For Kwaiya. I wish I could do more, but at least I can give you Brady Jennings. Soaking wet. :)

Lost Chapters: Brady

Chapter Three

Sometimes the darkest times truly are in the dark, and it is only with the rising sun that illumination comes. As Brady lay stretched out on his couch, the low predawn light slipping through the plastic slats of the window blinds, it occurred to him that he had fucked up. He should have picked up the walkie talkie. He should have gotten up, should have sucked it up, and should have made himself function. But he didn't, and he hadn't, and now Brady Jennings woke up to just one more mess he had made in his life.

Which pretty much made it a normal day for him.

It was tempting to stay on the couch, to sink in deeper, to let the sagging cushions and worn blanket hide him from the world a little longer. Wolves were no strangers to hunkering down in hiding places, staying tucked safely away until the threat had passed. But as badly as Brady wanted to hide away, he wasn't a child anymore. He was a man now, and men didn't crouch at the bottom of closets or hide under blankets, hoping that the big bad world outside wouldn't find them again. Brady's wolf nature might not have been as aggressive or dominant as his Packmates, but he wasn't a coward.

Still…a few more moments on his couch wouldn't hurt.

As he lay there, Brady hooked his fingers under the leather cuff on his wrist, popping the double snap and pulling the thing free. His skin was lighter beneath the cuff, untouched by the previous summer sun, and slightly clammy from trapped perspiration sitting too long on his flesh. Beneath the paleness and the perspiration, a darkly inked pattern stretched across his veins. Brady had earned his aversion to tattoos the hard way, the hardest way, so maybe it was self-destructive of him to have his own. But this mark had a twin, sitting on a wrist far away from La Push, a wrist with just as much reason to avoid tattoos as well.

"You're a bitch, you know that?" Brady grunted to that twin wrist. "You're not the only one that wanted the hell away from here."

As always, there was no answer, not that Brady had expected one. Maybe some of the Pack could talk to each other in their heads, but he was just Brady. That would never be him. Instead the apartment stayed quiet, with only the noise of Kim's steady breathing to keep him company. Brady sniffed, his brain registering what his nose and ears had already known: that Jared was gone.

Jared was gone before five in the morning, which was different than normal behavior. And he had somehow left without Brady waking at the noise.

Paranoia curled through Brady's mind, and the young wolf rose to his feet. Brady slipped silently over to the window, looking out at the rest of the tiny apartment complex. Jared and Kim's car was still there, and because it was so early, all of the neighbors were still inside their own homes. Reaching behind his head to scratch his shoulder, Brady headed down the hall, paused briefly at Kim's door to inhale a second time and listen closer. Making sure he wasn't wrong, and that she was still okay.

There had been a time where Brady had bragged to Collin about being trusted to guard the Alpha's imprint, but in reality, they were all just as important to each wolf. Rank ceased to matter the instant an imprint was in danger, and Brady knew that if Kim had been in that cave with him, he'd have fought just as hard to protect her too.

Fought just as hard and failed just as badly.

Shaking his head didn't rid Brady's mind of the disturbing images he now had, ones where Sims had been replaced by Kim. The tension that rarely left his shoulders settled in more firmly as Brady dressed and brushed his teeth quickly, pacing around the apartment like a caged animal. He couldn't leave, not when he didn't know why Jared had gone so unexpectedly, but his plan had been to get out of here before Jared woke this morning. It wasn't that he thought something was wrong, but Brady wasn't willing to leave Kim in case something was wrong. Not any imprint, but especially not Kim.

Feeling that tension twist into something tighter, a special blend of anger and worry that was uniquely him, Brady stopped moving and started listening. For ten minutes he stood outside Kim's bedroom door as she slept: silent, watchful, with nose and ears completely open. Not again. He and Collin had made the vow to themselves that they would never be caught unawares again. Not anywhere, not anytime. That had been the first thing that Collin had taught Owen, the first thing that Brady would ever teach another wolf if Jake ever gave him one. And if that made Brady and Collin the most paranoid wolves in the Pack, no one said shit about it. They had earned their paranoia, through blood and fear and fang.

For ten minutes Brady stood there, worried, waiting, ready. But then the tension slid from his shoulders, because he didn't have to worry anymore. Brady could smell something else outside now, a scent his nose had been searching for. Jared. Jared, and apparently breakfast sandwiches, which meant that Jared must have run to the all night drive through in Forks, to pick them up. Again, it was abnormal for Jared's weekday behavior, and as the other wolf unlocked the back door, Brady grabbed his book bag and his sweatshirt full of splinters, and he bailed out the front.

Jared's softly breathed "Dammit kid" was well deserved. Brady knew, okay? Fuck, he was trying to fix what he'd done the other night, wasn't he?

Only Brady was at a loss as to how to fix this part, the wooden bits clutched to his chest in white knuckled hands. Something Jared had loved. Something Brady had shattered. And not knowing what else to do, Brady was going to the only person he knew that would not only be up this early, but who had the best chance of fixing what Brady had managed to fuck up: Sam Uley.

There was a longstanding opinion in the Pack that Sam was unhealthily repressed. It was Brady Jennings' private opinion that all of the Pack was repressed—one couldn't spend that much of their life lying about who and what they were without having to stuff parts of themselves down—but that out of all of them, the first three wolves suffered from the affliction the most. In a way it had been much easier for Brady. There had been eight other wolves before Brady and Collin had phased, and as young as the Pack had been, there had already been an established order to the Pack. Brady and Collin were told what had happened to them, what they could expect to continue happening to them, and how best to deal with it.

But the first three wolves, especially Sam Uley, had to find out those things for themselves.

It showed in small but very specific ways. Having lost so much control of their earlier lives, the first wolves had in varying degrees become addicted to stability and structure, to rules and routine. None of them liked surprises, although of the three, Paul was learning how to handle them the best. Imprinting on and marrying Cassie had been good for Paul, because she was the most spontaneous person that Brady had ever met. But Jared's home and life were so regimented that at any point during a usual day, Brady could predict with surety exactly where and what the older wolf was doing.

Even more than Jared, Sam lived and breathed routine. He didn't just plan each day in advance; he planned each day weeks in advance. Collin had once decided that Sam's nerves were strung tightly enough to make him a walking bongo drum…a drum that Jake had been beating on since their current Alpha had first phased. Not being an Alpha anymore had helped Sam, but some patterns of behavior stayed, no matter what the current situation.

Brady had been Jake's wolf for longer than he had been Sam's wolf, but one didn't easily forget an Alpha. No matter how far in ranking Sam had slipped before Jake had told him he could stop phasing, no matter how many older wolves they found outside of La Push, they would all remember the first wolf in their Pack. The first voice that had been in their heads, explaining what had happened to them. Their first—if not their only—Alpha.

One didn't destroy something Sam had made and drop it in front of him lightly.

Brady had learned quickly in life that the best ways to avoid problems were to stay out late and get up early. Missing sleep didn't suck nearly as much as some other things could, and it was instinct to rise and shine and beat feet out of wherever he was staying before shit went down. That meant that he was often up when everyone else was still asleep. Jared being awake had messed with him, and as Brady slipped quickly through the woods over to Sam and Emily's place, his nose told him that both Emily and Sam were awake and gone too.

It bothered him, because he didn't know why. Brady always was happier knowing what was coming and why people were doing what they were doing. But without knowing where Sam might be, Brady had no choice but to sit on Sam's front porch and wait. Thankfully, Brady didn't have to wait long.

Emily must have taken their truck, because after a few minutes, Sam's scent filled Brady's nose, followed by the sounds of footsteps. The previous Alpha was walking back from wherever he had been, his hands loosely stuffed into his pockets and his pace relaxed. For a man who had always walked with the determined stride of someone with too many places to be, it was strange to see. Plus it dragged out the whole mess, which Brady hated. Brady, sitting here, waiting, and feeling like a complete asshole. Sam, looking calm and sure of himself, and probably never having known what being an asshole felt like.

It was like waiting in the principal's office voluntarily, knowing that you were going to get that look. The look of disappointment. The look that would say that Brady should have known better, that Sam had made sure Brady knew better. As Sam came closer, the heavy leather soles of his work boots crunching into the gravel part of the drive, Brady found himself wishing he could be anywhere else. Seriously, anywhere else. Anywhere at all.

The older wolf nodded in greeting, and Brady managed to get out a grunt as Sam closed the distance between them.

"You're up early," Sam said, to which Brady found himself sinking a little lower, shoulders hunching defensively.

"Broke something," Brady mumbled, not meeting Sam's eyes.

Sam took one look at the remains of the chair that Brady had set on the porch step, and the previous Alpha frowned. Sam's frown deepened when he saw the smaller pieces of the chair gathered on Brady's sweatshirt, and that was all it took to have Brady's eyes down and his head tilted to expose his throat. It occurred to Brady in that moment that even if it hadn't been stated, Pack was Pack, whether that wolf still phased or not. Sam could end up old and grey and Brady would still be dropping his eyes and giving the older man his neck.

"Em's got a breakfast casserole in the fridge," Sam grunted at Brady, ignoring the younger wolf's body posture as he gathered up Brady's sweatshirt and the wood shards within. "Get it in the oven and meet me out back."

Not only would he always be dropping his eyes and giving Sam his neck, apparently Brady would always end up doing whatever Sam told him to.

Feeling like a pathetic little bitch, the young wolf slunk into the kitchen. Brady had no idea what temperature to preheat the oven to, and he really didn't like the idea of going out to Sam's work shed to ask a question that was probably stupid. He liked the idea of screwing up Sam's breakfast even less. So Brady worried about it—and silently cursed himself for worrying about it—all the way from the porch to the top shelf of the refrigerator. His relief was palpable when he saw that Emily had left a sticky note on the casserole, saying what temperature to cook it for and how long, and to leave the tin foil covering on.

Pleased that he was able to do something right, Brady set the stove timer and relished every minute of waiting for the oven to preheat. Every minute in the house was one he didn't have to face what he'd done to the chair. Unfortunately the oven was new, and there was only so long before Brady had no more excuses to linger.

Brady's feet scuffed the dirt as he shuffled back outside, following the worn dirt path to Sam's work shed. He paused at the open door, uncertain if he should just walk inside.

"Door's open, Brady."

Well yeah, no shit, Sam. That didn't mean that Brady was supposed to go in there, though.

Through the doorway, Brady could see that Sam had taken the sweatshirt bundle and laid it out on one of his worktables, arranging the pieces in the general shape of what the chair had used to be. The largest piece was one of the chair legs that had managed to not be shattered like the others. Even the seat had been broken down into multiple pieces. Brady had gathered every piece that he'd been able to find, but some were no more than slivers.

"Even if I could glue all of these back together, this would never be safe to sit in." Sam shook his head, absently scratching at the stubble growing across his jaw before picking up a piece of the backrest. It had been the most ornately carved part of the chair. "Even Cassie would break it with her weight. It's not worth fixing."

Some things you couldn't fix. Sometimes you didn't have time to fix them, sometimes things broke beyond repair. Some things were never meant to stay in one piece and were destined to be destroyed eventually. Brady knew that all too well. But Jared had loved this table set, and Brady had ruined that. There had to be a way to fix it.

"Couldn't we just…shit, I don't know. Reinforce it or something?" Brady asked desperately, moving over to Sam's shoulder. "Like better glue or metal plates? I could get something from the scrapyard. Or maybe I could be real careful to put it back together exactly as it was. There's got to be something."

