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.

Sorry.

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."

"Yeah."

"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."

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