A/N This was my entry for the Phases of Life contest hosted on Free Writers and Readers. The story tied for third place which gave it an honorable mention. The contest was super fun and I highly recommend giving the site some of your time. A big thank you to the moderators of the contest along with my prereaders Branchirps and KatsFlowerGirls and beta AJR818 from Sparkly Red Pen who was kind enough to fill in since my regular Beta, Sarita Dreaming, was one of the contest mods and could not review my fic.

WARNING: There is a some violence in this fic, just a brief moment but I like to mention in case anyone prefers to avoid. The M rating is for the language - playing it safe...

Story Title: A Native American Werewolf in Port Angeles

The first time I turned into a wolf, I literally shit myself. My body temperature had been elevated for days; assuming I had the flu, I had crawled into my bed and prepared to wait it out. I looked at it like a mini-vacation and brought several books with me while keeping the TV remote near. Nutrition was provided in the form of Vitamin R, which I kept in a cooler by the bed. I figured I was going to be throwing up anyway, may as well keep myself buzzed in the meantime so I wasn't a miserable pile of crap.

Two days into my self-imposed exile, I found myself hurling epithets at The Price is Right contestants on the TV. If I could have, I would have reached in and torn them to pieces, solely because they didn't fucking know that $5.69 was a ridiculous price to pay for a couple rolls of toilet paper. This was something more than the flu. I was never one to get PMS, didn't believe in it, and figured it was just an excuse for weak females to whine and moan about shit; if this turned out to be PMS though, I was totally going to have a lot of crow to eat.

Day three: the TV lay in pieces on the floor after a particular stupid answer to a Jeopardy question. The fever was so bad, I couldn't stop shaking. I needed help, but my cell phone was dead, and I didn't have a land line. Sweat was poring off of me; I was drinking as much water as I could, but I still felt like I was becoming dehydrated. One thought kept repeating over and over in my head. I'm dying. I'm dying alone, because I have alienated everyone who has ever cared about me.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I started to seize. The shaking was so bad, I fell off the bed and landed in a quaking pile of limbs on the floor. That's when my ass let go, and I ended up covered in shit. Two seconds later, I was a giant fucking dog tearing up my room, because it was too small for me. My mirror reflected all the action, at least until I destroyed it with a paw swipe. Like a retarded puppy, I started chasing my own tail, not completely comprehending that I was the only one in the room. The voices in my head may have had something to do with that. There were a bunch of them, all recognizable as the last people on Earth I had wanted to hear from. Sam and his gang, all who had been witness to him tossing me aside for my cousin Emily, had somehow shown up in time to see me lose my last tenuous grip on reality.

That was when I got control of myself and ran out of the house. I needed to put as much distance between me and my ex as possible in the shortest amount of time. The four feet thing seemed to be working, so I went with it and ran ... ran like a motherfucker as fast as I could.

To make a long story short, it turned out I wasn't crazy I really had changed into a wolf, and I was able to turn back human again once I calmed down. The "gang" that I had been trying to avoid was actually the rest of the wolf pack. Tribe members had started shifting into wolves in response to the family of vampires living in the neighboring town of Forks. Only those of us that phased, along with the tribal elders, knew of the whole blood sucker / wolf feud thing. It was very strange to go from not knowing that vampires even existed, to it all of a sudden being my job to slaughter each one I came across, except the Cullens.

In the plus column, I finally had a good explanation for why the love of my life dumped me for my supposed best friend. Those of us that contained the gene for phasing also were controlled by that same gene as far as who we fell in love with. It was called imprinting. Sam imprinted on Emily after becoming a wolf, and that was it; I was history. Luckily for the members of the pack that had imprinted so far, the feelings were returned by the imprintees. Well, the whole Claire thing was up in the air since she was only two. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. "Well, gee, Claire, you really shouldn't go to the prom with Tommy, because Quil's been hanging around for the last fifteen years waiting for you to stop being jail bait. He's got the worst case of blue balls known to man and turns into a giant dog. Doesn't that sound nice?" Seriously though, as much as I hated to admit it, I felt awful for Emily when I learned that it was Sam that gave her those scars and not a bear attack as we had all been told. That was just fucked up.

In the minus column, the voices. That fucking sucked dirty monkey balls. Whenever we were wolves, we could read the thoughts of any of the other wolves. Every single fucking thought. If there was a way to hide any of them, I hadn't figured it out. If there was a way to block them, I really wanted to learn that shit. We all did. Not that I felt any solidarity with the rest of them, being the only girl. I was a mutant, an anomaly, a fucking freak—whatever you wanted to call it. That, along with being the "alpha's" ex-girlfriend, pretty much made this whole new situation of mine a fucking nightmare.

