They arrange to meet on First Beach at twelve, something that Martin says is odd because that's the time of the Council meeting, but obviously it's been canceled because Jake, Seth, Embry, and another older-looking man shows up from the forest. As soon as the man steps on the beach, Theo twitches, but it's not until the wind changes that Lyn smells it. It's faint but distinguishable. Wolf.
But the wolf is following on the heels of Jake, which means that Jake has dominance over him. Which means that Jake has to be wolf. But Jake doesn't smell like it.
There's only one explanation: adaptation.
Shapeshifters adapt faster than normal human beings. The coyote pack have better noses, falcons have better eyes, bears are stronger and faster, and cougars have better ears. It's something that reflects off their animal side. So bears are taller and more muscular. Theo's pretty built, taller than average, but normal at first glance. Martin's short, like all the other falcons, and Lyn is tall and lean, exactly like a cat.
Wolves, obviously, have adapted as well. They no longer smell.
Or some of them, anyway. Lyn wants explanation. Why in the world do Jake, Seth, and Embry not stink of dog when this other wolf does?
And they walk in pack form, Jake in the front, then wolf on his right, Seth on his left, Embry behind Sam. In a V shape. There's no doubt that Jake's the Alpha and the other three are his highest ranked wolves. And Lyn's absolutely sure that it's not just them, so she opens up her ears, tilts her head to the side.
And about a mile or so away, deep in the forest, she hears the crunching of leaves, several at a time, meaning four or five wolves. Assuming they can run as fast as she can, that means that if a fight breaks out, they can cross that mile distance in a second or two. Which leaves them outnumbered nine to three. They might be Betas and outrank a good eight of them or so, but an Alpha?
This changes everything, she thinks.
Theo touches his index finger to his ear, and she nods. She touches her nose, and he nods. Wolf. Martin scans his eyes across the beach, and then of their bodies. He's told her once that if he really pays attention, he can tell by their muscle movement how they fight, and how they lose. It's something that creeps her out sometimes, that if she stretches and he's watching, he knows where to kill her with one touch.
"Hey," Jake calls out, and she reaches out to Nathan in her mind. A tightening in Theo's neck says that he's trying to communicate with Taylor, his Alpha, but across two thousand something miles, words are useless. Lyn knows. The mountain lion pushes images across to her father, and Nathan's panicked, getting the gist statement. She's able to glean one full sentence from his mind.
Eight hours is too long.
Martin frowns and answers back to Jake and his high ranked, nodding. "Hey." The four men are a few feet away now, and they haven't broken formation, making Lyn slightly uneasy. Theo must smell it, because he kicks her ankle.
La Push's Alpha looks at them. "Animal Control, huh?" Then he swallows. She can hear his throat moving.
"Actually, that was a lie," Theo admits freely. "We just wanted to see if you knew anything about a wolf pack around here."
Jake stares, and if she could, Lyn wouldn't be surprised to hear his train of thought crashing. "Huh? What are you talking about?"
Theo steps forward, then smiles, flashing his white teeth at the Alpha. "I'm Theo Vo-Jaline. Part time coyote."
"Martin Carlton, and I know that rhymes," Martin sighs. "Falcon."
Lyn smiles wryly. "Lynette Parker, and that doesn't rhyme. I'm a cougar. Or mountain lion. Or puma. Or panther."
"Wait. You're all shapeshifters too?" Jake's eyes widen. "But you aren't Quileute."
Theo raises an eyebrow and strides to a driftwood log, his feet pressing onto the stones lightly. He sits down and motions for the others to follow. Lyn and Martin do, but she makes sure that she has an eye on them. It would be too easy for them to attack right now. The wolves are walking behind her, and she normally wouldn't let them face her back, but she opens her ears so she'll hear if one of the wolves clenches his muscles and prepares to attack.
"All right," Martin says quietly, clearly aware of her ears' sensitive state. Lyn can't help but notice the way they're sitting: the four wolves on one side, herself along with her friends on the other. A clear line between us and them. "Tell us what you know about your history."
The wolf that she can smell tenses, his heart pumping louder, and narrows his eyes. "How do we know that you're telling the truth?" His voice is low, lower than she originally expected.
Lyn exchanges a look with Theo, but Martin stares straight ahead and opens his mouth. "May I ask for your name?" Silence greets his question, but Jake grunts and elbows him.
"Sam," the wolf looks angry when he tells them, and it's such a boring, generic name for a boring, generic looking person that Lyn's mouth twitches up before she can stop herself. She can feel the Alpha's eyes on her, but she's looking over at the waves. And she notices for the first time that they're not the only ones there; a few little kids play in the surf. Of course. It's June, it's warm, and there's no school.
Martin nods, saying, "I'm assuming that you're the Beta, Sam." When the wolves tense, he adds, "Because of the way you're sitting in formation. Seth, Embry, Jake, we met earlier."
"Yes," Seth says, and Lyn is tempted to tell him that he looks better in cutoff jeans than khakis. She doesn't. They're all shirtless, and it confuses her. She asks about it. Seth looks at her. "Well, we have to shift, don't we?"
It's an odd question. "Yeah, but you're not wearing shoes or anything."
"Because we'd wreck them," Embry mutters.
She wrinkles her eyebrows, then reaches down to untie her shoes so she can tighten them. It's something she likes to do. "That doesn't make any sense."
