Chapter Twenty-Seven

The air was bitter cold this morning.

Bella stared as the air clouded with her every breath. Her gaze was turned outward, staring far off over the Sea Cliffs and the ocean beyond. The half stone, half wooden fence pressing into her lower stomach was the only physical obstacle keeping her from dropping over the side of the cliff into the water below. The waves, crashing as hard as they were into the jagged rocks, would annihilate her. Her skin was tissue paper in comparison.

Sighing morosely, Bella jerked her gaze away from the pounding surf to the horizon once more. It wasn't good to be thinking so morbidly. One might think she was suicidal.

She snorted to herself. Not likely.

Shrinking a little more into the white fur coat Paul had given to her not so long ago she relished in its warmth. She had the option, of course, of going inside where numerous fires were lit in the welcoming hearths. A movie was calling her name in the living room where she could cuddle up on the sofa with a blanket wrapped around her and a cup of hot chocolate steaming on the table before her. Better yet there was an as-of-yet untouched tub of Half Baked Ben and Jerry's ice-cream in the freezer.

She just couldn't make herself go back into the cabin knowing that they were almost all in there, waiting for her.

Avoiding seven men wasn't easy. Not by a longshot. The Cabin was large without a doubt, but they sensed her everywhere. They knew exactly where she was every minute of the day. They wanted forgiveness and she didn't feel up to giving it. So she hid like the coward she was. She retreated to her bedroom as often as physically possible, knowing well that they would respect their earlier promises to keep out of her sanctuary. They wouldn't tear across that line and obliterate that remaining line of trust she held in them.

Grumbling under her breath, Bella berated herself for her cowardice.

And dammit if they weren't the only ones in the wrong.

There was the crux of the whole issue.

Isabella Swan, activist for the righteous indignities befallen womankind by man, had known for some time now that it wasn't all her men's fault. The bulk of the blame deserved to fall on their shoulders, yes, but they weren't entirely all to blame. While they refused to listen to her when it was so vital to do so and allowed their anger to overrule them in a time that called for calm deliberation, she was also at fault for not being fully upfront with them. Even thinking that Victoria was a mirage, a conjuration of her dying mind, she should have said something. If it had been unfounded they could have all laughed about their worrying for nothing. As it was, though, she'd allowed her own childish fears of distressing others unnecessarily and needing to solve her own problems to get in the way of what was best for the whole.

It wasn't a mistake she ever planned to make again.

Admitting to them that she was sorry, too, was harder than she ever could have imagined it to be. The simple fact of it was that she felt hindered by her need to know that they were fully aware of what they had done. She wanted assurances that they would make amends and promises that she could believe in that something like that would never happen again before she conceded and apologized for her own transgressions.

Fucking coward, the inner her scathed to her outer being. She ruthlessly thrust the honest part of herself behind a door and cranked up the music so she didn't have to hear her scolding.

Bella stepped back only once before leaning forward so that her arms were set heavily against the rail. The wind whipped up the cliff-face to caress her face, the only visible part of herself outside of the coat and its hood. Salt water. The smell sickened some people, but she'd grown so used to it. It was a comfort to her. It reminded her of home and a place she could feel safe.

She'd been back almost a week now. Thanksgiving had passed mutely between them all. It hadn't really been a family affair as she had thought months ago it would be. She'd initially planned to hijack one of the guys, or a few of them, and use them as her assistant chefs to get a magnificent Thanksgiving Meal ready for them and the rest of their families. She'd wanted to invite all their parents and siblings to the cabin as well as her own father and they'd have the first of hopefully many Holidays together. She had had aspirations of finding a true family with each of theirs. She'd been so anxious to be a part of a family.

That had been before the fire.

Groaning, Bella set her forehead to the backs of her arms and berated herself.

I never thought things would get this complicated.

The sound of a twig splintering nearby triggered her to jackknife back into a standing position. Ineffective as it was, her hands balled up into fists before she tucked them up into her chest in a defensive position. Her eyes scanned for the immediate danger of whomever or whatever snapped the twig only to land on the imposing, yet unthreatening form of a sand-colored wolf.

"Oh," she sighed out gustily. Intelligent yellow eyes stared intently back at her as her body unwound from its battle-ready stance. "Sorry."

