What Have We Done
Chapter 23: Rings of Saturn
A/N: FINALLY! The last chapter of Children of Saturn, Book 1: What Have We Done! This chapter turned out longer than I expected, especially with the added preview of COS2. This chapter is in BPOV, and the song is "Turn to Stone" by Ingrid Michaelson. Translation of that first sentence: "Congratulations! This is marvelous news!" Enjoy, and please leave a review! :)
"Congratulazioni! Questa é una notizia meravigilosa!" Aro gushed when I showed him the simple, beautiful engagement ring adorning my left hand. It was a flawless, one-carat, impeccably cut, round diamond on a perfectly proportionate, simple silver band. It was elegant, but understated, and I loved it. Aro probably thought it horrendously small and plain, but the news of the engagement certainly seemed to please him, and we hadn't even dangled the real bait before him yet.
"I know it's a lot to ask, Aro," I began pleadingly, bowing my head and fiddling with my ring, "but we were hoping we could have our wedding here, on Beltane." I turned and hugged Jasper close while Peter and Charlotte watched our performance from the doorway, several feet behind us. I looked lovingly into Jasper's eyes, and he returned my adoring gaze. "I want to move my change up to the same day, too. It will make things a little harder for us at first, and saying goodbye to my human friends and family so soon is going to be difficult, but I am a Saturno. I was born to be a vampire, and I have my true mate now. I'm ready to start my forever with him."
"Better and better," Aro responded, rising from his throne and smiling brightly. "A Beltane celebration like no other! A Saturno weds the renowned God of War, and he changes her on their wedding night! I'm honored to host such an event, cara mia. It will be splendorous! Vampires from all over the world will gather to witness such a historical occasion!"
Peter and Charlotte were smiling behind us, carefully concealing any other thoughts or emotions they might be experiencing. Not trusting my expression, and knowing Aro was waiting for a response of some kind, I improvised and flung my arms around him instead of Jasper, giving him what I hoped he'd read as an appreciative hug while keeping my face hidden from his gaze.
"Thank you, Aro!" I flinched when I heard my voice crack a little, but I could feel no tears forming in my eyes, so I tried to keep my tone light and happy to cover the slip. Jasper also helped by projecting just a hint of guilt into me, to make my next words come out right: "I know it's a huge imposition... It's only two weeks!" Aro laughed and returned my embrace gently.
"Vampire speed, dear little Bella," he laughed haughtily, "and there are plenty of us here in Volterra. We could have an extravagant wedding prepared for you even sooner, if you so wished it, but the date you chose couldn't be more perfect. I worried that recent events would make you even more hesitant to begin your new life, but I am so pleased to see my worries were unfounded." Aro gently pushed me back so he could see my face, but he kept his hands on my shoulders. I plastered a wide smile on my face, deeply relieved that I'd managed to keep the tears away. "I'm so proud of you, cara mia. You're finally coming around and embracing your destiny. Human Bella is already gone. I see a true Saturno before me now." To my immense horror and disgust, Aro bent forward a little and kissed my forehead. Jasper lost control for a moment and loosed a low growl. To my surprise, Aro immediately released me and stepped back, looking genuinely apologetic.
"My apologies, Major Whitlock," Aro spoke before any of us could attempt our own apology for disrespect. "Your mate bears the human equivalent of your mark now. We're all territorial with our mates, especially in these early stages. I overstepped. Why don't you and your mate take your old comrades on a tour of the grounds? That should help you relax, and I have much to do to get preparations underway for your Beltane nuptials."
It was done. Aro took the bait, and he made no attempt to read anyone's mind, just as Alice had foreseen. As instructed, Jasper and I gave Peter and Charlotte a thorough tour of Volterra, taking the opportunity to properly introduce them to Irwin. We didn't even have to go looking for him. He and Jane teleported to us when we reached the banquet hall where I and the few humans working in Volterra occasionally gathered to eat. After introductions were done, Irwin nudged Jane and she took a timid step toward me. Her uncharacteristically gentle red eyes met mine briefly, but then she quickly looked away. If she were human, she probably would've been blushing. She looked more vulnerable than I'd ever seen her. I took a small step closer to her.
"Jane?" I prompted.
"Congratulations on your engagement," she blurted, but I could tell that wasn't what she'd come to say, so I nodded to her in thanks and waited. After another short silence, Jane reached inside her pocket and withdrew an object I recognized immediately. My breath hitched and I felt like I was going to cry again, but just as before, no tears came.
"I found it in his room that night," Jane said delicately, handing me Edward's Cullen crest wristband. "I thought you might want it," she said softly. "If nothing else, I think he would have wanted you to have it. I know you had your problems, but it shouldn't have ended the way it did. I'm sorry." With that, she immediately turned back to Irwin and grabbed his hand. Irwin nodded once to us, and then he teleported away with Jane in tow.
Not thinking of Jasper's reaction, I tugged Edward's wristband onto my right arm and stroked the silver crest lightly with my fingertips. Jasper didn't react angrily. He did the opposite. Jasper pulled me to him and hugged me fervidly. He understood; he was still struggling with what happened, too.
"I don't think I can cry anymore," I said softly. Conscious of Peter and Char, I dropped my voice even lower and murmured, "I think that last dose of venom did it." Jasper chuckled quietly and I raised my voice again, "When we spoke with Aro, and just now with Jane, I felt like I should be crying; part of me wants to cry right now, but I can't. I can't cry anymore."
Jasper kissed my forehead, right where Aro had kissed me, lingering there much longer. He then slid down so his forehead rested on mine, and he wrapped his hand around the wristband on my arm. "Keep it," he said. "Since I'm taking my old name back, I'm having a Whitlock crest made for you as we speak, but we should have given you a Cullen crest a long time ago. I'm sure we can have the same crest on that wristband set on a more delicate bracelet if that's what you'd prefer, but "
"No," I dry sobbed. "It's still his. It's staying the same way it was when he wore it. It just needs to be tightened a little to fit. Your crest is different. I'm your mate and soon-to-be wife. I'm joining your family, but I'm keeping a memento of my brother."
"Of our brother," Jasper corrected, giving me another firm squeeze.
"Our brother," I amended.
"This is the Whitlock crest, by the way, sweet pea," Peter said, showing me a similar leather wristband on his arm. His wristband, however, was made of brown leather instead of black, and the crest was gold. It depicted a rearing horse in a vertical gold oval. Perched atop the oval was a small falcon with its wings spread wide. The falcon's head was turned to the right, facing a pea-sized sun at the tip of its right wing. A crescent moon capped the tip of its left wing. Below the oval was an inscription: Copia, sed Ipse. The entire image and the inscription were encased in a vertical gold rectangle.
"Copia, sed ipse," Jasper recited, "rampant, but true. It's Latin."
"It suits you," I said, moving closer to Peter and touching the gold horse. "All three of you, but especially you, Jasper. It speaks of both sides of you; wild and dangerous when need be, but also steadfast and loyal. The way the falcon faces the sun also fits, because while you have a dark side, the lighter side is there too, and you always try to do good and do what's best. I love it." I turned back to Jasper and saw he only wore his Cullen wristband. "But why aren't you wearing yours? You said you're taking back the name Whitlock."
"It's back at the house, in my room," Jasper said. "A trustworthy businessman, Jenks, is taking care of all the paperwork now. Our family's been doing business with him for decades. He doesn't know what we are, but he knows we aren't normal, and he knows to keep that much to himself. I just want the change to be official before I make the switch. Copia, sed ipse. Until all the paperwork is done, I'm a loyal and proud Cullen."
"Isn't your last name Hale, right now?" I laughed.
"Technicalities," Jasper responded, rolling his eyes.
"Copia, sed ipse?" I countered, smiling tauntingly. In the time it took me to blink, Jasper was upon me, knocking my feet out from under me and sweeping me up into his arms. I uttered a little scream and flailed, but I couldn't squirm out of his encaging arms.
"Rosalie quickly came to despise her family almost as much as Royce King," Jasper explained seriously, though his dark gold eyes twinkled with mirth and mischief. "They are the ones that threw her at him, after all. She only keeps the name Hale because she refuses to let go of her human life, and our current cover story is that I'm her twin, so the documentation has to match. In my heart, I've been a Cullen since I married Alice, and you chose to revert to my human name, so I will too. I'm glad you made that choice, but the choice was always yours. I would have changed my name to Swan if that was your preference." I laughed lightly and snuggled into his unrelenting embrace.
