AN: I'm sorry for the delay in updating. I've actually been writing- a lot- but I was stuck on this chapter for some reason. Hopefully I'm over the hump and this story will update more frequently.

Thank you to everyone who voted for me in the Fandom Choice awards! I won in 5 different categories, including 2 for Objects in Mirror.

Disclaimer- I own nothing but the story line. Characters all belong to Stephenie Meyer, and I sure as hell ain't her!

Into the Woods- Chapter 19

"Are you sure you want to do this now? Charlie is driving to Seattle to pick up your mother- isn't there anything we should be doing to get ready for her?" Sam tried once more to dissuade his mate from her plans for the day. Going head to head with the chief of the tribe was not high on his agenda.

Bella, however, was quite adamant. She had assembled the pack the night before, with Sam's reluctant assistance, and asked them what they thought about the need for secrecy. It was unanimously agreed that Quil, and any other boys who might begin to show symptoms of phasing, should be told what to expect.

Embry grimaced with pain when he described Quil's anger and disappointment as his best friend ran away from him. They knew he felt betrayed by those closest to him, and just like Jacob, that could lead to tension when he did finally join the pack.

It took almost a full day for Jacob to gain control of his wolf, and he was still uncomfortable being phased at the same time as Sam. The last thing their strained group needed was more strife, so the alpha took care to keep his distance.

"I'm going down there, with or without you, Sammy. I respect Billy, but he's dead wrong here. And I won't let him put this pack at risk anymore than it already is. We don't need further tensions, and he's already pissed off his own son," she repeated her previous arguments with passion, and Sam couldn't help but admire how far his little mate had come in the past few months. He was proud of the way she cared for their pack.

Embry drove over to the Blacks' house with Sam and Bella, both wolves feeling the need to stay close and keep her protected. The rest of the pack met them in Jake's garage, and they lined up to make their way inside to confront the chief.

Bella led the way- a pale petite mini-alpha surrounded by her wolves. Sam and Jake flanked her on each side, with Embry right behind her. Paul was behind Sam and Jared filled in the last spot behind Jacob, next to Embry. They made a very imposing picture.

Billy showed no outward reaction as they filed into his living room, and only glanced briefly at the wolves before returning his attention to Bella. She seated herself on the couch, and this time Embry and Sam sat on either side of her, with the others standing behind them. It grated on Sam's nerves to have Jacob standing taller than him, but his imprint's safety was his wolf's highest priority at the moment.

"Bella. What brings you here, so heavily guarded," Billy asked, his voice deep and formal as he raised a questioning eyebrow.

Following his lead, Bella sat primly with her hands in her lap, resisting the urge to cling to her mate, knowing that she needed to stand on her own if she was going to be taken seriously. "Chief Black, I have an issue we need to discuss that is affecting the harmony of my pack."

Both eyebrows shot up at her choice of words, and a slight smile appeared on the chief's stoic face. "Your pack, little one? I see. And what is this issue," he asked, though he likely already knew what she came to address.

"Quil Ateara needs to be told what is coming. You know he will phase, and when he does he will not be happy that this was all kept secret from him," Bella spoke calmly as she laid out arguments. "These boys have been running ragged, trying to catch those filthy bloodsuckers, and the only people they have to fall back on are their mates and each other.

"When Jacob phased, it caused tension in the pack, and not just because of his alpha blood. Jacob still feels resentment toward Embry, one of his oldest friends, and you know he is angry about phasing in general," Bella turned her head slightly to catch Jacob's eye. "He feels unnecessary guilt about my involvement with the Cullens, and now he is feeling guilt that he has to abandon Quil as well. Anything we can do to ease the Protectors' burdens is worth doing."

Billy sat quietly through her speech, noticing the way she nervously wrung her hands together, and how Sam gripped his own knees so he wouldn't reach to comfort her. Jacob glared at his father without flinching, only softening his gaze when Bella caught his attention at the end.

Embry looked torn- he truly missed his friend, and he wanted Quil back in his life. But he was never one to rock the boat, and challenging Billy's authority like this was something he wasn't entirely comfortable with.

Paul and Jared were there to support their alpha couple. They were still adjusting to a larger pack, and they missed their mates with the extra duties these vamps had brought them. They just wanted things to settle back to normal.

