A/N: This is it - the last chapter. Thank you to those who have stuck with it through the long wait between updates. Wordier A/N at the end.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer created Twilight. I just borrowed the wolves for a while. And, Maura's mine.
Twenty - Homecoming
Maura awoke to the full midday sun streaming in through the windows. She was hot and a bit sweaty. In the middle of December.
When she was fully conscious, she sat up, realizing she was tangled up in sheets and Jacob. The memory of him waking her earlier that morning when he came in from patrol made her smile. She looked down at his face to find him watching her.
"What are we going to do today?" she asked, getting up and pulling on one of Jacob's t-shirts.
Jacob propped himself up on his elbows. "Morning to you, too," he said a bit grumpily.
She leaned over and kissed him, effectively erasing his frown. "More like afternoon. I'm going to take a shower. Can you make some coffee?" She didn't wait for a response, but headed down the hall to the bathroom.
After she showered and dressed, she walked into the kitchen to find that Billy was back from fishing, loading his morning catch into the freezer by the side door. Jake was sitting at the table with their coffee ready. Maura joined him.
"What are you two up to today?" Billy asked as he closed the freezer lid then wheeled to the sink to wash up.
"It's getting close to Christmas. I thought maybe we could go to Port Angeles to do some shopping," she suggested.
"Would you mind running by the Wal-Mart while you're there? I've got a list," Billy said, opening a drawer and rifling through scraps of paper until he found it.
"Sure thing, Dad." Jacob took the list from him and stood up. "Let's hit the road then and get some lunch on the way."
Once in Port Angeles, they decided to get Wal-Mart out of the way first, quickly picking up the things Billy requested, before shopping in some of the smaller boutiques in town. They strolled hand-in-hand around town, Maura helping Jacob pick out something for Billy, and Jacob lending a hand choosing gifts for Sue, Leah, Henry, and Seth.
Maura had been given strict instructions from Sue that the Christmas gift exchange around the Rez was typically reserved for immediate family, no one really being in a position to go all-out. Maura appreciated the practicality of this tradition and was also glad she didn't have to figure out the perfect gift for over a dozen people. But, what to do about getting a gift for your imprint? Well, that had not, as of yet, been addressed. Were she and Jacob exchanging gifts? Should she get him something regardless? Would she feel awkward if he didn't get her anything in return? Would that make him feel bad? She decided to just bite the bullet and ask.
"So…" They both started at the same time, then laughed.
"Ladies first," Jacob offered.
"I was just thinking about Christmas."
"Yeah, me, too." Jacob smiled at her and pulled her to a stop against the window of a hardware store. "We haven't really talked about, you know, gifts."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Do you want to?" Maura asked.
She watched as he blushed a little, not meeting her eyes for a moment.
"I sort of already got you something. But," he rushed quickly on, stopping her protests, "it doesn't have to be a big deal. It's something I've been… kind of… planning for a few weeks, without Christmas in mind, really. So, I mean, no pressure. It doesn't have to be a Christmas present."
"Hmmm… very mysterious. Can I have a hint?"
Jake laughed. "No."
Maura smiled. "I'm not giving up that easily, but for now, I guess that means that I've got to go shopping for you." She tugged at his arm, and they headed off again down the crowded sidewalk.
As they finished up their shopping and walked back to the car, Maura noticed a flyer for a local club's New Year's Eve celebration. "That looks like it could be fun. I don't suppose you could get the night off? I mean, provided we don't get any more unwelcome visitors between now and then."
"I'm sure we can work something out with Sam." He opened the hatch on the Rabbit and they deposited their bags inside. "I bet Quil and Paul can cover for our pack if we need them to."
As they started on their drive back home, thoughts of the upcoming new year made Maura realize how much her life had changed in just a few short months. She let her mind drift back to her life in Georgia and shook her head. She didn't feel like she was that person anymore. Her identity as the crazy misfit didn't work out here. She belonged here, she knew that now. In this place, with this tribe, and especially, with Jacob.
A few days later, as Jacob was helping Embry out of bed and onto the couch in the living room, Sam unexpectedly stopped by.
"How goes it today, Embry?" Sam asked.
"A bit better every day. I expect the cast can come off this weekend. What's going on with the newbies?"
"I think they're ready to start training," Sam replied. "In fact, I meant to talk to you about that, Jacob. I think we should both do it; both packs should train them."
Jake thought for a moment before he answered. "I think I like the sound of that, but why?"
Sam laughed. "This whole two-pack thing really is for the best, isn't it? You always did question me too much to really be a pack member or even a beta." Jacob and Embry both laughed, too. "Seriously, though," Sam continued, "they could learn valuable things from both packs, from our different styles and strengths."
Jacob nodded and then grinned. "Yeah, that, and we don't know yet which one of us they can hear."
The training began the next afternoon, as the sun was sinking low in the sky. Both packs were gathered in a small clearing in the forest.
Jacob looked at Collin and Brady, noting the new height each had achieved over the past two weeks. Their expressions seemed to be a mix of nerves and shaky bravado. He smiled to himself, able to relate completely. He turned his focus to Sam, who had started speaking.
"So, the first thing you need to learn is how to phase at will, without provocation. A very close second lesson will be how to control your emotions so you don't phase unexpectedly and how to gain instant control if you do."
Next, Sam instructed them to concentrate on changing forms.
Everyone waited and watched in silence. For several minutes, nothing happened. Jacob could see droplets of sweat beading up on Collin's brow.
Brady finally cracked under the pressure. "This isn't working. I can't do this, with everyone staring at me like that. I don't even know what to think while I'm concentrating. I just keep singing this stupid song from some cartoon in my head, over and over. Who's afraid of the big bad wolf, la, la, la, la, la."
Seth, Quil, and Paul cracked up, causing Brady to turn a deep red in embarrassment. Collin was silently staring at the ground, picking at his fingernails. The beads of sweat on his forehead were now coursing tiny rivers down the sides of his face and neck.
Leah snorted quietly in the background, seemingly trying to stop herself from laughing along with the others.
"Enough," Jake commanded. He felt badly for the two very young initiates. Looking over at Sam, he could tell that he did, too. "Sam, maybe you could phase. Show them how it's done."
