This one shot takes place during Eclipse. I wrote this before the Insider's Guide was released, so some things may not click.

To avoid confusion, I have put thoughts in bold italics and flashbacks in italics.

Disclaimer: All Twilight characters belong to Stephenie Meyer, no copyright infringement is intended. Rated T for language.


True Freedom


The darkness settled around me as I cowered in the bushes. He was looking for me. His tall, muscular build was standing among the trees, calling my name. When his chest swelled to take in the air around him, I crossed my fingers and hoped that my idea of hiding within the bushes would hide my scent. It seemed to work since he backtracked the way he came. I was home free.

A loud crack pierced the silence, and I stared at the broken branch under my left foot. His head whipped around and those deep brown eyes bored right into me. I phased quickly, ripping my clothes apart and ran.

My claws dug into the earth as the sound of thundering paws pounded behind me.

Great, he phased too. I ran through the thickest part of the forest, hopping over fallen branches and under low hanging limbs and hoped it slowed him down. I groaned as the trees shattered behind me, not slowing his pace at all.

Phasing back to human was probably a smarter choice, but I was much faster as a wolf, so I took my chances. Besides, running through the forest naked wasn't going to attract any less attention than running as a giant gray wolf.

Leah!Sam's voice boomed inside my head like a giant bass drum.

I stopped and shook my head a few times then went back to running. Freedom was so close I could taste it. My legs were aching, my lungs burning, and my heart was racing, but I used my fear as fuel to keep me going.

Leah! Stop!

It felt like I ran head first into a brick wall. My legs buckled and I dropped helplessly to the ground as Sam's voice rumbled the dreaded Alpha command. I put my paws over my ears as a series of fireworks popped in my head.

Sticks and leaves crumbled behind me and I moved to get up. A low, vicious growl put me back in my place. His hot breath breezed over my neck making my fur stand on end. I looked up and was greeted with a large, angry black wolf. His lips were peeled back as low, feral growls seeped through his pointy white teeth.

What do you think you're doing? There was no rumble, but I remained motionless underneath his glowing eyes. His breath came out in short spurts, creating puffs of white in the chilly air. Maybe I'd worn him out or maybe he was just really pissed. My money was on the latter.

Forcing my shaky legs to stand, I faced him. I can't stay here, I sent back. It hurts too much.

His fury faded away as he shamefully lowered his head.

Let me go!I whined softly, and pleaded. Please, Sam.

I stared at him cautiously and slowly backed into the bushes. When he didn't follow, I turned and ran with new life as a deep, agonizing howl rang out behind me.

~*sSs*~

I sat on the porch of the cabin I rented watching the sun make its descent behind the trees. A cool breeze brushed over me as I rocked myself in the porch swing. The clouds threatened rain but hadn't manned up yet. It was only a matter of time.

It was my second night of freedom and so far things were going pretty well. I'd gone to the grocery store to get some essentials to hold me over while I figured out my next move. Of course, I called my mother to let her know that I was okay. I'm not completely heartless. For the record, I'm only a bitch when I need to be.

I'd rented the cabin in the woods online a few days before I left. It was about three hours from La Push. Although, I was curious about how things were going on the Rez, I decided that phasing was probably a bad idea. I needed to keep the pack at bay. I didn't want my freedom to end before it really started.

My family and I spent many vacations out here back when things were simple. Back when boys were icky, and my only care in the world was whether or not I would get the top bunk.

My father loved it out here. He would take my brother fishing or just sit on the porch in his rocking chair. Sometimes, I would sit with him in comfortable silence watching the sun dye the clouds pink and purple. I missed him so much.

After the sun went down, I made my way inside.

The cabin wasn't as big as the ones my family rented, but I didn't need much. It was one large room; the kitchen was separated by a wall with an opening to look out into the living room area. A king sized bed was in the back underneath a wide window. Various paintings of wildlife and landscaping hung sporadically around the room.

The furniture was pretty basic: a wooden table near the kitchen, a desk in the corner and a cushy couch in front of the fireplace. The maple hardwood floors were covered with multi patterned throw rugs that matched the intricate designs on the curtains.

It was modernized with running water, electricity, and even internet access. I'd brought my laptop so I could keep up with things in the real world and also plan my next move.

My feet carried me to the kitchen where I made enough food to feed an army or a hungry werewolf: an extra large helping of creamy Chicken Alfredo with breadsticks and a side of mom's homemade potato soup. What can I say? Being a werewolf gave me an extremely high metabolism.

After cleaning the kitchen, I lit a fire and sat down on the couch to finish reading a trashy romance novel I'd bought from the drugstore. The temperature dropped but I wasn't cold and didn't bother with the heat. The fireplace just provided extra light and tranquility to the mood.

The light crushing of tires over grass put my senses on high alert. I dismissed it quickly, thinking maybe someone came to the wrong cabin and went back to my book. Just as the handsome hero was about to rip off the damsel's clothes, a loud knock echoed through the cabin.

No one knows I'm here. I tried to convince myself as a bad feeling tickled the back of my neck.

Marking my place, I shifted to my feet and tiptoed to the curtain. My heart stopped as I stared at Sam's white pickup parked next to my rental car. I sank to the ground, pulled my knees to my chest and started to sob.

I can't go back! I won't!

The knocking resonated through the house again and my hands went to my ears. We didn't have to be in wolf form for Sam to scream his Alpha command but it certainly helped.

"Leah!" a female voice screamed. "I know you're in there. Open the door!" I knew that voice.

Emily.

What the hell is she doing here? My fear and anxiety melted under the flames of my rage. The nerve of Sam sending her to try to bring me home! Bastard!

I briskly rose to my feet and fought the tremors under my skin. The doorknob suffered minor damage as I furiously swung it open.

Emily stood in the doorway with her arms wrapped around herself to fight the chill. Her long, inky black hair spilled over her ivory sweater, hiding the scars on her face. A small knapsack hung over her shoulders.

