Author's Note: This chapter got too long on me so the family conversation will be next time instead. Don't be disappointed though because that chapter needed to stand alone. Anyway, as a way to apologize for not updating for so long I will try to get Chapter 14 out within the next few days. The chapters which are soon to come are some of my favorite in the whole story and I want you all to read them so badly. Editing takes some time though and RL has been a little rough recently. Sorry again, and thank you for everyone who reached out to me. Thank you so much for all the sweetness. It was much appreciated.

Il Demone Bellissima

Howling Mad

Chapter 13 – Bella's Point of View


"Come now, Xavier, surely you can stand of your own volition. It does not become one of our kind to grovel. It's beneath us, utterly pathetic and entirely too… human." The last word was spat with such palpable distaste it made most of the vampires in the room cringe from the overwhelming urge to cleanse the horrid flavor of mortality from settling upon their own tongues.

"I implore you to see reason, Aro," the broken vampire cried in desperation, inching forward on his knees, his demeanor so shockingly different than when Felix had first escorted him up from the dungeon minutes earlier. "This is all a misunderstanding. Please!"

"Stand and accept the fate you've wrought with some semblance of dignity," the ancient vampire cajoled, hands tented thoughtfully on his lap, fingers thrumming in artful rhythm. "It is truly the only thing you have left of value," Master Aro remarked with an ironic smirk as his weighty gaze flicked from me to concentrate fully upon the filthy, defeated vampire stripped of all but his threadbare pants in the center of the throne room.

The moment Felix opened the gilded doors to admit the obviously smug prisoner to his trial, for reasons I would later come to understand, several sets of bright burgundy eyes had flared with twisted excitement at the prospect of seeing his particular punishment delivered. Overly cocky, believing himself invulnerable to Volturi rule due to his uniqueness, the six-hundred year-old Spaniard Xavier Cordoba had on previous occasions callously insulted several of my brothers and sisters without provocation. It was apparent to me even in my standard position during Court, gaze downcast while kneeling beside Master Marcus, that everyone in the room was anxious to see his venom spill.

As the brazen vampire began to make his case, flippantly with an almost sarcastic tone, his words distracted my Masters enough that I was able to catch Jane's eye off to my left. With the slightest of movements, she nodded, confirming my suspicions that Xavier was yet another amongst an ever-expounding group of gifted vampires having taken up residence in the bowels of the castle. I frowned deeply but only in my mind as I maintained my requisite blank expression, feeling every ounce of culpability which had literally brought this oblivious vampire to his imminent second death.

Despite the knowledge that Xavier's traitorous crimes had been the primary reason for his imprisonment within the dungeon, Demetri had recently let it slip to Jane that the dramatic influx of gifted vampires to the castle was no coincidence. They had been purposely – quietly – recalled in mass, an action prompted solely by my addition to the ranks. If the summoned vampires failed to abide by the "request", Demetri was being utilized to track them down to appear in Volterra. Although by all accounts of the older members of the Guard this action had been unprecedented, any Volturi associate with a latent power was due to report within the next two months for what was being called a "routine" evaluation.

Over his long life Master Aro had acquired and maintained a varied conglomerate of gifted vampires - some with questionable allegiances - to act as Volturi assets around the world. Effectively rendering their "special" status obsolete upon meeting me, the vampire would lose their unique quality as a bargaining chip to be weighed against their loyalty. If innocent of any duplicity they were allowed to leave the castle, unaware that I had replicated their power in most cases. If found to be purposely or unwittingly endangering the brothers' grip on the vampire world, however, the vampire would stand trial without deference being paid to whatever gift they possessed. This subsequently allowed punishments to be doled out with more severe recourse than ever before.

Acting as an insurance policy by duplicating a vampire's special talent, I ensured there would be no loss to Volturi strength if termination was the brothers' decision. This was an unfortunate fact for Xavier, who upon arrival Master Aro had determined to be guilty of sharing private information with a problematic coven rapidly expanding in Mexico. The arrogant vampire was no longer as valuable as he believed himself to be, an air of confidence in his eyes that had yet to be deflated by the reality of his redundancy. This cruel irony was something Master Aro seemed to delight in as he ramped up to the grand unveiling, the fact that the brash vampire lacked the safety net that had previously stayed his execution for his treasonous behavior over the years.

"You broke the covenant," the most out-spoken of the Kings stated, interrupting my train of thought. Master Aro's voice had reached a sharp crescendo before resetting to his normal, more mellifluous tone to continue. "Our secrets must be maintained, especially in this modern society. You have been remiss to adjust your knowledge accordingly, to diligently protect us as is your inherent duty as an associate of the Volturi. News of our existence could travel the world in an instant, yet you had no idea what a camera-phone even looked like – that you were being recorded by an enemy while accessing our personal communique."

It was fortunate the Volturi were diligent in adapting to new technologies, having quickly caught and eradicated the problem at its source moments after the strange link to their accounts surfaced on the internet. Living for an eternity led to my Masters having a dynamic collection of debts and resources from which they could draw upon in an emergency, on the cutting edge of every military satellite and banking system across the globe. Entire governments turned their cheeks to the anomalous activities of the Volturi in exchange for substantial concessions made to their political funds. The whole thing was diabolical, and so deeply-rooted within the global sphere the mafia would never have been able to fully grasp the extent of it even in their prime.

"You will make amends for your dangerous oversight, Cordoba," Master Aro hissed.

The slightly gaunt vampire whose dulled ruby eyes appeared sunken into what would have otherwise been a classically handsome face if he'd fed in the last month since his captivity looked up through his matted black hair to explain. "You need me, Aro," he insisted, pretending not to look alarmed by my Master's clearly surprising attitude. The circumstances of his imprisonment finally seemed to be affecting him, although I couldn't understand why it hadn't occurred to him that he was in dire trouble after a few sessions with Alec and Jane over the past few weeks.

The novelty of the situation caused Xavier to stammer incredulously, "I – uh- see that- um- you've added a few more than I'd except to your ranks since last we've seen each other, Aro. Surely some of these came about from exposure, of being remiss in protecting the secret. Your procurers alone are not so diligent. Are you so removed from making mistakes that I should be judged so harshly when your crimes are not so dissimilar to mine?"

There was some grumbling from around the room due to Xavier's audacity to say such things, clearly too brazen to grasp his diminutive position entirely. "You gave a rival coven access to our private accounts," he explained, as if to an insolent child. "Whom we choose to appoint to the Guard is not your concern. The only thing that matters at the moment is the extent of your foolishness and what we feel is acceptable retribution."

