Written for the "Passionate About Paul" one-shot contest

Pen Name: Joker's Wolf Girl: a collaboration between MeraNaamJoker and WolfGirlAtHeart

Title: Birthday Wish

Rating: M for language and horrific situations

Primary Players: Paul

Summary: Paul never minded running patrols, until the night when everything he thought he knew about vampires got turned on its head. Canon New Moon, pre-Jacob fursplosion.

Word Count: 6625

Beta'd by: jkane180

Disclaimer: All copyrights, trademarked items, or recognizable characters, plots, etc. mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without their express written authorization.

To see other entries in the "Passionate About Paul" contest, please visit


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Sam and Jared hated running patrols. Jared hated it because it took him away from Kim, although it sure as hell didn't stop him from picturing the way her glasses steamed up when he kissed her (so cute, so sweet, so perfect, love Kim, loveherloveherloveher). Sam hated running patrols because they took him away from Emily, although it sure as hell didn't stop him from picturing the way her flush went all the way down her body when she came (so beautiful, so sweet, so perfect, love Emily, loveherloveherloveher).

Paul didn't give a shit about running patrols because they got him out of the house. He didn't have an imprint to take his mind off his home life, or his wolf life. He didn't have his perfect match predetermined by Taha Aki from the instant he first phased like some sort of consolation prize in the bottom of the Werewolf Cereal box. He was all by himself when he was human. His mom and stepdad were busy getting drunk and fighting and then engaging in disgusting, make-up, drunk fucking that his newly sensitive ears were way too capable of hearing within a mile's radius. They didn't notice if he was home or gone as long as the police weren't dropping him off on the doorstep and embarrassing them in front of the neighbors again. Paul hadn't been dropped off since he'd phased the first time. Sam kept him on a tight leash now - so tight that he couldn't even get laid.

Sam was human at the moment; he allowed himself four-hour stretches twice a day for eating, sleeping, and other basic needs. Jared was keeping an eye on Embry Call, who was hot enough to fry an egg on lately and had been demonstrating a short temper completely foreign to his previous nature. So Paul was all by himself as he ran through the woods, keeping his nose and ears open - not eyes. He barely used his eyes in this form; they were as tertiary as his sense of smell in his human body. The distraction was welcome, and helped him forget the sounds of his mother sobbing as his stepfather ranted and the dog barked its head off at both of them. It helped him forget the way he had to shove the earbuds from his stolen iPod (stolen before his first phase, no way Sam would let him get away with that shit) into his ears and turn it up as loud as it would go. (It still wasn't loud enough.)

There were all sorts of different sounds to occupy his mind out here. He could hear the bats calling to each other and making the noises that guided them through the dark night air. Some of the birds were nocturnal, and he could hear the wind that rustled through their feathers as they dived and swooped after their tiny prey. The rodents chittered and scampered through the pine needle cover on the ground. Every once in a while, a fox would come near, or a mountain lion, but they always turned on their bellies and slinked away once they caught a whiff of him. That's right, fuckers - better run from the big dog.

Paul reached the edge of the boundary, the outermost limits of the ground Sam, Jared and he could watch over without traveling too far from the homes of the people they protected. He started to turn back, but then the wind shifted.

The smell smacked into his nostrils like a wet rag filled with bleach and floral perfume, adhering to his nose and making his eyes sting with its power. He'd never smelled it before, but Sam had, long ago, when he was still the only wolf-

Darting running flash up flash down - she's so damn fast glitter and shine - I don't think I can get her - no here she is - there she was - behind in front beside other side - now now now before she can get to the tree now yes now got her - tear her rip her to shreds - the big red eyes and the snapping teeth even though her head's not attached to her body and her arms are trying to grab and rip those off too - rip off the legs

This is why, this is why Old Quil said to always carry the lighter in the pocket of my cutoffs but I don't want to be human for this, I don't want to remember she used to be one of us - no no no she was never one of us this isn't who she was - she's not I've got to change got to phase got to set her on fire - oh God I need Emily I can't stand what I have to be

-and these days, Paul knew everything Sam knew.


