Thankfully, Charlie was still asleep when we got back to the car. Just like Edward said he would be, and snoring lightly.
I made sure to put the evil little, black top in with the bloody ones. We'd be burning that one later, too. I had no need for any article of clothing that once belonged to Heidi.
We rolled the windows down when Edward pulled back out onto the main road so we could clear Charlie's strong scent from the car and pick up on familiar ones up ahead.
The smell of nearby animals became tempting to my taste buds as I picked up on them, mixed in with the surrounding dirt, grass, rock and tree aromas. At least three different types of four-legged creatures roamed nearby, with scents I didn't recognize to be able to put a name to what they were. I breathed in the cool, refreshing air, making sure not to mention to Edward the slight pain that had been building in my throat from Charlie's thirst-provoking injuries. It was manageable. Stronger than what I was used to from my father, but something I got control over…and quick.
We'd been driving for about fifteen minutes before we caught two scents just off the road we had been told to look for. The first one was familiarly pleasant, while the other bit at our nostrils, causing me to make a face. Emmett and Jacob had run to the road and back for us.
I was excited when Edward stopped the car as far back as he could go before the scent turned into the trees. I was going to see Alice. I was finally going to be able to talk to her, to look into her adoring eyes and hug her, knowing she was really here, safe, and that all of this was truly over. She was going to be the closure I had been longing for.
But then I thought of the precious cargo we had with us as I undid my seatbelt. I glanced out at the darkened forest, back to Charlie, then at Edward.
"Who's going to stay with him?" I didn't want to disturb his rest or leave him here alone if he should wake. And even though the car was parked out of human eyesight, I still worried.
"I'll stay with, Charlie," Edward suggested without hesitation. "You go meet up with the others and check on Embry. And if Carlisle is able, will you please ask him to come see me?" his tone turned serious.
"Yes, of course." I analyzed his request then kissed him quickly, wishing he was coming with me. I knew we both wanted to see Alice. "I'll be back soon." I smiled, putting my hand on the inside handle to open my door.
"Take your time and don't worry about us," he said as he leaned forward and turned the radio up, then slouched back into his seat, making himself comfortable. His form was so glorious, I found myself awkwardly torn between going and staying. Regardless of the wonderful time we'd just spend together.
"And, Bella…" he distracted me from my hormone-induced dilemma, allowing me to focus again, "send Vladimir and Stefan if Carlisle is busy."
His face grew more serious, and I couldn't help but wonder why he would want the Romanians if Carlisle was unavailable?
He noticed my confused expression and motioned his head back to Charlie.
"Oh, right," I muttered, slightly panicked, Charlie's options.
"It'll be alright, love." He smiled kindly to comfort me. But until we got a final word on my father, nothing was going to ease my mind. The best I could do in reply was nod back before opening the door and getting out.
I ran as fast as I could, chasing after the scents that led to our group, feeling like I couldn't go fast enough. I was hoping everyone was already there, not sure how long Jasper and Alice could take to make it back. Although, with our little shirt-changing side trip, I couldn't imagine everyone wasn't already there.
I must have run about a mile before the breeze heading my way allowed me to smell them, all of them. Each individual scent a warm welcome, minus the five on their way to Venice. And to my own shock, I even found the wolves sniff worthy.
But just before reaching the groups new location, I was tackled from the side to the ground.
My attacker was small and giggly. And my insides rejoiced when I recognized the smell and familiar hug.
"Alice!" I cheered enthusiastically, patting the back of the tiny vampire lying on top of me, squeezing my neck tightly. I wanted to unbind her arms so I could see her face, but having her here with me, caused me to throw my own around her just as firm.
"Bella," she whispered next to my ear, still holding me. "Oh, Bella, I'm so delighted to see you."
But she didn't sound delighted, well, not delighted in the same way I was. In fact, she sounded rather sad, almost like she wanted to start crying.
"Alice, what's wrong?" I whispered into her ear, wondering what had caused her to go from giggly to upset in such a short instant.
