We'd been on the open water and highways for the last two and a half days, inching our way home, one mile at a very slow time it seemed. I couldn't believe in just one short hour we'd actually be driving onto the Quileute Reservation.
I could hardly stand it.
I pulled my phone out again, but Edward rested his hand over it, thinking it would be fun to surprise everyone since we were so close. So, to go along with his good wishes, I placed the silver item back in my pocket, placed my anxious hands in my lap and looked forward to seeing their faces when we pulled up.
Embry was awake now and in high spirits along with the rest of us. I wondered how much Renesmee would have grown by this time. Even though it had been just under a week since I'd seen her, I would notice the difference immediately.
My bones nearly jumped out of my body when we turned off onto the dirt road that led us to Billy's house. Rolling down all our windows to enjoy the breeze and familiarity of home, gusts of wolf scents hit us from every direction. Embry sat up as much as possible from the back, looking out the side windows and front, a deep longing in his impatient eyes.
Edward stopped the vehicle in front of Billy's and one by one they came running out. All the wolves, Billy, Carlisle, Emmett, Rosalie, Esme…and the one I was most exited for, our little Nessie. How did they all fit in that tiny little house? It was like something from a circus.
"Mommy, daddy!" she shouted as she ran for us when we climbed. I couldn't scoop her up fast enough before we all were handing out homecoming hugs.
"Oh, honey, I missed you so much!" I cried with joy, making sure not to crush her with my tight squeeze.
"You're home!" she cried. "You're really home."
"We're home, sweetheart," I repeated as I buried my face in her neck, taking in her soft sweet scent. I'd missed that.
Edward remained as patient as he could before coming and whisking her from my arms. He kissed her several times on the forehead as he cradled her gently.
"Welcome home, daddy." She wrapped her small arms around him and settled her face onto his shoulder.
"It's good to be home, darling," he answered. "Did you take care of everyone while we were away?" He smiled, remembering his last request before getting in our car to leave for Slovakia.
"I did." She grinned proudly then giggled when he tickled her.
Jacob, Quil and Seth helped remove Embry from of the back of the vehicle when he attempted getting out on his own—not knowing the injury to his hip when they jumped around excitedly in a group.
Edward handed Renesmee back into my willing arms when he heard Embry whine—and probably scream in his head from all the bouncing. Grabbing Carlisle quickly, they both made their way over as Jacob shooed the members of his pack away in concern to hold Embry still, then listened as Edward relayed what happened on the boat. Carefully, Jake and Carlisle carried him inside, all the wolves following. Edward, too.
"Welcome home, Bella." Billy wheeled himself up to me, flashing a mouthful of grinning teeth. I bent down to give him a hug after placing Renesmee on the ground to sprint and join the others inside. "You had quite an interesting trip I hear?" He shook his head in disbelief.
"Interesting" was a dire understatement. "It's good to be home," I sighed. "Actually, we're lucky to be home, Billy," I whispered truthfully, my mind once again—for a split, agonizing second—replaying that horrifying night. Very, very lucky.
Carlisle's group, who'd arrived a whole day ahead of us, had had plenty of time to fill everyone in on everything. Another thing I was thankful for. I wasn't ready to share the dramatics again, or quite so soon.
"Bella!" Sue called, interrupting us, running from the house, a huge smile on her face. "Oh Bella, honey…" She hugged and danced around with me. "Thank you. Thank you so much!"
I squeezed her back gently, both of us happy and filled with just as much excitement and energy. "Hi Sue." I giggled in her arms.
The next voice I heard, caused me to pause in Sue's clutches.
"Welcome home, Bells," my father's gruff voice had said behind from me.
I politely let go of my hold on Sue and threw myself into my fathers' arms. "You too, dad," I choked as I buried my face in his chest, squeezing him tightly.
He shuttered at my cold touch and lost his breath for a moment when I hugged around his waist a bit too hard. "Oh, I'm sorry." I loosened my grip just a tad.
