A/N: Thank you to RaindropSoup and Sweetishbuble at Project Team Beta for all their help and advice. It's a wonderfully generous thing they do.

Chapter 1: Imprint

Sam's POV:

I had been following her scent for almost an hour before I came upon her body curled up in the fetal position on the forest floor.

What had they done to her? I wondered, eyeing her motionless form. Stupid girl. What did she think was going to happen? Fucking leeches.

I used my heightened wolf senses to evaluate her. I didn't smell any blood. Her heart rate was steady, and she was breathing, but she didn't move except to shiver on the cold, wet ground. She was soaked, and the temperature was still dropping. I had to get her back to her father quickly. As small and frail as she was, it wouldn't take long for exposure to do irreversible damage.

I retreated to where I had left the propane lantern, and phased back into my human form. She was probably frightened enough without being set upon by a giant black wolf. Worried and angry, I quickly made my way back to her. All I kept thinking was, If those damn bloodsuckers have harmed a hair on her head, I will consider the treaty broken and will hunt them down and kill them all.

As I broke through the bushes, the light from my lantern spilled over her tiny form, and her eyes fluttered. She raised her arm and put the back of her hand up to her eyes, sheilding herself from the bright light.

"Bella," I said, letting her know she had been found. She moved her hand slightly to squint up at me.

The moment her eyes met mine, the ground seemed to shift underneath me. I felt lightheaded, almost dizzy. I glanced at our surroundings, quickly trying to get my bearings. Nothing seemed wrong. The only thing out of place here was the miserable-looking girl in front of me, and when my eyes flashed back to hers, all I wanted in this world was to make sure she was safe, protected, and cared for.

But that's my purpose, right? I'm a protector. That's why I phased in the first place — to protect the tribe. But she isn't a member of the tribe. Shit! It sucks being the first to go through this crap. Is this normal? Everything about being a wolf is confusing, and I don't have any fucking clue.

It was just pissing me off to think about it, so I focused on the situation at hand. I had to know what they did to her.

"Have you been hurt?" I asked.

It wasn't a difficult question, but she just stared at me, bewildered.

Maybe she's had too much exposure to the cold and damp. She might not be able to think clearly.

"Bella, my name is Sam Uley," I introduced myself.

Still, she looked confused.

"Charlie sent me to look for you," I explained. Her eyes widened in recognition at her father's name.

Okay. I've got something to work with here.

I held out my hand to her, silently offering to her help up. She just stared at it.

Or maybe not, I thought, backtracking. She can't be more than a hundred-ten, even sopping wet. I can carry her — no problem.

I bent over, set the lantern down, and scooped her up in my arms. She didn't fight me. She hung there limply, her icy cheek pressed against my hot chest. My excessive body heat was finally going to be put to good use. I heaved her up a little higher into my arms, and she curled slightly into my warmth. For some unknown reason, I liked the feel of her in my arms — like that was where she belonged. It was the place where I would always know she was safe. I shook off the strange sensation and took off through the forest towards Charlie's house. The darkness wasn't a problem for my keen eyes, and I moved swiftly through the forest until Bella started to whimper and speak in a weak, sad voice.

"He's gone," she said over and over again, like she was trying to make herself believe it.

I squeezed her tighter to me and hushed her like a baby.

What the fuck? I'm Sam Uley. Tough, strong, leader of the pack. Not a fucking pussy. This makes absolutely no fucking sense. Now, I'm soothing the leech-lover.

I picked up my pace. I had to get rid of the girl and fast. She was turning my brain to shit.

When I could see the flood lights on top of Charlie's cruiser and hear the commotion of the men coordinating the search, I slowed my pace and looked down at the face of the girl in my arms. She was just a pitiful little white girl, nothing special. But the closer I got to Charlie's, the tighter I held her, and the more I had to fight the desire to turn around and take her away.

These people can't protect her like I can.

