A/N: There are a few changes to the shifters' characteristics. I'll let Matt explain.
Thank you to all my readers and a special thanks to those who left a comment. To my guest readers, I can't reply to you, but know that I appreciate you giving this kooky idea a chance.
Special thanks to Costa for pre-reading and fmfg and StoryPainter from PTB for all of your help.
Disclaimer: All Twilight characters belong Stephenie Meyer. All original characters and plotlines belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Leah opened the passenger's side door of Sam's Jeep and reluctantly settled inside.
"Sorry about the mess." Sam collected action figures and tossed them in a plastic bin in the backseat. "David gets bored easily."
"It's fine." Leah handed Sam a Thor action figure then fastened her seatbelt. "How old is he now?"
"He just turned six." The pride in Sam's voice was unmistakable. "He's getting so big. It feels like yesterday that I was up in the middle of the night trying to get him to go to sleep."
"Kids grow fast. Next thing you know, they're asking for the car," Leah joked.
Sam laughed. "He asked me if I could teach him how to drive."
"Yeah, what did you say?"
"When he was tall enough to reach the pedals and see over the wheel, then we'll talk." Sam shook his head and smiled. "Almost every day he asks Emily to measure his height."
Leah had only seen David a handful of times. He looked like a miniature Sam, but he had his mother's smile. When she found out Emily was pregnant years ago, it tore her heart. It was hard seeing someone else live her dream, but time did make things easier. She didn't want to spend her time dwelling on the things that were taken from her anymore. Instead, she wanted to enjoy the things she still had. Carpe diem and all that.
Sam started the engine, and the sound of an eighties hair band blew through the speakers. Leah laughed and said, "You still listen to this crap?"
"Yep. Emily thinks it's silly, but the eighties had some great music."
"If you say so." Leah shrugged.
"Oh, come on! You used to love this song, remember?" Sam pointed to the speaker while rocking his head to the beat.
Leah chuckled. "Loving something and tolerating it because your boyfriend loves it are two different things."
"Yeah, okay." Sam smirked.
Sam's Jeep moved forward, keeping a safe distance as he followed Matt to the main road. Some things never changed. Not only did his taste in music stay the same, he still drove like a turtle, afraid to really open up the engine.
It wasn't until they hit the highway that Sam really put his foot on the gas. Although cars zoomed past him, he was careful not to let Matt's brake lights get too far out of range.
Leah sat back in her seat and leaned her head against the window while the last hour flashed in front of her. In one moment, everything went from simple to a tangle of complications that knotted tighter by the second.
She was still reeling from Matt's revelations. Not only was he a shifter, he was the Alpha of his pack. And what did he mean she was unique? All these years, she thought she was some sort of freak, an anomaly. No one knew why she was the only female to shift. It was no secret that there were a lot of unknowns when it came to the wolves. Could Matt have answers that the council didn't?
First things first, she needed to get Collin and Aaron home. By now, Collin's mother knew everything and was threatening to murder anyone who wasn't working relentlessly to bring her son home. They also had to figure out where Tommy was and if he was alive, was he hurt. And what the hell attacked them? Matt had already said that vampires weren't responsible. But what was? What else did they have to worry about? Zombies? Witches? Rabid fairies?
Leah glanced fleetingly at Sam as he steered down the road and hummed to Motley Crue. She couldn't remember the last time she was alone with him. They didn't really talk anymore. What was there to discuss? Fate had decided that they didn't belong together, no matter how many plans they made. She did think about him occasionally, but she just wanted him to be happy and it seemed like he was. His dreams had come true. Whether or not hers would was up for debate.
Sam's reaction to Matt was unexpected. It was normal for the pack to get a little protective when a new male came snooping around, but this was far from normal. Sam's reaction was territorial, possessive almost. She didn't like that. Leah was her own person and not someone's possession, certainly not Sam's.
Just when I thought things were getting back to normal, she thought as she began tugging her lip with her fingers.