"It's quite alright, honey." He laughed, not letting go of me. "I'm glad you're home safe," he whispered lightly into the top of my hair, kissing it and hugging me tight as possible.
My journey was now complete. I had received closure.
Settling into Billy's house, being very cramped, but not caring, stories were shared from the last few days—reminisced once more now that we were all here.
Carlisle apparently, had filled Charlie in on 'everything' on the plane: Aro coming for us last year, our treaty with the wolves, each Cullen's personal and vampire histories, etc. My father—who was already familiar with Ahren and having seen him transform—was well aware of werewolves who existed, commenting on their history as well. Which made me wonder why the Siberian's were being brought up in conversation so openly when they were to remain secret? If Ian knew, would we have a whole new fight on our hands? Charlie had also met Marek and Adriana in Venice, but I hadn't heard how that turned out yet. Did he meet Ian, and did they talk? Or did he stick to the shadows holding Ahren thankfully in his arms keeping their moment private?
Charlie reflected on his time with alone Aro, which Edward, Jasper, Alice and I got to hear for the first time when he told it again. I growled when Aro told Charlie his plans for him and the rest of my family—and that I would decide my father's fate. Edward placed a comforting hand on my knee, reassuring me it was all still over, that we would never have to fear them or their hungriness for power ever again. I reluctantly quieted down.
Edward leaned over and whispered quietly in my ear that Carlisle was able to tell my father about our time in the clearing, without having to mention our gifts. That knowing there were vampires, shift-shapers and werewolves was enough. I hoped if it came up at another time, or was necessary, we could let him in and he wouldn't freak. I would thank Carlisle for that discretion later.
But it was the start of the next conversation I brought up, that I would never have expected and ending to in all my eternal years.
"Where's, Leah?" I asked, looking around the room for her. Once I recalled everyone I'd seen outside, and everyone in the room here, it was apparent she wasn't anywhere. I sniffed at the air. Even her scent was not present. Was she hurt somehow? Did something horrible happen to her? Was she at home in bed?
Everyone, but the five of us who traveled home together, made disconcerting glances at each other, and I wasn't sure how to feel by the variety of expressions on their faces. Some were disturbed, some seemed happy…? But it was Jacob who seemed irritated and annoyed by my question.
Edward's eyes widened in the corner of my eye, his quick gasp setting me into a panic. I was immediately concerned, because he made no further expression, only wary glances with Jacob. A silent conversation I was sure. What did he know, what did they all know?
Jake took a deep breath and said, "Leah…imprinted, Bells," glaring almost disgustedly at me.
"What!" I replied, shocked, my hand covering my chest. If I'd have just taken a drink of something, it would have been spit out all over the room. "How…when…who?" I stuttered, trying to get my surprised thoughts out in a complete question—which obviously didn't work. And why did it bother Jacob so much? Wasn't imprinting supposed to be a good thing?
Well, maybe just for the imprinter and imprintee…I thought. I remember it not being such a happy moment for Edward and I with Renesmee and Jacob back when, too. I guess I could understand. Plus, this was a member of his pack, who obviously wasn't here.
Jacob and Leah had formed a very tight bond after she left Sam's pack. Not in the beginning, but eventually she became a close member of his wolf family. She was his Beta. His right hand man—uh, woman, after all.
"I tried to convince her to come home," Jacob began, then buried his face in his hands, shaking his head.
"Come home?" I looked at Edward, then at Seth and Quil. "Where is she?" I became somewhat irritated. And what was with all the dramatics and glances?
"She never got on the plane in Venice," Seth answered.
"She imprinted on someone in Italy?" My eyes widened again and my voice rang high.
"Yes…and no," Seth smiled. "It was someone who came to Venice, but doesn't live there." He threw the hint like a bone and I was supposed to go after it.
I was thoroughly lost at the moment, though, and wondered if he was having fun at my expense, giving me little bits of information with riddled answers to my simple, answerable questions.
