Author's Note: *Office door slowly creaks open, revealing a sweatpants and t-shirt clad human, if you call it that. Her sweatpants are covered with cat hair. There are dark circles under her eyes, and the bun on her head is messy. The bad type of messy, not the cute shit you see on Instagram that are full and cute. The sustenance of life, caffeine, is missing from her empty mug as she carries it limply in one hand. The other balances a nearly overheated laptop, the charger still plugged in with the end trailing on the floor behind her. Her left eye twitches. Her stare is empty. "Two words." The sleepless, sweatpants potato person mutters. "Grad school."*


Last Time...

"I am wounded, cara mia." Aro feigned hurt, though his acting was ruined by the smile that stretched across his lips.

"Yeah, sure." Isabella rolled her eyes. "Really, Aro, you must know that I don't. Do you see me as a woman content with a small, ordinary life? Perhaps an earlier version of me might have, but knowing now everything that was possible... immortality and all that comes with it is a gift that I do not plan to waste. However much time I may have, I will use it making our world better by your side. I do not regret the admittedly complex, but wonderful task of loving you and being loved by you, you complicated man."


Chapter 22: A Time for Healing

The delicate edge of the quill was dipped into the decanter of black ink, tapped minutely against the glass before it was lifted back to the page. Within the ancient part of the castle, long forgotten by most, a group of solemn faced vampires had collected around a small, dark table.

Before them was a volume, the compressed pages withered and yellowed every so slightly from age. The smell of the ancient parchment lingered, intermingled ever so slightly with dust.

A few quick strokes of the quill by Marcus equaled yet another name written in the volume of vampire deaths. They certainly would expect more in the future with the nearly one hundred empty pages proceeding this one. Hundreds of names came before it in those yellowed pages... and the feeling was so wrong in Isabella's gut.

Vampires could not become ill, but the feeling was there. A deep, pertinent sense of nausea and near hopelessness at the cyclical nature of death in this world. She was not dull, nor dumb in the nature of the Volturi's affairs in this- and the vampire race in general- yet, it still unsettled her.

As each vampire departed- Caius, Athendora, and Marcus-Isabella lingered. "Will it always be like this?" Her words were a forlorn sigh, mostly an aside to herself.

Finding no answer for her, Aro wrapped his arms around his beloved. As he cradled her, he wished in earnest for the ability to protect her from such things, but he could not. It troubled him deeply.

The loss to the Volturi had not been easy. Over twenty of their guard had perished in the events of the last months- some of whom who had left mates behind. The number gone had only grown, as the grief of losing ones mate was hard to bear. Some asked others in the guard to destroy them. Bearing an eternity alone without the other half that would comfort and care for them so completely would be indescribable. In respect of that pain, these vampire's wishes were granted.

The time has come and gone to look over this day, and those that have long come before it... Aro spoke despondently just a week prior, surrounded by their own, and their allies of their recent unfortunate cause. To remember where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and things have have left undone as a clue to who we may become. We cling to the past out of wariness of the present. Or of remembrance of our darkest hour. But there is a deeper need yet, to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present." Aro paused, looking to one of the tall candles, a small portrait of Didyme framed within the metal surface. Hers was one of many candles that formed a circle around the room encased in delicate, domed glass. To enter that still room within us where the dead are alive again, or to when we were most alive and joyous ourselves. Let us continually keep this place within ourselves. Let us safeguard it, knowing their sacrifice will never be lost on us- we choose to move forward, so we may create a better world in their memory.

Since Aro and Isabella had burned the remaining physical representation of Sulpicia to the ground, the ashen remains had served as another unpleasant reminder of the past that still haunted them. Aro thought Isabella might have gone mad when he found her disposing of the rubble one evening— her arms and face peppered with soot. She had muttered something along the lines of "making something better" of the destruction that had been wrought in the past months and years.

Once the rubble, dust, and other grime had been cleared, the surrounding castle walls were plastered and repaired. Now it was a blank canvas for Isabella's design.

Or, rather, Esme's on paper.

The large stretch of bare earth was be planted with lush, green grass. The grass met the central circular structure of delicate glass panes— arching upwards into an intricate glass dome. It occurred to Isabella some time before its construction that memorials were often large, elaborate structures of stone and marble… yet it didn't feel right.

She had thought back to when she first learned of Didyme; how she inspired happiness and light in each person she met. Her death at the hands of Sulpicia, along with those that had fallen in recent battle could not be in vain. Their sacrifice ensured the vampire world its freedom to pursue love, laughter, and happiness. In this light, entombing their memory in somewhere so closed and austere could not be done.

The dark, nearly black supports to the glass structure was contrasted with red and white roses that grew and twined across the structure. The white roses, as a borrowed text informed her, symbolized purity, innocence, and heavenly things. Red roses symbolized love, courage, and respect. Now combined, they represented unity. Each vampire fallen was represented by a candle, each supported by an elaborate single-candelabra, similarly twined with the growing roses and embossed with a portrait of each of those departed from their immortal life.

