a.n. so after a knock-down drag-out fight with my stingy muse…we are back in business!

}:{

Jared wasn't sure when it had started really; this thing that had grown up between he and Jonah. Like cancer.

He remembered when he was younger, how excited he'd been when his parents had sat him down and told him he was to have a brother. That excitement had outlasted a colicky baby and a whiney, selfish toddler. But it had died a painful death the day he'd finally realized that Jonah would never snap out of it like his mother had hoped. His father had given up hope long ago, though he did his best not to show it.

Now, watching as Paul swept Jonah's legs out from under him yet again to leave him sprawled face down on the ground, he couldn't help but wonder what had gone so wrong.

His entire family, both blood and extended, had done their best by the kid, all to no avail. He seemed bound and determined to insult and humiliate everyone he came across. He had very few friends to his name, even fewer worth the title.

Maybe the twins were a little more right than he had been comfortable with when they called his brother a boil on the backside of Wolf-kind.

Sadly for Jonah, it appeared that their cousin just so happened to be the most effective lance at hand…

He watched dispassionately as his brother crawled through the dirt on three limbs, the fourth cradling his re-broken jaw. Blood smeared across the boy's face from a cut over his eye, a split lip and the previous blow to the face. His eyes were wide with the beginnings of panic, the whites showing as Paul leisurely strolled along after him. Jonah's blood was smeared across the taller Were's hands and spattered up his forearms from the casual, brutal blows that brought the smaller wolf crashing to the ground time and again.

Jonah was taking longer and longer to get to his feet now, the strength behind those blows beginning to take their toll on even the supernaturally enhanced endurance of their kind. Designed by necessity to be able to take a hit and keep on kicking, it was almost perversely impressive to watch one of them be worn down in such a way.

Then it was on again, as Jonah seemingly gained a second wind fueled by pure hatred; phasing and then plunging forward with snapping teeth and sharp claws. Paul simply grinned, all sharp-as-hell white teeth and sick amusement, before sending the boy cartwheeling through the air with a vicious backhanded blow to the side of his head.

The younger Wolf lay in the dirt for what seemed endless moments, panting for the air that had been knocked out of him, and Jared thought it might finally be over. But then Jonah actually managed to stumble back up onto his paws, dazed, shaking his head as if to clear it before baring his teeth once more in challenge. Paul actually laughed at the gesture, a deep, rich sound of pure delight before beckoning him forward, daring him to try again. "Was wondering how long it would take you to Phase, boy. Can only break your face open so many times before watching it heal gets boring."

It was as if he'd thrown the gauntlet. Jonah snarled and began lunging wildly, snapping at anything he could reach. But he was losing momentum. Every attempt was beaten down with a cheerfulness that was a bit chilling to witness, as if this was all simply a new kind of game for their cousin. A vicious game of 'Pop goes the Weasel', with Jonah getting popped every time he dared to get up.

Until he finally, at long last, didn't. There seemed to be nothing left in the young Wolf's vast stores of energy. Finally, a measurable end to what had appeared an inexhaustible fount of fortitude as the pack watched the boy sprawl in a graceless heap at the feet of his opponent, his sides heaving with every desperate intake of air as his limbs twitched feebly.

Paul stood over him, his face slowly going impassive as the fight seemed to leave Jonah. Watched as the boy seemed to collapse in on himself. Head canting to the side, Paul finally snorted. "Pity," he muttered, before turning his back.

The rest of the Pack stood in silence, as if unable to decide what to do next. Jonah would need medical attention, despite his supernatural healing ability, because broken bones would still need to be re-broken and then set if they happened to have knit wrong. Flesh and muscle could bruise bone-deep and need the attention of their resident medic Sue. Blood might also need to be transfused if wounds were left open by their unnatural healing for too long a time. Physical therapy would likely become a must at this point. Psychological therapy couldn't go amiss at this point either.

Sam remained stone-faced where he stood, though Jared could see hints of remorse for his decision, the faint flinching in the eyes as Jonah was brought lower and lower.

Jared wished he could feel the same…his mother would be devastated by this evening's outcome. So would Bella, because she could never stand to see someone in pain, especially because of her. He could finally understand just how horrible she felt over how she had been towards Jacob, even if he personally felt it had been warranted. This new imprint of his had yet to settle into the comfort of familiarity and so he was still on edge, hostile and protective of both of his girls. And they were his…his family, his mate and his sister. And he could only be thankful that Kim was thrilled by the new connection and not threatened. It could have turned into a very ugly situation otherwise.

