A/N: All original Twilight characters are © Stephenie Meyer.

Chapter 16

Temper Tantrums & Profound Revelations

Edward felt almost…guilty. As if he was intruding on the most intimate of moments.

For Seth, time had all but frozen. He had imprinted on the tall gorgeous Ahtena girl standing in the middle of the group of young warriors, and Edward had been privy to every emotion and every thought. It was beautiful…Earth-shattering…as if someone had taken Seth's heart and soul and spliced them together with hers – a girl he had never met before today – and irrevocably bound them in an unbreakable cord of three.

Suddenly, all residual resentment Edward held for Jacob and his undying devotion to Renesmee since he had imprinted on her at birth disappeared. Immediately after Renesmee was born, Edward's primary focus had been on saving Bella's life, so he had not been listening very closely to the events elsewhere as Jacob had met the warm milk chocolate gaze of Bella's newborn daughter for the very first time, shifting the very center of his existence exponentially. Edward had heard Jake's thoughts many times and even allowed him to explain it verbally, but he had never really comprehended the phenomenon of imprinting until now.

Now…he understood. Edward understood because it was exactly how he and Bella felt about each other. Seth and this beautiful tribal warrior… Ethan and Leah…Jacob and Renesmee…one could not exist without the other. Separation at any stage – temporary or permanent – would be excruciating…unbearable. Life for one would end without the survival of the other.

Comprehension made Edward's stomach twist into knots of dread. The stakes were already high enough. In Dallas and his advancing regime, the Volturi had a loaded gun pointed straight at the Ahtena's and Quileute's very existence. They wanted total annihilation of the species…extinction. Except now it was blaringly obvious to Edward – not that even one of them dying was a thought he could will his mind to contemplate – that extinction was most definitely not an option! Jacob, above anyone else, must survive no matter what…for Renesmee's sake. Edward would never allow his daughter to feel the living death that a permanent separation from Jacob would surely force upon her. Somehow, between now and the battle, Edward would have to convince him not to fight…with force if necessary.

But for now, the purpose of their mission in Cantwell took precedence. As everyone else stood around in various shades of stupor and hilarity, Edward and Bella exchanged amused, although slightly exasperated, glances. Someone had to take charge of the situation and bring the delegation back to some sense of focus.

Edward cleared his throat, probably a little louder than was necessary, and the room fell deadly silent as all twelve Native Americans turned to stare in his direction.

Edward's mouth turned up at the corners slightly as he spoke. "I feel the need to remind you all that time is of the essence. So, if you are over the initial shock of the moment…"

Jacob arched his eyebrows in suspicion as he tapped his temple knowingly and teased, "Sure, sure. That gift of yours tends to be a little selective at times, huh?"

"So, you didn't feel the need to give us a heads up or anything, Bro?" Ethan tried to make his voice sound annoyed, but the twinkle in his eye gave his obvious amusement with the irony of the situation away.

Bella giggled and spoke up in defense of her husband. "Actually, he had a brief moment of need, but he was otherwise detained. Besides, this way was much more entertaining."

Bella and Leah exchanged mirrored eye rolls and doubled over in fits of laughter.

Chief Nanuk joined in with his own guffaw. Finally, he stood upright and addressed the group with a somber expression.

"Ethan, I've told the kids everything I know. They know every piece of Ahtena and Tribal Warrior history clean up to what happened last night at the lodge. It's up to you to teach them the rest. You're their chief now. Welcome home, Son."

Chief Nanuk clamped one hand on Ethan's shoulder and the other on the nearest young Tribal Warrior's shoulder before continuing.

"Allow me to make the introductions. This is Jace Thompson. He was the first to phase… over a year ago now. He's Johnny's boy…my nephew."

As Ethan looked into the eyes of the oldest new warrior, he saw a reflection of his own emotional profile eleven years ago. Jace's dark brown eyes held both pride for the heritage of his tribe and fear of the unknown as he stiffly shook the hand that Ethan had extended.

"This is Chan Woods, the second to phase…about three months after Jace," stated Chief Nanuk as he slapped the young man on the back.

If Jace was Ethan's emotional reflection of himself at the age of 16, Chan was his physical. This boy was a brute. He stood as tall as Ethan with even broader shoulders, arms akin to sledge hammers, and legs as stout as tree trunks. But it was the eyes of the brute that almost made Ethan take a step back in retreat. Chan's eyes were broodingly dark…full of unbridled anger. He never even acknowledged the hand that Ethan offered.

Chief Nanuk cleared his throat apologetically and shot Chan a disapproving glare before moving on down the line and standing between the third boy and the shortest of the four girls. Grinning, he put his arms around each young warrior.

"And these are our twins! Kale and Kylee White. Kylee was actually born first. We have no idea why they were both blessed with the shape shifting gene."