Sam's eyes found Brady's and instead of anger, Brady saw the beginnings of sympathy there. The former Alpha turned on his stool and tapped Brady's folded arms with the piece of seat pointedly. "Wolf. Wood. You're always going to win, Brady. It's always going to lose."

"Do you have any more?" Brady pressed, casting about the work shed. There were blanket covered furniture in the back, but mostly cabinets and storage chests. No tables or chairs besides a single half-finished rocking chair. "I'll pay you, Sam. I'll pay you full price."

Even as he said it, Brady knew that he had no way of paying Sam that kind of cash. The furniture Sam made was expensive, and even a single chair as nice as the one Brady had destroyed cost a couple hundred dollars.

"I don't have any more, Brady," Sam said quietly. "I only made the four."

Brady slumped, feeling the last bits of hope leave him. He turned around abruptly and walked away. It may have been rude, but his hands were shaking. Jake was more lenient about that than Sam had been…depending on the wolf, they could take a moment to try to get ahold of themselves. Sam was hard as stone. If there was a chance they could phase, then they had to get into the woods immediately. Besides, if wolf trumped wood, and Sam trumped wolf, Brady sure as hell better make sure that he didn't phase in the middle of Sam's workshop.

Even destroying Jared's apartment wasn't as bad as destroying Sam's livelihood.

Sam knew exactly why Brady walked away, and never stopped him as Brady went into the cover of the woods behind Sam's house. The fastest way to get control of himself was in wolf form, so Brady phased. Before bone and sinew had finished breaking and tearing, healing and reforming, Brady had already slid into the Packmind.

Seth, Embry, and Jake were still running patrol, although Paul and Jared were supposed to take over for Jake and Embry in a little under an hour. All three of the wolves weren't in the best moods, and having an upset Brady in the mix wasn't exactly what any of them wanted, but the top two wolves were ready to focus on something other than each other. Lately, Jake and Seth hadn't been as good at hiding their thoughts as they usually were, and Embry thought that spending another patrol with Seth and Jake either fighting or refusing to speak with each other had been just what his already frazzled nerves had needed. Embry was worried. He was hurt and angry, but dammit he was so—

Embry's thoughts faded into background murmuring, the way they often did when the leaders of the Pack decided to block him away. Jake wasn't looking forward to their Pack meeting that week, no matter how happy they made Renesmee and Cassie, and even though it wasn't until Friday. Seth was unhappy because he was pretty sure Chancy had a date with someone tonight, and that bothered him more than he wanted it to bother him. Embry was tired, but whatever else the wolf felt and thought was firmly buried beneath the buffer that having Jake there provided. Similarly how Brady knew that he was being blocked from Embry by the same. That was probably a good thing, because Brady didn't want anyone in his head. Fuck. Fuck. Sam couldn't fix the chair. What the hell was he supposed to do?

Seth thought that maybe Brady was getting too worked up about this. He had to know that when it came to Jared, Brady couldn't do—

Interrupting the Beta mid-thought, Jared phased in early. Whatever Jared was thinking, Brady didn't know, because he panicked, phasing out immediately. He knew that would piss Jared off, but it was just Brady's instinct to duck and cover when it came to the older wolf.

Naked and alone in the middle of the woods, Brady snarled in frustration. It was so much harder bringing himself down into a controlled state like this, and he couldn't even run it off because he knew that would take him too close to the patrol routes. Too close to a probably even more pissed off Jared. Unfortunately Brady wasn't Collin, and he couldn't grab the nearest set of tits to simply screw his issues out. The best Brady could do was stand there, fists clenched as he took long breaths. In. Out. In. Out. Calm. Calm.

One of these days he was going to have to learn how to do yoga or some shit.

Sam was still sitting on his stool when Brady finally returned, still scratching at the short beard he was growing and doing nothing as he waited for Brady to come back. That was all Sam Uley was doing. Sitting. Scratching. Waiting. Sam, the wolf that had always worked as hard as he could every single moment he wasn't out on patrol. Sam, the wolf that took every shift he had to…not because he enjoyed it, but because if there was slack, then someone had to take it up. Sam, the wolf that still drove Emily to physical therapy and ran extra patrols with Quil to protect Claire, who was perpetually tired and had only smiled a handful of times that Brady had ever seen. Sam was doing nothing.

It was only now that Brady noticed the fact that there were no dark circles under Sam's eyes, and no stress lines creasing a tensed face. He looked so normal in that moment, his life so bland and boring that he could actually be rested and relaxed, and it caused a flush of resentment in Brady. Someone else who got to bail, if in a different way. Wordlessly he stepped into the shed and started gathering up the remnants of the chair he had broken. Sam had been no help, but Brady would think of something. Him and Collin, they'd figure out how to fix this.

"Why'd you break it?" Sam asked as Brady carefully arranged the splinters into his sweatshirt, not wanting to lose even a single one.

When Brady didn't answer, those same authoritative eyes locked onto him the way they always had, and the younger wolf stiffened, ducking his head. Why did he break it? Cause he was a fuck up, and if he could find a way to ruin shit, he always did.

"Brady?"

"Nightmare," Brady mumbled, unaware until it was too late that the scent of embarrassment and shame had thickened the air around them. Quickly, Brady tried to finish gathering the rest of his mistake into his sweatshirt and get the hell out of there. "If I work for you, whatever you need me to do, could you show me how to make a replacement chair?"

Instead of answering, Sam rose to his feet. "Come on, let's go for a walk."

Brady didn't want to walk with Sam, but again, Sam had been Brady's Alpha. The desire to please the older man was engrained in him almost as deeply as it was with Jake. Brady wasn't a particularly skilled wolf, but he was a loyal one, and he'd follow his Alpha through hell and back. If his former Alpha wanted Brady to walk with him, then Brady would just shut his mouth and do as he was asked. Leaving the sweatshirt on the bench, Brady followed Sam out behind his house, close to where Brady had gone to phase.

There was a small stream only a few minutes' walk away, even ambling along at this new version of Sam Uley's pace. Frustrated because he had more than the chair to deal with this morning, Brady could feel impatience wearing at his temper. The problem was that he couldn't do a damn thing about it. Sam wanted to walk, so they would walk, until he was done walking. And when Sam decided that they should sit by the water, they would do that too.

Sometimes being so submissive was bullshit. But try as he might, Brady didn't have it in him to do more than glower at the water in silent resentment. Maybe she was a bitch for leaving, but at least she had the balls to do it. Brady was stuck here no matter what he wanted.

"You're pretty upset about the chair," Sam said after a few minutes of silence, squatting down to his haunches at the stream's edge. Brady had sat slightly higher on the bank, and when Sam squatted, Sam's head was now lower than Brady's own. He poked the stick in his hand at a small piece of sandstone beneath the water, turning it over. "Was Jared angry?"

"Probably."

Wise eyes flickered at that, and then Sam gave Brady another knowing look. "But you don't know for sure."

Brady's gaze dropped back to his feet, gritting his teeth and telling himself to just endure this. Give Sam his walk and his talk, and then Brady could leave and figure out how to fix the mess he'd made of things.

"Brady, I'm not phasing anymore," Sam told him quietly, watching the water swirl about the end of the stick as he absently nudged the rocks again. "And while I appreciate the respect you're trying to show me, you don't have to be here."

"If I didn't have to, I wouldn't be here," Brady muttered resentfully. Sam looked over at him, and Brady gritted his teeth. "I know it sucked having to figure shit out all by yourself, but it's bullshit to never get any choice in what happens. By the time you had to listen to someone else, you didn't want to be in charge anymore."

Sam didn't reply, and Brady felt his resentment grow. Sam, the only one of them besides Jake that had a choice in any of this. Sam, who didn't have to be a wolf anymore. Sam, who could pretend to be normal and have it be true.

Well, truer than the rest of them, anyways.

"You're right, Brady."

Somehow hearing that didn't make Brady feel any better, it just made him feel worse, and Brady turned his face away. He didn't like being right, not when it was his previous Alpha giving way to him. It felt wrong, it felt like Sam was becoming less. Brady still had to listen to him, but Sam was just…less. And if Sam was less, that made Brady less too. It made him angrier, more resentful, but there just wasn't anything he could do about it.

His hands started shaking again, but out here there was no one else but Sam. Sam, who was still enough like them to live through a pissed off wolf phasing right next to him. Probably. Knowing Brady, he was wrong. Knowing Brady, he'd phased right there and end up killing Sam, something that Jared loved even more than that stupid fucking chair. And then Brady would have to drag Sam's pieces around in a sweatshirt too, looking for someone to glue him back together.

Laughing bitterly at that image, Brady tried to breathe again. In. Out. Calm. Whatever. It was all such bullshit.

As if Sam could tell what Brady was thinking, the older wolf stood. Now that his head was higher than Brady's, the change in placement righted some of the wrong Brady had been feeling, helping his hands to stop trembling. The silence had grown awkward. Brady had just imagined killing his previous Alpha—which was terrible on a level that he wasn't able to deal with—so the young wolf cleared his throat.

"Do you miss it?" Brady asked, folding his arms across his knees. "Phasing? Is it hard to stop?"

Sam was silent for a moment, and then he barked out a small gruff laugh. "It's like telling your foot to stop being a foot, and to be a hand instead. It makes no sense, and it's annoying and frustrating. Every step you take seems wrong, like you're only doing it with half of yourself."

"Sounds like it sucks."

"Yeah. Yeah, but it gets a little easier each day," Sam continued, scratching at his beard again. "You start to remember how you used to be, back when you only had one foot to stand on."

Brady frowned in confusion. "But if you have three hands, can't you do more shit too?"

For some reason that brought a small smile to Sam's face. "As long as you don't have anywhere else you want to go, then sure, Brady. I guess so."

The younger wolf had the feeling that Sam was talking over his head, and it bugged him. Grunting and feeling stupid, Brady ducked his head, glaring at nothing. Sam was good at sitting in silence, and Brady had never spent much time alone with Sam, not enough to know what they should talk about.

"Brady, why do you think Jared liked that table set?" Sam asked suddenly, and Brady grimaced.

"Because you made it for him."

That answer was easy. Jared adored Sam, and part of Jared would always consider himself Sam's wolf. The table had been gift from an Alpha, from a dearly cared for Packmate, brother, and friend. That was why it was so terrible, what Brady did.

Funny, how Sam's expression said that maybe Brady wasn't as right as he thought.

"He talks about you," Sam told Brady. "Jared and Paul come over here a couple times a week, and when they talk, it's almost always about Kim and you, and Cassie and Collin. Jared was here yesterday, after you slipped out before he and Kim woke up. He was here half the morning, talking with me about that night, and he was pretty upset. But you need to know something, Brady. In all that time he was here, he never said one word about that chair."

Brady let out a harsh bitter laugh. "Yeah, probably cause I busted up his television too. I don't suppose you know how to put those together, do you?"

The older wolf didn't answer, and Brady fell silent. The silence stretched between them for so long that Brady considered getting up and walking away.

"Jared doesn't care about the chair, whether I made it for him or not," Sam abruptly declared, his voice firm with authority. An Alpha was always an Alpha, even when they had a beard and no dark circles under their eyes. Even when they forgot to—or maybe just tried not to—stand above a wolf more submissive than them. "Jared doesn't care about the chair, and if you don't know that about him by now, then you're not paying attention. If you want to help me out, I'll show you how to make another chair for him, but you need to understand something, pup. You're doing it for you, not for him."

