Disclaimer: I don't own the toys, but I am playing in the sandbox.

The Volturi had left; defeated (sort of) and the world began to return to normal for the La Push packs. Jacob and Sam remained at loggerheads, using any opportunity to snap and spit at one another.

Leah privately thought that it was only a matter of time before one or the other of them challenged for leadership. Watching Jake grow calmer and happier as time passed, she was pretty sure it would be Sam who broke first. Every time she saw him, he was angry. But the old hurts were fading, and she was almost ready to forgive him, now.

It was a rare day, sunny and warm, and she was sprawled by the cliff in wolf-form, waiting for her Alpha to appear. He'd all but ordered her to meet him there, calling her from Casa Vamp and demanding her presence. The other Pack were running patrols, and she relished the brief moments of solitude in her own head. Slowly, they were all beginning to move on from the Vampire 'problem'- but they still ran patrols and had meetings. It interfered, a little, with her studying (a correspondence course from the University of Seattle) and her job (part time in the store on the Rez) but there was something comfortable about her pack now; her boys. She had Jake to thank for it, she knew- giving her an out from Sam's pack and giving her the responsibility that came with being Beta. He was back in school, finishing his credits so he could graduate. Billy had insisted, and Jake, for once, hadn't fought him. He was working on the side, too, spending his weekends fixing cars and motors for the people on the Rez who couldn't afford a real mechanic. In her quieter times, she knew he was going to be an excellent leader for their people. Better than his father, better than her father. She shook herself, trying to clear the train of Jacob-worship that her mind was leading her on. She loved him. She'd admitted that to herself a long time ago, now. But he'd imprinted. It was a story she was familiar with- but at least Jake still treated her like a person; was still her best friend and Alpha. She could live with that. Besides, he didn't know, so she was safe from humiliation for now.

She heard him the moment he phased, linking to her mind instantly. He was only minutes away, running hard, his mind a jumble of thoughts she couldn't quite pin down. He was singing to himself, his mental voice fraught with tension. Something was definitely wrong. She rolled to her feet, suddenly completely alert.

"What is it Jake? What's wrong?" He ignored her, continuing to sing loudly and obnoxiously, and she caught just the tiniest flash of Edward. He was avoiding the Mind-Leech? Huh.

"Okay, I guess I'll talk to you when you get here, then." She felt a wave of gratitude wash over her from him, and she phased out to human and dressed quickly, in cut off shorts and a wife-beater shirt. He didn't take long- minutes later, he was at her side, russet fur shining in the sunlight. He phased to human, and she did her best to avoid staring at his naked body as he dressed. He was gorgeous, and if he'd been in wolf form, he would definitely have noticed her heartbeat increase and the sudden rush of blood south. At the thought, she blushed- she was as bad as the boys.

"What's wrong, Jake?" He glanced at her quickly, opening his mouth to speak before clamping his jaw shut. His mouth was tense and his shoulders taut, waves of tension rolling off him. What the hell had happened since she saw him at breakfast?

"Jacob? What's the matter? Is it Nessie? Is she okay?" It had to be an imprint thing, right? At the girl's name, he twitched. So, she wasn't too far from the truth. "Come on Jake- you can't drag me out here on a Saturday afternoon and not actually tell me what's going on." Of course it was his fucking imprint. Everything was about Nessie, these days. What the hell had the Vamps done this time? Nessie was just a kid, still- so she couldn't have done anything herself. Hell, she was reading at a 12th grade level, but she would never hurt Jacob. Even Leah had to admit that.

"I think the imprint is wearing off."

"What. The. Fuck?!" Leah Clearwater, eloquent as ever.

"I said, I think-"

"I heard what you said, but you're gonna have to explain this one to me." He glanced over at her, his entire body a line of tension.

"I don't know what happened, Lee. I was sitting there and Rosalie made a joke about Ness growing up and moving to South America. And… I didn't care Lee. I sat there, thinking 'Oh, I'd miss her', but I was thinking that I'd miss her in the same way I miss Rebecca, or Rachel when she was gone, and not the same way Quil misses Claire when she's away."

Leah was silent, sinking to the grass in shock. Could an imprint just wear off? Was that possible? Or was it because of who Nessie was?

"I took off- I called you from the house and then just ran. I think they think I'm upset that Nessie could leave, so they didn't follow. Edward tried, but I just kept singing that stupid song over and over until I crossed the treaty line." He collapsed next to her, his body falling onto the ground- like a wolf would drop, boneless.

