.: Aftermath :.

Leah Clearwater's body was found a few days later, bloated and lifeless, by a little boy playing in the water. Sue was informed by the deputy, Mark, about the unidentified body of a Quileute girl, a day later. She was brought in to identify the body and collapsed in horror against her son; they'd been a few hours away from calling Charlie and asking him to help look for Leah, after all she was over eighteen so the twenty-four hour rule didn't apply and they'd slowly noticed her absence; even the pack noticed.

Charlie helped her plan yet another funeral and Seth arranged the burial grounds where she'd be laid to rest next to their dad.

At Leah's funeral, her happy, smiling face stared back at the red-eyed crowd of friends and family. It was two years before Sam phased and before she'd phased so her hair was long and black, hanging in waves around her angular face. She was smiling, a shock to those who'd grown to know only the bitter, angry Leah.

Billy Black cleared his throat and addressed the crowd in a broken, low voice. "Leah Clearwater was one of the strongest girls I'd ever known. She carried on after Harry passed and dealt with the problems thrown at her without batting an eye but no one knew how deep her pain was. She hid behind her sarcasm and a rough exterior. I remember when she was born, Harry was absolutely ecstatic and she was such a bubbly little girl." His thin lips quivered as he began to cry, tears running down his cheeks. The microphone shook in his hand as he tried to continue but found himself unable to.

Jacob Black, his son, rolled him off the stand and parked his father next to Sue Clearwater, Leah's mother, who clung to her only remaining child, Seth. Once his father was situated, he took the stand and spoke in a low timbre that radiated the Alpha power that flowed through his veins. "It's hard to believe that Leah's gone. Sure, she was mean and vindictive and rude but she was one of the strongest women I'd ever met. She was cut-throat and didn't beat around the bush and if you made her mad, you'd know. As we know, Bella Swan caused me so much heartbreak and I was coddled by my friends; when Sam Uley broke off their engagement, started seeing her cousin, a lot of her family and friends told her to get over it." The breath he released boomed against the mic.

His voice shook as he blinked back the hot tears. "We were horrible to her. We put our blame on her, just to have someone to blame. Called her horrible things and pointed out her short-comings, rubbing salt in her wounds. How can we sit there and wonder how this happened when we're to blame? No one bothered to try to befriend after her father died and things went downhill for her. I can't tell you how many times I told myself, 'It's Leah's fault' just so I didn't have to face my own mistakes. It wasn't Leah's fault. She didn't ask for this. She tried so hard to—" He choked then and began to cry, hunching his shoulders as his sobs entered the mic and made feedback spread across the crowd. "—to stay strong but it came crashing down on her. We broke her. Sam and his fiancée asked her to be Emily's maid of honor; when Leah said no, everyone lashed at her, rubbing her wounds raw. Words like 'barren' and 'not Emily' were thrown at her and you could see it in her eyes…she believed them. We wore her down until she shattered. I can't imagine how hard it must've been for her; she had no one to confide in. If she tried, we'd all just ignore her."

The mic squealed as he turned and darted into the woods, the shivering of the trees the only giveaway of his change.

Paul Lahote took his spot, shoving passed Sam, who'd been rising to his feet to give his eulogy, and faced the crowd, fixing their Alpha with a cold stare. "I'm not saying she deserved what we did to her but I'm glad she's dead. She doesn't have to be pinned under Sam's thumb or stand to the side to watch her ex be married to someone she considered her best friend. She doesn't have to deal with all our troubles and problems and be belittled anymore by the people who were supposed to protect her and be loyal." His voice cracked a tiny bit. "I wasn't a nice guy; hell, I'm a pretty big asshole, but I never went after her like the others. I treated her with same amount of disrespect that I treated everyone. She was—is one of my greatest friends. I never judged her or made her feel stupid for being angry; if she yelled at me, I yelled right back; if she hit me, I'd hit her right back." He shrugged once and paused, his hands shaking where they gripped the podium tightly.

"I do know one thing though. If she felt so horrible she had to leave, then let her. She deserves to be happy and she obviously wasn't here."

He shambled back into the crowd, sneering at the imprints coiled tightly around their wolves like coats.

Kim pressed herself back against Jared with a whimper and Jared growled a low, deep warning.

Quil tightened his arms around Claire, who was thirteen and shiny-eyed from crying and sitting on his lap, and glared at Paul.