Seth lumbered towards her, his tail swaying back and forth with each step he took. His head bobbed in the same sedate fashion though his gaze remained fixated on her. He was smaller than his Alpha Brothers, but not by much. If she didn't know them so intimately she would have never have been able to tell that he was the smallest of the bunch of seven.

"What are you –" she began only to have Seth circle around her so that he could press his snout to her back. He ushered her forward slowly with his big head so that she was more than a dozen feet away from the wall. Despite her earlier cowardice Bella chuckled at the instinctively protective action he took with her. "I wasn't going to fall over, y'know."

The wolf bumped a cold nose into her cheek chidingly before setting on his rump before her. His head was even with her own at this angle. Her fingers itched to rub themselves through his thick fur, delve beneath the rough to its silky base. She longed to pet him and hug him like she used to.

Seth whimpered into the cold air, his hot breath clouding a far larger space than hers ever could.

Can he feel my longing?

Bella remained passively still as Seth pushed his nose forward, an inch at a time, and finally nudged her chest exactly where her heart would be. His paws shuffled until he was all but pressed up over her. Looking at her a final time, his gaze pleading with her not to move away, he settled his head over her shoulders and hugged her body close to his with an over-large paw.

Her breath hitched in her throat. She sank into his fur and felt his immense heat radiating through them both. The closeness she'd denied them all had caused a major ache in the region of her heart though the all-encompassing pain of when she was gone from them was absent. Feeling him holding her, alighting in the shelter and safety of his embrace, Bella felt the ache diminishing.

Shaking, she reached her arms up and around his thick neck.

Oh God, she cried inwardly. Choking on a sob, Bella shuddered and began to weep into Seth's wolfen body.

Inside the house, six other males looked on helplessly as the woman they loved more than anything finally broke down and released the sorrow and pain they knew full well she'd been holding back for weeks. Any of them, of course, wished that she could have leaned on them, but Seth was the only one close enough to her now for her to let go. Jealousy took a back seat every time to Isabella's wellbeing.

Oblivious, or rather uncaring of the attention she instinctively knew she held of the others, Bella cried her heart out into Seth's overwarm fur. Her nose nuzzled into the silky undercoat as tears trickled down her cheeks as swiftly as water over the edge of a waterfall.

"W-why?!" She wrenched the word from her throat with all the force of a force-three hurricane. Her fists, inconsequential in comparison to the male's brute strength, beat against his barreled chest with no real thought. The sound was like a drum being struck, thunder rolling in the skies.

Seth's paw shifted, tugging her downward. Bella allowed herself to be dragged to the ground where she ended up draped over his other paw, stomach facing upwards. The fur covering his chest crested and made a kind of impromptu covering for her as he leaned his head over her rattling frame. His muzzle nudged her cheek in comfort even as the paw she was not laying on settled itself over her curled-up legs. She was entirely surrounded by him.

"Why didn't you stand up for me?" She hiccupped, wallowing in his presence. Her fingers uncurled from their previous form of battering fists so that she could tug him by the chest more firmly into her. Her nails just about scraped the skin hidden beneath all the fur. "Why didn't you listen to me?"

Her mind replayed that horrible night over and over again, making her relive the single-most horrid memory of her life. She could still feel the shadow of the smacks Jacob delivered to her ass. She could still recall the other two holding her down for him. She felt sick with misery.

"I needed you to just listen to me. Why wouldn't you listen?" Aware that he was unable to respond in any verbal way that she could comprehend, Bella continued on. It was more of a rhetorical question anyway. "Do you know what it's like? To lose your home? It all burned. All that's left of my home is a big pile of ash and concrete. All of our things were in there. My grandmother's and grandfather's things. All of our family photos. Everything."

Shaking her head in the plushy confines of his fur-covered chest, Bella sniffled. "I was so scared. He was in there, Seth. My father was in there when the house was burning. He could have died and it would have been my fucking fault! He could be dead right now!

"Why couldn't she have stayed away? Why did she come back? I didn't kill James!" Unthinkingly she wrenched her hands in his fur in her momentary burst of anger. The male didn't even flinch. "He's the one that bit me. He wanted to make me one of them, wanted to make me and Edward suffer. The others…they did what they had to. James wasn't sane. He was psychotic! They had to do it! Why can't she just let it go and leave me be?!"

She didn't need a verbal answer to that question either. She already knew it.

"She loved him…" She let the comment slide off. Her heart and head ached too much. Love made people do stupid, utterly foolish things. "It was me or him. Please believe me, it was me or him! I didn't want anybody to die. Victoria…she can't let it rest. She won't let this go until one of us is dead."

