Chapter 4: Leader

"Jake," said Cody. "Jake, man, don't - Jake -"

"Elspeth," said Jacob. He said my name like I'd never heard any word spoken, ever, some blend of worship and need and possessiveness. He stated it, like it was a fact all by itself: Elspeth exists, and that is supremely important. His eyes were so soft, like he was about to cry with happiness.

I stared back, but my face was less imprint face and more deer in headlights face. I didn't know how to react at all. I'd never spoken a word to Jacob in my life, and he was staring at me like... like all of the other wolves looked at their imprints.

What was this supposed to mean for me? I was hidden. I'd stay that way until Pera unhid me. She was in the pack too, she was part of the flow of people around Jacob identifying him as the boss. If he wanted me to stay, would she ever let me go? But I had to go! I could travel with them for a while, but I needed to meet up with Mama!

And then I wondered about the other women, and little Claire, scattered around the camp and looking at me and Jacob to see what we would do - were they free to go? Pera was, obviously, except that her absence would cost lives; she might not feel free, being so necessary. And Claire was a child (but where were her parents? I remembered she was a Makah; their tribe hadn't been wiped out...) Maureen and Emily were also Makah. Thea's family in Forks, some troop of blondes like her, would probably be alive too.

I'd never given any of this a second thought when Mama first recited their names for me. We didn't know if Jacob's pack was alive, or if they'd been captured by the Volturi, or what. Mama never heard from them again after they left La Push for good. Puzzling over the moral issues of scooping up two-year-old Claire and bolting hadn't been an important task, then.

I'd fallen in with thieves; had I also fallen in with kidnappers?

Mama told me that wolves hate to be without their imprints. They can technically do it, if they have to, but they wouldn't choose it.

But she also told me that wolves care very much about their imprints and will do what they need, be what they need. If anyone there had been kidnapped, it was because they weren't safe at home. So maybe I just needed to explain that I would be quite safe with Mama.

Would he believe me? We had been attacked by kept wolves...

My brain was running in circles; I'm not very well designed for thinking things out by myself. Usually I would bring problems to Mama and she would help me. But Mama wasn't there. I didn't know what to do without her.

Jacob said, "You look so afraid, please don't be afraid... I'm not going to hurt you, Elspeth..."

I spun around and ran.

Nobody chased me immediately, although I heard voices bubbling up and talking over each other the moment it was obvious what I was doing. I didn't go far. I had to be able to find my way back unless I wanted to be the equivalent of a ghost forever, wandering around in the "hiding place". But I needed to be by myself for a little bit and tackle the new, terrifying problem of how to make decisions without Mama.

I look sixteen, I mostly act sixteen, but I'm five - and a half - and Mama has always been in charge since she found me and I've never seriously rebelled. I liked kissing Cody but I would never have done it first, not without getting Mama to actually change her rule about boys. As soon as I thought of that I was ashamed of having kissed him even second. Mama said I had to wait until I was seven. I didn't know if she'd make an exception for a boy my own species and my own real age, because she wasn't there to ask.

I didn't know what she'd say about Jacob either. I had no idea. It was terrifying.

It meant I had to decide all alone, or try to get help from people I barely knew who had other interests in the problem besides making me safe.

Mama likes to talk about priorities. She told me once, "You can only have one top priority." I'm her top priority and that means I can trust her to look out for me no matter what. Anything else she cares about that competes with me being okay will not be addressed until I am okay.

I don't know a lot about anyone else's priorities.

I don't even know a lot about mine. I never had to. Mama thinks it's important for people to know themselves, what they want and what they have and how they're going to make the first thing happen with the second thing. But I didn't see the need much while I was little and she decided everything. I had what Mama got for me. I wanted "what was best", and Mama knew what that was, and she made sure I had it.

I stood in the forest, staring up at the sky where it peeked through the leaves, and I wished for my mama.

She would have thought about the problem and then she would have done what needed doing. Whisked me away, or hugged me and petted my hair until I felt better and sent me along to join the pack as Jacob's imprint, or - or something. She might have needed time to ask for more information or mull something over or get me to show her my feelings on the matter, but she would have thought of something and done it.

The only reason it didn't hit me so hard before was because I have rules about what to do when Mama says to run, all lined up ready to go when I needed them. But then Jacob had to complicate things. How would I get to where I needed to go and take my leave with him being all imprinty at me so I couldn't leave without hurting him, even if he'd let me go?

I knew it wasn't really his fault. Imprinting is involuntary. But it left me with a problem and no Mama there to fix it for me.

I sat under a tree, still squinting up at the sky. I heard footsteps, and turned to look, expecting Jacob. But it was Cody.

"Hey," he said awkwardly, sounding tired. Without the bouncy confidence he'd shown before, and in comparison to all the wolves I'd just seen, he looked thin and small, even though he's two inches taller than me and before I'd have said he was more wiry than skinny. "Are... you okay?"

"No," I said.

Cody sat down, at a comfortable ninety-degree angle instead of right next to me or facing me directly. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Yes," I said, trying not to cry. "But... but the person I want to talk to isn't here."

"Do you want me to leave you alone?" he asked tentatively.

"I hate being alone," I said. "I just - I had to - he was staring at me and I didn't know what to do -"

Cody nodded. "Jake's... a good guy," he said. "I respect the hell out of Jake. Like, if you'd met him before I was born he would have had little devil horns and smoke would have come out of his ears, that's how much hell I respected out of him." I laughed in spite of myself. "Who do you want to talk to?" Cody asked.

"My mama."

"Oh. I'm sorry. Didn't, uh, didn't lift a ouija board the last time we raided a Wal-Mart," he said.

"She isn't dead," I said, leaning against the tree bark and closing my eyes.

Cody blinked. "Beg pardon? Brady brought us up to speed on what the Volturi were saying and doing while he was a kept wolf, when he defected. They killed my parents and yours."

I didn't want to talk anymore. Leaving my eyes closed, I held up my hand, offering to show what I was too tired to tell.

He hesitated, but eventually he took my narrow hand in his broad one.

Aunt Rosalie, smiling guiltily as she held me, while Grandpa Carlisle explained that Mama and Daddy had "gone away" and would not be back, but that I didn't have to worry and would always be taken care of...

Walking through the park with the neighbor lady and her son and their dog, leading the dachshund into the trees, smelling something familiar and flowery, walking forward, leaving the animal behind, seeing Mama and knowing that Grandpa was wrong...

Mama explaining why Grandpa had said what he said, explaining about her shield, telling me that this was why I must run without thinking of going back for her if she said to, and I knew without her saying so that she wished Daddy had run when he'd had the chance...

Mama showing me the bench in Central Park where I should check for her, once every day, until the month was up, if I did have to run; Mama telling me all the phone numbers she had so I would know who to go to for help if she couldn't be there, and the worry on her face when she told me the numbers were old but I should try anyway...

I let my arm fall and my eyes open. Cody had an absent, almost awed expression. "She's alive," he murmured.

"I think so," I said, anxious. "If it doesn't work twice, or if someone went back to check on her before she could get up and run away... but she's probably alive. That's why I have to go to New York."

"Do you think..." Then he frowned and shook his head. "I guess it would only be her, she has the shield."

"I'm sorry," I said.

"Don't be sorry your mom is alive," he said, half-smiling. He held up a hand when I opened my mouth to correct him. "I know that's not what you meant."

"I'm used to her being in charge of everything," I said. "I don't know what to do without her. I thought it would be... maybe not easy, but straightforward, to just find her again if we did get separated. And then you said the pack could escort me and I thought that way it would be easy, too, and now it's not that, and it's not straightforward anymore either."

"Jake's a good guy," Cody repeated, slowly.

"But I don't know him. And he doesn't know me, either! I've never spoken one word to him, or shown him one thought, or anything, and what if he won't let me leave with Mama or even try to find her? I need her."

"Whoa, whoa," said Cody. "He's not - I don't think he's going to do that. I mean, he'd probably rather if you and your mom both stuck with us, yeah, but - he wouldn't keep you prisoner."

"Have any other imprints ever wanted to leave?" I asked.

"I... don't think so," Cody said, frowning.

"What would happen if one did? Kim, maybe," I said, naming the only adult imprint without a baby or essential witchcraft. "I - I guess since she's Quileute she probably has no close family left to go home to, but if she wanted to leave anyway?"

"Jared would... he'd want to go with her," said Cody slowly. "He'd want to go wherever she went. But he'd try to convince her to stay, first. They'd be easy pickings alone. You won't have that problem, though, your mom will be with you, she's done fine at keeping you safe this long and the Volturi aren't after you in particular. Probably not even now. Wolves don't see well enough in the dark that the kept ones could have recognized her, and by the time a see-in-the-dark vampire showed up she wasn't... really... recognizable."

I nodded. "What if... Suppose Pera could hide and unhide people without touching them, from any distance, and she wanted to leave, by herself, and only help remotely. It'd be safe for her to go. Would Brady let her?"

"I... don't..." Cody was unsettled by the question. "I can't imagine her doing that. She's happy with Brady."

I pulled my knees up to my chin. "But you think that Jacob imprinting on me won't change anything, and I can still go meet Mama in Central Park and leave with her?"

"Well, I wouldn't say it doesn't change anything," Cody admitted. "...I know I keep saying this, but Jake's a good guy."

"Why did you follow me out here, instead of someone else?" I asked.

"Uhhh... Jake thought you'd be more comfortable talking to me," said Cody sheepishly, "since we were talking before and... since you ran away when you saw him."

"Does he know that you kissed me?" I murmured.

"I was hoping to avoid having to tell him that," said Cody. "It would be so awkward that auks would go extinct with envy. He'd either be pissed because you're his imprint or disgusted because we're technically five. Or both."

"This is too hard," I said, burying my face in my knees. "I am five! I'm five and I want Mama to be in charge."

"If you want," Cody said, "I can go back and tell everyone about your mom so you don't have to explain."

"But I'm good at explaining things," I said.

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean you should have to do it if you're all scrambled in the head about... stuff."

"That's nice of you," I said. "But I really do hate being alone. If you could stay... it helps."

Cody fidgeted. "I think Jacob's going to get nervous if he doesn't hear anything back."

"Oh," I said.

"...But he might also be mad at me if he finds out I left you alone when you didn't want me to," Cody said, digging the heel of his hand into his forehead. "Ugh. Everybody else imprinted before I was born except Brady, and I didn't know Brady until he joined our pack. I don't know how to figure out what Jake would want, anymore."

"What did he say?" I asked. "When he sent you."

"Said, "Cody, please make sure Elspeth is all right. She seems to trust you,"" Cody reported. "But I don't know if that means make sure as in check on you and tell him what's up, or make sure as in help you be all right."

"I'll be okay if you need to go ask," I said.

"All right," said Cody, sighing and giving me a sad look. He ran lightly over the forest debris and soon I couldn't hear his steps anymore.

I was alone, and I really didn't like it.

I wanted Mama, but she wasn't there. Cody would do, but he was gone too. Given twenty minutes I could have gotten to be good enough friends with any non-Jacob person from the pack that they'd be fine. But I couldn't go get one of them without running into Jacob, and he would not do, because I didn't know what to do about him.

In a fit of creative desperation, I pressed my hand to my own cheek, and tried to send something to myself.

I saw double, for a moment. Then, under my real vision, I saw-as-though-remembered a mirror image of myself, standing opposite me in a blank place of no color at all.

For a moment, I couldn't tell which of the two of me I was, and then I decided that was a silly question, because I was clearly both of them. I just had the world's best apparatus for talking to myself.

I tried to actually say something to myself, but it didn't seem to work. I supposed that might make sense. When I'd first started showing things when I was a baby, it only worked for pictures, not for sound. Maybe there would be a progression like that with showing myself things.

It had just occurred to me to try talking to myself in sign language when I heard Cody jogging back towards me. I put my hand down and the blank place with two of me in it disappeared.

"Talking to yourself?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow at the motion of my arm while he sat back down.

"I was trying," I said, and he laughed, "but it didn't work quite the same. Which kind of "make sure" did it turn out to be?"

"Second kind," he said. "Far as Jacob's concerned, if you should happen to want me around, I am to follow you to the ends of the earth and depart only at your whim."

"I don't need to go to the ends of the earth," I said. "Only to New York."

"Then I am to follow you to New York," said Cody, "Alpha's orders."

I tilted my head. "Everybody does what Jacob says, don't they?"

"He's the boss," agreed Cody. "It's only wolves who can't disobey him if he gives an order. The Alpha voice only works within the pack proper. Me and the imprints just know he's good at being in charge."

"Did you tell him about Mama?"

"Mentioned it, but he said he could wait for the whole story if you needed company," Cody said. "I know she told you all the facts about imprinting, but... I've grown up around imprinted wolves, I know pretty well how they tick. You don't need to be scared of him, Elspeth. He'll look out for you, first of everything. He can't not."

"That's what my mama does, is look out for me first of everything," I said. "I don't think Jacob wants to be my parent."

"Well... no," said Cody. "That would... not be likely."

"I'm five," I said again.

"You kissed me, too," Cody pointed out. "Do you want to be five or do you want to be sixteen?"

"Even normal sixteen-year-olds aren't deciding things for all eternity," I said. "I'm not my mama. I don't think I want to let an older man sweep me off my feet and then never look twice at anybody else until the stars burn out. Just the other day I was asking Mama for permission to let a boy take me out for ice cream when I expected to leave town in less than a month and never think about him again. I don't want to be done yet."

"Oh," said Cody softly. "And now, whatever you do, even if you go out for ice cream five thousand times with five thousand people... it'll all constitute "keeping Jacob waiting". Because he'll wait, forever..."

I nodded. "All my choices are horrible to somebody."

"Well," said Cody, "I think Jacob would probably say that you should take care of yourself and let him handle his own issues."

Something in the way he emphasized Jacob's name sounded odd. I looked at Cody, and he looked away, pensive for some reason. "Would you say that?" I asked.

"I'm of two minds," sighed Cody. I waited for him to explain; eventually he met my eyes. "On the one hand," he said, "you should be able to have ice cream with anyone you want with whatever level of seriousness you want. Or - or deer. I liked you myself, remember - still do if I'm honest - and then this happened, and now it's confusing and it's got to be worse on your end because it's not just one possibility closed off for you, it's all of them made way more difficult."

I nodded, and said, "And on the other hand?"

Cody waved his left hand, once, as though to designate it "other". "This hand's the one that's thinking about Jake, who is a swell guy and who I'd like to see happy, and this hand is also doing some pondering about what happens to the pack if you leave and he's got to handle his own issues and still be Alpha."

"Does... he really have a lot to do?" I asked. "I mean, Pera hiding everybody is the best possible defense, and I haven't got the impression that she needs much micromanagement..."

"It's not just defense," Cody said. "I mean, he's essential when a few of us unhide if there are kept wolves or vampires about. He's the best fighter by a long shot and the Alpha voice is the only thing that can override a couple of dangerous instincts, in emergencies, plus he coordinates everyone's movements. But if he couldn't lead, then we could just quit unhiding until he was up to scratch again. The real biggie would be order in the pack, day-to-day."

"People fight?" I guessed, skeptical; what I'd seen had looked so peaceable.

"Like you wouldn't believe," said Cody fervently. "Early on, before we had Pera, there wasn't much, because it was just running, running, running, all the time. Maureen and Thea had their purses on them when we first escaped and Zachary had enough warning to grab his wallet, and we ate out of their savings accounts. The wolves went in shifts and slept while riding on whoever was awake so we didn't have to stop moving for more than a few minutes to grab food. So there was this all-consuming panic and an obvious common enemy. Infighting only got bad once everyone got used to the idea that we were safe while we hid."

"What happened?"

"A lot of things happened. This was years ago, Jake was still only fifteen even though he looked almost like he does now. He wasn't comfortable throwing his authority around. He didn't want to be an Alpha, he'd only done it because it was the only way to not be attached to his sisters' packs anymore and escape. He'd spend a lot of time in wolf form, trying to talk to them."

"Right," I remembered, "Alphas can talk to each other..."

Cody nodded. "If they want to. It's not automatic, like it is within the pack. And Rachel and Becky weren't really interested in talking to him anymore. But he kept trying, and trying, getting more withdrawn, and things started to fall apart."

"Like how?" I asked.

"Kim and Thea would have the most amazing fights, screaming at each other to wake the dead even if the dead were wearing earmuffs. Once Thea threw a shoe and clonked Kim on the head with it, and the next thing you know, Jared and Darren are at each others' throats defending their lady-loves. Claire would get on Emily's nerves sometimes, and Emily would snap at her and Claire'd get scared and run to Quil, and Quil would try to tell Emily off and Sam would threaten to perforate him for suggesting that Emily's anything less than the most perfect aunt in the universe to Claire. Zachary would make off-color jokes and they'd offend Maureen and she'd tell Victor to teach Zach how to behave like a civilized person, which apparently in Maureen-secret-code-language means "take half his pelt off". Pera was kind of shell-shocked over having been kidnapped by the Volturi and then escaping, and she didn't speak more than ten words of English, then, so she kind of rebuffed Kim when Kim tried to be friends and then Brady was fighting with Jared over that. Those were the major themes, but almost every combination of people except wolves with their own imprints, and Jake, would be fighting sometimes."

"I suppose," I said, "that you were a neutral party throughout all of this."

"I was three, four months old, what could I have been doing?"

"Even I was talking by then," I said, "and I was delayed for weeks compared to you because I could..." I tapped his cheek. Do things like this instead, I finished.

"You are ceaselessly amazing," Cody declared. "Anyway, I really did stay out of it for the most part. Feel free to seek second opinions if you want, but all my memories are of wandering away for a bit when it got loud and fur started flying. Sometimes I played with Claire; we were about the same size, for lack of a better word, then."

"So then what happened?"

"Well, one day Jake didn't go off to try to talk to Becky and Rachel. He didn't make a production about it, he was just in the camp from the time he got up to bedtime, no fur on. There weren't any fights that day. Whenever it seemed like there might be one, Jake would give whoever was picking it a look. It's not like he was staring anyone down, daring them to try to start an argument under his nose. Nobody stopped dramatically in midsentence because they were scared he'd intervene. It just... didn't happen."

"...Is that it?" I asked, having expected something more cinematic.

"No, of course not, that was only the first day. The next day, Jake slept in a bit, and Thea took Kim's hairbrush and from there everybody got into a combination shouting match and wolfy war. It was awful. Claire was wailing her head off a safe distance away. Quil was dividing his time between trying to comfort her and trying to bite Darren's head off. Pera had learned some English and she was threatening to unhide everyone and let us all die or get brain-fried for all she cared, and Maureen was pulling out the racial slurs over that. Brady went straight for Maureen without even trying to go through Victor and Victor nearly killed him. That kind of thing, flying every which way, I was up a tree for most of it."

"Jake slept through this?" I asked skeptically.

"I don't think so. I think he was waiting to get out of his tent until all the adults were involved so he could address everyone at once without anyone virtuously claiming innocence. He walked out and just said, "Cool it." I can't tell when he's using Alpha voice and when he's not, but I'm pretty sure he was just then, because all the wolves stopped dead, and the girls quit screaming soon after. Then Jake said he wanted to talk to everybody, one at a time, privately, no exceptions, and that he expected everyone he wasn't chatting with to behave themselves in his absence."

"That's thirteen people if he included Claire," I said. "How long did it take?"

"Fourteen, counting me, and it took the entire rest of the day and a chunk of the night. He gave everybody at least an hour; a few people got more. I don't know exactly what he said to anyone but me."

"Why were you on his list, if you weren't involved in any of the fights?" I asked.

"He said he was catching up on all his responsibilities and just because I was "acting more mature than all the teenagers in the pack put together" didn't necessarily mean I had nothing going on that needed to be addressed," said Cody. "I think he was collecting a complete list of grievances so he'd know just what everybody was fighting about and could deal with it. I wasn't very articulate then, of course, so I was saying things like "Thea yells really loud" and "it makes Claire scared when Quil fights the other wolves and sometimes she hits me because she is scared and I'm scared she might hurt her hand"." He chuckled to himself.

"So," Cody went on, "after he had talked to everybody, it was late - I was already asleep, I can barely keep my eyes open past sunset. Jake sent everybody else to bed. I think he stayed up all night, though, because I was up at four-thirty in the morning and he was hanging out, wolf-shaped, in the middle of camp staring into space. I sat with him for a while, but he didn't phase, so I didn't try to carry on a conversation and eventually went off hunting.

"Once everybody was up, Jake started making announcements. He had a list of things we needed to get so nobody would feel like they had to steal each other's stuff. He had rules about what language was and wasn't appropriate. He talked about how everybody had better be nice to Pera because she was saving all of our lives constantly on a daily basis. He told Quil it was Quil's job to swoop Claire away from Emily before Emily got fed up with her - since Quil can't get fed up with her. He Alpha-voiced all the wolves about fighting, and said if they felt like their imprints needed defending they should come to him about it and he'd sort it out. He told all the imprints except Claire that it was immature and ridiculous for them to resort to violence-by-proxy and if they couldn't handle their disagreements by themselves without shouting and throwing things, they could come to him instead of fracturing the pack over it."

I said, "And then everything calmed down?"

"Not just like that. But Jake enforced everything he said he was going to. Perfectly, every single time. Eventually fighting wasn't normal anymore," Cody said. "But he still has to make himself a visible presence, has to be in the middle of the pack ready to crack down if someone starts up again. I don't like to think what would happen if anything happened to him."

"Wow," I said.

"Like I said," Cody sighed, "he's a great guy."

Silence ensued.

After a minute, Cody said, "Are you okay?"

"I guess so," I said. "I think I'm going to put off making any really weighty choices until I get to New York and find Mama... but it's not that weighty a choice just to go back and... and let Kim braid my hair."

"Kim wanted to be a hairdresser," Cody informed me, hopping to his feet and offering a hand to pull me up. I accepted it and stood, and then he extricated his hand, an uncomfortable look on his face. "She knows a lot of kinds of braids," he said weakly.

I nodded solemnly, and folded my hands behind my back. We walked back towards the cluster of tents.