"You changed it…" She sniffed. "The outcome, the vision…you changed it."
"Yes, Alice, we all did," I corrected her.
"I couldn't see any more after Vienna. I couldn't see! It made me crazy not knowing. Aro assumed the wolves showed up once I couldn't find you, any of you. And here they are, and now Embry…" she trailed off.
I rubbed gently up and down her back, hoping to console her as she continued to sob into my shoulder. "I know, Alice, I know…" I whispered, feeling myself starting to mingle with her emotions.
"No, Bella," she paused, getting a hold of her crying. "You don't know. It was horrible. The last thing I saw, until Emmett burst through those doors, was everyone…" she didn't say the last word, but I knew it began with a 'D' and rhymed with 'why'. "Everyone was gone but you, under Aro's orders. Carlisle, Esme, Rosalie, Emmett and…Jasper," she struggled to say the last name. "The whole group taken out, Bella, every single one of them. You wouldn't go with Aro when he called, and Edward wouldn't let you. You were going to stay and fight. Then Renata distracted your shield from Zafrina. She couldn't blind them, and Jane attacked her. Jasper and Eleazar rushed Jane, but Alec…" she broke off again.
I swallowed hard, closed my eyes and rested my head on the ground as I listened to Alice relive her vision. I was trying hard not to picture it. I didn't want to go there. I had already been there. And the thought of what could have happened, what did happen for her, tore at me. This is what Edward had seen, and I didn't want to know it then either. His horrified face had already told me everything.
"And, Edward," she continued.
I stopped breathing.
"He tried so hard to protect you, but, there were too many…and he…"
"Alice," I interrupted, barely able to speak, "stop, please," I begged her. I couldn't hear anymore. I couldn't stomach it, not Edward, not anyone else. Not Edward…
We laid there silently for a minute, still holding each other, with no one to console either one of us now. This was supposed to be a happy reunion for me and her. I wasn't expecting this.
"I'm sorry, Bella." She lifted her head to look me in the eyes, fully apologetic, then rolled off of me to a sitting position, her face buried in her hands.
"It's alright, Alice," I said as considerate as possible, sitting up next to her and putting my arm around her shoulders. "I'm alright. Edward's alright, and Jasper's alright."
She moved her hands away from her face, nodded, and then looked around. "Where are, Edward and Charlie?" Having the wolves near had blinded her completely. And like Edward, she struggled not knowing things.
"Charlie's asleep in the car and Edward is… Edward!" I shouted, forgetting I needed to get Carlisle back to him. "Come on, Alice." I jumped up, pulling her off the ground with me.
"What is it?" She looked confused.
"I have to get, Carlisle," was all I said as we ran through the trees to my destination.
Once we reached the group, I ran over to Carlisle. He was on the ground, leaning over Embry, monitoring him as I approached.
"Bella!" Esme sang as she stood up from sitting next to Embry to hug me. "You have no idea how thrilled I am to see you."
But as a mother myself, I had a very good idea.
"Where are Edward and Charlie?" She looked in the direction I had come.
"They're back at the car. Charlie's sleeping and we didn't want to wake or leave him," I explained, then focused my attention to my second father.
"Carlisle, are you able to meet Edward at the car? He needs to speak with you," I sounded a little rushed for him to leave. But it concerned Charlie, so for that reason I was.
"Yes, Bella. Is there a problem?" He raised his eyebrows meeting my distress.
Maybe…? "He has something he needs to ask you. It's…important." I eyed him, trying to sound calm.
"Of course." He nodded.
"Jacob, will you take over?" Carlisle asked. "Start compressions if his heart stutters again and keep them going until I return, okay?"
Jacob nodded and took his place on the other side of Embry as soon as Carlisle stood and took off into the woods.
I looked around at the rest of the group and smiled to each of them as I listened to Emmett, Rosalie and the others sharing our story at Volterra with those who stayed behind. I received smiles and waves in return before they engulfed themselves back into our previous venture…or as I'd call it, nightmare.