"Surely you do not mean to kill me, Aro," the accused stated with vehemence, clearly fighting the urge to step forward. This flicker of hostility from him despite Renata's widely-known physical shielding ability protecting the Kings caused a wave of movement from the Elite Guard staggered around the room. Everyone was alert and eager to pounce on Xavier if he took any additional aggressive action.

Master Aro waved his hand, silencing the room with an indulgent smile as he took control of the proceedings once again. "Well, yes, Xavier, I do believe death is appropriate given your unending stupidity. Your services are no longer required, my old friend."

Flabbergasted, the condemned vampire spluttered, "Surely the circumstances must be mitigated, Aro. I had little other option but to help that vile bitch if I wanted to make it out of her camp intact."

"So you were knowingly obtuse as a means of ingratiating yourself to her?" Master Marcus interrupted, his fingers tangling briefly in my hair as he fought his frustrations.

"She's insane. Far worse than anyone else I've encountered in my life – volatile and savage. I know how valuable I am to you. If I tell you what I know of her plans then you'll just have to see reason and…"

Master Caius sneered immediately, obviously uncomfortable with Xavier's declaration to the point venom had collected in the corner of his mouth. Irate, he hissed, "There is no excuse for your duplicitous actions, you traitorous dog. Let's be done with this, Aro. Unleash your pet demon!"

I could feel Master Caius' red eyes target me instantly, making me cower only in my mind as I hid in that special compartment inside myself I had erected for moments under his attention in public. In his chamber I would never be allowed to shirk his venomous stare, but with Master Marcus' hand petting my head so adoringly I was free to ignore him for now. Despite my lack of reaction, the undeniable fact I was who he had been referring to with that comment rang out in the room with absolute clarity.

Hearing the words, combining whatever information he had gathered through the whispered conversations inside the desolate underground cells below the castle, Xavier finally seemed to realize how dangerous a situation he was in, how close his life really was to being over. Horrified at the prospect, his screams of terror became that much more pure, emphasizing the powerful acoustics which came from the high-vaulted ceiling inside the throne room.

Xavier's reaction was instantaneous as he fought the urge to glare at me directly and give himself away. It was of no consequence since I could feel it flowing out of him immediately –his power. He had pieced together enough of the inherent threat that I – the demon - presented in the situation, the reason I was being kept like a pet at my Master's feet.

Evidently this particular vampire had a very unique gift. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but it was pulsing through me now. Waves of potential energy which made me almost giddy for him to move against my Masters to give me a chance to try it out. It knew it would be lovely to test myself with this one after experiencing the energy which had consumed me. It felt more natural to me somehow, unlike some of the others I had gathered from the "gifted" which had been arriving almost daily these days.

Xavier's face twitched slightly as he centered his energy on me just as Master Aro had intended with his baiting, seeing he was unable to affect me with his powerful gift all the while trying to seem undeterred and in control. He had murder in his eyes, a manic sort of expression as he lost himself trying to determine how his ability had been nullified. Holding his gift back with the power I had gained from one of the first vampire's purposely brought before me for replication, I dramatically lifted my gaze from the marble floor to meet his eye-line.

Although he had been fighting the impulse, he looked directly at me then. I couldn't help my sinister smile, my voice chilling as I spoke. "It is done, Master."

I knew it was wicked, but the tangible fear flowing from him was delicious. He was defeated and he knew it, angry and confused as he fell to his knees in a last desperate attempt to garner some mercy from the Volturi. That was when Xavier began to beg profusely, pleading his case with a sincerity that surprised several of my fellow Guard who had been on the receiving end of his prideful tongue in the past. He had always felt superior to those "subjugated" in Volterra, being allowed to roam freely while still taking advantage of his Volturi connections. Xavier had clearly failed to understand that my Masters did not envelop those in the umbrella of their graces without expecting service in return. The fool.

Upon Master Aro's insistence he stand to receive his judgment, Felix assumed his position behind the sentenced vampire, gripping Xavier under the arms to effortlessly tug the despondent prisoner to his feet. The fight seemed to have been taken out of the hopeless vampire now that he was aware his "gift" gambit was gone. It was rather sad to see the state of despair which had fallen over him so easily, too effortlessly broken by the loss of his uniqueness.

Seeing the opportunity to make the scene that much clearer to the judged vampire – even more intimidating, although completely unnecessary- Master Aro rose from his seat to stand behind me. Patting my head with affection, I knew this gesture was meant to frighten the condemned prisoner – to prolong the anticipation of what it was I was going to do to him. Jane and Alec were often included in this capacity for the purposes of instilling additional fear, cluing those found guilty in to the extent of pain that was about to be inflicted upon them. With reputations known far and wide, "the Witch Twins" deference to me made my role in that punishment even more ominous. I was the thing of nightmares, the hangman, the executioner.

"Xavier," Master Aro cooed, "Since you were so interested earlier, we would like you to meet the newest addition to the Guard. Although, I'm certain you would have already heard tales of her abilities as you awaited this hearing. It seems these days the dungeons hum with stories of our gattina, our Isabella." With his hand resting on my head, it was obvious Master Aro's effort was having the desired effect. Xavier's already wild eyes widened with panic and disbelief as he undoubtedly recalled something he'd overheard.

Noticing the desired terror taking root, Master Aro continued, "We would like to make your acquaintance with her a bit more personal. It's a special procedure, you see, an introduction to her unique venom. It is so special, in fact, that you will do whatever we ask just to rid yourself of the pain which comes from..."

"No! No! No!" Xavier screamed in a tortured chant, understanding at least some of what was about to happen. Even if he didn't know specifically, he would have heard the howling cries of those not sentenced to death, but had suffered another hardship entirely, a torture specifically designed for me and Felix to implement.

Dreading his fate, in an attempt to bolt out of Felix's hold to charge the doors for freedom, everyone was so surprised by the sudden act of self-preservation from the previously forlorn vampire that only the strongman holding him had time to react. The ensuing crack which appeared down the length of Felix's jaw as he was assaulted by a struggling Xavier, briefly staggered by the brute force the flailing limbs created in his panicky throes, caused my breath to leave my body in shock of my friend's injury.

I could feel the coil of hatred springing forth from somewhere deep within me, burning up as the need for violent retribution erupted throughout my being. A surge of dark red bloodlust colored my vision. The shaking in my hands was immediate and completely uncontrollable as the heat inside me exploded. I let loose a ferocious roar as I unleashed a torrent of emotion I could no longer contain.

Everything happened so quickly I was not aware I had moved from my Master's feet at all. Yet, within a second, I was next to Felix. Groping his face before feverishly licking his skin like the kitten they all teased me for being, my own whimpers of fear seemed to drown out any other noise in the room. Only faintly aware of the sound of my name echoing throughout the high-vaulted stone space, I realized someone was trying to get my attention, demanding I pull myself together. It was only after Felix whispered my name in a low gasp that I ceased my protective behavior.