"I've considered myself a Cullen every now and then," I said, ignoring the brief stab of pain in my chest as I clumsily reminded myself of the few months I'd been abandoned, "but Whitlock fits much better. It's my mate's true name."
Charlotte moved a little closer and lifted me out of Jasper's arms, setting me back on my feet and adding, "And it's about time I got a real sister." I once again felt the urge to cry, knowing no tears would come. I just pulled my new sister close and hugged her with all my strength.
"It's not like Aro doesn't know about all of you, Jake," I tried to comfort my friend as we walked along our beach. "I'll get through the wedding and the change, they'll probably keep me for few weeks to see what I'm like as a newborn, and we'll be back before you know it. We won't be able to go out in public, at least not here in Washington, because everyone has to believe I'm dead, but we'll still be able to see each other. Like you said after you killed Laurent, I'll still be Bella and you'll still be Jake. Eventually, this whole mess will be behind us and we'll be able to relax and just go on like we always have."
"This isn't right, Bella," Jacob growled, throwing a large stone far out into the ocean, "and I'm not just talking about what's happening to you. I'll admit it, okay? Your good vamps have grown on me, especially the chewed up trio, but I don't trust the Volturi one bit, and I know none of you do either. They're up to something, and this leech leader Aro is way too obsessed with you. It's sick." Jacob punctuated that last statement by kicking another stone even farther out into the water.
"Can't argue with you there," I replied, cringing. "Cara mia, this, and dear little Bella, that. When he kissed my forehead, I wanted to claw my own skin off, but of course letting my gift-bearing blood spill right in front of him would've ruined our plan and pissed him off." Jacob snorted and chucked another heavy stone. He sighed heavily then, and he came to an abrupt stop, plopping down on a large log and patting the spot next to him. I sat down quickly and gracefully.
"Just promise me one thing?" He said as we both stared out at the softly curling waves. Instead of blurting out a response I might regret, I just turned to look at him, waiting for him to continue. He sighed again. "Promise me when you find the rat we all smell that you won't go all self-sacrificial martyr-Bella on us." Jacob turned to look in my eyes, and the anxiety in his eyes pierced right through me. "Promise me that you'll take advantage of all the people ready and willing to fight for you. Promise me you'll ask for help when you need it."
I threw my arms around Jacob, noticing immediately that he felt even hotter to me than he had mere weeks ago. I was growing colder. "Just so you know, Jake, this is me crying in gratitude," I said, dry-eyed. "Yes, I promise."
"Wow, Bells, what's the occasion?" Charlie said as soon as he walked in the door and smelled what I was cooking. When he walked into the kitchen and saw the sheer amount of food covering every surface in the room, his eyes widened. "Seriously, what's the occasion?" He sounded genuinely puzzled; he really was trying to remember an important event he'd forgotten. A year ago, the expression on his face would've had me doubling over laughing. On this occasion, I forced a laugh, grateful for the second time that I'd lost the ability to cry.
"A few reasons," I corrected, "no occasion." Charlie smiled and sat down in his usual chair, stretching out his legs with a soft groan.
"This should be interesting," he chuckled. "Shoot."
"Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" I asked seriously.
"Good, then bad. People do it the other way around when they're trying to avoid talking about the bad part." My dad, the cop.
I forced another smile and told the brutally honest truth, "Well, I guess I shouldn't make assumptions about how you'd define the news, but I'm really happy for Mom." Charlie raised an eyebrow. "I talked with her on the phone earlier," I continued. "She's… Well… The good news, for me, is that I'm going to get a baby brother or sister…" I watched a dozen different expressions cross Charlie's face while I tried to keep a smile on mine. I actually wasn't sure how I felt about the news, myself. This was just a show for Charlie, to make it clear that I expected to live for at least nine more months. Renee never had been the best mother, though. I guess she might have finally matured and settled enough for the role, and the new child would take my place in her life. After all, I was going to die in a few days…
"Well, good for her," Charlie finally said. The sentiment and the small smile on his face seemed genuine. "I bet she'll really cherish the second round more than she did the first," he added. Apparently, he'd come to the same conclusion I had. He flinched after his second comment, though. "That came out wrong," he said contritely. I understood and cut him off before he could continue:
"I know what you mean. She's had more time to grow and figure herself out. You guys had me young." Charlie just nodded, blushing slightly. The subtle burn in my throat flared briefly. My deep, head-to-toe blushes really must have been torturous to my vampire family.
"So, what's the bad news?" Charlie changed the subject. Ignoring the sting in my throat, I took a deep breath. I couldn't say the actual words, but this was goodbye.
"I'm only going to be here off and on for the next week or so," I said, feeling a small new hole tearing open in my chest with each word I spoke. "Angela invited me to spend the night at her place tomorrow, and then Alice and I have a couple shopping trips planned, and Peter and Charlotte want to take me out one day so we can get to know each other better. We need to find prom dresses, and we also need more hiking gear for our next camping trip. I noticed the dent you already made in the frozen fish, and I don't want you bothering the Clearwaters too much or living off pizza and diner food. The enchiladas are for tonight; the chili, the veggie soup, and the chicken salad are for the next few days. I made two batches of chili because I'm freezing one batch for later."
"That news isn't all that bad, Bells," Charlie chuckled. "It's been an adjustment, but I'm getting used to sharing you again." Charlie's smile widened and he walked over and patted me on the back. "Besides, if I ever get too lonely, I can take Jake's tip and moonlight as an innkeeper. There're a lot of small houses in La Push full of big boys. Heck, even Leah Clearwater looks like an Olympic athlete these days, and she's the same age as you. Maybe she'd like to borrow your room once in a while." I forced a laugh at Charlie's joke and hugged him.
"She really might, actually," I said. "Leah, I mean. You won't be alone here, and she'll get a break from all those rowdy boys. You really should ask her about it, Dad. She'll probably love it, and I'll feel better about leaving you." Those last two words did it. The new hole in my heart throbbed. Once again, I thought of what a blessing in disguise my inability to cry was. I just felt an odd cooling sensation in my eyes, like I was sticking my head in the freezer. Charlie hugged me back.
"If it makes you happy, Bells, I'll invite her over tomorrow night."
"Do you like it, Bella?" Angela asked me as she opened the door and let me back into her bedroom. She was wearing what would be her prom dress. One look told me she'd probably driven all the way to Seattle to shop for it, and she'd clearly paid more for it than last year's dress. She had reason to do so; she was not only a senior now, but also a nominee for prom queen. She was still stunned by the nomination, but I wasn't. Though some students disapproved of the fact that she still associated with me and Alice, they all knew as well as I did that it was because she was the nicest, most genuine girl in school. I was pretty sure she was going to win. I just wished I could be there to see her crowned.
"Like it? I love it! You look amazing, Ang." The dress was surprisingly sexy. Looking at it directly from the front or back, it looked like a fitted, knee-length, raspberry red sheath dress. On each side though, under the arms, were vertical panels of see-through black lace in a floral pattern that exposed a lot of skin. The colors of the dress made her skin tone glow. She really did look beautiful, and the fact that her small curves had filled out a little more over the last year didn't hurt either. Her posture was also straight and strong. Though her tone of voice gave away her lingering shyness, her self-confidence had grown a lot. Angela Weber, my one completely normal, completely human friend was growing, changing, and aging. She was about to start a new phase of her very normal life, and then another would follow, and then another, and then another, until her very mortal life came to a natural end, or at least I hoped it would.
"Ben is going to get his suit in a few days," Angela commented. "I just wish he'd been nominated, too. Jessica won't shut up about nominees needing to go with nominees, that it's about social status and what not. I don't see why it matters, since she and Mike will probably win anyway."