"You know, you used to do that all the time when you were thinking about something." Sam's deep timbre cut into her thoughts.
"What?" Leah asked.
Sam pointed toward her hand. "You pull on your lip. What are you thinking about?"
Leah fiddled with her seatbelt. "Just wondering what we're going to see when we find Collin and Aaron."
"Well, that Mark-guy said they were stable, right?" Sam tilted his head toward the truck leading them.
"His name is Matt," Leah corrected, although she was sure he remembered Matt's name. Sam muttered a 'whatever'. "What could have hurt them so bad that they still haven't healed?"
"I don't know, but we'll figure it out." Sam let go of the wheel and squeezed Leah's hand briefly, then causally put it back on the steering wheel. His touch shocked her, although she didn't show her emotion. After Sam left her, she yearned for his touch like a drug addict for their next fix; just a simple touch. Something to show that he still loved her. Now that it finally happened, it felt wrong and out of place.
They exited the highway and stopped at a traffic light. Leah felt Sam's eyes on her again.
"You're letting your hair grow out," he said with a little too much affection.
"Yeah." Leah twirled a lock around her fingers. "I got so busy with work and kept forgetting to get a haircut. Finally, mom convinced me to let it grow. Shifting is a little different, but I make it work."
"It looks nice." He smiled, staring at her longer than expected. He almost sounded like he used to. Back when they were dating and planning a life together.
"Thanks." Leah pushed a lock behind her ear. Sam often told her how beautiful her hair was. He'd spend hours running his fingers through it, massaging her scalp.
"You look great, Leah," Sam said softly. "I know things haven't been easy for you, but you made it to the other side. Now you're this photographer that everyone in the area is trying to hire."
Leah snorted. "That's a little exaggeration."
"Don't sell yourself short, Lee-Lee." Sam's use of her former nickname caused her to bristle. "You're very talented. We have one of your photos in our living room. It's an aerial shot of the forest. It's Emily's favorite because you can see a little bit of La Push and the beach."
He didn't take his eyes off her. His expression brought back memories of when they were dating. She felt the heat rush to her face and had a feeling her cheeks were reddening. A loud honk behind them turned his attention to the green light in front of them. Sam jerked his head back to the road. Matt's truck was inching further away.
She cleared her throat and said, "We should go. We don't want to lose Matt."
"Yeah, we wouldn't want that," Sam muttered cynically, slowly pressing his foot on the gas. "So, how do you know this guy? Did you take pictures for him or something?" He was trying to sound nonchalant, but Leah could hear the curiosity in his voice.
"No, he's a bartender at a restaurant that I like to go to after work."
"Why does he call you, Peaches?"
"When I go to Breakers, I eat a lot of peach cobbler." Leah found herself smiling as she pictured herself taking a bite of the sweet dessert. "It's almost as good as Mom's."
"So does that mean I can call you Lee-Lee again?" he asked tentatively.
"Not if you want to keep all your teeth." She was aware that she let him slide earlier, but he hadn't used it years so she gave him a break. Sam laughed lightly and she smiled.
"So…" he said, slowly. "Is there something going on between you and him? I mean, it's perfectly fine if you were dating someone."
"Thanks for your permission," Leah answered dryly.
"You're a beautiful woman. What man wouldn't be attracted?" He kept his eyes on the road, even glancing in his side view mirror to avoid looking at her.
It had been years since Sam called her beautiful. She remembered when it used to come out of his mouth at the drop of a hat. Ever since he imprinted, the only thing he saw as beautiful was Emily, so hearing him say it did make her heart skip.
"No." Her voice wasn't very convincing. No, they weren't dating, but he'd given her one hell of a kiss; one that made her stomach flutter and her toes curl.
"I don't mean to get in your business but…" Sam trailed off.
"But what?" Seriously, did she want to hear this?
"It's just that, he's a little…I don't know…arrogant." Sam made an effort to keep his eyes on the road. "Personally, I think you can do better."
