Disclaimer: Yet again, I own nothing.

"Lucy, honey, why don't you go have a shower and take a nap?" Emily's gentle suggestion was accompanied by her slim hand coming to rest on my shoulder. At once, the trembling of my bones stopped. I could never put Emily in danger like that, and so I quickly reigned in my emotions.

I shook my head quickly but politely. "Nah, thanks though. I'm just gonna...wait here," I said with no small degree of awkwardness. I'd been sitting at the table for well over two hours now, and had spoken less than three sentences in that time frame.

"They'll be ok," Kim said with a kind smile, trying not to let her nerves show – she was fucking afraid of me. I couldn't blame her, all things aside. My hands twitched sporadically in a very non-human way, and the clenching of my jaw would've likely been enough to unsettle anyone even if they hadn't been in the know about my supernatural status. Despite Kim's eagerness to please, I couldn't manage to offer her more than a jerky nod of my head, pursing my lips into a fine line at her words.

They'll be ok.

How little she knew.

I could appreciate the fact that Kim was trying, though. Ever since Jared dropped the bomb on her about the pack, she'd been more than a little skittish around any of the wolves when Jared wasn't around. Nobody took it too personally. I knew what it was like being surrounding by creatures infinitely bigger, stronger and faster than you (though I was pretty fast, Leah was beyond a shadow of a doubt the quickest on four feet).

Eventually, I heard Quil slip in through the back door, closing the screen door behind him. Fighting back the onslaught of trembles running down my spine, I drew myself to my feet without pausing and strode past the two imprints to find him. Quil had snuck into the living room in an attempt to go unnoticed, but his efforts were for naught; I had questions, questions which required answers. And I wanted those answers now.

"How is he?" I whispered, mindful of Emily and Kim sitting in the kitchen, laughing quietly about something Kim's mother had said about Jared. Quil looked relatively calm, which spoke well, all things aside.

He shrugged a bit, "How do you think he is? The dude isn't in high school, and he has to deal with the threat of killing his parents when he's pissed off. You know what that's like, Luce."

His off-handedness rankled. I knelt down and clenched the coffee table with both hands, squeezing until I felt my nails sink in and the sanded-wood crack. "I'm not in the fucking mood for jokes, Quil."

"Good, 'cause I wasn't laughing," he snapped back with equal verve. It was rare for Quil and I to fight, even after he'd phased, and though most of our blow-ups at each other more often than naught fizzled down into nothing, when we did butt heads, it was often over the most sensitive of subjects. Quil fought dirty when he was angry enough, and without any of Embry's rationale or Jacob's restraint.

I bit back a scream; I was seconds from phasing in Sam's living room and – in all likelihood – getting the shit kicked outta me by Quil. "Where are they now?" I asked with practiced patience.

Quil exhaled loudly, in his typical melodramatic-fashion. "I don't know, Lucy. Sam said something about getting them to do the circuits with Jake and Embry."

"Why the fuck don't you know?" I snapped. "You were in their fucking heads five minutes ago – it can't have been difficult."

"I was a little preoccupied with doing my job!" Quil shouted, throwing his hands in the air. "Oh wait! I'm sorry! I meant doing your job, since Sam kicked you out."

Everything was silent in the kitchen; I could hear Emily and Kim breathing hard, the nervous flutter of their heartbeats, the bouncing of Kim's knee as she tried to relax. My eyes narrowed into thin slants as I took in the sight of my cocky, usually-adorkable friend, who – when I looked him in the eye – seemed older and more tired than I had ever seen him. We all did. None of us acted like the carefree teens we once were. It came from carrying the weight of protecting an entire town and all its neighbors, I suppose.

At the thought of how aged the pack had become in the last few months, and the new development in Collin and Brady's phase, my heart clenched in an all-too familiar sense of despair. They were too young, too small, too sweet and naive to do anything for the pack. Trying to picture them going up against a vampire made my stomach do things that made me, a supernatural werewolf, ill.

My knees buckled before I was cognizant of it happening, like they had turned to Jell-O in seconds. The room was spinning; I couldn't see Quil, but I could sure as hell hear him talking anxiously overhead.

"Shit – Lucy? Fuck, I'm sorry. It's just been a fucking pissy day." His words were accompanied with the touch of his hands on my shoulders, gripping me as I struggled to stay upright. "Look – Collin came around, and Brady's doing pretty good, ok? They're fine. Shook up, maybe, but they'll deal. We all did."