I recalled for a moment of all those who'd gone to Venice after we left for the coast, remembering Leah had met everyone in my presence already. Who was left? And then I almost choked on my next question, my next presumption.
"She imprinted on Ian?" I gagged at the thought. He was a married man, and, twice her age.
"Nope," Seth kept playing with me. "But you're getting warmer."
I pulled my eyebrows in tightly, glaring at him as I ran down everyone on the list one more time, searching for one I had missed. What did he mean, 'I was getting warmer'? I wanted to leap across the room and strangle him. This wasn't funny. Not in the least. Esme made no mention of a passenger coming with Ian, just that he was coming to pick up…
I paused my thoughts immediately and gasped when I knew who I was missing from my guesses. Jacob ran his hands down his face to his chin when he heard my sharp inhale, waiting to see what name I would pull out next.
"Ahren…" I affirmed in a gentle tone, not knowing if I should be disgusted, happy or angry, according to the faces watching me. But secretly I was happy for her. Exstatic actually. Desperate to imprint was what she'd wanted, waited for, for so long.
"Ding! Ding! Ding!" Seth cheered as he pounded his finger to his nose then pointed to me, letting me know I had gotten the answer right this time.
I gazed at Jacob wanting to convey my excitement, but held back when all he could do was shake his head lightly at me, revealing how much he disliked the idea, burying his face once again.
"You should have been there, Bella." Seth grinned keeping his conversation going with me. "As soon as we got to Venice and met up with Marek, Adriana, Peter and Charlotte, this big, blonde tower of a male—who we knew wasn't fully human from the first whiff—stepped up to Carlisle and shook his hand. And then another male came up next to him, making evil, wary glances our way, obviously not expecting us—except when he saw Leah. I'm telling you, it was love at first sight," he mused. "Even though the guy was all beat up…she saw right past it. Not caring. I mean, he's a really good looking guy to begin with, but I think the cuts and bruises made him look more rugged—more, dangerous even." Seth guessed with a grin.
Embry scoffed from his relaxed position on the couch. "Dude, did you just call another guy 'really' good looking, and use the word 'rugged'?" he teased as he turned up half his face in disgust.
"Yeah." Seth stood to face him from the other side of the couch, leaning in with his hands on his hips. "And you would've too if you'd seen him. Tell him Jacob!" he said in his own defense, before ending up sitting back down in defeat when Jake only responded with a low, muffled, warning growl.
I looked at Jacob again, wondering why this was such a bad thing?
Edward noticed my puzzled expression. "He's upset because it was a pack member," my husband whispered quickly. "He's sad he may never see her again, and the only way he knows how to deal with it right now, is to be angry."
"Does he know what Ahren is?" I responded ever so quietly.
"Yes, and he's not thrilled about that either."
"He's not familiar with their kind. He's only heard bad things about werewolves, the wild ones. But Carlisle explained everything about the Dejanovics on the way home, like he did for Charlie. He still worries, though."
I could understand. He didn't know them the way we did, even though it had only been a few short days we'd spent with them. We had shared so much with Ian and the boys, that by the end, it had felt like years to me.
"What about keeping them secret? Why didn't Ian and Ahren hide when Jake and his pack showed?"
Edward seemed to be searching through several minds for a minute, then shrugged when he apparently came up empty. "My guess is that Ian smelled they, too, weren't fully human and maybe decided turning in one mythical being, was to turn themselves in, as well. Secrecy for them both could have been a mutual consent…or insisted upon by Ian and Jacob."
Oh, yes, I wish I'd have been there.
"How's Sue doing?" I whispered quickly, since her daughter was gone, and imprinted on a werewolf. How weird the idea was…
"She's happy for her. Leah struggled for far too long. And although the imprint is the furthest thing from what she'd ever expected, she knows it was meant to be. They spoke from Venice. Leah sounded like she was on cloud nine," he finished with a grin.
Wow, he got all that from Sue just now?
Mine and Edward's conversation only lasted for a brief second before I started back up with Seth again.