It was the weight in my hand that next drew my attention. Using all the tactile ability my supernatural status had provided, I sensed greasy hair tangled between my fingers. Something was very strange, wrong in a way I couldn't yet grasp as I struggled to return to myself.

Hesitantly looking down, I saw the eviscerated vampire parts strewn about the room. Pieces of Xavier so fully destroyed that I knew he was beyond repair. My body went slack in an instant, being supported completely by Felix's strength as he silently petted my head, fully aware of the danger I had brought upon myself in taking Xavier's life before ordered.

Wincing slightly at my extreme over-reaction, I squeaked meekly, "I didn't… I'm so sorry, my M-masters. I don't know what came over me. I…" Trailing off, I broke from the strongman's embrace and fell to the floor, kneeling in venom, bone and brain wondering how I could be simultaneously so strong and so weak.

"Please forgive me, Masters," I cried, pained in what felt like my last exhalation of breath.

Hearing a collective gasp of astonishment overtake the stunned room, I watched as any distinguishable parts of the vampire I had just dismembered ignited into flames in unison. Felix's lack of panic spoke volumes of his trust in me, his experience with my combustible ability while knowing no harm would come to him. He didn't even flinch as we remained in the epi-center of the venom-fueled ring of orange fire and purple smoke.

"My goodness, Isabella, there is no need for such fear," Master Aro said after a labored gulp, watching the last remnants of Xavier smolder into ash. "We always intended his debt be paid with his life… in due time, of course. It is slightly disappointing that you jumped the proverbial gun since we had hoped he could be of some use during our campaign with that annoying Mexican coven. Alas, this is just as well. Besides, seeing such an honorable display of protectiveness was quite stunning to witness. Pity you administered his death so swiftly that we barely got to see it. You used his power against him, did you not?"

I nodded reflexively, unaware of exactly what I had done but knowing it was definitely new to my repertoire. "You were magnificent, gattina," Master Marcus added, looking at me with a softened expression I knew was reserved only for me.

Instilled with the security only he could provide, I looked around for the first time since my brain went haywire, noticing the fear so visibly written on the faces of vampires thought to be the most ruthless and cruel in our world. Sidelining my confusion for the moment, I gathered my senses and took my focus off of Felix, the Guard, and the Kings. Noticing the liquid pooling around my feet which hadn't ignited due to my shield, I realized I was venom-soaked from head to toe. It was no great surprise really considering the only discernible piece of the vampire who formerly occupied the spot I now stood was the head I still held clutched in my hand.

Upon recognizing this fact, I dropped Xavier's skull to the floor, the thud making my stomach lurch in such an unnatural way for a vampire. Someone giggled at the sickening noise – probably Jane if I had to guess – and I dared to meet the stare of the other Volturi again. With a few curt nods as I surveyed their expressions, the most significant look of satisfaction coming from Alec, I saw their fear change to respect, their shock morph to camaraderie as small smiles began to grow on their faces. They had wanted Xavier's head more than I realized evidently. I was almost proud of myself for making everyone so happy, as absurd as that seemed given how out of control I knew I truly was.

The moment was fleeting, however, gone so quickly I barely got a taste of it before something even more disturbing than the gory scene around me made my nerves stand on edge once again. Focused squarely on the vampire I had just tried to defend, knowing there was nothing I could do to stop the pain it promised from befalling upon Felix like I had long feared, the scrutinizing glare of Master Caius made me shudder.

"You must feel so honored, Felix," the devil sneered, his eyes filled with suspicion and new-found malice taking shape. "The depth of the little demon's concern for you abounds despite her orders. How very interesting?"


"I appreciate the deep sense of protectiveness I feel coming off you, but we'll all be fine," the Major said almost teasingly. "Just stay right by my side if you're uncomfortable with the dogs."

I looked up at him reluctantly after his confident declaration, quickly returning my eyes to their former downcast position aimed at the mossy forest floor. He didn't understand what had sparked the intense need to shield everyone I cared about, but the cause of my emotions didn't need explanation.

I lacked the belief he seemed to have that I could maintain my control given the strange circumstances surrounding the meeting with the Quileute. My submissive gesture was clearly not what the Major had wanted to see, as he spoke softly but with conviction. "We all trust you to be here, and please remember that I won't let you lose control," the empath assured, running his fingertips up my arm to my shoulder and then to my neck. When he reached my chin, urging my head up only slightly with the gentlest touch, he pinned me with the intensity of his beautiful golden eyes. His gesture was meant to encourage without force, suggest rather than demand. I appreciated the intricacies of that more than he would ever know.

His empathic gift made the Major acutely aware of how truly unhinged I was still feeling despite his continual efforts to convince me otherwise. Eternally grateful for his consummate desire to help me heal, the depths of his sense of honor and respect resounded through the empathy we shared, pulling us closer. Practically every moment with him had been inexplicably cathartic, redeeming and powerful in a way I knew would change me irrevocably if I could just let it happen.

With a reassuring hand clasped on my shoulder, the other source of peace in my new life drew my attention fully. "And you know I wouldn't have asked you to come if I hadn't believed you to be a good candidate for the job," Carlisle said with a smile I couldn't help but return. His warm sentiments had already been so helpful in generating some of the progress those in Volterra were expecting from me I would be eternally grateful to him. Master Marcus especially would be proud of the strides I'd made already. With both of these men by my side I could feel myself healing a little more each day, old wounds closing over with a much thicker skin to help protect me in the future.

"Thank you, Carlisle," the Major added before refocusing me on the task at hand like any great leader would. "Now, no more feeling insecure or volatile, Kitten. I felt that come over you like a tidal wave about half-way over here. Almost tackled your ass to give you a spanking as punishment for insulting yourself that way, especially considering everything we talked about tonight."

Though I didn't see it in any outward expression of his interest, I felt Carlisle's curiosity at the Major's comment. I knew my new "father" would have been pleased by what transpired earlier, but now was not the time to discuss the milestone he would have considered revealing my scars to be. With my eyes set on the mushy Earth below my feet in the submissive position the Major's tone of voice indicated appropriate, I nodded my understanding before mindfully responding, "I understand, Sir. My punishment would have been well-earned. I will try harder, I promise."

Finding my strength in the Major's earlier words of encouragement, I straightened my posture and squared my shoulders, knowing he was aware how badly I needed to be properly reined in before such an unpredictable undertaking. Smiling in my mind, I sent him a dose of gratitude to acknowledge the effectiveness of his efforts. After all, he was absolutely correct in his assessment of me.

