The Mythical Creature's Guide to Modern Warfare (21/26)

"As the sun once said to the ocean, I will be right here when you come back home.
As you curl your toes and pretend that you know where we've been and where you'll go...
I stole you this bouquet – the spoils of war, and as long as you're okay, I'm okay.
You're okay? Okay? Okay."

Sugar Glyder "Spoils of War (The OK Song)"

Chapter Twenty-One, Uniform

I was woken by the sound of NSYNC. It was not a pleasant way to wake up, even though I was curled next to Jake, using his chest for a pillow, and snuggled warm under a heavy blanket, the dulcet tones of "Bye, Bye, Bye" make anyone wake up on the wrong side of the rock. Fumbling, feeling groggy and stupid, I grabbed the phone and pulled my arm back under the blankets, holding it to my ear. "What kind of sick, sadistic pleasure does it give you to constantly change my ringtones?"

"It's not me that's been doing that," came, surprisingly, Emmett's voice on the other end of the phone. "I'd have chosen something exciting like Eiffel 65's 'Blue' or Right Said Fred's 'I'm Too Sexy.' What was it playing?"

"The dulcet tones of NSYNC. So, what, you back, or just calling me to annoy me?" It was almost the end of January. If Alice had been right – and she nearly always was – the Volturi would be here in a week or two, ready to pull off our heads and burn our innards.

"Got back about an hour ago. Rose and I brought Garrett here – Revolutionary War solider who none of us have ever heard of before, save Mary, who despises him on principle. Hmm..." He sounded like he relished the drama. Which he probably did. "But if it's that, it's probably Kate who's been doing it. She's always had a thing for boy bands. Or maybe Maggie. Who knows?" The manor was becoming crowded with leeches now. The Irish Coven (Siobhan, her mate Liam, and little Maggie) had been here for three weeks, as had the American nomad Randall. Two of the Amazonian Coven (Zafrina, the eldest vampire I'd come across yet at almost eighteen hundred years, and Senna) were here, sent north by Alice and Jasper, who were still in Brazil with the third, Kachiri, looking. Tanya and hers had returned with the Egyptians (Amun, Kebi, Benjamin and Tia) just the day before, flying in from Seoul after determining the Chinese Coven had either been destroyed during the rise of Mao or were so well hidden they couldn't be found. Which brought the vampire house count up to twenty-four, if Emmett and Rose were really back. Plus three in South America, plus Carlisle and Esme in Europe, looking up Alistair. Which would bring us to an even thirty vampires if they all got here in time.

And eight werewolves. Ten if you counted the ones growing inside of me, providing me horrid morning sickness if I so much as smelt coffee, strawberries, or well-done meat, no matter what time of day it was. I couldn't have been much more than a month pregnant, keen vampire hearing and lab tests had shown my pregnancy (which I reluctantly, after throwing up on New Years Day after smelling Bella's shampoo from two floors away, had to admit was real) was behaving as if it were nine, not five weeks along. I wasn't even showing yet...

Weren't there only six of us then, what with Matty Mora joining?

There had been. And then, shortly after Tanya and the Egyptians had arrived, we'd two more wolves phase on the same day: Zack Clearwater, Dad's cousin's son, and Matty's little sister Judith. Both were twelve. And, yes, Judith. Another she-wolf. According to Seth, who got along best with the La Push pack, they'd another three of their own phase in January – Jared's twin cousins and one of Paul's – but none of the others were girls. I was just kinda thrilled that I wasn't a freak of nature, and that other girls could phase... Unless we were both freaks of nature, I dunno. All I know is that there were two of us now, and I was Alpha female, my place secure, and the world starting to go right now that it might be ending and everything in the next few weeks.

"Cool," I said around a yawn. "Why you telling me this?"

"Well, I was calling to tell you that Carlisle and Esme found Alistair and are flying in tonight, and want to talk to all of us at seven at the manor."

"And you couldn't have told me that later why?"