Many took turns to say words about the departed, Isabella being one of them. When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will not be the angry defenders of intolerance who have made the difference. The reward will go to those who dared to step outside their own safety in order to expose and rout the prevailing prejudices. You are deeply missed, and will never be forgotten."


Two vampires embraced in the twilight, their counterparts speaking jovially of the Netherlands in the spring.

"You must come visit, Isabella." The blonde vampiress spoke, hands still joined with Isabella's as they pulled apart. Her gaze flickered to Aro, standing besides her mate, Luuk. "That is, when the wedding festivities and decade of honeymooning are over."

Aro smirked in return, Isabella gazing at him in mocking reproach. "Oh, of course Fenna." Isabella agreed. "Until then, we will see you this winter. Take good care of them, Demitri."

A still figure on the periphery of the small gathering, Demitri stepped forward with a nod. A younger Volturi guard shadowed him, head bowed as well.

"Until then, Isabella il Prottetore." Luuk bowed, taking Fenna's hand as she offered it to him, smiling serenely at her.

"Safe journey to you, dear friends." Aro smiled warmly, his arms wrapping around her waist as the four vampires faded into the horizon.

Isabella's eyes were fastened to the beautiful light, while Aro had turned his head just slightly to gaze at his mate. In the soft light, she seemed to glow with radiant happiness. He had become grateful to share her budding joy, painted so beautifully across her lips after so much sorrow.

"It seems you have garnered quite a reputation, Mia cara." Aro hummed, his fingers tracing along her upper back absently. He knew Isabella was conflicted over her newfound title- protecting their kind weighed heavily on her heart.

She sighed, her brows drawing together- sufficiently marring her porcelain features in her distaste. "Quite." Her reply was understated for the thoughts that raced through her mind- ones she shared openly with Aro as his hands were upon her. While she did not always believe in her abilities- doubting them immensely at times, she would stride to prove herself worthy of their trust.


Carlisle took Isabella aside, his fatherly gaze a welcome one as she surveyed the grounds below. The Cullen coven was setting up a game of baseball, which had garnered much attention from the guard. They visited North America, but in small numbers so the American pastime wasn't well practiced with the Volturi; even Felix and Demitri were assisting in laying the chalk lines and bases with clean precision.

"I hear Felix called dibs on you." Carlisle spoke softly.

Isabella blinked, laughing a moment later. "What?"

Carlisle smiled ruefully, glancing back at the field. "He thinks your gift would make you an excellent first baseman. It would keep Jasper and Emmett from stealing."

Isabella rolled her eyes, her arms crossing easily over her chest. "Uh huh. It doesn't take vampire vision to see that they cheat. You all do- even you, Carlisle." She gave him a pointed look. He grinned back, looking somewhat sheepish. But definitely not apologetic.

"It's good to see you laughing again." Carlisle smiled, his classic fatherly wisdom lacing his tone. "You've been hard on yourself as of late."

"Carlisle I-" Isabella began to defend herself, a reflex she knew well from talking to Alice yet again about allowing her more time before planning the wedding. He shushed her gently with a small, sad smile. "I understand it. The guilt. Every emotion you now holds amplified. Even the deep grief knowing there are those we did not save."

Isabella's gaze softened, her eyes now downcast and despondent. She remembered Carlisle telling her of his conflict- in not saving many patients of their fates... Edward's parents, and even Esme as he found her broken and dying.

His gaze then swept over the assembling baseball teams, fixing on Esme. Her dark hair was pulled into a ponytail- looped through a baby blue baseball cap. Her smile was radiant as she laughed at Emmett as he began doing sprints to "limber up" before the game.

"Eternity may not provide us many guarantees, such as the infallible opportunity to correct each wrong we may encounter." Carlisle stated, turning back to Isabella with a compassionate gaze. "Make peace with your pain. Allow yourself space to feel it- feel it to its full extent. Then let it go, as we all must. A life lived in regret is... not one at all."

The air shifted as one immortal now stood where her father figure had been. Isabela watches as Carlisle appeared beside his mate, his hand lifting to stroke her cheek before placing a kiss to Esme's temple.

A soft peck was pressed to Isabella's shoulder, her skin dancing with electricity there. Her lips twitched with mirth. "Don't you think it's a little weird for a future son in law to be such good friends with the father of the bride?"

"Oh... bride is it?" Aro smirked, his hands encircling her hips before pulling her to him.

She gave a wry smile. "Mhmm..." Isabella's fingers danced across the buttons of Aro's suit vest across his upper chest. Her voice turned low- sultry in pitch and below a whisper in volume so only he could hear. "Though I don't imagine I could wear white."