"It's about time," she griped. "It's freezing out here!" Her bag hit the floor as she hurried inside to warm up. Then she realized it wasn't much warmer inside. "Are you kidding me?!"

Well no one invited you here!I thought as she scampered in front of the fire and held her hands near the flame to warm them.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, slamming the door. I picked up her bag and set it on the table.

"I came to see you," she answered through chattering teeth. I walked over to the closet and grabbed a light blue fleece blanket.

"How'd you find me?" I asked, throwing the blanket at her, probably a little rougher than needed.

She caught it and hurriedly wrapped it around her shoulders. "When Sam said that you were gone, I went over to Aunt Sue's and found this." She leaned up and pulled a piece of paper from her back pocket. I groaned as I looked at the printed receipt with my cabin information and confirmation number on it. I was in such a hurry to leave, I'd forgotten to cover my tracks. "I told the guy up front that I was your sister and that you were expecting me."

"Great," I muttered sarcastically. "The security sucks around here."

"Please, for the love of God, can you turn on the heat?" she complained, as she moved to the couch. She tightened her grip on the blanket and pulled her feet under her.

I made a point of stomping over to the thermostat. "Anything else, your highness?" I grumbled.

"Maybe a little less attitude," she answered defensively.

She sighed in relief as the heat kicked in. "You wolves are lucky to not have to worry about getting cold," she said with a lazy smile. "Sam usually cuddles next to me during the cold nights…" She stopped abruptly at the sound of a low growl from my throat.

"I don't want to hear about your perfect new life with my ex-boyfriend," I hissed. "Is that why you came here? To flaunt it in my face?"

"You know that's not true," Emily answered, a look of pity and remorse overtaking her features.

"Did Sam send you?" I glared down at her.

She cringed slightly under my harsh stare. "Sam thinks I'm visiting a friend back home." Her eyes wandered around the cabin, probably to avoid my wrath. "He didn't think it was a bad idea under the circumstances."

The circumstances being a certain redheaded vampire running amuck all over La Push, Forks, and Seattle.

"I'm sorry, Leah." The sound of pity coated her voice. "I can't help the way I feel."

"Yeah, yeah I know," I muttered, waving my hand in a circular motion. "He imprinted on you and I should understand and stop being so bitter. I've heard this bullshit before."

"No, you don't get it," Emily said in a low, frustrated voice. "I can't do anything about it. I have no choice about the way I feel about him. I love him because I'm supposed to."

"You're right, I don't," I grumbled.

"Leah." She motioned with her head to keep her hands warm. "Come sit with me. We need to talk."

I let out a long, irritated sigh and trudged over to the couch.

"Oh, wow." She stopped shivering after I sat down. "It's already warmer."

"Emily." I folded my arms impatiently. "You still haven't told me why you're here."

She stared at the fire, the flames reflecting in her eyes. "I came to bring you back home."

"Then you wasted your time," I said, stubbornly. "You should get back on the road before it starts to rain. Sam will be worried."

"I'm not leaving," she replied defiantly. "Not without you."

"You don't have a choice." Tingles started to ride up and down my spine. "I don't want you here! You're pissing me off!" I headed toward the door in case I had to run out in the woods.

"No!" she yelled, throwing the blanket off her shoulders and following me at a distance. "I'm not leaving until we talk. I'm not afraid of you, Leah. If you want to hurt me, I won't stop you, but you will listen to me!"

"Who do you think you're talking to?" It was almost comical that she thought she could face an angry werewolf. True, I wasn't as big as my pack brothers, but I wasn't anything to dismiss either. More tingles were rising beneath my skin and my hands started to shake. I needed to calm down. "Look, Sam will kill me if anything happens to you, so you need to go."

"You can't keep running, Leah." She took a few steps closer. I watched her warily, willing my wolf to calm down.

At that moment, the clouds opened up and rain harshly banged on the roof. I turned around to see Emily smirking at me.

"Looks like I'm not going anywhere," she taunted.

"Why are you doing this to me?" I shouted. She took a few steps back as my anger knocked the smirk right off her face, replacing it with a look of terror. "Isn't it enough that you took Sam away from me? What more do you want?"

"I want you to forgive me and come home." A gloomy look darkened her features. "I thought we were making progress when you agreed to be in my wedding."

I couldn't stop the sarcastic laugh even if I wanted to. "You're kidding, right?"

"We promised to be in each other's weddings, remember?" she asked as a mixture of confusion and hurt furrowed her brows.

"At the time I didn't know you'd be marrying my groom!" I replied angrily. "The only reason I agreed is because Mom asked me to. But I'm done with this shit! You and Sam can go live your 'Happily Ever After' and ride off into the sunset. I just don't want to see it."

"Leah, this isn't just about us," she said firmly. "The pack needs you." She wrapped her arms around herself protectively and looked away from me. "And…I miss my best friend."

"The pack doesn't need me," I muttered, avoiding her last statement. Emily had always been my go-to person when I was hurting, but she couldn't help me. No one could.

"Yes, they do," Emily insisted. "They can't kill that redheaded bloodsucker without you."

"I can't do it, Emily!" I yelled while throwing my hands up. "How could you even ask me to be around him? Do you know what it's like being in his head, seeing the two of you eating dinner, sleeping…making love? That was supposed to be me!" I pointed at my withered heart. "I was supposed to be the one he dreamed about."

"Leah…" Emily reached a hand for my shoulder and I shook it away.

"I don't need your pity," I said through gritted teeth. My head rolled around, making cracking noises as another tingle rippled under my skin.

Her left hand reached out to me again, and I saw the gold band and the modest diamond on her ring finger. My anger grew uncontrollably and I was surprised that I hadn't phased yet.

"You ruined my life!" I shouted and her eyes widened in fear. "I was happy! Then you came into town and took him! What am I supposed to do now? Wait to imprint on some poor unsuspecting fool? Take him away from his love because of some stupid legend? And what if I don't imprint? What then? Am I supposed to wait around for the rest of my life for something that may or may not happen?"