That's where I am right now, forced to be part of the pack that patrolled our land and kept our people safe from vampires, forced to interact with my ex-boyfriend on a daily basis. Forced to watch him make love to her in his head, want her in his head, adore her in his head ... and forced to hear him wish it had been anyone else but me that had joined the pack. And, finally, forced to share all my bitterness with the others and get their scorn back in return.

We took turns running laps around La Push on the alert for any vampire activity. There was a girl in Forks who was being hunted by a leech. She'd stupidly fallen in love with one of them, and instead of leaving her to pay the price, we had to all be on protection detail to keep her safe. My idea of letting the blood sucker have her was not met with enthusiasm by my pack mates.

A fortunate turn of events allowed me to have a whole thirty minutes of patrol time to myself this evening. The rest of the pack all had other stuff they had to deal with, leaving just me to be on vamp lookout. I loped easy laps around the reservation, sniffing for intruders. Without the need to try to keep my head empty, I was free to reflect on something that had been occupying my thoughts lately. Imprinting. None of us knew if it would happen for me or not. I was the only female wolf in the history of the pack. No one had an explanation as to how I was even able to phase, much less if I would also find a mate. If I did, would he be a full human like the girls the male wolves had imprinted on? Or was I doomed to imprint on a member of the pack, none of which I wanted to spend five minutes with if I didn't have to, much less my whole life.

On top of the whole imprinting thing, I couldn't help but wonder what having the wolf gene said about my femininity. I'd never been a girly girl but was comfortable in my gender. Now, I couldn't help but wonder, was I somehow more guy than girl on the inside? It didn't help that the only way my wolf pelt could be kept at a comfortable length was to cut my hair into a short boy cut. It seemed I was always dirty since I spent so much time running through the woods. Looking in the mirror, there was nothing left of the happy co-ed I had been before the wolf gene took over the tribe, claiming first my boyfriend and now me.

I was enjoying a rare day off of patrolling by leaving La Push as far behind as my meager wallet would allow. Visiting Port Angeles was not exactly my favorite thing to do as I detested all the tourist crap, but I couldn't afford the gas to go anywhere else. Unfortunately, protecting the world from the undead did not pay very well.

It was a rare sunny day in the Pacific Northwest, and the small town was busy with people enjoying the weather. After parking the car in the parking garage set aside for tourists, I wasted some time window shopping, looking at clothes completely impractical for those that turned into large, hairy animals several times a day, before wandering into one of those nice book stores that encouraged loitering. Wanting an escape from reality, I headed over to the travel section. Once there, I took a moment to enjoy the serenity of my surroundings. The portion of the store I was in was located at the back of the store in a small corner. Standing at the junction of the two intersecting walls, I allowed my eyes to wander over the books, not focusing on one but allowing the beautiful scenes from all the covers to permeate my brain. The reminder of all the different lives that could be attained soothed my weary soul. Maybe someday the tribe would be safe with one less wolf, and I could get away to one of the places beckoning to me from the shelves.

I closed my eyes and approached a shelf, hand held out in front of me with pointer finger extended. Not stopping until my finger touched a book, I opened my eyes to see what the choice turned out to be. It seemed that Fate was choosing to deny me even this escape as my hand was touching a brightly covered guide to the Pacific Northwest. Realizing that I needed to take control of my own destiny, I rejected the choice made by chance and picked a book devoted to the place highest on my wish list.

Somehow, someday, I was going to find a way to live in Hawaii. I'd seen pictures and read letters from Jake's sister. Sun and warm water seemed the perfect panacea to a soul gone moldy from the life I was living.

After about an hour, I felt I had taken advantage of the store's hospitality long enough, and I made my way back out to the street. The sun had disappeared; it looked like most of the tourists had gone with it. The local cafe I had planned to have lunch at was closing up early, so I had to get my food to go instead of eating in as I had planned. I was a bit disappointed, but part of me was relieved. Somehow, my day away of solitude left me feeling at odds instead of relaxed. As much as I hated to admit it, I felt a responsibility to La Push. Not being there left me feeling antsy, as if I had forgotten something important but couldn't remember what.

By the time I made it back to the parking garage, dark storm clouds had gathered overhead, giving the stark building an ominous appearance. I could see through the open spaces between the levels that many of the cars had already been driven out. There was very little movement inside that I could detect. In my human form, my senses were not as strong as when I was wolf, but they were still far superior than they were before my change.

A dark and empty parking garage seemed like it would be a great playground for those that preyed on the weak. I was nervous about entering the structure, not because I had to fear anyone hurting me, but because I had to fear what I would do if someone tried. We couldn't always control when we phased from human to wolf; for some of us, just the slightest provocation was all it took. I was one of those. My temper had always had a hair trigger; I just had a lot more boy-you-don't-wanna-fuck-with-me to back it up now. If someone tried shit with me in here, well ... it would not be pretty.

