passing through their land and had her leg sliced open. I know that the other vampires here fear that he has gone to do what Grace and I tried to: punish the wolves of La Push. But I doubt this very greatly, and I can see that Mary does as well. Much as he showers love upon Norah for her mastery of different tongues, and upon Grace for her unique semi-power... he would not seek vengeance for us.

That would mean he cared for us in the first place.

Grace raises her head to catch my eye, rubbing Norah's back in rhythmic circles. Before she can say anything, however, Edward steps aside, and the movement allows Leah's form to fill the doorway.

"Look who's here," Mary whispers, propping Norah up higher. Leah walks over to the bed, pausing only to give me a small half-smile. She sits on the edge, right below where Mary's feet rest, her dark hair shielding part of her face from me.

"What's up, Norah?" she says, quiet, but I can hear the gin in her voice. How has she come to care so for my sisters in such a short time? Remarkable.

My youngest sister offers my mate the most radiant smile she can give under the circumstances— and this, perhaps, is what makes it the most beautiful smile she has ever formed. "You brought me here," she says simply. "Thank you."

Leah pats her hand. "Yeah, well. I had some free time."

My lips quirk upwards despite myself. Even if I'm not sure how to judge whether or not I truly love the woman as a whole, I can say without doubt that I love her ability to bring humor into everything. Grace leans over to loop one arm around Leah's neck, kissing her lightly on the lips. Even if Leah may not recognize the gesture for what it is, I can and do— Grace offering her the same greeting she gives to Mary and Norah; to her sisters. Which, as she told me last night, my mate is as good as.

Leah turns to face me. She opens her mouth to speak, but at the last second movement beside Edward at the doorway draws both of our attentions there. Her lips, rounded for speech, fall into a grim line at the sight of her brother. The strange reaction confuses me for a moment… until Seth dangles a small cellular phone before him, making a face.

"Jared," Seth announces. I frown; the name has no meaning for me. "He said Brady was coming back from patrol and smelled… well." His eyes find Norah, hunched over Mary, and trail down to her stomach. "Y'know."

Leah starts to answer— one syllable in, however, she blanches and mouths instead: "Norah's blood."

I take it that subtlety is not Seth's specialty.

"So?" Leah asserts in response to her brother's nod, even as she squeezes Norah's hand one more time before standing. "Christ," she mutters, "can we get one day of peace from them?" She lifts her arms to the ceiling, stretching. I suddenly find it prudent to lock eyes with my eldest sister (who becomes very irritating to me when she pulls herself from her haze of relief at Norah's awakening to glance at Leah and then raise a suggestive eyebrow in my direction).

"Jake says we should go down the to the Rez now," Seth says, tucking the cellular phone into his pocket. "The whole pack's probably at Sam and Emily's, since it's dinner time. We can jump 'em."

Grace laughs out loud, and Leah rolls her eyes. "Yeah, that's always the best course of action," she deadpans. With a sigh, she waves a hand at Seth and continues with, "Okay, but give me a few minutes, I have to get ready for the rant of the century. Gotta stock up on those swear words."

Seth grins his approval. "Cool. You wanna stay at home or come back here after we're done?"

"Shit, I don't know. I'll figure it out."

With a few more playful snaps at each other, Seth finally ducks back into the hallway. Leah runs a hand over her face after he's gone, exhaling one long slow breath. Aunt Huilen purses her lips, steps back from the bed. I notice Edward incline his head towards her, but before I can inquire as to whatever is going on in her head (although I am not sure that I really want to know), she brushes a few stray wisps of hair back from her face and murmurs, "Sleep well, Norah," then hurries from the room.

Leah raises her brows at me; I shrug. I learned a long time ago not to bother Auntie when she wants to be alone. Leah walks over to me, lifting up my arm so she can stand beneath it as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Which to her, I suppose it is. "We're gonna go call Sam out on his shit," she announces. "Like, soon."

"Have fun?" I offer.

She grins. "I will. Anything you want me to say for you, Norah?" she calls to my youngest sister.

Norah tilts back her head before answering, in order to let Carlisle probe gently at her throat with glove-covered fingers. The purpose of this escapes me, but he appears happy with what he finds. "Tell them that I hurt," she mumbles, yawning into Mary's hair. It makes my heart constrict violently; Grace makes a pained face as well. No, I do not see my sisters nearly as often as I wish— in a perfect world, we would have grown up together —but how could that distill the hatred I have of them being injured? God knows I raged enough at Father when I found out the details behind Adam's… conception.

Leah shifts beneath my arm, looking up at me with badly disguised resignation. "Alright-y then. I think that's my cue to head down to the Rez."

"Do try and maim someone for me."

"I'll work on that."

We kiss quickly, lightly. I work on attempting to memorize her scent as it trails behind her on her way to the door that Edward, resolute, still guards, though his wife is beside him now. Leah waves halfheartedly at all of us while Jacob rushes by, mutters something that sounds like a goodbye to "Bells," grabbing her by the hand.

"That's considered sexual harassment," I hear Leah complain from down the hallway, and then the sound of a slamming door, then silence.

