There were a host of empty chairs scattered around Old Quil Ateara's living room. Sam was already sitting down and Jacob figured he should sit across from the older boy. Billy would have said it was a good idea for them to having the meeting eye to eye. But ever since Jacob was five years old he had sat in the blue armchair when he went to Quil's grandfather's house and he wanted the familiarity when they did this thing.
If Sam didn't like it...well, Sam picked up his chair. He evidently didn't mind that much.
"Would you like something to eat, Jacob?" Emily offered.
"Thanks," he said. The cookies were chocolate chip and warm and he grabbed a whole handful more. "Thanks, Emily," he repeated as he stuffed his mouth.
It gave him a good excuse not to talk to Sam. Why had he listened to his father and shown up early? This was just awkward. There wasn't much he wanted to say to the guy who was trying to order all of his friends—and Leah—to abandon him. Just because Sam didn't like the idea of werewolves and vampires getting along without the excuse of an invading army, Sam was going to ask the others to come back. He was going to ask them to leave Jacob.
Could he be a pack of one? Jacob wasn't exactly eager to find out.
Maybe it was the right thing Sam was doing, trying to keep the werewolves away from the Cullens. Their house still stunk. And Esme was going to overfeed someone, someday. Jacob barely held in his snort of laughter—Sam wouldn't believe the only thing the werewolves really had to worry about was having the Cullens forcibly adopt Seth.
Fortunately, he didn't have to keep up a stoic facade any longer. The door opened and the others poured in.
"Took you long enough," he called as his two best friends came over. The members of the other pack were behind them, but Jacob would worry about them later.
"Where'd you get the cookies from?" Quil demanded, looking around.
Embry asked: "Emily's here?"
"In the kitchen," Jacob confirmed. "I think she made a couple carrot cakes for later, too. Smell that? We should grab them while their hot."
"I want to marry that woman," Embry sighed as Quil went to ransack the kitchen. "Did she make muffins?"
"Maybe. I didn't look. Where's Seth?"
Embry dropped to the couch beside him and rolled his eyes. Leah's fault, then. "Someone wasn't ready when we showed up. Seth said he didn't mind waiting for her so we went ahead. You know how long girls can take."
"The longer she takes the better." Grabbing his part of the food from the returning Quil, Jacob watched the expressions on his best friends' face as he said, "Sam's agenda is pretty clear. If you guys want to go back..."
He really really wanted them to say no, but Jacob knew he had to ask. They were his best friends, Quil and Embry, and he didn't want to be the one responsible for hurting them. If they wanted to go back...and leave him all alone...he would let them. He would even make sure Sam gave them a break.
"We aren't leaving, stupid," Quil said.
"You make us do even more dumb patrols than Sam," Embry laughed. "Why would we want to go back?"
It wasn't enough to convey how grateful he was, but it was the best Jacob could come up with. They smiled and understood. Thank goodness the lovefest was broken up by Paul's whining.
"When the hell are we going to start?"
"The Clearwaters will be here soon." Jacob hoped he was telling the truth. That was when he noticed that the crowd behind Sam was smaller than it should be. "And you have to wait for Max."
"Fine," Sam agreed.
He wanted to get this over with Jacob realized. Sam thought this was just a formality. There was no fire burning down his spine, but Jacob found himself angry in a different way. He didn't want to transform but he wanted to yell for a little bit. The rogue pack might not be orthodox, but it was his and Sam couldn't just lazily demand it. Tradition or no tradition, Jacob wasn't going to give up his friends without a fight.
Jared headed off to the bathroom, which is when the doorbell rang. Finally, the Clearwaters had showed up.
"And that's why I'm glad I haven't imprinted," Embry whispered, whistling under his breath.
"I still have eyes," Quil shot back.
Jacob couldn't help sitting up a little straighter as Leah walked into the room. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen her in a dress, but...yeah. Sometimes it was easy to remember why he had liked Leah before she went all crazy bitter.
"Hey Jake!" Seth called. "Sorry we're late."
"It's fine, Seth," Jacob assured the youngest member of his pack. It was bad form to stare at Seth's sister while he was right there though it didn't stop Embry from muttering, "Really fine."
It was easy not to laugh though Jacob normally would have. Now that Leah was close enough to talk to she was a lot harder to get along with. She was complaining already.
"Way to leave room, Embry. No wonder you can't get any. I can't believe you're making me sit on the floor."
Embry shifted uncomfortably, forcing down his retort when Jacob glared—it was too damn early for them to be pulling their usual crap. Besides, Jacob reasoned, if Embry kept his trap shut Leah would find room on the couch somehow. She was resourceful most of the times. And Embry might not like Leah, but he was going to really enjoy sitting up against that.
