Seeing as my shirt was destroyed so pointedly last night, I wore Edward's button-up back to Marek and Adriana's cabin this morning. I'll admit, it was hard not to grab at him one more time as we headed down the mountain, the beauty of the morning's breaking sun bouncing off his glorious muscles, making it hard for me to breathe.
Keep it together Bella…keep it together, I reminded myself over and over with each step I took, thinking, "Why weren't the nights longer?"
But my current thoughts were put properly into place when I smelled them when we neared. Ian's pack was back now that sunrise had broken, and we were going to get to meet them in human form.
Part of me was excited, and part of me was embarrassed when I looked down at myself in Edward's shirt, and the fact he was wearing…no shirt. This was going to be so obvious.
I was glad when we walked through the door and noticed Emmett and Rosalie hadn't returned yet. Well, I was glad until the room got quiet and I felt all eyes upon us, regardless of the two who were still missing.
"Morning," Edward said much too joyful when he walked in, making things even more obvious.
I smiled a shy grin at the floor, not glancing at anyone while I cowered to my bag to retrieve a new t-shirt.
"Good morning, Edward…Bella," Marek said slyly, while I noticed Adriana observe me and smile quaintly. I gave her a quick, embarrassed grin and dug anxiously through my bag, standing then, not looking at anyone else, and headed outside beside the cabin to change.
I slipped off Edward's shirt and pulled my own over my head, taking a few quick, uneasy breaths before fronting them. While the distraction was very fulfilling, what I had to face this morning was anything but. My whole body was blushing, though it didn't show. Did he have to rip my shirt to shreds?
When I came back in, Edward already had a new shirt on and was sitting casually on the couch, saving a spot for me.
As I was getting ready to pass the table to the couch, I stopped and peered out the corner of my eyes and around the room. Five large men stood standing on the other side, looking back almost amusingly at me. I'd forgotten they were there when I rushed to my bag then back outside.
I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide.
But I gathered myself, took in a deep breath, and held my hand out, showing I was tough, and was going to go around the room to meet them again…in human form.
"Good morning, Faolan," I shook his hand first, trying not to show too much embarrassment. He was the oldest of the group so I knew who he was immediately. His black and grey hair sat just above his ears, and was brushed back in a very distinguished manner. He was quite handsome for someone in his fifties.
"Bella, it's a pleasure to see you again." He reached for my hand, replying with dignity, not giving anything away in his expression to our apparent delayed entry. I appreciated that.
Then he continued to reintroduce his family to me. "You remember Ian," he said, holding a hand out in his son's direction.
"Of course. Good morning, Ian." I smiled awkwardly at the smirk he gave me trying not to feel overwhelmingly self-conscious.
"Good morning, Bella." He nodded.
Faolan then continued to the rest. "This is Roman, Ian oldest." He gestured to the man to his right.
I shook his hand and nodded.
"Bella," he said my name formally, standing very proper, holding his head as highly as he did last night. He looked like he was in his early twenties, with sandy colored hair flowing to the base of his neck and light brown eyes. His facial features resembled a lot of Ian's, but younger. His presence had 'power' and 'confidence' written all over it.
"And over here is, Ethan, Ian's nephew, and my grandson." He directed my eyes two bodies left of Ian.
"Ethan," I repeated, holding my hand out. His hair was brown with reddish highlights and brushed forward towards his eyes in the current hairstyle. He was adorable and around Jacob's age I imagined, a teenager, like me.
"Hi, Bella." He shook my hand, smiling enthusiastically and winked at me again. Yep, he was playful, just like I suspected.
I heard Edward shift his body forward on the couch when Ethan winked and knew he wanted to come and stand by me again, but refrained himself, barely.
"And last but not least, you remember Tedmund, Ian's younger brother?" He gestured to the man standing between Ethan and Ian.
"Tedmund, yes, good morning." I looked upon his eyes softly and with remorse.
"Mrs. Bella." He took my hand gently, not letting go for a few moment, and nodded while barely smiling. His thick dark hair sat short upon his head, combed back with small amounts of waves running perfectly through it. He didn't resemble his brother too much, but looked a lot like his father, which led me to believe Ian took more after his mother.
They were all very handsome men and very muscular, I mean very muscular, as if they'd been lifting weights since the day they were born. I'm sure lots of girls in town had their eyes on the two younger ones that were probably not taken yet.
"Uh, you remember my husband, Edward?" I motioned to him while looking at the men.
"Yes," Faolan replied. "We went around the room in greetings when you left…temporarily." He tried to be casual.
Great, I thought as I still looked for that hole to crawl into.
Emmett and Rosalie entered the cabin just then, relieving me from my blushing that didn't show physically but expressionally. Faolan took them around the room as well, reacquainting them so we were all up to speed. They weren't embarrassed in the least, Emmett especially when he walked over and raised his hand for a high-five from Edward.
Edward shook his head in a 'not now' gesture and motioned his head stiffly for him to sit down. Rosalie pushed Emmett towards the corner chair while she took her seat on the couch, giving him a dirty look.
"What?" he whispered, raising his hands, trying to look innocent.
"Just shut up and sit still," Rosalie commanded, then looked away from Emmett to me and shook her head. I giggled as I went to sit next to Edward. Those two always made for good entertainment.
"Alright," Carlisle jumped in. "Now that we're all here, we have some discussing to do. We know Ahren is at Volterra, and we're pretty sure Alice and Charlie are there as well. We also know we've got at least twenty-eight vampires we'll be going up against, some of them with very powerful gifts. But we also have help coming, some with very powerful gifts, as well..."
Peter interrupted Carlisle for a moment. "Carlisle, I haven't shared any gifts yet. I thought I would leave that to your discretion."
"Thank you, Peter," he said with gratitude.
"What kind of gifts are we dealing with, Carlisle?" Marek asked with the first bit of nervousness I'd seen from him since we arrived.
"The Volturi have several with them that I'm fairly sure are still with Aro." He frowned at the thought. "The two smallest ones, Jane and Alec, are able to cause mental pain to all of us and cut off our senses. They are Aro's most potent and dangerous weapons."
"I remember the small ones," Ian spit. "They never got off the ground to have a chance at us." He half laughed to himself finishing with a slight grin.
"Aro, their leader, has the ability to read every thought you've ever had if he gets the chance to touch you. He also holds with him one who can sense relationships, one who can change our emotional bindings if given the chance, one who can distract us if we get too close, and a tracker who can find anyone anywhere in the world once he gets a sense at their mind."
"Can the tracker find us then, since we were there?" Ian suddenly panicked.
"Probably," Carlisle sighed. "Especially since the tree vampire took your location back to Aro. Demetri, their tracker, wouldn't necessarily need to know the exact location here, but could also find you and your families at your homes. Even us...wherever we are..."
Five distraught Dejanovic faces looked at each other.
"That's not good. Not good at all." Ian shook his head appearing frightened for his family's sudden vulnerability.
"No, it's not," Carlisle agreed.
"That's, an interesting list of gifts they have, Carlisle," Adriana said, looking a little apprehensive at Marek.
"Not to worry, Adriana." Carlisle smiled. "We carry our own gifts to measure up with."
"And those are?" Marek asked. As far as he knew a moment ago, Adriana was the only gifted one among us.
"We have one who can create illusions—blinding them with pictures of her choosing. One who can sense other vampire's gifts, one who carries an electric current, one who can control earthly elements, a truth detector, a lie detector, a wishful thinker, a mind reader, a creature sensor, a shield, and one who can manipulate emotions," he finally finished.
"Interesting…" Adriana replied, feeling reassured. "I must admit, your group sounds better. I'm impressed with the power you have around you. My bets are with us."
"If Aro didn't have Jane and Alec, mine would be, too," Carlisle said somberly.
Adriana's happy expression left her face immediately when he mentioned Jane and Alec with much concern.
"I can understand all those," Marek said, and then his eyes turned to confusion, "except the 'shield'?"
"We have one who is able to throw a mental shield, to protect from most mental gifts that could be used against us," Carlisle explained without pointing me out.
"So, we can be shielded from the two little ones hurting us?" Ian asked with a bit of optimism.
"Yes," Carlisle confirmed. "We hope Aro has not found another vampire with a gift that can counteract that, though." He did his best not to look at me while I tensed at the thought.
"That's great!" Ethan jumped in. "Except the counteracting thing. How will you know if they can?"
"I guess we'll know when our shield is up, and we still fall in pain or blindness," Carlisle replied, trying to hide his concern.
My family and I glanced at each other and at the thought of Aro possibly have a weapon against us. Against me. Which made me nervous. I actually hadn't thought about it, but it would be just like Aro. Our eyes would obviously be fixed on anyone new Aro might have with him, and Eleazar—who would hopefully identify any new gifts.
"Our first bet is our mind reader picking up on it before we come face to face, though, to gather enough warning for us if Aro should think upon it."
"But this Aro would have to think about it before you'd know, correct?" Roman caught on.
"And if he doesn't?"
"Then I'm afraid that leaves us wide open for the unexpected."
"Can you get him to think about it?" Roman asked, keeping up and fully understanding how things needed to be worked when it came to Aro.
"Aro knows our gifts, and our friend's, as well as his own. He's knows we'll be listening. So our chances will only be known if he thinks about his defense against ours, if he has one."
"So you can't make him think about it until it might be too late?"
"Right." Carlisle frowned.
I placed my face in my hands, feeling sick.
"So…what happens then? If he has a defense against us?" Faolan asked.
Us? The werewolves were planning on going?
"It's just something to think about, and, probably not likely. We'll keep everything arranged the way we planned," Carlisle's voice and expression were confident, allowing the others to feel somewhat consoled.
I wished I was.
"Well, sounds like everything is in good order then." Ian slammed his hands together rubbing them back and forth, convinced we probably didn't have anything to worry about.