"What's going on?" Emily entered the living room as Quil hauled me onto the sofa, letting me slouch down in the cushions.

"Ah, Lucy's just worried about the kids, Em. Don't worry about it. She'll be fine." Yeah, I'd be fine, but I now had a twelve year-old cousin and his best friend who would be scarred forever now. I moaned and covered my face with my hands. Quil thunked my back with his fist a couple times in what I'm sure was supposed to be a reassuring manner, but really only made me want to heave.

"Oh, honey," Emily murmured, moving forward to kneel between my legs. Her half-mangled face peered up into mine, her wide brown eyes as sweet and loving as always. With one hand, she patted my knee much lighter than Quil had done to my spine. I could hardly feel the gentle touch. "Sam won't let anything happen to them," she promised with a mild chuckle. "Heavens, the way you act, you'd think you're the alpha."

Quil snorted, "Den mother, maybe."

I broke from my trance long enough to sock him in the hip (the only part of him I could reach from sitting down, unless I punched him in the groin, and even I wasn't that cruel). He made a pouty face which dissolved into laughter as I stuck my tongue out at him.

"Maybe not," he conceded with a laugh. "You couldn't look after a goldfish! Too violent."

"What's this about looking after goldfish?"

Everyone froze. My eyes slid across the room back to the doorway Emily and Kim had come from, my jaw hanging open from when I'd been about to speak, only to find someone standing in Sam and Emily's living room who was wholly unexpected.

"Leah!" Emily stood up, her eyes wide as she struggled to school her features into a calmer face. Emily smiled timidly at her cousin, the one whose ex-fiancé she was now marrying, and took a couple steps towards her. Leah took two steps backwards.

Emily didn't move to approach her after that.

"Are you hungry?" Emily squeaked, and anyone could've heard the crack in her voice. "There's muf—"

"Sam sent me to find Lucy." Leah's flat tone brooked for no arguments. I stood up wordlessly, wanting desperately to cut the awkward encounter short. Quil seemed to agree with my sentiments; we exchanged uncertain glances between each other, our earlier fight long since forgotten.

"I'm allowed back?" I muttered sourly, even as I took a step towards her. "That's fucking shocking."

Leah smirked at me, arms folded over her chest, but I knew her approval stemmed from the fact that I'd just inadvertently insulted her ex, not because she thought I was really funny, per se. I didn't care. I was still rather pissed with my alpha, anyways. Sure, I understood why he'd done what he did, but that didn't change the facts.

"Don't get ahead of yourself," Leah rumbled, the bitchiness returning in full force. "The Oh-So-Great-Alpha decided in his infinite wisdom that I should pick you up so you get to your exam on time." I scowled at her, shaking my head even as I went to leave the living room.

"Son of a..." I trailed off when I turned around and saw the disappointment on Emily's face. Shame welled in the pit of my belly; insulting Sam in front of his fiancée was a fucking garbage thing to do, even by my standards. In the background, Kim stood unusually stoically behind Quil, though she still looked like she'd rather be swallowed up by a crevice in the earth than be in the same room with Leah Clearwater and Emily Young any longer. I couldn't blame her – I felt the same way.

"Thanks for everything, Emily," I said, trying to sound as sincere as I meant and convey my apology in the few words. "I'll call you later."

"You're welcome. Bye, Lucy," she whispered, sniffling discreetly. I wanted to stay behind and make sure she was ok, but I really did have to go to my exams soon. And the first one was math. Fucking math. I trotted along behind Leah silently, mindful of the way she was breathing heavily, the way her arms trembled, the way she held herself in like she was afraid of falling apart in seconds.

Although I had never ever been comfortable with one-on-one time with the other she-wolf, I figured I should really get used to it. Seth was Leah's brother, and since Seth was a permanent fixture in Leah's life, Leah would be a permanent fixture in mine.

I climbed into Leah's car (which was actually Sue's) and swung the door shut behind me. As Leah peeled out of the stretch driveway, she cranked up the radio and rolled down the windows. "I love this song," she muttered as an acoustic tune came on which I wasn't familiar with. Without giving any indication to my feelings about it, I hummed mindlessly and turned away from her, eyeing the tall trees as they drifted past. After becoming a shifter, everything in life felt so slow. This car was slow. This week was slow. Life moved so slow. I had the power to travel faster than a jet, but was still confined to the shitty paradigms of human life.