I projected as much confidence as possible into my walk and body language, heading straight to the stairs to take me to the level my car was on. When I reached the door to the stairwell, I pushed it open slowly, sniffing and listening for anyone who might be lying in wait. Able to tell the staircase was empty, I used a bit of my supernatural speed to make it up the stairs faster than normal. Reaching my level, I set myself back to a normal pace and walked out into the main garage area.

The building was at least a football field long, which left me with a bit of walking to do before I would reach my car. The heels of my boots caused that odd echo I had only ever heard in parking garages. I tried to walk quieter, as the sound was making it harder for me to hear what was around me. Nonetheless, I was unable to completely silence the sound of my shoes hitting the pavement. Car in sight and keys at the ready, I breathed a small sigh of relief. I was almost safely inside. Reaching the car, I swiftly opened the door, swung my body in, and then shut and locked the door. Right at the moment the lock clicked was when I realized that I hadn't unlocked the car to get in; even though I was one hundred percent sure I had locked it when I left before. In the same moment I discovered my car had been tampered with, my body responded by tightening and trembling, less than a second before an arm came from behind my seat to wrap around my neck and pull me tight to the headrest.

Barely registering the "give me the keys, bitch" I heard, I felt myself coming apart into wolf form. The car was too small, and the arm was still around my neck. I swung around, my powerful hind legs kicking out the front windshield, while my jaws made short work of the neck belonging to my supposed car jacker. I backed myself out through the hole I made where the windshield had been, dragging the body with me in my mouth, shaking it back and forth in anger of what it had made me do. Once my paws hit the pavement, I dropped the man and started howling, scratching at my head and trying to figure out how I'd calm down enough to turn human before I was seen. I started screaming in my thoughts. I need help !I've turne dwolf inside the Port Angeles parking garage! Someone's going to see me! I could hear running feet heading away from my location, and the sounds of a cell phone being dialed, just three digits, 911. A frantic human speaking to the operator about an animal in the parking garage, a torn body at its feet. My panic was so great I hadn't realized someone had gotten close enough to see.

Too late to do anything about the call, I started running for the stairs, intending to head up to the roof, hoping for a hiding space where I could attempt to relax my body enough to turn human. Until I slowed my internal systems down, I was stuck in giant wolf form.

I crashed through the door and started running up the stairs; they were too narrow for my huge paws, and I had trouble making it up. My claws were scrambling on the cement, sparks flying up and ear-splitting scratching sounds filling the air. Finally, I found my purchase and was able to run up the stairs, one level ... two levels ... three levels ... finally, after going through four levels, I was at the door to the top level. The door only opened in though, and there wasn't enough room to try to grab it with my jaws to swing it back. Already, I could hear people entering the stairs below on the level I had started at. Idiots too brave for their own good.

Lacking any other option, I began pounding on the door with my head, using the strength in my legs and torso to push in the door and break it from the hinges. The metal was giving way around the shape of my head, but the hinges held strong. Still, I kept at it, as there was no other way for me to go. Finally, when my head was hurting to such a degree I feared blacking out, the door broke free and flew out into the space it had blocked. Not stopping my forward momentum, I ran out onto the roof level, noticing too late that it was completely exposed, being the top of the building. Swinging my head back and forth, I checked for other people and places to hide. There was nothing, not even the columns that had bisected the lower levels into a grid. I was a sitting target up here.

The garage had been placed in the part of the town where the tourist area began and the industrial area ended. Abutting the alley that went behind the garage were large factory buildings, people hard at work making God knows what. The breaking door had made a lot of noise, and people were looking out the windows right at me. I was trapped, nowhere to go, and I couldn't turn human now even if I somehow managed to relax enough, which I was nowhere close to being capable of.

All the while, I had kept up a ragged commentary in my head of what was happening so that any wolves phased in La Push could hear me. Our thought communication worked at a range as far as 300 miles, so I knew the thoughts could reach someone. Focused on escaping, I hadn't yet listened to see if anyone was talking back. I forced myself to settle down enough to hear.

Leah! Leah! It's Sam. Calm down, you need to calm down. We're going to get you through this. We're all here. Please, try to calm down and listen to me. Are you listening?

Never had I been so happy to hear Sam's voice. The whole anguish over the breakup melted away, because right now, the man I still loved was here to help me through this. I couldn't even care that he was hearing this as I thought it. He was going to get me through.

I'm here, Sam! Please, tell me what to do, so many people are looking at me right now. I ... I ... killed someone; I'm afraid I'll kill more.

All right, Leah, stay with me. They all think you're an animal. We've prepared and practiced for this. Remember? We know the protocol. Lie down and show no aggression, and they will not hurt you. Don't give them any reason to sedate you. If they put you out, you'll turn human while you're under. You can't let that happen. Since you have no way out right now, you'll need to let them take you to the shelter. As soon as it goes out on the wire, Billy will contact Chief Swan and get the Chief to intercede on our behalf. You remember? We've gone over this a bunch of times ...

Ok, Sam. I'm lying down. Head is down. I'm waiting.

