The sun beat down on red leaves, setting them alight like some almighty, effervescent funeral pyre.

Jacob was hot.

The blazing illusion of the leaves made him remember where he'd just been, what he'd just done, made him think of another flame- hot, purple, the smoke billowing in deceptively beautiful coils. It was an image he wished he could forget. The actions and the weight of his duties had set a heaviness in his limbs, attached lead to his muzzle, so that now it lay gracelessly limp between his forepaws.

Jacob was tired.

More leaves had fallen like burnt out sparks onto the ground, burnt brown around the edges, even the yellow and orange ones streaked now with drips and splashes of red.

Jacob was hot, tired, practically immobile, and bleeding.

Jacob was pissed.

Some honor, He thought bitterly. Mighty fucking protector. Isn't that what they told me I was supposed to be? One month ago, life was normal: friends, father, sudden success with females at school due to freak growth spurt, and then I have one little temper tantrum about a missing transmission part and -BAM!- it's vamp chew toys and flea shampoo for me. Happy 16th Jacob! You can't legally drink yet, but the fate and safety of the rest of the tribe depend on you, even though you can't really hang with most of them anymore, unless you want them to figure out why Harry suddenly thinks it's funny to call you "Fido." He attempted to move, just to shift his massive head a few inches back to inspect the damages to his legs and flanks, experienced a stomach-turning pain that ricocheted all the way from his nose to his tail, and flopped back down and gave up. Ever since the first god-awful transformation, and subsequent talk with his father and the other elders, he'd felt nothing so much as trapped. The wisest old men in the tribe had reassuringly told him that: No, you aren't crazy, son, this is perfectly normal, path of your ancestors and all, nothing to fear, oh, and by the way, you're the first and, currently, only wolf running, so now you're chief, alpha, designated vampire killer, and it's your job to hang around and wait to train the others- if and when any others should come along. No pressure or anything. Good luck kid!

Jacob had wanted to rebel, he really had. But, when you go straight from mid-puberty to full-grown-and-unbelievably-defined physical maturity in a few months time, and simultaneously develop the ability to sprout fur at the slightest provocation, you more or less have to take the help you're given. So he'd learned control, he'd cut his social contact with others to the bare minimum he could stand, he'd chopped off his hair, marked his skin with his first tattoo, and began patrolling every night, testing his new abilities and searching for any signs of- of all things- vampires. He'd never found any.

Until tonight.

The creature had been male, skinny and seemingly young, with red eyes pooling into void-like black. They reflected an almost desperate hunger, and Jacob had recoiled at first, not just from with nostril searing, treacly, repugnant scent, but also from the manic blood-lust he saw in those eyes. He had thought about what to do, but he honestly didn't have many options. It was here, and it was a clear and present threat to humans. It was alone, but so was he. He had never fought anything before, never been able to do more than plan a few hypothetical strategies in his head, or have extremely unsatisfying mock battles with unsuspecting boulders. He had no experience to guide him, only the knowledge he'd gleaned of his own new body and what had been passed down to him from the elders. But the scent of the vampire reached through his nose straight to a frighteningly primal part of his brain, and yanked it the the forefront. He wanted to kill the thing. The wolf inside of him was practically desperate to tear it to pieces. And somehow, it knew he was there. It had paused, sniffed, given and evil grin, and now it was crouched slightly, arms held loosely at its sides, ready for a fight. "Come on out." It had crooned softly, derisively. "Don't you want to play?" It was challenging him, and his hackles raised and a growl rolled up and out of his throat entirely without his permission. Jacob had no idea what to do, so he had let the wolf take over, raising his paws and lowering them, carefully, silently, his instincts edging him into position. He felt the movement before it happened, the slightest shift of weight, indicating the thing's next course of action. Jacob had attacked.

Jacob had taught the vampire that over-confidence was a mortal flaw.

The vampire had taught Jacob how much his new werewolf body could bleed.