He came to a stop so quickly, his paws skidded in the dirt. He expected his heart to speed up, for his breath to come more shallowly, but after a second he realized that those were human responses to fear, and he was a wolf now. Instead, his pulse slowed, inviting a sense of calm preparedness. His muscles coiled. His brain stilled itself from all peripheral thought and focused entirely at the matter at hand. There was a vampire in the woods and his job was to kill vampires. Protect the rez. It was a proud heritage, one that he needed to maintain. He couldn't let the tribe down. He wouldn't let Sam down.

Sam. Sam had always drilled into their heads what they should do if they caught a vampire's stench. Don't be a hero. Howl for help. No matter what, don't try to take one on by yourself. You have no idea how powerful these creatures are. Don't chance it.

Paul didn't howl. Fuck that pussy shit. They fucking sparkled in the sun. How dangerous could they be? He was going to take this cold cocksucker down by himself. No need to bother the other two.

He padded soundlessly toward the reek, glad for the wind that carried his own smell away from the leech. He could hear soft noises, light rhythmic thuds, and a chant that he'd almost forgotten since grade school, especially since he'd never been one to pay attention to girls' games until much later:

Cinderella, dressed in yellow

Went upstairs to kiss her fellow

Made a mistake; kissed a snake

How many doctors did it take?

One, two, three . . .

The bloodsucker's voice was soft, and echoed across more frequencies than a human's, some so high that they rivaled a dog whistle. If he'd been in his other body, he would have shivered. As it was, he could feel the fur above his tail rising straight up off his back. He lowered himself to a crouch, his belly just inches above the dirt, as he crept closer.

He didn't need light to see at night anymore, but he was grateful for the movement of the clouds above as he approached the clearing. He wouldn't have believed what he beheld, if he hadn't had the full moon as witness to the bizarre image that met his eyes when he peered between the trees.

The vampire held a massive pine branch in one hand. The branch was still barely attached to its trunk, tearing itself away more and more with each rotation of her wrist. She was using it as a jump rope, hopping over the branch each time it hit the ground, still counting to herself, "thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two." She moved at a pace that was only a little faster than mortal, although the height she achieved with each jump was easily twice what an NBA player could hope for on his best day. Paul watched, frozen with shock and horror, as she soared up and down like an astronaut on the moon, seemingly unaffected by gravity's pull. Her golden curls bounced around her shoulders every time she landed on her bare feet, the hem of her ragged blue dress fluttering around her ankles with each descent and ascent. When she reached "seventy," the final strip of the branch tore from the trunk, and it fell, sending up a cloud of pine needles and mud.

"Awww, man!" the vampire exclaimed, surveying the scene with her hands on her hips. "No fair!" She stomped her foot. "I was playing with that!"

She sat down on the ground and started bawling, pudgy hands clenched into fists and rubbing her tearless eyes. "It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, today's my birthday, and I wanted a new present . . ."

Paul stared at her tantrum, completely freaked out and unsure what to do. Nothing Sam had shown him, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, had prepared him for this.

Nothing had prepared him for a vampire who looked like she belonged in a kindergarten class.

The wind shifted, and she was on her feet so quickly he knew human eyes wouldn't have been able to see her move. Sniffing, she turned around and stared directly at him. Oh, shit. Could she see him?

Okay, Paul, he thought. No more fucking around. Just do it. She's not human, she's not a kid, for all you know she's older than you, and she's killed people.

She had killed people. He could tell by the color of her irises.

and the big red eyes and the snapping teeth

He steeled himself, crouching even lower and preparing to pounce. Just do it, asshole.

"Puppeeeeeeee!" she squealed and darted toward him, hands outstretched, a gleeful smile stretching the chubby cheeks and making her even more adorable. "Puppy puppy puppy yay!"