Sam agreed, phasing almost instantly. The boys stared at him in awe, mouths hanging open. Jacob watched as Sam looked each boy in the eye, giving a silent command to them while in wolf form.
"Oh… shit!" Collin shouted, his body beginning to quake as he transformed. Brady followed soon after.
The young black wolves looked around uncertainly for a few minutes, before Brady gave a high-pitched yelp and began running circles around the clearing. Collin watched, his ears standing straight up, his mouth open in a wolfish grin.
Sam chuffed softly, causing Brady to return to Collin's side, both wolves now ready for their alpha's command.
Guess that answers that question, Jacob thought, watching the boys respond to Sam.
Just then the relative quiet of the group was interrupted by the tinny sound of My Girl coming from the cell phone in Jacob's pocket.
Startled, Jake gave a sheepish grin and fumbled in his pocket for the phone. He would ignore the call, except that was the ring tone for Maura.
"Really? You couldn't silence your phone or anything for this?" Leah said, rolling her eyes.
"My Girl?" Paul sneered before he and Quil dissolved into mocking laughter.
"Shut it," Jacob snapped. "Sorry, this will take just a minute." He flipped open the phone.
Sam let out an impatient sigh, but there was a look of understanding in his eyes.
"Hey, baby, what's up?" Jake asked.
"What's going on? I'm hearing some strange voices." Maura sounded a little panicked.
Jacob's brow furrowed in concern. He could feel everyone's eyes on him as his call continued to delay their activities. He heard Leah sigh and watched her flip open her own phone to start texting. He turned his back and walked several feet away. "What kind of voices? What do you mean?"
"Are any of you phased right now? Seth, maybe? I can hear all these comments in my head, but I knew it wasn't you or Leah."
"Just like snatches of stuff. Like 'holy shit' and 'so cool' and stuff like that."
Jacob paused a minute before turning around to stare in surprise at Collin and Brady. "Hang on, Mo. Let me check something. Hey, Collin, Brady!" The young wolves turned to look at him. "Um… can you hear anything else in your head besides Sam right now?"
Brady cocked his head to the side, as though trying to listen more intently to what he was hearing in his mind. Collin whined a bit to get Jake's attention, moving his head in a nod. Brady woofed in agreement a moment later.
"Okay, Mo, I'm going to hang up now and phase." He didn't wait for her response, but hung up and tossed his phone to Leah before phasing.
Okay, Maura. I'm here now. Can you hear me?
Maura responded instantly. Yeah, I hear you.
Jacob looked at Collin and Brady. Can you two hear me?
Both wolves seemed confused for a moment, looking between Sam and Jacob. Then they nodded at Jacob.
He sensed Maura's surprise, mixed with relief at understanding where the strange voices were coming from. Wanting to investigate further and needing Seth's help to communicate with Sam, he looked over at his pack members and mentally gave the order to phase.
It happened instantly, causing Leah to drop her cell. She growled in irritation at Jacob, who ignored her.
Okay, Maura, we're going to block you now so we can figure this thing out. Try to ignore Collin and Brady's voices the best you can.
Got it. I'll see you tonight! Maura thought, involuntarily conjuring up a vision of what she and Jacob would look like later, wrapped in a heated embrace.
Leah and Seth responded in mock disgust and immediately blocked her, but Collin and Brady, not able to control their thoughts yet, practically drooled.
Jacob tried for damage control. Uh, Maura. We have a bigger audience now, so….
Ugh! Right. I'll be blocking you guys now, too. Bye!
Using Seth as go-between, Jacob let Sam know what was going on. After some initial arguing about what to do, they decided to just go for a big pack run before having the boys phase back to get some rest. They would meet with the Council later that night to share the news.
When the packs returned home to Billy's that evening, they found the rest of the Council gathered in the living room. Maura was poring over the book that her cousin Jenny had sent a few months ago.
She quickly got to her feet to give Jake a kiss. "Hey. We were just trying to see if there was any mention of being able to communicate with multiple packs in this thing." She pulled him over to sit on the couch next to Billy. The others settled in on the floor or leaned against the walls of the tiny room.
"What did you find out?" Sam asked.
Billy shook his head. "Nothing. As we figured, there is no mention of multiple packs here at all. I think maybe the answer is that the packs are evolving to fit the current situation."
Old Quil, leaning back in Billy's well-worn recliner, continued, "We've wondered about the validity of this dual pack situation. We thought the true alpha would emerge somehow to negate the other. Perhaps in a show of strength, though that didn't seem likely given Jacob's or Sam's personality. This seems to lend some credibility for continuing things as they are, if new members are able to follow both alphas and Seth continues to be able to communicate on either side."
Sue joined in. "Obviously the threat to our tribe is high or the boys wouldn't have phased. But maybe this isn't so much a sign of added danger as a sign that in these modern times, the singular devotion of the pack as protectors isn't exactly realistic. Maybe…" she paused and smiled at her two children. "Maybe it's a sign of being able to lead a more normal life."
The next several days were a blur. Jacob and Sam were busy with their packs, training Collin and Brady, and figuring out how this new development would affect the dynamic of both packs.
Maura was slammed at work, as the cold and rain drove more people into the diner for home cooked meals, including the peach and pumpkin pies based on Maura's grandmother's recipes that Emily had recently added to the menu.
When she wasn't running ragged at work, Maura occupied herself sending a few Christmas cards back east to distant relatives, more out of habit and tradition than anything else. She sent one, along with a picture of herself with Jake and the Clearwaters, to cousin Jenny. She did not send one to her dad.
And she anxiously watched the mail for the delivery of the present she'd ordered for Jacob.
In no time at all, it was Christmas Eve. Emily's was closing early that afternoon, giving everyone time to attend the potluck at the community center, and wouldn't reopen until two days after Christmas.
Emily yanked the chain on the "open" sign next to the diner's front door. "Ready to go, guys?" she asked Maura and Paul.
"All set. Just let me get the pies out of the oven. Thanks for driving, Paul. I didn't want to walk in the cold, and Jake said he'll be home late from work tonight," Maura answered. She placed both pies in a box and turned off the oven.
"Here, I'll get those for you," Paul said, taking the pies from Maura and the casserole dishes from Emily before heading to the car.
Maura and Emily grabbed their jackets from the back and stepped outside.