"When we phase," Sam says slowly, again like she's stupid and doesn't understand anything, and it makes her somewhere between mad and annoyed. Theo's nostrils flare slightly, smelling the anger, and she calms herself down. "When we phase, our bodies do. Shape shifting. Our clothes aren't part of our bodies. So the clothes don't shift."
Martin blinks twice, and she hears it. She must've accidentally opened up her ears without thinking. Blocking them off so she doesn't go deaf when he starts talking, her shoelaces are wrapped loosely around her fingers. That's right. She'd been tying her shoes. "Tell us how your pack started," the falcon tells them.
And so they do.
Lyn sits through the tales of Taha Aki and the spirit warriors, thinking about the differences between her people and theirs. When it gets to the part of the Third Wife, Embry's voice falters and he shoots a quick look at Jake, who interrupts him, picks up the story, and continues on how the Third Wife saved the villiage. Then he talks about how she died, and how the villiage honored her death. During that story, she stops listening to how Jake's voice is low and rumbly and smooth all at once and instead thinks about if that's what Nathan did about Natasha years ago.
Then Jake starts telling them about other attacks from the vampires, and Lyn's not upset, not really. She's just lost in the minds of the characters, not the stories, and keeps thinking about Taha Aki's children with the Third Wife and how they dealed with it. She wonders if they knew their mother well, or if they lived with the Second Wife or the First. The mountain lion's not sure. She hopes that they did.
Somewhere in the middle of Jake telling them about the sixth vampire attack on the Quileutes, she hears the crunching of leaves a mile away and the conversation of two kids in the surf. Lyn vaguely hears her heart beating, hears her blood rushing through her veins, and wonders if it hurts to die. Probably, she thinks. She touches her neck and imagines diamond sharp fangs there.
Jake stops talking, the steady stream of words disappearing, and looks at her. "Are you okay?"
She realizes that he's talking to her. She looks at him. He seems concerned. "Huh?"
Theo clears his throat. "I think we should stop talking about vampire attacks," he declares, and moves her hand off her tanned neck, his own finger lingering there. Martin rubs his eyes and agrees.
Then the falcon begins to talk about their packs, about how they descended from witches and not spirit warriors. Five witches that were being hunted by vampires and solved the problem by combining bodies with animals: bear, coyote, puma, falcon, crow.
"Crow? Bear?" Embry asks, and Theo nods.
"Yeah. All the crows were killed by wolves fifty years ago, and the bears are on the verge of dying out."
To their credit, the wolves seem embarrassed, even though it's not really their fault. Theo briefly explains about the War and the losses, then talks more about the Council. About the four Alphas. About their culture.
Then Lyn clears her throat and says, eyes locked on Sam's, "When we shift, the thing that we're wearing shifts with us. Tight clothing works best, but anything is fine."
Martin smirks as the wolf flushes and looks away.
"So why are you here?" Embry finally says when the silence has stretched long enough to become awkward. "Why now, when you guys have had years of knowing we were here and waiting? Why didn't you guys attack?"
Theo stiffens by her side, but Lyn answers anyway.
"Hundreds of years ago, actually, when the last of the witches were gone and we were the only ones remaining, the five packs were just basically running around. There was no one to fight; we didn't know about vampires yet. And we found La Push, went in, and started training together. The wolves became the unofficial sixth pack. There was a Council and everything, and you guys introduced us to the art of hunting vampires.
"But about six decades ago, there was a falling out. Like, there were a bunch of vampires in Forks, you know? And the Alpha of the wolves, I'm assuming Jake's great-grandfather, wanted to make peace with them, because the leader said they didn't drink human blood or something like that. But we said that there was no doubt that sometime in the future, one of them would lose control and kill a human, or worse, turn one." She pauses. "What?"
Jake clears his throat, eyes darting away. "The vampires are still here. Carlisle, that's the leader's name. And there are nine now, in total." His words are strained, tired, and she wonders for a second if he's ever met any of them before shrugging, trying to figure out why she cares.
"The last time," Theo says, not startled to see Martin suddenly straightening, "there were five vampires. What happened to bring the other four?"
Embry replies. "Two joined. One was made." Lyn flinches, but he continues. "The last was a result of a vamp mating with a human. The vampire was the one that was made. The human was willing."
"Willing," she repeats, and every cell in her is screaming, remembering dark hair and pain and blood. Blood everywhere, the dark red painting her skin and the floor. "Was the human stupid, in love, or both?"
Jake laughs quietly. "Both." There's a story there that she wants to hear, but she stays quiet as he asks, "How old are the three of you?"
Martin smiles. "Eighteen for me, Lyn's nineteen, and Theo's twenty."
"Twenty for me and Embry, eighteen for Seth, and twenty-two years for Sam."
"Good for you," Lyn says. "Now call the rest of your pack off, except for Sam and Seth. Including the ones hiding out a mile and a half away. So we're even in power and stance." Jake stares at her, too flustered to speak, and Lyn nods when she hears the wolves moving away. "Thank you."
Martin joins Lyn to her left, and Theo closes on her right. She realizes that it leaves her in the middle, and symbolizes dominance over them to the wolves. That she's in charge. The action makes her throat close up momentarily, but she recovers.
"All right," Theo murmurs as they close up rank. "Let's talk, wolves."