Consternation froze him yet again; he was posed just inches above the ground.

She careened directly into his side and hugged his neck. Paul still couldn't move. The contrast between her adorable looks and what he knew her to be - the world's best predator - immobilized his brain and his body. Her alarmingly strong little arms burned like frostbite. "Awww! You're so cute! Are you my birthday present? Where's your bow? You should have a bow." She leaned her head back and yelled, "Thanks Daddy!" then added in a conspiratorial whisper, "I know he's here. It's okay, I won't tell him you told me."

Fuck fuck fuck fuck. Of course. She had a father, or whatever passed for one with leeches, probably the one who had turned her for God knew what fucked up reason. Paul straightened, flinging her arms off in the process, and started whirling around, casting every which way for a scent. The baby vamp giggled and chased his tail.

He didn't smell anything. It was just her. She was all by herself, in the middle of the woods, in the dark, where any passing werewolf could find and dismember her.

"It's my birthday and you're the best present ever!" she declared, patting his stomach with one frigid hand. "I'm going to call you Max. Max is a good name for a dog. My name's Carissa. I used to be this many," holding up four dimpled fingers, "but today I'm this many!" She extended her thumb to make it five. Five years old.

Paul hadn't really given his heart much thought, one way or another, during the course of his sixteen years. His stomach, and later his dick, had seemed to warrant primary consideration. Maybe that had been a mistake. Anything that could crack and bleed in so painful a fashion as his heart was now was probably more important than he'd believed. He lowered his head slowly, every muscle aching with grief and fear. He didn't know whether he was going to kill her until the little girl kissed his muzzle. It felt like winter had brushed his nose. That was when he knew: he wasn't going to be able to do it. If Sam came, Paul wouldn't be able to even help Sam do it.

Unable to stop himself, he licked her neck, half-expecting his tongue to stick to her skin like it would to a flagpole in freezing temperatures. She giggled again. "Silly puppy. I love you, Max."

This was so fucking stupid. He knew it was stupid. The minute Sam woke up and phased again, he would see exactly what Paul was doing and would put an end to it, and the vampire, immediately.

He got down on his belly, raising his haunches in the air, and wagged his tail at her. She laughed again and picked up her discarded branch, breaking it in half effortlessly. The ease of the motion gave him another pang of disquiet - seriously, what the fuck did he think he was doing? - but she said, "Fetch!" and tossed the stick into the night. Paul careened after it without a second thought.

Wow, she could really throw. If this was what a mini-leech could accomplish, he'd hate to see one that was full-grown. He crashed through the underbrush, heedless of scaring away the more timid night animals, keeping his eyes on the branch as it reached its zenith and began to descend. Finally, it crashed to the ground about a hundred feet in front of him, once again sending up a massive cloud of debris from the impact. He snatched it up between his jaws and turned to race back.

"You got it!"

He almost jumped out of his fur. Holy shit. She'd tracked him, and he hadn't even noticed she was there until he turned around.

For a second, she looked utterly alien and other, with her pearlescent skin and her dark red eyes and her too-fluid movements, and he knew again what he had to do.

this is why Old Quil said to always carry the lighter in the pocket of my cutoffs

But then she clapped her hands and squealed, "You're such a good doggy!" and he just dropped the tree branch at her feet. "Again?"

Paul wagged his tail at her so hard he could feel his hindquarters swaying back and forth. Yeah, baby leech. I'm just a big dumbass dog for you. Throw the fucking stick so I can keep on fooling myself.

She did, and he ran after it again. This time, when he picked it up, he was ready. She said, "Good boy!" just a dozen feet behind him, and he twisted, leaping over her head and running back in the direction from where he had come.

At least this way they won't have to look as far to find my body.

No way this'll end well.