"Well, I also want to congratulate you. I hear you're one preggo-Eggo, wolfy dear. Twice up the spout too... Not exactly a litter, but close enough. So, what you going to call the little cubs? Romulus and Remus? Randolph and Rudolph? Wolfgang and-"

I hung up the phone and rested my head back upon Jake's chest. "Who was that?" he yawned, adjusting his hold on my waist.

"Emmett. He and Rose are back."

"Grey-ate," he yawned stretching a little. "Just what we needed, more blood-worms. What time is it?"

I looked at the phone. "Time for you lot to start getting ready for school." Taking the blanket with me, I forced myself to sit up and stare at the pile of sleeping forms around us. "Oi! You lot! I know it's Monday, but you gotta go to school." I turned around to glare at Jake, as if it were his fault they weren't listening to me, and discovered him fast asleep again.

I punched him in the stomach.

"Time," I said, standing up and making my rounds, kicking and prodding awake as needed, "to get up!" Little Judith was closest, a curled asleep a few paces from where I'd been, a motley grey wolf with a brown back, no more than three feet high and five from snout to tail. As a girl, she was just over five feet as well, though in the short time I'd known her she'd already grown at least an inch. Just past twelve, I'd have guessed her fourteen or so from a distance. But she was also the youngest of the new "pups," ours and La Push's together. Her dad, the boy's English teacher, Richard Mora, thought his two kids had run away from home and called Charlie, who in turn had called us... I knew Jake was leery of sharing our secret with too many, especially his teacher, but we just couldn't keep twelve-year-olds out in the woods without their parents worrying. Not that we hadn't tried, but the pups wouldn't go home, not when we were "having fun" and "roughing it" and whatever else. Oddly enough, my presence among the pack had lessened Mr. Mora's anxiety dramatically. Don't ask me the hell why. But still, I knelt down and shook the wolf-girl. "Judy, you don't get your ass up right now, you're going to have to walk to school – and I'll see that you do it too."

Groaning, she opened one golden eye at me and phased. "God, Aunt Leah," (she'd picked up the name from Nessie, and it'd expanded to all the pups in the world's most annoying way), "you're worse about school than Dad is."

"You go to school until you finish twelfth grade," I informed her, using my toe to shake Zack. He was a sandy-brown wolf of about Judith's size and Seth's colouring. A boy, he was near Matty's hight, with dark brown hair he wore past his shoulders, making his fur long and shaggy, and his eyes, both as wolf and human, were blue-grey. "That goes double for you, Zachary Clearwater. No cousin of mine is going to end up as big an air-headed douche-bag as our Alpha."

I heard a sleepy, "Hey," come from Jake, while Zack rolled off his back and phased back to human. "Second cousin," he yawned. "Second. Doesn't that give me some leeway?"


Matty was sleeping human close to the edge of the lean-to. I moved to prod him, but, luckily for him, he was already up and trying to wake his legs. "It's only school. It could be worse."

"For you, maybe," his sister snapped back, already in a knee-length dress and combing her fingers through her hair in attempt to get the leaf litter out of it. "But we have to spent all day with a bunch of idiots who can't understand the FOIL method after two weeks of trying. I think I was dreaming about quadratic equations last night, it's gotten so bad."

Pulling on his own clothes, Embry replied, "No, I'm pretty sure you were dreaming about Star Wars."

"Star Trek," Zack corrected, "no Jedi. And that was me."

I don't even pause to think what he might have been dreaming from Star Trek or why. I just double check that Jake is waking up and pull off my own sleep-shirt and wiggle into something that still fits me. I fear that when Alice comes back, first thing she'll do if we manage to live is drag me maternity shopping. Evil vampiric creature. If she could find wireless internet access for her phone in the Amazon, I'm sure she'd already be ordering things for me, if somebody's told her about, well, me being pregnant with twins.

I still can't get used to that thought. Me. Pregnant. And with a litter of two too.