Do you hear anyone approaching you yet?

I listened again to the area around me; sirens blared nearby, and there were a couple sets of footsteps coming up the stairs. They were approaching very slowly, and I could hear the men they belonged to bickering back and forth if they should continue or wait for the authorities. The one who wanted to go back was the only one of the two who had seen the body of the man I killed.

They'll be here soon, Sam. Tell me again, how will Billy get Chief Swan to have me released? He doesn't know about us.

I knew we had talked about this before, but at the time, I had been consumed with bitterness over the whole wolf thing and didn't pay as close attention as I should have.

Billy has already laid the ground work, letting Chief Swan know that a couple wolves from an endangered strain had been given to the Quileute for reintroduction into the wild. Billy will tell Chief Swan one escaped, and then the Chief will contact other agencies in the area to see if it's been captured. Once he's located you, he'll arrange for your release, and we'll come get you. All you have to do is stay wolf....Keep calm, and stay wolf. Do not give them any cause to sedate you.

I remembered now. Supposedly, the tribe was slowly training the wolves on how to live in the wild as they had been born in captivity. This gave us an excuse to drive them here and there in the areas between here and Canada. If anyone saw anything unusual, we had an excuse. Still, there was a flaw to Sam's plan I realized.

Sam! What about the man I killed? Won't they shoot me for that?

I could feel myself tensing up again and had to use an incredible amount of will power to settle down once more, so I would appear relaxed and non-threatening.

Leah, please, try to settle back down. Remember? We've got the endangered species designation working for us. They will not shoot you unless they feel you are a danger to them. Any decision they would try to make based on killing the man will come later. By then, you'll already be back with us, and we'll figure something out. I need to phase to human so I can talk to Billy. Jake and Seth are staying wolf, so you are not alone.

Ok, Sam ... just ... thanks. ... Thanks so much.

I managed to stay calm by focusing on my breathing—in, out ... in, out. My heartbeat slowed to a normal level, and I could feel the fur on my back settle down from the raised ridge it had been.

Seth, you okay?

Seth was my little brother. I hated that he'd been brought into this life. He was one of the kindest people I had ever met; he deserved better. He was probably freaking out, knowing I was about to be taken into custody ... or whatever they called it for animals. Fuck, I was probably going to the bloody pound like a stray dog.

Yeah, sis, I'm good. Worried about you is all. I know that temper of yours. Please stay wolf.

I'm calmer now, Seth. Talking to Sam really helped, and having you there helps a bunch too. Just stay with me. ... Keep the link open, please!

Chatting with my brother really helped to take the edge off. I could tell that whatever sirened vehicle the authorities were using was here. Unfortunately, my hearing was not quite good enough to hear what was going on down on the first level. I needed now, more than ever, to stay calm. Any moment they were going to come up the stairs to capture me, and I needed to have more control over myself than ever before.

Hey, Leah, did you hear what happened to Quil today?

Oh, this should be good; Quil was one of those guys whose life was completely bogged down in bad luck and stupidity.

Claire got a whole bunch of peanut butter in his hair today while riding on his shoulders. Later, when he phased, he couldn't figure out why he kept getting dive bombed by birds. They were going after the peanut butter on his back! You should have seen him up on his two hind legs, swiping his paws at the birds. He ended up falling on his ass. Boy was he pissed when he saw the rest of us in convulsions laughing at him.

Poor Quil. As much as he loved Claire, it must suck to have imprinted on a toddler. Still, I heard his thoughts all the time, and he never complained, outwardly or inwardly.

Thanks, Seth. That made me laugh. Tell him to use some dish soap to get the peanut butter out of his hair. It will help with all the peanut oil.

He's already clean, Leah. A couple jumps off the cliff was all it took.

I'd almost managed to forget where I was when the sound I had been dreading entered my consciousness. Several sets of footsteps were slowing making their way up the stairwell. I could hear the voices now but couldn't make out the words; they were whispering. Keeping my head down on my paws, I kept my eyes on the door while trying to look as small as possible. Out of the whole pack, I was the smallest, but I was still much larger than a regular wolf.

It was excruciatingly difficult to stay calm as I heard those shoes get closer and closer. By instinct, my wolf form was programmed for fight or flight. Staying still went completely against the grain. I kept Sam's thoughts in my head; there was a plan in place. I would be safe. Jake and Seth had heard the steps coming for me too and were keeping up continuous gentle reminders to stay still and appear non-threatening.

Finally, when I thought I could take it no longer, they arrived. Five men pushed through the destroyed doorway, each armed with a tranquilizer gun, the barrels moving to point right in my direction. I spread my front paws and placed my head directly on the floor, giving some pathetic sounding whines. It was an Academy Award winning performance, considering I could have wiped them all out before they got a shot off.