On the run over I had started re-thinking the risk of my presence at the meeting since I felt out of my comfort zone so far from Volterra. Recognizing that an over-zealous response on my part here would be devastating for so many innocent people, it made me doubt my ability to stay in control even with the Major and my newest father figure by my side. If I made a mistake and took things too far at the castle, the Volturi simply chalked up my wrath as more fuel to flame the fires of fear of the Kings and their infamous Guard. The stakes were very different here considering how volatile I could be when someone posed a threat to the people I cared about.

To be trusted to actively assist in this meeting was making me nervous. I didn't want to lose control and give these wolves any more reasons to hate us, or worse - to destroy the peace accord Carlisle created decades ago. The tenuous treaty which existed between the supernatural creatures of Forks, Washington was apparently already strained. To add me into the mix was a dangerous concoction of combustible material and I didn't have the faith in myself that the Major had in me. I knew to defer to him, my new Master, since this was exactly the kind of situation where I needed to be controlled. I trusted him completely, ready to do as I had vowed and comply with any demand he might make of me tonight.

We cautiously approached the clearing where the wolves were due to arrive, taking a full account of the terrain and any potential blind spots in the area. Following our return from the river after our hunt, Carlisle and the Major had explained more about these creatures we were going to meet - their weaknesses and their abilities. Although most of that was just speculation from what they had gleaned from their few previous encounters with the strange creatures, I knew enough to be very cautious. I had wanted to ask Emmett and Rosalie their opinions on these wolves to get a more comprehensive picture but they had abruptly disappeared the moment we came in the house.

After a few minutes of waiting for the arrival of these beasts, standing motionless as if on pause, I could suddenly smell their peculiar stink wafting through the air. They were still a few miles away but closing in fast. Counting their footfalls, there were six of these shape-shifters coming to speak with Carlisle about something they felt was urgent. As they entered my empathic radius, I could feel their intense panic, finding it profoundly disturbing that we were about to converse with extremely nervous vampire-hating dogs. Anger and aggression I could understand, but their overwhelming fear was unanticipated.

It gave me an ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach in a way I hadn't experienced since becoming a vampire. It might have been the mysterious reason which precipitated the emergency meeting in the first place combined with the anomalous, enigmatic quality about them in general that was prompting my unease. Despite the tension, I couldn't help but note the irony. This was probably a similar feeling to what most vampires experienced when confronted by me when the Kings held Court. The way I was kept, the spectacle that was made over me and my methods was nothing short of dramatic.

As they got closer their linked thoughts became distinctive enough I could clearly distinguish their minds' voices. Despite their distance, my telepathy thankfully provided me with the reason for their sudden reactionary fears which the meeting had been called to address. I felt a modicum of comfort in the knowledge that they weren't purely aggressive in their thoughts. Their motivation for coming was based on a deep desire to protect their families and friends. That was something I understood very well.

"The six wolves approaching are all preoccupied with concerns about a bunch of young tribe members 'phasing' into wolves for the first time within the last few days," I explained, waiting to catch another train of thought before continuing. "Apparently the one in charge believes this is linked to an influx of vampire scents in the area. That is the reason for their demand to meet."

Carlisle interjected quickly, worry on his face with the shape-shifters' arrival imminent, "I am afraid of the implications of that. I truly had no idea our scent caused any reaction in them."

I wasn't sure why my entire being was suddenly permeated with Carlisle's guilt, but I chose to wait to ask for more information. Ignoring his distress, I continued whispering my translation of their thoughts as the wolves neared. "Earlier today they had gone to the school to check up on the Cullens. They found a heavy concentration of vampire scent there and are confused by what it means. They think there is some sort of vampire convention in town, but I'm not sure why that is… Also, they keep referring to the 'red eyes' that have been attacking people a few towns over and they wonder if you all know them." Carlisle nodded in understanding, contemplating what all of that might mean.

I sighed with relief that I could help, but couldn't shake the somber feeling in my gut that something was very wrong. Brushing his knuckles down my cheek, the Major let his fingers rest on my chin until I raised my head to look him in the eyes again. The posturing was odd to me, deviating from my submissive position slightly even though I knew he was aware of the significance. I felt his reassurance through every fiber of my being while looking into his amber eyes, which I believed to be the point of his gesture.

Stepping closer to me, he practically purred, "Well done, Darlin'."

I shivered slightly, my mouth reflexively going slack as if to seek out more of his touch. It was something he saw as well, leading to a cocky smirk on his face as he moved even closer. Pressing a single kiss to my forehead, he whispered into my skin so softly I wasn't sure even Carlisle could have heard even though he was standing on my other side. "Since we don't want to give them more to fear we need to keep your powers to ourselves as much as possible. If there is something you need to share in their presence only project your thoughts. I'm fairly certain their hearing is almost as good as ours. Make note of any thoughts which do not require immediate action and we'll discuss everything that isn't pertinent to our safety when we get home."

I nodded as we separated, leaving me standing between Carlisle and the Major as the wolves descended. Grateful now that I had already prepared myself to put up the thickest shield I could muster at the first sign of trouble from these strange beasts because if I hadn't I might have blasted them with Jane's gift the moment the first massive head popped up over the hill.

For a second I thought my enhanced vampire eyesight had become faulty. These wolves were much larger than I could have anticipated even after seeing them in the thoughts of my family. Memory, even eidetic vampire memory, could exaggerate details in stressful situations. I had expected this to be the case with these wolves. From my understanding any interaction with this Quileute tribe in the past had always been difficult. I was under the impression my family's frame of mind might have inadvertently created some embellishment on their enemies' physical attributes, letting caution and fear influence their judgments. I was wrong.

Standing proudly, the group of five overgrown wolves waited at a respectable distance. I wasn't sure why I had originally accounted for six until a burly, bare-chested Native American man dressed in cut-off jean shorts stepped out from the dense foliage behind them. Going on the assumption that he was their leader, I studied him thoroughly for any indication of duplicitous intention as he took the dominant position in front of their formation. With a cursory assessment, I deemed him an honest man, albeit extremely disgruntled with vampires in general - the Cullens more specifically.

The leader's sudden growl and burst of outrage startled me as he spoke with open hostility while looking us over, readying his group to prepare to attack with the position of his fist above his shoulder. "Who is this new leech with you, Carlisle? I don't recognize her. Even if you bit and turned a human not from Forks, it is still a violation of the treaty," he snarled.

Tying to diffuse the situation, Carlisle disregarded his insulting tone and calmly replied, "Sam, this is Isabella. She has recently joined my family from another coven due to her desire to preserve human life. I assure you that she poses absolutely no threat to humans whatsoever. I brought her here tonight so you would all be able to identify her should you cross paths in the future. As an animal drinker, she is now protected under the treaty in the same way as every other member of my family."

