A/N: So here's the end. Thanks to everyone who put up with my major indecisiveness and especially thanks to those reviewers who got me through the middle chapters where I just kind of wanted to give up.
Epilogue: The Night Before (Life Goes On)
Our weekend of high school frivolity was over.
Jessica's ankle was better than we had all hoped. She toughed out the next day and we got back to telling old stories. And eventually it was time to go home.
She and Mike dropped me off since it was on their way. My house was no longer the dingy place I had rented my first three and a half years of teaching, but I felt a sudden longing for that old-cramped place. I missed Didi, who had been gone for the past five years, put down after a long life of being the most faithful companion anyone could ask for. Travelling through the past always brought up the little hurts that sometimes got swept under the rug in the chaos of everyday life.
There was shouting coming from my backyard, but I had learned, years ago, how to tell the difference between shouts that meant I should start to laugh and shouts that meant I should start to pray. Embry had the day off and while I knew better than to hope he had taken the boys to Church, I assumed I'd find all my boys playing together out back.
Francine Uley was doing dishes in my kitchen.
"Everyone's fine," she said as our eyes met. They were never where they were supposed to be, but if he couldn't be here I was glad someone could tell me he was alright. I remembered to breathe and she continued: "Jacob had to send a delegation to Seattle. Embry asked me to come over to watch the kids, but he should be back before dinner."
"They're getting a little old for a babysitter," I admitted as I walked over to the sink. We usually had Kim's darling Kara babysit for us nowadays and despite her shyness she had hinted the same; fourteen meant Adam didn't need a babysitter any longer. But Francine wasn't there to make sure they went to bed on time; she was there to make sure that if someone broke an arm, the right people were called.
Still, I was glad there was someone standing beside me, watching over my boys through the kitchen window as they played in the back. My boys weren't alone; someone who looked like a bodybuilder in his mid-twenties was with them.
Levi was fourteen like Adam; they'd been best friends since they were old enough to push each other down the porch steps at pack gatherings. He was a child, but he looked like a man and had powers that made me shiver.
"I reminded them to avoid contact sports," she said. "And Levi seems to have twice the protective instincts most of them have; he's been more careful than I thought he could be."
"I'm sure Mom's told you this, but Brian was the hardest for her." It had been devastating for Emily when her eldest son had phased; there had been some hope, since he lived on the Makah reservation, since he only visited his father on weekends, that maybe he wouldn't phase at all. Her three sons with her second husband were powerless; Sam's two boys were monsters. "The second time was a lot easier."
The second? How could I endure that? And then the third. Gabe was only eight—it was bad enough to think of his brothers towering over me when they should still be struggling to deal with cracking voices. How could I watch my baby come home scratched and bruised?
"I don't think anything in my life has been as hard—"
I stopped myself. Though I had always been a better listener than I was a talker, after the weekend, I was used to the sound of my own voice. Still Francine wasn't yet nineteen—she didn't deserve to have my problems dumped on her. It was just that she looked so much like her mother, just like Sam had wanted and feared, that I sometimes confused myself.
"They were well-behaved?" I asked instead.
"As soon as I got them outdoors. They're having a lot of fun finding out just what Levi can do."
"Good. As long as they're having fun."
"How was your weekend?"
"It was nice. I know it probably doesn't feel like it now, but trust me: when you're my age, you'll miss high school. High school is wonderful. Things are simple then."
"My brothers, my boyfriend and half the people I grew up with turned into giant wolves in high school. If life gets more complicated from here, I think I'm going to need a nap first," she said with a laugh.
"I'm wallowing," I realized.
"Mrs Call, I didn't mean—"
"No, I've been wallowing. I know I've been—I can't stop worrying. Sometimes I manage to push it aside for a few hours and then it just comes rushing back and I'm panicking all over again. I just can't seem to help myself."
"Sort of like phasing, but for mothers?" she suggested.
"I sound almost normal when you say it like that."
How many people had done what I would have to do with more composure? My mother-in-law hadn't even had the benefit of an explanation. At least I knew; my son wouldn't have to sneak out of my house. And I'd know exactly when it was coming, not like the older men, not even like Rachel's son, who'd become a bit of a guinea pig when Jacob discovered he could control when they phased by accidentally ordering his nephew to do just that.
But Rachel hadn't panicked at suddenly having her only child turn into a wolf. She'd helped him through it and even started sending out ridiculous emails with subjects like "Why is the fridge always empty?" and "My son lifted a fridge today, what did yours do?" and "Why does my life suddenly revolve around the fridge?" Not to mention the very important advice: "Always shower after sex. ALWAYS. Kill me please."
Emily had been calmer—and less inclined to turn the experience into a blog of her misadventures—and she had been the one to organize. Overwhelmed at having a husband with a job that you couldn't talk about? Terrified that your children could travel far away, leaving you and their bodies behind? Distraught that your boys would be sent to fight vampires one day? Emily was there.
Leah had gone one step further and voluntarily allowed her son to become a wolf at just fourteen. She wasn't scared; she'd embraced it, the way her son had embraced his heritage (the way Adam would if his mother could forget the red eyes of the Volturi in the middle of a ballroom).