"I wonder why Jake has to work so late tonight. I was hoping he would be at the potluck."
Emily bit her lip and looked like she was hiding a smile.
"What?" When Emily just gave her a wide-eyed stare, Maura groaned in frustration. "Fine, whatever." They both jumped as Paul honked the horn impatiently, and quickly got in the car. "Billy said Jake's sister will be there tonight. I'm nervous about meeting her."
"Don't be nervous about Rachel. She's really sweet," Emily answered.
Paul snorted in seeming disagreement as he sped along toward the community center. "Yeah, real sweet," he said sarcastically.
"You haven't even seen her in, like, four or five years. Besides, I'm sure you and Jake and all his little friends were a big pain in the ass back then," Emily commented, making Maura laugh. "I used to hang out with the twins sometimes when my family would come visit Leah's. They were a lot of fun. You'll like her, Maura."
As they neared the community center, Maura felt her phone buzz signaling she had a text. It was from Jake.
Where are you?
She quickly texted back. Parking lot of the center. When will you be here?
Jake didn't answer, so she slipped her phone back in her pocket.
"Are you kidding me? Show off." Paul grumbled suddenly, as Emily let out a little squeal.
Maura looked around. "What?" Paul stopped the car without pulling into a space. She followed his and Emily's gazes to the left. Her jaw dropped. "Oh. My. God."
She jumped out of the car, slamming the door behind her, and stepped forward toward where Jake was leaning against a bright red Scirocco with a giant green ribbon around it. She faintly registered hearing Paul pull his car into an empty space behind her.
"Merry Christmas, Maura," Jake said, smiling.
"Are you freaking kidding me? This is my present? Oh my God, Jake!" She ran forward, slamming into him with a huge hug. "It's my dream car… how did you…?" She trailed off, untangling herself from his arms, and slowly walked around it.
"I found it about a month ago, in a junk lot just south of here. You like it?"
"Like it? Jake… it's fantastic," she whispered, coming around the car to stand next to him again.
"He's been working on it almost non-stop whenever he had a free moment, which isn't much considering," Billy said proudly, wheeling over.
"Yeah, well, and the guys at the shop helped me out with the paint job."
Maura shook her head. "Jake… it's too much. I can't accept a freaking car as my Christmas present." She watched Jacob's face fall. It was silent for a moment, even though they'd attracted a small crowd of onlookers.
"You'd better." Maura heard an unfamiliar voice and turned to see who it was. A small, dark haired girl walked over, pushing through the crowd. She had a fierce look on her face. "He worked hard on this. For you."
"I… I know that. I just, " Maura began, feeling defensive, and slightly intimidated, as she studied the stranger. "It's just…"she looked back at Jacob. "It's a car."
He smiled down at her and pressed the keys into her hand. "Yeah, I know. Let's go take it for a spin."
The girl interrupted again. "He put his heart and soul into fixing up this car. It's all I've heard about for a month, whenever I called home."
Maura turned to her. "Rachel." She looked back at Emily, who was grinning.
"Did I forget to mention she's also pretty protective of her annoying younger brother?"
"It's nice to meet you?" Maura offered.
Billy chuckled. "Rachel, this is Maura. Be nice, Jacob's not the only one around here who loves her."
Rachel allowed herself a small smile and stuck out her hand to shake Maura's. "I didn't hear a thank you." She nodded her head towards her brother, but her tone was noticeably softer, more teasing.
Maura rolled her eyes, but smiled. She threw her arms around Jake and pulled him down for a long kiss. "Thank you."
She grabbed Jake's hand and pulled him toward the car. She looked around for Paul but didn't see him. She figured he must have already gone inside. "Hey, Em, ask Paul to bring in those pies for me. We'll be back in a bit."
They took the scenic route up to Lake Ozette, not wanting to go too far, but wanting to give the car a nice test run. She let Jacob fool with the stereo and tried not to get offended when he gave her unsolicited driving tips. After about twenty minutes, she turned the car around, heading back.
"It's perfect, Jake. I haven't had my own car in so long. I can't tell you the feeling of freedom this has given me already. I can go anywhere, whenever I want," she said happily.
"Yeah. I know what you mean. Just don't go too far away, okay," he replied quietly.
"Are you kidding me? You know that's not what I meant." She reached over and touched his arm. "I just meant that I can go to the store without asking for permission. I feel like an adult again."
When they returned to the center and Maura had parked next to Billy's truck, she killed the engine and turned to face Jacob. "You know… this beats the pants off the present I got for you."
He laughed and leaned over to kiss her. "Doesn't matter. I'm sure I'll love it." He popped open his door. "Just, you know, though, this means I win!" He jumped out of the car laughing before Maura could hit him.
She got out, too, slamming the door in mock irritation. "You suck," she declared, pinching his bicep and darting away before he had a chance to retaliate.
They entered the crowded, hot community center still laughing and trying to swat at each other.
Seth waved them over to join him at his table. He gave Jacob a look of surprise as they sat down. "So you're okay with it, then?" he asked.
"Okay with what?" Jacob grabbed Maura's hand but gave his attention to Seth.
"Rachel and Paul. I figured you'd be kind of pissed. I think your dad was in shock."
"What are you talking about? Where's my dad? What do you mean, Rachel and Paul?"
Just then, Leah and Henry came over to join them, their plates piled high with food. "Your peach pie is already gone, Maura."
Before Maura could answer, Jacob jumped in. "What's going on? What does Seth mean by 'Rachel and Paul'?"
"Way to go, big mouth," Leah snapped at Seth. She took a big breath. "Um, yeah. So, while you two were out joyriding, Paul went out to his car to get Maura's pies and ran into Rachel." She hedged, seeming to not want to continue.
"Leah, jeez! Out with it."
"Well, he took one look and imprinted on your sister." Not giving Jacob a chance to absorb the information, she quickly continued, "Rachel had no idea why Paul's suddenly all over her, especially since she knows you two aren't best friends or anything. Then your dad about lost it when he saw them come back inside, Paul following her like a love sick puppy dog. I think they decided to go home. Sam's out back now, talking Paul down from the ledge and convincing him to leave it alone for a day or so." She took another, dramatic breath. "And now, I'm going to eat."