"And, Ahren?" I eyed Seth curiously, not looking at Jacob. "How did he react?"
"He was ready to take her home with him right then and there." He laughed.
Jacob growled again, loudly, but I ignored him this time, now that I understood.
"He was confused by Ahren's immediate infatuation at first, but after just a few minutes of talking with Carlisle, and then with Leah, the head Were absolutely adored her."
This was Leah we were talking about, right?
"So it all went good?"
"Well, it went good with us," Seth said, then motioned his head towards Jacob. "He had some issues. So much, that he almost got in a full-out fist fight with Ahren while trying to convince Leah to come home."
"Really?" I eyed Jacob who'd removed his face from his hands long enough to roll his eyes at me and look away.
"Yeah, but, Ahren's a big guy. I mean a big guy, Bella," Seth said as he held his hand about two feet over his head, and then about a foot length more out on each side of him. "It took everything Jacob had to keep from phasing on him and ordering her to come home."
"You forgot rugged..." Embry mumbled, interrupting slightly with mocking and tried to hide a grin.
"Oh yeah!" Seth jumped up heated, taking a few steps towards Embry till he towered over him on the couch. "Which hip hurts again?" He balled up a fist and pulled it back before Quil stood up between them. Jacob never even moved.
Oh yeah, we were definitely home.
"Enough!" Quil shouted as he placed one hand on Seth's chest, and the other on his arm that was just getting ready to swing down. "Yes, Ahren is a big, rugged, good looking guy! There! Now can we just get over it and move on?" He was clearly irked at the two of them. "Bella, you were saying?" Quil took me back to where we'd left off.
"So, you almost ordered her?" I said to Jacob, shocked. That was one thing he said he would never do to a member of his pack, and he had come that close.
Jacob sighed heavily. "I thought about it," he confessed. "But Leah came between us and reminded me of what I had waiting for me at home, and asked if I could just walk away from her?"
Edward shifted uneasily, pulling Renesmee, who'd just jumped on his lap, in closer to him.
"I knew then I had to let her go…" Jacob frowned.
I gave him a sympathetic glance. "You did the right thing Jake."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." He shrugged.
The whole room had quieted while listening to our conversation. And Embry's expressions had matched up with mine throughout the whole story. This was his first hearing of it as well, besides Edward, Jasper, Alice and me. He appeared stunned, but not bothered, maybe even happy for her.
Then I looked over at Charlie.
Oh shoot, Charlie! We'd been sitting here talking about imprinting right in front of him. Did he understand what Leah said to Jacob about what was waiting for him at home? Did he know?
I cleared my mind to talk to Edward.
Does…Charlie know? About Jacob and Renesmee?
He put an arm around me as he faced in Charlie's direction, looking down at my father's feet.
Edward nodded, and I almost threw up.
Is he upset?
Edward shook his head no, and I felt a smidge better.
Is he still thinking about it?
Edward nodded again.
Did Carlisle tell him?
Edward shook his head no.
Edward shook his head no again.
Ok, I snarled lightly, I just played guessing games with Seth. Will you just tell me? Because there are too many other people to have to go through names again.
Edward raised his eyebrows as he nodded his head once.
What are you nodding for? I barked.
He laughed through his nose. "You just said the name. I thought it would be fun to keep playing."
Ha, ha… I thought sarcastically. Seth told him?
"Yes, after all the confusion you father watched in Venice, but it went very well. Charlie's told Seth he's done with being surprised by anything. And wanted an explanation, right then."
I guess that's good?
Edward nodded again, relieving me, then made a sharp glance to Carlisle. After a few seconds he nodded warily to him. Carlisle didn't look happy.
"Everything alright?" I asked, wondering what that was all about.
"Carlisle wants to talk with me," he said a little apprehensive with tight lips.
"About what?" I felt jumpy, not sure if I should. I couldn't think of anything he might have done wrong recently.
"He wants to know why I shouted 'they're blocked' in the clearing with Aro. And how it happened? He knows it has something to do with you, but he hasn't been able to figure it out. He's curious."