"Really." Leah rubbed her forehead. This was the conversation she didn't want to have with Sam.
"Yeah, really," Sam retorted. "Guys like that usually have one thing on their minds. You deserve better than that. I'm sure Jake would agree." His shoulder hitched as he looked at her. He caught her in a cautious glare, a look that expressed more than concern.
"How would you know what Jake would say?" Leah felt her wolf rustle at Sam's interference with her life. "Jake lets me make my own decisions and doesn't lecture me if he thinks I'm making the wrong one. He actually trusts my judgment, unlike some people. And you're wrong about Matt. He's not arrogant. Any man who is able to lead a pack of wolves and find time to help his aunt run a restaurant has my respect."
"Shit, Leah." He exhaled and banged the steering wheel. "I didn't mean to upset you. I just don't want you to get hurt … again." She heard the regret laced in his voice, and when she looked at him she saw the guilt on his face. She hated that look. Some of the residents of La Push still gave that to her.
Leah sighed. "Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself. And as far as Matt goes, he's an Alpha. I thought it was a requirement for Alphas to be a little bit full of themselves."
"I wasn't like that," Sam replied, looking carefully at Leah. "Was I?"
"You had your moments." Of course she could elaborate, but she decided against it. Things were awkward enough without discussing the hardships of being in Sam's pack.
"Oh." Sam looked thoughtfully back at the road.
Aside from Bon Jovi belting out, "Always", the rest of the trip was silent.
As Sam followed Matt down a dirt road, a two story house came into view. It was an older home, but it had been well maintained over the years. The outside was painted white with navy blue trim with hedges circling the outside.
After Sam shifted into park, he picked up his cellphone. "I'm going to call Emily to let her know that I got here."
"Okay." Leah hopped quickly out of Sam's Jeep to escape the stuffiness of tension floating in the air. She walked away from Sam's truck until she couldn't hear him talking anymore.
"This is where I live," Matt said close to her ear. She looked up at him as he circled around and stopped when he was next to her.
"It's nice," Leah said, clasping her hands behind her. Matt stood up a little straighter next to her, slightly puffing out his chest.
"Thanks, Peaches." When her eyes met his, they flashed green briefly.
"Why do your eyes do that?" She tilted her head to the side as she studied him.
"They just turned green." Leah moved closer, hoping to see them do it again.
"Oh," he said, as the green blended in with hazel. "That's my wolf. He's usually not this active, but he likes you almost as much as I do." He winked at her. "He also comes forward when threatened or challenged."
"Your wolf's eyes are green? I've never heard of that before."
"It happens." Matt shrugged. "Like humans, wolves have different color eyes: blue, green, or the most stunning shade of brown I've ever seen." His lips curved into a smile that was warm and tender.
"Your wolf can come out like that?" Leah asked curiously. She'd been a shifter for over a decade and there was so much she didn't know.
"Yeah." Matt chuckled a little. "Your wolf does it too."
"You can see her?"
"Yep." Matt started walking and Leah followed. "That's how I knew you were a shifter. She's made a few appearances when guys hit on you and don't get the hint that you aren't interested." He nudged Leah's shoulder.
Leah nodded. There was nothing less attractive than a man who was drunk off his ass, spilling beer all over her as he gave her some cheesy pickup line.
"Where's Shawn?" Matt looked around briefly, feigning like he really cared.
"It's Sam." Leah smirked. Apparently, Matt had trouble remembering names too. "He's talking to his wife." Leah looked back at Sam as he sat in his Jeep.
"So he is married." Matt rubbed his chin. "I saw the wedding ring, but the way he acted at Jacob's shop, I thought—"
"You thought what?" Leah narrowed her eyes.
"I don't know. He just seems a little overprotective of you. I thought maybe you and him…"
"Nope, I wasn't the chosen one," Leah muttered, looking away.
"The chosen one?" Matt quirked an eyebrow.
"Nothing. Never mind." Leah shook her head.