He heard a crashing sound overhead and looked up to see her laughing and swinging from branch to branch like a little-girl-Tarzan, minus the ape noises. She easily kept pace with his speed. "Come back here, Max!" she caroled down to him. "Don't you want me to throw the stick for you again? C'mere, boy!"

Paul stopped at the bottom of the tree she currently occupied and went up on his hind legs, bracing his front paws on the trunk and wagging his tail, wagging wagging wagging like the stupid animal he was; drool leaked out of the corners of his mouth around the branch and dripping onto the ground.

The girl giggled and crawled down the trunk faster than a human could have slid down a fireman's pole. Strips of bark curled like ribbon beneath her nails. "I thought you'd want to play some more! You're such a good doggy. Okay, drop it." Obediently, he let the branch fall from his mouth. "Ew. Gross, Max. You're a drooly doggy. Okay, here you go. Fetch!"

Paul darted after the branch again, remembering when he was four, before his real dad had taken off, back when sometimes he wasn't a fuck-up, and his dad had given him a hamster. The hamster was little and nervous and always bit the shit out of Paul's thumb, every time he picked it up, but Paul had sort of liked him anyway, because his dad had given it to him and because he could care for it. He'd always loved when his dad picked him up and tossed him in the air - it made him feel so small and so safe at the same time - and so he thought the hamster would like it too. Up and down he'd tossed it, catching it safely in his palm on every descent and then throwing it up again, saying, "Wheeee!" each time as its minuscule paws splayed wide in a panicked search for purchase.

It was only the tenth time he'd caught the tiny creature that he'd realized it was dead, whether through sheer panic at repeated free-fall or because it had been jarred one too many times. He'd stared at it, nauseous with guilt and fear, and then carefully buried it in the cedar shavings in its cage and allowed his mother to think it had died in its sleep.

This time, he was the hamster, and the baby vamp was the careless child, playing with an amount of force she had no hope of comprehending. He knew it was more than likely he would suffer the same fate tonight as the rodent in his hand. He couldn't stop himself even though he realized that probably, tomorrow, Jared or Sam would find his corpse somewhere along the rez boundary.

The little girl sighed when he brought the branch back again, and whined, "I'm thirsty." She took off running away from him, faster than before. "Come on, Max! I need to find food!"

Paul thought maybe his heart stopped then, but no, it was still beating, because otherwise how could he streak after her? Fuck, she was so fucking fast; he'd seen it in Sam's head, but the reality was something else. He honestly didn't think he'd be able to catch her if she got a thirty second head start.

She darted through the thick underbrush, alternating between footfalls on the ground and swinging on the tree branches, moving deftly through the woods as if she were following an obvious path. Paul's senses helped him trail her, but her erratic movements were unpredictable. As he zigzagged between and over obstacles, he started to think about what she had just said.

She was thirsty.

Her eyes were crimson red. She was hunting humans right outside the boundary line.

I don't want to remember she used to be one of us

Paul shuddered at the memory, thinking about this sweet little murderer that he was chasing through the woods as she looked for a person to slaughter. It was his rite and his duty to protect humans. What the hell was he doing? His heart thudded against his ribs as the pain and panic set in again - she was going to kill someone if he didn't do something to stop her.

Paul's mind was reeling, trying desperately to think of anything he could do to stop her without having to rip her to pieces (God, I can't even think), and his mind fell on a shared memory from Sam's experiences.

The Cullens. The treaty. They didn't hurt humans; Sam didn't like the treaty any more than the rest of them, but not one of the Cullens had stepped foot onto Quileute lands, and their eyes were yellow, not the vibrant red that shone from Carissa's eyes. They only hunted animals. Maybe, just maybe, Paul could convince her to hunt an animal instead of killing an innocent person.

Shit, he was a wolf. How hard could it be to catch one of those animals that were always slinking away from him in fear? She was still running, swinging through trees and singing to herself. Paul made a snap decision to change directions, running away from civilization, deeper into the woods. Carissa stopped dead in her tracks and called for Paul to come back to her.