"I'm not sure I can take your word for that, Cullen. Why are her eyes so different than the rest of you if she is an animal drinker?" he said with unmistakable condemnation. "More importantly," he barked, "Why do I smell more leeches around here than what I can see in front of me? What are you bloodsuckers planning?" he demanded, incrementally inching closer along with the rest of the wolves still locked in a tight V-formation behind him.

Though I knew my place in this situation, giving all deference to Carlisle and the Major, the way this wolf-man kept eye-balling me like repulsive trash was wearing heavily on me emotionally. Sensing my distress, the empath nodded almost imperceptibly while sending me some comfort I sorely needed. His reassuring presence was all I needed to put my focus back on the circumstances at hand, knowing we would be discussing my emotional response to the Alpha's attitude later.

Feeling more confident, I projected what I was able to gather from the wolf/man's mind to Carlisle, keeping the Major in the loop so he knew everything that might factor in if a fight were to break out. 'Sir, he truly does believe there are others lying in wait to take the pack off guard. I am not sure why, but he is feeling very threatened, like he just walked them all into a trap.'

Even without responding to me, I knew Carlisle was going to use that information to his advantage, capitalizing on Sam's fear by acknowledging it outright. "I'm confused by your hostility, Sam. I followed your request to the letter and only brought Jasper and Bella to this meeting even though I knew you would bring your full pack. I thought that would provide you with the reassurance you needed that we meant your people no ill-will."

"This is just… wrong. You and your kind are wrong!" he screamed, shaking in his idle rage. "The Quileute have always known how tricky the Cold Ones can be with your forked Devil tongues. How am I supposed to trust you when you continue to try to deceive us? We know what you say to be false by the sickly sweet stink of death your kind creates. It lingers in the air, and right now I can smell it all around us – so thick that it must be from more than just the three of you bloodsuckers." He growled vociferously, reaching a remarkable decibel in his human form. His boisterousness seemed to rouse a supportive chorus of chortles and gruff barks from the wolves behind him as if turning the Alpha into a lupine cheerleader.

Speaking coolly in the face of so much noise, Carlisle responded immediately, "I believe we are at an impasse then since I cannot smell other vampires around besides us though I know you are not going to take my word for it. We came here at your request, yet you are refusing to move forward with your purpose for calling this meeting. Since I do not really see the point in standing here just to be insulted, my family and I will take our leave now."

My Master's strong inner voice rung out loudly in my head, 'Kitten, tell Carlisle to turn around and walk away right now. They will either see him showing his back as dismissive or trusting. Either works because they'll automatically recognize that he is not feeling threatened by them. They might be insulted, but it will register on an instinctual level that he isn't looking to fight.' I instantly conveyed the Major's strategic proposal, realizing just how good he was at gauging an enemy's reactions even without the exclusive use of his gift.

Carlisle did as instructed, leaving a stunned Sam standing in his wake as he calmly spun on his heel to walk away. 'Oh, and don't forget my eyes, Dad,' I interjected. 'Wouldn't want them thinking I'm a human drinker, would we?' He nodded quickly to me and nonchalantly turned back to the wolves as if they were an after-thought.

I was so proud of him, knowing how uneasy he was with insulting anyone even though he was pulling off this aloof attitude like a well-seasoned actor."And to answer your previous question and assuage your fears about my new daughter, the eyes of a newborn are always red. They contain residual traces of their own blood which is slowly fed off of as they mature. She is indeed an animal drinker and has been since her change for the most part. Her eyes are slowly fading to the golden tones you see in the rest of my family, but won't turn completely for a few more months. With that said, we will be going now, Sam. If you change your mind and want to speak civilly, please don't hesitate to give me a call."

"Wait," Sam called out as Carlisle turned away again. "The strong vampire smell, what is your excuse for that then?" asked the Alpha gruffly, clearly hating the slight desperation in his voice as the sound reached his ears. His inquiry was as a last resort, noting the palpable frustration he felt over the strange circumstances which brought them to seek vampire counsel in the first place.

"I truly smell nothing irregular, Sam," Carlisle sighed. "You really are going to have to elaborate."

"It smells like a vampire convention here, at the high school, and all throughout the forest ever since Friday of this past week," he said pointedly, pacing in front of us in tight ellipses. "Have you invited more than just this girl to stay with you, and if so for what purpose?"

"I have been away for a month and a half. I only just arrived home with Bella on Friday so I really can't speak to other vampire scents in the immediate area other than to say I have smelled none personally." Carlisle stopped, glancing at me briefly before raising a questioning eyebrow. "Hmm… Friday is a bit coincidental though. Perhaps… perhaps the strong smell is actually only her."

"How is that possible, Cullen?" Sam argued, hopeful but doubting.

"I'm really not sure. To be honest, she smells very pleasant to me," he said, smirking at me over his shoulder. That was a sweet gesture considering the context of this conversation. "Since I know I am speaking the truth about my own observations, and because I have no reason to doubt yours, I believe there must be a plausible explanation for the things you have mentioned coinciding with my return with Isabella to Forks."

Exasperated, Sam grumbled, "I need to have my questions answered to appease my tribe. I don't see how one of you can smell like vampire-concentrate… Then again we don't know a lot about your kind's physiology, like that eye color thing," the Alpha spoke almost too himself.

Sam looked pensive about the situation, but his obvious doubt at Carlisle's claims made his already irritated demeanor even more irksome to me. "I'll need to smell the girl myself to see if what you say is true then," he declared after a few moments of deliberation, scowling at the thought.

Stepping in front of me protectively, Carlisle replied sharply, "If I permit you to get close enough to smell her, then you must not react aggressively no matter what you determine. Is that understood, Sam?"

I truly appreciated the effort Carlisle was putting into protecting me since my "father" knew I was far more indestructible than he was. He still wanted to keep me safe and I loved him more for it.

Sam sneered, "Is that a promise or a threat, Cullen? Do you suspect I'm going to smell something on her I won't like? Human blood maybe?" Sam asked scathingly, slowly moving forward.

Carlisle grinned proudly. "I am absolutely certain she will not smell of human blood. Bella detests it. I am far more concerned with your already aggressive behavior towards us. Despite what you may believe, we are a peace-loving family and we intend on keeping relations between the Cullens and the Quileute amiable if at all possible. Please, for the sake of the treaty, do not judge prematurely and we can discuss whatever issues are bothering you with open-minded consideration, whatever you may find."

If he wasn't so averse to lying, I couldn't help but think Carlisle would have made a wonderful politician. That much was evident in the tactful way he just explained the situation to the livid Native American hell-bent on starting trouble, especially if the look of hatred already present in his dark brooding eyes was any indication.