That fucking blows.

"Quil said Collin and Brady are doing good," I offered as a conversation topic, desperate to get rid of the silence. Leah shrugged a bit, one hand on the wheel while the other fiddled with the dashboard.

"They're smart. And Collin has you. He was pissed when Sam sent you away." Her words sent a flutter of guilt through me which I refused to feel. Though I was accountable for my own actions, I couldn't really be blamed for reacting as strongly as I had. The two wolves which had greeted Seth and I were so fucking tiny. I could hardly think, could hardly breathe. I dimly recall Seth speaking soothing words into my ear as I shook on the spot, watching Brady growl pathetically and try to crawl on his belly away from Embry while Paul and Leah tried to back a terrified Collin into the wall of a massive boulder. I didn't blame them for the pack's choice to try and confine them to one space – it was easier than watching them run amuck with terror in their eyes and minds nothing but white noise filled with fear. But seeing them do it... I hadn't reacted well. In fact, I reacted the very opposite of well.

"Sam had to send me away," I mumbled, reluctant as I was to admit it. "He thought I could handle watching." He was wrong, needless to say.

"No shit," Leah quipped back to me, something like a grin crossing her features. For a moment, she looked like the woman I'd known her as before all this supernatural shit went down. For a second, I could see the woman Sam Uley had loved (and destroyed).

"Had no idea you were so close to Collin," she continued casually, and I found myself slowly relaxing as we got closer to the school. She was driving unreasonably fast, but it was a dead stretch of road, and her reflexes were far better than any human's, at any rate.

"I'm not, really," I confessed quietly. "I don't know what came over me."

Leah let out a snort of laughter at that, shaking her head. "I do! It's this terrible syndrome all older siblings share: OPSM."

"O-P-S-M?" I echoed blankly. Still smiling, Leah nodded.

"Yup. Over-protective substitute-mother syndrome. It's where you see your younger siblings – or cousin, in your case – getting beat up by these bratty bullies, and you go into a total rage."

"I see," I joined in on her laughter, shaking my head. "I don't know if I can call it that, though. Last time I spoke to Collin was...was... Damn, I don't even remember. Way before this shit started up, though. I know that for a fact. And I doubt he remembers much about me."

"You don't have to speak to someone constantly to love them," Leah pointed out, and her face twisted bitterly. "And they definitely don't have to love you back."

Uh-oh. Warning bells were blaring in my head so loudly that I wondered if Leah could hear them. But a surreptitious glance to her told me no, she didn't know how panicked I felt. Even though we both knew what dangerous subject matter we were treading on.

The Sam Files.

If there was one topic I wanted to steer clear of with Leah Clearwater, it was Sam Uley and all things pertaining to him. Which was incidentally really fucking hard since, you know, she was in his head (literally) on a daily basis, and vice versa.

"So, um…" I looked out the window to the school looming in the distance, and approaching fast. "Thanks for the ride. I could've run it…"

"No problem. Sam ordered, remember?" Leah sighed, and slumped a bit in her seat. "I'll pick you up when it's over. What, two hours?"

"Should be. But you don't have to—"

"Spare me," said Leah, and gestured for me to get out without warning. With a careless swing of my hand, the car door swung shut behind me, and I approached my school with all the trepidation of someone who was carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

"So how was it?" asked Emily when I returned to her home that day. Collin and Brady would be coming back here when Sam got them into their human forms again, and I planned on being there for the two of them when they did.

I shrugged, and tried not to think about the question too much. "Fine," I mumbled. Eager to change the subject, I began to help her plate the fresh hot muffins—the giant kind, the ones normal people can split in half—and tried distracting myself from the late hour, growing later every second.

It was blessedly sooner than I thought it would be, their return to the land of humankind. I was alerted by the sound of chatter from the forest, deep and low like Paul's could only be, and immediately made for the window overlooking that direction.

Sure enough, there they were, two tall, scrawny boys with dark heads of inky hair like the rest of us. Brady kept his hair short anyways, but Collin had been forced to cut his, it seemed. They were walking close together, practically attached to the hip. I couldn't blame them for their childish clinging; in such a wildly unfamiliar environment, I would've held on to a familiar face with both hands too.