Emily walked away from me. I could smell the tears she was trying hide. Great, I'd hurt her feelings.

"Leah, you are my best friend," she said, downheartedly. "The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you."

"Yeah, well," I said sullenly. "So much for that."

"You think you were the only one affected by this?" Emily exclaimed. I was surprised to hear the anger in her voice. "I was involved, too. I told you about Bradley Richardson, right?"

I nodded. Even though Emily and I didn't live in the same city, we talked to each other almost every day. We didn't keep many secrets from each other, so when Bradley Richardson, a "pale face" with sparking green eyes and deep brown hair finally took notice of her, she called me right away to give me all the details.

"We were officially dating when I came to visit." She made her way to the window and watched the rain. "He was supposed to come to La Push for a few days to meet my favorite cousin and her amazing boyfriend. He's just a memory now. I'm sure you can imagine how that conversation went.

"The night the imprinting happened was one of the worse nights of my life, even more agonizing than my accident," she continued. "I was excited about meeting the man who swept you off your feet. As soon as I saw him, I felt my heart pull toward his. It was like this invisible, unbreakable chain that forever linked us. Visions of the two of us having a family and growing old flashed before my eyes and my insides turned warm and mushy. When I saw him, I knew he would always keep me safe." She hastily wiped away a few tears and looked up at me. "Then I saw your face, and thought, 'What the hell am I doing?' I tried my best to avoid looking or talking to him, but it was hard with him watching my every move."

"I knew something was different by the way you were looking at each other." I moved to the other side of the window. "But I told myself that I was just imagining things. There was no way that you would do that to me."

"I didn't steal him." She stared at me, pleading for my understanding. "Just so you know I fought it as hard as I could." Her arms snapped across her chest. "There were things I wanted to do, too. I was accepted to the University of Miami on a full scholarship."

"You were going to leave Washington?" I shouldn't have been surprised. She was never a fan of the cold, rainy weather in Washington State.

"Yes."

"You never mentioned that to me." I leaned against the wall.

"I was going to tell you after meeting Sam," she grumbled, making her way back to the couch. "Don't get me wrong, I love Sam. But there were things I wanted to do without being attached to anyone."

"Like go to college in Florida," I answered following her to the couch.

"Exactly," she exclaimed, smiling lightly. "I wanted to go to wild parties, kiss a bunch of boys, and visit exotic places; do all the fun stuff you're supposed to do when you're young and single." Her smile slowly dropped. "Now my life is all planned out for me."

I'd never thought about like that. Imprinting had always sounded like a fairytale, finding your long lost love and living happily ever after.

"You can still go to college," I added.

"Yeah, but Sam would have a heart attack if I went to a keg party." She had a point. Sam was always a little over protective and even more so since he imprinted. "I sound really selfish, huh? I have the nerve to wreck your life and I'm complaining about mine."

I didn't know what to say to that.

"The day this…" Emily pointed to the right side of her face. "…happened, Sam and I were arguing. We had agreed to meet someplace we could talk without interruptions. He had spoken with the Tribe Elders. They explained the whole imprinting process and that we were forbidden to talk about it." Emily rolled her eyes and huffed.

"I told Sam that I had to tell you everything. I had to tell you this so you would understand that I didn't want this to happen. He said that it was against the pack law. I stepped right up to his face and reminded him that I wasn't a wolf and didn't have to obey the pack command. I was going to tell you everything and that was the end of it. Before I knew what was happening Sam was a wolf and I felt sharp claws pierce my right side."

"You were arguing about me and that's how Sam lost his temper?" I looked at her with wide eyes.

"Yep," she answered with a nod. "I knew he told you because you never came to visit me in the hospital."

"Oh, I came to visit." I laughed without humor. "I waited by your bed for to you wake up."

The waiting room was packed with my family members, some I hadn't seen in years. Emily's mother and my mother were huddled together, sobbing into tissues. My father's arm circled them both in an effort to comfort.

Sam was standing in the corner looking like his heart had been ripped out of his chest.

"Hey Sam." I approached him and buried my face in his chest. "If she's not okay…" My own tears got the better of me. Even in my distraught state, I noticed that Sam was slow in comforting me, as if he didn't want to. I looked up at him and he greeted me with a false smile before looking away.

"She'll be fine," he said softly and patted my back. "I know she will."

"Thank God you were there," I said as I reached to grab a tissue.

"Yep." His answer was short, stinging like ice water through my veins. Things between Sam and I had been strained. He was always leaving all hours of the night, doing God only knows what or who. I knew he was hiding something from me, although I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

"Leah," my mother called. "Do you want to sit with Emily for a while? I think she would like to know you were there."

"Of course." I followed the nurse down to Emily's room. Doctors and nurses skirted by, racing toward some other emergency. I was nervous as to what I might see when I walked in. They said a bear came out of nowhere and attacked her, maybe because of the perfume she was wearing, which didn't make sense because she never wore it.

"Here we are," the nurse said quietly. "She's still sedated and she'll have a large amount of scarring, but she'll survive."

"Thanks," I said and slowly entered the room. My footsteps sounded like maracas and I cursed my decision to wear boots.

Emily was lying down on her left side. White bandages with dabs of blood covered her right. She looked so beautiful, her eyes closed in peaceful slumber, her raven black hair pulled back in a braid.

I took soft tentative steps toward her and gently kissed the part of her forehead that wasn't covered with bandages. Then I sat down on the chair next to her bed.

Her hospital room had flowers, but not many. Emily didn't like flowers unless they were outside in a garden or at the very least inside a pot. The few that graced her room were in pots, sure to be planted as soon as she was well enough. There were quite a few "Get well!" balloons and stuff animals, also.