Seth growled softly against her ear, his nose twitching against her neck. She comforted herself in the knowledge that he and the others, no matter what went on between them, would never let harm come to her. They wouldn't let the vampire's mate have her misguided revenge.

The only sound between them for a time was her hiccupping sobs and his soft, rumbling purr. She felt her eyes burn, a classic side effect of crying. Her head hurt as well, but she was unable to stop the onslaught now that it'd come. She'd cried so many times in the past weeks. She'd wallowed in her own pity and misery, but this was different. This was her man. This was someone she loved and cherished despite the things that had passed unpleasantly between them.

She'd needed this so badly.

"I'm sorry," she coughed, hiding her shame within his sandy fur. "I should have said something. I should have said anything! If I had –" she swallowed down her apprehension. She wouldn't let her cowardice get in the way again. "If I had maybe my father wouldn't have come so close to dying. Maybe there wouldn't be this distance between us. Maybe I wouldn't have made the biggest mistake of my life."

Crying anew, Bella whispered fervently and repetitively into Seth's pelt. "I'm sorry." It was a mantra. It was her plea for forgiveness, in his eyes and hers as well. She clung to the two words like a prayer to God. They were all she had now. Those two words held her only hope for a brighter future than what she had now.

They stayed like that for a long while. Bella weeping in the hold of one of her mates, Seth hovering over her in an effort to comfort and warm her. By the time the tears had stopped falling and the tracks staining her cheeks were no more than dried trails of salt. Bella relished in having him so close to her, feeling her whole self relaxing into the sense of home he gave her. Her eyelids drooped until she could no longer open them.

She was only partially aware of Seth shifting around her. His paws shrunk even as his claws extended and thinned out into human fingers. His pelt retracted into him until only human skin connected with the coat swaddling her. Smoothly, as though he'd been holding her thus the entire time, Seth hoisted her up into his arms so that she was held off of the ground. Her head lulled to the side on his bicep, the muscle underneath not in the least bit uncomfortable to her.

"Let's get you to bed, baby." His head bent forward so that his nose could bump her hairline under the hood. "I think you're due a good sleep, hm?" She simply snuggled further into his arms in response.

The rocking sway of his steps, not jarring in the least, tempted her to give in to the sleep he offered her. She was so unbearably tired. Any amount of sleep she could get out of this moment would be more than welcome. The dark circles under her eyes were unattractive accessories at this point.

Deliciously hot air from inside washed over them both as the back door was opened, no doubt by another of her mates, and Seth carried them over the threshold. A hand belonging to someone other than the man currently holding her tipped her hood back off of her scalp, clearly ignoring the growl sent their way.

"Ease off, Seth." Quil's voice caressed her ears in a baritone snarl. "I'm not gonna hurt her. Not again."

"Back. Off." Even through the thickness of her fir coat Bella could feel Seth's muscles trembling. He wanted to Change. He wanted to switch his skin into one of his more bestial forms, most likely with the intention of doing his brothers harm. He'd only just barely gotten her back, broken down the wall standing between them. There was no doubt in her mind that if anyone attempted to get between them again, brothers or not, he'd move to injure them severely.

"Shh," she hushed him, rubbing her nose into his naked chest. He smelled so good! "M'kay." She mumbled, too tired to put up much of a fuss on who did or did not make a move to touch her so chastely.

"Take her to her room, please, Seth," Jacob sighed, hurt evident in his tone. The sound of it sent a stabbing ache into her heart. She was the cause of his misery, her rejection of him, but he hadn't redeemed himself to her. Not yet. He needed to show her that he could be the man again that she had fallen in love with.

Not the man she had the misfortune of seeing.

Not speaking to the others again, Seth carried her limp body into the bedroom she both loathed and loved. It was so wonderful, so perfect for her, but it had become like a prison these past days. When would she feel at home here again?

Bella sighed as her sandy wolf set her on her rump on the cushioned top of her bed. The blankets were already turned down, another action credited to her thoughtful mates, and the pillow arranged for her nap. Leaning against the headboard, her hands clumsily working to remove her coat, she allowed Seth to work her boots off of her feet. They were wet from the frost that had settled on the grass earlier in the morning and lingered until she'd made her way outside for her moment of solitude.