Later that night, Maura was still trying desperately to take Jacob's mind off the Paul-Rachel bombshell before he had to go on patrol for the night. He had almost exploded when Leah finished her recap, then refused to eat any dinner. Needless to say, they left the potluck as soon as Maura finished eating.
He then persuaded her to drive over to his dad's house so he could talk to Billy, who was in no better shape than Jacob. While the two of them brooded and muttered in the living room, Maura made small talk with Rachel in the kitchen. It turned out to be a good thing—Rachel was pretty funny, and Maura enjoyed getting to know her. She still hadn't been told the truth about what happened and had no clue about the wolves. Maura wondered when Billy would tell her.
As the hour approached midnight, Maura grew restless. She had to get back home to Sue's, and Jacob had to start his patrol with Leah and Seth. They agreed to take the Christmas patrol, leaving Sam's group to cover New Year's Eve so Jake and Maura could go to Port Angeles.
Rachel yawned. "I hope those two will knock it off and go to bed. So Paul likes me. It was annoying but not this big a deal." She sighed. "I don't want to be rude, but I'm going to bed."
Maura laughed. "Not rude at all. It's late, and I need to get home. Merry Christmas, Rachel."
Rachel smiled and gave a tired wave. As she walked through the living room to her bedroom in the back, Maura heard her sarcastically remark to her dad and brother, "Bah humbug, you two. There'll be coal in your stockings tomorrow."
Maura walked over to Jake and gave him a kiss on the top of his head. "I'm going home. I'll see you in the morning?" Jake nodded and got up to walk her to her car. "Merry Christmas, Billy!"
Billy smiled, but his eyes were tired. "Merry Christmas, Maura."
Early the next morning, Maura was helping Sue cook breakfast. She had just put on a pot of coffee, when Seth and Jacob came bursting through the door. Rain drops dripped from their hair and soaked the sweats they had changed into.
"If you were dreaming of a wet Christmas then I guess you got your wish," Seth said, laughing as he gave his mom a hug. "Smells good, Mom."
"Hey, Jake, come to my room with me for a minute, okay?" Maura asked, taking his hand and dragging him down the hall. When they got to her room, he made a running jump and landed on the bed. "Don't break it, Jake, jeez!"
"Mmm. It's nice and warm." He closed his eyes.
"I know you're tired, but you can sleep after you eat breakfast."
He reluctantly opened his eyes and sat up. "And after I go home. Dad wants us to spend time together, it being Rachel's first Christmas back. We're going to call Rebecca early this afternoon, too."
Maura hesitated, still standing in the doorway, and fidgeted with the hem of her shirt.
"What's up? You look nervous," Jake commented.
"Okay. I'm going to give you your present. But, you know, after your amazing surprise yesterday, this seems so completely inadequate." She walked to the closet and pulled out a rectangular wrapped box. She crossed back over to the bed and sat down beside him. She started to give it to him, then pulled it back from his outstretched hands. "It's just… it, well—"
"Maura, come on. It'll be great." He reached for the package again, pulling it away from her. He tore off the paper and opened the lid on the box. "This is awesome, thank you!" He leaned over to give her a kiss before lifting the copy of Volkswagen, History to Hobby from the excessive amount of tissue paper she had smothered it in.
Maura sighed in relief and watched his face light up as he skimmed the introduction and flipped through the pages to see the photographs. She knew he would like it because it was all about his favorite cars, but still. It was their first gift exchange, and he had gone completely overboard, while she had spent fifty bucks plus shipping, although she had thought that might be a bit extravagant when she ordered it.
"Breakfast!" Sue called loudly from the kitchen.
"Come on, I'm sure you're starving." Maura jumped up from the bed, pulling him up behind her.
He tugged her back against his chest. Leaning down, he kissed her cheek and whispered, "Thank you. I love it, it's perfect."
"Quittin' time!" Bobby, one of Jacob's coworkers at the auto shop, symbolically threw a wrench down on the ground while the rest of the guys laughed and began to clean up. He retrieved the wrench and leaned against the hood of the car Jake was just finishing the repairs on. "Hot date tonight?"
He smiled, despite himself. "Yeah. Taking my girl to Port Angeles for a show."
"Well, that's cool. Beats the pants off going to the pub with the guys for New Year's Eve." Bobby stretched his arms over his head. "Which is what I'm doing. Why don't you go ahead and get outta here. I got the rest."
"Seriously? Thanks, man." Jacob quickly packed his tools and cleared things with his boss before jumping in the Rabbit. He sent Maura a quick text to let her know he was leaving early. He was barely out of the parking lot before she texted back.
Great! We can leave early. I kinda invited some people along.
"Maura… no," he grumbled to himself. He was hoping for a night alone with her.
He texted back: Great. Who?
Again, the reply came quickly: Embry.
Oh and Leah, Henry, and Seth. Don't be mad.
Jacob rolled his eyes. He sped home to shower and change before picking Maura and Seth up just after six o'clock. She flew out of the door as he was getting out of the car.
"Seriously, don't be mad. It's just, Embry was at the diner today. He was telling Emily he'll be back to work by the end of the month, and I could tell he misses everyone and has been bored and lonely, especially since he finally decided to break things off with Karen. But then, I didn't want him to feel like a third wheel, you know, especially on New Year's Eve, that can be depressing." Maura paused, finally, to take a deep breath. "So, I lied and told him the others were already coming. I had to bribe Leah to change her plans, but Seth was easy."
She rolled her eyes. "Come on inside. Sue wants to say Happy New Year."
She grabbed his hand and pulled him along behind her, giving him the chance to covertly ogle her as they walked.
Super short skirt, niiiiice. Tights and her lace up punk rock boots, my favorite. But what is this flannel on top?
"What's with the flannel?"
Maura laughed and closed the door behind them. "Necessity. It's cold. Don't worry, I'll ditch it when we get to the club." She pulled the neckline aside to reveal a tank top and the hint of a lacy bra strap beneath. Jacob couldn't stop the grin from forming on his face.
Seth picked that moment to enter the living room. "God, quit drooling on her."
Jake reached over and popped him on the back of the head before strolling to the kitchen to say hello to Sue.
"Happy New Year, honey," Sue said, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "Be careful and keep your eye on Seth, please. I really don't want him to drink before he graduates high school."
"Mo-om," Seth whined.