I didn't know what to do so I just started talking about unimportant things like the fact that I was running longer and faster without getting winded and how my body seemed to be going through strange changes. Eventually I ran out of things to say, so I just sat there flipping through a magazine.

"Sam," Emily whispered.

I sat up straight and looked at Emily. She was still out so I went back to my magazine.

"Sam," she said again. "I need you."

My heart dropped and the magazine followed, landing with a thud on the tile. My mind placed the pieces together and I didn't like the picture it created. There was something going on between Sam and Emily.

The answers revealed themselves. The reason he found Emily first was because he was with Emily. Were they on some kind of date? How long had they been sneaking around? Why would Emily do this to me?

No!

I rushed out to the waiting room and saw Sam sitting next to one of the soda machines. When he looked at me, his eyes were swollen from crying.

"We need to talk," I said sternly.

"Not now, Leah," he said with a sigh.

"Yes!" I exclaimed, pulling on the sleeve of his shirt. "Now!"

Sam ran a hand over his hair a few times then rose and followed me outside. He leaned against the wall with his hands in his pockets and eyes to the street.

"Is there something you want to tell me?" I asked in a calm voice that surprised me considering the amount of rage that was boiling my blood.

"What do you mean?" he answered evasively and he still wouldn't look at me.

"Sam!" I moved in his line of sight. "You know what I'm talking about. Is there something going on between you and Emily?"

He turned away from me again, this time facing the wall.

"Look at me!" I shouted stomping my foot. He turned around at my outburst with a face filled with despair.

"I'm sorry, Leah," he said solemnly. "We were going to tell you and then this happened."

"You were going to tell me what?" I asked the question but I already knew the answer.

"Emily and I," he started then sighed. "We're in love. I'm sorry, Leah. I hope one day you will understand. I never meant to hurt you; it just happened."

"What?!" I shouted. This had to be a bad joke, or some horrible nightmare. "What are you saying? You don't love me anymore?"

He breathed out slowly and for the first time his eyes made contact with mine. "No, I don't."

His words were like daggers, viciously ripping my heart to shreds. I couldn't breathe; I couldn't think.

"How? Why?" I fought for some sort of understanding. "Did I do something?"

"No, I'm just not in love with you anymore. It's time we move on."

He walked away from me, heading back inside to wait for word on his new love. After what seemed like hours I stumbled back into Emily's hospital room, and found Sam sitting by her bed, holding her hand. He gave me an apologetic look which I returned with a look of contempt and grabbed my things and got the hell out of there.

"I cried so hard that night and every night after that for weeks." Emily was shivering a little, so I threw another log in the fire. "What made it worse was that everyone was so, 'Get over it, Leah!' or 'Move on!' My world was falling apart and I was just expected to suck it up." I stared at the flames as they hungrily swallowed up the wood. I brushed my hands together to wipe off the dirt from the wood and stood up. "A few weeks before Dad died he told me that things were going to change and that I had to be strong. He also said that one day I would understand and to keep stepping back so I could see the bigger picture."

"I wanted to be there for you when Uncle Harry died." Emily pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "I wanted to be there for everything, but you wouldn't answer my calls. You wouldn't even look at me let alone talk to me. When Sam told me that you were part of the pack, I thought, maybe I could get my best friend back."

"Knowing doesn't mend my broken heart, Emily." I plopped down on the couch next to her.

"I know that, but I just hoped, maybe…" she trailed off. "Sometimes I wish I'd never met him. Then I'd still have you as my friend."

I missed her, too. "Well at least you've found love," I answered with a smile. "Women all over the world spend their entire lives looking for it and you have it."

"Yeah, but at what cost?" Her brown eyes saddened. "Things weren't always easy. We fought a lot at first."

"Really?" I raised an eyebrow. "I thought every thing was a fairytale when you imprint."

"All couples have problems." Emily shrugged bringing the blanket to her chin. "I was so angry at first but I couldn't control my feelings. I loved him and I hated him. But this brought us together." She touched the raised scars on her right cheek. "He felt so ashamed and promised that he would always take care of me. So many nights I cried at what I'd lost. I felt so ugly on the outside because of happened to me and on the inside for what I did to you."

I listened intently, pulling my feet under me.

"But Sam always stuck with me." Her eyes glistened with tears. "Some days I couldn't get out of bed, but he told me everyday how much he loved me and how beautiful I was. He's a real good man, even though he doesn't always see it."

"Yeah, Sam's always been strong." I nodded. "He had to be with his father abandoning him and his mother. He's a great Alpha."

"You still love him, don't you?" she asked carefully.

"Yes, I do." I smiled weakly. "He was my first love, my first kiss, my first time, my first heartache. He'll always have a special place in my heart." There was a familiar ache behind my eyes.

"Leah, I really am sorry." Emily placed a hand on my shoulder and I didn't shake away. "If it had been someone else to do this to you, I'd be by your side ready to kick her ass."

I laughed lightly and waved at her. "I'm fine, now."

I could feel her staring at me. "No you aren't," Emily said, and scooted closer. Boldly, she wrapped her arms around me the way she used to whenever I was upset. It was the one thing I needed and didn't get from anyone. The walls I built around my heart trembled and crashed to the ground.

The tears started slowly, falling silently in steady rivulets down my cheeks and landing on her shoulder. She rubbed my back as tremors shook my body. The emotions that I buried were free, ripping at the loose stitching holding my heart together. All of it was coming to the surface. The pain of losing my father, Sam leaving me, realizing that I may not be able to have children, finding out I phased into a wolf, everything.

I hadn't realized how alone I had felt until I'd finally let go. There was no one I could talk to. I couldn't go to my mother, not in the state she was in. My closest friend was being comforted by my ex-boyfriend, so I was all alone.

"Shh! It's okay," she whispered, tenderly running her fingers through my hair. "Everything will be okay." She rested her cheek on my head as the flood gates opened. I began to cry openly, holding on to her as my body convulsed uncontrollably. She stayed with me the whole time, being the supportive best friend that I remembered.