"Puppy? Where are you going? Come on! I'm thirsty!" She whined and pouted a little, but she changed directions and followed Paul deeper into the woods.

Paul allowed the wolf instincts to take over, pushing his human emotions deep down inside himself. He relied heavily on his sense of smell and caught the pungent scent of a mountain lion. He slowed his run, and the little girl crept up next to him.

"Max? Are you playing a game with me? I bet it's gonna be fun!" She patted his fur, crouching down next to him and holding unnaturally still. Paul spotted the mountain lion, hiding up in the trees with its back to him, hunting its own prey below. Carissa followed Paul's intense gaze into the trees, and she took a deep breath, letting the scent of the lion fill her mouth.

"Oh! Are they tasty? Let's find out." She breathed an almost silent whisper, and before Paul could do anything, she sprang into the trees, wrestled the lion to the ground and drained it dry in a matter of seconds.

The scent of the animal's blood mixed with the sickly sweet bleach smell turned out to be repulsive, and although he'd always had a strong stomach, it proved to be too much for him. He turned away from the small monster and heaved up the contents of his stomach in the bushes. The sickness seemed to creep up from his gut and envelop his ears in fuzzy-edged silence as he puked, shutting down his awareness of his surroundings.

The baby leech was the antithesis of what was right, of what was natural. He should stop this bullshit now before things got worse, before she found a man or a woman or, worst of all, another child to desiccate like the withered husk of the mountain lion she'd held in those cold stone hands. He should rip her head right off her shoulders.

The ringing in his ears faded enough for him to hear that sweet, chiming voice again. "Max? Max?" Frigid hands stroked his leg and patted his head as he hunched miserably. "Max, what happened? Why are you sick?"

Paul swung his head around, dully surveying her face which was now contorted with worry.

"Are you okay, Max?"

She had a wide streak of blood extending from the corners of her mouth to her hairline on both sides, like a grotesque parody of a clown's makeup. He looked at it for a minute, trying to gather his thoughts.

"Do you need to eat? I bet I can find some dog food somewhere. Or I can ask Daddy. He's around here; I just need to find him."

He swallowed, licked his fur a few times to clean his tongue, and then licked her cheeks, wiping away the blood with one swipe. She giggled and smacked him playfully. If he'd been a regular dog, his head would have been instantly detached from his body by the blow; as it was, it felt like the love tap it was meant to be.

"C'mon, Max. Let's go look for Daddy." She led the way back through the trees, away from the rez again. They'd walked about a hundred yards when she casually added, "That big cat wasn't very yummy. My throat's itchy."

Paul thought he might hurl again.

"This is the best birthday ever ever ever! Mommy made me princess cupcakes and brought them to Miss Marci's class, and my friends all ate them and they were soooo good. Nobody makes cupcakes as good as my mommy. I found some at a store a little bit ago. I broke the window - don't tell, okay? And I took one, but it wasn't good at all. It tasted like dirt. Mommy's tasted like chocolate. And now Daddy's taking me on a camping trip, just me and him, because I'm a big girl now that I'm five, and I can sleep in the tent in the woods with him in my new sleeping bag with the butterflies."

She paused for a moment, and when she spoke again, her voice had gone distant, uncertain and unmoved; the way his mother's voice had sounded when she made the statement to the police about his father hurting her. "There's going to be someone coming . . . No, there was someone who came . . . I don't think Daddy liked that man . . . And then a big black dog chased the bad man away, but Daddy wouldn't talk to me anymore, and I think I fell in the fire when I was trying to roast marshmallows, 'cause it burned and burned and burned . . ."

Motherfucking son of a bitch. Goddamn it. She was telling the story of how she'd been turned on her fucking birthday camping trip. There weren't enough expletives in the world for this shit.

Her voice brightened again; became happy and carefree. "But it's okay because today's my birthday! And you're my most awesome present, even better than the sleeping bag. I knew Daddy would get me a puppy!"

