AN: Sorry for the epic update fail. Maybe we'll be back on track now. Someone asked me how many chapters I have planned, and right now, it's looking like 16 or 17. That might change a little bit—but I think it's safe to say that we're halfway there.

There aren't enough kisses for nicnicd. She's the bomb.

Disclaimer: you know.

il Sensale — Chapter 9: I Can't Explain

"We're going to Aro."

This could not be good. The determined expression on Maggie's face as she grabbed my hand and started pulling me toward the door left me stunned to the point of immobility for a moment—there was no way we could go to Aro with what she was thinking: her thoughts were singularly focused on getting to the bottom of this fiasco. She wasn't just thinking about me and our mismatch—she was thinking about the entire Challenge. Her mind was set on a continuous loop of Aro's speeches and promises and my half-hearted attempts at telling her that I wanted her. Somehow, she knew it was all lies.

Liars—the whole lot of them.

Her thoughts gave me pause. I didn't know how she knew these things to be truth, but I wanted to. Those strange red and white threads twisted her thoughts still, oddly fascinating and something I'd never witnessed before.

When she realized that I wasn't budging, she turned to me and pushed me against the wall, baring her teeth and pressing her fingertip to my chest. "You're gonna tell me what the hell is going on right now."

Her face crumpled as she looked at me. Her emotions wavered between hurt and a lingering desire, each thought warring with each other as she tried to convince herself that she hated me. Still, though, she wanted me, longed for the promise of a mate—something she desperately wanted.

Unsure of what to say to this without giving myself and my talent, the very reason I was here, away, I said nothing.

"You owe me that much," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Nodding at her, I pressed my finger to my lips, not daring to even whisper within the walls of the castle. Raising my eyebrow, I grabbed her hips and pulled her close to me. I'd put on a show until we were away from here and could talk.

I leaned down to her ear and whispered, "Not in here, please. I'll tell you everything, but play along until we figure this out." Growling, playing my part, I said "Darling, I can't take you in here, like this—we have to be alone. Let's go."

She looked at me incredulously for a moment, deciding whether or not to trust me or just turn me in. Finally she acquiesced and followed me outside. Once we reached the doors of the castle, we ran as fast as we could toward the northeastern corner of the island. It was pretty much as far as we could get from the others. The wind felt good against my skin, and I pushed my legs harder, faster, to feel more. There was a lingering scent of human blood in the air, and I hesitated. The stress of the night left me feeling discombobulated, anxious, and my thirst was once again ravenous. Maggie, seemingly sensing my indecision, squeezed my hand and urged me forward.

Once we reached the shore, I noticed a small island about two miles away. I stood stock still as Maggie stripped out of her clothes, revealing a tiny red bikini. She wasn't my mate, but I could appreciate her figure—long, lean muscles sculpted beneath alabaster skin.

She rolled her eyes at me as she ran out into the surf and dove beneath the surface.

I followed her lead, stripping down to the boxers underneath my clothes, and wading into the water. Within seconds, we reached the island, which honestly was smaller than Carlisle's yard in Washington. As if it comforted her to do so, Maggie grabbed my hand again and together we walked through the foliage to the center of the island.

"I saw you at the Opening Ceremony," she said. "You were standing next to a girl, and I noticed you." She looked up at me, her eyes pleading. Thoughts of us smiling and laughing, kissing, and even more—she wanted me since she saw me, even before we became "mates".

"She's my sister," I offered, trying to ignore the uncomfortable notions swirling through her brain.

She smiled a little. "I know. I heard her call you 'brother' later. I knew we'd be connected somehow when I realized how relieved knowing you weren't with her made me feel. I don't know what's going on, Edward, but I do know that we're both going to have to trust each other—and that's hard to do, especially when I know you're lying to me."

And I wanted to trust her, I truly did. Somehow she knew the Challenge wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and that could be a help to me. But first I would have to know her intentions...and I would have to gain her trust.

There was something sad about Maggie, something sweet and honest that didn't fit with the other vampires gathered on the island. I hated that I'd hurt her feelings so much, a fact that was very obvious. That she had consented to listen to me first before deciding on turning me in was something I hoped to make up to her. Something I could begin doing now...

"I'm not—" I started.

She held up her hand, silencing me. "Just wait. Don't lie to me anymore." She cleared her throat and held my hand tighter. "I'm going to go first. This isn't one sided—I'm going to tell you everything I know—trust you with information that no one else has. And then you will explain your side to me. Whether you like it or not, we're together, and we both have so much to lose if we go against the rules."

"I don't care about the rules."

"I know." She laughed. "But I think your sister, and my family as well, will care if we're being killed for our dissent."

Guilt flooded me. I'd almost forgotten about the entire reason I was here: to protect my sister.

"I don't know how much you're aware of, but most of the vampires here have a talent. None of my coven does, though—at least not as far as anyone knows about."

"What?" I began, but Maggie cut me off.