Once the last rush of hiccups passed, I looked up at her. She smiled at me as tears rested in her eyes. She got up to grab a box of tissues and handed me a few.

"How long have you been holding that in?" She smiled as she wiped at her eyes.

"Too long, I guess." I blew my nose.

An uncomfortable silence followed.

"So," Emily said with a sniffle. "You got anything to eat around here?"

~*sSs*~

The rain continued to batter the roof as Emily and I stood in my tiny kitchen. Emily had one arm wrapped around her stomach, the other holding a cell phone to her ear as she leaned against the counter. The delicious aroma of creamy potato soup filled my little kitchen as stood in front of the stove, warming it up.

"No, Sam," she said in the phone. "It's raining pretty hard here, so I'm going to stay the night."

My wolf ears picked up the urgency in his voice. He'd just asked her who this "friend" was.

"I've known her for years, Sam," she said and gave me a slow smile. "Believe me, honey. I'm as safe here as I would be on La Push."

I smiled back at her and looked down at the creamy soup. It made me proud that she felt safe with me, even though a few hours before I wanted to rip her hair out. Sam then told her that he was coming to pick her up.

"No you will not!" she exclaimed placing a hand on her hip. She'd originally told him she was going home and would be back that night, which was a lie since she brought a small knapsack with her. "We talked about this! You have to trust that I'm okay. We can't be together 24/7."

He sighed in defeat but agreed. As I walked to the other side of the kitchen to grab some bowls, I heard Sam ask if she'd heard from me.

The bowls clanged in my hands and I struggled to hold onto them. She gave me a reassuring smile and put her finger to her lips to silence me.

"No, honey," she said and winked at me. "But I'm sure she's fine. She'll come home when she's ready."

I breathed a sigh of relief and set the bowls on the counter before I broke them. While she finished her conversation, I poured the hot soup it into the bowls. Steam rolled off the white chunks of creamy goodness as I stirred it around.

"Careful." I cautiously handed her the bowl. "It's hot."

"Thanks, Leah." She smiled at me and headed toward the couch.

"No problem." I followed her, taking a seat next to her.

"This is Aunt Sue's recipe, right?" Emily asked, after taking a bite.

I simply nodded since my mouth was full.

"I love this soup," Emily said, dreamily. "Every time I came over she would make potato soup just for me." She hummed as she took another bite.

We sat in silence while we ate. The sounds of the rain outside and the crackle of the fire inside mingled together.

"You want some more?" I asked as I started to rise to refill my empty bowl.

"No." She giggled. "I didn't inhale mine. You're just like the boys, you know that?"

"Shut up!" I laughed with her and headed to the kitchen to make myself another helping.

"Speaking of them, I wanted to talk to you about something," she said slowly. She blew at the steam rising from a chunk of potato before placing it into her mouth.

"Hmm?" I answered, taking a seat next her with my soup in hand.

"A few nights ago, Embry came over after patrolling a little down," Emily said. Her spoon lightly clanged against the bowl as she searched for another piece.

"Yeah?" I suddenly felt the need to swallow as much soup as possible.

"Yep." Her answer was short. The kind a mother gives to her child when she's about the scold her. "When I asked if he was okay, he said he was fine and that he wasn't hungry. That's when I knew something was wrong. Ya'll are always hungry." She was still cautiously eyeing me.

"Hmm," I replied and tried not to wince at the hot soup trailing down my esophagus.

"When I asked Quil what happened, he told me that you were picking on him about who his father might be."

Swallowing the last bit of food, I looked down at my empty bowl and groaned.

"You want some more soup?" I asked in an effort change the subject. She held her half empty bowl of soup up to show me she hadn't finished.

"What was that about, Leah?" Emily asked, not digressing from the subject. "That's not like you, at all."

"Look, I told him I was sorry." I got up to put my bowl in the sink. "I was just angry, and well, it was sort of his fault."

"Leah," Emily sighed. "That was pretty low, don't you think?" Her voice held every bit of disappointment that I felt whenever I thought about what I did. "How was it his fault?"

"It's not important." I slammed the bowl in the sink, almost breaking it. "Besides, you sound like you already made up your mind."

"Geez, Leah, why are you always so defensive?" Emily continued picking at her soup. "Just tell me what happened."

When I looked over at Emily, she patted the seat next to her. My feet felt like rocks had settled into them but I dragged them to the couch.

Like always, the pack met at sunset in a clearing for the shift change, a mile or so from the beach. Everyone was restless, wanting to get out there and rip the heads off some leeches, so it was a big relief when Jacob finally showed up.

"Finally," Paul said as his face contorted into an overly dramatic expression. "Is the leech lover making you cry again?"

"Bite me," Jacob countered and took a seat.

"Listen up!" Sam clapped his hands to get everyone's attention. "Earlier today, Jared scented the leech near the treaty line again. Jared, Paul, and I will go and patrol there." He looked over at Jacob. "Jake, I want you and Quil to stay near Bella's place. She may be with the Cullen's, but Charlie's there and we need to keep him safe." Jacob nodded and rose to his feet. Sam's eyes scanned the rest of us, conveniently looking over me. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room. "The rest of you will stay here and patrol our land."

"Sam," I interjected. "Maybe I should go to the treaty line, too. I'm pretty fast; I might be able to catch-"

Sam raised his hand up. "Absolutely not." He rarely looked at me anymore, but whenever he did, his face was stone cold. "I have who I need with me."

"But maybe-" I began again.

"Alright, let's go," Sam shouted cutting me off altogether. As everyone scattered into the woods, I trudged behind a tree, stripped and phased.

It was always boring patrolling La Push since we found out that the leech only wanted Bella and only came on our land when she scented her. Bella was at the Cullens', so the chances of the vamp visiting us were slim. I huffed and disappeared in the forest.