"I'm sorry, too, Bella." The softly spoken words jerked her out of her tired stupor enough to open her eyes. She eyed Seth's kneeled form groggily as he completely discarded her of her boots and socks. His hands worked proficiently at tugging the haphazardly worn jeans off of her body as soon as he'd finished, seemingly unaffected by her rapidly appearing naked form.

"Seth," she whispered, only to cut herself off as he stood. Having shucked off her jeans, the male made quick work of finishing off the removal of her coat and the oversized sleep-shirt she'd been wearing for the past two nights. Her hands darted upwards to snap over her naked chest. She wore panties to bed, but saw no sense in walking around her own home, whether it was actually hers or not, with an uncomfortable bra hugging her chest in.

A smirk ticked his lips, but he didn't say anything to the effect of her shy reaction.

"If I hadn't let my anger get the better of me, if I hadn't let the others' anger fuel mine, we might not be having this discussion. Everyone was at fault, as you said, though we do hold most of the blame." Snaking his fingers across her mating mark once, Seth disappeared from view only long enough to retrieve a change of clothes for her from the closet. He was chuckling as he set the clothes down at her side. "I think Evy enjoyed herself a little too much spending our money."

That was true enough. After the fire during her trip to see her mother the guys had given Evy one of the major credit cards under the Prime's name for pack use. They had given her explicit instructions to get everything and anything clothing-wise that Bella might need. The red-head had been a tad overzealous, apparently, as the massive walk-in closet was now filled to the brim with everything from evening wear to baggy sweats.

"You think they'll let me borrow that card for myself?" Evy'd asked her the following day from when she'd returned home and found the veritable smorgasbord awaiting her. "They didn't even give me a top-out! I think I could actually buy my own jet with that card!" The idea, of course, had been nixed by a harried Caleb as he attempted to draw his mate away from the simmering Alpha male that was Sam.

Bella had later learned that the guys had reimbursed the Pack's money with their own and hadn't taken kindly to the fact that Evy had managed to sneak in a pair of Louis Vuitton's from Seattle for herself.

The two girls had simply snickered, though Bella did feel a smidgen sorry that her friend had tricked the men like that.

"Hey," Seth ticked her head up with a single finger, his gaze tender as it rested on her tired face. "It's okay. Really. She's a good friend to you and we were willing to give her those shoes for all she's done and been for you."

The brunette's brows furrowed. "Are you able to read my mind?" Seth laughed a little, reaching for the 'nightgown' Evy had found. It was a black-and-white, long-sleeve 'dress' with a giant teddy-bear on the front of it. It was completely adorable, but not so childish that she would have been embarrassed to have been seen wearing it.

"Lift your arms, Baby." Without thinking she complied, allowing Seth to dress her like a child, not even flinching when he had to have seen her breasts in the moments it took to uncover them and recover them with the top. Gently tugging the sleeve down to her knuckles Seth explained, "I can't read your mind, Bella, but your face is an open book. We like Evy, Baby. She can be a pain in the ass and we're starting to think that she's got two personalities, but she's a good person. She'd good to you."

Staying quiet as Seth tipped her back so that she was actually lying on the bed, she allowed herself to reach again for the sleep that had been beckoning earlier. While she was distracted the man before her slipped a pair of black baggy shorts up her legs and under the shirt for an added bit of modesty, though the hem hung down to her knees. To top it off he added a pair of thick, micro-fiber black socks to keep her feet warm.

"All right, in you go." Bella let him maneuver her under the covers. An invisible fist clenched around her heart at the familiarity of the gesture. She felt so cared for…loved…when he did this. It was something she hadn't believed she could ever want in her life, being coddled, but now craved with every fiber of her being.

"Seth?" She asked tentatively as he tucked the sheets and comforter down tight around her. His eyes remained fixated on hers as if he didn't dare to lose the connection so precariously formed between them.

Lifting both hands to his cheeks, she stroked her thumbs over his brows. A deep purr reverberated through his chest and earned him a wide smile from her. Tugging him forward just enough, knowing all the while that he only moved because he'd permitted her to move him, she pressed her lips softly against his parted ones. It was a little more than a peck, but less than a savory smack, but it still set chills to both of their skins. Staring into the depths of his dark eyes, Bella let her true feelings fall from her tingling lips.

"I still love you, Seth. I always will."