Only she didn't sit in the space Embry was trying to pretend he wasn't eager to make for her. Instead she looked right at Jacob and sat down on the armrest beside him.
"You're not going to stay here, are you?" Jacob asked as she made herself more comfortable. "Because I don't need you hovering."
"You need all the help you can get, kid."
"Which you're going to give me. By running your mouth like you usually do, keeping Sam distracted. All of which you can do from the couch."
"I need to talk to you."
"So talk." Why did she always have to make things so difficult?
Leah bit her lip, but when she spoke even Jacob figured it wasn't what she meant to say: "Paul said I looked like a guy yesterday."
"You can let him stare at you while you're on the couch."
And stare Paul would. He was currently drooling (Rachel probably wouldn't complain if Jacob broke his nose this time), and Jacob was pretty sure Colin and Brady and company weren't sneaking looks at him. After staring down the opposing pack—Paul gave in even faster than Colin, knowing Jacob was just looking for an excuse—Jacob asked, "Was this really necessary?"
"I spent two hours in my closest today looking for a dress I hadn't torn to pieces. I am going to remind those idiots I am female for as long as possible. Being in your pack means I can do what I want again. Right?"
"Yeah," he muttered. "Wear whatever you want. I don't care."
"Yeah, because who care what the harpy looks like?"
"Shut up, Leah. The self-pity is getting old."
To his great surprise it worked.
All she said was: "You ready for this?"
"Piece of cake," he assured her.
"Is that why you look like a slob?" she demanded. He would have complained she was acting like his mother, but when she leaned over the most magnificent rack he had ever seen was inches from his face. He might have imprinted but he wasn't dead, so he let her work out her frustrations on his unlucky t-shirt.
"Jake, Sam looks pissed," Embry pointed out.
"So what? We could take him."
"It would be fun, too," Quil said. "Why don't we ask to settle it that way?"
"Boys," Leah muttered, even as Seth piped up, "It would be the Ultimate Showdown. I bet the Cullens would referee it if we asked."
He and Quil got into an argument over whether a gigantic electric scoreboard was too much—Jacob was with Seth; it was just overboard enough. But the Alpha didn't get to cut in, because Embry interrupted.
"Jared's almost done."
"You should sit down," Jacob told Leah. But she didn't move, just bit her lip again and stared at him some more. It was a little unnerving. Much more gently than he intended, Jacob asked: "What's wrong?"
Her voice was so low it wasn't even a whisper. Even as close as he was, even with werewolf hearing, Jacob could barely hear her.
"You're not going to make me go back, are you?"
He had thought about it. A lot. In this new pack, Leah was the one he least wanted to keep around, even if he didn't think the others would be as useful in front of the Council. Not to mention that it would piss Sam off that his ex-girlfriend was on the other side. Jacob couldn't afford to have Sam too angry at him, not when they were all trying to get along despite the persistent voice screaming in his head to just rip Sam to pieces and be done with it. It was better to get rid of her while he still had the chance. She was a pain in the ass, anyways.
But looking at her terrified eyes Jacob knew he could never actually go through with ordering Leah away. She may have been a pain in this ass, but she should be free to choose which pack she stayed with. If she wanted it to be his...he would let her stay.
Even if he knew she was going to make him regret it at least once a day. It was the price he had to pay for her surprisingly not-completely-crap advice.
"No. No way in hell, Leah. You're stuck with me now."
She smiled in way that actually made her look sort of beautiful.
"Thank you." She brushed the hair from his eyes, trying to make him look like a match for Sam. It was annoying how she sometimes forgot he wasn't her little brother even if he did look an awful lot like Seth, but she seemed upset and Jacob wasn't about to ruin any moment where Leah was acting like an actual feeling human being. He let her try to make him look like the Alpha he so desperately wanted to be. He didn't think it would work, but Leah had more than just hair care to offer.
Her voice was sure this time. "Well, not to promote the bitter ex-girlfriend stereotype, but I figure since it's way too late for that I might as well say it anyway: Kick his fucking ass, Jake."
With that, she got up and went to sit beside Embry. Who knew Leah could develop a sense of humor about her situation? Not Jacob. But if she could get some perspective on the whole Sam thing, then maybe there was hope for her yet.
Jared had finally sat down; time for the meeting to start. It was hard to keep a straight face because Jacob was pretty sure he could literally kick Sam's ass now. He had grown a lot in the past month. This might even be fun.
But it wouldn't hurt to be polite.
"Let's get this show on the road. Is there anything you want to say first, Sam?"
Even as he asked the question, Jacob's resolve solidified. Whatever Sam wanted, Jacob's pack was going to stay together. Quil, Embry and the Clearwaters were going to stay where they were, where they belonged. And if Sam didn't like it?