…Silence but for Norah's breathing, that is. They're slow and even enough that when Mary turns to Edward, expectant, I can guess what her mental question is. "Yes," Renesmee's father answers, relaxing his posture for the first time in what seems like hours. "She's asleep." He pauses. "Rather deeply, in fact."

None of us expects Mary to be the one to speak up. "Good," she says decisively, and, with the utmost care, extracts herself from beneath our youngest sibling (for now, that is…). Grace allows Norah to fall back onto her, sweeping hair from her forehead while cooing in her ear. I watch Mary, hands still shaking slightly from her recent fever, smooth her dress across her hips and raise her head to meet my eyes.

"Brother, come and speak with me?" she asks— but in the tone she has perfected over the decades, which lets me know quite clearly that I am not to deny her this request.

"If you wish it," I say, moving away from the bed where Grace and Norah lie. Edward is still and stoic, Bella clutching at his hand where she stands beside him. She offers me a smile as I pass by, though I cannot help but wonder if this is only because I am the only one who does not subscribe to the use of Renesmee's somewhat revolting nickname.

Mary brushes past me, leading the way to what is obviously the front door, her posture perfectly erect. One of the many things Father insists she learn, along with the correct way to wear her hair and how to hide the rolling r's of her natural tongue. Much the same way he hides his English accent from all he meets, though that one is at least easy to see the reasoning in; to me, at least. I may have… accidentally, of course… stumbled upon the few records he keeps from his human life— the only way I know that he was born not Joham, but John.

My sister opens the door and, quite courteously, holds it open for me. I nod my thanks, descending down the porch steps, at once wondering when Norah will wake again, when Leah will return, and (warily), what Mary wishes to speak with me about. Whatever it is, she doesn't want it said around Grace, which immediately puts me on guard. We walk together into the grass around the very edges of the trees, Mary only stumbling in her steps slightly. I give a mental sigh; she needs bed rest as much as Norah.

It is only when I lean against a large, seemingly oak, tree that my eldest sister pauses and turns so that she may face me. "Yes?" I prompt, folding my arms over my chest.

Mary's eyes, when they meet mine, are blazing.

"I. Can. Not. Believe. You."

The sudden intensity of her words makes my own stutter. "Excuse me? What on earth have I done?!"

Mary whips around, the wind pulling her dress tight across her legs. "You think you've played no part in this?" she hisses. I wince, remembering far too late that Mary is much more dangerous, not when she is screaming, but whispering.

"Sister, I truly do not know what you speak of," I say, wondering if perhaps I should abandon my tree to back up just the smallest bit farther.

A sneer makes its way onto Mary's face. I've always hated that look on her. "Well, let me make you a list, brother," she says, her voice gone from abhorrent to deadly calm. Oh, for the love of God, what have I gone and gotten myself in to? She begins to pace.

"Who's hurt Norah? Yes, that would be your mate's kind. Who has apparently formed some sort of… some sort of bond to me? Oh, yes of course, that would be your mate's kind. Who stopped you from seeking vengeance for your hurt baby sister? Why, how shocking, your mate herself!"

I narrow my eyes at her. "What are you implying, sister?"

She gives a derisive shriek of what I assume is meant as laughter. "Implying? I imply nothing! I state plainly that blame for this lies square on your idiotic mate's shoulders!"

"For God's sake, Mary, don't even," I snap, surprised that my patience is worn thin after so little. She's ranted and raved to me before, for reasons even lesser than this, and it's always taken me long stretches of time to even muster up a temper. Apparently bringing Leah into the equation renders me just as volatile as Mary tends to be.

"Don't even what?" she demands, hands hard on her hips. The wind tugs her hair this way and that, giving her a somewhat psychotic appearance. "You know it well as I do, brother. Her kind hold resentment for her love of you— why do you think Norah lies scarred inside the house?!"

"Do not be ridiculous," I order, straightening my spine against the tree. "A horrible misunderstanding, nothing more. You think I care not for Norah's injuries? More than I would if my own arm were severed!"

"I don't care what you think it to be! Good Lord, just keep that woman away!"

"Who are you, Aunt Huilen? She is not that woman— Mary, would you get a grip on yourself?!"

Unable to resist any longer, I reach out to still her harsh, incessant pacing. As soon as my hands touch her shoulders, however, Mary twists by her waist and wrenches my fingers from her body so sharply that when I fly back, the tree in my path groans, creaks, and finally crashes to the ground— me still alongside it.

I gape at my sister. Did she just shove me into a tree?

Mary seems almost as shocked as I am. Her hand comes up to cover her throat; her brows knit together. For a moment, we only stare at one another. I have no idea what Mary may be thinking; my own thoughts revolve solely around the wrestling matches we've had over the years. I've almost always won… though Grace often mocks me by way of saying that Mary lets me do so. Suffice to say it may have been some latent bit of masculine pride that kept me from believing it (and masculine pride is all but vestigial, being raised by my aunt and spending most of my free time with my three sisters). Until now, that is.

Mary moves first, uttering a tiny cry and all but falling to her knees. I detach myself from the tree, flinching at the bark that feels embedded in my back, and go to her, lifting her up by the elbow. She shakes in my arms, her head hot against my shoulder. It takes me several more seconds to realize that it isn't her skin, but her tears.