Shuddering from sudden cold when he pulled away from her, Bella calmly set herself back into the plush pillows. The man's eyes were all but shimmering, gold flashing under the abyss-like surface. Infinitely gentle, as if he were afraid he'd shatter them, Seth took her hands, kissed the palm of each, and then tucked them securely under the blankets with the rest of her. His fingers fondled through her hair only a few times before he entirely withdrew from her, his gaze smoldering.

"Sleep tight, Bella. I'll be here when you wake up." Bending down at the waist, the man placed a lingering kiss to her brow. She felt his hand shake as he set it against her cheek. "I love you, too, Baby. So damn much."

Bella kept eye contact as long as she could. She watched him pull up a wingback chair to the side of the bed where he'd corralled her in with pillows, a little sorrowful that he didn't join her for a cuddle but understanding that the space was needed at this point. Her eyes drooped quickly, however, and within a matter of minutes she was asleep to the world.

For the first time in so long she truly slept.

Peace.

XxXxX

"Good afternoon, Sunshine!" A sickeningly loud voice cheered as the bed beneath her shook. Bella groaned as pillows tumbled and rolled off of her little piece of heaven, the covers being forcefully tugged off of her person. Two feet repeatedly thundered on either side of her hips as the person assaulting her person hopped about like the Energizer Bunny on crack.

"My God, Evy! Are you high?!" Another voice, familiar and feminine, called from nearby. A low-thrumming growl echoed through the entire room from an equal distance.

"Let her sleep, you evil little hellion!" Seth howled, evidently reaching to snatch Evy up only to miss as the girl squealed and dodged to the other side of the bed.

"But Seth," Evangeline cried in a purposely obnoxious voice – the girl still held a grudge for what the guys had done to her friend. "We've been planning this for, like, ever!"

"Why are we even friends?" Larissa murmured almost under her breath.

"Let go of my pillow or die," Bella warned in a monotone voice. She peeked open an eye to see Evy staring back at her warily, obviously more afraid of her brunette friend than the wolf in man's clothing across the bed from her. She released her over-pale hand from the pillow she'd been about to fling out from under the Alpha Female's head.

Yawning, Bella looked towards the wall clock. She wasn't surprised to find that it was already five o'clock in the afternoon. It'd been barely ten in the morning when Seth had settled her down for her 'nap'. She still had so much sleep to catch up on. She was exhausted.

"I 'spose I'd better get up," she grumbled more to herself than anyone else. She would have happily slept the rest of the day away, but she, Evy, and Larissa had a prior engagement that they really couldn't renege on.

"You're still tired, Bella. Why don't I get the Trio and the Pups to come take these two away and you can eat a little something then go back to sleep?" Seth offered kindly, shooting a chastising look at the two other females in the room. Neither woman paid him an ounce of attention.

"No, Seth. Me and the girls have something important to do." Yawning wide once more, Bella raised her body up and stretched. Her back cracked several times satisfyingly. No sooner did her hands begin to drop did Evy snatch them up and begin to pull.

"Come on. One of your men is whipping up some bar-b-que chicken wraps that we can steal and take into the study. We can't be late!" One tug, two, and Bella finally managed to get her feet under her enough so as not to smack face-first into the floor when the red-head managed to catapult her from the confines of the bed.

"What are you three doing?" Seth demanded, stomping after them. Glancing back over her shoulder she was happy to see that he'd at least donned a pair of cut-offs. Even knowing Larissa and Evy had their own men she wouldn't have been able to keep the jealous she-witch inside of her from making a debut if he'd been running around in his birthday suit.

Don't mind having that particularly suit strutted in front of me for a private showing, though. Bella slammed the door shut in the face of her inner slut, determined to keep her in check until such thoughts could be acted upon without remorse. The thing cried piteously in her mind at being denied.

Again.

Stumbling through the living room, Bella caught a blessed whiff of good food. All her mother ever did when she was 'visiting' was order-out. Neither she nor Phil could cook and she herself had been in no condition to do anything but wallow in her own misery. She'd never take for granted her abilities in the kitchen again.

A soft mew heralded their arrival into the main area. Bella beamed at her kitten, who was currently basking in the heat from the lit fireplace and glancing serenely at her. The men, all arranged throughout the rooms haphazardly, gazed at the three of them with intensity. Sam, Jared, and Daire were gone, presumably on Patrol.

"Evening, Darlin'." Embry greeted from the range. He flipped an oversized wrap as easily as she'd flip a feather. "You want something to eat? I'm making wraps, but if you want something else just say so."