"Noted," Jake replied. "My dad says some of you old folks are going to party over here tonight."
"That's right, so don't go getting jealous that you're missing out on all the fun!" Sue laughed. She turned to Seth, hugging him tightly. "Okay, give Leah and Henry a New Year's kiss for me and, remember, Jacob's in charge."
"Good night, Mom." Seth kissed her cheek and pulled out of the hug. He grabbed Jacob's keys and headed to the car to wait for them.
"He'll be fine, Sue, I promise," Maura assured her, giving her a quick squeeze good-bye before leaving.
They headed to Embry's house. As they pulled up to the curb behind Leah's Suburban, they waved to Mrs. Call and Mrs. Young, who were on their way over to the Clearwater's for the "grown up" celebration.
"Jump out and tell them we're ready to go," Jacob ordered Seth. Maura opened the passenger side door and hopped out to let Seth get out, too. While he was inside getting the rest of the group, she climbed into the backseat. Jake looked in the rear view mirror and caught her eyes. "And what are you doing?"
"Kicking Seth out to ride with his sister so Embry can ride with us. He needs to be able to stretch out his leg and this back seat is too small for that. I'll ride back here," she explained.
He pursed his lips and prepared to argue. He didn't want to share this night with everyone else in the first place, and now she was squished in the back seat so he couldn't even hold her hand on the drive.
"Stop being a baby. We'll kick everyone out on the way back." She leaned forward, kissing his neck below his ear and running her hands in his hair.
Hmm. Well, okay, if stuff like that can still happen.
"I've been thinking," Embry announced without prelude immediately after getting in the car.
Jake pulled their car around the Suburban, leading the way. "Yeah?"
"I'm going to school."
Jake took his hand off the wheel, moving it in a circular motion, gesturing for Embry to continue.
Embry angled his body sideways, facing both Jacob and Maura. "This whole thing with my injury and having to get around going to regular hospitals, you know, since the bloodsuckers left town. I've had to learn how to heal on my own, from questioning the doctors or researching online or just listening to my own body. And I realized that we need someone in the tribe who can heal, not just in the old medicine-man way, but an actual doctor."
"You're going to med school?" Maura asked, leaning forward between the front seats and sliding her left hand up to rest on Jake's shoulder.
"Yep." Embry smiled, seemingly both proud and nervous.
"That's…" Jake paused a minute. This was completely out left field. It was also brilliant. "Have you mentioned this to Sam?"
Embry's smile faltered. "No. I pretty much just decided. I've had a lot of time on my hands to think about things, and it's what I want to do. I think it's my… purpose."
"You would have to leave," Maura said.
"You have a purpose, man. Here, with the packs," Jake said softly.
"I'd come back. The packs, the tribe, would be my patients. Those Volturi were no joke, Jake. If they come back, or if any bloodsuckers come back, we need someone with medical training. And then, what about Kim and the baby? Jared says her doctor's been making comments, completely baffled by the rate at which that baby is growing. We need one of our own taking care of us."
"I'm not necessarily arguing with you, man. But you're my best friend. I've known you our whole lives, and for our whole lives you've felt out of place, like you don't completely belong. You have a purpose here already. You should know that."
"Do I, though, really? I mean, in the wolf world, I'm basically a mistake. If my father, whoever that was, hadn't had an affair, I wouldn't be here. I'm not needed to carry on the wolf line. I think maybe that's why I haven't imprinted, and I'm never going to."
It was silent in the car after that, Jacob had not turned on the radio because of Embry's sudden announcement. He felt Maura's hand squeeze his shoulder, and let out a sigh.
Embry gave a rueful laugh. "Kinda heavy for New Year's Eve, I guess, huh?" He picked up Jake's iPod and began shuffling through the play list, turning on the stereo system when he found a song he liked.
It was an old rap song they used to listen to when they were kids. Jake punched him in the arm and they both laughed, lightening the mood. "You think too much, man."
A few hours later, Maura was on the dance floor, swaying with her eyes closed as they listened to the band play. Stumbling over nothing, she opened her eyes and regained her balance. Looking to her left, she saw Seth and Embry laughing at her. She stuck her tongue out at them before laughing at herself.
"Hey!" Leah attempted to shout over the music as she returned from the bar with another drink for the both of them.
Maura took the drink, touched her cup to Leah's in a toast before taking a long swallow. She brought her cup back down from her lips and looked around for Jacob. "Heyyy… where's my man?"
Leah shrugged and looked around, too. She leaned down to shout in Maura's ear. "He and Henry were hanging out by the bar a few minutes ago." They both turned around to look behind them. "Oh, yeah. See, right where I left them." She giggled, and they both turned back to the stage.
"Oh my God, Leah, you're drunk!"
Leah narrowed her eyes. "Maybe. So?"
"No, no, no, no, no. Maura, I will never be drunk enough to turn into a woo-girl. Stop it."
Just then Maura felt big, strong arms wrap around her from behind.
"Are you harassing my girl, Leah?" Jake asked, leaning down to kiss the top of Maura's head, as Henry joined them, curling his arm around Leah's shoulders.
"She woo'ed. I cannot allow that."
Henry smiled. "She really can't."
"Buzzkill!" Maura shouted, just as the last chords of the current song faded to an end.
The singer must have heard her, announcing, "No killing the buzz on New Year's Eve. This calls for a round of shots on us, bartender!"
The crowd erupted in shouts of appreciation, as the bartenders and wait staff rushed to fill the request.
"Cheers!" Maura shouted, as she and Leah tossed back the shots, while the guys raised their glasses of water or Coke.
Maura turned and snuggled into Jacob's side, pulling him down to slur in his ear, "This iss the besst New Year'ss ever!"
Jake laughed and kissed her. "You're drunk. I'm cutting you off."
"No, I'm fine, really."
Embry playfully punched her in the shoulder. "No one likes a sloppy drunk, Mo."
"Shut up!" Maura laughed, then suddenly went still. From out of nowhere, chills ran down her spine and a feeling of dread caused bile to rise in her throat.
"Woah," Seth said, backing up. "She looks like she's gonna hurl."
Maura felt Jake's hot hands tilt her face up toward his. "Aw, baby, you okay? Let's get you outside."
Panic overtook the dread. "No! Jacob, no, we can't go out there!" She struggled to pull herself out of his arms.