But the word 'probably' didn't sit well with me as I massaged my fingers against my temples. Ian didn't know what could go wrong, what usually went wrong when I was around.
Edward rubbed a gentle hand up and down my back. "Don't worry," he whispered in my ear when he leaned up next to me.
I groaned anyways.
"Is your shield in this room, Carlisle?" Adriana asked.
"Why?" Carlisle looked at her hesitantly.
"Well, I have been counting one short the whole time you and your family have been here. If you have one who can block a gift, then that would explain my intense confusion at why I can't pick up on one of you. It must be a conscious and subconscious gift." She hit the nail on the head.
"Your assumption is correct, Adriana," he was honest, knowing he'd have to give me away eventually. "Bella is our shield. Edward is our mind reader, and Jasper can manipulate and control emotions."
Everyone who didn't know before, was suddenly staring intently at the three of us. I couldn't tell if they thought highly of what we could do, or if they were a little freaked out. I had hoped my shield would stay secret for as long as possible. I didn't want any added pressure or blame if anything should go wrong. To which my stomach grew sicker.
"Fascinating." Marek crossed his arms in front of him, nodding his head with a slight smile.
"You can read our minds?" Ethan suddenly shouted, looking warily at Edward.
Edward stared out the tops of his eyes in response, looking bothered, as if they shared some sort of secret.
"I can." He continued to glare.
"Oh great." Ethan put his hands on his hips and turned his back on us in what looked like embarrassment.
I wondered what made Ethan blush the way he did. It was like he had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar and was now going to be in trouble for it.
"It's alright, Ethan," Edward said dryly, trying to sound as understanding as possible. "I've heard those thoughts a lot. You're not the first."
Everyone looked around the room at each other in confusion, then at Ethan. We had obviously missed a portion of their one-sided conversation, since only Edward was speaking. And I found myself wondering beyond suspicion as to what they were talking about.
Ethan turned back around to face Edward, appearing thankful he wasn't the first at something. He looked relieved, yet still somewhat tense and embarrassed.
"But don't be offended if I watch you more closely around her…" he trailed off in a slight warning and serious expression as he rested a hand on my knee.
Oh goodie, I looked at Edward. It was about me. That only left me with one more thing to be anxious about—young, male hormones.
Edward eyed me with a possessive glance then back to my, apparently, not-so-secret admirer.
I sighed as Ethan nodded his acceptance of Edward's heated warning, then immediately took his eyes off me, looking anywhere but at either of us. Edward's glares can be quite intimidating when he wanted them to.
What was so special about me, though, when Rosalie sat here beaming me out in beauty. I didn't understand.
Then Edward glanced over at Emmett with a look, and I realized it wasn't just about me. I bit my lower lip, holding back a smile when Emmett gave Ethan a warning glare, as well.
He was a teenage boy who seemingly couldn't help himself and his thoughts. Poor kid. The last thing he'd want…was these two against him.
"Ian," Marek broke in, "Carlisle thinks it would be best for you and the pack to stay here." He rested a firm hand on his friend's shoulder. "We will rescue Ahren and bring him home. We have a long way to run, you know. You'll be human tonight. And, I have agreed with him."
So last night was their third night of changing…
"You expect us to stay here and do nothing?" Ian argued sharply.
"Yes," Marek said calmly, nodding once. "You will need to keep your family safe from this Demetri while we are gone, should Aro send other vampires out to hunt you. But we will be back." His confidence filled the room again.
How does he do that? Who could doubt Marek when he spoke in such a way? Maybe he had a gift, too, and didn't know it. Or maybe it was just who he was? Either way, I felt better every time he spoke, and was glad he was on our side.
Ian pursed his lips and stared at Marek for a long moment, then at Carlisle and back to Marek. "Very well," he conceded with a huff after some consideration. "I suppose what you say makes sense." He seemed bothered by the truth. "Our family will be left alone if we all leave, now that they know where we are," he said bitterly. "We'll stay here and trust that if you get a chance to bring Ahren home, you will." He hating saying the words 'stay here'. "But if anything should happen…we will go back in a month."
"Fair enough, my friend, fair enough." Marek nodded, grinning happily that Ian was staying behind to protect his family.
"Let's get organized then, Carlisle," Peter said. "You, Edward and Bella have been to Volterra along with Ian, what are we looking at for getting in, and getting out?"
"You've been there before?" Ian asked with apprehension to Carlisle, me and Edward. I sensed a bit of worry in his voice that we might have a reason to side with Aro, as if our visit to Volterra last time was a friendly one.
"It's not a story we care to share, Ian," Carlisle swallowed hard at the memory of me running off to Italy, "because the outcome for all of us could have been very bad, if, you don't mind? We were lucky to leave with our lives." He was speaking for me and Edward on that last part, when I'd gone to save my boyfriend at the time from vampire suicide—and himself, because Carlisle had once been a member of the Volturi.
"Alright," Ian said, trusting us once again after staring at us for a while, seeing the terror rolling in and out of our eyes and expressions.
Well, mine at least.
Yep, the three of us knew exactly where we were going, again…