Carlisle and Rosalie were off in a flash, darting upstairs. I could hear them debating whether they should warm it up for her. Ugh. i wondered what all house-of-horrors stuff they kept around here. Fridge full of blood, check. What else? Torture chamber? Coffin room?

Edward stayed, holding Bella's hand. His face was dead again. He didn't seem to have the energy to keep up even that little hint of hope he'd had before. They stared into each other's eyes, but not in a gooey way. It was like they were having a conversation. Kind of reminded me of Sam and Emily.

No, it wasn't gooey, but that only made it harder to watch.

I knew what it was like for Leah, having to see that all the time. Having to hear it in Sam's head. Of course we all felt bad for her, we weren't monsters – in that sense, anyway. But I guess we'd blamed her for how she handled it. Lashing out at everyone, trying to make us all as miserable as she was.

I would never blame her again. How could anyone help spreading this kind of misery around? How could anyone not try to ease some of the burden by shoving a little piece of it off on someone else?

And if it meant that I had to have a pack, how could I blame her for taking my freedom? I would do the same. If there was a way to escape this pain, I'd take it, too.

Rosalie darted downstairs after a second, flying through the room like a sharp breeze, stirring up the burning smell. She stopped inside the kitchen, and I heard the creak of a cupboard door.

"Note ear, Rosalie," Edward murmured. He rolled his eyes.

Bella looked curious, but Edward just shook his head at her.

Rosalie blew back through the room and disappeared again.

"This was your idea?" Bella whispered, her voice rough as she strained to make it loud enough for me to hear. Forgetting that I could hear just fine. I kind of liked how, a lot of the time, she seemed to forget that I wasn't

completely human. I moved closer, so that she wouldn't have to work so hard.

"Don't blame me for this one. Your vampire was just picking snide comments out of my head."

She smiled a little. "I didn't expect to see you again."

"Yeah, me, either," I said.

It felt weird just standing here, but the vampires had shoved all the furniture out of the way for the medical setup. I imagined that it didn't bother them – sitting or standing didn't make much difference when you were stone. Wouldn't bother me much, either, except that I was so exhausted.

"Edward told me what you had to do. I'm sorry."

"S'okay. It was probably only a matter of time till I snapped over something Sam wanted me to do," I lied.

"And Seth," she whispered.

"He's actually happy to help."

"I hate causing you trouble."

I laughed once – more a bark than a laugh.

She breathed a faint sigh. "I guess that's nothing new, is it?"

"No, not really."

"You don't have to stay and watch this," she said, barely mouthing the words.

I could leave. It was probably a good idea. But if I did, with the way she looked right now, I could be missing the last fifteen minutes of her life.

"I don't really have anywhere else to go," I told her, trying to keep the emotion out of my voice. "The wolf thing is a lot less appealing since Leah joined up."

"Leah?" she gasped.

"You didn't tell her?" I asked Edward.

He just shrugged without moving his eyes from her face. I could see it wasn't very exciting news to him, not something worth sharing with the more important events that were going down.

Bella didn't take it so lightly. It looked like it was bad news to her.

"Why?" she breathed.

I didn't want to get into the whole novel-length version. "To keep an eye on Seth."

"But Leah hates us," she whispered.

Us.Nice. I could see that she was afraid, though.

"Leah's not going to bug anyone." But me. "She's in my pack" – I grimaced at the words – "so she follows my lead." Ugh.

Bella didn't look convinced.

"You're scared of Leah, but you're best buds with the psychopath blonde?"

There was a low hiss from the second floor. Cool, she'd heard me.

Bella frowned at me. "Don't. Rose… understands."

"Yeah," i grunted. "She understands that you're gonna die and she doesn't care, s'long as she gets her mutant spawn out of the deal."

"Stop being a jerk, Jacob," she whispered.

She looked too weak to get mad at. I tried to smile instead. "You say that like it's possible."

Bella tried not to smile back for a second, but she couldn't help it in the end; her chalky lips pulled up at the corners.