They started talking amongst themselves, debating whether or not to shoot me with the drugs or try taking me while I was awake. Due to my size, they knew they'd have a tough time lifting me if I was completely out. I had the brief irrational thought that I should have gone ahead and indulged in a few extra donuts that morning.

While four of the men continued to debate, one of them broke away from the group and started to approach me. The other four stopped talking and stared at him with incredulous looks on their faces. Apparently, this was not part of the plan.

He slowly walked toward me with his arm outstretched, his stride forthright and purposeful to establish his dominance. It killed me, but I refused to look at him, dropping my gaze in a clear sign of submission. Inch by inch he got closer and closer, until finally his feet were within paws reach of my front legs. I could tell by the way he was breathing he still didn't feel completely safe. There was only one more signal I could give to show my complete subjugation. Seth and Jake knew what it was and kept encouragement coming at me; they both knew how close to impossible this was, especially for me.

In the end, it was best to just get it over with. Keeping up the whine, I slowly rolled over onto my back, exposing my chest. It was the universal canine pose of docility. It worked; I could hear his breathing relax, and he finally called out to the other men that there was nothing to worry about. He took a collar and lead from his jacket and approached me to put them on. Fuck, if I thought rolling onto my back was the worst, I was clearly mistaken. Against my will, I could feel my eyes widen, showing the white around the pupil. My whines were starting to turn growly, and the hair on my neck was rising in a threatening crest. Jake and Seth started shouting at me in their heads to get back down, calm down, let him collar me. The fucking thing had a muzzle on it!

By now, he had dropped the collar and lead while slowly moving away and bringing the gun up to aim at me. Fuck! I know it looked almost human, but I couldn't think of anything else to do at this point. I covered my eyes with my paws and forced myself to relax again. Then, I reached out a foot and snagged the collar with my toes, dragging it back toward me. Keeping my eyes closed, I waited to see what would happen next. Jake and Seth had fallen silent at this point too, knowing that the men would either shoot or put the collar on me. There was nothing further I could do to influence the decision.

The man closest to me let out a surprised "whoa" and then commented to the others that I must be some kind of trained zoo animal. I'd love to show you what I'm really trained to do!

Realizing I wasn't going to hurt him, he finally came back and swiftly put the collar / muzzle contraption over my head. Luckily for me, while the collar was large enough to fit due to the choker design, the muzzle was much too small. The man had no choice but to leave it dangling off to the side.

Once he had the collar on me, he took several steps back as far as the leash could reach and then waited to see what I would do. The tranq gun was pointed right at me and did not waver.

Without the muzzle, the collar itself was no discomfort at all. It was the representation that I hated. I was under control now though. I could probably even phase back to human if I wanted and was able to keep focused on the goal; I needed to get up off this floor in the most non-threatening way possible, so he had no reason to shoot me ... or yank on the chain, as that would really fucking piss me off.

Keeping my gaze toward the floor, I slowly rolled onto my chest. I waited another brief moment and then rose up until I was standing. Once I was up, I continued to keep my head down and then slowly walked toward the man. When I reached him, I sat back down like a trained animal would. As much as I hated the implication, appearing trained could only help me now. A hand slowly descended onto the top of my head and then began to scratch behind my right ear.

My immediate reaction was to rip his arm off. I kept under control though and sat still, while he petted me like I was a fucking poodle. His first hand kept up a light scratch behind my ear as another started roaming over my body. Keeping still at that point was almost impossible, but I realized he was checking for injuries and managed to keep still. A quick glance at the badge dangling from his neck confirmed he was a vet.

"Hey there, it's all right. I'm not going to hurt you," he said soothingly. "You're a pretty thing, aren't you?"

Then the fucker reached between my legs! There was no stopping the growl that left my throat.

"Whoa, there! Looks like we've got a shy girl here. All right, little lady, I'm done, just needed to see if you were male or female."

He went back to petting me and murmured more nonsense in my ears. I couldn't help but relax under his touch; he knew exactly where to smooth his hands over my fur to comfort me the most. It had been so long since I'd been touched by anyone ... so very long. ... I could feel myself turning from viscous vicious werewolf to puppy puddle right there at his feet. There wasn't even any embarrassment anymore, even when my tail started to wag, just bliss.

Unable to curb my curiosity, I took a look again at his name tag, MaxZantua. I always liked the name Max. Wait a second, I know him! He and I had actually hung out as kids. His father passed away when he was still young, and his mother ended up having to move off the reservation to find work. I couldn't help it. I had to get a good look at the guy; I finally raised my head from the cowed position it had been in for much too long.

I had just enough time to register the strong, scruffy jaw and straight nose before my eyes met his. They were green, a beautiful emerald green that occasionally showed up in the Quileute. His eyes looked at me with compassion and care; I couldn't look away. As I gazed at Max, a strange heat started to form in my chest and radiate out to the rest of my body. All these thoughts started forming in my head ... thoughts of being with this man, loving this man, devotion to this man. ... All of a sudden, he was the most important thing in my world—he was my world.

