The Mythical Creature's Guide to Modern Warfare (11/26)

"Scars are souvenirs you never loose; the past is never far.
Did you loose yourself somewhere out there? Did you get to be a star?
And don't it make you sad to know that life is more than who we are?"

Goo Goo Dolls "Name"

Chapter Eleven, Kilo

I woke with a surprised woof on Christmas morning, the woof because I was still in wolf form on the Cullens' couch, the surprised part because, when I opened my eyes, I found Emmett's face about three inches from mine. There was an impossibly wide grin on his face and a Santa Claus hat on his head. When I backed up far enough to see straight, I saw that the rest of him was in Santa Claus attire, down to a very round belly that had either been accomplished with judicious use of pillows or the ordering of a sympathy belly. For a moment I wondered if Irina had loaned him hers, and then I shook myself, remembering that she wasn't here. And then I shook myself again, remembering they didn't have such things as sympathy bellies when she was pretending to be Elizabeth Talbot – not that I thought of; I'm relatively sure of it actually, but I'm not willing to ask Kate for fear she'll start talking about the time she did Napoleon's entire midget army or something bizarre like that.

Then I shook myself again, and felt that something was distinctly wrong. Giving a wolfy frown, I tried to look behind me – and realized that a green elf hat was tied on my head. My realizations continued into an entire wolf-sized elfin costume, with jingly elven booties on my paws and a green bow tied on my tail.

If Jacob hadn't been standing next to him with the same costume (minus the bow, at least) and the most ridiculous look of resigned rage on his face, I think I might have shown Emmett the real meaning of "Merry Christmas." Instead, I burst into laughter.

Jake, you look ridiculous.

Your lucky, he grumbled. You weren't awake when Alice was trying to decide between the reindeer and the elf costumes. An image of little Alice making a reindeer costume for Jake a la Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas popped into my head – and thus Jake's. And Seth and Quil's, as they were out patrolling; they'd be silent while waiting to see what my reaction would be. They joined me in laughter. You would think it funny, wouldn't you?

You look like an idiot.

So do you!

I hopped off the couch with a yawn and landed beside him. Turning around, I waved my tail in his face. But you don't have a bow. The bow just makes the whole costume. I looked at the watch on Emmett's arm – not the easiest thing for a wolf to do – and then asked, quite politely I thought, Why are we dressed as elves at five after midnight on Christmas morning with Vampire Claus here?

He looked at Emmett. Who, I now saw had been joined by his wife in a very inappropriate Mrs. Claus outfit, Alice, who was also an elf, and Jasper, who had been conned into his own elf hat and looked no happier then Jake did wearing it. Because, he said tersely, we have to start making presents for all the good little boys and girls of Christiandom.

Are we going deliver oil to the Jews next week or something? I had a really bad feeling that plan involved jet packs somehow.

Quite possibly. But, right now, we're going to to wake up Nessie for her first Christmas. The rest of them are already upstairs, waiting for us.

Alice, seeming to decide I'd enough time to wake up, walked over to Jake and I and, hand on her hip, pointed with the other towards the stairs. "Come on, mutts. We've already wasted seven minutes!"

Yes, I thought, because time is so precious when you live forever.

But maybe not Nessie. She was growing too fast. She already looked two-ish. By next Christmas, she'd easily be six or seven. Three years from now, she could be my age... and, in five more, she could just as easily be dead. It made me sad to think of, 'cause I really did like Nessie. Sure, she was annoying for a kid who still should have been a baby and should defiantly not be talking, and that mind thing she did was creepy, but I still liked her. She was less annoying then her parents, at the very least, and generally knew when Auntie Leah needed some alone time. And sure, she might talk about books I'd only ever heard of sometimes or a skit on Saturday Night Live sometimes, but she also did kid things, like play in ball pits and swing sets and what not. I really didn't want Nessie to die. Not even if she was going to be my step-niece.

Still, I headed up the stairs with the rest of them, (Emmett Claus breaking into a rousing round of "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town" that scared me) to wake up Nessie. While I did so, I thought about the strange dream vampiric staring had woken me from.

At some point in the night it had shifted from thoughts of wolves coloured like a sixty-four box of Crayolas to my memory of Rebecca's marriage to her Samoan surfer, Rip. That really wasn't his name – it was something pretentious like Raymond Ichabod Prescott III, and his father came from a line of stock brokers or something – but the initials came out to be Rip, so that's what everyone called him. Anyway, it was at the small, salt-box church on the Rez – the one that, while is still called The Church, was retrofitted by the Elders into something along the lines of a cheap hotel "ballroom," which is to say a place with basketball-esque floors, stacks of folding metal chairs in the closet, and really tall windows down the length of it overlooking the ocean on one side and Jenny's Quik Mart and Gas Station on the other. I forget why they redid it that way, but its where they have Prom and Homecoming and the scout things and most the tribe doings that don't involve fire and all the Elders' meetings.