The vampires have been hearing their heartbeats for about a week now. I started picking up on it the other day. The tiny thump-thump sounds running parallel to my own. I was half certain too that the vampires had a bet going on whether it'd be two boys, two girls, or one of each. Jake personally thought two boys, because of the werewolf gene coming out dominantly in boys and both of us being werewolves, but I wasn't so sure.

Evil vampires.

Slowly herding my group towards the manor and the Rabbit that waited there, I tried to think of anything but the twins... I settled for how much I wanted Karamel Sutra ice cream right now... and a really good hamburger, all thick and juicy and treading that fine line between hint-of-pink and completely-brown, with two pieces of real cheese – not that fake, wrapped-in-plastic stuff, but the kind you cut off a real block of rich, yellow cheese – with perfectly ripe tomato slices, and lots and lots of pickles, and no onions... ooooh! Or caramelized onions and mushrooms sautéed in butter on a perfect Philly cheesesteak... or Philadelphia cream cheese and pickles on crackers... and obviously I was going insane, because not only was there no one in the house who could, or would, make any of it for me, or go out and by the requisite pickles and cream cheese, but pattern dictated the moment the meat started browning I'd be rushing for a bathroom. I had the distinct privilege of throwing up in eight of the nine bathrooms in the Cullen's cold house ('cause they were vampires, and cold... obviously my sarcasm has been failing me during this stupid ass, progressing-too-fast-but-not-as-freakishly-fast-as-Bella's pregnancy thing. Next time, Jake gets to be the one to be pregnant. Like sea horses. If we could shape-shift into werewolves, I'm sure we could figure out how to do the whole sea horse thing. Or maybe go the kangaroo route...

Luckily, a car coming up the road with an engine whose roar we'd come to recognize distracted me from my thoughts of food and marsupials. It was Charlie, coming in the cruiser to a house full to the brimming with vampires for God knew what reason. Jake seemed to want to use that as an excuse not to go to school, put I pushed him and the rest into the car and them I'd take care of it. "School. Now," I ordered, and he stuck his tongue out at me, muttering, "Slave driver," under his breath.

Seth gave a half-hearted glare at me, squishing into the back seat with the other six somehow fitted into a car that shouldn't be able to fit four grown adults comfortably, let alone werewolves, then waved as the Rabbit sped off.

"Weirdo." Then turned to Charlie, who was getting out of the cruiser in his complete police getup. "What brings you to leech manor, Pops?" His face was grim and set as if he was ready for the worst. "There's been an animal attack up in Fairholm. A girl, about fifteen, found mauled in an ally. Looks like it could be the work of a rabid dog, but maybe..."

And he wanted to see if one of the non-veggies had done it. He could've just called... but he was Bella's father. What was it with the Swans and putting themselves in mortal danger? Would Mom get that habit after she finally married Charlie, come August? I hope not. 'Cause goodness knows Forks is like the town in the western hemisphere for getting into mortal danger, and, if we died, I'd not be there to see that she got out of it... though she mightn't get into that much of it if we did all just die and there were no vampires or werewolves or rabid unicorns or whatever in Clallam County, Washington. Oh, yes, that's a morbid thought, Leah, I thought to myself. You can't die. Mom may have Charlie now too worry about her, but what about Seth? And Jacob, of course? Or the pups, born and unborn both?

I'm just saying, God fucking damn it! I argued right back to myself, Can't I even go a day without fighting with myself?

You're married, but you've not told Mom or Billy or even anyone outside the leeches or the pack. You're pregnant – with twins – and they don't know either. You're just hanging about, pretending to live or something.

I'm happy! I protested, looking at Charlie. He looked better cared for then he'd ever since I knew him, like there was someone there not just to see he fed himself (coughBellacough), but iron his uniform properly or, at least, see that he did it properly, and all that went along that line. It vaguely disturbed me that Mom might be doing Charlie's laundry, though I couldn't say why. He looked happy – and I could tell it, because I was happy... what was it Nessie had read from some book? Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work – that goes on, it adds up. That was it. And I might've spent my time seeing the pack went to school and brought home dinner and hung out with insane vampires, I was happy. Despite the war that was all too close for comfort.