"I don't think so," I voiced my opinion aloud and unfiltered. One good thing about my imminent human-world death was the freedom to throw diplomacy out the window. "Not Jessica, anyway. She really only became popular by association, and she's the worst gossip in town. I'm not the first person she's turned on, and everyone knows it. You were nominated because you're the polar opposite. Honestly, I think the people who nominated her did so to stay on her good side. She's worse than Lauren, really. At least Lauren doesn't bother pretending to be nice and trustworthy. It's the two-faced ones like Jessica you have to watch out for…" I trailed off momentarily, my mind flashing to Aro, but I pushed the thought away and grabbed Angela's hand, lifting it over her head and giving her a twirl. She laughed. "You'll win, Ang. You just have to… You have my vote." Angela squealed and hugged me.
"You are coming then, right?" She asked. "You and Jasper?" I forced a smile.
"And Alice," I lied. "She and I are going dress shopping tomorrow. It sounds odd, but we'll be going shopping for hiking gear a few days after that."
"Interesting juxtaposition," Angela laughed. "How have all those camping trips been going?"
"So, how kinky do these 'camping trips' get, Bellust?" Jessica laughed as I passed her and Lauren in the hallway the next day. Swallowing the growl that tried to burst from my chest, I rounded on the two girls and glared.
"Bellust? Seriously? What are you, thirteen?"
"At least I was still a virgin at that age," Jessica snapped. "Were you? Or was the shy, awkward, hard-to-get routine just an act from the beginning?"
Before Lauren could build up a full laugh, I strode over to her and Jessica and punched Jessica in the face. She cried out and stumbled back into Lauren. My nostrils flared and my throat burned when a little blood trickled from Jessica's nose. Oops. A few nearby students gasped. Lauren opened her mouth to start spewing her own insults, but I cut her off. "If you're going to gossip about everyone, at least get your facts straight. You want all the dirty details? Fine. Unlike you two, I was a virgin until this last Valentine's Day. Jasper Hale and I made love then. Edward and I never did more than kiss. He still is a virgin. None of the Cullens or Hales are swingers. Alice and Jasper broke up amicably before they all returned to Forks in January. According to Jasper, sex was okay between him and Alice, but nothing like what he and I have. That said, Emmett tells me we've still got nothing on him and Rose. I haven't the slightest idea what sex is like for Carlisle and Esme. They're like second parents to me. I'm not perverted enough to ask, but maybe you can schedule an appointment with Dr. Cullen and ask him yourself, since you have no shame."
I turned on my heel and walked toward the principal's office, ready to offer myself up for punishment and get it over with. It was worth it. I was vaguely aware of Jessica and Lauren shouting more insults at me, but the sound that stood out more was the light smattering of applause from some of the watching students and one, "Go, Bella!" from a boy somewhere behind me. Definitely worth it.
When I got out of detention later that day, Alice was gone, but I found Jasper, Peter, and Char waiting for me on drool-worthy motorcycles. Peter and Char were on one bike; Jasper left room for me to climb onto the other one behind him. He also had a jacket and helmet for me. Peter winked at me. "We heard badass-Bella came out to play today," he said, grinning like the cat that ate the canary, "badasses ride bikes." Char and Jasper laughed while I pulled on the riding jacket and helmet. I climbed on Jasper's bike and wrapped my arms around him.
"Copia, sed ipse!" I shouted triumphantly.
"Copia, sed ipse!" The three Whitlocks cried over the roar of their engines, and we tore out of the parking lot like bats out of hell.
Charlie wasn't angered by what I did at school. In fact, he said he was proud of me, but since he was still Chief Swan to the town of Forks, I couldn't tell anyone he'd said that. He was as sick of the gossip about me as I was, and he was happy to find out I knew how to throw a good punch, just in case. He had no idea what damage I'd be able to do with a good punch in a week. He'd never know…
For show, Alice and I did go dress shopping, and Alice made me put on the dress at home and show Charlie. I didn't fight her on it. I knew exactly what she was doing. She was making sure his last memories of me were of me looking beautiful and happy.
Three days after our little prom dress fashion show, I said one more goodbye to Charlie and climbed into my truck, the truck Alice and I would need for all the camping gear we were stocking up on. Their flashy cars didn't have enough trunk space. I didn't go shopping with Alice, though. She ran back to my house on foot and snuck out the few outfits and books I insisted one keeping with me. Meanwhile, Jasper and I rode to Seattle on his bike and got our new documentation from Jenks. Our wedding was a few days away, but on paper we were officially Jasper and Isabella Whitlock. Our new driver's licenses, IDs, and passports bore the same names. As for my truck, Peter and Emmett filled it with some excess camping gear they already had, drove it to a steep cliff near Port Angeles, made some expert maneuvers and skid marks on the road to make it look like I swerved to avoid something in the way, and drove it off the cliff. Unharmed, they swam and ran home to their mates from there. That was it. That was how I died. Isabella Marie Swan was no more, and for that matter, Alice Cullen was gone, too.
Three days later, after our funerals, we all flew back to Volterra one day earlier than usual. It was Friday, April twenty-ninth. Beltane fell on Sunday, but our presence was required for rehearsal, and for final preparations and fittings. I hadn't even seen my own wedding dress yet. Even that decision was made by the Volturi, but I couldn't even think about my fast approaching wedding and change. All I could think about was Charlie, and now that I was safely hidden from human eyes, I wished I could weep for him, and not just because I'd been forced to give him up. Angela would grieve for me and Alice, but in a little over a month's time, she'd be off to college with Ben, and she'd quickly move on with her life. Renee would get a simple phone call about my death, and she'd surely lose it at first, but Phil would be there to help her through it, and in nine months she'd have a new child to look after. My mom would only hear about my death once or twice. Charlie, on the other hand, would hear about it repeatedly for months to come. He'd hear the whole story over and over again for at least a couple weeks on the local news. He'd see pictures of me and Alice on television screens and in newspapers, and he might drive by the scene of the crash from time to time. He'd be surrounded by reminders of me and my tragic, untimely death as long as he stayed in Forks or any nearby town. I had half a mind to turn around, tell him everything, and bring him with us. His grief would be prolonged, and I couldn't ease that pain without endangering him.
Right on cue, as the first dry sob escaped me, Jasper pulled me onto his lap and cradled me against him. He let me scream and wail for a good hour without influencing my emotions. He knew that if I was going to get through the coming days with my sanity intact, I needed to get this out now. It was frustrating enough that I couldn't even cry properly, but at least Aro wouldn't get the satisfaction of seeing evidence of the pain he was causing me on my face. I would give him this big wedding and changing ceremony, but nothing else.
Irwin, Jane, Alec, Felix, Demetri, and five other Guards whose names I didn't remember were waiting for us at the airport. According to them, with my help, we'd be teleporting back to Volterra in groups. Just looking at the sheer number of vampires I'd have to help Irwin carry, I felt exhausted.
"Part vampire or not, she can still get jetlag," Jasper protested on my behalf. "I can feel it. There's no way she can amplify that much right now. Even if I energized her, there are just too many of us, and don't even think about suggesting using her blood."
"Obviously not," Demetri snorted derisively. "We all saw what happened to Edward, and Master Aro still took it upon himself to remind everyone in the Guard that her freakish hybrid blood evidently makes vampires go insane." Demetri gave me a scathing look, and I couldn't help but wonder what had happened to vampire who'd laughed at Felix when I'd teased him about his foray into vegetarian hunting. Clearly, Aro and Caius had not taken that lightheartedness well. These Guards were hardened puppets again. Even Jane looked empty and cold. "Un cantante, indeed," Demetri sneered, bringing my attention back to him. He sniffed the air and growled, "A siren the likes of which sailors of old spoke of; a sinker of ships. We'll all be safer when you're properly changed, you poisonous chew toy." All thirteen members of my vampire family loosed growls of outrage and warning. Irwin glared daggers at Demetri. Jasper, Peter, and Charlotte looked absolutely murderous. Demetri flashed an infuriatingly blatant fake smile and bowed in feigned apology.
"My apologies," he said. "Recent days have been trying, but I shouldn't have lashed out." Demetri boldly looked Jasper dead in the eye, though his smile held. "Congratulations on your engagement. I daresay most of the vampires in the world have heard of it by now, even if they haven't been invited to the wedding. The God of War takes a Saturno for a wife; a momentous event in our world." When Demetri turned back to me, he bowed curtly and added, "And welcome to our world, la mia signora. The shackles of your human life are but a memory now." I bit back my own growl and suppressed the urge to literally bite Demetri. Oh, how eloquently he mocked my misery. Jasper, Peter, and Charlotte also remained silent, but the three war veterans still looked murderous.