"Why the hell would I make myself a chair?" Brady growled, inexplicably infuriated with Sam. He didn't pay attention to Jared? Brady listened to every fucking word that came out of Jared's mouth. Brady had spent years watching and memorizing Jared's actions and reactions to situations. "Whatever, I'll figure it out myself."

Sam just shook his head, giving Brady a knowing look as Brady stood. "What?" Brady demanded, frustration growing.

"For every hour you spend hiding from him over this, Jared's spending two hours worrying about you hiding from him over it." The older man reached over and squeezed Brady's shoulder. As it always did, being touched unexpectedly made him stiffen. "Go talk to him, Brady. You're making this whole thing worse than it is."

Brady was pretty sure he wasn't, but when a former Alpha gave you a look like that, there wasn't a whole lot someone like him could say.

Sam had said to go home, but the comment had been in that grey zone where orders and suggestions grew blurry. Knowing that Sam wanted him to go talk to Jared made Brady feel like he should. But enough of Brady's own self really didn't want to go talk to Jared. So Brady settled the issue by stealing a chunk of Emily's half-warmed egg casserole before getting his sweatshirt and chair parts from Sam's workshop, telling himself that he would go talk to Jared. Eventually. Just not right now. Tonight, when he went back to Jared and Kim's to sleep, then he'd talk to Jared.

Brady waited until the scent of patrolling wolf passed by, and then slipped out to the old shed in the woods where he kept his guitar, leaving the chair to be dealt with later. Then he pulled out the walkie talkie that he had stuck in his back pocket before leaving Jared's. After all, it was almost six, about the time that most people started waking up, and Brady had more than just a chair to fix.


Nikki Connweller had been asleep. She had been…up until someone had decided to call her on her walkie talkie. Assuming that if he was okay with not picking up so that he could sleep, that Brady wouldn't be pissed if she did the same, Nikki had turned down the dial and gone back to bed.

It had been nice. Instead of nightmares about amber eyes on a beach, Nikki had dreamed about her and her friends going to a cinnamon bun restaurant in the Land of Ooo, where handsome men in puppy dog costumes weaved in and out of the tables and wrote down orders on peppermint patties, inquiring if she wanted a side order of licorice stick. She had said yes, and they had brought the massive chunk of candy to her, but she couldn't quite fit it in her mouth. Skylar was laughing at her, and Dawn was trying to explain to her exactly what she was doing wrong, but Nikki couldn't hear because of the two people at patio table on the other side of her window.

"…So, she called you. And you—like the dumbass you keep insisting on being—didn't pick up. So you called her this morning, and she didn't pick up."

"Nope."

"And that's why we're here. Stalking Kim's sister at six-thirty in the morning."

"…."

Nikki didn't care who was stalking what, because she had almost figured out that the licorice stick was evil, and if she really wanted to feel better, she should probably accept one of the cinnamon buns from Cinnamon Bun. After all, they were at Cinnamon Bun's Cinnamon Buns, the most popular restaurant in Ooo, and it had taken Finn weeks of vanquishing things to get them this reservation.

"…why we're here, retardedly early, stalking Kim's sister with an ugly ass little plushy that looks like some little kid threw up on it."

"Chicks like stuffed shit."

Cinnamon Bun was about to disagree, but his voice was covered by someone else's voice, and the delicious cinnamon bun in her mouth was making little pathetic whining noises. Sadly, the deliciousness was less delicious, tasting more like her pillow instead, because someone on the outside of Nikki's window was still talking.

"…owe me five bucks now. Have you ever consider that not being a dick might make your life a little easier, Brade? Cause then you wouldn't have to be out here retardedly early, stalking Kim's sister with an ugly ass plushy that looks like some kid threw up on it. And I wouldn't have to be out here retardedly early, watching you stalk Kim's sister with an ugly ass plushy that looks like some kid threw up on it, for moral support."

"…Whatever."

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Brady Jennings is an absolute fucktard."

"Who are you even talking to?"

"I'm being metaphorical, asshole."

"Dude, you have to say 'like' or 'as' or some shit if you're gonna be metaphorical."

At this point, Nikki was required to place her pillow over her mouth to stifle her scream. Then she rolled over and picked up the phone, dialing a number by heart. A sleepy hello answered, to which Nikki groaned. "Kim? There are two boys in my back yard that might not survive another five minutes. I was having the dream and they ruined it."

Kim must have just woken up, because she yawned loudly into the phone. "The dream or the dream?"

"The dream. Cinnamon Bun's Cinnamon Buns. I finally had a table this time. If they had ruined the dream, they'd both be dead right now."

Nikki's sister made a little noise, and she realized that Kim was eating. "Jared went for breakfast this morning. I have a few extra McGriddles over here if you want one. They're not cinnamon buns, but they're pretty good."

"…Dude, what do you think the dream is? Do you think it's about me?"

"Why the hell would she dream about you?"

"I don't know, chicks just do. I never questioned a good thing, so why start now? If it helps, I'll try not to be too awesome in her dreams, so that you don't look bad. Or worse, really. You are the one stalking her, after all…"

This time Nikki didn't even bother to hide her screech into her pillow. "Brady, please don't take this the wrong way, but you need to either go away and take Collin with you, or stay and kill Collin. Otherwise I'm going to have to destroy you both."

Over the phone, Kim had seemed to perk up a little. "Oh, is Brady over there? We weren't sure where he was. Isn't it a little early, though?"

Patience. Nikki could have patience. Really, she could. "Yes, Kim. It is a little early."

"…Do you think she can really destroy us?" the voice was asking the other voice, sounding dubious. "She's pretty small."

"I could just kill you, and apologize for not answering her call last night that way. Two birds, two stones."

"Bros before hoes goes right out the window with you, huh? Gotta admit, I'm kind of hurt, Brade..."

Nikki threw her pillow at the window, but other than thudding softly, no real damage was done. And now she didn't have a pillow. Kim was still talking, oblivious to the fact that Nikki was about to commit a premeditated double homicide. "Did they say why they were over?"

"Apparently Brady wanted to apologize to me for not answering the walkie talkie last night, and he thought letting Collin wake me up was the answer."

"Collin's up this early?"

"Yes, and right outside my window. Ruining the dream."

Kim snickered, making more munching noises. "At least it wasn't the dream, because that could have been embarrassing. Remember the last time you had the dream, on the couch after Easter dinner, and Jared couldn't look at you all day? I think he picked three fights with Paul that week, and Paul never did know why."

Blushing at the memory, Nikki groaned. "Don't remind me."

Oh, Nikki remembered. She also knew why Jared never let her stand close to Paul anymore when they were all together, not that it was fair. It wasn't like Nikki deliberately tried to dream the dream. It just…happened. Sometimes. Frequently. Her silence must have given her away, because Kim started laughing but kindly changed the subject. "So, are you sure you don't want a McGriddle? I can bring one over before going to meet Emily."

"Naw. I just want some coffee."

"Hmm, coffee. Speaking of which—hey Jared? Can you reach that for me? We're out of the regular filters." A masculine voice murmured something on the other end, and Kim replied. "He's over there with Collin…I think so, his lunch money isn't on the table anymore. Sorry, Nik, I'm back. So, are you mad about it? The walkie talkie?"

"Not really," Nikki replied, yawing herself and sitting up in bed, hearing running water over the phone. "I figured he had a good reason for not answering, like sleeping, and I wasn't upset."

Something in the background made a beeping noise, and Nikki recognized it as Kim turning on their coffee pot. "Well, you could either throw them both off the lawn, like I did Paul and Jared a few times. They used to wake me up before school to try and convince me to cook pancakes for them. I finally started keeping a water gun in my room. That might still be there if you need it, check the closet. Or…"

"Or?"

"Or you could tell him thank you for the effort, but to keep whatever he got in case something actually happens. That way he'll save himself a trip to the store. Jared's got a whole box of last minute, opps I screwed up, things. It's running a little low, though. The last time he blew it, I ended up getting a memo pad from our bank."

"Jared took that from Dad's desk drawer."

"Yeah, I figured. Heh, Jared's glaring at me. I don't think I'm supposed to know about his secret stash. So, is it still loud out there?"

"Nope. But…aww. There's a little stuffed Marceline sitting outside on my windowsill. I think it's a keychain. It looks like one of those keychains that Mrs. Clearwater got in last week, but I didn't realize she had any Adventure Time ones. I would have raided the box. Did you tell him?"

"You have at least ten Adventure Time patches on your book bag, Nik, and half of them are that vampire chick. Just because Brady doesn't talk a lot doesn't mean he doesn't pay attention. He actually pays more attention than almost anyone I've ever known."

Kim was getting that tone to her voice that she and Jared sometimes had when they talked about Brady. Pride and contentment, mixed with concern. That Kim loved Brady was obvious. That Jared loved Brady was so freaking transparent that everyone on the reservation knew it.

Well, almost everyone.

Nikki was awake now, and she stayed on the phone with Kim for as long as she could get away with. Finally she had to hang up and get ready for school, making sure to pack her notes for the quiz they were having first period. Her parents' room was on the far side of the house—which was why Collin and Brady hadn't woken them by talking—so Nikki stuck her head in to wave goodbye to them both before heading to school.

Her father must have been up late writing, because he was still fast asleep, but her mother was getting ready for work. Nikki and Kim had gotten their looks from Piper Connweller: the wispy dark hair, the long eyelashes, and the short stature. But where Nikki got her laid-back quietness from her father, Kim's more outgoing and excitable nature was one-hundred percent their mother. True, Piper had never thrown a shoe at her husband, but it was easier being married to a writer than a shape shifting wolf with a secret identity. Jed Connweller adored his wife to distraction, and Piper Connweller bent over backwards to try and keep him happy.

Nikki was pretty sure that her parents were two of the most happily married people she had ever known.

Piper smiled and mouthed for Nikki to have a nice day, pantomiming her questions about lunch money and homework. Yes, Nikki had everything. No, she wasn't going to be late. Yes…and seriously, she was a sophomore in high school. Of course Nikki had brushed her teeth.

Nikki normally walked with her friends to school, but Skylar had spent last night with Dawn, and Dawn's house was the opposite direction from the school. This morning she made the walk alone. Brady was sitting on the low cement wall out front of the school, but unlike her, Brady wasn't alone. The wolves rarely were, now that she paid attention to those things.

Collin, as always, was a few feet away from Brady, hands on Callie Jennings' waist and tongue down Callie's throat. The two were making out like they were oblivious to every single student that passed by watching them, although by Callie's body language, it was clear that she was only doing so to pass the time. Collin seemed far more enthusiastic about the whole thing. Brady just looked annoyed to be anywhere near them when they were doing that, but he was still there. Owen was sitting on the concrete near their feet, a math text in his hands that he wasn't actually reading and an embarrassed flush on his face.

Nikki wasn't sure why the two wouldn't have just left, the way Dawn and Skylar would have bailed in a similar situation. It must have been a Pack thing.

As she neared them, Nikki saw Brady seem to perk up, and he turned, as if somehow knowing she was there. Maybe he smelled her, which was kind of strange to think about, but Nikki was relatively sure she didn't smell like much besides her shampoo and soap and maybe the Poptarts she'd had for breakfast.

Callie broke away from Collin, the beautiful she-wolf locking in on Nikki.