"Liam wanted to join, and of course Siobhan wouldn't be without him. He's convinced that the Romanians are set out to harm us—regardless of how many times that I've told them that isn't true."

"You know Romanians?"

She nodded. "Before I found Siobhan and Liam, I spent time near the border. There are parts that are violent, but most of the areas are peaceful. There was a Romanian named Lucia that I was close to—before the Cause forced us to separate ways."

Her thoughts went to a boy with dark hair and eyes, looking at her intently and pleading with her not to leave him. She shook her head, and then continued. "Anyway, both Siobhan and I possess a talent, though she would not agree that she does. She can affect the outcome of any event—simply by wishing it so. And I—" she stuttered. "I can tell when someone is telling the truth." She looked up at me, the determined expression from back at the castle returning. "Or when they're lying to my face."

"Maggie, I…"

Again, she held up her hand. "You're lying to me about wanting me, but what I don't understand is why. Why do I feel this way? Why do I feel like I can't breathe because your arms aren't wrapped around me—yet you feel nothing?"

"That's not true," I croaked out. "I don't feel nothing—I mean, you're beautiful. It's just that…"

"You want someone else. I didn't know it until you said you wanted me, but I know it as sure as I'm sitting here with you."

We were silent for several minutes, listening for anyone that could possibly be approaching. "I knew about the talents. I didn't know about yours, or Siobhan's, but everyone else's—I know pretty much everything about everyone." Almost. I didn't think it was the right time to bring up Bella, or the male who had washed up with her.

Maggie eyed me skeptically. He's not lying... But that can't be true. Pompous, arrogant, male!

"You're right—I am arrogant, and I'm not lying."

She gasped. "How did you know that?"

Deciding to be honest with her, I said, "I can read thoughts. I can read your mind."

She quickly felt embarrassed, then starting thinking about all of the illicit encounters we'd had in her earlier fantasies.

Grimacing a bit, I muttered, "Yeah, I can see all of that, too."

She groaned. "Get out of my head!"

"I can't. My power doesn't work the same way that Aro's does. I can only detect what you are thinking right now—not every thought you've ever had. I don't need to touch you for it work, either. So if you want me out, stop thinking about that."

She didn't. I wish you'd touch me.

"Maggie, focus. We need to figure a way out of this. I can understand why Aro wasn't informed of Siobhan's talent, but why not yours?"

"I don't know. I don't know why I didn't tell. It just seemed like the right thing to do, at the time. The only people who know are Siobhan and Liam. It's like insurance, I suppose."


"Just in case. I don't know, Edward!" She stood up, frustrated and panicked as she paced around in a circle. Her thoughts flashed to Aro at the opening ceremony.

"You knew he was lying then." I didn't wait for her to agree before continuing—I'd already heard it in her thoughts. "How about when he matched everyone? His thoughts were as concealed as he could manage—he's well aware of my talent."

"I knew he was lying about something, but I wasn't sure what. Searching for the matches, I guess." She shrugged. "I was listening to everything, but I was mostly waiting to get to you."

"I don't understand."

"I don't either. But I felt drawn to you almost immediately."

"I'm sorry," I whispered. Only a fool would turn down the girl in front of me.

"Don't." She looked away. "It is what it is. I won't guilt you into something you obviously don't want, so let's just stop talking about...that. We need to figure out how to fix this. The first part of the Challenge is to give yourself to your mate. We haven't even started, and we're already at risk to be killed, so we have to figure out a way around that." She smiled, a sad expression crossing her face. "I'd almost prefer death to this—inescapable longing."

"I'm sorry," I said again. Damn. I was pretty sure I had never apologized so much in my entire life. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, I grabbed her hand and pulled her to sit beside me. "Okay, let's think about what we know. You're right. It's important for us to trust each other, and I know I'll need to work on that, but for now, let's try." I looked at her, pleadingly.

She nodded once.

"When we're alone, don't say anything important out loud. We can't be sure of who might be listening to us at any given time." We both glanced around before I continued, letting our enhanced senses range out as far as possible. "When we're not alone, it's imperative that you remember that no one else knows my gift. So, you'll have to talk out loud then, even though you know that I can always read your mind and know what you're really thinking. This is actually pretty fucking invaluable," I said, thinking about what our gifts combined would mean for a moment. "You'll know if they're lying…"

"…and you'll be able to tell without giving it away. Brilliant." She beamed before her face fell. "That still doesn't explain what we're going to do to get out of this mess."

"I know. I haven't told you everything yet. I have a plan. And it's 'brilliant', too."

She sat and listened to me as I explained about my arrangement to get Alice out when the war was done.

"And you think Aro will let me go, too?"

Smiling, I nodded. "Yeah. He'll have to. You're 'my mate,' after all. He can't expect you to stay if I'm leaving."

She looked sad. "No, Edward. He'll expect you to stay because I can't leave. What about your sister? You think she'll go along with this?"

"I can only hope so."

"For such a 'brilliant' plan, you sure didn't think this through. What about your sister's mate? Demetri isn't going anywhere."