"May we compromise?" Carlisle interjected before anyone acted rashly. "Bella can do two or three amplified teleportations with Irwin, then she'll remain in Volterra while Irwin teleports smaller groups back, or those of us remaining can run to Volterra or travel by car. You can choose the groups. Bella just can't be left in Volterra without Jasper. Beyond those stipulations, we won't argue. Surely those are acceptable conditions?" Carlisle eventually talked everyone around, and we were all eventually teleported to Volterra without any more drama.
Thankfully, once we were all in Volterra, tensions eased palpably. The Volterrans went their separate ways to tend to other duties, but I was allowed no time to rest and recharge after my amplifications. As soon as we all got our luggage to our usual rooms, Sulpicia and Athenadora, the mates and wives of Aro and Caius, arrived at my room with Heidi, the 'fisher' among the Guard. The dangerously sensual and seductive woman was carrying a very large garment bag in her arms.
"It's time for your fitting," Sulpicia proclaimed, regal and businesslike as usual. She was always perfectly polite, but cool and distant at the same time. Athenadora was much friendlier than her mate, Caius, but she still came off as haughty and supercilious compared to any of the vampires in my family.
"Major Whitlock, you're to go to Carlisle and Esme's room for your fitting," Athenadora politely instructed. "The other men in your coven are also being sent there. The women are being directed here." As soon as she finished speaking, before I had a chance to feel wary about being separated from Jasper, Alice skipped into the room and looped one of her arms through mine, smiling reassuringly at Jasper. He nodded to both of us and left, passing Rose in the doorway. The other women followed her in quick procession.
I had to give the Volturi some credit; I loved the gown they had specially made for me, though I had to force myself not to think of the cost of the garment. It was a strapless, ivory mermaid gown with a sweetheart neckline. Being vampires, they got the fit nearly perfect on sight alone. It only had to be taken in at the waist slightly, so that portion would fit snugly and further accentuate every curve the mermaid style flaunted. To top it al off, a sash was tied around my waist. The sash was ivory white with a metallic silver and gold floral pattern. Though I'd told no one of my intention to wear Edward's refitted Cullen wristband down the isle whether they liked it or not, the Volturi knew my engagement ring was silver, and the Whitlock crest ring I now wore on my right hand was gold. The purpose of the sash was clearly to make the mismatched metals look cohesive. It would also tie in the silver Cullen crest, though the worn black leather would clash a little. Oh, well.
Surprisingly, the gown also showed off all but one of my bite scars. Only the scar on my right hip was concealed, and I wondered at that. Were they trying to make me look strong to all the vampires attending, or were they trying to make me feel insecure and ugly? If it was the latter they wanted, they weren't going to get it. I would wear my hair up to clearly showcase the scar on my neck, and I was considering asking Alice for help with a last second alteration the gown itself. Out of the corner of my eye, I aw Alice go very still. Her back was turned to me at the moment, while she conversed with Kate and Carmen, but as soon as her posture relaxed a little, she nodded once and gave me a subtle thumbs up with her hands down by her slim hips. I smiled widely, and Athenadora noticed.
"There's the look of a happy bride-to-be," she said. "Are you getting excited, piccola?"
"Yes," I answered brightly. Just a little touch of rebellion was enough to excite anyone, and I chose to ignore the nerves that came with the excitement. Aro may have his strings around me, but I'd show him he'd never make a puppet of me.
The following day, on the day of the rehearsal, they put me in a lightweight, long-sleeved, knee-length white cotton dress that covered every bite scar but the one on my neck. The scar on my left shoulder also peeked out slightly from underneath the neckline, but my hair had been left down to cover both scars. That confirmed my suspicions about the wedding gown. They were keeping me covered and comfortable now, so I would be hyperaware of all that the wedding gown exposed during the real ceremony. They might be happy to host the wedding, but they were still trying to exert their dominance over me by playing on my insecurities. Little did they know that, thanks to my mate, I was no longer uncomfortable with my body at all, and I was as proud of my scars as I was of Jasper's. We were warriors, and we'd hold our ground.
On that same day, right after rehearsal let out, some of the vampire guests started arriving. My family was allowed to greet and mingle with them, but I was kept out of sight. Whenever I'd get anywhere near a room with unknown vampires in it, a Volterran vampire would snatch me away; some said it was for my safety, some said they needed my opinion on something to do with the wedding. I didn't buy either excuse. Any vampire invited knew I was human and off-limits. By law, every human residing in Volterra was off-limits. So, unless the place was swarming with newborns, that wasn't an issue. As for the wedding details, I was under no delusions; my opinion counted for absolutely nothing. This was just another attempt to rattle me. Seeing all the gathered vampires at once would be much more overwhelming and intimidating. Perhaps they'd decided to go for the gold and see if they could actually get a stumble or a scream out of me. I tried to play dumb and not let their exploits worry me, but Jasper was quickly losing his patience with their game playing.
"They're playing with fire now," he growled when we found some alone time in Didyme's secluded garden. Everyone else tended to avoid the area, even when seeking privacy themselves. Jasper wasn't the only one who could feel the sadness and loneliness that saturated the air here. Marcus kept the garden beautiful, but his pain seemed to be ingrained in every stone and petal. Anyone could feel it. "They're trying to intimidate and humiliate you at every turn," Jasper continued. I grabbed him and kissed him to cut off his little rant before he let the Major loose again.
"And all that effort is going to blow up in their faces," I said confidently, smiling inwardly at our role reversal. "You're right, they are playing with fire. I'm the fire. I know I have to mind what Eleazar said and not challenge Aro too much, but I've been making my own plans in my safe and silent mind, and Alice has been avoiding Aro like the plague. Hasn't she told you? You said your mind is safe for different reasons, even though you've surely burned off my blood by now." Jasper shook his head no. I smiled and leaned in so my lips grazed his ear, murmuring as softly as possible, "I'm making some last second wardrobe alterations with Alice's help, and I'll need your help for my other idea." Through my peripheral vision, I saw Jasper's eyebrow lift in question, and I proceeded to tell him his part in my little game.
"Maria's here, you know," Jasper told me as we made our way back inside. He was still projecting pride and wicked humor from what I'd instructed him to do. His smile only fell slightly when he felt my shock at his words. He shook his head. "She's changed a lot. She has a small coven now, just one other female, Alanna, and a male, Jude. None of them are mated. Maria just found in them what she needed to put all the violence and hatred behind her. Jude's gift is somewhat like mine, but limited. He can't feel what others are feeling, but he's naturally observant in that manner, and he can only project peace, forgiveness, and love, and he can ease bloodlust. Alanna's gift is the same as Maggie's."
"Some longtime friends of Carlisle's from Ireland are also here. There are also three in their coven; Siobhan, who denies her gift to will certain things to happen, her mate Liam, and their beloved little Maggie. Liam has no gift, but Maggie is a walking lie detector. Technically, I can use my gift for lie detection too, but not as consistently and accurately. Maggie can always sense when someone is speaking the truth or telling even a partial-lie. Her gift is infallible. Alanna's is the same. Though I can't know for sure if the mechanics of their gifts are the same without asking Eleazar, from what Alanna, Maria, and Jude tell me, the result is just the same."
"I can see how that would help Maria turn her life around," I said, trying to push back the part of myself that still wanted to hate Maria for what she'd put Jasper, Peter, and Char through. 'She's the reason he's holding your hand today,' I told myself. 'She's the reason you have your true mate beside you, and a strong mate too.' "Either of those gifts are invaluable," I continued aloud. "Combine them and you've got the recipe for world peace." Jasper laughed. He also gave my hand an understanding squeeze, surely having guessed my thoughts based on my emotions.
"Jude's gift does have one more difference from mine which I admittedly envy," Jasper continued. "Like me, he can subtly change the emotional climate of an area with his presence alone, even without projecting. His gift sticks and builds over time, though. So, whether he projects his gift or just stays in close proximity to someone, over time the affect he has on a given target builds exponentially, even if he's not in constant contact with them. Frequently visiting the same people would eventually produce the same results."