"Bella, you of all people know the importance of secrecy- and the dangers of exposure. The pack's safety is our priority, and we haven't seen a need to change this position in the past," Billy spoke with the authority born into him, and Bella's shoulders dropped in defeat.

"However, I can see the merit in preparing young Quil. His grandfather has told me the signs he has noticed- aggression, fever, and of course we have all seen how much he has grown," Billy continued, and every eye was locked on his face in surprise. "The elders will meet with him, and Joy as well. You and Sam are welcome to join us if you feel that will help."

The room was completely silent, but when Bella began to stand, the wolves jumped to action. She and Billy exchanged an amused look, and she just shook off the boys as she stepped forward.

Leaning over, she gave Billy a tight hug, not minding that he held on a bit longer than was strictly necessary. He couldn't help himself- he really missed his daughters. "Thank you, Billy. Sam and I would love to be there when you tell him. Can we do it today before my mom gets here? I doubt if I'll have much free time once she arrives," Bella frowned a bit at her words, and the wolves all laughed quietly.

She hadn't made a secret of her worries about Renee's visit. With the wedding looming, and the threat of vampires, Bella was under quite a bit of pressure. Of course, Sam worried about her health, and the baby's, so he growled a bit more than usual. He was growling quietly as he pulled his mate back into his arms and sent the rest of his pack out the door.

Jacob stayed a few moments longer, leaning over to hug his father and whisper to him in Quileute. Bella wasn't sure what he was saying, but his tone was repentant and respectful. She was glad her friend and father were no longer on the outs.

Paul and Jared headed home to find their mates, while Jacob and Embry went out to patrol. They would wait for the all clear, then bring Embry's clothes over to Charlie's house, where he would be staying for the duration of Renee's visit. With the vampires around, Bella didn't want to risk her mother staying in town, and Sam reluctantly agreed.

Quil took the news better than anyone expected, laughing excitedly when Sam phased for him. Joy looked a bit shell-shocked, and she eyed her father-in-law with a mixture of anger and resignation. Bella made a mental note to push her in Charlie's direction; maybe those two could help each other out with the whole pack parent thing.

Quil only made Sam growl once, when he scooped Bella into a tight hug after her tearful apology for lying about the pack. "It's fine, Bells. I knew something was up, and I know you would have told me if you could. I'm just glad I found out now, before I exploded into a giant dog like Sam over there."

Sam had phased and put his shorts on in seconds, but Bella stepped in front of him and put her hand on his chest to stop his furious pursuit. "Baby? Quil's not a wolf yet. I don't think you want to hurt him, do you?"

The alpha just snarled at the impudent boy, only looking down at his mate when she tightened her grip on his arm. "Now that we're through here, I think we need to finish getting the house ready for my mom's visit, right?"

Sam deflated at once, and pulled his imprint into his arms. He glared at Quil over her head, "If you're gonna survive in this pack you better learn your place. I'm the alpha- don't forget it. And don't touch my mate."

Bella shot him an apologetic glance as they made their way out the door, and Quil's light laughter followed them out. Sam knew this would be an irritating transition to say the least. He just hoped the boy would hold off until their wedding was over. He didn't need any added distractions right now.


Sam's ears picked up the sound of Charlie's police cruiser turning onto their road, and he nudged Bella where she had fallen asleep in his lap. They had cleaned house after the meeting at Billy's, and he dragged her over to his chair after supper in hopes that she would get some rest.

The hour passed quickly for Sam, as he kept one hand covering their child, listening to the ever-present heartbeat. That little life growing inside her represented so many things. Bella had come within inches of death so many times while she was with the Cullens. Sam's wolf had found her just in time, and together they had created life instead of taking it.

For the man who thought he was cursed by his ancestors and shunned by the spirits, this child was the clearest blessing they could bestow upon the couple. It went a long way in easing Sam's somewhat fragile ego. But most of all, he had Bella. She loved him and accepted him, and her womb now bore proof of that for all the world to see.