I gazed with remorse at the rest of the pack who still hovered by Embry and sat down beside them. They had phased back to human form while waiting.
"How's he doing?" I asked Jacob softly.
"Doc thinks he's going to be fine. We just have to play the waiting game now," he sighed somberly. "Look at him though, Bells. It's like he's stuck in wolf form. What if the venom hurt him inside more than we know? What if he's like this forever?"
Seth, Leah and Quil looked at each other with equal amounts of worry on their faces.
Could that truly happen?
"What does Carlisle say?"
"Well, since this is new to him, he doesn't know what to think..." he trailed off nervously.
I patted Jacob's hand. "We'll deal with it one moment at a time, Jake. Hopefully he'll come around before too long." I smiled, wishing there was more I could say to comfort him.
Jacob reached over and hugged me.
"Thank you, Bella. I mean it. If you hadn't acted so quickly, we wouldn't be fortunate enough to be worrying about him at all right now. And, I'm glad you're back. We were all so worried. I thought my head was going to explode from all the stress."
"Well, you told me to hurry. And as I recall, too bring my butt back with me." I grinned, hoping to lighten the mood even a little.
"Way to listen for once." He snorted, accepting my intended playfulness.
But before I could say anything else, three more sets of arms were suddenly wrapped around us and I was at a loss for words from the gesture. I was also overwhelmed with wolf smell, but didn't care. These were my friends huddled with me, even Leah.
"Is Charlie really okay?" Jacob asked when we all let go from our group hug.
"Yeah," I replied, still a little emotional. "He's a little battered up, though. He tried to fight against Felix as best he could, but…"
"He tried to fight Felix?" Jacob interrupted, his eyes wide. "That sounds like him. Man, he must be freaking out with all this?"
"He hasn't yet." I shook my head. "But it doesn't surprise me with Charlie. I think he was more upset when Edward made him ride here in a stolen car." I laughed once through my nose.
Jacob laughed with me. "Yeah, I could see that."
"Although, I give him a few days to let it all sink in before he goes crazy and pulls out a hundred more questions for me." I sighed with anxiousness just thinking about how much more he'd wonder about.
"We'll help you out, Bells, no sense being under the interrogation light all by yourself," he joked.
"Thanks. I'll take you up on that." I pushed my elbow at his arm, almost knocking him over.
Just then Carlisle came running back. "Vladimir, Stefan, can you follow me please?" he requested, motioning his fingers, seeming anxious.
My muscles tightened and I froze. This was the discussion I was worried about—especially if Carlisle came to retrieve the Romanians. Was my father knowing really that bad?
"What's that about?" Jacob noticed my sudden stillness.
"I'm afraid it has to do with one of Aro's laws. Well, a vampire law, and how to proceed," my voice shook as I stared off into the trees where the three had left. "We're not sure if it still stands, and Edward thinks Carlisle and the Romanians can help," I left my answer vague. I didn't want him to have any more stress, not over Charlie. Jacob would fight against every vampire if it came down to it, too.
"Yeah, those two have been talking since you guys left," Jake whispered. "And get this. They asked Carlisle if he would be interested in joining with them under royal rule. Can you believe it?"
I stared into Jacob's eyes with widened ones and my mouth fell open. Was he kidding?
"But Carlisle graciously declined," he answered quickly gauging my expression. "Until they invited your whole family …"
I knew the Romanians would happily resume their previous position over the vampires and build their own guard one day, but with our whole family, too? As royalty? No way!
"And he accepted?" I choked on my own words. Carlisle very rarely made big decisions before speaking to all of us. Did he assume we'd all be happy to join with them? I thought about that and frowned at the idea of living in Romania.
"Naw." Jake chuckled, thinking it was funny to get me all flustered.
I punched him in the arm, making sure he fell completely over this time.
Seth and Quil laughed.
"Sheesh, Bells!" Jacob scowled as he sat up, rubbing his arm. "He said thank you, but wanted to continue living an everyday, normal life. That you guys were happy where you were."
