I threw myself to the wolves,
only to learn of the tenderness in their howl,
and the loyalty in their blood.
~ Isra Al-Thibeh
Bella slept fully, peacefully, every night. It was my goal to keep her mind off what was coming for us. I wanted her busy and sated and too tired to worry over what she had no control over. Not that I was so altruistic that I did not enjoy myself immensely when we coupled. No, that was the bright shining light in the dark days that we faced; Bella and I, connected as mates.Days had passed, and we spent all of them identically: fighting, training, learning. Three shapeshifters came to join our group, those that had been friends with Renée and Charlie for decades. Shelly, Maria, and Connor appeared nothing outside of normal. However, it was effortless for each of them to shimmer into a creature of their choosing. They had tried many, if not all, large and imposing predatory animals. The most fascinating choice was to emulate the werewolves. Due to their intimidating size and a desire to blend in, the other shapeshifters had agreed to match the Quileute's wolves.
There was trepidation, and rightly so, that the Volturi would always seek those that were unique. The three were not anomalies; rather, they had communities where they lived among others like them, where they hid in plain sight and tried to avoid detection. They wanted to live freely, without fear, and did not we all? So they stayed, and they learned with an open mind, and they trained to fight as the werewolves fought.
The only natural predator to a vampire was, in fact, the werewolves. They and they alone could pierce the flesh of a vampire with their massive teeth, could clamp down on our limbs and rip them from our bodies. Fire was to be feared, but werewolves were the stuff of legends. Vampires consciously chose to give a wide berth to tribes of wolves, which was only one reason we had chosen so long ago to hide amongst them. It would have worked, should have worked. Alice had spent much time trying to decipher the reason for the Volturi's visit, not the least concerning of which was whether they wanted to obtain several of us at any cost, or if they were merely curious, as Carlisle suggested.
My attention shifted from my musings as I heard the changes in Bella. Her heart rate and breathing changed as she surfaced from her slumber.
"Mm. What times is it?" she mumbled.
"After nine," I answered as I leaned over and kissed her shoulder.
"Why didn't you wake me sooner? We have so much to do!" She started to sit up, throwing the covers off her legs.
"You were sleeping so soundly, I could not wake you in good conscience. Why, if it were not for the snoring, I would worry you had slipped into a coma."
She gasped and threw her pillow at me. "I do not snore!"
I grinned. "Who would know better, the vampire destined to listen to the sawing of logs for eternity, or the human/wolf hybrid that is asleep?"
"Oh my God, you're incorrigible!" she shrieked and stomped into the bathroom.
I could not contain my grin as I flashed to the kitchen and started her coffee and made her something more substantial than the Pop-Tarts she thought constituted real food. She needed sustenance as the days were long and hard.
Bella had learned more of the shapeshifting abilities that came so easily to the others. I agreed with Renée that it was likely that her talent in that area had been diluted because she was part Charlie. The Quileute in her seemed to call to her more strongly, which I found somewhat ironic, considering that it was only a quarter of her heritage. Still, the wolf in her was strong, and it was the best defense she possessed. Unless she was terribly stressed or upset, she could not harness the ability to cause the seismic shifts of her past. I prayed to whatever gods would listen that either it was not ever needed, or that it would manifest itself at the appropriate time. Renée would shield Bella in her human form as we fought, protecting her from Jane and Alec's attacks. We would go for Demetri first so he could never track us again, and then pick off the rest of the guard, saving the evil trio of Aro, Marcus, and Caius for last.
"Edward?" I heard her call me softly from the bedroom.
"In the kitchen, love!" I called back. I rolled sausage around in one pan and gave a stir to scrambled eggs in the other.
She came in the room, brilliantly beautiful in a yellow sweater. "You were teasing me, weren't you?" she asked with narrowed eyes.
She still seemed somewhat skeptical, but sat to eat regardless.
"I'd like to think I could ask what's on today's agenda and have it be different from the past week, but I'm more practical than that."
I placed a full plate in front of her, gazing at her as she ate. Her cheeks were lightly flushed from the hot water of her shower, her hair damp and curling in the places that dried more quickly. Her complexion was smooth, ivory save for the blush, her depthless eyes turned down toward her plate. My feelings for her overwhelmed me at every turn.
"I understand it feels monotonous, love, but we know it is simply for the best."
"I know," she sighed. "I'm not really complaining, just wishfully thinking that we had a sense of normalcy, just once."
"Normalcy is far-fetched in our supernatural world. What were you doing this time last year?"
Her head tilted as she contemplated. "Arguing with the council about what I would do once summer came." Bella laughed. "How ironic."
"We can hope for a time when we can look forward to simplicity."
Bella put her fork down and came over to me, straddling my lap and leaning in close to my face. I could not help the hardness that manifested itself at her proximity, and she took advantage of her position. Capturing my lips in her own, she kissed me thoroughly. Human food made her mouth taste odd, but I could not find it in me to mind. Her core blazed hotly over my erection, and I calculated the time remaining before everyone would expect us. Then Bella shifted, grinding down on my lap.
I decided very quickly that I did not give a damn when we were expected.
Buried deep inside Bella was my favorite place to be, and I tried to keep my desperation out of our lovemaking. I had counted on forever, but now it seemed forever was not as long as I had hoped.
I smothered my mounting distress as we joined the others at the house. I had been broody and depressing before meeting my Bella, and she changed every piece of my existence with her exuberance for life. I was struggling now to not allow the old Edward to resurface in the face of what may very well be insurmountable odds. I had no idea if vampires had souls; it seemed unlikely given our nature, yet I held out the greatest hope that I was wrong. I could only ask to spend the afterlife with my mate if we were not long for this world.