I shoved the desire to hide her away and keep her all to myself aside, and then called out, "I've got her."

Everyone became silent for a second, and then the commotion in front of Charlie's house got louder as everyone turned and headed across the yard to meet us. Charlie was the first to reach us, his eyes huge with fright when he saw Bella limp in my arms.

"Oh, God, no," he said under his breath. "Is she…?"

"No. I don't think she's hurt," I answered. "She just keeps saying 'He's gone.'"

He nodded, and we both looked at Bella's face. Her eyes were wide and she was biting her lip. I wanted to use my finger to stop her, but fought the urge.

"Bella, honey, are you alright?" Charlie asked her, worry distorting his voice.

"Charlie?" she asked, her voice small.

"I'm right here, baby."

Charlie held out his arms for her, and I gently transferred her to him. He staggered under her weight, and I wanted to snatch her back.

"Maybe, I should just hold on to her," I suggested.

"I've got her," Charlie said, a little breathless.

He turned and slowly made his way towards his house, struggling. I followed closely, my arms ready to catch her if he couldn't manage.

"We're almost home now, honey," Charlie mumbled now and then.

He made it to their front porch, and I held the door open for them with my arm extended towards them, just in case. I followed them inside and watched as Charlie deposited Bella on the couch.

She was home and she had lots of people there to make sure she was alright, but I was hesitant to turn and leave. It was my responsibility to find out what happened to her and what the Cullens were up to, but I also needed to make sure she was all right for my own piece of mind.

She's here with her father. She's safe. What do you want… her to beg you to stay? I'm losing my fucking mind.

Jared and Paul came to stand next to me as I watched Dr. Gerandy tend to Bella.

"You okay?" Jared asked me, giving me a funny look.

"Yeah, just want to hear what she has to say."

Jared nodded, and we stood and watched as Dr. Gerandy told her father she just needed rest and she would be fine. I didn't realize my fists were clinched until they relaxed at his reassurance. Then, he told Charlie that the Cullens had left town without any warning, and I was glad — that was, until I noticed Bella shrink into the couch and pull the quilt over her ears to block out their discussion.

He really did a number on her. Fucking Bloodsucker. Good riddance.

I signaled for Jared and Paul to follow me outside. When we reached the side yard where no one could overhear us, I instructed them to go to the Cullen's and check out the house.

"Make sure they're gone," I commanded firmly.

"Where are you going?" Paul asked, baffled. "Don't you want to see for yourself?"

"I have to speak to someone," I said harshly, not elaborating. The last thing I needed was to get into a discussion about my newly discovered soft spot for the vampire lover. It was my toughness that had kept these guys in line so far. I couldn't show weakness of any kind as leader of the pack. I looked at them and said, "I'll catch up with you back up at the Rez."

They looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders before heading into the forest to follow my orders. I made my way back around to the front of the house and waited until Charlie started thanking everyone and kicking them out to approach Harry Clearwater. I decided to ask Harry about what happened to me in the forest with Bella. He was a tribal elder and knew everything about pack legends. Plus, I had dated his daughter, Leah, so I trusted him.

"Harry, can I have a word?" I asked him discreetly as he came to the bottom of the front steps.

"Sure, sure," he answered and followed me back to the side of the house. "What's up?"

"Something happened to me in the forest tonight."

His face became worried and his eyes quickly scanned over me, looking for an injury of some sort.

"I wasn't hurt," I assured him. "I…I don't know. It was just strange." I paused, unsure how to explain the small shift that has occurred inside me. "When I found Bella, I looked at her, and something changed,"

Harry's eyebrows knit together in confusion.

"Inside me," I elaborated. "It was like I was seeing her differently. Like she's important for some reason, but I don't know why. She's just a vampire lovin' paleface, but…"

Harry nodded his head for me to continue.

"…but…I don't know." I sighed in frustration. "Just forget it."