"I'm sorry this ended up putting pressure on you," Leah had told me. They'd gone so far as to order Levi to stop bugging Adam even though Jacob still hated giving orders. "Always remember, it's your call."
It wouldn't always be. At eighteen, he would get to decide for himself and I already knew what his choice would be. He was his father's son (if I wasn't so worried, I think I'd be proud of him). Even now it wasn't totally my decision, not when his reproachful eyes watched me from across the dinner table.
"Embry wants to let him—says it'll be easier if he does it at the same time as Levi," I said to Francine as I watched the boys play in the yard.
"Someone has to stay with Levi," she agreed. "Apparently, he took out a couple of trees the other day trying to race his father." I laughed; I'd learned that it was always better to laugh, after all. She continued, "They're more comfortable if they don't have to do something alone."
"I'm sure they'll remind me during your father's party." As long as Leah didn't catch them, the werewolves would hint that if Adam wanted to do it…it was what he was born to do. Why should I put it off? "I'm sorry the Coven's coming."
"Nothing you could have done about it. At least the witch warned us ahead of time. And there's no vampires coming this year. Rachel isn't even sure Dr Cullen can come anymore."
"Oh no. Why not?"
"Seth wasn't allowed to explain, it sounded like." Nessie had a tendency to place herself in the middle of huge supernatural conflicts (to the consternation of most of the world, since everyone still seemed to love the girl). But she'd be fine—that's what the bodyguards were for. "I didn't know you were so close to her."
"Oh." I was still closer to Bella, who I talked to a few times a year, than I was with her daughter who I heard about but never from. "I've known her a long time, if that's what you mean."
"I just meant she sounded very fond of you." She moved away from the window, saying, "So, we'll see you Saturday then?"
"Of course. Here, let me get my wallet."
"Don't bother. I didn't really do anything."
"I know my kitchen wouldn't be this clean without you."
But it was very hard to argue with someone with werewolf blood as I had discovered over the years. I had to let her go without paying her; she even refused a ride home, promising one of her brothers would come get her as she walked home. It was still bright out, so I let her go. Besides, nothing out there would dare hurt a daughter of La Push (for all that she lived on the Makah reservation).
I went outside to see my boys.
It wasn't that I couldn't sleep by myself, but I was used to being very warm when I went to bed. Without Embry, even with a blanket, it wasn't quite the same. He was quiet, when he slipped into bed, but I had only been mostly asleep with him gone, so I couldn't help waking up then.
"You're back," I murmured as I snuggled up to his warm chest.
"We kind of went hunting on the way back," he admitted.
"Of course you did."
"I knew you'd be with the kids. How was your weekend?"
"You were alone with your friends in the woods all weekend and all you can say is good?" He laughed. "You guys must have been doing something wrong."
"It's late. I'll tell you tomorrow. Why did Jacob send you to Seattle?"
"Rina told me they're sending a delegation to the party."
"When did you talk to Rina?"
"What's going on?"
"She and Sam managed to do whatever it was that they've been trying to do," he said. "Witches are grateful, they wanted to thank him person, Jake didn't want him to go alone. It was kind of fun. They've got great caterers."
I wasn't sure how I felt about a familiar helping my sisters when I couldn't; well, I knew how I felt, I just didn't like what that said about me. I was glad Sam had adapted to the magic around him (if only to help his children). I was more than glad that Rina had become friendly with the right people and gotten permission to work with the familiars again. I was even glad that the two of them had put their collective powers towards trying to find a way to heal even scar tissue. But I felt a little empty thinking about how useless that made me.
"I didn't know they were that close to finishing."
"Well, don't tell Morgana, but maybe they weren't quite sticking to the scheduled visits."
Of course, they would see nothing wrong with bending the rules.
"They aren't sleeping together, are they?"
Embry burst out laughing, belatedly remembering to muffle the sound in my hair. "Since when did you become such a gossip?" he murmured in my ear.
"His daughter always calls Rina a witch."
"I'm so proud she finally noticed."
"Embry. It's a very expressive double u."
But my husband was still laughing in my ear. "Do you really think Sam would risk ever not being a werewolf? Just to get laid? There are easier ways."
"Like high school students?"
"Jake talked to Nathan about that."
They looked so young, it was easy to see why they were drawn to the girls they matched physically. How much they could mature despite their physical appearance was really anyone's guess.
"Even Sam must get lonely."
"Eh. Sam's kind of weird. And he's not desperate."
"Hey. My friend, remember?"
"Yeah, but—well, do you think your rather mad friend would do anything that would jeopardize her quest for ultimate cosmic power?"
I sniffed, just to make it clear I didn't appreciate his joke. It didn't make her crazy that she wanted to be the best at what she did. And if it was crazy to not be afraid, then my husband and his friends were all mad. "At least you managed not to call her a bitch this time."
"I try." At least he stopped laughing. "You worry too much, Ang."
"Someone has to."
"You think I don't?" His very long arm reached over and turned on the light. He looked exactly the same as he had when we first met (aside from a few scars). "Are you going to tell me what's wrong?"