There was a long list of people that were ready to stand and fight with us. My family, our Denali cousins, Bella's family, the wolf pack, and the shapeshifters. When I heard the thoughts of rapidly approaching vampires, at first I tensed, crouching defensively in front of Bella.
Alice was the first to speak up. "It's the Amazonians, Edward. I've been so focused on the Volturi's every move that I missed this."
There was murmured conversation from the others, but I focused on the thoughts coming nearer. I realized that I did recognize them as Kachiri, Senna, and Zafrina.
We would now total twenty-eight.
It was a good thing vampires didn't sleep, as each of my family had already given up their room to a guest that did sleep.
"Greetings, Cullens!" I heard from a distance.
Five point six seconds later, the three sisters came to a skidding stop in the backyard where we were gathered.
"We heard rumors of the Volturi tracker coming through our area after you left. It seems you know of this already, judging by your small army," Zafrina said wryly.
"Alice has seen a vision of them coming, but we didn't know why," Carlisle explained.
Senna spoke up. "According to our source, Demetri was in the area north of where you have been living. He recalled your smell, as his gift allows, but he also smelled Carlisle. They used to be amigos, after all."
Charlie rounded on my parents. "I knew getting involved with you would get me killed! If you hadn't come to us, we would have stayed safely hidden."
Emmett pushed his way in front of Esme to stand next to Carlisle. I understood his need to protect our mother figure. "Hey! If you hadn't come here, where would you have been when Demetri came crashing through the jungle? He was on to you before any of us found you, and you know it!"
"You would have been sitting ducks," I added.
Charlie was breathing heavily, his chest and shoulders rising and falling rapidly in his ire. I saw the moment of defeat in his eyes, heard the strain of worry over his wife and daughter in his frantic thoughts. His head dropped, and Renée moved to comfort him. He turned his face into her neck and held her so tightly it was a wonder he didn't snap her in half.
Jasper moved up next, passing Carlisle and Esme to stand near Charlie and Renée. "I understand how you feel about this, Charlie. What you still don't seem to grasp is that we all feel the way you do. We each have someone we can't bear to lose, an eternity we might not get to see played out. You are no longer alone. You need to fix your self-centered approach and adopt a team mentality, because that is the only thing that will give us a chance to survive. Why do you think we've been out here every damn day training how to work together? We need to learn to use our talents with each other, instead of only protecting our own backs. It's something our family has learned over the years, something I know works, because I've seen it done the opposite way. Every man for himself doesn't work."
Charlie straightened up and faced the rest of us. Anyone could see he was embarrassed by his outburst, and his thoughts were centered around how many of us had witnessed it. "I know that you're right, okay? I'm on edge. We all must feel like we're ready to explode at any second. It's too much pressure."
Bella stepped over to her father for the first time since his outburst. "We do feel that way, Charlie. And I know I've melted down more times than I can count. It's fine to feel the way you do, just don't go around blaming others for it."
Tired of being schooled by my own daughter, but I know she's right. I chuckled quietly at his thoughts.
The Amazonians joined us in our fight training, and we found them to be invaluable. After some discussion with Carlisle, they agreed to stay and face the Volturi with us. Zafrina could use her ability to project complete darkness, and it left the rest of us stumbling around blindly. Renée and Bella laughed at us as we were left so vulnerable. Renée was learning how many of us she could shield, and she had an impressive range. One by one we regained our sight as the shield stretched over us.
"I really don't like being left in the dark," Jacob complained. "We need to all be shielded if she uses this as a weapon against the others. Bella needs to give her shield a try."
"All right, I'll try," Bella agreed. "First, though, why don't you all shift into your wolf forms so we can see how all of this works in your altered form."
I groaned as Connor's thoughts once again went to my wife. The last time he saw her, she'd been fifteen, and he and the other two had been in charge of Bella's well-being. Since the shapeshifters didn't seem to age, he looked like a high school senior, and had the same maturity as one. He was crushing on my wife, in his words, and it took all I had not to smash in his skull.
The two women had visions of Bella as a young wolf in their minds when they first met in person a few days ago. They felt sisterly toward Bella, fond memories of playing around as wolves flitting through their minds as they talked about what they'd been doing for the past six years. If only Connor's thoughts reflected those of Shelly and Maria.
At any rate, everyone that was able to become a wolf did so, aside from Bella. Zafrina used her skills and envisioned a pitch dark night. It was so realistic I could hear crickets chirping. Bella attempted to shield the eleven shapeshifters with her abilities, including her mother. I could hear the thoughts of the others, and see the moment it worked through their mind's eye. It was like watching a split screen television; part of my brain processing the dark and another part processing their thoughts and visions. Vampire brains were multifaceted and had an unlimited capacity.
"Very well done, Bella," I praised as my own vision cleared, revealing the lush forest that surrounded our property.
She blushed at my compliment and her control slipped a fraction.
Hey! Quil protested in his thoughts as he was thrust back into the dark. Bella could not hear him in her human thoughts, so I let it pass. She did not need the distraction. She could shield her mother if it ever became a necessity, as well as the rest of us.
When all of them could see again, Zafrina pulled back on her projection.
"I think I should shift and then give it a try," Bella suggested.
We needed to cover all bases, so we agreed. It would take all of our defenses to stand a chance at winning; our time was almost up.
The Volturi would come for us in two weeks' time.