"Go fuck yourselves," Paul snarled, unable to keep the growl out of his voice. "All you care about are your girls and yourselves. How can you sit there, all starry-eyed over some bitch you've been in school with for years and bam, she's all yours? And you, god-damn pedo!"

"Says the man-whore," Sam said.

Paul wheeled on him and exploded. "And you cock-sucking bastard! What made you think it was a good idea to ask your ex, who you were fucking engaged to to your wedding to her knocked-up cousin? I may be a whore but at least I'm not a fuck-up like you. Like father, like son, huh?" he sneered, hitting a sore spot. Everyone knew about Sam's issues with his disappearing dad.

"Shut the hell up," the alpha bellowed, drawing all eyes to him and teary-eyed, panic-stricken Emily at his side.

"Stop it!" she demanded, shoving away from him. A brief flash of fear crossed her marred face when Sam rounded on her, a vicious snarl escaping him, and she shook her head. "I can't believe you…Leah…my cousin's gone and all you fucking dicks can manage is some sort of penis measuring contest? I just…I never asked for the boys to be so mean; I even told them point-blank to lay off her but no, it's not your fault Emily. you're so sweet, Emily. Leah's just jealous, Emily. Just stop it! My big cousin…gone…oh god." Tears ran down her face as Sam stepped towards her and she cringed away.

Anger washed over his dark features and Paul was quick to jump between them; he sure as hell didn't like Emily or Sam but he wasn't about to let her get mauled a second time. "Back off, you ass," he hissed venomously as Emily dropped to her knees.

"Lee-Lee, I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. Maybe this is some sort of retribution for being with Sam. I did everything I could short of having Sam order the boys to stop; I knew what it was like to have your will taken away and, as much as I hated what they were doing, I wouldn't do that to them. Lee, if only you'd told me…I could've helped you." She stood up slowly, hugging herself as she faced the crowd, ignoring Paul and Sam's stare-down. "I know many of you think I'm a boyfriend-stealing whore but I never really wanted Sam for myself. Sure, I was jealous of Leah but it was something that happens between cousins; she was so beautiful and vibrant and fiery and she had this guy waiting on her hand and foot…she was so strong and hard-headed and stubborn that it had me in shock when she called me about Sam's disappearance."

She took a deep breath that rattled in her lungs. "I remember how hard she was crying, she nearly puked. I'd never seen her so torn up and when they found him…she was beyond pissed and happy. I was so happy that I decided to drive down there and congratulate her, ask her about the wedding. If I'd known what would've happened, I'd have never come."

"Emily," Sam warned in a low, harsh voice but she squeezed her fists and continued like he wasn't there, like she wasn't about to reveal the biggest secret in the Quileute tribe to the rest of the non-shifters.

"I knocked on the door and Sam…oh, Sam…answered it and like that, everything inside me was gone. Leah came out and asked what was going on, what I was dong down here but I couldn't even speak. It was like Sam was the center of my universe, my gravity, my everything. That's what an imprint is. As many of you know, the legend of the Cold Ones is still popular. You may not believe it but—"

"Emily!" Sam snarled, his entire frame vibrating.

"They're real. Oh, God, they are! And Sam…he imprinted on me and I him. I had no intentions of every stealing Lee-Lee's boyfriend, not in a million years, not when she died or divorced him. Never. The wolves, the vampires, everything, it's real! Paul, please, show—"

A loud tearing sound cut her off and the entire crowd screamed as a broad-chested wolf exploded into existence in the place Sam had once been, snarling viciously, saliva dripping from long, dagger teeth.

In an instant, Emily was ushering the crowd away from them, along with Kim and Seth. "Leah was one too. That's why they hated her. She was the only girl shape shifter here and I wish I could've been a better cousin, even before the imprint. Maybe she wouldn't have drowned herself if I'd tried harder. But, well, we'll never know."

Her glossy eyes watched as a still-human Paul and a Phased Jacob wrestled Sam away from the crowd, towards the forest. "This is our world in the wake of Leah Clearwater, the strongest girl I've ever known. This is how I was mauled. This is why she felt the urge to end her life. Sam had made up his mind to alpha order her to attend and I'd have no way of breaking it. I'd never make her do that but Sam would if it meant I'd be happy…Sam would do anything for me, even if it meant hurting Leah. That's what I hate about him," she said softly and a long, painful howl split the air.

"Leah, I'm so sorry."

The only sound was the crash of the ocean, the very one that had taken the strongest, fastest wolf away from her family that was on the cusp of breaing their bonds to heal her.