And then Carlisle and the psycho in question were there. Carlisle had a white plastic cup in his hand  – the kind with a lid and a bendy straw. Oh – not clear,now I got it. Edward didn't want Bella to have to think about what she was doing any more than necessary. You couldn't see what was in the cup at all. But I could smell it.

Carlisle hesitated, the hand with the cup half-extended. Bella eyed it, looking scared again.

"We could try another method," Carlisle said quietly.

"No," Bella whispered. "No,111 try this first. We don't have time…."

At first I thought she'd finally gotten a clue and was worried about herself, but then her hand fluttered feebly against her stomach.

Bellareached out and took the cup from him. Her hand shook a little, and I could hear the sloshing from inside. She tried to prop herself up on one elbow, but she could barely lift her head. A whisper of heat brushed down my spine as I saw how frail she'd gotten in less than a day.

Rosalie put her arm under Bella's shoulders, supporting her head, too, like you did with a newborn. Blondie was all about the babies.

"Thanks," Bella whispered. Her eyes flickered around at us. Still aware enough to feel self-conscious. If she wasn't so drained, I'd bet she'd've blushed.

"Don't mind them," Rosalie murmured.

It made me feel awkward. I should've left when Bella'd offered the chance. I didn't belong here, being part of this. I thought about ducking out, but then I realized a move like that would only make this worse for Bella – make it harder for her to go through with it. She'd figure I was too disgusted to stay. Which was almost true.

Still. While I wasn't going to claim responsibility for this idea, I didn't want to jinx it, either.

Bella lifted the cup to her face and sniffed at the end of the straw. She flinched, and then made a face.

"Bella, sweetheart, we can find an easier way," Edward said, holding his hand out for the cup.

"Plug your nose," Rosalie suggested. She glared at Edward's hand like she might take a snap at it. I wished she would. I bet Edward wouldn't take that sitting down, and I'd love to see Blondie lose a limb.

"No, that's not it. It's just that it – "Bella sucked in a deep breath. "It smells good," she admitted in a tiny voice.

I swallowed hard, fighting to keep the disgust off my face.

"That's a good thing," Rosalie told Bella eagerly. "That means we're on the right track. Give it a try." Given Blondie's new expression, I was surprised she didn't break into a touchdown dance.

Bella shoved the straw between her lips, squeezed her eyes shut, and wrinkled her nose. I could hear the blood

slopping around in the cup again as her hand shook. She sipped at it for a second, and then moaned quietly with her eyes still closed.

Edward and I stepped forward at the same time. He touched her face. I clenched my hands behind my back.

"Bella, love – "

Tm okay," she whispered. She opened her eyes and stared up at him. Her expression was… apologetic. Pleading. Scared. "It tastes good, too."

Acid churned in my stomach, threatening to overflow. I ground my teeth together.

"That's good," Blondie repeated, still jazzed. "A good sign."

Edward just pressed his hand to her cheek, curling his fingers around the shape of her fragile bones.

Bella sighed and put her lips to the straw again. She took a real pull this time. The action wasn't as weak as everything else about her. Like some instinct was taking over.

"How's your stomach? Do you feel nauseated?" Carlisle asked.

Bella shook her head. "No, I don't feel sick," she whispered. "There's a first, eh?"

Rosalie beamed. "Excellent."

"I think it's a bit early for that, Rose," Carlisle murmured.

Bella gulped another mouthful of blood. Then she flashed a look at Edward. "Does this screw my total?" she whispered. "Or do we start counting after I'm a vampire?"

"No one is counting, Bella. In any case, no one died for this." He smiled a lifeless smile. "Your record is still clean."

They'd lost me.

"I'll explain later," Edward said, so low the words were just a breath.

"What?" Bella whispered.

"Just talking to myself," he lied smoothly.

If he succeeded with this, if Bella lived, Edward wasn't going to be able to get away with so much when her senses were as sharp as his. He'd have to work on the honesty thing.

Edward's lips twitched, fighting a smile.

Bella chugged a few more ounces, staring past us toward the window. Probably pretending we weren't here. Or maybe just me. No one else in this group would be disgusted by what she was doing. Just the opposite – they were probably having a tough time not ripping the cup away from her.