I know you are... but you're living in a bubble. What about your family? What about your friends?

Everyone I know-

There's a reason you haven't told Mom, or Rachel, or even Emily, who used to be you're best friend...

Shut up, I told my traitorous thoughts, and managed a, "Well, come on then, if you want. Probably best, actually; don't want one of the loonier ones to find you out here all alone. Stay behind me, though. Some of the nomads are a bit... touchy when it comes to humans."

I went into the house, pausing at the door. Mary, Maggie, and Randall were there, the latter two playing ten games of chess at once while Mary was sitting on the piano bench and beading. Why, I don't know, but she did. They all looked up as Charlie's human smell wafted into the room, but none of them moved. Well-trained vampires they were. "Where's Zafrina?" I asked, not bothering to introduce them. There were too many vampire smells trailing all over the house for me to be able to pick out which was hers and freshest... So I had to ask. Stupid vampires.

Maggie, a short fourteen-year-old girl with long, coppery curls and an angel's face, tilted her head to the side and looked at Charlie curiously. "The human. He is one of Bella's kin." Yes, yes, yes, but can't you just answer my question? No... because that would make too much sense for a vampire. She was to Siobhan and Liam what Edward, Rose, and the others were to Carlisle and Esme though, in the strange way of vampires, she only appeared three mortal years younger then her "mother." I'm also near certain that Jasper is, again in mortal years, the same age or only slightly younger, then Carlisle, and Emmett isn't that too far off. And Edward is older (as a vampire) then Esme but younger (as mortal ages go) too... It's all very confusing...

Rolling my eyes and trying to show the eight-hundred-year-old child who's in charge here."Her father. Where's Zafrina?"

"Back yard," Randall told me, being generally more mature, despite the fact he wore a hundred-year-old (at least) raccoon cap. "What's with the human?"

"Si prestara atención, Trampero, habría oído que el guardia piensa que uno de nosotros podría haber matado a algún humano al norte de aquí."

"L'amour de Dieu, Motuckquas," Randall implored, "the colonists won the war, and you red skins are in camps now where you-"

"And let's not fucking have this fight again," I said as I pushed Charlie into the kitchen, as he'd paused gawking behind me, presumably dazzled by the presence of three vastly different but highly immobile vampires, who weren't even pretending to breathe or fidget as the Cullens did. The only humans they ever dealt with were dinner for them. Or breakfast. They didn't even try, though all of them had strange human habits – Mary's crafts, some of the others interest in television or books or politics or furry little hats – and peculiarities. Mary's with English was only the most noticeable. Jasper had his own with the Civil War. But I really didn't need this right now. All I wanted to do was eat something, rest, and then maybe annoy Emmett into getting me pickles and cream cheese, and nap for a bit.

The kitchen was vampire free, luckily, and I took a butcher's knife from the rack of knives and proceeded on through, to the back door, shrugging my shoulders. "Clash of the civilizations. Randall was a French fur trapper before he was turned – sometime around the Louisiana Purchase, or before, or something – and Mary is – was – whatever – King Philip's sister and goes on all the time about how they should have won some war, or, at least, I think she does. She doesn't like speaking English all that much. Just don't ask questions, or let them get all I-want-to-suck-your-blood on you."

Somewhat in shock, either from the vampires still or the knife in my hand, Charlie seemed reluctant to continue on. "And how many of them are there?"

"Twenty-four. Twenty-seven tonight. Plus one half-vampire and eight werewolves. All of them being present had made six more kids from the Rez start to phase; who knows how many of us there'll be before it's all over and done with. No idea how big the Volturi are, only that we might be enough people now to make them pause before they kill us... but, anyway," I continued brightly, tugging at Charlie with my non-weapon hand and pulled him into the back yard, which was somewhat filled with sparkling vampires – Tanya and Kate sunbathing for some unknown reason, Siobhan pulling weeds from Esme's garden, and Zafrina and Senna hunkered around something a little ways off.

