The Mythical Creature's Guide to Modern Warfare (20/26)

"We are ready for the siege; we are armed up to the teeth; we care for how you live and breathe.
Release what's underneath. How many times do you wanna die? How many wings? Do you wanna die?
Do you feel safe again? – look over your shoulder, very carefully look over your shoulder.
We can laugh about it now; we hope everything works out. Be careful how you lick
your wounds. Believe that change is coming soon."

Silversun Pickups "The Royal We"

Chapter Twenty, Tango

"For some reason that brought a faint, almost hysterical chuckle to is mouth," Nessie read, sitting on the edge of the bed I'd woken in, "He couldn't believe he was in this situation," I was knitting, yet again, but this time with a sort of loom-thing that had shown up with some yarn on what had temporarily become my beside table, and was, for once, making good progress on a hat. Never mind that I'd been sitting her for five plus hours with an IV in my arm, no one but Nessie to talk to, though Kate had, showing great passion and great restraint, gone to the one restaurant in Forks and purchased two of every entrée on the menu and brought it back for me, neither complaining over-much at the smell of cooked meat nor tying one of the boys who worked there up and bringing him back to ravish all night. I guessed she was pining still for my brother. Gross. But she'd done that, dropped it off with Nessie and me, then said something about having to go keep an eye on Peter, who apparently wasn't known for either his digression or his common sense. "He was supposed to be some sort of hero, going up against Mister Monday, and here he was without any pants on," (well, I thought, you can be a hero without pants easily enough. Just looks at us lot, by which I meant we werewolves, we go around all the time without a stitch of clothing on fighting vampires and other assorted evil. If we can do it, you can do it wearing only a nightshirt and an overcoat), "worrying about being bitten somewhere very unpleasant by Nithling snakes." The cap I was making was almost done now. I'd a pile of three like it nearby, testimony to how long I'd been here. Laying in a hospital-like bed somewhere on the second or third floor of The Bat Cave, an IV in my right elbow pumping me full of who knew what drugs (Nessie had said it was saline and a variety of neonatal vitamins, but she was three, four months old. No matter how much I like Ness, I'm not trusting my health to a child protégée who was reading be a children's book, however interesting, when I was twenty-one years old) and being told I could only get up to go the bathroom, which was often with all the fluids they were pumping into me. I was told it was because I'd been dehydrated last night and was running at one-ten, rather then the one-oh-seven that was normal for me, according to all the blood-draws and whatnot Carlisle had done on me since Jake's birthday. They were worried about me. And the baby within me. Or, rather, that they claimed was within me. They said they could smell the what they were dubbing "lycanthropic chorionic gonadotriphin," or lCG, for about two weeks now, and that it was a milkier, less coppery smell then hCG, or the human version of it that we'd missed out on smelling on Bella because her pregnancy had progressed so fast. I thought they were crazy and that I'd werewolf cancer, or mange, or something like that, but would they listen? No. So I was making hats while listening to Nessie read Garth Nix at the end of my bed, occasionally stopping to change out my IV bags. "Surely no real hero would end up in this predicament."

I yawned. "When will Special Ed-ward and Bella-rina be back from the airport with that Irish lot?"

"Siobhan, Liam, and Maggie."

"Whatever. They left ages ago. What are they doing? Driving around the Olympic Forest trying to convince them that you're a 'real boy'? I thought Carlisle had already done that."

"'Real girl,' but you're right: Grandpa already did that. No, it's probably just a refresher on the rules of the house-"

"No eating the neighbours, no glittering in public, play nice with the werewolves-"

"-or," she continued as if she'd not been interrupted at all, the idiot child, "giving them a tour or something. According to Daddy, they've never been out of Great Britain, and Siobhan's just barely older than Kate."

This made me sit up – I was half-reclining, the pillows propping me up at a forty-five degree angle – and almost immediately regret it, a pain in my right arm where I'd managed to tug at the IV forcing me back down. "Does that mean they have cool accents?" I asked, desperately curious.

She tilted her head so her rich brown curls bounced against her shoulder. "I'd imagine so."

"That somehow makes lying on this bed all God damn day somewhat better."

"You passed out, Aunt Leah."

"Yeah! From the shock of being informed I'm pregnant – when I'm clearly not – right after getting back from my spur-of-the-moment marriage to a high school senior who turns into a furry wolf every five seconds and might well have married me to one up our ex-Alpha."