Shit. "I don't know, yet. I have to believe in something, and right now, it's that all of this is going to work out."

After that we sat for hours, each of us lost in our own thoughts. I was concentrating so hard on figuring out what we would do that I barely paid attention to what Maggie was working out.

Finally, she broke the silence. "There has to be more to this than we realize. Maybe we'll find out more during the match tomorrow." She paused, and lightly ran her fingertips over my brows, nose, and along my lips. She smiled a sad little smile at that, exuding a longing so sincere that I felt twice as bad as before for having to say no to her.

Still, there was Bella, and I knew she was the girl that should be my mate. That feeling alone let me know that Aro had somehow messed up everything on purpose. I just didn't understand what his end game was, truly. What does he want more than winning his precious war?

Alice. Alice. Alice. Alice. Maggie was practically screaming her name at me.

"What about Alice?"

"She's your sister?"

"Yeah. I mean, she's as close to a sister as I could ever have." I bumped my shoulder against hers. "We found each other when we were both newborns. She doesn't even remember being human, and I just barely do."

I thought then about finding my sister as I did: this wild little thing with no knowledge of her past and only a vague idea of what her future held. She knew what she was, somehow, knew how to hunt and hide because she'd had visions of these things as the instinct to feed grew more powerful. She'd seen herself meeting me, and knew which park to wait for me in. I clearly remembered her sitting there on that bench, casual as could be, a giant grin on her face when I caught the scent of another of my kind and came to investigate.

...You don't know me yet, but you're going to be my companion, so don't attack me. You'll just feel bad about that later...

"You love her."

I caught a glimpse of the soft smile on my face through Maggie's eyes, and I shrugged. "Of course. We've been through a lot together. It must be that way with your coven."

She nodded. "Aye. At least about Siobhan. She's like a mother to me, so fiercely protective and a bit overbearing at times. You said no one else knew your gift, but she...Alice, must," Maggie insisted.

"You're right. She does. There are actually a few others. I'm not sure if you saw him, but Emmett knows. As do Carlisle and Esme, but none of them would ever tell. Neither would Aro or any of his cronies. I'm his secret weapon."

Just then we heard the snapping of a stick, causing both of us to jump up. I cursed myself for not paying better attention, so wrapped up in memories as I was. Shocking myself, I crouched protectively in front of Maggie as the tall vampire who had accompanied Bella appeared in front of us. His thoughts were laid-back and sated. He'd just fed, apparently on those humans we left behind on our trek to the small island.

"Your secret's safe with me," he said, holding up his hands. I don't know what it was about him, but his pure thoughts and the innocent way he looked at me let me know that I could trust him. It might have had something to do with the fact that I knew he was at the very least Bella's travelling companion. She probably would be upset if I killed her friend for imposing on my conversation with Maggie.

Maggie wrapped her hand around my bicep and pulled, attempting to coax me into sitting down next to her once more. Let's just listen to what he has to say, Edward. He has to have a reason for being here. "Come on," she whispered to me before reaching around me and extending her hand to him. "I'm Maggie. And this is Edward. We don't know how much you just heard…"

He took her hand in his and shook it. Nothing. Just something about a secret. You'd think they didn't know there ain't no such thing as secrets around here—not with Aro running the show. "Not much, ma'am," he said.

I shook his outstretched hand before sitting down close to Maggie.

He introduced himself as Jasper and told us about his last minute choice to join up with the Cause. From his descriptions about his time before he came to the island, he was a rebel, pure and simple. Both he and Bella were simply looking for a fight to join in.

I was immediately relieved when he explained his relationship to Bella. They were close, just like Alice and I were—intensely protective of one another. He didn't seem too fond of Alec from the brief interaction he had with him before whisking Bella away. I didn't allow myself to think about anything else regarding them—if I had, I wouldn't have been able to sit there calmly. I would have sought them out and torn Alec apart.

Somehow, I didn't think that would fit into my plan to get us all out safely.

Just when I was going to inquire whether he or Bella had a special talent, I heard Carlisle calling for me.

He appeared moments later, dripping wet and a little too panicked for my liking. "Oh, Edward, I've been looking for you. I've just come from a meeting with Aro, and he asked me to let you know that he requests your presence as soon as you are able to break yourself away from your new mate," he said. What the hell are you doing out here? Aro is agitated, and that's not a good thing.

I gave an almost imperceptive nod, indicating that I 'heard' him and I'd talk to him later. "Carlisle, meet Maggie," I said, "and Jasper."

"Ah Jasper! I've heard quite a bit about you this evening." We have a lot to talk about, son, and I don't know how we'll do it. They're listening—everywhere. He smiled at Jasper. "I look forward to getting to know you better." He can affect moods. Aro's planning to use him as a weapon.

Staggering back for a moment, I realized that this was bigger than I had first imagined. I had no idea how we were going to get out of it, but I knew I wasn't going to be ruled by the Volturi for the rest of my existence.

Even if it meant killing Aro.