"So the longer he stayed with Maria, the more he changed her," I concluded.
"Not just her," Peter chimed in. He and Char were waiting for us by our bedroom door. "That man single-handedly dismantled Maria's entire army without even consciously tryin'. Though vampire violence has gone down a lot since we were newborns, that old war is still technically bein' fought on a much smaller scale even now. Maria's just outta the mix now. The peace-bringer slowly tamed Maria and her small army after she changed him eighteen years ago, and they all freely went their separate ways, avoidin' the more violent territories altogether. After that, it was just Maria and Jude for a few years 'til they happened across Alanna six years ago, completin' the coven of contentment." Peter smirked and Charlotte giggled.
Jasper nudged me, and I was surprised to see him giving me an almost apologetic look. "Judging from the emotions gushing out of these two, we're being kidnapped, and I don't mean together." I was confused for a moment, then the meaning behind his words registered and I groaned. Turning back to the grinning couple, I glared.
"Stag and hen parties?" I grumbled, "Really?"
"It's the one thing the Volturi are allowin' without involvin' themselves personally," Peter said in a singsong voice. That flipped a switch. I stopped glaring and grinned.
"Well, they did set a couple restrictions," Char admitted, stepping on Peter's foot. "Only vampire friends and relatives you already know can attend your party, Bella."
"And while we aren't required to have a Guard present," Peter quickly interjected, locking his eyes on mine, "I think Jane would like to come to your party."
"A couple weeks ago, I would've agreed," I started to argue, but Peter kept staring me down. He was trying to tell me something, but we could be overheard by anyone here. "She seemed…" I continued haltingly, grasping for a little more direction. "When we got here, she seemed…"
"Uncomfortable," Peter supplied. "Yeah, she's not much of a fuss 'n' feathers girl. She's like you that way. A break from playin' happy hostess is prob'ly just what she needs." Still holding my gaze, Peter silently tapped his wristband and raised his hand in a 'C' shape. My eyes cooled a little and I nodded. Jane hadn't tasted my blood, but she'd grown to care for me on her own, and now that I thought about it, she'd probably been punished to some degree for giving me Edward's wristband. She'd gone out on a limb for me, and I had yet to do anything particularly special for her. Unlike the other brainwashed Guards, she had a real reason to be upset with me. Jasper had said I was her Peter; a flicker of light in a world of darkness. If I wanted to see that lighter side of Jane again, I had to be the light.
"Good point," I conceded. "C'mon, Char, let's see if we can find her before the other girls come drag us away."
Luckily, we found Jane alone in the west wing library. She initially hesitated to accept my invitation, but with Char's help I eventually talked her into coming along. When I grabbed her small hand and tugged her along, letting Char lead us to where the other girls were waiting, I was rewarded with one of Jane's exceedingly rare small smiles. She really had been waiting for me to reciprocate.
I was immensely surprised when Char led us to a small club right there in Volterra. The castle and the city were grand and beautiful, but still distinctly old-world with relatively inconspicuous modern updates; a flat-screen television in the pub, nice stereo systems in the little boutiques, but some of the local humans had never even seen a motion-sensing sink or towel dispenser. A discreet, unmarked staircase in an alley between the pub and the bakery went deep under the cobblestone streets and led to a large underground club with padded hardwood flooring and stone walls. There was a small bar manned by a vampire wearing brown contacts and a small DJ booth with massive speakers. There were only five stools at the bar. Other than that, the place was all dance floor. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the small bar had very short menu: B-Wine, red wine, white wine, beer, and water. No human food. I cringed and whispered to Jane, "Let me guess. You can't feed on locals, but you can seduce them into bed if you bring them here first and get them drunk enough that they won't remember how cold you were, or why they're a little bruised the next day?" Jane just nodded. "B-Wine, if ordered by a vampire, is blood with blue food coloring added to make it look like red wine, isn't it?" Jane nodded again.
"If a human orders it, they're served a mulled red wine the bartender calls 'bar blend wine' or B-Wine," Jane finally spoke. "Though Amberto isn't part of the Guard, he still works for us and knows all about you. He'll give you blood if you want it. We even keep a small stock of animal blood now. You can choose."
"No, no," Alice said, coming over with a wine glass in her hand. "The bride-to-be gets a real bar blend; mulled wine with a splash of human blood that has notes of orange zest and clove to it. You'll love it." She handed me the glass and I tasted it without hesitation. She was right. It was delicious. I caught Amberto's gaze and raised my glass to him with a nod of approval. He nodded his thanks and looked away, going about his business. I drank a little more before Alice reminded me to pace myself: "No more than two of those tonight," she said sternly. "I know it's the first wine you've had, and all you'll ever have, but we just want you buzzed, not drunk, and you absolutely cannot have a hangover tomorrow. Drink responsibly."
I couldn't help it; I laughed loud and long, doubling over and nearly spilling my drink. The irony was just too much. Charm my way into a large family of vampires? Okay. Lose my virginity to one? Live and let live. Befriend a rowdy pack of shape-shifters that think of themselves as werewolves? Caused a little friction, but whatever. Get married at eighteen in front of a hundred vampires I've never met? Happening whether I like it or not. Have more than two alcoholic drinks while they're still compatible with my body? Absolutely not acceptable.
Alice gave Jane a long look before shrugging her tiny shoulders and blurting out, "If you get drunk, you're going to forget yourself and punch Alec in the face when we return to the castle and he scolds Jane for coming with you. He's going to call her a fool for 'letting the chew toy bait her again,' and you're going to get angry and defend her either way, but if you attack him physically it's going to escalate into a fight involving Jasper, Peter, and Char, too."
I gaped at Alice. Why would she say that right in front of Jane? For one thing, there was surely a way to get Jane back without Alec's notice, especially if Alice already had a vision of that potential future. Secondly, why did Jane need to hear that at all? It was then that Jane shocked me still more by giggling and grinning at me.
"You kept quiet when Demetri publicly insulted you to your face," Jane laughed, "but you'd brawl with my brother for chastising me?"
'Keep up, Bella,' I thought to myself, realizing immediately that Alice was playing the same game as Peter. There was probably no vision of Alec at all. They were trying to push me and Jane closer together. I wondered why, but I quickly shrugged my speculative feelings off, deciding to put my full trust in Alice and Peter and just go with the flow. For whatever reason, I apparently needed to forge and maintain a friendship with Jane. I'd worry about the why of it later.
"I can't help it," I blurted out, thinking fast. "I know you're hundreds of years old and an elite member of the Volturi Guard, but you still look only thirteen or fourteen to me, and I've already told my family I worry about whether your gift makes it difficult for you to make friends. I'm a shield by nature. I just feel protective of you." I was improvising. I was saying whatever words came to my mind, but it didn't take me long to realize the words were truly coming from my heart. I did feel protective of Jane. I had from the beginning, without ever understanding why. But once again, the why of it wasn't important. It was what I felt. It was instinctual, as instinctual as a lioness guarding her cubs. Acting on instinct again, I took another gulp of my drink, grabbed Jane's hand again, and pulled her out onto the dance floor. "Michael Jackson, Thriller," I called to whoever would listen. All the women laughed, and even Amberto cracked a wry smile, but someone did go turn on the song I requested. I remembered the choreography from the music video, and I'd become a much better dancer since being bitten, so I began showing Jane the steps. She looked flabbergasted and embarrassed at first, but Kate and Alice flashed over and joined in the dance, then Rose joined in and Jane started moving. Soon Char, Esme, Tanya, Irina, and Carmen all joined us, laughing the whole time as we danced in sync to the fantastically satirical song, corny choreography and all.
"Jane, wait," I called when we all returned to the castle a few hours later and started parting ways. Alec was nowhere in sight. Jane, already halfway down the opposite hallway, quickly doubled back to stand before me, looking around to make sure her twin wasn't coming. I pulled my favorite moonstone ring off my index finger and slid it onto hers. It was a little loose on her smaller finger, but not enough to fall right off. "I'm not one to wear a ton of rings, and as of tomorrow I'll be wearing my engagement ring, my Whitlock ring, and my wedding band, but this ring is special to me. If I'm not going to wear it, I want it on someone's hand… You know, the moonstone is said to bring luck, enhance intuition, and guide you toward love and happiness; as the moon itself is a guiding light in the night. I found my happiness. Maybe this will help you find yours." Once again, Jane looked stunned, and she seemed to be at a loss for words. "Besides, it's the only white you can wear to my wedding tomorrow," I added, hoping humor would help her regain her senses.