I glared at him, still somewhat irritated, and then smirked. "Sorry."
I was glad Carlisle had declined. We were happy where we were. Very happy. I'm sure Jacob was glad to hear Carlisle's answer as well, for Renesmee. Vladimir would have to allow a wolf in the line if he'd accepted. Or at least one to sleep outside.
Just then, I heard Charles, Makenna, Zafrina, Benjamin, Tia, Siobhan, Liam and Maggie all start making rounds of goodbyes. I got up and handed out personal thank yous to everyone as I wished them each a safe trip home.
"Let's try and get together under better circumstances next time, and for once," Benjamin teased when he hugged me.
"Yes, lets," I sighed.
"Please tell us what happens with Embry," Siobhan said as her arms wrapped around me. "I'll be wishing him well in the meantime." She smiled.
"I will," I promised. "And thank you."
"Let us all know, Bella," Zafrina stated with her hug. "We'll be anxious to hear."
Carlisle, Vladimir and Stefan came running through the trees then, returning just in time to say their goodbye's before everyone but us and the pack headed off in the directions of their homes.
I was desperate to know what Carlisle knew about Charlie as he made his way over to Embry. But I figured I would have to wait when no one called me personally aside.
"Any changes?" Carlisle asked.
"No." Jacob frowned. "He's still the same."
"Well," Carlisle sighed. "I can't do any more from here. I think the best thing is to get him home as soon as possible."
"How are we going to do that?" Leah asked. "He's still phased."
We were all still for a moment, thinking.
"We could put him in one of those horse crates, on the plane, like they do with animals," Seth suggested.
Leah glared at him. "You idiot!" She then smacked his arm. "What if he wakes up?"
"Oh, yeah, maybe not." He moped as he rubbed his hand over her reaction.
"Unless you wanna be locked up and phased with him? Because one giant wolf surely won't cause suspicion," she barked.
Jacob thought about that for a minute. I guess it was an option if we had to do it, no matter how silly or risky it might have sounded.
"We can take him home, Carlisle," Alice jumped in. "Jasper and I. Felix and Demetri left a boat when we came over. We can take Embry back the way we came, it's big enough. And we can meet you in Forks in just a few days?"
They came over in a boat?
"That's a good idea." Carlisle nodded. "But someone with medical training should to go with you, just in case." Then Carlisle looked at me.
I stared at him blankly.
"Bella, would you object to going home with Alice and Jasper by ocean?"
I was confused at first, but if it avoided me traveling on a plane, I was in.
"Uh, sure," I replied, "but how can I help medically?"
Carlisle smiled. "Well, I assumed if I asked Edward to go for Embry, you might want to go as well. I wanted to check with you first."
"Oh." I felt bit silly. A few days on the ocean, though? Carlisle said to get him home quickly. Was there no better option? Sneak into a vet's office, maybe? No, that wouldn't wake him up. And a hospital was out, for obvious reasons. I guess going home by boat was the best choice—along with returning it to its owner.
"Would you mind switching with Edward so I can ask him and go over things?" Carlisle hid a smile from my embarrassment.
"Of course," I answered, standing up.
"And, Alice," Carlisle looked at her. "See if you and Jasper can find a vehicle large enough to fit Embry in. If he should wake, it's best not to be running with him. The one Edward has won't do."
"We're on it!" She sang as she grabbed Jasper's hand and danced off into the woods to look for some new wheels.
"Esme, will you come with me?" I asked as quietly as possible before heading back to Edward.
"Yes, Bella." She eyed me curiously before we walked away.
Edward was leaning against the outside of the car when we arrived. Esme ran up and hugged him, but his expression looked bothered when he looked over her shoulder at me. I shuddered when I thought of all the things that could cause that look. Was it about Charlie?
I moved in closer when Esme let go.
"Is everything…okay?" I wrapped my arms around his waist and placed my cheek against his chest.
"Yes." He took a deep breath, trying to answer convincingly, but I knew him better.
I glance up and raised an eyebrow.
"Charlie's going to be fine." He looked down at me, his voice flat.
I smiled, but then my face was confused that this didn't seem like good news to him. What was wrong?
"Vladimir and Stefan didn't see him as a threat to our lifestyle and granted him his freedom to remain human," he paused, still solemn, then relief filled his voice, "and you, a full pardon from breaking the law."
I raised my hands to my face, cupping them around my mouth and nose in horror. I had forgotten about me. And within a matter of seconds, my facial expressions had gone from happy, to frightened, to grateful. I could easily have gone down with Charlie if things had turned out different.
"The Romanians are more lenient than Aro, and agreed with each other that the law should stay in place, but with less drastic measures according to each individual case. They understood our situation after Carlisle and I explained your father to them a little better." He slightly grinned before his expression declined again.
I placed my hand over my chest and inhaled deeply, relieved, then stared back at his face. He still seemed bothered. Was he worrying about how close he had come to losing me to me-and-my-big-mouth a moment ago? I don't think so, that would have been a sad expression. This one was disturbed.
"Something else is bothering you." I placed my face back against his chest, gripping him tightly.
He stroked his hand gently down the back of my hair to my waist, and sighed. "Yes," he muttered through clinched teeth.
"What is it?"
He was silent for a moment.
"Edward?" I pulled back to look at him.
His eyes were dark and his face hard. "I, had a difficult time listening to what Alice was telling you, and seeing how it made you feel," his voice was ice cold. "She shouldn't have put that on you."
My emotions immediately went back to my conversation with Alice, and my stomach sank.
"That, was difficult," I managed to choke out. "I had only imagined what Aro showed you in the clearing, but when Alice said you 'tried' to protect me, I knew I couldn't listen anymore." I leaned in and squeezed him tight.
"I'll be sure to talk with her," he replied with grave irritation.
No, he didn't need to talk with her. Not for me. I'd understood completely. "But I'm okay, Edward. We're okay. Don't be angry at her." I paused to look up at him. "She also had to watch Jasper die," my voice cracked.
Edward's face dropped.
"I think she's suffered enough. And I don't think she meant to react like that, it just came out," I defended her outburst.
Edward pushed me out from him and stared into my eyes, then sighed.
"You're right, love. She's suffered more than enough." He felt for his sister. "I won't be angry." A slight smile graced his calming features.
"Thank you." I hugged him.
"No. Thank you, Bella, for making me see things clearly." His arms wrapped around me again, igniting a spark.
Esme rubbed her hand up and down my back. I'd forgotten she'd been nearby through our whole conversation. What must she have thought?
"Oh," I remembered then as I reluctantly removed my arms from him. "Carlisle wants you."
Edward looked at me for a second.
"Are you really okay with a boat?" he asked.
"Sure." I shrugged. "I flew over the ocean to get here, why not sail it back, right? What about you? Do you want to go home by water?"
"Well, I did see the boat in Alice's memory when she mentioned it." He grinned. "It's very fast."
Of course it was.
"I'll go talk to Carlisle and be back," Edward said before he kissed me, ready to take off for the group. I nodded with a smile when my lips left his.
Esme and I stayed behind with Charlie.
"Bella, honey." Esme put her hand on my shoulder. "You wanted to speak with me?"
"Yes," I answered softly. "I was curious about what you said before, about Marek meeting you in Venice? Is everything alright?"
"Everything's fine, dear." She smiled. "In fact, Ian is driving over as we speak, to meet us there. He's very anxious to see Ahren and he's bringing our belongings. He couldn't wait."
I grinned in understanding and relief. Ahren was okay. I exhaled happily as my muscles relaxed.
"Will you say goodbye for us, Esme?" I asked, knowing we wouldn't be seeing them before leaving. It bothered me we wouldn't be able to say goodbye to Marek, Adriana and Ian or meet Ahren. I wanted to put a face with the name of the wolf that I felt an odd connection with per Charlie and Ian's pack. "Oh, and Peter and Charlotte, too, tell them thank you so much from us."