"Hey Connweller, want my sloppy seconds?" she asked playfully, her voice carried to other students nearby. For Callie, it was an attempt to be nice…ish. Callie seemed in a good mood that day, if her willingness to tease without a nasty tone to her voice was any indicator. But rumors about Nikki and Collin were already being spread around the school, and Nikki flushed. Instead of answering Callie, she pulled a small clear bottle of hand sanitizer out of her book bag and tossed it to Collin.

"Here, Collin. Just dump it straight in your mouth, and it'll help kill the taste of crack whore."

Nikki wasn't sure what made her say it, but she had a tendency of saying things that got her into trouble a lot. The she-wolf's eyes flashed in sudden anger, but Collin barked out a laugh, and had a tight grip on Callie's waist, preventing her from closing the distance between them. Brady smirked at Callie as he stood up and slung his backpack over his shoulder. Nikki offered Owen a smile, but he was staring resolutely at his math book, and Brady had already fallen into step with her, blocking Owen from her view.

It felt strange but oddly exhilarating, walking into school with him. Just the two of them. If Brady noticed the curious looks they were getting, he ignored them. Instead he stayed at her side as she headed down the main hallway, touching her arm lightly to indicate that he needed to stop at his locker. Nikki waited, watching the tall wolf go through the motions of opening the lock and shoving his book bag inside.

He still hadn't said a word to her, and Nikki wasn't sure what she should say. However Brady finally shut his locker door and leaned his elbow on the metal, shifting so that he was only a couple inches away from her. The air felt warmer, and Nikki inhaled, the scent of him just as good as it had been the last time she had been next to him. Nikki realized that she was staring at his chest instead of looking up at his face, her own heating in response to her nervousness. Would there ever be a time when he didn't make her feel like this: like her stomach and her heart were fighting for a place in her throat?

"Thanks for not being pissed about last night," he rumbled, moving closer.

"It really was fine, I knew it was late," Nikki told him shyly, glancing up at him. "Thank you for the keychain. You didn't have to, but I like her."

Brady reached over and tugged at the little stuffed Marceline she had clipped to her book bag, and his lips began to curve a little. "What is this thing anyways?"

"Marceline the Vampire Queen," she informed Brady. "Adventure Time? She flies around and plays guitar? Her dad is completely evil and ate her fries?" When he arched an eyebrow, Nikki stood up a little straighter. "Hey, she's beyond awesome, you just don't even know."

Apparently there was something attractive about her defending her choice in cartoon characters, because Brady closed the distance that remained between them. Despite the fact that everyone could see them, Brady slid his fingers through her hair and tipped her face up, bending down and kissing her. Unlike Collin and Callie, Brady just brushed his mouth against hers lightly, but it startled her. Nikki didn't even have a chance to kiss him back before Brady had withdrawn.

"You need to go to your locker?" Brady asked, and Nikki nodded, licking her lips. He caught her doing it, and when she blushed, Brady's roughly handsome features softened into amusement.

"You do that a lot," he told her. "You're a walking tomato."

"Nope," she disagreed, even though Nikki knew it was true. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Brady smirked as they headed down the senior hall towards the sophomore lockers. He was so close to her side, Nikki could feel the heat radiating off of his skin. She wanted to reach for his hand, and she was pretty sure that a guy who would kiss her in the hallways would hold her hand. But this was Brady Jennings, and he was really hard to read.

"What are you worried about?"

Nikki glanced up at Brady in surprise. He had a frown on his face, and he was looking around them as if trying to search out the source of her distress. The sophomore hesitated and then murmured, "I just wasn't sure if you wanted to hold hands or not."

"That's stupid," he snorted. Nikki drew herself up, eyes flashing at the insult, but her surge of prideful indignation fell when Brady chuckled. "Girls worry about the weirdest shit."

Brady didn't hold her hand, but he did something even better: he draped his arm over her shoulders, muscled arm heavy and warm as he drew her closer to his side. Nikki's hip bumped his, and she bit the side of her lip, a grin slipping free. And when they reached her locker, his arm slid down to her waist. This time when Brady drew her closer, Nikki lifted her face up, knowing that he was going to kiss her.

Unfortunately someone else interrupted them with an ear piercing cat call. "Woohoo! Go Brady!"

It was Collin, of course, with the ever present Owen at his heels. Thankfully they were Callie-free. Nikki turned beet red and stuffed as much of her face into her locker as she could get away with, in the pretense of looking for her first class text book.

"Dude, you're a dick," Brady muttered, as the other male wolves joined them.

Diana and Vanessa—the two freshmen—walked past, eyeing Owen. "Hi Owen," Diana said, giving him a smile, and Owen's cheeks went pink.

"H-hello," Owen stuttered shyly, making both girls giggle as they scurried off.

Collin beamed at Owen, gave the two girls' backsides a once over and them flashed Owen a thumbs-up. "Good for you, Owen my man."

Nikki was pretty sure that if Owen could have climbed into his own locker to hide from everyone's interested stares, he would have.

"We can help you get in there if you want," Brady said, smirking and sounding kind of like an ass. Collin laughed and threw an arm over Owen's shoulders.

"Yeah, and then Owen can kick both our asses later. Nikki, you have no idea how good this guy is when you ladies aren't around. He's like Superman, the wolf version."

Owen went a few interesting shades of red and purple at that, but he seemed pleased at the compliment. Brady just snorted and looked away.

"So, are you two actually together now?" Collin asked, grinning widely as he shifted from embarrassing Owen to embarrassing Nikki and Brady. "Cause I'm ready to start in on my best friend's prerogative. Speaking of which, littlest Connweller, where are your two partners in crime?"

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means that Littlesea thinks he's going to go seashell deep in one of us," Dawn said, approaching from the side, dragging a yawning and rumpled Skylar by the arm. "Which he's not. Move, people, you're in my way."

"You're late," Nikki said, closing her locker and hoping the heat on her cheeks was fading. If Dawn noticed, she was more preoccupied with the bell that was about to ring.

"Blame this one. She came over last night and it was hell trying to get her going this morning. I would have left her but we have that quiz first period."

Skylar yawned again and leaned her shoulder against the wall near Nikki and Brady, eyes drooping closed. "Senseisevil," was her mumbled explanation. "M'tired."

"We h-have a quiz?" Owen asked, looking instantly distressed.

"It's open note," Nikki told him, to which the young wolf looked only slightly less worried. Collin patted Owen on the shoulder, muttering to just cheat off of Dawn if he couldn't remember the answers.

"I heard that, Littlesea, and the last person that cheated off of me is still ruing it to this day."

"Ruing? I love it when you talk dirty, Ateara."

Nikki giggled and glanced up at Brady, whose brow was furrowed. He caught her grin and made a little face at her, which had her laughing openly now.

Dawn wasn't having nearly as much fun. "Where are my pens? Skylar, my good pens are gone!"

"You can borrow one of mine," Collin said helpfully, but it only earned him a look of death from Quil's cousin.

Dawn launched into a lecture about how she had picked these pens for a reason, because it was annoying to have pens with inconsistent ink flows. She had spent extra money to be sure that her pens were always properly working, and no thank you but she didn't want one of Collin Littlesea's pens. They probably were idiots too. Each word was punctuated by Dawn tearing through her book bag and locker with a sort of manic determination that had Owen edging away from her, and Collin raising an eyebrow. By the end of her rant, Dawn finally slammed her locker door shut.

"They're at my house, aren't they?" Dawn asked Skylar, looking frustrated. "When you said you needed to copy my notes, you used my good pens. And when you said you put everything back in my bag, you forgot my pens."

Skylar gave Dawn a sleepy smile, blinking innocently. "Hmm?"

However a look of horror had filled Dawn's face. "Skylar? You just forgot the pens, right? Just the pens and not the notes that you used the pens to copy?"

The taller young woman scratched the back of her neck, glancing around for help that wasn't coming. "Umm, well it was so hard to wake up this morning…and you were taking so long in the shower, I kind of fell back asleep. And then the rushing to get here on time…"

"Skylar!"

Nikki was pretty sure that Dawn's shriek was far more painful for the wolves' ears than it was for her own, but Nikki still winced.

"She's going to kill me," Skylar muttered out of the corner of her mouth to Nikki. Nikki grinned, and unthinkingly slid her hand into the larger one that had been brushing against her own.

"You committed a cardinal sin, Sky," Nikki murmured. "What did you think was going to happen?"

Skylar sighed and then shrugged. "It's fine, just take mine." But when Skylar opened her book bag, it was mostly empty. "Huh. Dawn? Did I leave my stuff at your house?"

At which point Dawn started freaking out. "We have an open note quiz!" she said in a panic. "How am I supposed to do the quiz without the notes?"

"Copy mine," Nikki said, letting go of Brady's hand and reaching for her bag.

"Class is in four minutes!"

Nikki shrugged, pulling out her notebook and flipping to the section her notes were in. They were covered in sketches of little basketball Nikkis doing various activities, but they were there. "Just take mine, Dawn. Your grade matters more to you than mine does to me."

Dawn eyed Nikki's notes with an expression of pain, fingers twitching towards the notebook. "No…yes, I want them, but no. I can't do that to you."

Collin had been watching this, an expression of amusement on his face. "Hey Brade, do you get the feeling that these three sink or swim together? If I fix this for you, Ateara, do I get that date?" Collin asked, cornering Dawn between her locker door, Nikki, and Owen's lanky form with the ease of a practiced hunter.

"Fix it? How are you going to fix it? There's no fixing it! There's no notes, Collin."

Collin shifted in closer to Dawn, grinning down at her sexily. "You didn't answer my question."

Brady grunted and took the notebook out of Nikki's hand, tossing it to Collin. "Just fix this shit, dude, before she hyperventilates. It's Emb's fault in the first place."

Nikki wasn't sure about the logic behind that, but Collin seemed to agree. Dawn looked at them suspiciously, like she believed that the wolves were messing with her.

"Collin can fix it," Brady said from behind Nikki, and she couldn't help biting the side of her lip when he took her hand again, fingers entwining in her own. "But not if you're gonna be a bitch about it." Nikki shot him a look, and Brady blinked, looking confused. "What? I didn't call her a bitch. I said that he wouldn't help her if she didn't stop being a bitch."

"That's the same thing," Nikki argued, but Brady seemed certain that it wasn't.

Dawn took a deep, calming breath. "Collin, if you fix this for me, I'll be very grateful. And I'll—"

"Go out with me."

"I have a boyfriend!"

Collin leaned his elbow over her head, knowing that she had nowhere to go to escape him. "Are you sure?" he asked, voice lowering enough that he practically oozed sex appeal. Normally Skylar would have been intervening at this point, but she had spied a package of mini blueberry muffins in the side of Owen's book bag and was eyeing it longingly. He noticed and handed it to her, causing Skylar to make a happy noise.

No one was sure who shot the rubber band that promptly hit Skylar's forehead, but the messy haired sophomore narrowed her eyes and peered around Owen suspiciously.

"Fine!" Dawn finally conceded, looking on the verge of tears. "I'll go out on a date with you, Collin, but no kissing, no tongue, and absolutely nothing below your waist comes in any contact with anything of mine. Just please, class starts in two minutes!"

Collin winked at her before straightening. "We can work out the details later."

The school was tyrannical about their paper usage, and the copier in the office was off limits to every student, no matter what the reason. And sure enough, Collin Littlesea ambled right on into the office and ambled right on out again a minute later, with two copies of Nikki's notes. All three girls stared at him in shock.

"Told you," Brady murmured in Nikki's ear as Collin handed one copy to Skylar.