I was making my second circuit through the woods when I saw a flash of bright red blowing in the breeze. I crouched down to my stomach to get a closer look. I breathed in deep to catch the sweet scent of vampire, but all I smelled was the forest. However, I was convinced it was her, even though my senses told me it was nothing.

It occurred to me that I should probably call out for help. I had never taken down a vampire before. It took five of them to take down that other vamp, so what made me think I could take this one out by myself? All I can say is that the need to prove myself took precedence over my judgment. If I could do it alone, maybe Sam and the rest of the pack would take me seriously. My mind was made up. On the count of three, I was going to charge at the leech. If I needed help, I would call for it, but I needed to do this on my own. I scooted a little closer, keeping my nose to ground.

1…2…3! I jumped up with all my might, growling ferociously.

As I came down, I realized that what I thought was a vampire was a tree, holding the remnants of a popped, red balloon. Unable to hold my weight, the tree collapsed under me and we both fell into a small ditch filled with muddy water.

The strip of red floated harmlessly beside me and I sat there feeling like a complete idiot. Of course it wasn't a vampire. Vampires smelled like cotton candy mixed with maple syrup.

I looked down at the mess I'd made of myself. There was dirt and grime in my fur, my ears, underneath my claws, even some in my mouth. It took a little bit of effort to climb out of that ditch and in the process I dirtied myself further. My gray coat had splotches of mud that was already starting to dry. After making sure there was no immediate danger from the other wolves, I decided to head down to the beach.

Hiding behind a large tree, I peeked to make sure the beach was empty. Just as I had hoped, the chilly weather kept everyone away. I quickly phased back to human and hurried into the water.

Yes, I was naked. Yes, it was probably against the law to skinny dip on a public beach, but I needed to get that mud off me. The water was cold, but refreshing as it hit my warm skin. I swam through the waves into a small indent under the cliff where I wasn't in plain sight. As I sat there in the shallow part of the water, I looked up at the sky.

The clouds parted enough to allow the full moon to shine down. They always said it was a myth that werewolves were ruled by the moon, but I had my doubts. Needing to get a closer look, I climbed up on one of the cliffs. The water, darkened by the night, crashed against the rocks below as my legs dangled over the edge.

The moon looked so beautiful floating in the velvet sky. The glowing light seemed to soothe the restlessness of my wolf. I closed my eyes and let the light wash over me. It was the most peace I'd felt since my world fell apart. The clouds loomed but kept their distance. Maybe they were entranced, too.

A howl rang out in the night, breaking my trance. It was then that I realized that I had been sitting up there too long. I got up quickly, phased, and ran toward our meeting place.

For the most part, the cool weather dried the water from my skin as I ran through the woods. I shifted back in my human form, got dressed, and walked into the clearing. All conversation suddenly stopped and I assumed it was because I was the one who was late. Then I took a look around. Most of my pack brothers were smirking and I swear Paul winked at me. As I took a seat on the ground, I looked over at Seth who was mortified. I hadn't seen him that embarrassed since the time he went cliff diving and lost his swim trunks. Jacob was leaning against a tree, his eyes staring at a broken twig on the ground, clearly avoiding mine.

"Okay, what the…" I began, until I heard Sam barreling out of the forest with his nostrils flaring and fists bunched up. He was apparently pissed at me. I swallowed nervously and got back on my feet as he stomped over.

"What the hell were you thinking, Leah?" he shouted so loud, my highly sensitive ears rang. I had never seen him so angry. "You went against a direct order!"

"Sam?" I asked in a low voice. My mortification reached astronomical heights. It's one thing to get in trouble, but to be reprimanded in front of everyone was beyond humiliating. "What are you talking about? I did what you said."

"I didn't tell you to go frolicking in the water!" He pointed his finger in my face, nearly touching my nose. "Do you think this is a game, Leah? Someone could have been killed while you were out enjoying yourself!"

A few snickers behind me were stifled by a death stare from Sam. Slowly, but surely, I realized what happened. Someone had seen me at the beach. I looked around to find the guilty culprit sitting between Quil and Jared. Embry shifted uncomfortably while looking at his fingers as a light pink blush collected in his cheeks. His eyes lifted and widened when he saw me and then lowered back down.

It dawned on me that not only did he see me swimming naked at the beach, he'd been thinking about it over and over again, so anyone who missed the premiere had a chance to see the repeat performances. That would explain the light shade of green on Seth's face.

Being what we were didn't allow us to be modest, so I wasn't that upset about being naked in front of them. We'd all seen each other one time or another. The thing that hurt like a mother was the fact that everyone in my pack now thought I wasn't taking any of this seriously.

"Sam, I thought I saw something." He grabbed my arm, roughly jerking me toward him.

"Where? On the ocean floor?" His rage fed the fire that burned in his eyes. "You phased back and no one knew where you were. You could have been seriously hurt or killed. Vampire venom is deadly to us whether we're in wolf form or not."

"I know that, Sam." I yanked my arm out of his grasp, not hiding my irritation. "I'm not an idiot."

"Are you sure?" he retorted, harshly. A collective "ohh" was uttered from our wolf audience. "Go home! We need people who are going to be part of the solution, not the problem."

"But Sam…" I pleaded, but he stuck his chin out and pointed back toward La Push. As everyone dispersed, Embry tentatively approached me.

"I'm really sorry, Leah," he said, his voice filled with remorse. "I thought you were in trouble. You were rambling something about taking down the vamp and I was just looking out for you. I didn't mean to-"

"Didn't mean to what?" I interrupted angrily, perching my hands on my hips. "You didn't mean to spy on me like some kind of pervert, or you didn't mean to get me in trouble?"

"I heard you talking to yourself," he rambled on. "And since I was the closest I went to check it out and then your voice disappeared. I had no idea you would be on the beach er…um…swimming."

"So you just stayed for the show, huh?" I crossed my arms defensively. "Thanks for that, Embry. Like my life doesn't suck enough without the pack thinking I'm a liability. Just mind your own business and stay the hell out of mine!" I stormed off.