As her friends circled around her, Maura felt a sudden rush of nauseating heat. She might actually throw up, but it wouldn't be from drinking. Taking in a deep breath, she gasped out just loud enough for them to hear, "Vampire!"
Jacob's blood pressure shot up instantly, adrenaline already coursing through his body.
You're sure?" Maura nodded. "Can you tell how far? How many?"
"N-no," she stammered, then took a deep breath. "Close if how bad I'm feeling is any indication."
Jacob watched as she tried to will the fear from her expression. "It's okay." He pulled her to him in a hug and motioned for everyone to follow him to a hallway in the back of the building, away from the noise of the band and the crowd.
"Embry, I need you to call Sam's cell. If he doesn't answer, call either Collin's or Brady's house and get them to phase and send a message to Sam. We might need back-up. Leah, guard the front door. Maura, stay back here with Henry. Seth and I will check the perimeter outside and phase if necessary."
"Jake, no, please don't go out there!" Maura clutched at his arm.
Sensing her hysteria was growing, he pulled her close again and leaned down to whisper in her ear.
"I'll be fine. You've got to quit worrying. This is what we do, Maura. It's why you found us, and one of the many reasons why we're meant to be together." He brought her face to his and kissed her. "Let me go take care of the situation before these bloodsuckers can do any damage tonight." She nodded and buried her head in his shoulder, squeezing him tightly for a second before letting go.
Pushing his way through the crowd, Jake led Leah and Seth out the front door and into the cold, damp night. It was just after eleven o'clock, and the streets were crowded. "Leah, you good here?"
She leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. "Yep."
Jake and Seth started off to the left. "We'll circle the block once together, see if we get anything this close."
A few minutes later, they veered left again, down a deserted back alley, hoping to avoid having to push through any more people on their way to ring in the New Year.
"I'm not getting anything yet. Too many people out tonight. Their scents are getting in the way," Seth said. Jacob grunted his agreement, his thoughts overloaded with finding the vampires and worrying about Maura back at the club.
They took another left turn as the alley gave way to a quieter street, one with bars only on the corners. Passing another alley, Jacob noticed it seemed to run right behind the club they had been in.
It was then that he caught the sickeningly sweet scent of vampire. The hairs on the back of his neck rose, and he reached out to stop Seth just as Seth's body went rigid with awareness.
"Down there!" Seth hissed loudly.
Jacob caught the movement of the bloodsucker walking toward them from close to the club's back entrance. Fearing that the vampire had somehow already been inside and harmed Maura, he phased instantly. He bent his four legs in preparation for attack, and lowered his head, snarling out a warning.
Knowing Leah would feel the moment when he phased, Jacob knew he and Seth would have back up shortly. He scanned the area and sniffed the air, expecting more vampires, and was surprised to realize that this one appeared to be alone. He then noticed that Seth hadn't yet phased. Not taking his eyes from the figure moving closer to them from the alley, he growled at Seth.
"Wait, Jake. I know this scent. You do, too."
Not fully paying attention to what Seth said, Jacob began to slowly enter the alley, figuring they could trap and dispose of the leech without any witnesses. That's when the bloodsucker's scent fully hit him.
No fucking way, he thought.
"It's Dr. Cullen," Seth said.
Several things happened at once. Carlisle Cullen began to speak, Leah came barreling around the corner, wild eyed and prepared to phase, and the back door to the club slammed against the bricks as it was flung open by Embry, who was shouting at them while holding his cell phone to his ear.
Jacob growled again, getting everyone's attention. He watched Carlisle raise his hands in a non-threatening gesture. In his peripheral vision, he saw Seth smile.
Embry limped up to the group, closing his cell phone and slipping it into his pocket. "That was Sam. He was just about to call us when I called him. It seems Dr. Cullen called the Clearwater's looking for Jake. My mom answered the phone and must have told him we were headed to Port Angeles. She didn't know who it was until Billy questioned her about the call. He thought it was suspicious that someone we know wouldn't have known where we were tonight. Sam's on his way."
Seth answered, "You should call him back. Tell him we don't need him. It's just the Cullens."
Carlisle smiled at Seth and then sobered his expression. "Actually, it's just me. Jacob, I've come with some news from the Volturi."
The back door to the club swung open again. Maura darted out of it, with Henry right behind her.
"Maura, stop! We don't know what's going on. We could get in the way," Henry's harsh whisper was picked up easily by the super human hearing of the rest of the group.
Jacob, seeing that Maura was quickly approaching Carlisle, nearly came out of his skin. The instinct to protect her as she advanced on their sworn enemy was overtaking rational thought. He tensed into a crouch, ready to spring forward and attack.
Suddenly everyone was shouting at once.
"Jake, no!" Seth pleaded.
"Maura, stop!" From more than one person.
Jake! Maura calling to him through their mental bond.
Then, more quietly, Jacob heard Carlisle's voice. "I'm not a threat here, Jacob. I still respect our treaty, and violence is not my way of life. I won't hurt her."
Jake's growl rolled from his chest in a low, continuous rumble as he warily circled to the other side of Carlisle, coming between him and Maura. He saw the realization dawn in the vampire's gold eyes.
"She's special to you. Your mate."
Jacob nodded his head.
Leah let out a slow breath and crossed around behind Jacob to stand slightly in front of Henry. Carlisle nodded at her, seeming to understand that relationship, as well.
He heard Maura question him in her mind.
That's one of them? The Cullens? Carlisle, the patriarch and the one who forged the peace treaty with our ancestors. He seems sort of different from the one I saw up close before. His eyes.
That's one of them? The Cullens?
Carlisle, the patriarch and the one who forged the peace treaty with our ancestors.
He seems sort of different from the one I saw up close before. His eyes.
Jake nodded again. The Cullens don't drink human blood, remember? Ask him to tell us why he's here.
He felt Maura's hesitation and nudged her softly with his nose.
"Jake wants you to tell us why you're here." Ugh. He might be eerily beautiful, but he stinks.
Carlisle looked around at the group. "The Volturi asked me to come. They wanted to let you know there won't be any retaliation on their part."
Jacob was stunned. Why would the most powerful group of vampires voluntarily back down?