I somehow already knew how this would end since the timing of the "phasing outbreak" within their tribe was perfectly timed with my arrival. I knew I was to blame for their troubles and suddenly understood Sam's unmitigated outrage towards us. My presence alone created the issues which were starting to be discussed telepathically amongst the giant wolves still holding formation behind their approaching Alpha. They were all focused on what they lost because of their respective changes, how things would never be the same, how their lives were irrevocably interrupted.

I empathized with their plight completely even if I couldn't remember the extent of what I lost by becoming a vampire. Somehow, perhaps in a dark corner of my mind which still held on to that part of my humanity, I knew I had been loved by someone in my human life. I sometimes wondered if they missed me when I didn't return from vacation with my mother and step-father. I didn't even know my real last name, simply using "Volturi" as my Masters had commanded. It was a bitter truth, but it seemed I'd gotten the better end of things considering the pain these wolves were experiencing due to their knowledge of what could have-should have been.

After a tense minute of deliberation, Sam finally nodded and Carlisle stepped aside, allowing the wolf/man to get just close enough to smell me but not so close that he could touch me without lunging forward. I saw no reason why he would touch me though considering the disgust he felt was radiating like heat waves from his dark brown eyes. I felt the Major shift his weight, standing minutely closer to me to offer moral support and calming vibes that were only slightly effective due to the accidentally projected worry he was also emitting. His anxiety was bleeding through to interfere with his comforting attempts, growing stronger as the wolf leaned forward to inhale deeply.

I held my breath and awaited Sam the Alpha's judgment. Completely on reflex, I simultaneously reacted to the jolt of fury and subsequent fierce growl by letting my physical shield loose in an attempt to protect me, the Major, and my Dad from the angry beast standing too close for my comfort. Careening backwards, I watched in awe as Sam morphed mid-air into a giant charcoal wolf. Shredding his clothes while being forcefully propelled through the air, he crashed in a tree well over fifty yards behind him. Stunning everyone including myself with the magnitude of my own power, he had been sent flying a half a football field away just by my protective bubble and I hadn't even put any effort into it.

Distracted by what I perceived to be a strange event since I had never accomplished that with quite so much force before, I barely noticed the extent of the wolves' impressive speed as they swiftly pounced. They might have been fast, but their efforts were futile since my impenetrable shield was already in place. They wouldn't get in now unless I let them in and that was not going to happen while they were snarling like rabid dogs poised for a vicious assault.

Shaking off whatever magic caused these Native Americans to shift into wolves, Sam, slightly delirious from the force of the impact, bounded towards us on four legs as he attempted to phase back. There was some shaking and shimmering for a moment, the sounds of bones cracking as he changed back into a naked, russet-skinned human right before our eyes. Having already closed half the distance in his wolf form, Sam grabbed a pair of shorts tied on the hind leg of another wolf before approaching the now opaque wall protecting us from them. My usually translucent shield had temporarily lost its invisibility due to the force of the impact from the wolves continuously slamming against it, giving everything on either side of the shield a distorted, misty look.

Dressing quickly while keeping his eyes locked on us, Sam glared at me hatefully before cracking his neck and barking orders to the rest of his pack to stand down. Approaching carefully, clearly nervous about being launched into the air again, Sam quite predictably demanded an explanation. "Just what the hell was that about, leech? I thought you said you meant us no harm."

Carlisle was quick to defend me. "I warned you to mind your reaction, Sam. Bella is very new to this life and was startled by you growling in her face like that. She has the ability to deflect physical attacks by generating a shield to protect herself and those she chooses to keep inside. She felt threatened with you standing so close to us. Bella cares for my family deeply, much like you do for the members of your tribe. She will not allow us to come to harm when she can prevent it." Artfully using the information I had attained from reading the minds of the wolves before they arrived, my Dad tempted Sam's logical side by showing our similarities over our differences.

"That is the only reason why we're here," the Alpha huffed resentfully, "Our families! She is the source of the strong smell. I don't understand how it's possible, but that means she is the reason our boys are phasing. Simply because she is near! Because you brought her here! Vampire stench seems to trigger the dormant wolf genes to activate and you have all caused a great deal of damage, especially to the teenagers among us. They are phasing long before they have any business doing anything other than finishing high school, middle school even," he growled before cooling his temper to a more manageable level so he could speak properly again.

"Now that I have determined she is the source of our recent trouble," he said with a pointed snarl in my direction, "She must leave the area as soon as possible - treaty or not. In less than a week we've had four new wolves phase for the first time. They're all so young – too young. If you leeches never returned to this area then none of this would have ever happened to us. Our lives would have been normal; they would have been our own. Why did you have to come back here?" Sam's voice cracked at the end, his livid tirade laced with a sad sort of desperation.

A face of a fierce-eyed russet-skinned woman flashed in his mind before quickly being over-ridden by another with softer features and a brutal scar, consuming his whole being with an unyielding sense of devotion. While both women were very beautiful, there was a futile longing when he thought of the first one and an intrinsic kind of soulful love for the second. Although I didn't understand the specifics, it was obvious the changes had not only affected the teenagers negatively. Something had happened to hurt him deeply as well. He just wasn't mentioning it specifically in front of his vampire audience.

While I felt terrible for this man with the dark, tormented eyes, I was too overwhelmed to give his personal dilemma much thought at the moment. My own panic at the likelihood of being sent back to Volterra because of Sam's demands prompted the playing of a cruel string of memories through my mind. Perhaps Carlisle might have considered letting me stay with the Denalis instead, but I was certain my Volturi Masters would order me home if not for the Cullens. The Denali girls were great fun once they stopped perceiving me as a threat to their sexual conquests whenever we went out, but I could learn much more from my new family than I could from the succubus clan. That was my ultimate purpose here – to learn to serve the Volturi's interests in America better while keeping Master Caius as far away from me as possible.

With thoughts of returning to that monster still fresh in my mind from my earlier conversation with the Major, Sam's mandate had me rattled and feeling dangerously out of control. Just as I began plotting my best course of action, destroying all of the wolves or grabbing both of my companions to flee, I was cocooned in a blanket of calm which enveloped me so sweetly I blissed out for a moment.

The Major must have used a massive dose of serenity to overpower my panic, so much so Carlisle appeared slightly delirious when I glanced in his direction. Smiling brightly at the source of such soothing sentiments, I reclaimed my strength and felt my extreme mood shift again, this time of my own volition. I nodded to the Major, feeding him my gratitude and a small amount of apprehension so he could tell I was okay to continue but still uncomfortable.

Feeling the emotional imbalance coming from me and the Alpha in such a short span, the Major must have decided to speak up and quell both of our compiling fears in one stroke. "Sam, I understand how upset you are, but I'm sure we can come up with another resolution which doesn't involve our entire family leaving town."