Her mate bit back a groan, his arms tightening about her waist as he dipped her backwards in a searing kiss.

Whistling ensued, along with a prominent, disgusted groan- specifically Emmett's.

"I'd say get a room but that'd keep you stalling the start of the game. Get your vampy behind down here!" Jasper called, causing Isabella to break from the kiss with a laugh. Aro sighed, looking mockingly dejected as he released his hold. As he did so, his hands crept up to stroke down her shoulders and arms until he clasped her hands and kissed them before releasing her.

Isabella backed away, leaving him with a burning gaze before starting a jog in human pace to the impromptu baseball diamond on the lawn. Halfway, she swiveled around. "Oh and Aro? Say and watch the game, old man. Just in case I need coaching on first base."

Cue more whistles, groans, and a classic Emmett's shout of "ewwwwwww."

Forever would be fun.


Weeks Later...


"Amethyst... or cassis?" Alice spoke cheerily, presenting two color swatches to Isabella. No, it was not one fabric or textile, but a board covered in flowers, fabrics, and even swatches of paint in the specific shade. In truth, Isabella thought they looked exactly the same. Vampiric vision or not, grossing over minute wedding details for the past few weeks had been immensely tiring for her. Especially as Alice was so... precise, if Isabella were being polite.

Alice was also persistent. Once the memorial had passed, time followed where the vampire world steadied to its normal lull. Sure, some unruly newborns had to be managed, naturally, but overall everything was at peace. Nothing irked Isabella- no disconcerting visions nor dread.

Isabella smiled softly to herself, gently twisting the platinum band around her left ring finger. The opal and diamonds nestled along the precious metal glinted in the soft candlelight.

Still, she could not have done it without Alice. This wedding, to the leader of the vampire world, was even more than just that. It now symbolized a unification of past and present... and the beginning of healing in light of past atrocities felt by the vampire world as a whole. A celebration of life, if you will. It had been overwhelming, at best, when each decision was presented- ones she, even now, would need to make with the mentality of a Queen.

"What do you think is best?" Isabella stated, a question she kept in reserve in times of having no opinion whatsoever. She would have been fine with generic deep red, as discussed a month ago.

"Hmm..." Alice pondered, looking back and forth between the two swatch boards. "Amethyst. Yes, it's perfect." She clapped her hands, before looking up at her friend. Isabella, strewn across the white satin bed, had started to look morose. Setting the swatches down, Alice took a merciful approach: "Fine, you're free. For now."

Isabella shot up to her feet, hugging Alice quickly before disappearing from the room. "Thank you!" Her voice echoed as she sped away.

"Don't forget your fitting tonight!"


Athendora's Chambers

"Oh Isabella... it's perfect." Athendora gasped as the aforementioned immortal turned from the mirror to the small group assembled behind her.

"You look so beautiful." Esme cooed, sniffling due to her emotion.

Footsteps sounded nearby, approaching the room quickly. The women giggled, while Isabella rolled her eyes with a coy smile. Aro, very much a man accustomed to getting what he desired over centuries, was a very surprised, if not an entirely miffed when his time with his bride had been cut short. Incredibly short in the last weeks due to the planning of their nuptials- in one month no less.

Now, it was the week of the wedding, and it had Aro feeling especially... amorous.

"Tell the impatient man he can wait a little longer." Isabella smiled, stifling a small giggle as she turned back to the mirror, smoothing her hands across the front of the gown's skirt.

Chantilly lace framed her shoulders and slender arms in delicate sleeves. They tapered out just slightly at the wrist to the tops of her hands to create an elegant sleeve. From the shoulders, lace trim brushed against her collarbones, only to dip down in a beautiful V across her bosom. The bodice was made a beautiful off-white, soft champagne satin, overlaid with delicate chantilly lace. It hugged her small before the skirt flowed in the same satin and lace with a small train due to the fullness of the skirt.

The women laughed and giggled again. Except one.

Alice was completely still, her gaze faraway. It cleared moments later, her eyes snapping to Isabella with a look of panic. "Isabella-"

The door to the room burst open, Aro rushing to Isabella with Demitri, Felix, Alec, and Jane on his heels.

Aro gazed at her, a mournful expression displayed across his features. It was earnest, begging her forgiveness for what he was about to do. "Protect your Queen." A pause, and then a whisper "Isabella il protettore."

Smoke curled from Alec's fingertips and encircled Isabella in an instant.

Everything went black.


Notes:

"Isabella il protettore" - Isabella the protector

Aro's speech is adapted from passages of Frederick Buechner's A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces. All credit goes to him.

"When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will not be the angry defenders of intolerance who have made the difference. The reward will go to those who dared to step outside the safety of their privacy in order to expose and rout the prevailing prejudices." - John Shelby Spong