Edward rolled his eyes.

Jeez, how did anyone stand living with him? It was really too bad he couldn't hear Bella's thoughts. Then he'd annoy the crap out of her, too, and she'd get tired of him.

Edward chuckled once. Bella's eyes flicked to him immediately, and she half-smiled at the humor in his face. I would guess that wasn't something she'd seen in a while.

"Something funny?" she breathed.

"Jacob," he answered.

She looked over with another weary smile for me. "Jake's a crack-up," she agreed.

Great, now I was the court jester. "Bada bing" I mumbled in weak rim-shot impression.

She smiled again, and then took another swig from the cup. I flinched when the straw pulled at empty air, making a loud sucking sound.

"I did it," she said, sounding pleased. Her voice was clearer – rough, but not a whisper for the first time today. "If I keep this down, Carlisle, will you take the needles out of me?"

"As soon as possible," he promised. "Honestly, they aren't doing that much good where they are."

Rosalie patted Bella's forehead, and they exchanged a hopeful glance.

And anyone could see it – the cup full of human blood had made an immediate difference. Her color was returning – there was a tiny hint of pink in her waxy cheeks. Already she didn't seem to need Rosalie's support so much anymore. Her breathing was easier, and I would swear her heartbeat was stronger, more even.

Everything accelerated.

That ghost of hope in Edward's eyes had turned into the real thing.

"Would you like more?" Rosalie pressed.

Bella's shoulders slumped.

Edward flashed a glare at Rosalie before he spoke to Bella. "You don't have to drink more right away."

"Yeah, I know. But… I want to" she admitted glumly.

Rosalie pulled her thin, sharp fingers through Bella's lank hair. "You don't need to be embarrassed about that, Bella. Your body has cravings. We all understand that." Her tone was soothing at first, but then she added harshly, "Anyone who doesn't understand shouldn't be here."

Meant for me, obviously, but I wasn't going to let Blondie get to me. I was glad Bella felt better. So what if the means grossed me out? It wasn't like I'd said anything.

Carlisle took the cup from Bella's hand. "I'll be right back."

Bella stared at me while he disappeared.

"Jake, you look awful," she croaked.

"Look who's talking."

"Seriously – when's the last time you slept?"

I thought about that for a second. "Huh. I'm not actually sure."

"Aw, Jake. Now I'm messing with your health, too. Don't be stupid."

I gritted my teeth. She was allowed to kill herself for a monster, but I wasn't allowed to miss a few nights' sleep to watch her do it?

"Get some rest, please," she went on. "There're a few beds upstairs – you're welcome to any of them."

The look on Rosalie's face made it clear that I wasn't welcome to one of them. It made me wonder what Sleepless Beauty needed a bed for anyway. Was she that possessive of her props?

"Thanks, Bells, but I'd rather sleep on the ground. Away from the stench, you know."

She grimaced. "Right."

Carlisle was back then, and Bella reached out for the blood, absentminded, like she was thinking of something else. With the same distracted expression, she started sucking it down.

She really was looking better. She pulled herself forward, being careful of the tubes, and scooted into a sitting position. Rosalie hovered, her hands ready to catch Bella if she sagged. But Bella didn't need her. Taking deep breaths in between swallows, Bella finished the second cup quickly.

"How do you feel now?" Carlisle asked.

"Not sick. Sort of hungry… only I'm not sure if I'm hungry or thirsty, you know?"

"Carlisle, just look at her," Rosalie murmured, so smug she should have canary feathers on her lips. "This is obviously what her body wants. She should drink more."

"She's still human, Rosalie. She needs food, too. Let's give her a little while to see how this affects her, and then maybe we can try some food again. Does anything sound particularly good to you, Bella?"

"Eggs," she said immediately, and then she exchanged a look and a smile with Edward. His smile was brittle, but there was more life on his face than before.

I blinked then, and almost forgot how to open my eyes again.