The next night after I phased, I saw it in full color. Paul was playing my little romp on the beach like a movie trailer for Quileute Girls Gone Wild.

Hey Leah, I heard Paul's snarky voice in my head. You need any help with those hard to reach places? Laughter ensued all around.

Go fuck yourself! I answered back.

Leah! Stop fooling around! Sam shouted at me. At that point, I'd had enough of 'Dump on Leah' day. If these assholes thought they were going to keep bullying me, then they were in for a surprise. I'm Leah fucking Clearwater and I don't take shit from anyone!

My first target was Sam. I started thinking about the day he broke my heart so he could have a life with my cousin. Then I thought about the nights I stayed up crying, hoping it was a bad dream. The visions only fueled my anger.

The conversation and snickers stopped, even Paul shut his mouth. Since I'd gotten everyone's attention, I hit the pack with something they were all trying desperately to avoid. Embry was someone's long lost brother. Apparently, his mother told him that his father was a member of the Makah tribe, but obviously that wasn't true since the wolf gene only existed within the Quileute tribe. As if I wasn't being mean enough, I poured salt into an already sore wound.

I wonder which one of your fathers cheated to bring Embry into the pack? I thought maliciously.

For the rest of the night there were no more talks about my swim at the beach or Embry's father. My satisfaction was short lived, though. After we changed back for the night, I got a good look at damage I'd done. Most of the pack was quiet, giving me scornful looks, which I ignored. However, Embry's expression was enough to deflate my joy. We made eye contact once and what I saw broke my heart. He was so sad, on the verge of tears.

Jacob's expression only added to the guilt. He was so disappointed. I realized that in my effort to become part of the pack, I'd just put myself two steps back.

When Seth and I walked home, I could tell he was upset by the way he was kicking rocks around.

"So you hate me too, huh?" I asked, following him slowly.

"No, I don't hate you." He stopped walking and but wouldn't look at me. "I just wish…"

"What?" I moved in front of him and started defending my actions. "Sam had that coming. I'm sick of hearing about how much he loves her and how much he hates me. And Embry shouldn't have been following me."

"Damn it, Leah!" He kicked one of the rocks so hard that it sailed into air, barely missing the window of a house. "I'm sorry that Sam left you for Emily, we all are, but it's not our fault. I'm sorry that you have to hear him think about her, and all that crap, but it's not our fault. I just wish you would stop blaming him and making the rest of us suffer."

I stared shamefully at the ground and started kicking my own set rocks around.

"It wasn't right what Embry did, but he didn't mean any harm," he continued. "But what you did was heartless. Maybe you are the soulless bitter harpy they think you are." He stormed off, kicking at more rocks on his way.

Not that I wanted to admit it, but Seth was absolutely right. I was taking what happened to me out on everyone else and Embry had gotten the brunt of it. When did my little brother become the mature sibling?

If I'd thought that the pack hated me before, they certainly loathed me now. Of course I pretended like it didn't bother me. I'd even heard a few of them calling me a "bitter harpy". Sam was colder than ever to me and that's when I decided to leave.

"I apologized to Embry," I said, fiddling with my fingers. "I was so angry about so many things and I took it all out on him."

"I'm glad you fixed things with Embry." Emily shifted beside me. "You know his mother doesn't even know about any of this, not even the fact that he knows about his father."

"Yeah, he's always getting in trouble for being out late." I crossed my legs on the coffee table in front of us. "His mother's threatened to send him to military school if he didn't shape up."

"The pack will get past it." Emily smiled. "Before you know it, they'll be betting on who can eat the most hot dogs or something silly like that."

"Not Sam." I shook my head adamantly. "It's worse than ever with him. He doesn't even acknowledge me anymore. How can someone who used to tell me he loved me, hate me so much?"

"Sam doesn't hate you, Leah." She reached over and grabbed my arm. "I think I know when that happened."

"Yeah?"

"Sam was moody a few nights ago. After the boys left, he started mumbling nonsense, throwing his fists around, having an all out tantrum." Emily leaned forward and placed her empty bowl on the coffee table. "When I asked him what was wrong, he said your name. Then he stripped and ran into the woods. I didn't see him until the next day. He still wouldn't tell me what was bothering him."

"That's why I can't go back, Emily," I said urgently. "You have no idea what it's like being around people who don't want you there. He treats me like some kid he got stuck babysitting."

"You know what I think?" Emily began twisting a lock of hair between her fingers. "You scared him."

"What?" I answered incredulously. "Shut up!"

"No listen," she insisted, sitting up straighter. "You scared him. He thought something happened to you. He had this strange look on his face when he came over that night. I've seen it many times. When Sam and I first started dating, he would get anxious if I didn't tell him where I was. That's the look he would give me when he saw me again."

"Seriously?" I raised an eyebrow.

"You're part of the pack, Leah, and he's the Alpha. He worries about all of you at one time or another." Her eyes drifted down to the scar on her hand, then slowly met mine. "But he still cares about you. He feels really guilty about what happened between you two and I don't think he knows how to deal with it."

"Wow, Emmie," I said, and watched her smile when I used my nickname for her. "That's a nice theory, but I think you might be stretching things."

"I will say this. He doesn't want you part of the pack." Before I could respond, she continued. "He doesn't want you to be a wolf, because you've been through so much already. Of course he says Seth's name more to try and hide his thoughts, but I knew he means you."

"I find that hard to believe," I answered doubtfully.

Emily stared at me for a moment, her mouth twisting curiously, the wheels in her head churning. She smiled mischievously and said, "How about I make you a deal."

"I'm listening," I said, curiously.

"Come back to La Push," she said, and held up a hand when I started to groan. "Just listen. Come back and help us take down the vampire army, and if you're still miserable, I'll help you find a way out of Sam's head."

I looked at her like she had two heads. "You'd do that? You'd go against Sam for me?"