He was confused by this newest connection, to be honest. This marked the third such familial imprint for the girl, and he had this gut-deep feeling that his would be far from the last. He had to wonder what was causing this newest development in their Pack, and a part of him feared the reason behind it. Would she need the added protection of her Wolf-brothers? Was that what this was all about? And if so, from what?

Then there was Paul. Paul who lacked a healthy moral compass. Paul, who seemed to have formed a singular attachment to a small, fragile human girl. He wanted to pity whomever dared attempt to harm her, because Paul was far more likely to rip apart their entire world with a smile on his freakishly handsome face.

But pity wouldn't come. Nor would it come for his own brother, who had attacked the only thing Paul seemed to hold dear.

The tense, waiting silence in the clearing finally shattered as the Pack began to break away from the ring they had formed about the two combatants. The forest animals once more moved tentatively in the woods as the sounds of battle faded away, undisturbed by the silent footsteps of the Wolves as they slowly moved back towards the path that had brought them there.

And it should have been over. Would have been, but for the sudden flaring of hate in Jonah's amber eyes, fueling an ugly desperation that impelled him to make one last ditch attempt to win as he lunged silently for the back of Paul's neck with his jaws agape.

Before Jared could even think to attempt a warning, Paul suddenly dropped as if cued by some sixth sense and reached back over his own shoulder, sinking what looked like honest-to-fuck razor-sharp claws into the boy's sides and ripping a canine shriek of agony from him as they sank deep. Then he whipped the huge wolven body into a wide arc and tossed it where it impacted the ground with a thunderous crash.

Jonah did not move again, other than to twitch in what looked like pure anguish as blood sluggishly poured from the wounds in his flanks.

Jared blinked as everything seemed to tilt crazily on its axis, because Paul looked as far from human as he ever had, in that moment. Crouched as he was on the balls of his feet, his eyes glowed in the growing dusk as he pinned the boy's gaze with his own. Jared could have sworn for a moment that the shape of his face was subtly altered, as if something feline were living behind those inhuman eyes, honing the features into something predatory. His upper lip was curled up into a snarl, exposing curving white fangs as he slowly brought up a hand, fingers still clawed as he licked at a stream of blood running along his wrist. Blood that wasn't his own.

Fear finally climbed into his brother's amber eyes as Paul smiled as if savoring the flavor, tongue flicking out for another taste and the message couldn't have been clearer:

You are prey, little Wolf.

In that instant, it became painfully apparent just how Other Paul was. Something so far from human or even Wolf-kind. And Jared would be lying if he said he didn't feel an answering pull in some heretofore unknown part of him. A part of him that was far from the Wolf and even wilder

Jonah folded in on himself, then a low whimper forced its reluctant way from his throat. He slowly, painfully made his way towards his cousin, belly in the dirt before he finally submitted himself before the Pack's most lethal enforcer.

}:{

Jonah's world was Pain.

It breathed and sang a vicious lullaby through his mind, beckoning him towards unconsciousness.

But he didn't dare follow its bidding.

"I don't usually give warnings," came the low rumble of his cousin's voice. Far more beastial than he was used to, it tripped down his spine in chills of almost unnatural terror. "But the girl you maligned would wish it."

Jonah shuddered, eyes clenched tightly shut.

"Your mouth touches on her again in any way that brings her pain and I will rip out your tongue, toss it in a blender and feed it to you through a straw. And I will continue doing so until your body stops healing its loss."

Jonah believed him. For the very first time, he was seeing exactly what the others saw when they looked at Paul. Huge and fierce and unencumbered by mortal limitations of any kind, making one feel small and helpless as a child in his presence. Power and savagery blended together behind a deceptively handsome face. Only the eyes were the key to his true nature as they glowed like cold fire in the growing shadows. Hunger seemed to bleed out from him in waves, as if something in Paul were starving for more.

Fear washed over Jonah yet again.

And Jonah hated being afraid. He hated feeling broken as he lay submissively, as if it weren't quite enough somehow. Hated the helplessness he felt, because he didn't have anything left with which to defend himself were Paul to decide he wasn't quite finished yet.

He never should have tried to go for his neck…

But what he hated most of all was his fear of his own worthlessness.

It's why he didn't get along with Jared.

Jared had been seemingly born perfect. He could do no wrong in his parent's eyes and made friends like collecting beads on a string. Jonah had to work twice as hard for his grades. He had been tempted by anabolic steroids just to keep his position on the football team, even though his current physique made a joke of the idea.

The Wolf gods had given Jared a girl that was perfect for him, and if that wasn't unfair enough, he'd now been replaced in his brother's life by a clumsy, paleface girl in the form of one Bella Swan.

Bella, who didn't have to work for anything, either.