Collin kept the other behind his back, not letting Dawn grab it from him. "I'm not going to make you go on a date with me, beautiful," Collin purred into her ear. "A hug and a thank you are good enough."

The bell rang, making Dawn tardy for the first time that Nikki could ever remember. With a yelp, Dawn flung her arms around Collin's waist, then snatched the notes out of his hand. It had to be the fastest hug in history, followed by an eww and a shudder, but her thank you was legitimate. Nikki knew Dawn well enough to know that was real gratitude in her eyes. Nikki also knew Collin's reputation well enough to know that the wolf had officially just snuck his foot in the door when it came to Dawn, and by the look of satisfaction on Collin's face, he knew it too.

"You're not sleeping with my friend, Collin," Nikki reminded him, to which Collin just grinned mischievously. It was almost comical how much pleasure he seemed to be getting from this.

"How's that fair? You're welcome to sleep with my friend all you want, Nikki."

Of course Collin made sure to say it loudly enough that Nikki squeaked with embarrassment and fled after Dawn. Skylar paused long enough to give him the finger for all three of their sakes, but it was clear by her lazy grin that her heart wasn't in it.

As Brady's rare but very pleasant laughter followed her down the hall, it occurred to Nikki that her embarrassment just might have been worth it.


Since the actual ranking imprint had decided to bolt with their eldest she-wolf, the position of ranking imprint had fallen squarely on the shoulders of someone else. That someone else was holding the position magnificently.

The La Push Pack were back to holding Pack meetings every Friday, just to give Cassie the opportunity to stand in front of them with her little notebook, cheerfully checking things off the "list". The list varied. Sometimes it was actual business, involving adjusted patrol routes and schedules, updates on absent Packmates, and information on the situation involving the search for Alice Cullen. Sometimes it was what Paul Coho had eaten for breakfast, and how much Cassie liked Collin's new shoes. Whether silly or serious, Cassie never failed to be ready for the meeting, and it was clear that Jake was not only appreciative of not having to run the meetings himself, but that he was beginning to rely on Cassie to keep track of things for the Pack.

As the ranking imprint, Cassie often cast several votes with her fellow imprints and lobbied Jake accordingly. By lobbying, the tiny blonde followed Jake around, using her ability to talk circles around the Alpha, hounding him mercilessly.

They wanted to be at all of the Pack meetings and to have a larger in say in what happened, because the choices of one so greatly affected the choices of them all. They wanted the Alpha's restrictions on their movements lessened. They were adult women, most of them anyways, and it was humiliating to have to ask permission to leave their own town and to do so under guard. They wanted all the wolves still in school to not have to patrol as much, because both Kim and Cassie were afraid Collin and Brady weren't going to make it through the school year. They wanted Renesmee to be allowed to run patrols with the wolves since she was missing Jack so badly, and that way she would feel more a part of the Pack. They wanted the Pack to start noticing the fact that teenage drug use and alcoholism was getting worse every year on the rez, and that there was no point protecting the tribe from vampires if all the kids were going to overdose before they were eaten.

They each wanted a chocolate dipping fountain, but they were willing to share custody of one and pass it around.

To his credit, Jake listened. Some things he gave way to, some things he remained steadfast about, but the Alpha always listened. He caved quickly to allowing them access to all meetings, and to having Renesmee run with them whenever the half-vampire felt the desire, as long as Renesmee fell back if a vampire broke the borders. He had adjusted the schedule for Owen and Collin, but Callie and Brady had a bad habit of getting themselves into worse trouble when left to their own devices, and both rarely paid enough attention in class to do their homework at night anyways. And the Alpha adjusted patrol routes to weave in closer to town, using the Pack to unapologetically bust up gatherings where drugs could be scented, or alcohol in excess.

Jake was still gun-shy about having the imprints out of the circle of the Pack's protection, but he was wavering for Emily and Kim. They had to travel a lot for their business, and it was disrupting the patrols to constantly to keep a wolf with them. As long as the pair were always reachable by phone, and someone in the Pack knew where they were, they could go as they pleased. Within reason. No trips to Seattle when the Calgary wolfborn were visiting their favorite restaurant. No trips much further, unless accompanied. The Alpha knew only too well how helpless it felt to need to protect someone that was simply too far out of reach.

Cassie had to stay where she was, unless she had him, Seth, Paul, or two wolves on her at all times. The Alpha refused to waver on that, but he did get her a used chocolate fountain from the party supply store in Forks.

In general the girls were calling it a win.

While there were always the occasional issues, life had been calmer since the previous spring. Which was why today's Packmeeting had mostly centered around the topic of who wanted to switch patrols with who. Afterwards the conversation shifted to general Pack activities, of which there were now more of, and being reminded by the tiny blonde imprint that after today, casual Fridays weren't voluntary but mandatory, and any shirts found on any of the wolves after five pm would be confiscated immediately by Paul.

Collin formally petitioned for Pack unity, insisting that the imprints be included in that rule, earning himself a smirk from Callie and a pleased smile from Cassie. When Emily played along with Collin just to see Sam turn interesting shades of purple, things generally started to disintegrate into disarray. However, when Renesmee shyly informed them that she was willing to participate in all Pack activities, but she would have to ask her parents' permission first before taking her clothing off, Jake had decided that maybe things were going too far afield.

"Okay, casual Friday is currently suspended until further rules about who is wearing what can be agreed to," the Alpha told Cassie, looking equal amounts tired and amused. "Anything else, Cass? I don't like leaving just Esme and Bells on the border."

"I'm almost done," Cassie chirped to the assembled wolves and imprints. "Last order of business: everyone that votes for a Monday night Pack dinner of spaghetti awesomeness, raise your hands."

Everyone but Jared raised their hands. Cassie grinned and drew a smiley face next to scribbles on her paper. The second wolf to phase frowned at them, as if in betrayal. "Well, I vote for tacos," Jared spoke up grumpily. He had seemed grumpy from the moment Brady had slunk into the meeting at Collin's heels, both wolves late and knowing the meeting was being held up for them.

When asked why they were late, Collin's cheerful commentary about how deep Brady's tongue had been in Nikki's mouth hadn't really helped them any. The last week at school had been spent doing exactly that, every chance Brady could get: kissing her in the hallways, kissing her by her locker, kissing her back behind the building after class. Kissing Nikki Connweller was usually the best part of Brady's day. Nikki was still pretty shy around him, and almost constantly smelled nervous, and so she didn't ask him lots of questions. It was nice being around someone who knew what he was but who didn't try to butt in on his business.

Or bitch about him spending the few days week sleeping out in the shed in the woods.

When everyone rolled their eyes at Jared's choice of food, his narrowed. "What?"

"You always vote for tacos, Jared," Kim murmured to the wolf sitting with his arm around her waist. "And because you vote for tacos, Brady and Paul vote for tacos, and Collin will vote what Paul wants. Owen will vote what Collin votes, Sam will cave to what you and Paul want, Emily and I will have to change our votes to avoid 'taco-betrayal rants', and Cassie doesn't care as long as she's getting fed. Nessie will try to support her fellow imprints, and that leaves the vote at least ten to five in favor of tacos. We've had tacos all summer, sweetie."

Jared glowered. "Well, they're awesome. Why would anyone not want to vote for tacos?"

Owen must have thought Jared really wanted to know, because their youngest wolf looked up at him apologetically. "I still…break them," Owen spoke slowly, seeming embarrassed. "I always hold them…t-too hard."

"Then Collin's not doing his job teaching you control," Paul rumbled from his place at Seth's side. "Collin—"

"Oh! Oh!" Cassie made a little happy noise and began bouncing around on her stool, waving her hand in the air. "Paul!"

Paul paused midsentence, a look of fondness crossing his features. "Yeah, momma?"

"I propose a Pack bonding activity involving the practice of physical control. As the medium for said practice, I recommend that we use hard shell tacos and tasty beef. And cheese. We need to practice control with cheese."

Paul grinned as Jake simultaneously frowned. "Uh, Cass," Jake said, "I'm not sure I've got the cash to fund two Pack dinners this week—"

"It's not two Pack dinners, it's one Pack dinner and a Pack bonding activity, of the type that you, the Alpha, declared necessary. As is stipulated by the rules and regulations of all Alpha decrees, the Alpha shall fund the Pack bonding activities of which are regularly enforced per his wishes. All in favor of Jake providing both a spaghetti dinner and buying tacos this week?"

"I," the Pack instantly chorused, at least everyone but Callie, and most of them grinned wolfishly at Jake. The Alpha groaned and looked at the Pack for help. No one backed down, and then he shook his head. "They're all traitors, Cal, every single one of you."

"Has anyone noticed that Cassie's the only one who knows the rules and regu—oomph!" Brady's words were cut off by Collin's hand wrapped around the front of his face.

"Good meeting, momma imprint," Collin called out cheerfully. "Anything else on the to-do list?"

Cassie peered at her paper, her brows knotting together, and then she shrugged. "Nope, I'm out. Jake?"

The Alpha shook his head, and he straightened. "Naw, that's all. I'm gonna go sell some blood or some shit to pay for all this."

"Actually, Jacob, you would need to sell plasma, and I'm not sure that the standard forty dollars would cover the cost of providing enough food to feed the Pack two complete meals," Renesmee spoke up helpfully. "Since you're a healthy, virile, college-aged adult male, you would most likely find paid sperm donation to be far more lucrative."

"Dude, what does virile mean?" Collin whispered to Brady, who shrugged.

"I think it means that he pays attention to shit," the other young wolf replied.

"Actually, the word virile means being capable of functioning as a male during the act of copulation," Renesmee explained sweetly. "Which is only natural for the dominant male of any herd or pack to be virile. In traditional wolf packs, only the alpha male and female are guaranteed the right to breed, and since Jacob is the Alpha, he's the only one of us that would definitely be allowed to reproduce in more natural settings. Most likely with Cassie, since she's the most dominant female available."

Renesmee paused, realizing that they were all staring at her, Jake with a look of horror, Cassie with curiosity, and Paul with no expression at all. The teenager's cheeks turned pink. "Not that she is available, since wolves mate for life, although I suppose if Paul grew sick or injured, and he died or the Pack had to kill him, it would only be natural that she become his optimum…choice…"

Most of them were snickering at Jake, but Quil was losing it in the far corner.

Cassie turned a cheeky grin Jake's way. "Do you think you could keep up with me, Jake?" she asked, her voice purring in a way that had Jake turning crimson. "I always have been able to respect virility in my dominant male speculative sexual partners."

"Cass, be nice," Paul rumbled, and she laughed, winking at Jake.

"New rule, Ness," Jake growled. "No discussing my…copulation ability."

Renesmee flushed, as if embarrassed to be disciplined in front of the Pack. "Of course, Jacob, I'm sorry. I just had heard you discussing it with Quil and Embry the other day, and I assumed that if it was an appropriate topic with them, it would be an appropriate topic for all of us."

"And what were you three doing talking about copulation in front of her?" Emily wondered, raising an eyebrow, and all three men went crimson.

Seth uncurled himself from his lounging position against the porch steps. "I've got something."

"Seth, don't," Jake growled quietly, sounding frustrated, but Seth ignored him.

"I'd like to make an official request to leave La Push and go find Leah and Samantha. You know, our two missing she-wolves. The ones that could be in danger or be enslaved by another Alpha as we sit around talking about tacos andgetting laid."