He'd left it in flames and drug himself here, stumbling with pain, his vision blurring slightly, but he'd had to get away from the rotted licorice smell of burning vampire. There was a small stream here, and a breeze came through, leeching the stench of vampire slowly from his fur, although he could still smell his own blood, hot and coppery against the cool air. He didn't dare risk changing his shape, as badly injured as he was, and as sick as he felt he was sure that seeing what his injuries looked like on his human body would only make him feel worse. All he could do was collapse there and wait: wait for his advanced healing to kick in, wait for the blood to stop, and the pain to go away. And none of it was happening fast enough.

God, his life was hell. His life was hell, and this was the lowest point of it, but apparently that wasn't enough for fate, or whatever wretched excuse for an omnipotent being was playing this game. Fate, or someone, had apparently decided that misery and bone-wracking physical pain in and of themselves were too good as experiences for Jacob to keep to himself, and the he needed, of all things, a witness.

Someone was coming. He could hear the sound of feet crunching through the undergrowth.

His entire body twitched violently in an attempt to spring to attention, achieving nothing but the sending new sparks of agony all over his body. He relaxed again, a howling chorus of vampirevampireohshit!I'mgoingtodieshit!shit!vampire, and he knew that at this point he was hopeless to defend himself. He forced his mind to clear, and his senses to focus. Panicking could only make the situation worse. He strained his ears to listen. Whoever it was, they were close now, and they definitely, yes, there it was, they most certainly had a heartbeat. He could hear it pounding away, cool relief spreading through him and making the sound of it one of the most soothing things he had ever heard. They were closer now, and he could smell them: the person smelled sweet, but not sickly so, young, like an unripe strawberry, and the sound of their step was light. Jacob wandered what a child was doing out here, and then realized that he couldn't even say at this point where "here" was. He could've been passed out in the back thicket of someone's yard, for all he knew. The child was coming closer, and he felt an uncomfortable sensation, almost like embarrassment, trickle down his spine. He still couldn't move.

Great. He thought. Let's make today an even more impressive one for the record books by frightening some kid into hysterics. If I'm lucky I'll get out of this without them bringing back someone to shoot me.

The sound of footsteps stopped at the same time he heard a rustle, and then a shocked little intake of breath. Slowly, painfully Jacob opened his eyes, and was met with the sight of a pair of tiny sneakers, white and dingy, with a pattern of sparkly purple stars. The sneakers shifted nervously as their owner wisely considered flight, and Jacob noticed that they had little, flashing red panels built into the sides, that lit up every time she moved. If he hadn't been convinced before, he certainly was now. He didn't know a lot about vampires yet, but he was sure that even had some horrible abomination occurred and a girl that tiny had been turned into a leech, no self-respecting bloodsucker in their right mind would wear dingy sneakers with sparkly purple stars and flashing, day-glow red, lights. His eyes traveled upward, meeting a pair of dark corduroys, worn at the knees, an overlarge, Seattle Mariners sweater with ten tiny, chapped-looking fingers peaking out the edge of the sleeves, slim little shoulders pulled down by the straps of a plain backpack, a pale face, small pink mouth, and huge brown eyes. He knew those eyes.

He knew those eyes, and as he stared into them, suddenly he roiled, his body trying to wrench itself forward a little, nausea and something else forcing its way up his throat. His mind caved briefly, overcome with emotions that threw open the door to his physical pain, and made him want to yell and sing at the same time. His limbs wouldn't obey him, and his claws dug into the ground, trying to find purchase, while his heart banged on his ribs, like a prisoner rattling the bars of a cell. The pain was too much, something was too much, everything was too much, and he whimpered as the uncontrollable feeling of whatever it was rolled over him in merciless, unstopping waves.

Through it all, a name floated to the top of his consciousness and clung there, refusing to be drowned up again in all turmoil rioting in his sub-conscious below.

Bella. He remembered. Little Isabella Swan.

Everything left him in a backward-sucking rush, like water swirling down a drain pipe, and the head he'd managed to raise became to heavy for his tired neck, and fell back to the ground with a soft thud. He lay there panting, eyes reduced to slits, and found himself fixated again on those ridiculous, tiny, flashing shoes.

Jacob had an odd thought; I'm going to remember those little red panels until the day that I die.