"I will do what I can to make things right between us." She reached forward to grab my hands. "Listen, Leah. I'm not naïve. I know it won't be the same between us and that truly makes me sad. But your happiness is important to me. I want you to be able to move on and find love. You're not going to be able to do it being this bitter. I want the old Leah, the one that used to make the boys drool and the girls jealous."

I stared down at our clasped hands and started to rub hers when I realized how cold they were.

Freedom! True freedom, I thought. Is she kidding?

I started to ask if it was some sort of joke, but then looked into her brown eyes. She was dead serious.

"What do you say?" she asked eagerly.

"Okay," I mumbled.

She shrieked and hugged my neck with more strength than I thought she ever had. "And you don't have to be in my wedding if you don't want to."

"Nah, Emmie," I said, hugging her back. "A promise is a promise."

~*sSs*~

"Leah," Emily said as she switched the light off in the bathroom and joined me on the bed. "Did you know that Jake's supposed to Alpha?"

"What?" I glanced at her as she made her way to the bed.

"Yep." Emily nodded, pulling back the covers. "Sam's only Alpha because he phased first. He's approached Jacob a couple times about taking over, but he's always turned it down. Sam's convinced he'll change his mind, so he's holding the spot for him."

I wasn't sure how, but I had a feeling that information would be useful.

"Oh my God," Emily suddenly blurted out. "Do you remember that summer I came to visit and Jake got his head stuck between the bars of the stairs at the Historical Museum?"

"Ha!" I slapped my leg and threw my head back in laughter. "Yeah, he looked like a prisoner on display for the whole town to see."

"How'd he get his head in there?" She was crying again from laughing so hard.

"Who knows?" I threw my hands up helplessly through giggles. "My guess, it was some stupid bet between him, Quil, and, Embry. They had to cut the bars to get his head out. Billy was pissed!"

"I'm sure he was. The great grandson of a Quileute chief had his head stuck between the railing at the Quileute museum. That probably didn't leave a great impression for the future generation."

God, I'd forgotten how much fun Emily was to hang out with. We talked pretty much the whole night, catching up on everything. It was like the sleepovers we used to have where Mom had to come in and force us to go to bed.

The next day, Emily followed me to the car rental place to drop off my car, and then she drove me back to La Push. The ride home was just as boisterous as the night before. We talked like we had never been separated. Realty hit us like a freight train as soon as we crossed over the Quileute border.

We'd dropped my things off at my house, which was empty since Mom was at work, and headed over to Sam's place. The pack often met there when Emily wasn't home.

She pulled up in front of his cottage and put the car in park. We sat in the truck, listening to the pack's lollygagging and laughter after a long night of patrolling. It was bittersweet, for a night I had my dearest friend back.

"Here we are," she said quietly.

"Yep," I answered and stared up at the house. I looked over at her and saw that tears were already pooling in her eyes. "Oh, Emmie, don't cry." I reached over and wrapped my arm around my shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Leah," she said with a sniffle and leaned her head on my shoulder. "Things are going to back the way they were, aren't they?" A few tears spilled down her cheeks.

I sighed heavily and fought my own tears. "Maybe one day we can be close again. But honestly, right now, I just need to get away from any reminders of him. Unfortunately, hanging out with you makes me think about what I lost."

"I understand," she said and sat up. "I can't blame you for needing time but know that I'm always here if you need me. I meant what I said last night, Leah. We'll find a way."

"That means a lot." I reached over and hugged her again. Then we reluctantly made our way to the front door.

"Ready?" she asked, brushing stray tears away.

I simply nodded and she knocked on the door. Heavy footfalls pounded through the commotion inside.

The door whined and Sam stood in the threshold. "Hey, baby," he said, sweetly and my heart strings pulled a little. He leaned down to kiss her and his forehead scrunched in concern. "Honey, are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Sam." Her arms wrapped around his waist and she leaned against his chest. "I just missed you."

"I missed you too, honey," he said, tightening his grip. His head popped up when he realized she wasn't alone.

"Hey, Sam," I said with a smirk. Sam's mouth dropped open and then he looked at Emily like she'd brought him some long lost artifact. She shrugged innocently.

"Leah, you're back," his normally prominent baritone faltered. "You came back."

"Yep," I said.

Emily, still locked in his embrace, nudged in him the ribs. "I…uh…want to apologize for being so hard you." Then she nudged a little harder and he looked down at her lovingly. "Okay, Okay, honey I know." He looked back at me. "I promise to start treating you like a true member of the pack from now on, okay?"

"'Kay," I said with a nonchalant shrug. "And I'm sorry for being such a bitch. I'll do my best to keep that in check."

His arm lifted hesitantly, maybe to hug me or shake my hand, then dropped. I stuffed my hands in my pockets, balling in them nervously into fists.

"So," I said, needing to break the tension. "What do I have to do to get some food around here?" I stepped inside to see the pack gathered in the small room. "Hello, boys."

My brother and Jacob were sitting next to each other, dwarfing the couch with their big bodies. Seth smiled at me and Jacob nodded approvingly.

"It's about time you came back, Clearwater." Jared leaned back in his chair. "You showed up just in time. Quil just bet Embry that he could eat more hotdogs than him and we need another judge."

Emily gave me an I-told-you-so look and I rolled my eyes. I made my way to the dining room table, stopping by the counter to grab a muffin. Paul started the countdown and Embry and Quil began shoveling the meat in their mouths.

It was a great feeling being part of the pack again.

Emily was beaming, standing in Sam's arms. When she caught my eye, she winked at me and I winked back. Sam's eyes shifted between the two of us, as his brows furrowed in confusion. I couldn't help but laugh.

A weird emotion came over me as I watched Quil and Embry eat themselves into a stupor. It was a peaceful feeling, much like the full moon that night at the cliffs. The wolf inside seemed to settle and I knew I was on the road to freedom.


A/N: As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.