Matt studied her closely. "I have a question for you, Peaches. What's the deal with the redhead? It's weird. I can smell vampire in her, but it's not that sickly sweet smell that they usually carry."
"She's a hybrid."
"Really?" Matt's eyebrows shot up. "I've never seen one before. Usually, we hear of vampires raping women, but usually the vampire kills the victim."
"Well, her situation is different. Her mother wasn't raped. She married a vampire and they…well, you know." Leah waved her hand around hoping that Matt would get the gist.
"So her mother didn't survive?" Matt said, taking a seat on one of the porch steps, motioning for her to join him.
"Her mother's alive…sort of." The steps were cool on her legs as she sat down next to Matt. "She's a vampire now." Leah saw Matt's face contort into more confusion. "It's a little weird, I know. Just know that she's not a threat. She's not even venomous."
"I can understand weird." Matt began toeing a rock in the sand. "Trust me. So her and Collin are together, huh?"
"Yep," Leah sighed. "I'm sure you can imagine how things are going with that. Especially since his mother hates vampires."
"Wow, Peaches. Being a shifter is enough to turn your life upside down, but you have vampires and hybrids in the mix."
"Things weren't always like this." Leah looked wistfully at the clouds. "There was a time when I had the world at my fingertips, my dreams just waiting to be achieved. Then it was gone just like that." She snapped her fingers. "One thing I have learned is that life is fleeting. For no apparent reason, fate can toss your world upside down and expect you to clean up the mess without complaining about it."
"That's deep, Peaches." Matt looked at her thoughtfully. She expected to see him mocking her, but his face was a mask of seriousness. "Something tells me you have a very interesting story to tell."
"Depends on who you ask." Leah shrugged.
"I'm asking you." Matt stood up and held his hand out to help her up. "I'd love to hear it."
She took his warm palm in hers and he pulled her to her feet. She fell forward a little, falling into him. As a reflex, his hands caught her, grasping her waist.
They were close, just as close as they were that night outside of Breakers. She felt his chest expand into hers and his scent waft around her. He had this manly musk, but at the same time it was sweet and inviting. He gave her a little smile, his face inching closer to hers.
"Why'd you really run from me?" Matt gently placed his hand on her cheek. "It's more than you being a supernatural creature, isn't it?"
"I told you." Leah subconsciously leaned into his touch. "It's complicated." Being this close to him felt so good. Whenever she was around him, she was at peace. There wasn't a need to put up a wall or be defensive. She slowly felt herself relax.
"Then un-complicate it for me." His voice was just a whisper, a soft caress. His index finger trailed down to her chin to keep her from looking away. "You can trust me, Peaches."
She heard the sincerity in his voice, felt it in his touch, and saw it in his eyes. Something about it soothed the restlessness in not only her wolf, but her.
A throat clearing knocked them apart. Sam walked toward them, obviously done with his phone call and clearly in a bad mood.
Matt, noticeably agitated by the interruption said, "How's the wife?"
"She's fine." Sam's expression toward Matt was full of aggression, and Leah thought sure they were really going to go at it. Instead, Sam said, "Leah, we should get Collin and Aaron home before it gets late." His tone was clipped, short. She'd remembered this Sam; the one who made her feel like it was her fault that he tore her heart to shreds.
Matt took one last look at Leah then opened the front door.
The interior of the house was pretty basic, yet homey and welcoming. One thing Leah loved was that there were pictures everywhere. Some were of family members, others of vacations spots and tourist traps.
"Do you live here by yourself?" Leah asked as she approached a picture of the sunrise at the Grand Canyon.
"My brother, Niko, and I live here with my Aunt Jo." Matt dug in his pockets and placed his keys on the hook by the door. "Everyone else has their own homes, but this is home base. I don't think she could handle all of us living here. My brother and I are enough."
"How many do you have in your pack?" Leah asked.
"That's a pretty decent size."
They followed Matt down a hallway to a room in the back. There were two cots set up while another man with a stethoscope hanging around his neck examined Collin.
