Thank you,Leah suddenly told me in a much different tone.

For?

For letting me be. For letting me stay. You've been nicer than I had any right to expect, Jacob.

Er, no problem. Actually, I mean that. I don't mind having you here like I thought I would.

She snorted, but it was a playful sound. What a glowing commendation!

Don't let it go to your head.

Okay - if you don't let this go to yours.She paused for a second. think you make a good Alpha. Not in the same way Sam does, but in your own way. You're worth following, Jacob.

My mind went blank with surprise. It took me a second to recover enough to respond.

Er, thanks. Not totally sure I'll be able to stop that one from going to my head, though. Where did that come from?

She didn't answer right away, and I followed the wordless direction of her thoughts. She was thinking about the future - about what I'd said to Jared the other morning. About how the time would be up soon, and then I'd go back to the forest. About how I'd promised that she and Seth would return to the pack when the Cullens were gone___

want to stay with you, she told me.

The shock shot through my legs, locking my joints. She blew past me and then put on the brakes. Slowly, she walked back to where I was frozen in place.

won't be a pain, I swear. I won't follow you around. You can go wherever you want, and I'll go where I want. You'll only have to put up with me when we're both wolves. She paced back and forth in front of me, swishing her long gray tail nervously. And, as I'm planning on quitting as soon as I can

manage it... maybe that won't be so often.

I didn't know what to say.

I'm happier now, as a part of your pack, than I have been in years.

I want to stay, too,Seth thought quietly. I hadn't realized he'd been paying much attention to us as he ran the perimeter. like this pack.

Hey, now! Seth, this isn't going to be a pack much longer.I tried to put my thoughts together so they would convince him. We've got a purpose now, but when... after that's over, I'm just going to go wolf. Seth, you need a purpose. You're a good kid. You're the kind of person who always has a crusade. And there's no way you're leaving La Push now. You're going to graduate from high school and do something with your life. You're going to take care of Sue.

My issues are not going to mess up your future.

But -

Jacob is rightLeah seconded.

You're agreeing with me?

Of course. But none of that applies tome. was on my way out anyway. I'll get a job somewhere away from La Push. Maybe take some courses at a community college. Get into yoga and meditation to work on my temper issues.... And stay a part of this pack for the sake of my mental well-being. Jacob - you can see how that makes sense, right? I won't bother you, you won't bother me, everyone is happy.

I turned back and started loping slowly toward the west.

This is a bit much to deal with, Leah. Let me think about it, 'kay?

Sure. Take your time.

It took us longer to make the run back. I wasn't trying for speed. I was just trying to concentrate enough that I wouldn't plow headfirst into a tree. Seth was grumbling a little bit in the back of my head, but I was able to ignore him. He knew I was right. He wasn't going to abandon his mom. He would go back to La Push and protect the tribe like he should.

But I couldn't see Leah doing that. And that was just plain scary.

A pack of the two of us? No matter the physical distance, I couldn't imagine the... the intimacy of that situation. I wondered if she'd really thought it through, or if she was just desperate to stay free.

Leah didn't say anything as I chewed it over. It was like she was trying to prove how easy it would be if it was just us.

We ran into a herd of black-tailed deer just as the sun was coming up, brightening the clouds a little bit behind us. Leah sighed internally but didn't hesitate. Her lunge was clean and efficient - graceful, even. She took down the largest one, the buck, before the startled animal fully understood the danger.

Not to be outdone, I swooped down on the next largest deer, snapping her neck between my jaws quickly, so she wouldn't feel unnecessary pain. I could feel Leah's disgust warring with her hunger, and I tried to make it easier for her by letting the wolf in me have my head. I'd lived all-wolf for long enough that I knew how to be the animal completely, to see his way and think his way. I let the practical instincts take over, letting her feel that, too. She hesitated for a second, but then, tentatively, she seemed to reach out with her mind and try to see my way. It felt very strange - our minds were more closely linked than they had ever been before, because we both were trying to think together.

Strange, but it helped her. Her teeth cut through the fur and skin of her kill's shoulder, tearing away a thick slab of streaming flesh. Rather than wince away as her human thoughts wanted to, she let her wolf-self react instinctively. It was kind of a numbing thing, a thoughtless thing. It let her eat in peace.

It was easy for me to do the same. And I was glad I hadn't forgotten this. This would be my life again soon.

Was Leah going to be a part of that life? A week ago, I wouldve found that idea beyond horrifying. I wouldn't've

been able to stand it. But I knew her better now. And, relieved from the constant pain, she wasn't the same wolf. Not the same girl.

We ate together until we both were full.

Thanks,she told me later as she was cleaning her muzzle and paws against the wet grass. I didn't bother; it had just started to drizzle and we had to swim the river again on our way back. I'd get clean enough. That wasn't so bad, thinking your way.

You're welcome.

Seth was dragging when we hit the perimeter. I told him to get some sleep; Leah and I would take over the patrol. Seth's mind faded into unconsciousness just seconds later.

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