She was still stretching in an attempt to wake up when the car doors slammed outside. "Oh! They're here? Oh, how do I look? Is my hair a mess? Mom is always fussing about my hair. She-"

Sam smoothed her hair back behind her ears and cut off her nervous words with a gentle kiss. "You're beautiful, baby. Now, let's go see what she thinks of me," his eyes gave the only indication to just how worried he was about this meeting. Bella's mother still wasn't thrilled about Sam's last name, though Charlie had promised to talk him up some on the drive here.

Renee blew in the door like a whirlwind. Sam's first impression of his mother-in-law was that she looked remarkably similar to his mate, only with lighter hair and eyes. She was much louder as well.

"Oh, baby girl! Let me look at you!" she crowed as she breezed over to wrap Bella in a tight hug. Bella stumbled a bit when Renee pushed back to hold her at arm's length and looked her up and down with a critical eye, "Well, you must be over your morning sickness- you've definitely filled out more."

Charlie clamped his hand on Sam's arm when the wolf took a step toward the women. He shook his head subtly at Sam's glare, and nodded toward Bella. "She'll handle her. Just watch," he whispered.

"Well, Mom, I am sixteen weeks pregnant, you know. I lost quite a bit at the beginning, and the only thing that's grown so far are my boobs and my belly," she kept her voice even, though Sam could hear the irritation leaking out through her tone. "Here, do you want to feel?"

Renee spent the next few minutes poking and prodding her small baby bump, and- much to Bella's embarrassment- comparing breast sizes with her daughter. When she started asking if Bella's libido had picked up since she entered the second trimester, Charlie cleared his throat and brought her attention back to the men.

She looked a bit startled when she saw Sam standing there, silent and imposing, but Bella walked over and snuggled up to his side to introduce him, "Mom, this is my fiancé, Sam Uley. Sam, this is my mom, Renee Dwyer."

Sam kept one arm tight around Bella's shoulders as Renee approached with her eyes narrowed. She held her hand out for him to shake, and looked him up and down in appraisal. "Yes," she hummed. "I knew your father- didn't we, Charlie?" Renee turned to look at the chief, who was decidedly uncomfortable in the company of his ex-wife. "You look just like he did at your age- although Josh was never this tall. How is your father these days?"

Sam took the insult in stride and pulled his hand back after a brief shake. "I haven't seen him since I was a baby- I have no idea where he is," the alpha admitted, barely controlling his anger at the thought of his so-called father. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Dwyer," he ground the words out through his tightly-clenched teeth, and Bella knew she needed to defuse the situation.

"Baby, why don't you get my dad a beer, and you can watch the game while I get my mom set up in her room, ok?" she leaned up to kiss him softly, chastely, and neither of her parents miss the look of devotion in his eyes as he looked down at his little mate.

He looked at Charlie, and the pile of bags he'd carried in, and asked, "Is that everything?"

Charlie shook his head with a wry grin and nodded toward the car, "Nope, two more out there. I think she packed for a month."

Renee waved off their comments, already moving on to the next topic, "No, I just brought a few things for Bella and the baby. With her due date coming right in the middle of baseball season, I'm not sure if I'll be able to come back up here right away."

"Oh, will Phil still be able to play this spring?" Bella asked as she led her mother to Embry's room, leaving the men to follow with the bags. Renee prattled on about Phil's current knee injury, and how he couldn't spend that long on a plane, and how sorry he was to miss Bella's wedding. Sam had his doubts about that- this was the man who sent his teenage step-daughter to Forks so her mother could travel with him, after all.

When Sam volunteered to fetch the bags from the car, he kept one ear tuned to the conversation inside. "Well, let me have it, Mom. Tell me how disappointed you are, and what a huge mistake I'm making," Bella's voice was tired, and it took everything he had to stay put.

Renee laughed, an oddly childish sound, as if she hadn't a care in the world. Sam could suddenly see why his mate was so mature- her mother never gave her any other choice.

"Oh, Bella. You're not making the same mistakes that Charlie and I did. I'm not saying everything will be easy, but commitment was never an issue for you, sweetie. And from what Charlie tells me, Sam is the same way. You two probably have a better chance of making this work than most forty-year-olds I know," Renee reached for Bella and squeezed her hand. "My little middle-aged child. Luckily, you seem to have found another old soul."*

Outside, Sam snorted at the irony of her statement. He shared his body with an ancient spirit warrior. Renee had no idea just how right she was.

*Quote paraphrased from Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer.