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These Our Actors

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Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

THE TEMPEST, Act IV, Scene 1

I’m not a big fan of bullshit. I don’t like secrets. I don’t like to play games - well, not mind games, anyway. I fucking love kicking all my bros’ asses in Halo or Call of Duty. But see, that’s kind of what I’m getting at, those games are simple. Straight. At least they are the way I play. You got your gun and your grenades or whatever, you point, you shoot, you kick butt. You charge straight down the middle and take all comers like Leeroy Goddamned Jenkins, my new personal hero, and if it all blows back in your face, at least you have chicken.

That video is amazing.

Anyway, that’s what I like about the pack. We don’t have secrets, especially when we’re running on four legs. The pack mind kicks in and we’re all on the same page. Okay, yeah, it can get kind of gross sometimes, and we’ve all gotten in plenty of practice not thinking about how hot Emily or Leah or Leah’s girl Callie are. Look, don’t judge, I think every guy on the Quileute and Makah reservations has had a crush on Emily Young at one point or another, even if she and Sam have been a thing since before Sam’s balls dropped, and Leah and Callie...well, look, Leah’s awesome, but she’s only human, or shifter, and sometimes stuff leaks, okay? I don’t think they’ve really done a lot, but she sure thinks about it.

Now I’m thinking about it. Great. Last thing I want is for Leah to pick up on some memory of me spanking it to her and her girlfriend.

Okay, so I guess there’s something to be said for some secrets, and we’ve all picked up our little tricks to avoid TMI in pack mind, and stop thinking about stuff we don’t really want to share. Bella Swan once told me I should think about naked politicians if I really wanted to get my mind off track, especially if I wanted to stop thinking about sex, and it kind of works? I mean, I think about Dick Cheney with a rose caught between his teeth and I’m definitely not that horny anymore. That chick’s still weird. Fun to hang with, sure, and she’ll throw down on Xbox or whatever, but weird. I mean, her taste in video games alone is bizarre, who the hell plays gay vampire games when they’re already around gay vampires all the time?

Fine, yes, I jumped at that stupid hotel level. And yelped. And Embry got it all on tape. Whatever. Halo’s still better than that dumb vampire game every day. At least the one werewolf in there was a total badass.

Ugh. And here I go getting off track again. Get to the point, Quil, right? Okay. The point. Here it is:

I hate bullshit, and maybe secrets aren’t always bullshit, but it was bullshit to keep this one from me.

I didn’t really figure out what was happening at first. Yeah, Sam’s thoughts got kind of deliberately random sometimes, the way they do when he doesn’t want to share something with the pack, but Emily had been visiting La Push a lot lately and I figured he didn’t want to give us a peep show. Except after a while, I noticed Emily was acting a little weird, too, especially around me. And then our patrol system started changing.

The Quileute and the Makah aren’t exactly the same, but we do mix, and as shifters, we feel a certain responsibility for both, especially since the Clearwaters have a whole Makah branch of the family, including Emily, and Embry’s Makah on his mom’s side. (We know his dad’s Quileute, but that’s about all we know. Embry doesn’t like to think about it.) Neah Bay’s an hour and a half away by car, but that’s nothing to us when we’re in wolf form. So the treaty we have with the Cullens keeps them out of Neah Bay, too, and our patrols extend around all that territory.

But then Leah and Sam announced we were going to start doing patrols differently. Instead of one group doing a big sweep, we’d have a couple groups, one patrolling up north near Neah Bay, the other sticking mostly to La Push. Okay, sure, we had more wolves now, and it made sense to put more of us on patrol at once and limit our individual ranges a little. Two groups could cover more territory without leaving any given area unprotected for too long.

The weird thing was that I always got assigned to the southern range. At first I thought it was some kind of age thing. Jake, Embry and Seth were all kept around La Push, too, so I guessed they wanted the teens to stay close to home while the adults (even if they were barely older than us) took care of business farther out. Then Jake and Embry started getting called up north, while Sam, Jared, Paul and Leah herself started leading the southern patrols. Again, would have made sense, have the older wolves look after the younger ones while having everyone switch off between patrol routes.

Except I never got called north. Seth never did, either, but I was the same age as Embry and Jake! Hell, Jared and Paul were only a couple months older and didn’t have that much more experience as wolves. So no offense to Seth, but why was everyone treating me like a kid?

Well, like I said, I don’t like bullshit. So finally, one day just after the school year ended, when we were all wolfed out and Leah was giving us our marching orders through the pack mind, I snapped.

Why the hell do you guys never send me to Neah Bay?

Paul, Embry and Seth seemed just as confused as I was. Maybe even more confused, like they hadn’t really thought about it - the pack can get like that sometimes, like it’s a big game of Simon Says and as long as someone says the magic words we do what we’re told. Leah Says go to the Cullen house, we go to the Cullen house. Leah Says go to Neah Bay, we go to Neah Bay. Leah Says stay away from that one spot, we stay away. Any questions? Too bad.

I don’t think she means to do it. It’s just a wolf thing.

But Leah and Sam were looking at each other, and though they were both trying to distract the pack mind with nonsense, only Leah actually protected her thoughts. Sam’s shield cracked. Just for a second. Just enough to let a fragment of a thought through.

Can’t let Quil near Claire, Emily will kill me

My eyes widened. What? Who’s Claire? Why can’t I go near her?

Wait, little Cousin Claire? That came from Seth, along with this mental picture of a cute little two-year-old girl.

What - do you think I’d hurt her? I demanded. I have more control than that! I have more control than PAUL, and you still send him up there! Plus I’ve been around lots of kids, what’s special about her?

Paul snarled at the insult, but Leah quieted him with a stern glare, then glanced to Sam, then finally looked back at me. She let out an exasperated little huff, and she met my eyes. Bella Swan says she’s your imprint.

Fuck. I mean, fuck, right? It was like getting slammed in the chest with a sledgehammer or some shit. I don’t know what I expected to hear, but fuck, it wasn’t that.

There was just...silence in the pack mind for a minute. Everyone was pretty shocked. Except Leah and Sam, ‘cause those two had already known. Finally, I started to shake and growl. I couldn’t help myself.

My imprint. Is a fucking. CHILD?!

Sam gave me a sharp look. Quil, calm down!

No! Why the hell should I be calm?! The fuck am I supposed to do with this?! All this bullshit about how imprinting gives us our one true love and mine is a KID?! That’s DISGUSTING! That’s vile! I’m not going to be some kind of fucking pedophile, not now, not ever! That’s why you’ve been keeping me away? That’s - oh, God, is that what you think I really AM?!

Leah shook her head vigorously, but I could see just a split second of hesitation. Of course not, Quil - we don’t even know for sure if anything will happen, and Bella said it’s not going to be sexual, not while she’s a kid.

So I’m just going to wait for her to grow up like some kind of creepy uncle? That’s still pretty fucked up! I fired back. What about the shit Bella Swan doesn’t know, huh? I mean, yeah, she’s got those freaky books or whatever in her head, but what if there’s stuff she never saw? What if more of us are going to imprint on kids? Fuck, what if one of us imprints on, like, a serial killer or something? It’s fine for Sam and Emily, they were already crazy about each other, but for the rest of us? Love at first sight, instant obsession, it’s BULLSHIT!

The pack mind got quiet again. None of us really knew what to say. Then Sam’s thoughts came through, sound kind of...tired, somehow.

So what do you want us to do about it?

I growled, shuffling in the dirt and looking away. I don’t know. Fix it, somehow. Don’t know how.

I might. That was Embry, looking weirdly thoughtful for a giant dog. Bella. Look, we haven’t asked her to mess with us ‘cause - that’s weird, right? And whatever she knows, or think she knows, she’s not Quileute. It’s not her business. But she made the vampires stop stinking. Who knows what else she could do if we just...asked?

Paul growled softly. You’re talking about letting some white girl get rid of something that’s been part of our traditions since the shifters were CREATED.

I snapped back at him. It’s a SHITTY fucking tradition, asswipe! You keep it if you want, you’re not the one who’s supposed to lose his shit for a girl who’s still in DIAPERS!

ENOUGH! Leah’s thoughts ripped through the pack mind, and she roared aloud as she reclaimed control. All of us stopped where we were, falling back on our asses, bowing our heads and watching her. Waiting. She growled a little, pacing, thinking, filling her mind with some silly, girly pop song I’d never heard before. I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t dare, not when she was like this.

Finally, her tail swishing, she stalked back to the bushes where we’d stashed our stuff, grabbing her bag in her teeth and ducking behind some trees. A second later, I heard her dialing a phone number, and then the sound of her human voice. “Hey, Ginger Spice. Pack needs to talk to you about some shit. Can we come over?”

“Oh - sure,” Bella agreed, her voice audible to all of us on the other end of the line. She sounded a little breathless. Distracted. Damn it, I was already imagining why. I pictured the vice president naked. The others whined, and I gave them a wide, wolfy grin. “I don’t know if we can squeeze you all into the cottage. Come to the main house, okay?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Bells. See you soon,” Leah agreed, the phone snapping shut. Paul grumbled and growled a little, but Sam quickly shut him up again with a glance, and the rest of us just seemed to feel...relief. Worry. And hope.

Then Leah was back on four legs. The rest of us didn’t need to be told what to do. We snatched up our bags from the bushes, turned our noses toward Forks, and took off.



*****



Like I said, the run from La Push to Neah Bay and back is nothing to us in wolf form, so the run to Forks was basically like a walk to the corner store. Bella Swan and Alice Cullen were waiting in the front yard for us when we arrived at the Cullens’ big old ‘fuck you we got money’ house. Bella eyed us all a little warily, particularly Leah, and since pretty much all of us had seen Leah’s memory of shifting into human form right in front of Bella, Callie and the Cullens, giving them all an eyeful, we all chuffed with wolfish laughter, our tails wagging. Leah didn’t repeat the joke, though, simply leading us around the side of the house, out of sight of the others, then trotting off out of our view to go change.

Once we were all more or less decent, we returned to the front of the house. Bella looked a little relieved, and her gaze fell immediately on Leah.

“So what is this about?” she asked. “How can I help?”

“Well...Quil. Why don’t you explain?” Leah said, looking back at me and jerking her head.

I stepped forward, though I couldn’t help glancing at Alice. “Your girlfriend didn’t already see all this? I thought you could see us in your visions or whatever.”

Alice gave me a crooked smile. “I try not to overdo it, especially when we’re just talking about a friendly conversation. It makes people uncomfortable. Besides, if you haven’t already decided what you’re going to say and do, it’s hard for me to see the future clearly.”

“Right. Okay. Well, this is already uncomfortable, but - fine.” I took a deep breath, looking back at Bella. “I know about the thing with Claire Young. I don’t want that to happen. Can you fix it? Please?”

Bella bit her lower lip. She does that a lot - you’d think there’d be, like, permanent tooth marks by now. When she spoke, after a second, her voice was very quiet. “I’m not sure. We’ve been taking it slow, and I’ve really only used my powers on vampires. I could try, but...Leah, are you sure this is okay? This is yours, it’s something that’s been passed down through your tribe since - I don’t even know when. It doesn’t feel like my place.”

“Damn right it’s not,” Paul grumbled.

Leah shot him yet another alpha glare, shutting him up, then looked back at Bella. “Look. Bells. I appreciate the concern, but we talked about this as a pack, and we’re asking. Not all of us want this. I think Sam’s just fine with his imprint, and Jared and Kim are really happy together, and Paul, fine, do what you want, I don’t give a shit. But Quil made some good points.”

I blinked. “I did?”

Leah turned and looked at me, but she was smiling, despite the interruption. “Yeah. You actually did. Imprinting is bullshit if it has the potential to make you something you’re not. Hell, it’s probably bullshit no matter what. I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen for me, but you know what, I don’t think I want love at first sight any more than you do. Especially if it might make me break off an existing relationship or - whatever. Way more fun to fall for someone the normal way.”

That smile of hers turned into this goofy little grin as she was talking. Not that I was going to call her on it. Shit, she’d just said I made some good points. I wasn’t going to risk pissing her off when I could bask in the glory of being right about something.

Alice had kind of a weird look on her face, though, and the treeline must have suddenly become really interesting, because suddenly she was looking over at the forest instead of meeting anyone else’s eyes. Bella bit her lip (told you) and looked over at her girlfriend for a second, then sighed and turned back to us.

“Okay. I can’t promise anything. But I’ll try,” she said, hesitating before glancing back at Alice. “Unless you...see any problems?”

“No. No boom today,” Alice replied quietly, a weak smile flickering on her face, there and gone. “Boom tomorrow.”

Bella smirked, a little. “There’s always a boom tomorrow. Okay, Quil, step forward.”

I looked back and forth between the two hybrids, not quite sure how to take the ‘boom’ comments, but finally decided it was just some more of their nerd shit. Taking a deep breath, I walked over to Bella, stopping within reach, and she put her hand on my arm.

I don’t really know how to describe what it’s like when she’s rooting around inside. I mean, it doesn’t really feel like anything. Not exactly. I didn’t feel like I was being poked or prodded, but she was just...sifting through my soul. And I could sense it, I guess. Something that was her was moving through something that was me, searching for something. I could sense her examining everything that made me who I was. My shapeshifting. My senses. My link to the pack mind. And then it was like…

There was something inside me that was open. Incomplete. Like a puzzle waiting for the last piece, or...I don’t know. What I do know is that I locked eyes with her in that moment, and I could see she’d figured it out. There was this light in her blue eyes, and a little smile on her face, and something shifted inside. It was like she took the puzzle that was already there and made one last piece out of me, out of everything I was. And she popped it into place, and this weird emptiness inside me...it wasn’t there anymore. I had never felt it before that moment, and now it was gone, and I’d never feel it again.

“I think...I think that did it,” Bella whispered, stepping back, looking me up and down before meeting my eyes again. “How do you feel?”

“Good. Whole,” I replied. “I mean, I’m not sure how we’ll know for sure it worked, but...it feels right.”

She gave me a big, lopsided grin. “Yeah. It felt right to me, too. Okay! Who else wants a turn?”



*****



In the end, pretty much everyone decided imprinting wasn’t something they wanted to deal with. Bella did her thing with almost all of us that day, and with Jake later on, and she promised she’d help out any new pack members who wanted it. Paul kept his imprint power or whatever, though, and when Jake’s big sister Rachel came back from school for a visit, they fell hard for each other, which did not go over well at first. But it really did work for them. He was really good to her, and she was good for him, and it took a while, but he started to lighten up, get a little more comfortable with himself and with the pack. He’s still kind of a douchebag sometimes, but he’s an okay guy, and Jake’s pretty much accepted the Rachel thing.

And me?

A few days after Bella got rid of that hole inside me, we had a pack barbeque at Sam’s place. When I got there, everyone was hanging in his backyard, and Leah, Kim, Jake and Embry were gathered near Emily, who was bouncing a giggling two-year-old girl with long black hair on her lap. Jake was making the most ridiculous faces at her, which just made her giggle harder. Sam looked up from the grill as I approached, flipping burgers, and gave me a nod.

“Hey, Quil.”

“Hey, Sam. Looks good, I’m starving,” I said, popping open the cooler and grabbing a soda. “That Claire?”

“Yeah, her dad’s out of town and her mom had to work, so we have her today,” he replied, giving me a sidelong look. “Feel free to say hi.”

I looked over at Emily and Claire again. She was a cute kid. But that was it. My world wasn’t rocked. I didn’t want to fawn all over her. I didn’t want to follow her around or play dress-up or have tea parties. Thank God.

“Nah, man,” I said, turning back to Sam and giving him a broad grin. “I’m good. Babies? Really not my thing.”