Besides sharing the same womb and being born at the same time, no other similarities existed between brother and sister. Ethan had to suppress a guffaw as he turned to greet the pair. Kale was tall and lanky with short wavy reddish brown hair and green eyes that gave his mixed heritage away. His smile was friendly, but guarded. Standing next to her brother, Kylee looked more like a twelve year old child than his sixteen year old twin. She was tiny…no taller than five foot three. Her long brown hair was streaked with natural red highlights and hung perfectly straight all the way down to the waist band of her size two jeans. Her eyes were mesmerizing…one was the color of jade while the other was the darkest brown Ethan had ever seen. Kylee's smile was warm and accepting.

They spoke at exactly the same time as if they could somehow read each other's minds. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Pelletier."

Ethan chuckled and grimaced before teasing, "Please. Mister makes me sound as ancient as Edward. Call me Ethan."

With the mention of Edward, all seven new warriors looked over Ethan's head to stare at the vampire with the perfect body of a boy not a day over seventeen.

Edward's soft bell-like laughter rang through the room before he rolled his eyes and said, "One hundred seven."

A couple of the girls in the group gasped and one of the boys whistled, but the others just gaped wide-eyed at Edward in silence.

Then, without a second of hesitation, all seven kids looked past Edward to Bella.

"Me?" Bella squeaked. "Oh, I'm only twenty. Not nearly as old as Edward."

Edward chuckled sarcastically beside Bella and mumbled, "Uhh…thanks, Love."

And at the contorted expression on Bella's face as she realized she'd practically threw her husband under the bus, the whole room erupted into wonderful ice-breaking laughter. It was as if the gigantic white elephant in the room had been addressed.

So, with a lot less tension in the air, the introductions continued.

Of all the girls, Willa Marks was the least girlie…an obvious tomboy. Her straight black hair was cropped just above her shoulders and her bangs were pulled back in a barrette to keep them from hanging in her dancing chocolate brown eyes. Although it was apparent that her appearance was not a priority, her natural beauty was astonishing.

On the other hand, Willa's first cousin, Meekah Marks was anything but a tomboy. Her long brunette hair cascaded down her back in wavy curls, and her face was painted painstakingly perfect. The brown and gold speckled sweater dress she was wearing matched her eyes perfectly.

Both girls rewarded Ethan with beaming smiles.

Finally, Chief Nanuk reached behind him and wrapped a protective arm around the quiet girl standing in the back of the group. She had not spoken one word and her eyes had never moved from Seth's. Although the tallest of the four girls, she was still inches shorter than any of the boys. Though her beauty was unassuming, she was easily the most beautiful of all the girls. Her round doe eyes were wary…almost panicked as Chief Nanuk pulled her forward.

"And this is Tahla Greene. Tahla is the youngest member of the warriors. She only phased for the first time a little over a week ago. So, she is understandably a bit…err…freaked out as the kids say these days."

Tahla looked up at Ethan for a split second and allowed a ghost of a smile before turning her eyes back to Seth.

For the next several hours following the introductions, the Quileutes, the Ahtenas, and the Cullens sat down and got better acquainted. Ethan, Edward, and Bella filled in the blanks concerning Dallas and the purpose behind his coming army. Leah patiently answered as many of the girls' questions about shape shifting from a female perspective as she could while Seth fielded just as many questions from the boys.

By nightfall, loyalties had been declared, travel arrangements had been finalized, and the tribal warriors were home packing and collecting signatures on permission forms for an extended field trip to Forks, Washington, under the pretense of a student exchange program.

By twilight on Thursday, the nearly forty-eight hour trip back to Forks was well into its eighteenth hour and tempers were beginning to flare inside the cramped quarters of the two vehicles. So, Edward figured it was time to put the camping equipment they had packed to good use. After an exhilarating run through the Alaskan wilderness and a rather interesting hunt – a couple of the girls had a slight aversion to getting their paws dirty – the youngest of the shape shifters peacefully rolled out their sleeping bags and were sound asleep in minutes.

Edward, Bella, Jacob, Ethan, and Leah had just situated themselves around the campfire to discuss strategy for the training sessions that would take place in Forks when Edward's phone rang.

"It's Alice," Edward said as he looked at the screen.

Everybody seemed to be holding their breath as Edward answered his phone. The Volturi were expected to meet with Dallas today in Volterra, and Alice would have surely seen their decision by now.

"Hello, Alice…mmm…hmmm…I see…Saturday…Yes…Oh, Uh…There have been some new developments on our end. We'll call you when we've worked out the finer details…Probably tomorrow…Of course…Bye, Alice."

As Edward snapped his phone shut, the others stared in expectation, waiting silently. Edward sighed in resignation, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and his forefinger. In a matter-of-fact tone, he relayed the information from Alice.