Jane lunged forward and hugged me a little too tightly, then she turned and bolted down the hall without a word.
"Well played, Bella," Alice approved when I entered my room to find her waiting inside with Irwin, Peter, and Jasper. "She cares as much for you as is possible now, without completely breaking Chelsea's hold on her."
"Well played to you, too," I said. I started walking around the four vampires seated on the foot of my bed, but Irwin stood and stopped me.
"I can't stay long," he said, "but I had to come thank you in person." It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about. Looking into his pure gold eyes, I saw a mixture of gratitude and deep sadness that instantly made me think of Eleazar. Not wanting to risk saying the words aloud, I tapped the bite scars on my wrist. 'You drank my blood?' Irwin nodded and pulled me into a gentle hug. "I am bound to my mate and to you, now," he whispered. "Ange parmi les démons, vos désirs sont des ordes." I had no idea what he said, but somewhere in those words I sensed a fervent promise. Saying no more, he released me, gave Alice a quick kiss, and teleported away.
"What did he just say?" I asked no one in particular.
"Angel among devils, your wish is my command," Alice translated, standing up and hugging me herself. "My true mate is free now. Thanks, sis."
"Anytime," I mumbled, exhausted. Stepping around Alice, I resumed my original course and walked up to the head of the bed, flinging myself across the numerous pillows there. An involuntary groan escaped my lips on contact. "Now, what was all that about with Jane?" I asked, the pillows muffling my voice. "Why didn't either of you warn me in advance?" I asked, addressing Peter and Alice while Jasper crawled up the bed and pulled me into his arms. I could smell evidence of a hunt on him without even looking into his eyes. I snuggled into his cool, hard chest. "If that relationship had to urgently be mended, why not give me a note, or a text or something?"
"That's what we're here to explain, sweet pea," Peter said.
"It's actually very complicated," Alice commented.
"Y'see, when I met Jude earlier, I saw an image of him and Jane together," Peter began. "They're mates. I'm not Marcus, but let's just say what I saw made that much pretty damn clear."
"But that's great!" I said, excited for Jane, but also confused.
"Not now it isn't, Bella," Alice said grimly. "As soon as Peter decided to introduce the two of them, it triggered a series of my own visions, and they ended terribly." Now I was confused and scared. Jasper's hold on me tightened and he nuzzled my hair soothingly. "We're already treading on thin ice with Aro," Alice continued. "I saw Demetri telling Aro that he could tell you'd given Eleazar your blood. Aro became very angry, but he's kept that to himself thus far, not approaching any of us about it, but he will lash out if we free anyone else from Chelsea or the memory modifier. He won't find out about Irwin for a while yet, but Jane's a different story. If Jane and Jude meet now, Chelsea's hold on Jane will immediately break, just like her hold on Irwin did when he met me. She'll still be at the mercy of the memory modifier, but losing Jane's full loyalty will be final straw that makes Aro snap. I stopped Peter, but then I had a vision of them meeting anyway while we were away at our parties."
"So we had to get her to come with us," I said, understanding.
"The other option was invitin' Jude to our stag party," Peter commented.
"But I saw that he would turn down the invitation," Alice interjected, "choosing to stay with Maria and Alanna instead."
"It was still important for you to befriend Jane," Peter said. "My knower told me so, but that didn't feel nearly as urgent. I'd say what I saw is a good month off yet, give or take a week."
"But my visions told me if we didn't act tonight, it would be disastrous for all of us," Alice said. "On the one hand, it's cruel, and we feel terrible keeping mates apart, especially when one so desperately needs the other, but the timing just isn't right."
"He could help her like he helped Maria…" I murmured sadly.
"The timin' isn't right," Peter parroted. "That's the way it is with some mates, sweet pea. If you were alive back when the Major met Alice, and if he somehow met you instead, he might've drained ya without recognizin' you as his, or if he did feel a pull to ya, he wouldn't've accepted the fact that his mate was a human. He wasn't in the right frame of mind back then. I know it's different, but it's the best example I can give ya. Do ya think I don't wish my brother could've found his true mate sooner? Things happened when and how they needed to happen."
"Maybe you did a little too well tonight," Alice said sympathetically, walking over and squeezing my hand. "I could see it in your eyes; you really do care about her and want her to be happy. I don't need Jasper to tell me it hurts you to hurt her, even without her knowledge of it, but you have to keep this one thing from her now. You don't want to know how many people will be hurt or killed if you don't." I just nodded, torn and not knowing what to say. I buried my face in Jasper's chest to muffle a dry sob. Alice released my hand, and I barely heard her feather-light footsteps as she left the room. I expected Peter to follow her out, but when I felt his weight shift on the bed, it increased as he moved closer. I looked up to see him sitting right beside me. He grabbed the notepad off the nightstand and wrote a short note before tearing off the page and handing it to me. He squeezed my shoulder and smiled fondly at me, though I could see hints of sadness and anger I didn't understand in his eyes, then he quickly stood and followed Alice out of the room, closing the door softly behind him.
I looked at the paper and read what Peter wrote. The four little words shook me to my core: Jane saves your life. I heard Jasper gasp quietly as he read the note, too. Then he pulled a lighter out of his pocket. Burn after reading, ha ha… but this was no cliché spy movie; this wasn't a joke. I handed him the paper and he walked into our bathroom, dropping the note in the sink and setting it alight. As soon as it was naught but ash, he turned on the faucet and washed the ashes down the drain. He quickly rejoined me in bed, and I soon resumed my dry sobbing. I was involved in a conspiracy to keep Jane's mate from her, but she was going to save my newborn immortal life. A moonstone ring was hardly enough to pay off my debt to her.
When I got control over my sadness and my dry sobs subsided, a sudden thought made my heart leap in fear and panic. Jasper reacted immediately, rolling us over so he was hovering over me on his hands and knees, blocking me from anything in the room that might have frightened me, but he didn't growl or tense as if to spring. His senses were sharper than mine and he could sense no approaching threat; the posturing was merely an instinct to make me feel safer, like swaddling a baby. He knew that whatever had caused my shift in emotions was internal. His eyes bored into mine, trying to find his foe inside me. I wasn't in physical danger, but he was still compelled to fight off whatever was scaring his mate.
"Shh," I also acted on instinct, running my fingers through his hair and leaning up to give him a quick kiss, letting him know I was okay. "I was just having second thoughts about the special plans I made with you and Alice for tomorrow," I whispered, my voice almost completely inaudible to my own ears. "If it's true that Aro is already at his breaking point, maybe we shouldn't push it."
Jasper seemed to consider my words carefully, remaining silent for almost a full minute, but then he shook his head. "Yes, it'll fan the flame a bit, but what we're doing is making a statement that needs to be made, whatever the repercussions. Alice would've said something if that weren't the case, and what you and I do during the ceremony will lower the risk of the mates meeting too soon, since it will prevent the reception and all the dancing and mingling from happening." I flinched at that reminder of what we were doing to Jane and Jude, but I nodded. I understood why it had to be done, but I'd never like it, and if anything happened to one of them before they could meet, I'd never be able to forgive myself for it.