"You're a lousy actor. Are the kids okay? Did something happen this weekend?"
"It was good," I said. But he didn't believe me and he was my husband and he loved me and how could I not tell him? "It's the coming back home that's hard. I come here and Leah's son looks just like you, even though you're my husband and he's a child. How do I—and then I have Francine in my kitchen and Sam asked me to at least help his daughter, help the girls, and I couldn't even do that. She's going to end up exactly like her mother, helping you all no matter what."
"I think you might be projecting a little," he said, still a little too amused for my liking. But he could be surprisingly serious when he saw how much I needed that. "Anyway, you did help them. It means everything that they don't have to wait behind. That they can watch, even help. Angela, there's never been more than twenty of us at a time but the Coven takes us seriously. You think they're coming on Saturday because they find Jake funny? They're coming because we're powerful and they know it's better to play nice than to piss us off."
"Go ask any of those girls—go ask them and their brothers and lovers and friends if doesn't mean everything that they aren't alone. Go ask Angie if she's glad that when her daddy disappears she can check in on him sometimes, that she'll one day be able to help him. She's eleven and she gets scared sometimes, but she'd say nothing but thank you."
Jacob's littlest, his baby girl who didn't believe anyone who said her father hadn't built the world, was just a gracious child in general. It would have nothing to do with anything I had done.
"I told Jessica," I admitted.
"Rina took care of it. I just…I tell Jessica the story of us and it's so easy to fall in love with you as I'm talking."
"But," he said flatly.
"But sometimes I'm not even sure why I did things. I can't lie to Jessica but sometimes I'm not sure I'm telling her the truth. And if I can't understand me—well, I never claimed to be able to understand you. But if I can't understand me, how am I supposed to understand…"
"Adam?" Embry offered quietly.
My children were my pride and joy. I'd given up my powers; my power had never been of much help to anybody. But my boys were wonderful and they were worth everything. And he wasn't going to be mine any more. He would be Jacob's (the way they all were Jacob's, Leah and Embry and Quil and Seth and Sam and Paul and all the others, Jacob's the way we all were, Jacob's the way even Nessie was still, where she rarely saw him or spoke to him but would go anywhere he asked her to because he was Jacob and in charge and that was enough for her, no matter what I had supposedly done).
I just buried my head against the crook of his neck. "I can't have my son be a stranger."
"He doesn't have to transform for a while yet. There's enough of us. No one will blink if we wait."
"They'll know it's because of me."
They might not want to share everything, but they did. Everyone on the reservation would know it was my choice, not Embry's.
"I support you, they'll support you." And to them it would over.
"He doesn't want to wait." That was the problem. Jacob wouldn't put him in any danger until he could handle it, but the earlier he started the better control he would have when the danger started. It was what he wanted—and didn't I know that we wanted sometimes didn't make the most sense?
"We're his parents. He'll do what we say," Embry said. He was the disciplinarian; I didn't have it in me. For someone who was so laidback and full of laughter, Embry made sure to teach our children that sometimes you had to listen. Or else. It was that simple.
"I—we should let him. Once school's out. We should let him."
It had scared me. There it was. It had scared me being so powerful, trying to figure out if I had the right to act, if I shouldn't have gone further, if I had already gone too far. It had terrified me almost to the point of inaction. I preferred to believe in a higher power; I preferred waiting behind to having to make the life and death decisions. But I wasn't my son.
"If it's what he wants, then we should let him. Make sure he understands before he decides, but if he wants to—"
"Okay," Embry agreed quickly. "I'll talk to him. Hammer home the important stuff. And we'll make him wait until the summer."
"How about we go to sleep now?" he offered with a familiar grin.
I nodded and settled under his arm. "Emily's inviting a third cousin for Kim on Saturday."
"Have you ever considered she's happy being by herself?" I didn't answer and he laughed. "Right, right. Ignore me."
"The boys crushed my flowers again."
"Of course they did."
"I'm not going to give up."
"And I will scold them for you."
"One day they will learn to respect the flowers."
"One day," Embry agreed.
"What are you talking about? I believe in miracles. I happen to have this super hot wife who finds me funny."
Warm lips began to nibble on my neck. "You went for a run and it took you this long to start pawing at me? I guess there are such thing as miracles."
"Hey, if you want to see paws, I can show you paws."
"Go to sleep, Embry."
"You have to tell me about your weekend."
"It's late. I'll tell you tomorrow."
"Lauren ended up skinny dipping?"
"Are we that predictable?"
"If you let me paw at you, I'll say you aren't." I turned over at kissed him. "You guys are super spontaneous."
"I'll show you spontaneous."
There was nothing I could do but trust that everything would work out. I could do that. Jessica and everyone always said I was too nice—maybe I was, but it was only because I believed in what Embry had once called the world according to Seth. Everyone really did try to do their best and things worked out more often than not; it might not be in the way you expected, but everything would work out in the end.
When my son needed me, I would be there to help him. After everything I had been through with Embry, having our son turn into a giant wolf was almost anticlimactic. We'd find some way to manage. We always did.