Seth and Jake, who had been quiet until now, started whooping back and forth. Holy shit, she imprinted! Damn, poor guy...sorry, Leah! Ugh...that was fucking rude of me.

I didn't care. I knew under normal circumstances Jake didn't like me. He had only been nice to me today because of the whole accidentally-killed-a-human-about-to-be-captured thing. None of that mattered anymore. I wouldn't be alone anymore. I had actually fucking found my reason for existence; me, Leah Clearwater, had a chance at happiness!

I was so excited. For a moment, I forgot that I was in wolf form and that I couldn't phase to human right now. There was no way for me to communicate to this man what he meant to me, how I would do anything to make him happy, keep him safe ... love him.

Then the doubt set in. What was going to happen when he found out what I was? He would find out; the imprintees were the only ones outside of the pack and the elders allowed to know our secret. Not to mention, he would need some explanation for why some girl he hadn't seen in a zillion years all of a sudden couldn't let him out of her sight. This had restraining order written all over it.

Leah, everything going okay?

Sam! Oh, thank God, he would know what to do. Wow, I can think his name now without feeling like I have a harpoon in my chest.

Sam, I've imprinted! What do I do? I need him!

It's okay, Leah. I promise we'll make this work. We're all really happy for you. Leah ... I told Emily. She asked me to let you know she hopes this means you'll be friends again.

Yes! Yes, Sam! Oh shit! I can have Emily back too? Fuck! Sam, I'm crying. This guy's gonna think I'm going crazy. I didn't know we could cry in wolf form! What the fuck am I gonna do? I'm so happy!

I was still looking into Max's eyes while all these crazy thoughts were going back and forth in my head. I could feel the tears coming out of my eyes and getting my fur wet. Max took one finger and wiped at the tears, holding his finger in front of his face to get a better look. He mumbled something about tear duct damage, thankfully not having a clue what was going on with me and the three wolves in my head.

"All right, little lady. Let's get you out to the truck, so we can see about finding who you belong to."

I belong to you. You belong to me.

We both stood up, and I walked by his side to the stairwell. I craned my neck, so I could look up at him as we walked. It wasn't lost on me that I looked like one of those trained-to-the-extreme dogs in the dog shows. Still don't fucking care.

Sam had kind of lapsed into a shocked silence after my earlier outburst but now took a brief moment to let me know he was going back human to work more on my release. Jake was turning human with him, but Seth would be staying wolf, so I'd have some communication with the pack. It was a bit embarrassing having my little brother hear all my "imprint" thoughts, but I wasn't up for losing my link with the pack until I was safely back on the reservation…with Max.

We made it down the truck without incident, but then there was a new challenge; the cage in the back of the truck where animals rode was much too small for me, as was the cab of the truck. Max led me back into the garage before too many people could see me and start gawking. Inspiration struck, and I excitedly started jabbering to Seth in my head, while Max got on his cell phone to work through this latest issue.

Seth, Jake has that old flatbed tow truck! Is Chief Swan talking to the Port Angeles people yet? Is Billy with him? Someone's going to be making a ruckus real soon about needing something to move me with.

On it, Leah! I'm gonna turn human real quick and fill them in, and then I'll come back to wolf with you.

Thanks, Seth!

I could feel the emptiness of the pack's collective headspace, letting me know I was the only one wolf for now. Deciding to take this brief moment to relax, I lied back down on the cool cement floor and thought some more about what was going to happen. If the Port Angeles authorities could be convinced to let Jake come pick me up with his tow truck, this would all be over real soon. Max may not even plan to ride back with me once Billy took "custody." I had to get him to the reservation though; we wouldn't be able to reveal the whole situation anywhere else.

A slight zing in my head let me know one of the wolves was back.

Wow, Leah! Worked out great! Chief Swan was already on the phone with the people in Port Angeles, arranging the transfer from them to us when the dude on the other end got the message about the truck. The Chief started grumbling about how could it be that hard to get a bigger truck when Billy was able to jump right in and offer the tow truck. Jake's already on his way!

Really, Seth? That's fucking awesome! With the way he drives, he'll be here in less than an hour.

Just then, Max got a call about the coming truck. He started pushing back on it, saying there was no way I could ride all the way back to La Push on a flat bed. There would be nothing to stop me from jumping off and running away. He said the only way it could be done was if they sedated me.

Oh, fuck! Seth, did you hear? He's talking about sedating me! What are we going to do? Get Sam!

It's all right, Leah. Remember, we had that one big cage built, so that we'd have it for a prop if we ever needed it. It's on the truck. Once your Max sees it, he should see there's no need to sedate you.

Phew, I was ready to have a fucking heart attack again.

Hopefully once Max saw the cage, he would agree that I didn't need to be sedated. Eavesdropping again on his conversation, it sounded like they just told him about it.

