"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 - "
"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."
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.