What the fuck? Did she really think it was still her birthday? Maybe little kids didn't understand about time passing or something. How the hell had she kept herself alive this long?

By eating people, dipshit. She's not alive. She's undead.

She kissed his nose, and he sighed.

"You're bigger than a pony, Max," she prattled on, stroking his fur. "I'm going to ride you." And just like that, she was on his back.

Paul couldn't move a muscle, held immobile by warring instincts: kill, destroy, enemy on me and don't hurt the little girl.

Carissa giggled and dug her heels into his sides, gripping the long, thick fur at his neck with both hands. "Giddyup, Max!"

Finally, he was able to step forward, everything werewolf still screaming at him to fling her off his back and tear her to shreds. He was still mostly human, though, even when he was a giant dog. After a few more steps, he was able to start moving at a trot, then a gallop. She kept her balance effortlessly.

A shiver in his bones. A ripple up his spine. Shit. Either Jared or Sam had just phased into wolf form.

Paul? How are things? Are you heading back?

Sam. He paced just behind Emily's house, barely concealed by the forest. Paul gazed at the trees in front of him, listening hard to the sound of his paws thudding against the dirt as he ran. Anything but remember what was on his back. Everything's fine, Sam. You can go back to sleep.

Is that leech I smell?

Fuck. Paul thought as quickly as he could while still trying to remain focused on his immediate surroundings. Uh, yeah. Sure is. I think it left before I could get here, though. I haven't caught any other sign of it.

Good. Okay. Well, I'll be there in a second.

No, man, don't worry about it. Go back to sleep. It's the middle of the fucking night; you can rest for six hours.

Paul sensed Sam's reluctance to leave him with the scent of leeches around. Sam wavered between should help Paul, all alone, not really ready for this and soft warm bed, so tired all the time for an instant, but then Emily unintentionally came to Paul's aid.

"Sam?" she called from the bedroom. "Are you still here?"

Instantly, the only thing on Sam's mind was Emily naked. Yeah. Okay. Howl if you come across any more trails. Don't take chances.

Paul gave him the mental equivalent of a snort. Yeah, right. Like I want to end up dead.

Paul could feel the Sam phase out, and he relaxed a little, as much as his body would allow with a tiny leech perched on his back.

"Faster, Max! I wanna go fast!" Carissa was laughing, her sweet voice filling his ears and cracking the fissures in his heart deeper and deeper. She couldn't exist, but he couldn't end her. The thought alone filled his throat with bile. He almost had to stop to retch up whatever was left in his stomach, but he swallowed hard and kept trotting deeper into the woods. He was instinctively moving closer to the boundary line of the rez, back to where he was supposed to be, just in case Sam decided he didn't trust him and phased back to find him. As it was, he already knew Sam had his doubts about the story he'd given. He suspected he wouldn't have much time left before he was discovered playing horsey with the doll-faced bloodsucker.

"Oh, Max, you're the best puppy ever! I knew Daddy didn't forget about me!" Her words shattered whatever was left of Paul's heart; he was never going to be able to forget anything about her. The crushing pain made him slow to a halt; he dipped his head to the ground with his chin resting on his forelegs. He let the rest of his body slump to the ground as well, and Carissa hopped off of his back and bounced around to face him.

"No more rides, Max? Are you okay? Still sick?" She grabbed the fur on either side of his face and pulled his nose up to hers. She placed a frozen peck on his muzzle and said, "Shhh, Max, it's okay. I love you!" She petted his fur with her chubby hands, whispering over and over again, "You're the best birthday present, the best, Max, I love you, I love you . . ." Her cold hands burned a little, but Paul felt like it was a pain he deserved for letting this little leech wiggle her way into his head.

Carissa smelled it before he did: more sickly-sweet flowers with bleach. She suddenly stopped petting his side and jerked her head around in a grotesquely reptilian fashion. "Daddy? Is that you, Daddy?"