She was ridiculously smart. Could do no wrong by her father or anyone else for that matter. Billy, his own chief, loved the girl like one of his own people. Sam treated her just like one of the pack, something that Jonah had yet to earn despite having been born to be one of the overgrown furry freaks.

He couldn't even see into the Pack-mind, yet another thing that seemed to have failed him.

So he'd refused to bend when shown the supposed error of his ways. Wouldn't bend to accept the friendship he'd been offered by nearly everyone in the Pack. Couldn't bend to Sam's authority because he was the first to invite that girl into a place that he should never have. Bella wasn't even Native; how was it fair that she got rights and privileges that he had yet to earn?

She even had her very own protectors in a number of the wolves, including one that had just torn a bloody swathe through his guts with what felt like razorblades.

He had no idea what had possibly possessed him to continue with the fight even after it became apparent he couldn't win. It was stupid, and not just on a normal scale. This was the grand, mammoth scale of things where, without the limits placed on Paul by the very Alpha he couldn't bring himself to accept, he now believed with every ounce of his coward's heart that Paul might have killed him without remorse.

He dared to meet his cousin's gaze and then wished to God that he hadn't. It was cold and calculating, as if sizing up his next meal.

Jonah hurriedly turned away. Stupid stupid stupid…

The next few moments of silence were deafening as his heart beat painfully in his ears, waiting for the attack he might have earned with his unintended defiance. The sound was made even worse as fear drove his pulse faster and faster.

Then the oppressive weight of Paul's gaze was suddenly gone. Paul was gone.

Jonah breathed out a sigh, finally relaxing fully into the dirt.

Bones had begun to knit back together. Unfortunately, his foreleg would need to be re-broken, but the rest were in a good position to heal properly. The wicked punctures to his flanks had also closed, though he could feel a strange lethargy that was unnatural to him even with the relief he felt. An exhaustion that left him feeling limp limbed and sluggish.

"Blood loss," Sam muttered, as if somehow he'd heard him even in his human state.

Jonah couldn't bring himself to care. He felt numb, mind and body, as if he were a puppet whose strings had been cut. His head felt heavy as he tried to lift it, his limbs leaden as he struggled to pull himself up off the ground. His lungs seemed to be refusing to co-operate, and he had to expend a great deal more energy than he was used to just to catch his breath.

Shouldn't he be healing faster?

Unease was beginning to grow in the Alpha's dark eyes as he and Jared eased closer to the struggling Wolf. Pain was slowly easing into a dull throb throughout Jonah's entire body from the numerous jackhammer-like blows he had taken. Each one had threatened to break him, sapping his endurance bit by bit until it was all he could do to crawl on his belly like the beaten thing that he was to end it.

He was unaware of when it was that his body phased back to human, as if unable to hold onto the form of a preternatural Wolf but it left him shivering in his naked skin in the middle of the woods.

"Jesus…" Sam's was suddenly kneeling beside him, careful hands gently helping him to turn over.

Because instead of feeling better as his wounds knit, he was feeling worse. Something in his head was howling in outrage, something that sounded a great deal like the voice of the Wolf. It was practically frothing at the mouth in its absolute fury.

"Jonah?"

Jonah coughed and spat out blood before he turned to face the Alpha's worried gaze.

"Sam?" Jared's voice came from just beyond his field of vision. The voice in his head was now practically seething at the sound, hissing and spitting poisonous thoughts that Jonah did not have the energy to truly contemplate just then. "Hypocrite!" it hissed. "He sounds so concerned now, but where was that concern when he practically slapped a gift bow on your ass and handed you over to Paul!"

Sam's hands came down to frame Jonah's face and Jonah fought to keep eye contact as his own threatened to roll up into his head.

"He's going into shock," the older Wolf murmured, his voice sounding strangely tinny and far away. "I'm not terribly surprised by it, but he looks worse than I expected."

"He doesn't care either!" the voice continued. "He's not the true Alpha. He's just a stand in cause the real Alpha is a little boy who got his nuts handed to him by a paleface bitch."

"Please shut up," Jonah practically moaned. His head hurt enough without having the grating voice echoing around in it.

"I think it's his Wolf," Sam went on, his voice now even lower as if trying to respect Jonah's desire for quiet. "Something's wrong with it."

"Liar!" the voice spat.

Jared finally moved into his field of vision and Jonah blinked at his brother. His face was twisted with what looked suspiciously like unease, and for a moment Jonah wanted to believe that his brother hadn't meant for him to get this badly hurt. That he hadn't really wanted him to get whatever lesson he was supposed to have learned beaten into his head and no more.