Jasper growled in frustration when he felt that new slew of emotions, and his lips crashed down on mine, desperate and demanding. He was very good at kissing me senseless; doing incredible things with his lips, tongue, and teeth until I was gasping for breath and bereft of any thoughts apart from the need to get his clothes off. We were obviously sharing that thought, because less than ten seconds later, we were both completely bare, surrounded by shreds of fabric that once resembled clothing. We'd pretend this was the night of our wedding, not the night before. It would be one to three days before we could do this again…
The day had come: May first, Beltane. I was getting married and I would finally be changed into a full vampire, a true Child of Saturn. My Maid of Honor, Alice, and my bridesmaids, Char, Rose, and Kate, shooed all the other women out of my room to take their seats. We had fifteen minutes left before the ceremony began, and only Jasper, Peter, and my bridal party knew what Alice and I were planning to do with those seconds flying by. As soon as the door was closed, Char, Rose, and Kate, dressed in blood red silk gowns, stood with their backs pressed against the old wood and iron, barricading the entrance with their stone bodies. Alice bolted into the bathroom and returned seconds later with the sewing kit from the linen cabinet, then she hitched up the floor-length skirt of her own gown and knelt by my right side. Pulling out the small pair of scissors, a needle, and ivory white thread, she went to work: While I held as still as possible, she pinched the white fabric of my gown between her delicate fingers and cut a hole in the material over the bite scar on my right hip. She then cut the rough hole into a crescent moon shape, further highlighting the two small crescents that made up the scar. Taking up the needle and thread, Alice expertly hemmed the frayed edges of the material in less than three minutes. While Alice returned the sewing kit to the bathroom, I walked over to the mirror and admired her masterful work. The soft curve of the hole flowed with the mermaid shape of the dress and looked like it had always been there, and my once hidden scar was now on full display at the widest part of the crescent, right at its center. I beamed at Alice and hugged her when she came back into the room.
"It's perfect, Alice!" I gushed, "Thank you!"
"Now we just need a few more finishing touches," Kate said, stepping away from the door and walking over to my bed. To my tremendous surprise, she reached underneath the bed and pulled out a pair of simple, classy blue pumps. My balance had improved enough that walking in heels was no longer a problem. I could even run in them without falling, if need be. "Something borrowed and blue," Kate said. "Luckily, you and Carmen wear the same shoe size. These are hers."
"The Whitlock ring, the engagement ring, and the gown are all new, so that's thoroughly covered," Char said while Kate helped me slip on the comfortable, well-worn shoes.
"Though all of our crests have broken at least once or twice over the years, Edward's wristband is around sixty years old," Rose chimed in. "That will be your something old." Remembering the wristband, I walked over to the nightstand by my side of the bed and pulled it out of the top drawer, pulling it onto my right arm.
"And though the black leather clashes horribly with the overall look, this way you're also wearing some representation of each branch of our family," Alice said, cringing slightly at my very nontraditional look. The thought of representing the Cullens, Whitlocks, and Denalis all at once made me smile, but my smile fell at the reminder that Bella Swan no longer existed. We'd successfully staged my death, and any normal humans who knew me had said their goodbyes at my funeral a few days ago, but this was the real thing. My human life was truly about to end. It was over... I looked around and saw four beautiful faces wearing expressions that surely mirrored my own. They knew where my mind had wandered, and they all silently mourned for this part of me too, for human Bella.
Alice's eyes glazed over for a moment and she said, "It's time." For some reason, those two little words sent my mind spinning out of control, leaving my body to run on autopilot. I was only vaguely aware of Char pulling my short veil down before leading the way out the door. Kate and Rose followed her. Alice took my hand and tugged me along. She could surely tell I'd completely checked out, but she made no effort to snap me out of it, not yet anyway. While Alice dragged me along, I looked at my rings and considered their symbolism with new eyes. I still had eternity ahead of me, but within eternity there were still endings and beginnings. The rings suddenly seemed two-dimensional to me; an illusionary trick like the Penrose Stairs. I shook my head. My human mind was ill equipped to handle this paradox, still clinging to logic. A little over a year ago, I'd stumbled into a world that defied all logic. Time went on forever and blood-drinking beings sparkled like diamonds in the sun. Children morphed into giant animals. The lovely floral scent in the air could be from a nearby garden where grief lingered in the air like fog, or it could be the scent of the person next to you. According to vampires, I was a Saturno, but if humans unaware of vampires somehow saw evidence of my power, wouldn't they call me a witch? When Alice was human, they called her crazy and locked her in an asylum, but today people aware of her gift would call her a psychic and seek her out for guidance. Some beings lived for seconds, others for years, and others for millennia on end, but even the latter could die. By definition, I was about to die, and yet I would live on. I was on the brink of eternity, but what did eternity really mean?
"You choose what it means," Alice suddenly spoke urgently in my ear. She shook me when I didn't respond. "You choose what it means!" She nearly shouted that time and she shook me harder, finally bringing me out of my thoughts and back to the present.
"Choose what what means?" I said stupidly, blinking rapidly and trying to focus. I felt so disoriented.
"Whatever you were thinking about," Alice responded as if my incoherent question made perfect sense. "The answer is, there is no answer. There never was."
"There never… What?" I asked, shaking my head and lightly slapping my cheeks, trying to ground myself again.
"We expected this to happen after the van crash, or when Edward brought you to our place for the first time." Alice spoke so quickly that it took all my focus to catch every word. "It started happening when Eleazar declared you were a Saturno, but Laurent's attack snapped you out of it, and then you just accepted it like you've accepted everything else." I heard music start and the first of my bridesmaids in line, Char, walked through a pair of doors to our right and started walking down the isle inside. "Humans need boundaries, and definitions, and labels," Alice continued rapidly but quietly. "Their minds can't function properly without them, as you just experienced. Humans call things they can explain logical, and they call things they can't explain paranormal, imaginary, or non-existent, but they've got it entirely wrong. Normality is non-existent. You seemed to accept that fact from the start. You were different; you took everything in stride until now." Kate walked through the doors. "We expected this to happen sooner, and we would have taken more time to talk you through it then, but there's no time for it now. You'll have to settle for the abridged version: Throw the dictionary out the window. Not everything can be defined, and what can be defined is subjective. Every so-called rule or law can be bent, if not broken, including some laws of nature." Rose walked through the doors. "It's true that with great power comes great responsibility. There are very few boundaries in our world, but we self-impose boundaries because to not do so would lead to chaos and destruction. You'll learn more in time, but to truly enter this world with peace of mind, you must answer this one question: Do you have a reason to live forever?" Alice turned and walked through the doors. I started to shake.
No wonder Edward used to watch me like I might spontaneously combust at any second. No wonder my silent mind drove him crazy. He'd been waiting for this to happen, but I'd been so blinded by love that I didn't even see the world as I'd known it for seventeen years turn upside-down and inside-out. Wait a minute… I stepped forward and stood in the doorway, turning to look down the isle. I locked eyes with Jasper and the world around me blurred and dissolved away. I heard several gasps at my entrance, and I could hear several low conversations break out around me, but I had tunnel vision. I only saw Jasper, and the look in his eyes told me he only saw me. Did I have a reason to live forever?
Booming laughter filled the room and broke my concentration. I could see everyone and everything around me again. Hundreds of red eyes and a handful of gold eyes were staring at me. The number of red eyes should have alarmed me, but most of them were sparkling with humor. Looking back at Jasper, I saw he had his hand clamped over his mouth, but he was still shaking with silent laughter. Everyone was laughing… well, almost everyone.
"We'll get to that part, cara mia, but first you must walk down the isle," Aro called to me from the altar. He was conducting the ceremony, of course. He was smiling, but after spending so much time around him, I could recognize the simmering anger in his eyes even from this distance. "Do you still wish to walk unaccompanied?" Aro asked, his polite tone wavering ever so slightly; enough that several pairs of eyes snapped back in his direction. Though Carlisle and Eleazar had both offered to walk me down the isle, I'd declined their offers to honor my human father. If he couldn't walk me down the isle, no one would. Looking Aro dead in the eye, I smiled back.
"I do," I said again, this time deliberately. Several of the vampires around me laughed again. Jasper stopped trying to smother his own laughter and laughed freely.
"Then get down here, already!" He called, grinning broadly. I grinned back, hitched up my gown a little, and ran down the isle at my current top speed. More vampires laughed. Some of them applauded. Alice stepped forward to help me readjust my gown when I reached the altar. When I looked at her, she gave me a quick wink and nudged me toward Jasper. Puckish pixie knew that was going to happen. I took my mate's hands, still grinning like a fool and ignoring Aro entirely. While Aro began his sermon, Jasper and I had a quick, silent conversation. His shining gold eyes flickered down to the cut Alice made in the dress and he winked. 'Nice.' I shifted my right hand slightly and tapped his hand with the Whitlock ring. 'Copia, sed ipse.' Jasper caught my eyes again and briefly looked over his left shoulder. I followed his gaze and saw a beautiful Mexican woman with flowing dark hair and red eyes gazing back at me. Maria. She grinned and gave me a slow, deliberate onceover, her gaze pausing momentarily at each scar. When her eyes met mine again, she nodded in admiration and approval. I nodded in thanks before turning back to Jasper. Our part was coming up.