Embry's face grew stony, his eyes bleak as he turned to look out at the trees. Paul had the expression of one caught in the middle and hating every second of it, but Jake just rubbed his face tiredly.

"No, Seth. No, like it's been every other meeting since last spring. Meeting over."

"I'd like to make a second official request for you to pull your head out of your ass and let me get my goddamn family home! They still matter to me, even if you don't give a shit about what happens to them," Seth snapped, and Jake swung around to face him, eyes flashing.

As always, when the two Pack leaders collided, the rest of them went wide eyed, the most submissive growing extremely still. Cassie was too close, but instead of backing away, she slid off of her stool and in between them, grabbing Seth's arm.

"Seth, please don't," she started, but then Collin had her, pulling her back.

Paul was stuck, because Jake and Seth were both between him and his imprint, but a swing of his eyes had been all he'd needed to have Collin moving in his place. Brady wondered if he would ever be that fast to listen to Jared, if he ever had the ability to be where he needed to be, when it was needed. Unconsciously, his eyes slid to Jared, but Jared was watching their leaders, a frown on his face.

Callie had moved just as quickly as Collin, hooking her arm around Jake's waist from behind. The she-wolf growled into Jake's back. "Seth, you're a fucking idiot if you think that. If you think that, you don't know him at all."

Seth snorted, but then he turned and walked into the woods behind his house, apparently done talking about it. Every meeting Seth said the same thing, and every meeting Jake replied the same way. Considering Seth was as strong now as Jake had been a year ago, the tension it caused between the two was stressful to all of them. In the wake of conflict, the wolves made space around Jake quickly, even Paul and Cassie.

Brady saw Jared's head start to swing his way, so he moved before the older wolf could lock eyes with him. He hadn't slept at the apartment since Monday night, and at this point, Brady knew that Jared was definitely pissed with him. Brady had worn the same clothes the last two days just to avoid the male wolf who seemed to always be waiting at home.

Renesmee was still standing in her spot, looking distressed at Seth and Jake fighting, so Brady found himself walking over to her. The half-vampire imprint had matured over the summer, but she still had that awkwardness about her, an awkwardness magnified by the fact that she always seemed to be looking over their shoulders, searching for something that wasn't there. The second half of a whole that no one had understood but the two parts. Brady kind of got it, he was still looking over his own shoulder, expecting to find the ancient wolf still on his heels. Brady had liked Jack and missed him like hell. They were Pack…they were supposed to be together, not lost to each other, left behind and wondering.

Not even Jake could feel Jack anymore. The wolf was too far away.

"Hey Ness," Brady grunted, watching her turn around and offer him a shy smile. Renesmee would always be too strange for Brady—he didn't think he could ever get past how damn fast she grew, no matter what she looked like—but he could see the promise of the stunning beauty she would become. Too beautiful, too perfect, and for some reason Brady resisted against it. He didn't want beautiful, he couldn't imagine standing next to beautiful for the rest of his life. Brady would be too tempted to destroy it, to bring it down to his level.

For a moment, the troubled young man had a moment of startling clarity. He was just like his father. Brady destroyed everything he touched, just so he wouldn't have to compare it to himself.

Renesmee opened her mouth, but Brady was already moving past her. It would be better for her to stay away from him. It was just…better.

"Brady."

And then there was that. Before Jared had a chance to order him to come back, Brady took off at a trot into the treeline. The woods behind Seth's house closed in around him, a world of looming branches and crawling mist, earth and bark and stone, browns and greys and greens. A world that separated him from the real world, a world that Brady wasn't very fond of. It was easier out here, simpler. Quieter. No one needed anything from him out here, no one expected things from him.

When were people going to figure out that expecting anything at all from him was a lost cause?

Brady hadn't meant to trail Seth, but once he caught scent of the Beta, he found himself doing so anyways. He followed Seth for a long time, unconsciously practicing tracking the way Jack had taught him to. Following the pull of Pack was fine and good, but the ancient wolf had told them that there was no point in listening to the wind and missing what lay right beneath one's own feet. Tracking wasn't easy for him, but Brady was better at it than he had been last year, and eventually he quit trying to use his nose to double check himself and simply followed Seth's trail.

Seth hadn't been going anywhere specific, at least, not that Brady could tell, but at some point his direction changed. This time Brady knew where the Beta was headed, and he knew that Seth wouldn't keep moving once he reached that place. It was tempting to turn around and walk away, but this was Seth. Leah and Sims might have pulled it off, but the rest of them just couldn't walk away when they knew their Beta was in pain.

Where Seth stopped didn't look all that different from the rest of the forest around them, but it was a place that would forever be seared into Brady's memory. The ground was no longer stained dark with the massive amounts of blood that Seth had bled in the very spot he was crouching, and the earth had been turned over long ago to hide what had happened here. But Brady had almost lost his Beta in this place on that Christmas day.

It had been a bad day full of bad things. The day that Brady had felt Jared's heart shred beneath losing his brother, shredding the rest of their hearts in turn. The first time Brady had realized that Collin could scare him just as much as Jake and Paul could.

Seth didn't scare Brady. He should, he was strong enough, but Seth didn't scare him. Instead Seth made Brady want to drop to his belly and crawl to his Beta's side, to keep his face in the dirt until the expression of angry hurt faded away from Seth's own.

"You're thinking loudly enough that I can hear you," Seth said quietly, not turning around. "You sure you want to be around me? I'm in a shit mood."

Well, yeah. That's why Brady was here, wasn't it? Moving slowly and giving Seth plenty of chances to order him away, Brady stepped up behind his Beta and sank to his knees. For a while they stayed like that, with Brady quiet and Seth the same.

"She never forgave herself for Dad," Seth eventually said, sounding frustrated and lonely. "Leels always blamed herself for what happened to him, even though it was both of us that phased that day. She always was so strong, and she always stepped in between me and Mom and the worst of what was out there. It used to bug the hell out of me, because she always treated me like a little kid. I tried to protect her, but she was always one step ahead of me. But bunny lop was always one step behind me. I could protect her the way I couldn't protect Leah."

There was nothing Brady could say to that, so he didn't, but he did scoot forward a few inches so that he was within reach. When Seth's hand fisted on the back of his neck, Brady bent his head more, giving his Beta something substantial to hold on to.

"She didn't phase right, Brady," Seth growled, frustration giving rise beneath the spoken words. "She did it to save my stupid ass from my stupid ass mistakes, and now Sims is out there, all messed up with no clue how to be a wolf yet. And Leels couldn't ever see the look in her own eyes when she got pulled like that…Leels had no idea she wasn't thinking straight. She was just running because some damn thing out there was making her do it. And we just let them go? It's like pulling a pin on a grenade and pretending it's not going to explode. It's stupid and it's reckless, and we know better. What the hell is Jake thinking?"

Seth's hand had tightened, so Brady bent more, inhaling through his nose and exhaling through his mouth, trying not to tremble beneath the weight of Seth's emotions.

"I've tried to break loose of the Pack three times and I can't," Seth admitted, voice lowered with anger. And—for the first time Brady had heard it from Seth—shame. "Jake won't let me go after them, and I've tried to force my way past it, but I can't. What if something happens and Leels finally needs me? What if Sims needs me like she always does? And I'm trapped here, because he won't let me?"

Brady wanted to tell his Beta that they were all trapped here, but he knew that Seth knew it. Seth seemed to realize what he was doing, and he shifted his hand to Brady's shoulder instead, tugging him more upright. Seth had never asked them to sit the way Brady was sitting, even if it was instinct sometimes.

"I'm sorry, Brady," Seth said, sounding like the anger was draining from him. Or at least, sounding as if he was putting that anger aside for now. It was obvious that Seth was out here shredding himself over them, and Brady felt the guilt rise, along with the resentment. "Brady? You okay?"

Brady was trembling, because he was going to say something that he had never said to anyone before, not even to himself.

"Seth? Samantha phased for you, but she phased first for me down in the caves." Brady's shoulders tightened as he added roughly, "She had to save me first, and if she's fucked up now, it's my fault. It's because of me. If you want to sit out here and be pissed at someone, just be pissed at me."

Seth stared at Brady, and then the anger finally seemed to slide completely away. Brady found himself breathing easier, and leaning into the hand still on his shoulder. Seth's fingers squeezed, giving him a light shake. "Brady, are you ever going to stop adding things to your list?"

"What list?"

Seth smiled sadly. "The list of things you're determined to let beat you down, the list of things that you won't ever let yourself forget. Because we both know that if I tell you it's not your fault, you'll just ignore me."

Brady flushed at that, muttering defensively, "I'm not the one hiding out in the woods, being all emo and shit."

For some reason Seth arched an eyebrow and seemed far too amused at that. But his hand stayed on Brady's shoulder, and Brady stayed at Seth's side. Seth was his Beta, and when the leaders stumbled, it was up to the others beneath them to keep the leaders on their feet.

Seth quiet for a long time, and then he suddenly chuckled, a soft sound. "Those two have always done what they wanted, and to hell with what the rest of us felt about it. If either one of them saw me acting like this, they'd tell me I was an idiot. I guess…I guess what is messing with me so much is that I can understand Leels leaving, even if I don't like it. But what I can't figure out is why bunny lop went too. It just doesn't make sense."

Brady didn't know, so he didn't answer. He didn't know, he had never known, and he hated her for it.

"Yeah," Seth sighed and settled back down on the grass, hands fisted into the earth that had once almost taken him into it. "Yeah, sometimes me too."


"Widen your stance." Skylar did as Embry said, yawning as she moved her feet. Embry looked far from impressed. "Wider, Sky. Come on, you know this stuff."

"Yeah, but I'm bored. Can't we do something cool like break some boards?"

Embry obviously was biting down his initial reply to that comment, choosing instead to grunt, "Start the kata again, Skylar. If you get this down, you'll be ready to test for your next belt, and then you can break some boards."

From her place on the edge of the mats, leaning against one of the mirrors that lined the wall, Nikki hid her grin. The girls often spent Friday nights at each other's houses, and since Skylar was staying over tonight, Nikki had come with her friend to Skylar's karate class. Embry had offered to let Nikki join in, but Nikki had been shy about doing so. A beginners class, maybe, but not this class. Nikki didn't know what ranks the belt colors signified, but a couple of the belts were blues and reds and browns, and they all seemed to know what they were doing. Even Skylar, who had told Nikki that she was the lowest ranking student there.

"You say that, but you know you won't let me test, Sensei," Skylar drawled, stretching her arms over her head to loosen tight muscles. She ambled back to her original spot on the mat where her last kata attempt had started. Halfway through that one, Embry had started watching, had started correcting, and had earned himself what looked to be like one hell of a headache in the making.

"I don't let you test because you don't practice, Skylar," Embry said with forced patience. "If you practiced, you wouldn't forget the moves of something I taught you two months ago."

Skylar grinned over at Nikki. "How can I practice something I can't remember, Sensei? You taught it to me two months ago."

Someone snickered. It wasn't Embry.

Skylar had been a pain in Embry's ass all night, and her antics had carried over to some of the other students, distracting them and making their moves sloppy. The class was small, only six people, although from what Skylar had said, business was better for Embry than it had been during some previous months. Things were better for now, but Skylar said that it seemed like Embry had a stick wedged permanently up his ass these days, and it made training with him less fun.

Nikki didn't understand a lot of what they were doing, but even Nikki could tell that Embry was having a hard time keeping his temper. So much so that the tall, handsome wolf kept walking away under the pretense of getting drinks of water from a bottle on his desk. She wondered if anyone else could see how often Embry's hands would shake, or noticed that he kept them clasped behind his back to keep them from view.