"After their defeat here, they were set to annihilate the entire tribe. Aro called on my family to give him information about you, how you were different from the werewolves that Caius destroys in Europe, and the nature of the treaty between us. It can be difficult to go against the Volturi's directives, but we all tried convincing him to change his mind." He paused, looking directly at Jacob again. "In the end it was Bella who was able to persuade him."
Jake heard Maura in his head immediately. Bella?
He worked to conceal any emotion in his thoughts, but he couldn't hide his curiosity to find out how and why.
Before anyone had to ask him, Carlisle continued, "She allowed Aro into her mind. You can imagine the risk she took in doing that. But she wanted Aro to hear the legends as she had heard them. To know that your kind are called into existence by the presence of our kind. To see that the basis of our treaty was for your people to protect one tiny corner of the world while resisting the instinctive drive to destroy my clan. That you don't go seeking out the vampires.
"Ultimately, though, she wanted him to understand that to eliminate the Quileute wolves, they would truly have to slaughter the entire tribe, creating an unexplainable tragedy big enough that humans around the world would start asking questions and demand answers. It would jeopardize the secrecy the Volturi mandates for our kind and expose us to the human world."
It was silent for a moment as the information sunk in.
Embry finally broke the silence. "So, that's it? It was that easy?"
Carlisle chuckled and shook his head. "No, it definitely was not as easy as it sounds. It took weeks of persuasion and discussing possible outcomes of an attack. Bella showed him with her mind how destroying the wolves would only trigger the change in the remaining male Quileutes. That unless they were prepared to put an end to your entire gene pool, it would only be a matter of time, of one generation, before the Quileute wolves were a threat again."
Jake let out what he knew would sound like a skeptical snort. I'm having trouble buying this. We might be safe for now, but I don't think this is the end. That they'll just leave us alone.
He listened as Maura relayed his thoughts out loud.
"I'm with Jake," Leah said. She crossed her arms defensively across her chest.
"I understand your unwillingness to accept this at face value. The Volturi aren't known for their kindness. In fact, this isn't so much a kindness as a byproduct of our need to remain off the human radar. I can't say that they won't ever return. But you have the Cullen word that we won't settle back here again, ever. We owe you that much. Our clan's return would draw new attention to the tribe."
Seeming to be finished with his delivery of the news, he smiled at the group sadly. "Your forefathers formed a truce with us. They may be gone, but the Cullens will always hold up our end of the bargain, generation to generation. And speaking of that, Bella requested a renegotiation of the tribe's boundary line to include the town of Forks, for Charlie's sake, if you'll agree."
Movement at the end of the alley caused the group to turn, both wolves and vampire on the offensive.
Maura, tell everyone to stand down. It's Sam and Quil.
She relayed the message as Sam and Quil padded around the corner in wolf form, into their line of sight.
"Boy do we have a lot to tell you guys," Seth began, before Jake's growl and Leah snarling his name cut him off.
Embry took over. "The recap is that the Volturi have issued a no retaliation policy, for now anyway. Jake's not sure it will last forever. The Cullens continue to pledge not to settle back in this area, and Bella wants to extend the tribe's boundary to include Forks, for Charlie. I think that about does it." He looked over at Carlisle.
"That it does. Now, if you'll excuse me, everyone. And happy New Year." With that said, Carlisle strode purposefully, though at human speed, down to the cross street, neatly jumped to the top of the building, and disappeared from sight.
Sam caught Jacob's eye. He nodded and motioned with his head to Quil. Jacob got the gist of the message. If that was all, they would be heading back home and would convene the Council in the morning.
Embry walked closer to Sam, getting his attention. "Well, there is one other little bombshell. I was going to wait, but now's probably as good a time as any." Jake watched with pride as Embry revealed his med school plans to his alpha and the rest of the group.
The hackles rose on the back of Sam's neck, revealing his negative reaction to the news. He gave a short growl and Quil gave a half -whine in response. Then they turned and took off into the night.
"Guess we'll be discussing that later, too." Embry gave a rueful laugh.
Just then, the night exploded with sound. Fireworks burst into the sky, bells rang, horns honked, and people everywhere cheered and sang.
"Well. Happy New Year, everybody," Seth said.
"I guess so, huh," Leah remarked. "It's been one hell of a night, that's for sure. Come here, big guy, and give me a kiss. I need a distraction." Henry pulled her into his arms and planted an exaggerated smack on her lips, causing everyone to laugh.
Just then Embry's cell phone rang. He walked off a little ways to take the call.
"Happy New Year," Maura said, looking around at the friends who had become her family. She settled her gaze on Jacob and smiled. "Rain check on the kiss. I don't like drool."
You're in so much trouble when I phase back. In fact, I've got some clothes stashed in the car. Tell Seth to follow me. We'll meet you back in the bar for a quick toast, but then I think I'm ready to call it a night.
"Sounds good," she responded aloud. Jake and Seth took off and the rest of the group headed back to the bar.
"Anyone mind heading home?" Embry asked, catching up. "That was Jared. Kim had the baby."
Five months later…
"I'm going to make a run to the store for more ice. Do we need anything else?" Jacob asked, reaching around Maura to pluck a chip from the bowl in front of her on the kitchen counter. She slapped at his hand playfully and turned around.
She surveyed the items on the kitchen table for a moment. "No, that should about do it. We've got chips, dip, veggies, Emily's layered taco stuff, my pies, the grill's ready for your hamburgers, and Sue is bringing her chili around three." She stretched up on her tip-toes to plant a kiss on his lips. He seemed to be about to deepen the kiss when she pulled back, wrinkling her forehead in thought. "Should I vacuum again before everyone gets here?"
"If you vacuum this house one more time, the dirt from underneath the foundation is going to be the only thing left to suck up. It looks great." He leaned down to steal that kiss he'd been going for a moment ago. "Our house," another kiss, "looks great."
Maura sighed happily and looked around. He was right. Their little two bedroom rental just outside the northern boundary line of the rez was small, but cozy, and definitely clean. They'd moved in just a few weeks ago after saving up enough of their paychecks to put down first, last, and a deposit.
Today, they were celebrating with a house warming-slash-first day of May party. And for once the weather was cooperating, the sun sitting high in an unusually clear sky, and the temperature hovering at sixty degrees.