"No, a wrap is fine." Walking sluggishly, Bella made her way to the counter where some finished wraps were already sitting. Paul, walking up behind her and beyond in order to get a drink from the fridge, gestured towards the plate of smaller wraps.

"Those are for you girls. Embry made sure to keep the peppers out of those ones. They're also a little more manageable for your sizes." Turning from the fridge, Paul set an assortment of bottles onto the counter behind the wraps designated for the females. "Pick any drink you want. There's plenty more if you want any."

"Thank you," Bella hushed, echoed a little more loudly by her friends.

"We're going to be busy for a while, okay?" Evy informed them more than she asked. After gathering her desired wrap and drink she all but skipped over to her men to peck their cheeks in warm affection. Larissa, surprisingly enough, gave a light hug and kiss to Brady and Collin before following Evy into the study.

Bella gaped at the beaming duo as they stared longingly after their dark-skinned mate. "What and when did I miss that?!" She cried indignantly. Several chuckled answered her outrage.

"Get your dinner and go ask Larissa." Jake chided her, chasing her from the room with a light smack to her ass. She flinched at first, an instinctive reaction since that night, but brushed it off. She didn't even scold him for taking liberties. Slow as the progress was, she was opening back up to them.

They'd all owe Seth a world of thanks before everything was said and done.

Shaking her head, Bella trotted for the study, still wearing her pajamas and focusing her attention – for the moment – on finding out exactly what she'd missed between Issa and the Pups.

I really needed to pull my head out of my ass and get back in the game!

XxXxX

Bella's fingers clenched and unclenched periodically in her lap as she sat before the computer screen roughly half an hour later. Her eyes darted back and forth between the the calling-bar flashing before her, her two friends who were standing to either side of her, and the now empty plates and glasses they'd left lying about the room.

"Her name's Brigitte. Don't worry so much!" Evy lightly scolded her. "She's so nice. You'll absolutely love her."

"I'm going to humiliate myself," Bella hissed under her breath, unsure to the extreme now about talking to the other woman they'd been planning to call for the past week. She should have seriously put thought into changing into something more appropriate for a first meeting at the very least.

"No you won't!" Her red-haired friend shook her shoulders a little harshly. "Stop being such a worry-wart!"

"What if I'm waking her up?! She could be pissed off with me for getting her up out bed!"

"Chéri , do I look so old to you that I could not survive a little talk with my fellow Shifters'-mates?"

Bella jerked in her seat, only just realizing that the call had gone through and had been accepted. With wide eyes she gawked unattractively at the screen. A smiling face lined with delicate wrinkles stared back at her.

"Oh wow," she found herself whispering out loud. The other women, Evy and Brigitte alike, chuckled at her. Issa at least seemed to be in a state of shock as well, so she didn't feel nearly so bad for staring.

"I hope that means that I meet with your approval. Yes?" Bella nodded mutely, still taking the woman in with her sweetly seductive voice laced heavily with a French accent. "Bonjour, Chéri . It is good to finally meet you."

Brigitte Lefebvre was a near carbon-copy of Helen Mirren as far as Bella could tell. Her hair was nearly all white and long, hanging down over her shoulders and back out of the camera's view. Her eyebrows were plucked to perfection over top of eyes so green they looked like emeralds. She had crow's feet and laugh-lines aplenty, but it only added to her elegant charm. The way she smiled lit up her entire face and made all of the building tensions in her own body go away. This woman had a confident, but motherly air about her that soothed and drew others in.

"I-it's nice to meet you too, ma'am." She stuttered embarrassingly. Her cheeks flamed red as Brigitte half-giggled at her.

"No ma'am, Chéri . I am Brigitte to all of my friends and I do hope that we will be friends, too. Would you prefer to be called Isabella or Bella, Chéri ?"

"Bella, please."

"And you, Chéri?" The woman's eye crinkled as she looked to Larissa. "Oh my, you have such a beautiful complexion!"

"Thank you." Even through Issa's darker skin you could see her blush. She shyly ran her fingers over her scalp before remaking eye contact. "Call me Issa, please."

Evy leaned down then so that she could look into the screen over Bella's shoulder and waved cheerily with her fingers. "Hello Brigitte. Your English has gotten even better since I left Quebec! How are you this evening?"