You know the knife won't hurt them, don't you, Leah? I asked myself.

I thought I told that corner of the brain to shut up... so shut up.

You know the knife won't hurt them, but you grab it anyway. Are you feeling human, trying to fight with weapons – they always fail you in the end – or do you fear you've gone too far to the wolf, living in the wolves, stepping on the Rez only once in six months, and are trying to force yourself into humanity?

Stop psychoanalysing me, me! Leave me alone! Just let me be!

But just being isn't working any longer, is it? You want to live – want to live so badly it hurts – but refuse to think past the battle. You haven't thought of the foetuses as actual children in side of you, children that will be born, that you'll have to take care of and name and raise. You haven't thought of telling anyone who might be hurt by your death anything... You don't know what you'll do if you live, because you-

Stop it! Stop it! I don't want to think about it! I yelled in my head, hoping the mind-raper wasn't listening to my confused thoughts, the part of me that knew I was repressing or avoiding or in denial growing louder with every day we drew closer to the battle. I tried to deal with it by not thinking of the fight, but it didn't work. Nothing ever did... "If anyone knows who did it, if anyone killed that kid you were talking about, Zafrina will know. She's the oldest, and the unofficial head of the non-veggies."

Tanya, however, had other plans, and was in front of the two of us before either could so much as blink. "Hello," she said, spreading her too-white teeth into a seductive smile (or, I thought, was meant to be seductive to Charlie, shudder), "and who do we have here?'

"Tachkya," Kate called with some exasperation, while I did the natural thing and hit at her with the knife. It curled awkwardly when it hit her flesh, but left a slice in her shirt that was enough to annoy her and send her away. It was enough to make me feel somewhat better. I needed a good fight. I needed this awful, endless anxiety to end...

I frowned at the knife and tossed it aside, the metal looking like half a banana peel. I shuddered at the thought. All I'd "Stupid, rock-boning, tree-humping, banana-fucking vampires," I cursed. "All I want to do is ask Zafrina if she knows if anyone has killed in-state, for God's frog-kissing sake! I do not want to have to fend horny leech-sluts off my mother's fiancé or have to listen to vampiric opinions on wars that happened four hundred years ago. Is that understood?"

The werewolves ignored me, though Kate did sit up a bit in her chair and let out a snort of laughter. "I think your hormones are getting the better of you, Kiwi."

"Stop calling me that!" I yelled, then, in exasperation, sat down on the steps coming down from the kitchen door. I pinched the bridge of my nose and took as deep a breath I could without choking on the sickly-sweet vampire smell. There was a clawing feeling inside my stomach, like it was trying to climb out whatever way it could manage, deciding it as easier to take vacation then try to put up with my weird eating habits.

I'm going crazy, I'm going crazy, I'm going crazy, I told myself. It's nothing to worry about. I tried to concentrate on my breathing, but it was rapid and shallow, and my heartbeats were confused with the twins'.

Kate – and, oddly, Bella – were at my side in an instant. "You can't get yourself all worked up like this, Leah," the latter admonished with me. "Your body is working too hard to handle it. Come on now, let's get you inside..."

"Have you had anything to eat today?" Kate asked, "Humans are big on food, right? That's important, I think I remember."

I tried to bury my head further in my hands and try to make sense of the world, which had suddenly chosen to blur around me. "Water," I choked out, counting my breaths and, when it grew too much, I phased there, curling into a ball on my side. It seemed to help, and the feeling in my belly started to calm down...

No, it wasn't in my stomach... it was in that stupid, hell-causing thing known as my womb. It was the feeling of tiny paws.

The twins, sensing my anger, had phased.

Chapter Twenty-Two