"Dallas has presented his discovery to the Volturi. They have given him one month and unlimited resources to assemble an army of fifty for the extermination of every remaining shape shifter on the planet. Felix has been appointed to oversee the operation."

"Extermination? Like we're a bunch of bugs to be squashed under somebody's foot," Jacob murmured, tossing the twig he'd been whittling into the fire.

Leah drew a ragged breath before thinking out loud, "Fifty? Even with the seven new warriors and the two newest wolves, there are only twenty of us left."

"They're factoring in the inevitability that my family will join you in the fight. It's their way of punishing us for the insubordination last winter," said Edward.

Bella could feel the panic rising in her throat, constricting her unnecessary breathing. Last year, she had been their protector…their savior. Her shield had kept the worst from happening because the battle had been mental. Her shield would not protect them from physical bodily harm. This would be a battle of hand-to-hand combat, and even if they asked all of their friends to return to fight with them – and by some miracle they all agreed to come – the numbers might be even, but the match-ups wouldn't be. How could a sweet, non-confrontational Esme be expected to face-off with a brute the likes of Felix and the soldiers who would surely be just like him? Carlisle was right. They would suffer devastating losses.

Bella couldn't sit still any longer. She felt like hitting something. So, with a thunderous shriek that woke all eight of the sleeping teens, she jumped up and ran as fast as she could into the forest leaving everyone but Edward to stare at her retreating blur open-mouthed.

She ran for miles, never slowing, until she reached a lake at the base of a mountain. The lake was frozen solid, and the majestic trees surrounding the lake were covered in new fallen snow. Several boulders from recent rock slides lay scattered across the ground.

Bella knew he was there. Edward had followed her, but she didn't care. This was her tantrum, and if he wanted to witness it, then so be it. With another infuriated shriek, Bella whipped around and punched the nearest tree with her iron fist. The tree shuttered and fell with an ear-splitting crash, raining snow down on Bella and Edward in the process. This only succeeded in angering Bella further. She snarled and picked the tree up and held it over her head before throwing it onto the frozen lake with such force that the ice cracked open, creating a geyser of liquid ice water. Ten minutes, three uprooted trees, and two pulverized boulders later, Bella dropped to her knees in the snow and hung her head, her breath coming in heavy gasps.

Edward, who had hung back and let her throw her tantrum uninterrupted, took a tentative step towards her, but stopped as Bella threw up her hand warning him not to come any closer.

With a voice so eerily calm it was frightening, Bella looked up at Edward with tortured honey golden eyes and asked, "What unforgiveable sin have I committed that my family and friends have to die in order for me to be punished?"

Edward dropped to the snow beside Bella and scooped her up into his lap and held her there, rocking her gently back and forth until her breathing had returned to normal.

"Bella, in my eyes and in the eyes of our family and friends, you can do no wrong. None of this is your fault. If anyone is to blame for this, it's me. If I had not gone to the Volturi when I thought you had died…"

Bella turned in Edward's lap and took his strong chiseled face in her hands, forcing him to look into her eyes.

"I will not have you blaming yourself for any of this. I jumped off that stupid cliff. I set all these events in motion. I'm the reason they know the wolves exist in the first place."

Edward cupped Bella's face in his hands and traced his thumbs around her lips before whispering dejectedly, "But I left you. That's the unforgiveable sin for which I'll spend the rest of my existence seeking forgiveness."

In the sadness of Edward's ocher eyes, Bella finally had a moment of perfect clarity. She blamed herself… Edward blamed himself… But, in reality, neither of them was completely to blame. Life was all about choices. Since the day they first met, both of their choices had led them to this place - in this moment. Their lives, and the lives of their family and friends, had been altered – good and bad – forever based on their choices. But, life was also about reactions...people's reactions to the choices of others. People weren't perfect, so life could never truly be perfect. This…situation was just another reaction to someone's choices. Their choice must be to not accept defeat. To fight for their perfect – no matter how imperfect it truly was – piece of forever.

"Now that is a profound revelation, Love."

Bella hadn't realized that she had surrounded Edward with her shield. Her subconscious must have been acting on her behalf and included him in her pondering.

"Regardless of whether it was your subconscious or not, I'm glad you shared your thoughts with me. You are the most amazing creature, Isabella Cullen. You never cease to surprise me. I love you."

With her shield still up, Bella grinned and placed a soft kiss on Edward's lips.

I love you, My Love. And…I'll race you back to camp!

With that, Bella was off and running as fast as she could with Edward close on her heels…their choices leading them in the direction of home.

A/N: I do hope this chapter wasn't too tedious for ya'll. The kids had to be introduced because they will play a major role in the story – which is winding down, by the way – from here on out. And, certain things had to happen to build a bridge for where we're going next. Thanks so much for sticking with me!

BTW…I CRAVE reviews! I NEED reviews! The feedback lets me know I'm doing something right!