Fuck. More leeches. They were probably here to get her. Maybe she'd run away from whatever passed for a family with their kind and they'd been tracking her.

"Max, you stay here. I'm gonna go find Daddy so I can tell him how much I love you!" She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed so hard Paul heard one of his ribs crack.

Serves me right, he thought.

I'm so . . . sick.

Carissa ran in the direction of the vampire smell, and Paul stayed belly down on the ground. She danced off, each step taking her farther away; the pain couldn't be contained any longer.

Come back! A howl ripped from his chest.

He immediately regretted it, knowing that the sound would surely bring Sam or Jared racing to his side. They would know that he was weak; they would know that he couldn't destroy a filthy bloodsucker just because she was the first thing that had shown him love and affection in more than ten years without demanding anything in return.

The familiar tingle deep within him let him know that he was no longer the only wolf.

Paul, are you okay? Did you find the leech? It was Sam, ever the responsible Alpha.

Sort of.

What the hell does that mean? I'm on my way.

All Paul felt from him after that was running.

Paul knew it was idiotic, he knew it was foolhardy, he knew Sam would rip him a new one the second he understood, but he began to make his way after Carissa. He just had to see - he had to make sure - she just had to be okay, was all. She had to be all right.

He heard the voices before he saw their owners, naturally.

"I'm infinitely bored, Felix. Have you found this monstrosity yet? I know it's left a trail of destruction behind it, so we must take care of it, but I'd rather get something to eat and go home." A young voice, though not as young as Carissa's. A girl.

"It will be over soon, dear sister." Another young voice, this one masculine, or what passed for that with the pussified undead.

A deeper, rough-edged leech voice spoke. "Stop. Jane, Alec, did you catch that odor? It's not just an animal, but I can't place it."

Shit. Shit shit shit.

Before Paul could decide whether or not to turn tail and run, Carissa spoke. "You're not my daddy!"

He got to the clearing in which they stood just as the other girl spoke again. "No, child. We're not your father." Paul finally caught sight of the trio of speakers: a boy and a girl who looked enough alike to be twins, about twelve years of age in appearance, and a massive boulder of a leech hulking beside them. They all wore cloaks like they were trying to live up to a Stoker stereotype.

Carissa stood on the opposite end of the clearing, hands gripping each other behind her back and little toes twisting in the dirt. "Today's my birthday, and Daddy gave me a present. Can you help me find him?"

Okay, this was good. She was so little and cute. Surely they'd take her in and take her away - they spoke with foreign accents, so they must not be from around here. If they went to South America or someplace, he could pretend to himself that she wasn't murdering people down there, that he hadn't allowed a roly-poly serial killer to walk away.

"Of course, young one," the boy told her soothingly. "Come closer. We'll search for him together."

Carissa got about halfway across the clearing before halting abruptly. Her wide eyes went blank. The little hands rose up searchingly in front of her. "Where - where'd you go? Why's it so dark?"

"Do take care of it already, Felix," the older girl urged.

The giant vamp moved so quickly that even Paul's supernatural eyes could barely understand what they saw. Or maybe they just didn't want to understand. One blink, Carissa was flailing in front of herself with round arms, and the next, those arms were detached from her body and writhing on the ground. For once, even cursing failed Paul as an appropriate reaction. Her legs were next, and finally the vamp corkscrewed that adorable little head and neck right off the fragile-looking shoulders, and Carissa lay in six pieces on the forest floor, big red eyes still blinking as she asked, "Can you come get me now? I'm a little scared."

Paul's mind wasn't working. His bones were bathed in acid; his skin had drawn too tightly against his body. Everything in him and of him had been transformed into agony by the sight in the clearing.

Finally, he managed one coherent thought, and that thought was Noooooooo!

He was going to kill them, he was going to rip them limb from limb, he was going to-

The young boy casually flicked open a Zippo and flung the lighted wick upon Carissa's remains. She instantly ignited into thick purple smoke and flame.