Watching the pair of them stand there, shuffling uncertainly on the doorstep of Sam and Emily's small house, they looked more like children than ever before. My heart literally ached inside my chest, and not for the simple fact that Collin was my cousin. I didn't like them being forced into this responsibility. I didn't like Seth being forced into this, and he was older than the pair of them.

Seth's transformation had been painful to watch (an understatement), but, imprint aside, Collin and Brady's phasing hurt me—and the rest of the wolves—infinitely more. It wasn't just their age—Seth had only been a few years older when he phased (though he was too young as well). It was their size.

Paul and Embry came up from their patrol, laughing at some joke, and paused on their way inside. I hadn't spoken to either Collin or Brady, I hadn't wanted to frighten them, and now that they stood in the shadows of two of the bigger wolves in the pack, I didn't think I was capable of speaking. The sight before me rendered me speechless.

Paul and Embry dwarfed them, drastically.

I had watched silently from inside the house as the pair came to a stop next to the two kids. Both tweens avoided eye-contact with Paul (please don't be an ass, Paul, please don't be an ass…) but Brady grinned hesitantly at Embry. Relief flooded my veins when Embry smiled back warmly, in a very quiet, shy Embry-way. It was how he was with people he didn't know—no matter what age. He'd be a good friend for them right now, quiet and unsurprising at first, and then you got to know him and he just lit up a room.

I still didn't understand Paul, though, and I lived with him, so I prayed neither were stupid enough to try striking up conversation with the hotheaded wolf.

Collin was twelve. Twelve. He had just finished grade seven—he wasn't even in fucking high school yet, and instead of going to those lame pre-teen dances in Port Angeles like most other kids did, he was trying to learn how to maintain his temper and not explode on his parents, my aunt and uncle.

The only silver lining here was that they were best friends; they'd phased at the same time—they had none of the anxiety we'd all had to face by being separated from our closest friends. Brady was a good kid, too, like Collin. A little louder, braver, stupider (though God knows that wasn't a challenge—my cousin wasn't the brightest penny in the jar), overall Brady Fuller was good.

Collin was a sweetheart. Kind, soft, and very, very timid, he embodied every personality trait that made for a poor wolf.

The boy could not kill a vampire.

Not for lack of will or even size—had he been twice as large, I'd be saying the same damn thing. He simply…couldn't. It scared him so badly whenever he saw snippets of us killing vampires that Sam had forbidden us to speak about the upcoming battle with him. I agreed whole-heartedly; it was for the best.

My focus returned to the four wolves outside. Embry had coaxed Brady into a conversation, Paul was sizing them up in typical Paul-fashion. Fucking Paul. Collin was looking for a way out of the chit-chat, scanning the field with nervous eyes.

Something arose inside me I couldn't place. It was different from how I felt about Seth. With my imprint, I wanted nothing more than to shield him and protect him from the world. But I…I didn't want to…to…

Mother him.

There, I said it. I wanted to molly-coddle Brady and Collin all day long and it was weird. Logically, I knew it wasn't truly me that wanted that. Lucy Spencer just wanted them as safe and happy as they could be, in this situation.

But my wolf? Fuck, that was a different story altogether.

Leah was being a shitty female wolf. Her anger and hurt over Sam's betrayal made her unsympathetic to the pups of the pack—and they were pups. Their paws were still too big, their ears too large for their head and they had a sort of clumsiness that was as endearing as was hilarious to watch. Had Leah been emotionally stable—and I didn't blame her for her lack thereof—but had she been, the responsibility would've fallen on her, as the older female of the pack.

But she wasn't stable. She was volatile, rough, cruel on occasion and very, very bitter. And it was sad, yes, because I knew she hadn't always been this way, but it was the way things were now and there was no point in wishing for something I couldn't have.

So I was forced to step up to the plate and become the fucking "momma" of the pack. Just great. Because I really wanted two snot-nosed little tweens clambering over me like…well, like puppies.

Collin's stomach growled so loudly that it interrupted my thoughts, from all the way inside the house. They still hadn't seen me, or if they had, they hadn't said anything. Collin was looking at anywhere but Paul and Embry now, discreetly trying to wrap his arms around his stomach and silence the noise. I could relate to his horror. Newly phased wolves ate a lot—of course, none more than Paul, but that was irrelevant. The sudden increase in appetite was unsettling at first, and I could only imagine Collin's discomfort.