"Oh…right." Carlisle didn't know I'd discovered how to block when I practiced on Edward. It wasn't something that hadn't come up. Well, something we hadn't had a chance to talk about. I hoped he didn't think we were trying to hide it from him.
Alice had made it known to everyone a year ago when she saw me open my mind to Edward after the Volturi left Forks, but this was one more thing I'd learned I could do, that she hadn't seen with Ian in the room.
I glanced at Carlisle with a slight smile. He forced a smiled back, but looked anxious to get going. Curiosity was growing more and more on his face with each second. And they had already been here for a day, waiting.
"He asked we tell him when we get home. And I nodded we would," Edward explained.
"Okay," I replied a little anxious.
"Don't worry, love," Edward said, sensing my mood change. "I'll explain it all to him."
Then Edward glanced at Carlisle again, listening. He smiled when he was done hearing and nodded once again.
"What now?" I panicked.
"He wants to try something with you." He grinned.
"What?" I had to know.
"He wants you to shield Jacob, to see if Alice can see around him, when he's shielded?"
I glanced back at Edward and raised my eyebrows. "Didn't see around him when I shielded him from your fight in the woods?"
"She saw what was going to happen when I was at the table, then when I fought by myself with no one, she was confused. We hadn't discussed it before Demetri…"
Took her. Of course.
We visited a little while longer before Carlisle mentioned we should get going. And that he wanted to check in at the hospital.
We stood outside and said our goodbyes. Sam and his pack, who'd kept patrol in the woods after we arrived, were all back for the moment, thankful we'd returned safely, then winked at me as if he knew we would. I laughed through my nose at that, at least he was optimistic. I hoped he was happy for Leah, but didn't ask. I'm positive he would be.
"Charlie," Carlisle called.
"Can you make sure this vehicle gets back to its rightful owner," He patted the Excursion we drove back in from Nova Scotia.
Charlie frowned at the thought of another stolen car. "I will," he huffed.
"Thank you." Carlisle clapped him on the shoulder before heading off to our pre-Slovakia parked cars, waiting for us to join him.
I gave my father one more hug before heading off. "I'm so sorry again, dad." I burrowed my face in his chest. I wasn't sure how many times I was going to feel like I needed to apologize, but I was sure this wouldn't be the last for probably a while.
When I lifted my head, I gazed over his shoulder, catching my eye on the blue object that stuck out a few feet behind Billy's house.
"Oh no!" I gasped.
"What?" He leaned back from me quickly, watching my eyes fill up with grief.
"Your police car…" I pointed behind him.
He turned to look, then faced me again. "Oh, that…" He frowned, then sighed. "I, heard you got a little mad." He stepped back and crossed his arms at me.
"Furious was more like it," I confessed as I gazed up at him apologetically. "I, um, didn't quite realize what I was doing at the time. I'm so sorry. How are you going to explain that at work?" I swallowed the lump in my throat.
"Well, first I have to explain my sudden disappearance of the last few days to them, and then the cruiser. Billy and the boys already came up with a good story for me when work called looking. So, no worries, Bella." He patted my shoulder then hugged me again. "It'll be alright."
I breathed in a sigh of almost relief. I was still ashamed of my actions. But if everything was covered according to Charlie, then I'd have to let what I'd done go.
Edward and Renesmee joined up with me to say goodbye to Charlie again before we met up with the rest of the Cullen's to head for home. Jacob said he would meet up with us in a little bit, he wanted to visit with Embry some more.
Carlisle told Embry he wanted to see him first thing in the morning, to take some ex-rays of his hip, and see if any permanent damage had been done internally by the venom.
Embry agreed to be at to be at the house bright and early. Well, as early as could be expected for a wolf that enjoyed his sleep as much as the others. And "NO PHASING" Carlisle instructed him with a pointed finger.
We drove home as fast as possible, joyful in fact, to finally be getting back to our simple little world of peace and comfort—where no Volturi could touch us ever again.