"Does your hand still hurt?" the man asked as they walked into the room. He was wrapping bandages around Collin's hand.
"Not as much." Collin's voice sounded like he was choking on rocks.
"Hey, Steve." Matt patted him on the shoulder. "How are things going?"
"Good." Steve looked up at Matt. His long, black hair was tied back in a ponytail. A streak of silver ran the length of it, mixing with the ebony strands at the base of his neck. He seemed to notice his new visitors. His blue eyes shifted between Leah and Matt, and he smirked like he was bragging about a secret that he knew but wasn't sharing.
"Well, hello there." Steve's grin broadened. "You must be Leah." He pulled off his gloves and stuck out his hand. He gave her a quick once over. "I've heard a lot about you."
"You know about me?" Leah shook his hand.
"It's the curse of being pack hunters, I'm afraid." He tapped his temple. "You're a constant thought in all of our minds."
Leah glanced at Matt who didn't look the least bit apologetic.
"I'm Steve, the resident pack doctor, third in command, and tonight I'm den mother. It's nice to meet you." He smiled graciously as he shook her hand.
"When we hunt, we don't leave Aunt Jo unprotected, so one of us stays here," Matt explained.
"And who's your friend?" Steve looked past Leah at Sam, who looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in that room.
Sam, suddenly aware that he was being asked a question, stepped forward. "Sam." He stuck out his hand for the doctor to shake.
"Nice to meet you, Sam," Steve returned.
Leah approached Collin. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, it looks worse than it is." He grimaced as he tried to move.
"Take your time," Steve warned with a friendly hand on his shoulder.
Collin had bandages wrapped around both hands, and there was a cast on his left leg. His face looked like he'd had a run in with a steamroller and lost. But he was still in good spirits.
It was strange seeing him still injured after a day had passed. The only person she'd seen this bad was Jacob after the newborn battle.
"My leg and all of my fingers are broken, but other than that I'm fine. Is Ness all right?" He moved to find a more comfortable position.
"She's worried about you." Leah lightly patted his shoulder.
"She's fine now even though this guy tried to kill her." Sam gestured to Matt. "Good thing Leah has quick reflexes."
"What do you mean he tried to kill her?" Collin asked, his eyes slowly sliding over to Matt. His voice was calm, but still ready to strike even if he was injured.
"He attacked her back at Jake's place," Sam explained, obviously ignoring Leah's warning glare.
The growl coming from Collin silenced the room. His sights zeroed in on Matt, and the look on his face was fierce and vicious.
How many dominant males was she going to have to control today?
"It's fine, Collin." Leah blocked his view of Matt and held her hands up as if she was approaching a wild animal. "He didn't know about her, but she's fine. Everyone's fine."
"Yeah, I'm sorry, man," Matt said from behind Leah. "I thought she was a vampire so I attacked. You understand, right?"
"Sounds like Ness is the one who deserves the apology," Collin answered through gritted teeth. It was strange watching Collin's demeanor change from laid back to fierce protector, especially with his injuries. "It'll be fine when I know she's okay."
Leah pulled out her cellphone. "That's a great idea. She'd love to hear from you, too." Leah dialed for him and placed the phone between his shoulder and ear.
"Ness?" Collin smiled when he heard Renesmee's voice. She shrilled through the phone asking a million questions at once. "No, honey, I'm fine. I'm so sorry I didn't meet you yesterday." That goofy smile he usually wore around Renesmee made an appearance.
While Collin spoke with Ness, Leah stalked over to Sam and pulled on his shirt for him to follow.
"What the hell was that?" she said in whispered tones.
Sam smoothed out his sleeve. "He should know that someone was trying to attack his girl. I'd want to know if someone went after Emily."
"And that's why you decided to tell him, right? It had nothing do with that pissing match back at Jake's, right?"
"Pissing match?" Sam whispered incredulously. "Give me a break. I was Alpha once too. To control a pack you have to have a clear head, and he acted without thinking things through. So far it seems like he's a hothead."