"A cage big enough for this wolf? You sure? Her shoulders are higher than my waist! ... Oh, okay, specially made for this breed, you say? Well, I'd like to get a look at the rest of them, that's for sure!"

There was a bunch more banter back and forth, and then he was off the phone and all mine again. Lacking any better form of communication at the moment, I contented myself with rubbing the side of my head on his leg. Oops, almost knocked him over, better kick it down a notch.

Max sat down next to me to wait, absentmindedly scratching my head while he appeared to be lost in his own thoughts. I wondered what was going on in his brain. Shit, I didn't even know if he was single. He could be married for all I knew; he didn't wear a ring but not all husbands did. It would be incredibly ironic if I broke up a happy home given what I went through when Sam imprinted on my cousin / best friend, Emily. Still, even knowing how miserable I would make this unknown female, I didn't care. Broken up they would become.

My ears perked up when I saw Max reach for his phone again. Maybe it would be a personal call, and I could find out if I was up against anything.

"Hey, man, I'm gonna be here for a bit longer. Had a bit of trouble getting a truck big enough for this girl here. You still want to go out tonight?"

Aw, fuck no! No way was he fucking gay! That couldn't happen, could it?

"Hah, the wife got you on lockdown, eh? Told ya you shouldn't have gone fishing on her birthday, you tool. Whatever, I can go without my wing man for one night. Heck, maybe I'll just cuddle up with this she-wolf here. She seems a lot less dangerous than some of the women I've been meeting lately."

Ew, gross, I just wolf laughed and got snot all over his pants. Oh well, he's a vet, must be used to it. Yay! Not gay! Not that there's anything wrong with that …

"The she-wolf? No, I'm not talking about some random hook-up! She's a real wolf, idiot. I'm on a work call; you know I'm a vet.

"Pick-up in a parking garage. She killed a guy. Looks like he had nabbed her somehow and had her in a car. I don't know, guy must have been really fucking stupid to put a wolf this big in a little Corolla. Was probably planning something awful for her, she'd sell for big bucks on the exotic pets black market. You should see her, huge as a mountain but the sweetest thing once she trusts you. Far as I'm concerned, he got what he deserved. I'll make sure she doesn't go down for this.

"All right, talk to you later."

I felt a hundred pounds lighter after hearing Max's exoneration of what I had done. Even though he had the situation wrong, the guy had been up to no good. I felt horrible about killing him, I really did, but I still thought that anyone prepared to use violence on someone needs to expect to receive it in return.

An obnoxious rumble in the distance let me know Jake was about to enter the street for the garage. He must have flown to get here so fast, probably had a police escort; La Push was really going to owe Chief Swan for this one. Without even thinking, I got up to my feet, so I'd be ready to go when Jake pulled in. Max hadn't even heard the truck yet and was startled by my abrupt movement. I considered it a big improvement on our relationship that his hand didn't automatically reach right for the drug gun.

"Bucket O'Rust" pulled into the garage in a noxious cloud of fumes and came to a shuddering stop. While Jake had been able to fix her up so she could move fast enough, he'd run out of money before getting to the exhaust. He was damn lucky they even let that thing on the roads.

Jake hopped down from the cab and headed over to where I was with Max.

"Where did you get off to, you bad girl?"

Fucking Jake, always has to take advantage.

I hopped up on my back legs, pretending excitement at seeing him and then knocked him on his ass. There was nothing he could do but laugh it off so as to keep playing his part. I snorted more wolf snots at him before sitting back down next to Max.

Max and Jake talked a few moments about Max's take on what happened in the garage. Max explained that the authorities would put a lot of weight on his opinion, and he was going to vote against euthanasia. Jake thanked him profusely and let him know that La Push would always have a place for him.

"All right, Leah, I know you're ecstatic to see me. Now time to hop on up into your cage."

Gee, and just when I was starting to feel a little soft towards Jake. He is so getting nut punched next time I get him alone.

I started to gather myself for the leap up onto the flat bed when I remembered that Max still held onto the leash. Turning to look at him, I saw that he was gazing at me with an inscrutable expression on his face. He crouched down the small bit necessary to bring us to eye level.

"I guess this is goodbye, little lady. I don't know, there's something about you … I hope I'll see you again." Max's voice trailed off a bit as he pulled me toward him into a hug while scratching my ears. Amazing, the most beautiful moment of my life and it happens while I'm wolf. But, I couldn't have him saying goodbye …

To get his attention, I started whining and then got up a bit and nudged at him with my nose, pushing him toward the flat bed. I didn't knock him over like I did Jake. For Max, it was just gentleness, so he knew where I was asking him to go.

"Hey there, girl. You're going one way, and I'm going another. I'll see you again though, okay?" He spoke the words as gently as he could, but they still tore at my heart.

"Hey, uh, Max? Is that your name?" Jake jumped in and asked.