"Why do you weep?" I ask softly, trying to remember how I comforted her after Nuria— my hands move of their own free will to rub her back in the same circles I've seen her caress Norah with. Her breaths grow shorter; her own hands wrap so tightly around me that I fear for my circulation.

"Why shouldn't I weep?" She coughs out the words as though they leave a bitter taste in her mouth. "Norah, Norah, Norah…"

"Is perfectly fine— is perfectly alive."

"Don't you see!" Her nails dig into my flesh, tears growing even hotter. I lay my chin atop her head, not interrupting just yet. "It was almost the opposite! Oh, God, Nahuel, this is all my fault!"

I recognize that this is not the time to laugh, although her words make me feel like doing so. "Whatever do you mean?" I ask instead, hoping to calm the hiccups that her breaths are becoming. "You've just told me that my mate was to blame."

Mary sighs shakily, then gasps in the next second. "I don't— I didn't mean— Nahuel, you don't understand."

I decide that honesty would probably work best at the moment, given the situation. "No, I don't. But I want to. Tell me, sister."

It takes almost a full minute for Mary to answer. Without realizing it, I've begun to rock gently on the spot, trying to calm her still, though nothing appears to soothe my eldest sister. The tracks her tears have left down my chest begin to dry as she stops crying, turning her head to the left so that her ear lands right on the skin above my heart.

"I hated her," she murmurs, as though revealing her deepest secret. "So much."

I pause a moment in my ministrations, puzzling this response out. "Who, sister dear?"

With another cry she jerks away from me, eyes rimmed with the red that only true tears can bring. She spears a hand through her tangled hair, gasping in another small breath. "N-Norah," is her answer, as she falls against the nearest tree (that she has not uprooted, that is). She sinks to the ground, old rainwater soaking through her dress. I freeze, unsure of what to do next.

Hated Norah?

"She should have been mine," Mary whimpers, tilting her face up in a manner that suggests she expects me to reprimand her. But how could I? More water drips from the tree branches, streaking her face as surely as tears had. Her hair falls to hide her shamed face. "I h-hated her, Nahuel, don't you understand? My daughter should have had her life, it was my daughter I should have been holding after I gave birth— not her!"

The words, the blatant truth that they hold, cause her to descend into sobbing. She folds into herself the way I've seen her do only once before— the day when she smelled of the alcohol that ran so deeply through her system, the day she finally told me why Adam was born the way he was. And because she is my sister I fall beside her without a second thought, ignoring the water that seeps around my limbs. With hardly any fight from Mary I pull her to my chest, allowing her to cry so sharply and keenly that the world feels as if it's splitting at its seams with every breath she takes.

"I pretended," Mary whispers finally, hiccupping the words through her tears. "Sometimes. Pretended that she was Nuria. That Father had— that he had mixed them up, somehow, and she was really mine."

For the first time in so many decades, I have the urge to let tears trace my cheeks as well. "Sister," I murmur, "that's not awful. You were only sad. It's alright."

Instead of being derisive, this time her laugh is humorless. "I sh-shouldn't have. Norah's n-n-not mine, she's never going to be mine…"

"But you raised her that way," I say quietly, stating, not asking. Mary nods into my chest, her new tears white hot.

"I did. I shouldn't have, but I did. I just need to… I need to l-listen to Father. P-put Nuria and Anne and Adam out of my m-mind…"

Is it any wonder that I hold no respect for Father, no sense of a son's admiration? "No," I contradict, "you should grieve. It's only human."

Mary's hand leaves a dent in the ground when she slams it there. I jump slightly at her reaction, but she doesn't move to emulate that violence; just keeps her head pressed to my chest, still right near my heart. "I'm not human!" she hisses, letting one hand clench around my upper arm. "I have no need for human emotions."

I listen skeptically to how much effort it takes for her to control the wavering of her voice. "We all do," I remind her, pulling her even closer. "It's perfectly normal. You can mourn, sister dear." I hesitate for only a moment. "Father is nowhere near."

In the space between my words and Mary's slow renewed tears as she curls tighter into me, clutching tightly to my arm as though I would float away from her otherwise, a memory catches up to me: the months after Annabelle when Mary went through a period of devout Catholicism— the cross she wore around her neck, three birthstones lined down the front. The day I came to visit and saw the cross on her bedside table, cracked straight down the middle… the explanation she'd given, that she had dropped it.

The finger-shaped mark on her cross.

The smirk on Father's face.

The reason Mary would be frightened to remember her children near him— the reason Mary would be frightened to finally mourn.

a/n: Um. Hi there. I'm very, very sorry about the lack of update last week… though it probably would have ended up pretty loopy, considering all the medication I'd been taking (wooh, getting teeth forcibly ripped from my gums!). On the plus side, this is the longest chapter in the entire story, although I didn't get to include two scenes I really wanted to. Ah, well. Next time!

Thank you guys so much for all of the reviews— you all deserve some Nahuel-in-a-bottle (since according to Leah, this is the equivalent of 'awesome' ;)).