While I appreciated the effort and carefully chosen words Jasper used to reassure me of our solidarity, the soothing mental embrace he was holding me in was a clear enough sign for me. He wasn't going to send me away. I sent him my appreciation, respect, and adoration right back so he knew just how much I valued his kindness, still unsure if I even deserved it considering how much trouble I always caused.

Breaking free from the dizzying effects of being stuck in a bubble with two empaths, Carlisle cleared his throat and shifted his feet a few times. "We had no reason to suspect that our presence in Forks was the source of your tribe's manifestation of shape-shifting abilities, or that it would be something you'd oppose so vehemently being that it is part of your tribe's nature," Carlisle added the last part thoughtfully, provoking at least two of the wolves in the pack to realize what he was implying about their heritage. "Unfortunately we cannot leave town until the end of the school year. I apologize for the toll it is taking on you all, but we simply cannot go yet."

"Why?! Why have you come? Why can't you just leave?" Sam bellowed, shaking with rage. I could almost smell the magic taking hold of him again as the wolf fought to be released from his human entrapment.

"Please calm yourself a bit, Sam. You need to maintain your human form so we can converse since Edward isn't here to interpret," Carlisle lied smoothly despite his honest nature. I smiled internally, appreciating not being outted any further since I didn't want to provide additional reasons for them to be afraid of me. The looks I got from displaying my shield alone were doing plenty to make me feel like a freak.

With a deep sigh, Carlisle continued, "Originally a Seer had adamantly informed us that we needed to return to Forks for this cycle of school, never indicating it would cause such profound issues. And now, for reasons that you do not specifically need to know, it is necessary for us to remain in this area until the end of the school year. If we were to leave suddenly before that time the resulting investigation as to the cause would not be beneficial towards hiding the existence of your kind from those in power in our world who would seek to destroy you all."

Despite his efforts to the contrary, it was difficult for Sam to argue with that kind of logic. Dad had skillfully covered all of his bases. Though convincing, that wasn't stopping the angry Alpha from muttering obscenities under his breath after finding our sides at another stalemate. I hated that Carlisle was correct in his assessment of the actions the Volturi would take if we were to abruptly move. They might assume a human knew of us or I had caused an issue which jeopardized our secret, tales of what I had done to Xavier Cordoba still floating around the castle to this day. In either case, their justice would be swift, absolute, and brutal above all else.

Worse than that was the realization that I would be the one utilized to administer the majority of their judgment. As much as I detested these stinky beasts on a purely biological level, I knew they didn't deserve to die just for existing. Their good-natured, well-intentioned sides had somehow managed to overpower my distaste for them, probably since my gifts allowed for firsthand knowledge of how deeply they cared for each other. Seeing them in a different light, I would hate to have to destroy them all even though I would have no alternative if given a direct order. I would annihilate them all on the word of my Masters, tormented by their innocent blood on my hands for eternity.

In reaction to my despair-laden thoughts, the Major interjected into Sam's profane tirade against all things supernatural. "What if there was a way to mask her scent?" he asked suddenly, drawing the stares of everyone in the clearing. "Would that be enough to fix the issue on your end, Sam?"

"How is that even possible? Can you do that at will or something? Why does she smell so much more potent than the rest of you in the first place?" Sam asked in rapid succession, looking at our coven leader incredulously.

Carlisle looked thoughtful as well, clearly wondering what the Major had in mind that he hadn't thought of himself. To make matters worse, Dad was mentally sputtering to find a plausible explanation for my evidently overwhelming fragrance, something that wouldn't make things worse in the long run.

As complicated as Carlisle was making the situation in his mind, I could feel nothing but confidence coming from the Major. I had complete faith in whatever resourceful plan he had devised even though I hadn't the slightest clue what it was. In favor of giving the Major his mental privacy, I waited for him to explain it to me along with the rest of the disbelieving on-lookers.

With an impassive air, the Major stated plainly, "First of all, I have no clue why you think she smells so strongly. I can assure you, just as Carlisle has stated already, that I myself do not perceive her fragrance that way at all. Secondly, there is someone I consider family who completely lacks a scent which I believe could be a great help in this situation, though I will not speak as to the methods used to create the results you require. If he were to come here and assist Bella I have every reason to think her scent will no longer be an issue." He paused, addressing them with a challenging eyebrow quirked already, "However, you do need to know that he and his mate who would be accompanying him are human-drinkers."

The responding growls made the Major hesitate speaking for a moment, waiting for the wolves to stop as if they were insolent children interrupting their teacher from speaking. It was difficult not to smirk at his tactical nature. Somehow I managed to keep my abounding hero-worship to a minimum. For now at least, knowing I was going to have an inevitable fan-girl moment with him in private very soon.

When the noise finally died down, the Major continued dismissively, "Like I was saying," he paused again to pointedly look over the wolves like a bunch of misbehaving puppies. Despite Sam's huff at the Major's cocky behavior on full display, I felt his own frustration with the wolves' reaction too. Sam was already planning on scolding them later for making him look like he wasn't in control. "They are both good people who only hunt the worst of society, feeding on criminals they catch in the act mostly. I can assure you that they will not hunt anywhere remotely close to Forks since they usually only find what they are looking for in big cities: rapists, murderers, drug dealers, and the like. However, if I'm going to ask them to come all the way up here to help with the problem y'all are having, then I need to have your absolute assurance as Alpha of this pack that they will not be attacked in any capacity."

Sam was quick to reply, his tone biting. "If they make the trip here it is to help you all as much as us. I'll have to judge things for myself after I see them firsthand. Only then will I decide if they can be given temporary permission to remain here while they sort out the girl's smell. Call me before they arrive so we know to let those two particular red-eyes pass should we run into them."

Considering the dire need to resolve my scent problem, Sam quickly added, "What are their names in case we come across them before then? What do they look like? Do they… uh… look like you?" Sam asked, addressing the Major awkwardly.

I understood his apprehension, being well aware of how frightening the Major appeared to others for completely superficial reasons. I, however, didn't see things in quite the same way. Just like I said at our spot on the river bend, I thought he was breathtaking in the inherent ferocity he seemed to generate with his every move. His scars only added to that effect for me, terror-provoking as they may be to everyone else.

"Yes," the Major spoke assuredly, quirking an eyebrow in the sexiest of ways. I pinched my thigh as hard as I possibly could. Pushing down all of the sexual urges I was suddenly feeling to prevent Carlisle from becoming the next victim of an empathic sex-bomb. That would have been too awkward, especially in our present, mixed company.