Anyway, I was remembering it. She got married right out of high school – like graduation one Saturday, her wedding the next Wednesday or something like that – and she and Rachel are three years older then me, so when she was a senior, I was a freshmen. I hadn't started seeing Sam yet. I was at the thing alone, and there were like only twenty people there, and the fakest looking white arbour towards the back of the hall, where the altar or whatever used to be, which fake flowers had been entwined on. I knew they were fake, 'cause she'd fucking made me do the twining. The mushroom-bagging douche-wrapper would have made me lick envelopes if she'd sent any invitations. She just kinda went up to Billy two weeks before graduation, said she was marrying the guy she met on Spring Break, and that was mostly it.

The dream started out like that, all normal, only in the dream I'm not me as I was then, all fifteen-years-old and with that hair cut I hated even though Mom had insisted it looked wonderful on me, but as I am now all of, what? Six years later. I can't believe it's been that long. I'm sitting there, waiting for the thing to start, when I realize the whole pack is there – the current pack, also as they look now – and Jake's sitting next to me all handsome and fidgety in his suit, actually wearing shoes, that I can't help but laughing.

And then the scene changes, and it's not Rebecca's wedding, but Mom's to Charlie, and the arbour has real flowers in it that I was, once again, forced to put in it, and I just know that if not for my super-healing capabilities, my hands would be covered in some sort of cartoon bandages. Probably Scooby-Doo. I'm trying to be angry, 'cause I just can't see Mom and Charlie together and especially don't want her to be the next Mrs. Swan, but most people don't get me and Jake 'cause we're always arguing and everything, but that doesn't stop me from being Mrs. Leah Black one day.

Yeah, I know, it's gross to even consider with it, with Jake being on the hair's edge of legal, and still in school, and the ridiculous possibility of imprinting that could steal him away regardless of any ring that may sit on any finger, and I feel stupid for thinking it, but I like the idea. It'd be nice – one day, you know.

But my brain doesn't know it shouldn't be thinking about these things, and it takes the little drama I'd made of Charlie asking Mom to marry him – on Christmas day, of course, when the fucking sun was actually up in the fucking sky, and half a stocking of chocolate had been consumed – very Miracle on 34th Street-esque. There'd be the perfect tree, and the fire, and all the shiny presents, and mom would be sitting there, drinking coffee and looking very tired and weary (I don't know why she's looking on that way, it's not like Seth and I – well, Seth at least – were there to wake her at the Crack of Dawn and demand presents) as she sits on a footstool (of which we own exactly none) in front of said fire (which we do not have a place for). And the he says some corny things, and Mom says yes... and, anyway, my stupid, elven-hat-clad brain takes this and does the ol' switch-er-roo and suddenly the things that sounded so corny before don't sound half so bad when Jake's the one saying them. To me.

And that was last night's weird dream. I mean, the wolves I could understand – didn't I spend all my time as one? - as did the vibrant colours of their fur – that probably had something to do with Seth's childhood obsession with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – and I supposed I could understand bridal magazines based off the day I had, though not why wolves might be selling them. The rest of it, though... I'd not thought about Rebecca's wedding in ages, almost since it happened. I certainly didn't want to think about Mom and Charlie's...

If my subconscious mind was trying to tell me something, I hoped it was that I was a freaking nutcase. 'Cause not even at my girliest with Sam had I imagined ever getting married. Never saw myself as a wrinkly old maid either, but just not the kind of person who people married. Or had kids. Or anything like that. And now I was thinking of those things, and it was all Jake's fault. And Billy's. And Nessie's, for being so damn cute.

Yes, it was all Nessie's fault I had any thoughts about children of any sort in my head at all. But maybe one day...

Brain must turn off. I shouldn't think ahead like this. I refuse to let myself seriously think farther ahead then this school break. Because that's all I have that's guaranteed. He could go back to school next semester and there can suddenly be an exchange student from Bolivia or Kuala Lumpur or maybe just a girl who sat next to him in English, like Kim had been for Jared, and had been there all his life... No, I shouldn't think of the future, it only hurt, because after that there'd be no more falling asleep with Jake, and no more sex, and no more of our wonderful, idiotic conventions about buttons for our "I hate vampires" club and what to pester Esme to make for dinner.