Brady's parents were on the council, and they had handled his phasing with relative ease. Distraught, yeah, but who wouldn't be? Collin wasn't so lucky. The poor kid lived with his dad, my uncle, on the outskirts of the Res; his parents had divorced a couple years back, and he only saw his mom once a month (incidentally, his mom was the parent I was actually related to. Go figure). He practically lived with Brady, though, he was there so often. Collin's dad worked for a company in Forks, and he got a lot of weird shifts that meant he rarely saw his son. Collin didn't doubt that his folks loved him—well, he might doubt his mom's love, but he didn't doubt that his dad cared for him and only wanted the best.

But the bottom line was his dad wasn't in on the secret. So in a word, Collin was screwed. And hungry; the poor kid wasn't being fed a proper wolf-sized diet due to his father's lack of knowledge, and Emily's budget for food was over-stretched as it was. Everyone in the pack knew what the hunger was like, though, so I didn't think anyone would begrudge giving him some of their meal so the kid could eat—otherwise he'd be eating raw deer.

His hunger was natural, understandable, expected. It wasn't a problem and it shouldn't have been embarrassing—except this is Paul-fucking-Lahote we're talking about. When has he ever given anyone a break?

Deep, full-bellied laughter erupted from Paul. It was a mocking, loud sort that was extraordinarily not funny. Fury seared my heart when I caught the dark blush bloom on Collin's skin. My heart ached for the boy, and I could tell Embry's did, too.

Paul was half-collapsed on the side of the house from laughing so hard, the bastard, and the look on Collin's face only seemed to spur him on.

I acted without even thinking it through, really.

Embry had gone to say something when I burst out, "Hey boys, there's some muffins on the table! Best get them while they're hot, hmm?"

I grinned and tried to be nonchalant about the matter when all I really wanted to do was pulverize Paul's fucking face into smithereens. And all I really wanted to do was grab hold of Collin and Brady and smother them close to my heart like some damn momma-bear.

Collin came walking over quickly to me, before pausing, stopping at the doorway. His eyes looked up and met mine—even I towered over him. There was a doubtful look in his gaze, hesitant, scared.

"Hey Lucy… Have the others eaten?" he asked quietly, peering up at me and looking over his shoulder for half a second, not even that, to see Paul and Embry watching us. I glowered at Paul, silently telling him to keep his mouth shut or so help me I'd go over there and smack it shut.

"Yup," I lied, reaching out and tugging Collin inside the house. I ignored the flinch I felt from his jerking shoulders, remembering the fear I too had gone through when I first phased, the terror over Paul's anger. Paul wasn't really a bad guy, per se, more like an acquired taste.

"Brady, you too," I tried not to make it sound like an order, but it was hard. I could hear, from the scraping chair, that Collin was already seated, plucking a muffin off the tray and devouring it whole. Brady followed suit, grinning knowingly up at me as he went.

Yeah, maybe I was a little obvious. So sue me—I just wanted to make sure Collin ate enough.

"Have another," I ordered, loading two more muffins onto Collin's plate. I'd have put three, but I figured Brady wanted some as well. Both of them were eating like they hadn't seen food in weeks. Embry and Paul came to stand behind me, watching the two kids. Collin ducked his head when Paul entered the room but gave no other sign of seeing him—other than the rapid flutter of his heart.

I don't think I'd ever been as angry with Paul as I was at that moment.

"Em," I began, but Embry just nodded, smiling tiredly at me.

"Do what you gotta do, Luce," he murmured, patting my shoulder comfortingly.

Right. What I gotta do…

My eyes met Paul's; he was watching me completely unafraid, relaxed, leaning back against the countertop.

I snarled lowly.

Behind me, Collin and Brady stopped eating, their mouths frozen, whilst I stared Paul down. Or tried to. The hardest part about getting Paul to do anything was the simple fact that, at times, he just couldn't be bothered to give a fuck. You could twist his arm as hard as possible, and he still wouldn't care.

"I need to talk to you," I said, my face twisted into a furious sneer.

This chapter is dedicated to anyone who still reads this. My sincere apologies for falling short these past...eight months? I'll do my best to keep posting. I'm gonna try and wrap this up.

In all likelihood there will be no Breaking Dawn segment, but let's be real: who the fuck wants that, anyways? I won't lie, I am seriously bummed in a sense because I have so much of it written... Bah. Never say never, right?

As always, thank you so very much for reading, reviewing and just generally being awesome. You guys are the best!