Leah defiantly crossed her arms. "I'm not arguing with you. Now is not the time."
Sam didn't look the least bit deterred by his actions.
Leah noticed Aaron staring blankly through the window. Leah and Aaron had never been on great terms, but she couldn't begin to imagine what it would feel like to not know where Seth was. "Do me a favor. Go check on Aaron. He looks like he could use a friend."
Sam nodded solemnly and headed over.
Leah walked back over to Steve and Matt. "What about Aaron? Is he going to be okay?"
"Physically, yes," Steve answered morosely. "He wasn't hurt as badly as Collin, a few broken ribs and some bruising. He's pretty upset, though. As soon as he woke up, he asked about his brother Tommy. When I told him that we'd only found him and Collin he completely shut down."
Leah watched Sam try and communicate with Aaron to no avail.
"Once the venom burns off, then they'll start healing faster," Steve assured.
"So they were attacked by vampires?" Leah asked with raised eyebrow.
"No, they were attacked by werewolves," Steve said matter-of-factly.
"Werewolves?" Leah's eyebrows rose. "You mean something different than us?"
"We're shifters," Steve explained, pointing at all of them. "We just happen turn into wolves. Werewolves are giant beasts taller than lampposts. They're strong, feral beings that only care about carnage." Steve leaned against the table. "Their venom works a lot like a vampire's. It slows down the immune system so the poison can spread and take over the body."
Leah ran a frustrated hand through her hair. "Great. You'd think that facing off with the Volturi was enough and now this?"
"The Volturi?" Matt and Steve said together.
"You actually fought them?" Steve asked.
Leah snorted. "Don't get too excited. There wasn't a battle. They ran away with their tails between their legs."
"Wait, they actually left Italy?" Steve asked. "They never leave the throne. Something big must've brought them halfway across the world."
"You could say that," she answered evasively. She didn't have the energy to explain why the Volturi came by or the wolves' alliance with the Cullens. There'd be plenty of time for that later.
"I would love to hear that story, like how you chased them away." Steve stood up excitedly. "It must have been pretty amazing. Wait until Niko hears this."
"Speaking of Niko, where's everyone?" Matt asked.
"They went out early." Steve stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Mickey had a hunch and they wanted to follow it before the sun went down completely."
"All right." Matt rubbed the back of his neck as he glanced out of the window at the fading sunlight. He glanced at Leah. "I need to get out there with my pack."
"And I need to get my wolves back home." She looked over at Collin with that silly grin still on his face after talking to Renesmee and then at Aaron who looked distraught and catatonic.
While Matt and Steve helped move Collin and Aaron outside, Sam pulled his Jeep closer to the door.
"You have a pack doctor, right?" Steve asked while Sam opened the back door to his Jeep.
"Yeah." Sam made room in his back seat.
"Make sure your doc takes a look at them when you get back." Steve helped settle Aaron in the backseat. "Right now, their immune systems are as fragile as a human's." Steve scribbled on a notepad. "I gave them some morphine for the pain. Make sure to give this to your doc before giving them medication."
"Will do." Sam folded the paper and stuffed it in his pocket. "I'll make sure our doc gets it."
Leah hung back with Matt on the porch and stared at the fading sunlight.
Matt shifted toward Leah. "Please tell Jacob that it's important for our packs to meet as soon as possible. We have a lot to talk about."
"I will." Leah started to step away, when Matt gently grabbed her arm.
"And I hope we will get a chance to talk too." He waited for her reaction. Her heart pumped erratically in her chest at his touch. Before she could respond, she heard Sam's bellow.
"Leah!" Sam waved. "We need to get on the road!"
"I gotta go." Leah slowly pulled away.
"I'll see you soon, Peaches." He lightly tapped her nose.
She gave him a small smile then walked toward Sam's Jeep, struggling to hide her own goofy grin.
A/N: As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts! :)