"When did this start?" Her heart was pounding, and she could only hope he couldn't hear it. A tiny spring of hope burst in her chest and she crushed it, ruthless. She couldn't afford to hope.

"That's the thing Lee, I don't know. I got so used to Nessie being my imprint; in just wanting to spend time with her and be around her, that I don't know when it stopped being need and just became habit." He took a deep breath in and then sighed. "And now? Now, I think… I think the imprint is gone. Just. Gone. I don't know how to explain it but… " He took another deep breath "… I'm starting to think it was never real, Lee."

Not real? How could it have not been real? Sure, Nessie wasn't Native, which was weird, but Jacob was a superAlpha, so who said his soul mate would be Native? She was half Vamp, of course, and could send her thoughts out through her skin and she had a stupid name, but she was okay, she was a nice kid. How could the imprint have been not real?

"What? How? How would that even be possible?" Even as she asked, the picture painted itself in her head. Nessie, newborn and desperate, her mother dying and her father absent, being comforted and held by a baby-crazy Vampire, and enter an Alpha Wolf, fully intent on killing her; ending her life. Her only power was in making people see things; hear things. So… she made him imprint?

He raised an eyebrow at her as her face dropped, knowing she'd followed the same line of thinking as he had.

"I'm so angry, Lee. I never wanted to imprint. You know that. I was in a daze afterwards, wondering how it had happened when I was so set against it for so long. I know Ness was a baby, and she was saving her own life, I guess. But…" He growled then, from deep in his chest and her heartbeat quickened again.

"Is it Nessie that you're angry with, Jake?" She asked quietly. He met her gaze, and grinned wryly.

"No, it's not. She's just a kid, she didn't know any better." A shadow crossed his face, and Leah could almost guess what was coming next. "I'm angry with Bella. And Edward. And myself. We should have seen it! We should have known! I've wasted… Lee, I've wasted a year of my life stuck with this kid, and there was no reason for it! A whole YEAR!" He leapt to his feet and stalked to the edge of the cliff. It had been a long time since he'd gone cliff-diving. He'd stopped, out of guilt for what would happen to Nessie if he was hurt.

"GODDAMIT!" He roared, shaking with anger. "I didn't want it- I never wanted it! And she forced it on me, using MY fucking heritage against me, twisting me inside out and changing my mind on everything. She brought the Volturi here, just by existing. I risked my family, everything I have, to keep her safe, and it was for NOTHING. Just a stupid fucking wolf tricked by a Vampire." Leah let him rant, pacing the edge of the cliff. She hadn't seen him this worked up in years. It was… different. "And Edward MUST have known. He must've. He's seen Quil's mind, and mine- there has to have been a difference, all along. But I was so caught up I couldn't see it; couldn't feel the difference between me and Ness and what happened the others. Never questioned why I could still feel- ARGH" He broke off, biting back words he didn't want her to hear. He dropped to the ground at the cliffs edge letting his legs dangle over the edge. Leah approached him slowly, warily. He was close to phasing, his skin humming a little in the tell-tale vibrations. She crouched low next to him.

"I have to say Jake, I'm happy." He glanced at her, disbelief written across his features. She smiled, a genuine smile for once, blinding him a little. "The way I see it is, you just got your future back, Jake. You may have wasted a year- you could see it like that-, but you just got the rest of your life back to yourself. No Vamps expecting you to travel the world with them, expecting you to pack up and leave your home; your people, to keep their little princess happy. No more threats from the Volturi. You'll be able to go to college, wherever you want. Or not, if you want- and you won't feel bad about it because you're not living up to what Nessie expects from you. You're free Jake. Free."

Realisation dawned and she could see it in his face- he was freed from it; rescued from an imprint he had never wanted and had quietly resented for a year. His face registered joy and he pulled her into an impulsive hug.

"Thanks Leah. I knew I could count on you." She relaxed into his embrace, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, breathing in the smell of him. He was free. She was happy. The sun was shining. He stood up, dragging her with him.

"Dive with me?" He asked, glancing downwards, grinning. The smile was back- the carefree, joyful smile that he'd had, long before Bella Swan came back and turned all their lives upside down. She was certain it had been gone for at least that long.

"Sure. Someone has to make sure you don't drown yourself." His grin widened and he took her hand, dragging her back a few steps.

"On three?" Laughing, she dropped his hand and took off, running.

"Catch me if you can, Black." And she jumped, her heart singing for the first time in a long, long time, the salty spray from the waves below washing any trace of happy tears from her face.