"Jacob," Edward murmured. "You really should sleep. As Bella said, you're certainly welcome to the accommodations here, though you'd probably be more comfortable outside. Don't worry about anything  – I promise 111 find you if there's a need."

"Sure, sure," I mumbled. Now that it appeared Bella had a few more hours, I could escape. Go curl up under a tree somewhere…. Far enough away that the smell couldn't reach me. The bloodsucker would wake me up if something went wrong. He owed me.

"I do," Edward agreed.

I nodded and then put my hand on Bella's. Hers was icy cold.

"Feel better," I said.

"Thanks, Jacob." She turned her hand over and squeezed mine. I felt the thin band of her wedding ring riding loose on her skinny finger.

"Get her a blanket or something," I muttered as I turned for the door.

Before I made it, two howls pierced the still morning air. There was no mistaking the urgency of the tone. No misunderstanding this time.

"Dammit," I snarled, and I threw myself through the door. I hurled my body off the porch, letting the fire rip me apart midair. There was a sharp tearing sound as my shorts shredded. Crap. Those were the only clothes I had. Didn't matter now. I landed on paws and took off toward the west.

What is it?I shouted in my head.

Incoming,Seth answered. At least three.

Did they split up?

I'm running the line back to Seth at the speed of lightLeah promised. I could feel the air huffing through her lungs as she pushed herself to an incredible velocity. The forest whipped around her. So far, no other point of attack.

Seth, donot challenge them. Wait forme.

They're slowing. Ugh – its sooff not being able to hear them. I think…


I think they've stopped.

Waiting for the rest of the pack?

Shh. Feel that?

I absorbed his impressions. The faint, soundless shimmer in the air.

Someone's phasing?

Feels like it,Seth agreed.

Leah flew into the small open space where Seth waited. She raked her claws into the dirt, spinning out like a race car.

Got your back, bro.

They're coming,Seth said nervously. Slow. Walking.

Almost there,I told them. I tried to fly like Leah. It felt horrible being separated from Seth and Leah with potential danger closer to their end than mine. Wrong. I should be with them, between them and whatever was coming.

Look who's getting all paternal,Leah thought wryly.

Head in the game, Leah.

Four,Seth decided. Kid had good ears. Three wolves, one man.

I made the little clearing then, moving immediately to the point. Seth sighed with relief and then straightened up, already in place at my right shoulder. Leah fell in on my left with a little less enthusiasm.

So now I rank under Seth,she grumbled to herself.

First come, first served,Seth thought smugly. 'Sides, you were never an Alpha's Third before. Still an upgrade.

Under my baby brother is not an upgrade.

Shh!I complained. don't care where you stand. Shut up and get ready.

They came into view a few seconds later, walking, as Seth had thought. Jared in the front, human, hands up. Paul and Quil and Collin on four legs behind him. There was no aggression in their postures. They hung back behind Jared, ears up, alert but calm.

But… it was weird that Sam would send Collin rather than Embry. That wasn't what I would do if I were sending a diplomacy party into enemy territory. I wouldn't send a kid. I'd send the experienced fighter.

A diversion?Leah thought.

Were Sam, Embry, and Brady making a move alone? That didn't seem likely.

Want me to check? I can run the line and be back in two minutes.

Should I warn the Cullens?Seth wondered.

What if the point was to divide us?I asked. The Cullens know something's up. They're ready.

Sam wouldn't be so stupid…,Leah whispered, fear jagged in her mind. She was imagining Sam attacking the Cullens with only the two others beside him.

No, he wouldn't,I assured her, though I felt a little sick at the image in her head, too.

All the while, Jared and the three wolves stared at us, waiting. It was eerie not to hear what Quil and Paul and Collin were saying to one another. Their expressions were blank – unreadable.

Jared cleared his throat, and then he nodded to me. "White flag of truce, Jake. We're here to talk."

Think it's true?Seth asked.

Makes sense, but…

Yeah,Leah agreed. But.

We didn't relax.

Jared frowned. "It would be easier to talk if I could hear you, too."

I stared him down. I wasn't going to phase back until I felt better about this situation. Until it made sense. Why Collin? That was the part that had me most worried.