Sam- Paul tried to talk to his Alpha, but all that he could think was, Sam - I can't - Sam - I can't -

"Well, that's done." The girl pulled out a cell phone from her dress pocket. "At this rate, we'll be able to fly out of SeaTac tomorrow. Let's head north."

The three remaining vampires began to glide away. Paul snarled and gathered himself to spring.

Paul, just show me what happened. Sam's words burned through Paul's mind like Carissa's little arms had burned against his body. He let go, let it all pour into Sam's mind, every second of the encounter, including the soul-destroying finale.

Fuck, Paul. A kid? Bloodsuckers are sicker than we ever thought. You need to go. You have to get out of here. If there are more coming, we won't be able to stop them all. Get up; you have to go.

Sam's words bounced around in Paul's mind, but he just couldn't bring himself to move. The agony had pinned him to the ground, forcing him to hear Carissa's bell-like voice repeating, "I love you," a hundred times. He had to avenge her, he had to-

But no. Paul, GET UP NOW.

Paul whimpered, straining hard against the Alpha order, but his body took control and obeyed, even though his mind was still filled with the torturous image of a sweet kindergarten killer petting him and calling him hers. He slinked back across the boundary line with his tail between his legs. Sam met him there, whining, sniffing him from head to tail and back again. For the first time ever, Paul didn't make a crack about smelling each other's balls. He could hear the worry this omission caused in Sam's head too.

Finally Sam swung back on the trail to La Push. Paul automatically fell into formation, four steps back and to Sam's right. He knew his place wouldn't always be there. Jacob Black's blood was pure and strong. He would be the next after Embry, and when he phased, Paul would be behind Jacob while Jacob became Sam's wingman. After tonight, Paul was pretty sure that was for the best. His legs were unsteady; his heartbeat seemed uneven. His breath caught raggedly in his lungs.

I can't stand what I have to be

The worst part was, he couldn't tell if it was Sam or he who thought it this time.

After the slowest half-hour he'd ever endured, they at last caught the first whiff of the rez - fish and saltwater, smoke and gasoline, food and pets and people; all the comforts of home. Sam sighed in relief as they approached Emily's house. Finally. Hey, Paul. Why don't you take tomorrow night off? Run down to Port Angeles; go clubbing. Blow off some steam. Under the organized thoughts, Paul heard, Get laid.

Yeah. Okay. Paul didn't want to do anything but curl into a ball on his bed and never move again, but no way in hell he would ever admit to it. Clubbing might be all right. He never got carded for anything anymore. Hey, Sam?

Yeah, man.

It gets easier, right? I mean, it doesn't always suck that fucking bad. Does it? Like, we do our job, and then we go home, and it's okay after that. Right?

Sam hesitated. They reached Emily's fenceline while he considered Paul's question behind the translucent mental curtain that guarded the Alpha's thought life. Abruptly, he phased back to human and stood stark naked before Paul, body gleaming in the gathering daylight even with the ever-present cloud cover. "Oh yeah. Sure. It'll get easier. Don't worry about it, okay? Go home and get some rest." He pulled his cutoffs up from where they'd fallen next to his ankle, pocketed the black cord he'd used to secure it to his leg, and headed inside while Paul watched him go.

When the red door closed behind Sam, Paul drew himself in and down and up into his human form, sighing in relief, as always, to be upright again, to be dependent on his eyes again, to be able to believe that what he saw was what he got. He donned his own cutoffs and began shuffling back home.

He'd left the window unlatched, so he shoved it open on one leap and jumped inside on the next, landing on the floor next to his bed. He'd remembered to plug the iPod into its charger before he left, for once, so he pulled it off the nightstand and forced the earbuds in, hitting "Shuffle" for all songs.

With the volume turned up, he almost couldn't hear her speak anymore.

"I love you, Max, I love you, I love you . . ."

God, he hated running patrols.