But years of rivalry and outright jealousy prevented him from accepting the situation. Until something happened that no one could have foreseen…

Maybe it was due to the fact that he was so weak just then…he didn't even have the energy to look away in self-preservation.

Something in his mind cracked open, ripping scream after scream from him that went on and on until his voice broke and choked off into a hoarse crying. He thrashed on the ground as he continued to howl, struggling wildly against whatever it was that was ripping apart his skull.

"JONAH! CALM DOWN BEFORE YOU DO MORE DAMAGE!" Sam bellowed, as if the command in his voice could somehow gain more impact with more volume. Hands scrambled to hold him down, stronger than he was, but it didn't stop the torrent of memories that bombarded their way through his brain as he writhed desperately to escape them.

With no rhyme or reason, no order at all, images of him all through his life. Yet in them he was seeing himself through other's eyes, the images colored by their feelings and their hurt. Frustrations, dreams, happiness and disappointments, everything and anything that he had ever taken for granted and things that he had never guessed at. And it hurt. Hurt him to see all the ways he had hurt others, hurt like iron nails being pounded through his brain.

The very worst one centered around his older brother. The days just before last summer had been the very last time his brother had reached out to him with love. He could remember the exact moment that the emotion had been extinguished in those dark eyes so like his own. It had been just a few months since Jared had brought Kim home for the very first time to meet the family…and all Jonah could see was another target for his jealousy.

Kim may not have been the most beautiful thing in the world, even if she was wonderfully cute in a pixy-like way, but she was to Jared. It had made her a convenient mark as her low self-esteem caused her to believe Jonah that Jared would eventually go elsewhere when he tired of her, because a part of her could still hardly believe that such a handsome young man could actually be in love with her.

It had taken Jared months to finally convince her that his brother was full of shit. Luckily she was also quite loyal, and when finally convinced she had never doubted him again. She had never questioned again.

But that look of betrayal…the sensation of utter loathing that he now felt in Jared was hurt the most. And it did hurt. Made his ache to see all the ways he had hurt his own brother, because he was feeling all the emotions his brother had once felt for him. The younger brother who never measured up. Not because of failings he had been born with, but failings he had developed out of spite and jealousy. The many small kindnesses that had been thrown by the wayside by someone unworthy of them…and he was unworthy. Unworthy and ungrateful.

"NOOOOOOOO-" the voice abruptly cut off as it screamed in denial.

"Help…me…"And then Jonah new no more.

}:{

There were only so many distractions one could indulge in to take their mind off things, Bella grumped to herself as she stood under the hot spray of her shower.

Her room had withstood Hurricane Bella as she cleaned it to within an inch of its poor life. The kitchen had hosted the previous warzone as she sought to keep herself busy.

But all the while her mind spun.

How was Paul doing? Was he hurt? How far would Sam let this thing go? She'd never seen Paul fight. She was pretty sure he could handle himself under normal circumstances, but Jonah absolutely hated his cousin and such an emotion could drive even the most cowardly to unimaginable acts. She prayed that she would get Paul back in once piece, both emotionally and physically. Would she lose the Paul she had come to care for? Because he'd been given free rein to put the younger Wolf into his place, he might be tempted by that very freedom to do something he might regret later.

Not that she'd ever seen remorse in him.

It was something that honestly worried her, but what could she do? He was who he was…

Drawing had been no help, because she couldn't get her mind to stop obsessing about the fight. Her art had come out either scattered and chaotic or gory in a way she didn't want to contemplate, all humor stripped from it.

A quiet knock on the door caught her attention and she wondered just how long her dad had been standing out there while she was lost in her own musings. He had taken half of a night shift to help cover the young man whose wife had just given birth to an incredibly cute baby boy and was due to leave any second. "Yeah?" she called out, ready to wish him a good night until tomorrow when they got up to go down to the Rez.

"'s me."

Bella stumbled in momentary fear as a male voice so very not Charlie's drifted through the bathroom door. Then she smacked herself in the forehead because duh, who else would it be after she had just spent hours obsessing over him? Now that she wasn't drowning in her own thoughts, she could feel his presence at the door. Though…it was just a bit unnerving to know that he was just feet away from her as she stood naked under the spray. She shivered, not liking how vulnerable it made her feel, even if she was fairly certain that she could stand stripped to her skin in front of him and he wouldn't even blink. It was the principle of the thing, after all. "Just….just give me five minutes to finish up?"

Paul rumbled an agreement before the feel of him disappeared from behind the locked door.

Just…great…

There were too many unresolved issues floating about inside her head and she knew that she would have to air at least a few of them if she were to get any rest tonight. She had never had a serious issue with him before, even if he did occasionally unnerve the crap out of her. It was unintentional for the most part, though she suspected that he did like to make her jump from time to time just to prove he could. He was a predator, not ever to be mistaken for tame, and she would do well to never forget that.