"Okay. I guess I'll just talk, then," Jared said. "Jake, we want you to come back."

Quil let out a soft whine behind him. Seconding the statement.

"You've torn our family apart. It's not meant to be this way."

I wasn't exactly in disagreement with that, but it was hardly the point. There were a few unresolved differences of opinion between me and Sam at the moment.

"We know that you feel… strongly about the situation with the Cullens. We know that's a problem. But this is an overreaction."

Seth growled. Overreaction? And attacking our allies without warning isn't?

Seth, you ever heard of a poker face? Cool it.


Jared's eyes flickered to Seth and back to me. "Sam is willing to take this slowly, Jacob. He's calmed down, talked to the other Elders. They've decided that immediate action is in no one's best interest at this point."

Translation: They've already lost the element of surprise,Leah thought.

It was weird how distinct our joint thinking was. The pack was already Sam's pack, was already "them" to us. Something outside and other. It was especially weird to have Leah thinking that way – to have her be a solid part of the "us."

"Billy and Sue agree with you, Jacob, that we can wait for Bella… to be separated from the problem. Killing her is not something any of us feel comfortable with."

Though I'd just given Seth crap for it, I couldn't hold back a small snarl of my own. So they didn't quite feel

comfortablewith murder, huh?

Jared raised his hands again. "Easy, Jake. You know what I mean. The point is, we're going to wait and reassess the situation. Decide later if there's a problem with the… thing."

Ha,Leah thought. What a load.

You don't buy it?

I know what they're thinking, Jake. WhatSam's thinking. They're betting on Bella dying anyway. And then they figure you'll be so mad. . .

That I'll lead the attack myself.My ears pressed against my skull. What Leah was guessing sounded pretty spot-on. And very possible, too. When… if that thing killed Bella, it was going to be easy to forget how I felt about Carlisle's family right now. They would probably look like enemies – like no more than bloodsucking leeches – to me all over again.

I'll remind you,Seth whispered.

know you will, kid. Question is whether I'll listen to you.

"Jake?" Jared asked.

I huffed a sigh.

Leah, make a circuit – just to be sure. I'm going to have to talk to him, and I want to bepositive there isn't anything else going on while I'm phased.

Give me a break, Jacob. You can phase in front of me. Despite my best efforts, I've seen you naked before – doesn't do much forme, so no worries.

I'm not trying to protect the innocence of your eyes, I'm trying to protect our backs. Get out of here.

Leah snorted once and then launched herself into the forest. I could hear her claws cutting into the soil, pushing her faster.

Nudity was an inconvenient but unavoidable part of pack life. We'd all thought nothing of it before Leah came along. Then it got awkward. Leah had average control when it came to her temper – it took her the usual length of time to stop exploding out of her clothes every time she got pissed. We'd all caught a glimpse. And it wasn't like she wasn't worth looking at; it was just that it was so not worth it when she caught you thinking about it later.

Jared and the others were staring at the place where she'd disappeared into the brush with wary expressions.

"Where's she going?" Jared asked.

I ignored him, closing my eyes and pulling myself together again. It felt like the air was trembling around me, shaking out from me in small waves. I lifted myself up on my hind legs, catching the moment just right so that I was fully upright as I shimmered down into my human self.

"Oh," Jared said. "Hey, Jake."

"Hey, Jared."

"Thanks for talking to me."


"We want you to come back, man."

Quil whined again.

"I don't know if it's that easy, Jared."

"Come home," he said, leaning forward. Pleading. "We can sort this out. You don't belong here. Let Seth and Leah come home, too."

I laughed. "Right. Like I haven't been begging them to do that from hour one."

Seth snorted behind me.

Jared assessed that, his eyes cautious again. "So, what now, then?"

I thought that over for a minute while he waited.

"I don't know. But I'm not sure things could just go back to normal anyway, Jared. I don't know how it works – it doesn't feel like I can just turn this Alpha thing off and on as the mood strikes. It feels sort of permanent."

"You still belong with us."