"Yeah, man, sorry for not introducing myself. You are?"

"Jake. Do you think you could come with us? I was the only one able to make the trip out here, and I might need some help uncrating her when we get back on the res."

Okay, Jake can keep his nuts for now.

"Yeah, sure, I can come along. Nothing better going on today." Max gave that chuckle I heard all the time from the pack guys; no matter what they were saying at the time, it always related to women and things gone wrong. Like some kind of universal secret language that I was unwillingly forced to learn. I was happy for the knowledge now though; one more indication that he was not with anyone.

Max handed the end of the leash to Jake and then hopped up onto the flatbed to open the cage door. His shirt rode up a bit, and I got a nice view of some tanned, sculpted ab muscles. No wolf girl was going to imprint on some flabby tub-o-lard man, that's for sure!

Not caring if Jake was ready for it or not, I jumped up myself and brushed up against Max as I sauntered my way into the cage. Turning back to look down at the ground, I caught Jake brushing his pants up as if he'd just taken a fall. Habit, I guess, to torture him. I'm sure he wouldn't want it any other way. Well, maybe the bird he is flipping me indicates otherwise.

Max looked between us with a funny look on his face and then shook his head a bit before jumping back to the ground. I knew I'd been hiding my human part less and less as the time for the big reveal got closer. He didn't know it yet, but I was slowly getting him to think of me as a bit more than simply a wolf.

The ride back to the reservation was uneventful, and I used the time to think about what I'd say to Max when he saw the real me for the first time. Nothing seemed clever enough…beautiful enough…feminine enough. How was I going to get him to see me and not the weird shape-shifting female?

Before I knew it, we were there, and my time for thinking was done. I would have to go with whatever came into my head at the time. Jake let Max know that we would have to walk from here into the woods for a bit to get to where the rest of the wolves were.

Holy shit! This is it. In just a few moments, I'll be showing Max my human self.

My heart started to race, and I couldn't control the panting that all of a sudden took over my body.

All right, Leah, settle down. We're all here waiting for you. You'll be great; he's your imprint. I know we don't know how it works, but it does. Trust it.

I never thought I'd say it, but thank God for Sam. I don't think I would have survived today without him. And now, he was helping me find happiness with my mate. He really was still the good guy I had fallen in love with so long ago. A love that I now see pales in comparison for what I feel for Max.

Jake let me out of the cage, and we headed into the woods. We all were quiet as we each contemplated what lay ahead. I think Max was a bit nervous, knowing he was about to see the whole pack of oversized wolves. And maybe, he was a little sad at the thought this would really be goodbye for us. I could only hope he'd be happy with what was to come.

We broke into the clearing, and there was the pack, arranged in a circle with two missing spots, mine and Jake's.

"Whoa, Jake. They're not in cages? I didn't realize…" He broke off, clearly very nervous, now that he had the attention of several horse-sized wolves.

"Take it easy, Max. We haven't been entirely honest with you today about the wolves. It will all be clear in just another moment."

At that, they all rose up as one and phased to human. It really was a magnificent sight, beautiful, young braves honoring the tradition of our ancestors, keeping the spirit warriors alive. Rarely did I take the moment to appreciate exactly what we were, the role we had to play in the spirit world.

As the guys quickly drew on their shorts, I turned to look at Max to see how he was taking it. His eyes had gone very wide, and his breathing was shallow and quick. The end of the leash lay on the ground next to him forgotten, as his head swiveled in all directions, looking at the boys who had a moment ago been wolves. Good thing he was healthy, or we'd be calling the paramedics for an impending heart attack. That sobered me for a moment as I thought of my Dad who had recently passed away; he would never see me happily mated.

The pack didn't say anything to us; one by one, they headed out of the clearing. Sam stopped to grab a blanket he had stashed. As he draped it over my back, I gave him a look I'm sure he could read as well as if he was wolf and in my head; it was simply thank you.

Alone now, Max turned to me, still not talking but clearly expecting something. Taking a big breath and saying a quick prayer, I drew on the energy around me to make the shift back to human. My body straightened, and I stood on my human legs, the blanket draped around me like a shawl covering my nudity, the ends clutched tight in my hands in front of my chest.

He simply looked at me, looked me up and down, not in the way of a lecher but as someone amazed and awed at what stands before him. I watched his eyes with all the intensity of a hawk stalking prey, needing to see his acceptance … dreading to see rejection.

His eyes came up to mine, and there it was. There was what I had been dying to see. He saw me. Not the wolf, not the freak, he…saw…me. And everything I could have wanted to see in his eyes was right there in front of me.

"Hi, I'm Leah. Thanks for bringing me home."

A/N: Hope you enjoyed! If you have a moment, I'd love to know what you think. There will be a companion piece at some point containing Max's POV as I'm aching to delve into an original character. It will be a separate story as opposed to an additional chapter on this fic so put me on alert if you want to be notified of it.