Oddly enough, it'd been Nessie who'd given me the best advice on not looking into the future. I'd asked her the other day if it ever bothered her how she seemed to keep growing, how she might die before she's ten real years old if she kept on growing at this rate. And what had she said? "Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present." It, apparently, was by some dead old Roman Emperor who lived before even the Denali's "mother" could've slept with him. But I guess it was right. I mean, what good is it thinking on what might happen tomorrow? I was happy with Jake now, and I'd deal with the future when it came. However inevitable that future of pain and suffering and heartbreak might seem.

They'd woken Nessie now, and she'd ridden on Jacob the Elf-Dog's back down to the living room – which, some time while I'd slept and I'd been too busy laughing my ass off at Jake to notice earlier, had been decorated to such movie extremes that fucking expected to see doughnut-doing, goat-milking film crew in one corner and a Master Card commercial in the other.

God, Alice goes overboard, doesn't she?

Distractedly, Huh?

I walked over to Jake and bumped my shoulder against his. What ya' thinking about? I asked him. It wasn't every day he was distracted enough not to insult one of the leeches with me.

Stuff... he said as we watched Nessie all full of childish joy and excitement opening things like chemistry sets and collections of work by James Joyce and Dostoevsky. They had her in a blue crushed velvet dress, and there was white lace on it, and her brown hair was curled and ribboned and it looked like something you'd almost certainly see in one of those Shirley Temple movies after she'd been adopted by the rich war profiteer. It was both very sweet and very sickening. I don't know which I felt more.

What kinda stuff?

Life. The Universe. Everything.

Deep stuff for a wolf to be thinking about.

He nodded. Still dressed as elves – me, because I'd no idea where I'd left my clothes and neither wanted to go and find them or borrow from the smelly leeches and Jake presumably for the same reason, - we were sitting next to the glass coffee table, watching everything that was going on. The happiness of vampires who'd seen between them nearly five times as many Christmases as there'd actually ever been, who had the rest of eternity to figure out what to do with their lives, and why they were in it, and why, with everything else in the world making perfect sense, there were such inexplicable creatures like werewolves and vampires and for all I fucking knew creatures like unicorns and elves and nut-smoking, beaver-herding wizards. They didn't have this perpetual worry that, in the end, their life would amount to something meaningless and a handful of ashes tossed about in the wind. They, at the very least, would contribute to the extinction of some innocent animals, the deaths of some innocent people who just happened to be in the way when they slipped up. Their undead lives, however uncelebrated, would be meaningful. Just look at what they'd done in Forks – their presence had reborn werewolves in La Push and had taken the chief of police's daughter from the realm of the human – and know what they had to have done elsewhere. Fake deaths in fake childbirths to confuse powerful kings. The legend of the succubi... and of the kind vampire... I can't help it.

Why not?

Well, he said slowly, its just that they've been talking in school. About applying to colleges, about colleges they've gotten into, careers and financial aid. About their jobs at the Quik Mart and the food court in Port Angeles. And I was thinking about how ridiculous it was that we never get to have a life like that, where my only problem would be what to get you for Christmas-

What did you get me?

He "elbowed" me with his shoulder and continued, And, at the same time, I look at all the kids I go to school with and am like, these idiots don't know what's going on in their very own town, and how grateful I am for actually being able to do something with my life, even if it just watching to make sure Nessie's okay. You know what I mean?

I know. I try not to, though: it makes you old.

Laughing then, You'll never be old.

I'm older then you, I reminded him.

You know what I mean.

Do I? But really. You don't need college necessarily to do anything with your life, though I understand it helps with the job part of things, which I've heard you need for the money to buy me presents with...

I'm just saying our lives are bordering on the edge of a bad sci-fi movie, in that I'm about to promise you I'll all work out somehow, the Cullens and Sam's pack and the Rez restrictions and your girly thing-

Girly thing? I laughed. Of all the different names I'd come up with to call my period, he used girly thing?

Girly thing, he repeated resolutely.

How is that bad sci-fi? Sure, the werewolf thing is a bit over done, but people say things like that all the time, then get eaten or turned into a bloodsucker or processed by the spirits of dead witches.

Because, like bad sci-fi, I'm going to say it, and it's actually going to happen.

And how do you know that? I could've mentioned imprinting. Or threatened to turn his fur pink for thinking such impossible things. Or asked him why he thought I was going to willingly spend the rest of my life with him.

Because, he said, and, for a moment, I let myself believe him.

Chapter Tweleve