While Jake picked up ice at the convenience store, Maura turned on the music on their new iPod stereo system, a house warming present courtesy of Billy and Sue. Next, she hurried to their small hall bathroom to take a quick shower before pulling on dark blue jeans, a vintage KISS t-shirt and a gray hoodie.
Within an hour, the house was filling up with their guests. Maura busied herself in the kitchen passing Emily the things that needed to be carried outside. She stopped for a moment to look through the kitchen window.
Jake was out back, on the tiny cement slab of a patio in the backyard manning the grill proudly, cutting up with the guys and drinking a beer.
Jared and Kim's five month old baby boy, Caleb, was being passed around by all the moms, smiling happily, his chubby hands covered in drool and zwieback cookie. When Sue forced him into Leah's arms, however, both Leah and Caleb looked on the verge of a tantrum, until Henry laughingly took over.
"God, Leah," she heard Seth shout, doubled over with laughter, "don't make him cry!" He ran off to play football with Quil, Collin, and Brady before Leah could reach over and punch his arm.
Maura glanced to her right and watched Rachel shoo Paul away, feigning annoyance at his constant attention, but with a happy gleam in her eye. They had officially begun dating sometime around March, and lately Billy could be heard singing Paul's praises for all his handiwork around the house, including the building of a sturdy ramp from the porch down to the front sidewalk.
Smiling to herself, Maura grabbed the last tray of food and headed out the back door to join the party.
Everyone hung around long after the burgers were gone, and as the sun began to set and the temperature dipped sharply down into the forties, Sam helped Jake start a small bonfire.
"I hope someone saved some pie for me!"
They all turned around to see Embry standing in the doorway.
"Hey, college boy, glad you could make it!" Jake said, as everyone got up to give Embry a hug. He'd been away taking some basic courses at a community college in Vancouver, which he planned to transfer to the University of British Columbia when he started the medical program there in the fall.
Mrs. Call waited patiently until the guys had all said hello before she simultaneously hugged and smacked her son on the back of the head. "You're late. I've missed you!"
Embry chuckled and squeezed her tight. "Missed you, too, Mom."
His mom released him from the hug, tugging him over to join the them at the bonfire. "Maura, would you mind getting Embry some pie?"
"Sure thing, Mrs. Call." Maura pinched Embry's cheek as she passed by. "We missed you, too."
When she returned with the pie and a glass of milk, Jacob and Sam were rounding up Collin and Brady so they could start their patrol. Since the younger boys could hear both pack leaders, they had decided to add a night with both alphas on duty to the rotation.
"You going to be all right here by yourself tonight?" Jake asked, winding his arms around Maura and pulling her close.
She nodded confidently. "I won't feel so alone anyway, being able to listen in all night."
"Go on, son. She'll be fine," Billy assured him. "I'll hang around a while, and help her put out the fire before I go."
Beside them, Sam kissed Emily and bent down to look her in the eyes. "Will you be okay tonight? It looked like you ate good. Do you feel okay?"
Emily smiled and blushed at Sam's over protectiveness. "We'll be fine."
Jake and Maura exchanged a look. "We?" They asked in unison.
Emily's blush deepened and her smile broke into a grin. "Well… we didn't want to take attention away from your house warming tonight, but little Caleb's going to have a playmate in about seven months."
"Oh my gosh!" Maura squealed and threw her arms around Emily, tumbling both of them back into Sam.
"Congratulations, man," Jake said, giving Sam a fist bump. "A little alpha on the way."
It took another fifteen minutes of hugs and congratulations before Sam and Jake were able to take off, phasing at the tree line at the edge of the road, with Collin and Brady right behind them.
The rest of the guests left not long afterward. Rachel helped Maura clean up the kitchen, while Billy and Paul extinguished the fire and cleaned up the yard. Then they, too, left to go home.
Maura wandered through the small house, making sure the doors were locked and the windows they'd opened earlier were closed. She flipped on the front porch light, then headed to the bedroom to get ready for bed. Once she was settled in with the book she was reading, she let her thoughts tune in more clearly to Jacob and the boys.
Hey, there, pretty girl. Jake seemed to know the moment she began paying attention.
How does it look tonight? she asked.
Pretty quiet. Same ole, same ole. At least for the last several months, anyway. Sam took Collin over to the east side of Forks. Me and Brady are hanging closer to the rez.
Maura smiled and closed her book. Good. I like knowing you're close by.
Did you leave the porch light on?
Silly girl. You know I can see in the dark.
I know. I just like leaving it on for you.
It was quiet for several minutes. Maura snuggled further under the covers and hugged Jacob's pillow, thinking about how his scent, woody and guy-soap and masculine, lingered on his pillow case. She couldn't wait until dawn, when he would crawl into bed with her, warming her instantly with his arms wrapped around her as he fell asleep. Or more thoroughly woke her up.
Apparently Jacob picked up on her thoughts. So… what are you wearing?
Brady broke in at once, seeming very uncomfortable. You're not alone, you know. We can hear you. Both of you.
Jake and Maura laughed.
Goodnight. Be home soon.
Maura listened as Jacob gave directions to Brady to turn southward and head about a mile inland, to run a parallel route to him.
She was almost asleep when his thoughts roused her a bit.
I love you, Maura.
I love you, too, Jake.
A/N:Super long thank you follows, but please read because these wonderful ladies deserve their shout out:
To those of you who stuck it out with me this past year through the long wait between updates, thank you. To those who favorited/alerted and those who reviewed the previous chapter (mdanser, Addison, jayn, XxMichyBabyxX, DonnaKC, ToraNokol23, and Caleb's babe), thank you. To Tears_of_Mercury for being one of the first to jump aboard and creating a banner and keeping me company from time to time over on the forum at twilighted(dot)net - thank you! To addisonj who has been there every step of the way and who writes wonderful HP fic (go check it out!) and who checks in to make sure I'm still out there, thank you so much!
To jdsk for being one of the first to believe in me and this fic, and for being my first beta, thank you!
To ezrocksangel for introducing me to this crazy twiverse in the first place - yeah, yeah, you are pretty awesome (*virtual hug*)
Finally, to my beta extraordinaire, DeeMichelle, for picking this up part-way in and being my cheerleader, counselor, and motivator - you rock in more ways than I can adequately express. Thank you, thank you, thank you!