"Your lCG is at four hundred and twenty-nine million units per millilitre, which, if you look at the results of the CBCs Grandpa has been running on you since November, is about eight times the nineteen million units per millilitre that your body releases during ovulation – too small for even us to smell. And you love Uncle Jake. Why does it matter why you got married, so long as you're together?"

I resisted the urge to throw something at the child. But she was a child, whatever medical training her family may have given her, and so I settled for just tossing one of the hats at her. She smiled and put it on. She had to roll it up several times, but it was still too big for her. "Those weren't made for midgets, you know. And I'm not pregnant."

"I'm the one with the ninety-two degree body temperature. And yes, you are. And, if lCG is anything like hCG, the levels in your body are enough to suggest that you are a month pregnant, give or take a week."

About jumping up again, I restrained myself to a knowing smile. "Which I can't be, because I'd my last period two weeks ago." One point Leah, nill for the bloodworm doctors.

"Or," she said, smiling convivially, "two werewolf parent pregnancies progress faster then human ones, or you're having a whole litter."

I glared at her. Stupid tie-causing half-vampire doctor wannabes. "I hate you right now. So when are your parents getting home?"

"Oh, less than an our or so. More than enough time to finish Mister Monday. And maybe another hat."

The question I really wanted to know the answer to was the one as to where Jake had gotten himself off to. Wasn't that just perfect? Tricked or hormonally-driven or whatever into marriage, and then find out the leeches – ridiculously, stupidly, and, mostly, wrongly – thought he'd knocked me up and where was he? Not here, that was for sure. Stupid boys. "I want to get out of bed, Ness. There's no reason for me to be in one. Or in this house. It smells too sweet. And I'm bored. Love you to pieces, my little Lock Ness Monster friend, but I want to go run. Or something. Outside. At my rock."

She set the book down and, pulling herself across the length of the bed, she plopped down beside me, reclining her too-cool body against the pillows. Her little head leaned against my arm, a slight weight. It had been so easy to hate her when she was growing inside her mother, my soon-to-be-stepsister Bella's stupid, fatal mistake. But, as with Kate, it was hard to hate her once you got to know her. And she was all but growing in front of my eyes. Already she looked closer to three than two, and her interests and range of knowledge was more ridiculously expansive then anyone else's I'd ever known. One moment she was reading me middle school books, the next she was pretending to be my doctor (not that I needed one, I should point out), and now she was a little two-year-old-girl leaning against my side... It would have been so much easier to hate her, to storm out of here. But... I couldn't. Not when Kate was the only veggie vamp in the house, and three traditional blood-suckers with no attachment at all to her...

"I know, Aunt Leah. But you really weren't feeling well last night. Will you stay here just a little bit longer, until Daddy comes back? I don't want you to go out sick, not while your pack is either patrolling or in La Push."

I sighed and set down the stupid knitting loom thing for the moment. "And why," I asked, "are they at the Rez in the first place?"

"Matthew Mora."

That name sounded vaguely familiar. "Their English teacher?" What would bring any of the pack – even Quil, who enjoyed school the most of all of them – to the Rez on New Year's Day to talk to their English teacher?"

"His son."

I drew a blank at first, and then it hit me – why none of the boys, particularly Jake or Seth – were hanging out here with me. "He phased, didn't he?"

"I think so. All I know is, when you fell asleep right after Kate brought lunch, Uncle Jake stopped by and said that Embry was taking over the patrol, and that he and the rest of the boys had to go and see Matty Mora. He didn't want to wake you, 'cause when he tried to do it for the ball drop last night you started screaming 'Alien! Alien!'"

"I don't remember that."

"You were still effected by the Versed, I think. After that you started asking for an electronic sausage and a laser pointer, saying, 'We'll drive them out this way.' It was very amusing." I frowned. That did sound a little like me. Humph. I looked over at the child to say something in retort, but she was already asleep, seemingly having deemed be her favourite pillow. Stupid half-vampires.

No, stupid vampires. The full-fledged kind that had to come to town and, apparently, start causing the gene to rise again... I'm pretty sure Matty Mora's mother was the grandson of one of Old Quil's brothers or cousins or uncles, or something like that. He was defiantly one of Quil's more distant cousins. He was also, if I remembered correctly, in seventh or eighth grade. Even Brady and Colin had been out of middle school – if only just – when they started phasing.

If it was us that'd heard him when he'd first phased and not anyone from Sam's pack, that meant he'd be joining us, I gathered. Maybe it was pure chance, or maybe it had something to do with Quil – who I guessed would be Matty's closest relative out of all of us – being in our pack, or maybe something similar with Jake, whose mom had been Old Quil's niece.