I raised my eyebrows. "Two Alphas can't belong in the same place, Jared. Remember how close it got last night? The instinct is too competitive."

"So are you all just going to hang out with the parasites for the rest of your lives?" he demanded. "You don't have a home here. You're already out of clothes," he pointed out. "You gonna stay wolf all the time? You know Leah doesn't like eating that way."

"Leah can do whatever she wants when she gets hungry. She's here by her own choice. I'm not telling anyone what to do."

Jared sighed. "Sam is sorry about what he did to you."

I nodded. "I'm not angry anymore."


"But I'm not coming back, not now. We're going to wait and see how it plays out, too. And we're going to watch out for the Cullens for as long as that seems necessary. Because, despite what you think, this isn't just about Bella. We're protecting those who should be protected. And that applies to the Cullens, too." At least a fair number of them, anyway.

Seth yelped softly in agreement.

Jared frowned. "I guess there's nothing I can say to you, then."

"Not now. We'll see how things go."

Jared turned to face Seth, concentrating on him now, separate from me. "Sue asked me to tell you – no, to beg you – to come home. She's brokenhearted, Seth. All alone. I don't know how you and Leah can do this to her. Abandon her this way, when your dad just barely died – "

Seth whimpered.

"Ease up, Jared," I warned.

"Just letting him know how it is."

I snorted. "Right." Sue was tougher than anyone I knew. Tougher than my dad, tougher than me. Tough enough to play on her kids' sympathies if that's what it took to get them home. But it wasn't fair to work Seth that way. "Sue's known about this for how many hours now? And most of that time spent with Billy and Old Quil and Sam? Yeah, I'm sure she's just perishing of loneliness. 'Course you're free to go if you want, Seth. You know that."

Seth sniffed.

Then, a second later, he cocked an ear to the north. Leah must be close. Jeez, she was fast. Two beats, and Leah skidded to a stop in the brush a few yards away. She trotted in, taking the point in front of Seth. She kept her nose in the air, very obviously not looking in my direction.

I appreciated that.

"Leah?" Jared asked.

She met his gaze, her muzzle pulling back a little over her teeth.

Jared didn't seem surprised by her hostility. "Leah, you know you don't want to be here."

She snarled at him. I gave her a warning glance she didn't see. Seth whined and nudged her with his shoulder.

"Sorry," Jared said. "Guess I shouldn't assume. But you don't have any ties to the bloodsuckers."

Leah very deliberately looked at her brother and then at me.

"So you want to watch out for Seth, I get that," Jared said. His eyes touched my face and then went back to hers. Probably wondering about that second look – just like I was. "But Jake's not going to let anything happen to him, and he's not afraid to be here." Jared made a face. "Anyway, please, Leah. We want you back. Sam wants you back."

Leah's tail twitched.

"Sam told me to beg. He told me to literally get down on my knees if I have to. He wants you home, Lee-lee, where you belong."

I saw Leah flinch when Jared used Sam's old nickname for her. And then, when he added those last three words, her hackles rose and she was yowling a long stream of snarls through her teeth. I didn't have to be in her head to hear the cussing-out she was giving him, and neither did he. You could almost hear the exact words she was using.

I waited till she was done. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Leah belongs wherever she wants to be."

Leah growled, but, as she was glaring at Jared, I figured it was in agreement.

"Look, Jared, we're still family, okay? We'll get past the feud, but, until we do, you probably ought to stick to your land. Just so there aren't misunderstandings. Nobody wants a family brawl, right? Sam doesn't want that, either, does he?"

"Of course, not," Jared snapped. "We'll stick to our land. But where is your land, Jacob? Is it vampire land?"

"No, Jared. Homeless at the moment. But don't worry – this isn't going to last forever." I had to take a breath. "There's not that much time… left. Okay? Then the Cullens will probably go, and Seth and Leah will come home."

Leah and Seth whined together, their noses turning my direction in synchronization.

"And what about you, Jake?"

"Back to the forest, I think. I can't really stick around La Push. Two Alphas means too much tension. 'Sides, I was headed that way anyway. Before this mess."