"I am well Evy. My, but you are a cheery little thing this day! Then again you always were. Are you still running those boys around in circles?" Brigitte adjusted the silken gold robe tighter around her shoulders as she shivered. "Forgive me. It is cold these days and growing colder. By February I am ready to abandon my home and board the first flight to Africa for some relief!"

"Foolish woman would do better to listen to her men and dress warmly," a deeply rich voice boomed from Brigitte's side of the connection. The elder woman smiled so widely to the man, she presumed, off screen beside her that Bella thought her cheeks might split in half. There was eternal love in her gaze and it tore at her heart to see it so openly displayed.

"Oh, Raoul, you are such a barbarian. When have I ever listened to you in the last century?" Her tone was light and full of whimsy. In that moment she did not look as old as she appeared or proclaimed herself to be.

A century? Bella wondered to herself.

"You have never listened to me, my little minx." Massive hands, ones aged but by no means old, slipped behind Brigitte to drape a thick looking shawl over the woman's shoulders. His face dropped down into view momentarily, a man with similar features to Jon Voight, to kiss Brigitte's cheek. "I do not love you any less, though. Return to us when you are done, ma petite Chéri ."

Brigitte sighed and stared longingly after the man that left her side. "He is so worrisome."

"He loves you," Evy, Issa, Bella said at the same time. The elder woman looked to them with surprise before laughing heartily.

"Yes, children, he does." A sly look slipped over the woman's wrinkled face. She glanced at each of them in turn, her eyes twinkling. "Your men love you three as well, do they not?"

"Issa's men more recent then ours," Evy inserted devilishly, winking at their darker-skinned friend. Larissa gasped once in indignant fury before flushing a more deadly shade. When Evy turned her attention back to the screen, Larissa unleashed her pent-up embarrassment and whacked the poor ginger upside her head. "Ow! Hey!"

Bella coved her mouth with one hand, snickering, but trying her best to control it. She wasn't leaving a good impression on the elder by not only allowing the two girls to taunt each other, but also laughing over it.

Thankfully Brigitte, too, found humor in it.

"You be careful, Chéri. The Sickness will come soon if it has not already." Her nose crinkled even more with distaste, obviously remembering something. "I do not think I would have accepted my men so easily in my life had I known that I was to expect the Sickness so soon afterwards."

Larissa waved the woman off with a calm twist of her wrist. "I went through it already. Bella and Evy gave me a crash-course on what to expect in being a mate. Then when I got irritated with that they elaborated and soothed my feathers a bit."

"It is always a great thing to have others wiser in such things there to aid you. I will admit that I am a little jealous. I was not so lucky in my youth. I had only my men to guide me through the harsher times."

"Well, that's kind of one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you, Brigitte." Bella bit her lip a little when the other woman gave her a curious stare, her attention obviously caught. "Before Evy I was just alone in this. I really didn't know what was going on beyond what the guys told me an they only about as much as their genetics could tell them and what the Elders could guess upon. Things aren't generally left documented about this sort of stuff."

"For good reason." Brigitte's brows drew downward in a fierce frown. "It is far too easy for diaries and such to fall into the wrong hands. Whole families have been slaughtered in the past for being Supernaturals by those that do not understand. Documented memoires are not widely popular for us."

Bella shuddered at the thought of people dying, knowing full well how people could turn on their own. Beyond that was the knowledge that she and the others had the same chances of being hurt, though she and Evy had made a great step towards peace for them.

And with any luck, others will be safe as well.

"Well, the thing is, me and Evy found some documents here at the Pack Home that we think can help to make a kind of Haven for other Shifters and we wanted to talk to you about it." Gesturing for the main sections of papers they had quartered off, Bella readily accepted them when Issa handed them over. "If I'm right I think we can do something good here."

Eyes blazing with inner strength, Bella flipped open the first file. Her fierce brown eyes connected with glittering emerald and held, both women smiling from ear to ear.

"Will you help us, Brigitte? Do you think we can do this?"

Brigitte shifted forward on her seat so that her elbows rested lightly upon the table before her. Her smile settling into what could only be described as a smirk, Bella felt the butterflies in her stomach settle a little.

"Bella, for this I would sacrifice an entire year's worth of sleep for. Now speak to me of your plans and I will aid you in what way I can."

For the first time in what felt like an eternity Bella was able to push aside her disquiet resultant from the distance between her and her men and focus on something greater than herself.

She was an Induja and it was about time that she started acting like it.