Nikki didn't really know Embry Call all that well. She knew about him, obviously, because who didn't in this town? Rumors had been swirling about him ever since Nikki had been old enough to realize what rumors were, and it had only gotten worse since she'd started high school.

Embry Call was young enough and good looking enough to be of significant interest to the local female population. Not only that, he had a job, his own business, and his own home. He didn't seem to drink much, or any really, and it was rare that he treated anyone unkindly. Nikki somewhat remembered hearing about Embry a few years ago, when he'd been as bad about sleeping around as Collin Littlesea was now, but that had been replaced in people's minds by the last year and a half of the Embry Call/Samantha Carter love story.

A love story that seemed to have left Embry Call the worse for it.

Nikki didn't really know Embry, but she had known Samantha Carter even less. The girl had shown up in La Push without warning, completely unaware of how much disruption she had left in her wake every time she walked into a room. It had always been hard to understand exactly why, but everyone seemed required to make adjustments around her. How many times had Nikki wanted to talk to Brady at school, but hadn't because Samantha had been standing at his side? How many times had Nikki seen someone step aside and let her pass by, making room for her even if the slender brunette had never actually needed it? The force of her personality, as quiet as it had been, had still been frighteningly strong.

Skylar had once said that Samantha had walked into the dojo one day, and walked out with Embry Call at her heels, with Skylar's sensei throwing everything from his dojo to his abdominals at her to try and keep her attention. There weren't a few on the rez that thought Samantha was a total bitch for taking off with Leah Clearwater the way she did, but Nikki tried to stay out of it. People were more complicated than anyone ever gave them credit for, and she doubted things were as cut and dry as they seemed.

When Skylar had botched three more attempts at her kata, Embry gave up on her and told her to go shadow one of the other students. After another couple minutes, he dismissed the class, dipping his head in acknowledgement to their respectful bows and thanks for the instruction. Skylar wandered off to the bathroom to change, leaving Nikki to sit alone in the dojo with Embry as he started to clean up the equipment in the dojo.

Embry, who was a wolf. Embry, who knew that she knew he was a wolf. Embry, who had always been nice to her, but who she'd barely spoken to beyond a few niceties, and who Nikki had never been alone with for more than a minute or two. It was kind of awkward.

"I've got water under my desk if you're thirsty."

Nikki looked up and saw Embry give her a small, forced version of his normal smile. "Oh. Umm, I'm fine, thanks."

Embry nodded and went back to his work of straightening up the dojo, and Nikki wondered if she should help him. Towards the end of class, Embry had taken his students through a sort of martial arts obstacle course, involving them having to jump over piled up kick shields, weave backwards through a series of clap paddles laid out on the floor, and perform strikes on a standing punching bag that was in the shape of a man. A lot of things had been left on the floor, and Embry seemed to have forgotten to instruct his students to clean up after themselves.

Right as she opened her mouth to offer, Embry stopped in his tracks, staring at the clap paddle in his hand. His expression turned bleak and he dropped the clap paddle he was holding, letting it hit the ground where it was and leaving it there. Embry went to his desk and sat down heavily in his chair, ignoring the notebook he always recorded student progress in. Nikki only knew about that book because she and Skylar had stolen it twice and added in their own comments about everyone's progress, just because Skylar loved teasing Embry so much. Apparently he was meticulous about his students' training, but again, Nikki didn't know Embry all that well. Maybe he was planning on doing that later.

Nikki wasn't sure why she said it, and she knew it would probably cause more problems than it was worth, but he just looked so alone. Alone, sitting in his chair, staring at the desk in front of him as if he could see something on it that no one else could.

"Hey Embry?" Nikki heard herself ask. "Are you busy tomorrow? After you close the dojo?"

If he was surprised, Embry didn't show it. "Not really. Why?"

"Umm…well…"

Nikki hesitated, and when she did, the older wolf turned in his chair, paying more attention now. "Why, is something wrong?"

"No. Never mind, it was stupid."

Embry leaned forward in his chair, looking at her tiredly. "Nikki, you know about the Pack, you're Kim's little sister, and you're dating Brady. That means you're Pack by proxy. So what's up? It's gonna bug me later if I have to wonder."

Nikki shrugged. "Well, it just seems like you could do with a little fun. Dawn, Skylar, and I were going hiking tomorrow, and since you're into all the athletics stuff, I thought you might want to come too. We weren't going to leave until after your class anyways, since Sky's going to be here. So there's time for you to meet up with us."

He seemed surprised at her invitation, but when the toilet flushed, Embry rubbed a hand across his eyes, as if they were hurting him.

"Thanks, but I'm fine," Embry grunted, but as he slumped deeper into his chair, it was clear that he wasn't. Even Nikki could see that.

When Skylar came out of the bathroom and saw that gear was still strewn around the floor mat, Nikki's friend's face shifted to one that Sky rarely let anyone else see: anger. Skylar never cleaned anything…ever…but wordlessly she started putting away workout gear. This time Nikki did help. Embry watched silently, eyes hard, as Skylar finished and walked over to his desk. She bowed, thanking Embry for the lesson, as she always did.

However, as soon as her feet had touched the outside of the doorway, before the door had even closed or they had gone down the stairs, Skylar looked over her shoulder at Nikki and said angrily, "He's letting our dojo go to hell because his girlfriend was a bitch to him. I don't know whose ass I want to kick more: his or hers."

Skylar didn't even try to lower her voice, and Nikki saw the wolf inside the building stiffen.

"He could hear you," Nikki murmured out of the corner of her mouth as they headed down the street.

Skylar just shrugged, the anger already fading from her eyes. "Yeah, he was supposed to. Everyone else is too scared of him to tell him, but I don't care. Hey, I grabbed a movie for us to watch tonight. Have you ever seen Manos Hands Of Fate?"

No, Nikki never had. And it was by far the worst movie that had ever been made, ever, no matter how many bags of candy and potato chips they consumed. Thankfully their next movie was better, and by the time Jed Connweller had given up trying to get the two girls to stop quoting the movie at the top of their lungs, Buttercup had been saved, the R.O.U.S.'s had in fact been determined that they did exist, and everyone in the general vicinity was preparing to die.

Nikki's father had suggested that maybe the girls try to find something else to watch, because even he was starting to have The Princess Bride memorized.

Nikki had found out early in life that few things were worth Dawn losing her full eight hours of sleep a night, that Skylar needed at least eleven or twelve to fully function, and that Nikki could never sleep after this quantity of junk food. So she was still awake past one, in her pajamas and curled up in bed, when Nikki suddenly heard a light tapping on her window. On the bed next to her, Skylar was snoring with abandon, arms spread out in every direction as the taller girl slept. The television in the corner of the room was still on, and Nikki had finally been growing drowsy as she flipped back and forth between late night talk shows, trying to ignore Skylar's various noises.

For a moment the tapping startled her, but then a familiar face appeared on the other side of the glass, partially hidden by the air conditioner screwed into the window frame. Brady was there, and thankfully this time there wasn't a Collin behind him. The large wolf gave her a smirk as he pointed at the window.

Nikki rolled her eyes, muttering, "I know, Dad's insane. Go over to the next window."

There was no way that she could have opened her own window without there being lots of noise involved. The house's air-conditioners were a by-product of Jed Connweller's constant paranoia after Jared Qahla had started 'hunting' his daughter. However the bathroom was only one room over, and no one woke up when Nikki padded down the hall and slipped inside, locking the door behind her. Kim had taught her plenty of life lessons, and the way to sneak a boy inside their house had been one of them. The bathroom window was squeaky, but nothing that a little bit of baby oil wouldn't silence. It had been a while since it had been used, so it took her a minute to do so. By the time she was done, it was clear that her visitor was growing impatient.

"You should have used WD40," Brady grunted in greeting, hoisting himself through the window gracefully. "I look like a burglar standing out here."

Nikki stuck her tongue out at him as she moved out of his way. "That stuff smells, and Dad would notice," Nikki whispered. "Why didn't you call me on the walkie talkie?"

"Your friend was asleep, and I didn't want her to wake up," Brady replied, his low voice made rougher by his attempted to keep it soft. "I think your dad is still up. The living room television is still on, but I couldn't tell."

"He's asleep. At least, he was an hour ago."

That seemed to please him, because Brady began to relax. His hands found her waist, and Nikki smiled up at him shyly. "Why are you here?" she asked, keeping her voice down in case her parents weren't as asleep as she thought.

"Jake wanted me to tell you to wait for Emb tomorrow, but he didn't say why," Brady rumbled as he shifted closer. She thought he smelled faintly of alcohol, but Brady's voice wasn't slurred at all and his eyes seemed clear. "Want to fill me in?"

"We're going hiking tomorrow, and I invited him. He seems lonely." Brady's face hardened, and he looked annoyed. It was one of the few times that Nikki had ever been able to gauge his mood. "What? Am I missing something?"

Obviously she was, but he equally obviously wasn't interested in sharing. Instead Brady's hands squeezed her hips. "Do you want to get out of here?" he asked, moving closer, and Nikki found herself shifting backwards to accommodate him.

Nikki flushed at that, conflicted. Did she want to go somewhere with Brady Jennings? Absolutely. Was she ready for what might happen in some place that she went with Brady Jennings? Maybe…maybe not. Did she want to sneak out to do so? Not really. And was it cool to bail on Skylar? Not at all.

"Sky's staying over," Nikki whispered, shaking her head regretfully. "Want to go with everyone tomorrow?"

Brady shook his head, and Nikki felt her hips gently bump the bathroom pedestal sink. "Collin and I have to take patrols during the day on weekends," Brady told her in his low voice, hands sliding back up to her waist and around the small of her back.

He leaned in and once again Nikki thought she could smell alcohol on his breath, but when he kissed her, he didn't taste like it. Not even when his tongue slid between her teeth, moving across her own. Nikki went up on her tiptoes as she leaned into the kiss. Brady's hands moved back down to her hips, a little lower, and suddenly Nikki let out a little yelp, her feet off the ground and dangling in the air as she was hoisted up to his height far more quickly than she had expected. His hands were wrapped beneath her thighs, supporting her easily as she flailed for balance.

The wolf grinned at her, a rare real one. "You're gonna wake everyone up," Brady teased her as she glared at him mock indignantly.

"You could have warned me."

"What's the fun in that?"

Nikki wrapped her arms around Brady's neck, realizing that off balance or not, his grip on her was secure enough that she wasn't sliding anywhere. "Usually when someone picks me up, I end up getting thrown into the ocean. The last time was Jake, after Paul's wedding reception."

"The last time someone picked me up, it was Jake twenty minutes ago," Brady said, looking amused. "And he threw my ass in the ocean too."

"How come you're not wet?"

"I'm hot, so it dries my clothes faster."

"You're hot, huh?" Nikki teased, arching an eyebrow, and for once he was the one that blushed. As often as she was the one turning shades of pink and red around him, it was nice. This time she was the one grinning, and he was the one glaring at her. At least until she unwrapped her right arm from his neck and groped his bicep playful, murmuring, "Why is it that the hot guys only show up around here after midnight?"

"I was busy keeping your ass from getting eaten by leeches," Brady grunted grumpily, but when Nikki looked at him, she saw that the flush on his face had deepened. And sour face or not, his hands tightened around her thighs, hoisting her up higher.