"No," he said. "If it has you this upset, then there may be something to it. I'll check with a couple of the other council members, and we'll talk again later. Okay?"

"Yeah," I nodded. "Okay."

I headed into the forest and phased. I ran as fast as I could, trying to clear my head. Then, I circled back around to the reservation. As I approached, I saw that the bonfires had been lit and everyone on the reservation joined in the celebration. Jared and Paul confirmed that the Cullen's house was empty and that there were no fresh vampire scents anywhere near. I was relieved the Cullens were gone. I thought that, maybe, my life could go back to normal.

I had a few beers and socialized, but I couldn't seem to stop thinking about Bella. Images of her face flashed in my mind, along with memories of her small body in my arms. I felt itchy in my own skin, and it was starting to really irritate me how I couldn't get her off my mind. The way she had looked so broken and helpless on the forest floor was haunting me.

What the hell is wrong with me? I never lose it like this.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Harry Clearwater, Old Quil Ateara, and Billy Black with their heads together, each taking turns talking and glancing my way. I was just about to go over and join them when Harry stepped towards the fire and held his hands up, getting everyone's attention.

"Time for the old stories," he announced.

It was a tradition at Quileute gatherings to listen to the elders tell our history through stories. Until I had phased, I thought the stories were just legends to teach the young how to behave and to give us a sense of unity. Now, I knew better.

I listened as Old Quil told the story of a young wolf-warrior who was visited one night in the forest by a snowy white owl. The owl had asked the wolf what he was doing in the forest every night alone. The wolf had told the owl he was looking out for his people and that he was their lone protector, as none of the other men of the tribe had ever crossed the scent of a Cold One — causing them to phase. The owl's big eyes had seen the loneliness in the wolf's heart, and she had wanted to give the wolf a reward for his sacrifice. She had given the wolf a downy feather from the underside of her wing and instructed the wolf to return to the center of his village the next morning and let the feather go adrift on the wind and to follow it. Wherever the feather had landed, he would find his treasure. The wolf had been skeptical, but then the owl had begun to shimmer in the moonlight, and the wolf knew that it was no ordinary owl. So, the next morning the wolf did as the owl had instructed and followed the feather as it danced through the air. His people went about their morning work until they had noticed the warrior curiously following the feather. A crowd had gathered and the whole village, thinking the warrior had gone mad, watched as the feather came to land in the hair of a young maiden. He had looked into her eyes and received his reward — his soul mate. And from then on he was no longer lonely.

Old Quil had finished his story and was looking directly at me. I had heard this story before. Our legends had said that it was possible for a wolf to find his soul mate by looking into her eyes and imprinting on her.

Why would he tell this story and look at me like that? He didn't think that I? No. It's impossible.

I shook my head at Old Quil, and then looked to Harry and Billy. They all had the same knowing looks on their faces. I stood and retreated out of the firelight, anger suddenly coursing through me. The three elders followed me. When we were out of earshot, I turned to confront them.

"Don't tell me you actually think that I imprinted on Bella Swan," I accused.

"This is a rare gift, Sam," Billy said. "The great owl has seen your sacrifice and you have been given a reward."

"Well, she can keep it," I snapped.

I paced back and forth for a minute, running my fingers through my hair and pulling at the back of my head in frustration. Then, I turned back to them, letting my thoughts spill from my mouth.

"I don't want this and I don't want her. She's a paleface. Is it even possible to imprint on a paleface?" I didn't wait for an answer. "She's a leech-lover. She's small and weak. What could we possibly have in common?" I paused and took a deep breath. Then, I looked at the calm faces of Billy, Harry, and Old Quil. "I don't want this — not with her."

They looked at each other, their faces grave, and then at me. It was Harry who spoke first.

"It will only cause pain to try and fight the imprint. You won't be able to stay away," he cautioned.

I rolled my eyes at him and shook my head in disbelief.

"Some reward," I muttered sarcastically, as I turned and stalked off into the night.