"Of course, dear. And we'll take Charlie with us and get him on the plane, don't worry." Her face was angelic.
"Thank you." I nodded as I looked back at my father still sleeping. He looked so peaceful. And part of me was glad he was going to be able to stay that way for a while. Charlie didn't have a passport on him I was sure, but Carlisle always had a way around things. I knew they would have a plan put together already; even if it meant paying twice as much to get him home legally.
Just then we heard a loud grumbling noise coming from down the road and lights shining our way from a distance.
Esme and I ducked in front of the car to hide ourselves. Who would be driving all the way out here this time of night?
The huge truck spit and sputtered its way right up behind the car and stopped. I couldn't smell anything but gasoline fumes as a tall, lanky man and small woman climbed out from behind each door.
Jasper and Alice were back.
I giggled at the atrocious animal on four wheels they'd found as they walked over. It looked and sounded like it was on its last leg, just begging to be put down.
"No laughing, Bella." Alice scowled when she noticed my hand covering my mouth. "This was the best we could find with enough room in back to transport Embry. I think it's perfect." She beamed toward the beast.
I took my hand down and straightened my face as I seized a better glance at the old vehicle. It reminded me of one of those sturdy, old farm trucks that was used back in the nineteen fifties, with a huge hood and enough cab room for three across the front seat. The tires appeared to have been from that time as well. They were faded and looked tired and worn out, matching the character of the truck. The amount of rust odor coming from it let me know this was definitely an antique.
Behind the big blue cab was a large wooden bed that towered four feet of wood slabs on all sides. Perfect, just like Alice said, for Embry. He wouldn't be noticed lying down back there.
Guessing from the scents coming from the wooded bed as I walked closer, this truck had been used for carrying just about everything for a farmer. I couldn't make out the individual animals, but at least five different scents of livestock blew my way, along with fruits, vegetables, hay, and a few varieties of grain.
Human scents flowed from it as well as I imagined his kids having fun playing and riding in the back on their way into town. I ignored those smells, hoping the cab wasn't as tempting to my taste buds as those were.
"Sorry, Alice," I said sincerely. "You picked out a wonderful vehicle."
"I know," she replied curtly as she stuck her nose up in the air and turned away from me.
I smiled and ignored her playful irritation.
"Is everyone ready to go?" Jasper asked me and Esme.
"Rosalie is on her way," Alice replied now that no wolves were around. I had actually missed her seeing things before us.
Everyone left in the woods was now appearing out on the road with us. Rosalie just minutes before everyone else, which allowed Alice to see her.
"Wow." She gasped when she eyed our transportation. "Nice work, Alice."
Alice glared at me and I rolled my eyes.
Emmett, Carlisle, Jacob and Edward carried Embry while Seth, Quil and Leah walked close behind. Jasper went over and lowered the back end of the wooden bed down for them to haul him gently in, then raised it back up, locking it in back in place with the large metal hooks that attached on each side.
I gave Jacob a hug goodbye when he jumped out the back and told him not to worry, that we'd keep a very close watch over Embry. I did the same for Leah, Seth and Quil.
"Call if things take a turn for the worst," Jacob said with sad eyes. "Otherwise…get your butt home safely." He smirked.
"Will do." I ruffled his hair.
"Edward," Jacob called. "Thank you."
"See you at home, Jacob." He shook his hand.
"See you at home," Jake repeated.
Once everyone said their final goodbyes, Alice and Jasper climbed in the cab of the truck while Edward and I decided to hoist ourselves in back with Embry.
Carlisle and Esme climbed into the Maserati to wait while the pack went to phase for the run to Venice. Emmett and Rosalie waved as Jasper started the truck and slowly began backing down the road.
"See you soon," Emmett shouted, followed shortly by, "and watch the bumps!"
I looked at Edward and moved Embry's head onto my lap. He smiled at Emmett's beneficial warning and my cautiousness that Embry not receive anymore injuries.
Now, all we had to do was reach the Italian shore and hope the boat Alice rode over here in, was still there.