Funny, how when he looked the meanest was when his mouth moved over hers the gentlest.

This time when she bumped into something, Nikki expected it. Brady moved slower as he sidestepped and pressed her back into the narrow linen closet door, the one built in between the toilet and the sink. At first he simply kissed her lightly, but then he rested more of his weight against her, using only one arm to support her and bracing his other above her head. The kiss deepened, and Nikki felt heat starting to build in her stomach, twisting down to other parts of her. Unfortunately the door was making creaking noises behind her.

"Brady, this is too loud," Nikki whispered. "We're going to wake my parents. Mom's a light sleeper."

He made a noise of frustration, and let her slide down to her feet. Bending down to kiss her, the way he did in school, was nice, but not as nice as the first way had been. He was just so tall, and she was so short, and kissing like that only worked when they weren't pressing this tightly into each other. The angle was too severe, and it hurt both their necks.

Brady backed off, an expression of annoyance on his face. "This is the smallest bathroom in existence," he muttered, looking around for something somewhere they could go. Nikki bit her lower lip, but started grinning as she reached for his hand. He stiffened a little when she touched him first, but when Nikki tugged him towards the small but flat-walled tile shower, Brady went willingly. His lips curved upwards as she backed into the shower, pulling him inside with her.

"Already?" Brady teased her, acting as if he was going to take off his shirt. "I don't know, Nik, you move a little fast for me…"

"You wish," Nikki snorted, but she was still grinning as he moved in, hands finding her waist. His head bumped into the loofa hanging from the showerhead on the adjoining wall, and Brady made Nikki giggle when he snapped his teeth playfully at it.

Maybe it should have made her feel claustrophobic, being cornered into a shower stall that was barely wider than Brady was, but Nikki wasn't scared of him. She liked Brady, she liked him a lot, and so she trusted him. This time Brady hoisted her up with one arm, higher so that her neck was at his face level, and she hooked her knees over his hips, knowing that she didn't need to actually hold on tightly. She knew that Brady wasn't going to let her fall.

So far all the kissing had stayed fairly tame, but when his mouth pressed just behind the lob of her ear, his breath hot on her skin, Nikki shivered. Brady paused, and then did the same thing, sucking lightly at her flesh as he carefully put her shoulder blades to the tile wall. Nikki felt her body tighten in response, from her neck to her toes, unable to stifle the small noise of pleasure that came from her mouth.

"That?" Brady asked quietly into her ear, as if needing confirmation that she liked what he was doing. Nikki nodded wordlessly, nails digging into his broad shoulders.

This time, when he moved back to her neck, repeating the same action, Nikki tilted her head sideways, giving him access. Her shirt had ridden up when he had lifted her, and Brady's free hand had found her bared waist, just above her hipbone. The heat of his skin against hers felt good. Really good. Good enough that when he started kissing his way down her neck, towards her chest, Nikki arched into the contact. He was rubbing his hand up and down her side, going a little higher with each stroke, as if trying to figure out just how much she was comfortable with, how far she would let him go. But it was hard to think about what she was comfortable with when his mouth kept moving down and his hand kept moving up, and what she really wanted him to kiss and touch was in between those places.

Nikki wasn't sure what to do with her hands, but it stopped mattering when Brady paused, rubbing his thumb across her ribcage, just beneath the curve of her breast. He waited, as if giving her a chance to pull away. Part of her thought about it, but not faster than the other part of her…the part that leaned into his touch.

Brady's mouth found hers again, and Nikki started to wrap her arms around his neck, right at the same time that Brady's hand touched her bra-covered breast. She had known it was going to happen, but it still startled her enough that Nikki jerked a little in his arms. Unfortunately this was the smallest bathroom in existence, and just because the tile wall didn't make noise, it didn't suddenly give them more room to move around.

At one-thirty in the morning, when she was supposed to be in bed asleep and not letting Brady Jennings get to second base in her shower, Nikki's elbow accidentally knocked the water on.

Nikki's house was old, and the plumbing was old. Old plumbing can be loud plumbing, clunking and creaking and groaning when it's turned on, especially when no water had been running for anything besides normal bathroom use since that morning. Nikki's house was no exception. So while opening a window didn't wake anyone up, and the squeaky linen closet door didn't wake anyone up, the shower turning on sure did.

Never had anything sounded as loud in her life.

"Oh no," Nikki gasped in horror as water smacked down on both of them, Brady blinking in surprise. Nikki could hear voices in the hallway, her mother talking to Skylar. "Shit shit shit! Brady, close the curtain!"

"What?" He seemed to be distracted, probably because her breast was still in his hand. "Huh?"

The breast in his hand turned into two wedged into his face as Nikki used his neck as an anchor to hoist herself higher, practically climbing over Brady's head to grab the curtain and jerk the darkly-patterned shower curtain closed.

There was a knock on the door, followed by her mother's voice. "Nikki? Are you alright? Why are you taking a shower this late?"

"I'm fine, Mom," Nikki called back, trying to keep the panic from her voice. Brady was grinning openly, ignoring how the water was soaking his clothes and obviously enjoying how the water was soaking her own. Just because Nikki slept in a bra for comfort didn't mean that she slept in a heavy one, and Nikki knew that he could see every inch of the outline of her chest.

"It's really late, honey, why are you in the shower?"

"It's really late, honey, why are you in the shower?" Brady breathed into Nikki's ear playfully, hand moving. She yelped, then bit her tongue, horrified. The son of a bitch had tweaked her nipple!

"Nikki? Did you just hurt yourself?" This time her mother's voice was much clearer, and Brady suddenly went still as a stone. Oh lord, the door was open. Hadn't she locked it? She had! She had turned the lock thingy! "Honey, are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, I just couldn't sleep," Nikki replied weakly, heart pounding in her ears. "I was going to take a hot shower to try and relax. Go back to bed, Mom."

"Why is the window open?" Now even Brady looked panicked as Nikki's mother walked through the bathroom to the window, closing it. "Nikki, you know that's not safe. Someone pervert could have climbed in."

It really didn't help that even through the walls and the water running, Nikki could still hear Skylar laughing her ass off in the next room.

"Umm, I'll be more careful next time. Sorry, Mom."

Apparently that was enough, because her mother sighed. "Okay, just keep it short," Nikki's mother said before closing the door again.

Brady was soaked, and Nikki wasn't any better. "You need to leave," she breathed, fingernails digging into his shoulders to get his attention. "Brady! You need to leave."

"Why? We didn't get caught."

Well, he did have a point…

Brady's brown eyes sparkled as he tugged on a strand of her wet hair. "You have to stay in here for a while, anyways. No point in wasting the hot water."

"We've been going out for a week, Brady, I'm not taking a shower with you," Nikki argued, but she already knew that she was giving in. Probably because he was sinking to his knees on the floor of the shower, her still wrapped around him, and Nikki wasn't even trying to wiggle free. The water sounded more normal now, mostly hitting the back of her head and her shoulders, instead of his taller, broader form, and Nikki could appreciate that he thought of doing so. Besides, she liked how the water looked as it ran off of her face and hair and into his own.

"You've got ten minutes, I never take showers for longer than fifteen," she murmured. "But then you have to go, okay?"

"Yeah, I got it," he rumbled back, eyes sweeping her features, looking at her in a way Nikki wasn't used to being looked at.

The adrenaline of almost getting caught had left her heart racing, and Nikki took Brady's face in her hands, kissing him passionately. Maybe he was feeling the same way, because Brady's fingers fisted in her hair, and he attacked her mouth like a man starved. This time when his hand found her breast, it was outside of her shirt, and she didn't jump. It felt strange at first, having him squeeze her breast like he was, but when his thumb brushed over her nipple, strange turned into something a whole lot better.

Nikki made a noise of pleasure, louder than she would have wanted to, but unable to stifle herself. Brady repeated the action, softer and harder in turns, until they both realized how much pressure she liked. It was difficult to know what he liked, because Brady never made a noise besides to ask her if what he was doing was too hard or not, but she knew that he liked something about what they were doing. The proof of that pressed into her thigh, every time his actions made her hips rock involuntarily into Brady's own.

Their ten minutes stretched into twenty, stretched into longer, and when the water started running cold, Nikki knew she needed to stop this. It was just so difficult, when Brady's mouth had replaced his hands on the outside of her water soaked shirt. Having his hands on her felt so good. "Brady. Brady, you need to go. Seriously, I mean it this time."

He groaned, as if she was cruel, but when she reached behind them and turned the water off, Brady stood back up, helping her back to her now shaky feet. Her lips were sore, and her chest was too, but it was a good sore. Realizing how far they had gone, Nikki flushed, not looking up at Brady as he grabbed a towel for her.

"Here," he murmured, handing it to her. "Ditch the clothes and I'll stash them so your mom doesn't see them."

Nikki's eyes widened when she realized what he meant, and Brady grunted, somehow managing to sound affectionate in his annoyance. "I'm not gonna look, Nik. Unless you want to explain to them why your clothes are soaking wet tomorrow, or why you're using the dryer in the middle of the night."

"Fine, but no peeking."

As far as she knew, Brady never peeked, but when she was stripped to her bra and underwear and safely covered in her towel, he turned around, eyes sliding over her form. A tension in him that she hadn't noticed before now seemed to have lessened. "After you get back tomorrow, let's go out," Brady said quietly, tugging the edge of her towel. "A real date, without anyone else this time."

Nikki nodded, feeling a slow, stupid smile spreading across her face. "Yeah, okay. That sounds fun."

He nodded, seeming pleased, and brushed a strand of wet hair from her eyes before tilting her head up so that he could give her a brief, chaste kiss. "Lock that behind me," he told her, giving her a little wink as he took her jeans and shirt. "There are perverts around here."

Nikki grinned and watched Brady slip out of the window, just as graceful as he had been coming in. And also leaving her with a waterlogged bathroom where he had walked. It took Nikki a bit to sop everything up, then she took off her bra and snuck down the hall, back into her room.

Her alarm clock said two-thirty am. She and Brady had been making out in the shower for a whole hour. Her mother must have fallen back asleep, because otherwise Piper would definitely have come to check on her. Nikki was never in the bathroom that long. Skylar was still awake, and she gave Nikki a look close to disappointment as Nikki quickly changed into fresh pajamas, hiding her soaked underclothes at the bottom of her hamper. "What?"

The other girl just sighed mournfully and pulled her blanket over her head. "I suppose babies made in bathrooms don't have to be retarded. His babies might be, but—"

"No one's making babies, Skylar. We were just…"

"Doing the traditional Quileute bathroom pre-baby making dance?"

"Shut up!" Nikki laughed, thumping her friend's shoulder with her foot.

The young woman was still grinning as she crawled back beneath the covers, knowing that the reasons why weren't Skylar's mock-drumbeats on a half full bag of potato chips next to the bed. This time Nikki fell asleep right away, still thinking about Brady Jennings' hands. And shoulders. And mouth. And lips….


"Dude, you didn't shut the window or check the door? Come on! You always have to shut the window and check the door. That's after hours, home invasion, pussy hunting protocol."

"Just shut up and glue the chair, mother fucker."

"I love you too, Brade."

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A/N The Packgirls Wolf Den has been busier lately, so I'll be reposting a link to it on my profile. Anyone who wants to swing by and hang out with us is more than welcome! Also, thanks to margot and chicadee for all the help with plotting this chapter, plotting these series, and plotting life in general. You two are beyond awesome. (glomps)