But all the same…

Bella hastily rinsed the shampoo out of her hair, absently noting that it was growing a bit faster than was usual for her, but she wrote it off to healthier habits with a shrug. After all, her complexion had become healthier along with her nails becoming stronger lately. She'd ask Emily about it, later.

Hurriedly towel-drying her hair just enough that it didn't drip, she threw her clothes on and, taking one last centering breath, grabbed up her hairbrush and passed through the open the door to go confront the Were in her room.

He was staring out the window as she carefully shut the door behind herself. The sun was just beginning to crest the mountains as it began to set for the night, the moon already attempting to light up the sky as it reflected against the clouds.

Bella twisted her hands together nervously around the brush as she watched him, nearly jumping out of her skin when he abruptly shifted and turned to face her.

His face was neutral but there was something just a bit remote around the eyes, and for a moment Bella found herself wanting to back away from him for the very first time. She wondered if she was seeing just a taste of what the others saw when they looked at him. Something wild and unreachable, never meant for the touch of human hands.

He must have seen something in her body language that cued him to her sudden wariness, because he slowly backed up until he was sitting on her windowsill, putting them closer to eye-level. "You're upset," he stated, no question in his tone.

Bella blinked. But gnawing through her own lip and twisting her clothing into knots wouldn't help anything. Not even to comfort herself. "I'm worried."

Those dark brows lowered, pale eyes glittering at her from the shadows, before he shifted, a mute gesture that encouraged her to continue.

"I guess…I'm worried about how I should be reacting to what I know happened today. I know that someone got hurt…probably a great deal. I feel like I should be more horrified then I actually am," she admitted, her eyes downcast as if to hide from him just how upset about her own reactions she actually was. "But I also know that none of you are really human anymore. I can't expect human morals from Wolves, nor should I."

Bella drifted closer to him as she spoke, unconsciously taking comfort in him even now. It almost hurt to even admit to it. To think that she could ever condone what must have happened. She knew that she must be making it a great deal worse in her head than what had actually happened, but even still, it couldn't have been butterflies and roses.

"I feel like I should be more upset by what happened then I am. And that scares me. I feel like I'm changing. I hurt someone close to me, and part of me can't believe I did it. I hurt him with words and actions and that's not like me. I wasn't even slap-happy as a toddler. I don't like violence. But I'm beginning to understand it and…I don't know how to feel about it."

Big hands carefully pulled her around and down into his lap before plucking the brush from her hand as she continued to voice her fears. She leaned into him as he slowly began pulling the bristles through her mop of curls, even now more comfortable with him than she suspected she should be. She felt as if she should be punishing herself somehow, no matter that she wasn't the perpetrator in the fight. She was still somehow guilty of being less than moral because she wasn't as disturbed by the thought that her best friend was capable of appalling violence as she should have been.

She should have been disgusted by him and his touch.

Instead, Paul was comfort and relief to her chaotic mind and something in her simply gave in and relaxed as he worked, her muscles uncoiling and going lax in response to the heat of his body and the gentle tug of the brush. One of her hands absently settled atop his thigh, fingers drawing abstract patterns as she felt her mind begin to drift away from all of the fear and self-recrimination.

Finally, the brush was tossed onto her bed just as she felt sleep begin to pull her under. She knew that she should move and at least get on the bed, if not under the blankets, but she was almost too relaxed to move. She felt herself being lifted, her body shifting sideways over his lap, one arm easing up behind her back as he held her. She blinked up into icy pale eyes before smiling at him drowsily.

His gaze was searching as he returned her regard, as if looking for something in her own eyes. His lips turned up faintly at the corners when he'd apparently found what he was looking for. "We good?" he asked, voice low and rough in a way that gave her pleasant shivers.

Bella reached up and carefully eased a lock of gleaming black hair behind his ear before leaning up and wrapping her arms around his shoulders, burying her face against his warm throat. "Yeah. We're good," she murmured back.

God help her…

}:{

a.n sorry it took so long! Between continued arguments with Toshiba and a muse who turned stingy with the ideas, it took forever to get this chapter out! Hopfully it will not take so long next time, and I am already started on the outline for the next chapter!

Chaos: Sidhe! Make sure to lock the back door! *banging noises* And the trap door! *more banging noises* And the front door! *Ducks hammer* Jeeze! So, hi! Sorry for the delay and hope we managed to get most of the rust off. Hope you enjoyed it and hope you don't find your way in to our hide out while you digest all the juicy tidbits we dropped this chapter. You all have a great evening ^^