"What if we need to talk?" Jared asked.

"Howl – but watch the line, 'kay? We'll come to you. And Sam doesn't need to send so many. We aren't looking for a fight."

Jared scowled, but nodded. He didn't like me setting conditions for Sam. "See you around, Jake. Or not." He waved halfheartedly.

"Wait, Jared. Is Embry okay?"

Surprise crossed his face. "Embry? Sure, he's fine. Why?"

"Just wondering why Sam sent Collin."

I watched his reaction, still suspicious that something was going on. I saw knowledge flash in his eyes, but it didn't look like the kind I was expecting.

"That's not really your business anymore, Jake."

"Guess not. Just curious."

I saw a twitch from the corner of my eye, but I didn't acknowledge it, because I didn't want to give Quil away. He was reacting to the subject.

"I'll let Sam know about your… instructions. Goodbye, Jacob."

I sighed. "Yeah. Bye, Jared. Hey, tell my dad that I'm okay, will you? And that I'm sorry, and that I love him."

"I'll pass that along."


"C'mon, guys," Jared said. He turned away from us, heading out of sight to phase because Leah was here. Paul and Collin were right on his heels, but Quil hesitated. He yelped softly, and I took a step toward him.

"Yeah, I miss you, too, bro."

Quil jogged over to me, his head hanging down morosely. I patted his shoulder.

"It'll be okay."

He whined.

"Tell Embry I miss having you two on my flanks."

He nodded and then pressed his nose to my forehead. Leah snorted. Quil looked up, but not at her. He looked back over his shoulder at where the others had gone.

"Yeah, go home," I told him.

Quil yelped again and then took off after the others. I'd bet Jared wasn't waiting super-patiently. As soon as he was gone, I pulled the warmth from the center of my body and let it surge through my limbs. In a flash of heat, I was on four legs again.

Thought you were going to make out with him,Leah snickered.

I ignored her.

Was that okay?I asked them. It worried me, speaking for them that way, when I couldn't hear exactly what they were thinking. I didn't want to assume anything. I didn't want to be like Jared that way. Did I say anything you didn't want me to? Did I not say something I should have?

You did great, Jake!Seth encouraged.

You could have hit Jared,Leah thought. wouldn't have minded that.

I guess we know why Embry wasn't allowed to come,Seth thought.

I didn't understand. Not allowed?

Jake, didya see Quil? He's pretty torn up, right? I'd put ten to one that Embry's even more upset And Embry doesn't have a Claire. There's no way Quil can just pick up and walk away from La Push. Embry might So Sam's not going to take any chances on him getting convinced to jump ship. He doesn't want our pack any bigger than it is now.

Really? You think? I doubt Embry would mind shredding some Cullens.

But he's your best friend, Jake. He and Quil would rather stand behind you than face you in a fight.

Well, I'm glad Sam kept him home, then. This pack is big enough.I sighed. Okay, then. So we're good, for now. Seth, you mind keeping an eye on things for a while? Leah and I both need to crash. This felt on the level, but who knows? Maybe it was a distraction.

I wasn't always so paranoid, but I remembered the feel of Sam's commitment. The total one-track focus on destroying the danger he saw. Would he take advantage of the fact that he could lie to us now?

No problem!Seth was only too eager to do whatever he could. You want me to explain to the Cullens? They're probably still kinda tense.

I got it. I want to check things out anyway.

They caught the whir of images from my fried brain.

Seth whimpered in surprise. Ew.

Leah whipped her head back and forth like she was trying to shake the image out of her mind. That is easily the freakin' grossest thing I've heard in my life. Yuck. If there was anything in my stomach, it would be coming back.

Theyare vampires, I guess, Seth allowed after a minute, compensating for Leah's reaction. mean, it makes sense. And if it helps Bella, it's a good thing, right?

Both Leah and I stared at him.


Mom dropped him a lot when he was a baby,Leah told me.

On his head, apparently.

He used to gnaw on the crib bars, too.

Lead paint?

Looks like itshe thought.

Seth snorted. Funny. Why don't you two shut up and sleep?