The Major, completely aware of what he was doing to me, smirked slightly in my direction before reclaiming his stoicism and explaining further to the clueless dogs. "They fought in the same vampire war I did. Not for quite as long in either of their cases, but they have similar scarring if that is what you mean." Sam nodded. "There are only a few of our kind who still walk the Earth that might match that description. Other than me a tall, light-brown haired man named Peter and his petite, platinum blonde wife, Charlotte, you won't come across many with these kinds of marks anymore."

A wolf just to Sam's right snorted derisively. Even without my mind-reading, despite his wolf form, it was obvious he was mocking the Major. Speaking directly at the rude beast, the seasoned soldier cautioned coldly, "A word to the wise, if you did happen to come across someone fitting that description, you'd be a fool to approach without the rest of your pack as back-up. Believe me or not, it's of little consequence. If that scenario did occur then you'd probably never make it back to tell me I was right anyway."

Even though it was in their nature to argue, their belief they were biologically superior fueling their pride, the Major's hypnotic presence overruled their ability to argue the contrary. Even Sam stared appreciatively for a moment, his thoughts flickering through fantastical imagery of the Major in combat. Being bitten and somehow surviving countless times seemed to give the Jasper some inherent credit with these wolves. Sam was slightly awed and rightfully so, but eventually managed to break his trance and bark out another question.

Sobered from his admiration of his enemy, the Alpha asked contemptuously, "Do you know the vampires in the area that are killing the humans off so viciously?"

"We absolutely do not," Carlisle said with conviction. "In fact, we have already notified our own authorities about them. They seem to be very dangerous with their careless flaunting of their crimes. I suggest you keep a close eye on those leaving the Reservation for the time being." Carlisle looked remorseful, glancing at the wolves before he continued, "The nomads should know enough not to cross into your territory just from your scent alone, but keeping your families safe is a priority to you all so it is one to us as well. We truly do want a peaceful accord with the Quileute and we will do what we can to help with these ruthless miscreants since they do seem to have become more brazen, hunting closer to the human population of the town and in the middle of the day no less."

No one spoke for a moment, Sam's face contorted into a tight scowl. "We had no idea you police yourselves like that," the Alpha said, outwardly aggravated but internally pleased with the information. "That's it for now then. We'll be in touch, Cullen." With that he turned and leapt in the air, shredding another pair of shorts in the process. I briefly considered how rude that was since those weren't even his to Hulk out in, but I was really in no place to judge since the whole transformation into a giant wolf thing was a little too stunning to watch anyway.

"You can put the shield down now, Kitten. You did very well." The Major spoke soothingly in my ear once the pack was a mile out. Shivering from his breath on my neck, I dropped my protective bubble instantly.

"Good job, Darlin'. I'm sure you have some questions about the claims I made, and I know you aren't in control of your acquisition of new gifts, but duplicating Peter's lack of scent would be very beneficial to you anyway. It's at least worth a try. What do you think, Carlisle?" he asked, eyes lingering on me before he turned to our coven leader.

"I think that was a great improvisation for the situation, Jasper. Well done," he said, tipping his head in acknowledgment. "Do you think Peter could come on such short notice?"

"I think he would be up to making the trip if I told him how important it was that he gets here quickly. I'll give him a call," the Major said, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket.

As soon as he gripped it in his palm, it had already started beeping. I noted a sense of mirth take hold of the Major before he viewed his text message, almost feeling a degree of expectation as he reacted to the message sent by someone who had an obviously impeccable sense of timing.

I was curious. And although I knew I shouldn't do it, I read his thoughts as he perused the text. 'Too slow, mother fucker, I'm already on my way. Give your pretty little bird a kiss for me and the Missus, would ya? We'll be doing that in person soon enough. For now, keep her close, keep her safe, and watch your backs. That damn pixie is around and up to no good. Don't tell her about Kitten's gifts other than being a shield and an empath. Very important, brother! Don't know why, but she'll be jealous enough as is. Missed ya! Looking forward to all the fun! Hugs and kisses.'

"It's from my know-it-all brother," the Major said, giving me a nervous smile. "Peter says he and Char were already on their way here and to expect them soon. I'm guessing tomorrow with his timing. He also says to keep Alice out of the loop about our little Darlin's powers with the exception of her empathy and shielding," he said before considering Carlisle's affinity for believing the best of everyone.

The coven's leader had already taken on a pensive countenance, considering Peter's advice. The optimistic vampire looked saddened by the prospect of being deceitful to someone he felt a responsibility to, showing just another reason I could respect him so easily. Noticing the same turmoil conflicting Carlisle, the Major added, "I think we need to trust Peter on this. After the way Alice acted with me before she left and I'm sure you've heard by now what she did to Rose, I think not stoking her jealousy further by having someone in the house with a stronger gift than her own might be wise."

"I hate to lie to her, Jasper, even by omission. I can't help but agree that it's probably wise to avoid exacerbating her precarious mental health so soon after her Thanksgiving week meltdown. I suppose you're right. I'll explain it to the others. We can inform Alice slowly as opposed to the way we did things on Bella's first night here with everyone else. It's for the best," Carlisle reluctantly sighed, putting his arm around my shoulders before pulling me close to kiss my forehead sweetly.

I had already felt so accepted into this family and it hadn't even been a full week yet. That was a frightening prospect, but one I was happy to experience since the familial love they all held for each other was such a rare thing in the vampire world. Worried about having it all ripped away from me, I looked at them both as if it was the last time I'd see their faces, understanding the severity of the situation we faced.

"I hope I am able to replicate Peter's lack of scent as quickly as possible. I feel so bad for those wolves. I've caused an even bigger burden for more than just all of you and I hadn't even realized it," I spoke ruefully as we walked at a human pace towards the edge of the baseball clearing before beginning our run home.

"You're worth it, Kitten. You just need to realize that for yourself." The Major put his arm across my shoulders, providing instant comfort along with the undeniable electric current which always seemed to accompany his touch. Having the security of these two great men on either side of me, I managed to shake off those feelings of insecurity for the time being, knowing that if they felt I was worthy of their love and attention then I needed to show them more respect by accepting it without rebuking their sentiments.

"Thank you both," I said quietly, speaking my words of gratitude without meeting their eyes. Pleased, Carlisle squeezed me tightly before breaking our group embrace to run home to his reassure his mate.

For the duration of the trip back I stuck close to the Major, loving the idea of finding a place where I truly felt like I belonged. I was desperate to hold on to him and my new family no matter what. There was no limit to the lengths I would go to protect them - I was the vampire world's greatest weapon, after all.


A/N: I don't make money from these characters or concepts, but will happily accept reviews as compensation. Let me know if anyone has a question about this story that I could answer, something that was confusing or unclear so I can fix it.

Next time – A rather disturbing - or potentially illuminating depending on your philosophical slant - family discussion.