Well, whatever it was, I can almost guarantee you that, as much as parents doing like their seventeen/eighteen-year-old children (and me) living out in the woods guarding vampires (or, like Ms. Call thinks, crashing with Jake and Quil, wherever they've gotten their "place"), parents are most distinctly not going to like their pre-teen son doing either.

Oh my God. If Jake is Quil's cousin, that makes him my cousin-in-law.

Oh my God, I'm... I'm like freaking out now. I don't know why, it's just stupid – I've nothing against Quil – and maybe its just this whole extended family thing, but... God...

I don't know why I did it – honestly, I don't – I picked up the lent iPhone somebody had placed on the beside table for me, who knew with what God-awful ringtone on it now, and dialled.

Bella picked up a moment later. There'd been some sort of piano music playing in the two seconds between my pressing go and her picking up, but I'd a feeling it was something of Eddie-bear's. I hated it on principle. "Hello Leah. Is everything alright there?"

Let's see... "Yes, you fucking retarded excuse for a dingbat's 'off' uncle, everything is just peachy-keen here, fucking beaver-nibbling melon sucker!" I rolled my eyes, glancing out of the corner of them to check that I'd not woken Nessie. However true my words might've been, it still bothered Ness to hear them. Poor child. She'd need years of therapy once she was grown up enough to realize how idiotic her parents were. Plus, coming to terms with the realization you were an accident, unwanted and likely to be forcibly removed until your mind-raping father finally heard your thoughts, was bound to be difficult. Look at Embry. Sure, he'd not tried to kill his mom in the womb, or had his mom tried to kill him (that we know of), but the kid has issues. "What do you think?"

"I'll put Edward on the phone then," she said smartly.

"No," I retorted sarcastically, "I called you because Mom wants to know if you'd prefer a cocktail-style or floor-length bridesmaid dress – of course I want to speak with your ass-pimping, mind-reading, frog-fondling husband! Until your head shrinks a little and your brain grows past the size of a sickly walnut, I've nothing to say to you. Oh, good-" I heard Edward bristle at my words regarding his wife. And something that might've been amusement or distaste from the Irish in their car. "You went to medical school, right? You're not just pumping me full of your dad's loopy drugs to see what, I dunno, arsenic does to a werewolf?"

"I have a Ph.D. from Princeton in Psychology and another from Yale in Pharmacology. I-"

"And yet you've gone through high school how many times?" What a depressing thought. I'd thought my teachers were idiots as a regular student. Having degrees like that and enough diplomas to wallpaper a small bathroom, it must be terrible. And they'd cursed Ness to that life – well, if she ended up slowing down her growth. I didn't know which to hope for, the cursed life or early death. "Never mind. Just tell me, and don't bother explaining all the CDG or LTP or whatever – Nessie already tried – just tell me in plain – sensible – English that doesn't require a dictionary or a bonfire-"

There was a sigh on the other end of the line. "Yes, you're pregnant, mutt."

"Oh," I said, feeling shocked. I dropped the phone, and sat stock still for the longest time. I was twenty-one. I'd married on the spur of the moment just last night. I was the Alpha female of my pack – and, annoyingly enough, wolf mating season hadn't even yet begun, and so I figured things could only get worse. Jake (God, my husband) was still in school.

I'd somehow managed to get pregnant. After two odd years of being a freak of nature, menopausal she-wolf, I not only had gotten my period back, but had lost it within two months again because I was God-damning, horse-scrubbing, scab-picking, nose-laundering, cat-bagging pregnant.

Let us pause and consider this. Me, Leah Jacqueline Clearwater. Er, Black. Whatever. It doesn't mater. Me, Leah. I frequently shape-shift into a giant grey wolf. All the experience I have with children amounts to what I can remember of Seth when he was little (and I was five or six-ish), which is almost nothing (as I was five or six-ish, and my clearest memories from that time involve feeding and, eventually, cursing at geese down by the Quillayute River. Oh, and the time I'd spent around Nessie, telling her I did not want to hear about ancient Hebrew washing chants or what they make mayonnaise out of. I have tried really hard to take care of Jake's – my – the pack, making sure they keep going to school and run patrols and make sure they get the leaf bits out of their fur and hair, whatever the case may be. But in what ways, exactly, am I equipped to handle a child of my own? So what if I'd a pair of mammary glands? That didn't exactly mean I knew what to do with a child after it left the uterus mobile...

Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity fuck. I used terms like uterus mobile and whatnot. That means I'm in no way, shape, or form prepared to have children. Least of all the fact I live at a rock, had no source of income other then what I bummed off vampires, and would be forced to explain to said child one day why all kids' parents didn't turn into furry creatures when they got angry...

What if the kid phased? What the fuck would happen when I phased? Would it turn into a wolf foetus? Or would something wrong happen to it? Or-?

Future. Don't think about it. That was the agreement I made with myself. Don't think about the future.

Damn. Damn. Squirrel-fucking salmonella damn.

I heard noises on the stair – loud, boisterous, boy noises, noting like those quiet, sneak-up-on-you noises vampires made. As Jake and Seth and Quil and, surprisingly, the boy I thought was Matty Mora, came piling into the room, I glared at them and held my finger to my lips, indicating the sleeping half-vampire at my side.

Quil rolled his eyes at me and sprawled across one of the room's oversized chairs. Seth did similar, only dropped onto the foot of my hospital bed, jiggling me and almost making Nessie bounce from the force of it. Picking the improbable child up, though, Jake lifted her gently off the bed and left, presumably, to take her to her room, while Matty just stood there awkwardly, a slight sheen of sweat on his face; he must have just barely gotten over that terrible "sickness" all of us had before our first transformation.

Casually (while investigating the ends of my knitting), Seth said to the boy, "Have a seat or something; Leah only bites when she's wolf."

I growled at my brother. "Oh yes, nice to see you too Seth. I suppose you're too good to tell your sister 'hello' first before insulting me to complete strangers."

"He's not a stranger, Lee. His mom is the daughter of Quil's granddad's and Jake's mom's mom's brother, Arty. The one that passed away when I was in first grade. And since Old Quil's grandpa is Grandpa Aaron's grandpa, that makes him our third cousin."

"See, Lee?" said Quil sarcastically, discovering some of the untouched leftovers from lunch, "not a stranger at all."

"Whatever. It looks like you're no longer Omega then, Seth – and don't just stand there, Matty; you're making me nervous, staring at me like that."

He sidled into a chair at last, looking incredibly nervous and confused. I knew that look: we'd all worn it at one point, still trying to believe that we weren't be April Fooled, not understand the whole she-bang with werewolves and vampires and us being one of the former and yet somehow visiting me in a sickbed inside the latter's house. Matthew Mora was short, for a werewolf, though still easily five-and-a-half feet, if not more. His hair was brown-black, and eyes a round, pale hazel – almost blue or grey, they were so light – with flecks of gold that caught the light. He looked about the age Seth should – sixteen – though I knew he had to be at least three years sort that. Even before he spoke, his voice crackling a bit, I felt those evil, sympathetic hormones kicking in, wanting to make sure the boys didn't ruin him – either misplaced maternal instinct or honest-to-goodness-well-wishing. "Why you hooked up to an IV?"

Seth took pleasure in saying, "'Cause Edward had to drug her last night."

I kicked him, which gave me pleasure, and was saved from answering when Jake entered and pushed Seth off the end of the bed so he could take that place himself. "Nessie is zonked out. You didn't give her your pills, did you?"

"No..." I said slyly. "I understand I called you an alien."

"The leeches were watching an X-files marathon while supposedly running tests on you. Its understandable."

"You tell them?"

"Tell us what?" asked Seth, now sitting on the floor by the pile of take-out boxes, not bothering with silverware at all.

Always one to rip of band-aids (if I ever bothered to put one on), I told him, "Jake and I were fighting last night, and-"

"And how is that news?"

I glared at Quil, then continued, "-and we ended up-"

Jake ended up cutting me off and just saying it, not as if it were something to be mildly embarrassed of but, rather, somewhat proud, like when his dad caught a particularly large fish or your team won the Super Bowl fifty-to-five, "We got married at the courthouse last night. Oh, and the leeches think she's pregnant."

I kicked him this time. "Yes, 'cause that's how you tell the pack what we did," I started to say, but was interrupted by Quil going, "Cool," Matty's eyes widening a little, and Seth choking on what appeared to be a chicken bone.

After a moment, he managed to chew or swallow it or something. "Last night," he asked somewhat weakly, eyes streaming."

Jake confirmed this and examined the stupid knitting I'd been doing, trying to figure out what exactly I was doing, let alone why, with the string.

"Damn," Seth cursed. "I'm out fifty bucks – I'd had bet it would be January."

I snatched the knitting loom and from Jake and threw it at my brother, who ducked and, tugging on the string, started to knit while his other hand probed the various boxes of take-out.

Chapter Twenty-One