"Jasper Whitlock, do you take Isabella Swan as your wife and mate, now and forever?"
"I do," Jasper spoke loud and clear, and he shot out a tidal wave of pride that surely washed through the entire room. A light smattering of applause confirmed my assumption.
"Isabella Swan, do you take Jasper Whitlock as you husband and mate, now and forever?"
"Forever and beyond, I do," I declared confidently. Another brief round of applause rose as we exchanged rings.
"May Beltane bless your eternal love," Aro recited. "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss to seal your pact."
I threw myself at Jasper and he ripped away my veil, kissing me passionately. The crowd whooped, whistled, and applauded. Get it out now, folks. Thank you for coming. We're sorry, but the reception and changing ceremony have been canceled. Jasper squeezed my hand. 'Are you sure?' I squeezed his hand back with all my might and started tilting my head back and to the side, baring my neck to him. 'Absolutely.' I looked up just in time to see a flash of recognition in Aro's eyes, but before he or anyone else could react, Jasper's lips moved from my mouth to my neck, and he bit down hard.
End of Children of Saturn, Book 1: What Have We Done
Children of Saturn, Book 2: What Can Be Done
Chapter 1: Caged Bird
"Sweet dreams are made of this. Who am I to disagree? Traveled the world and the seven seas. Everybody's looking for something; some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused…" I would never win any Grammys with my voice, but since changing into a full vampire, I was at least a decent singer now… and my blood sang to no one. I had no more blood to speak of. Stepping out of the shower, I quickly dried off and dressed for the day, pulling on an old pear of jeans and a simple plaid button-down. Human or vampire, I was still Bella. Isabella Marie Swan Whitlock, newlywed newborn vampire and a Child of Saturn. Since I had amassed so much venom from numerous bites I'd received while still human, my true change had only taken about thirty-four hours, the shortest changing time in vampire history. Gradually changing as a human pretty much allowed me to skip the notorious newborn stage altogether. From day one, I had impeccable control of my bloodthirst, and I only took a couple days to adjust to the spike in speed and strength. My shielding and amplifying gifts had grown significantly stronger too, but I tried not to flaunt that. Seeing my power made Aro much too happy, and I was by no means eager to please him…
"Just a week or two," he'd told us after I awoke from my change. "Stay in Volterra just a week or two longer, so we can be certain she's ready be reintegrated into the human world." Ha. I'd been mingling with the human employees here for a five weeks. I'd been allowed out into the city at night a couple times. I had yet to even come close to biting a human. My eyes were already pure gold. Still, every time we broached the issue, Aro, Caius, or one or more members of the Guard had a new excuse to keep me. Technically, only I alone was forced to stay here. Peter and Char took off for one week to visit Maria and her new coven. Some of the Cullens and Denalis would leave for a day or two, but they'd never stay away long. Jasper never left me. We would wander the castle or city separately from time to time, but more often than not, we remained within earshot of each other, so when I heard someone whistling the same song I was just singing outside my window, I assumed it was him. Walking over to the window, I could tell that I was way off the mark in that assumption. For one thing, there was no one in sight. Secondly, his scent wasn't outside. Whoever was just out there smelled like fresh mint and watermelon… no one in Volterra, human or vampire, smelled like fresh mint and watermelon. Of that much I was certain because, unlike most vampires, I learned to completely ignore my thirst and focus on the intricacies of human scents a little over a week after my change.
There it was again! The whistle was softer, and somewhere off to the left, but it was the same song. "Jasper?" I called. No answer. The whistle sounded again; it was moving farther away. Though it might not have been my brightest idea, I followed the sound. I leapt out of the window and started walking through the long east wing courtyard, following the sound and the unfamiliar scent. The scent was strangely faint. I knew it was recent, but the trail smelled hours old, almost like the stranger was passing through the area without actually touching the ground… That's when I saw it: There on the ground was a long strand of curly, flaming red hair. Victoria was gone, but her head had been taken by, "Annabeth?" I whispered that time. I wasn't sure how many Volterrans knew the full story about how the battle against Victoria, Tristan, Annabeth, and their six newborns had gone. Knowing Edward was killed for his involvement kept them from asking any questions about it. Aro knows the whole story; he'd gotten it from Edward's mind before having him executed, but I doubt he told anyone else much of it. To him, the only thing worse than someone defying him was news of such a deliberate act of rebellion going public. As it was, he was still fuming over the stunts I'd pulled on my wedding and changing day, in a room packed with vampires from all over the world no less. He was still playing nice, though. He rarely let that fury show outwardly, but Jasper felt it, and I'd expected as much when I chose to publicly cross him.
The whistle sounded again. Was that a yes or a no? I picked up the strand of hair and continued following the sound, not paying attention to the faint scent anymore. This person clearly wasn't trying to hide from me. They wanted to be found, but not here; they wanted me to follow them somewhere else. After a few more minutes of playing Marco Polo, I found myself walking down the long path to Didyme's garden, a place where only Marcus, Jasper, and I ever ventured. The stranger's been watching me... Could it really be the mysterious flier? When I walked around the pillars surrounding the secluded private garden, I got my answer. There in the garden was a female vampire hovering a couple feet above the ground. "Annabeth." It wasn't a question that time. Neither I nor anyone else I'd spoken to had ever heard of another vampire capable of true flight. Annabeth appeared to share both my physical age and height, and she had long, pin-straight black hair that made her pale white skin and red eyes that much more striking in contrast. Those striking red eyes met my gold ones briefly, then her gaze flickered down to the hair in my hand and back again.
"And you're Bella, right?" She asked softly, her voice a melodic contralto. I nodded. Annabeth finally landed. "Just so you know, I only kept her head for a few days," she said, obviously referring to Victoria. "I wanted to prolong her suffering a little, for killing my mate and tricking me into a fight with innocent people, but I've never been particularly sadistic, and I knew my Seamus wouldn't have wanted me to turn into the ruthless monster she'd become. From the start, I thought there was something off about her blaming and targeting a human for the death of her mate. If she wanted revenge, she should have gone after the vampires that actually did the killing no offense, I know they're like family to you. It's not your fault James chose to hunt you despite the fact that a coven of seven claimed you as theirs. My intention was never to hurt you. I rarely hunt women as it is, and… well, she told me your shifter friends killed my mate…"
"I know. The shifters and two of the three vampires there told me what happened," I said.
"What about the third one?" Annabeth inquired guiltily, "Were they killed?"
"Not in the fight," I answered bitterly, growling softly. Annabeth flinched. I shook my head. "Not your fault. Edward went because he could read minds. We had other plans. I had a powerful shield against most gifts, even as a human, and I could project it. Without me there, Edward was the only one capable of fighting Tristan, since he could keep his eyes closed. He… He was the one Victoria thought was my mate. He and I believed we were mates for a while, too. It's a long story, but we weren't… Aro killed him." I had looked away, lost in my memories. When I looked back, Annabeth was frowning, seemingly lost in thought herself. After a moment, she rolled her eyes and nodded, as if something that had been puzzling her suddenly made perfect sense. For the first time, I glared at her accusingly and I opened my mouth to demand an explanation from her.
"You aren't the only one, you know," she cut me off before I could get a word out. I blinked. "The only Saturno," she clarified, her voice a breath above a whisper. "Your kind is certainly very near complete extinction, but I've met two others, Lysander and Jillian…"
"Why are you telling me ?"
"Bella, you have to get out of here." Annabeth cut me off again. "I know where Lysander is now, and we can find Jillian. I'll take you to them, but you can't stay here. It's not safe." Annabeth's tone was urgent. Frighteningly so. She did know something, or at least she strongly suspected something.
"Annabeth, they won't let us go."
"Don't tell me you believe they're keeping you here with good intentions in mind," the flying vampire almost growled.
"How would you know, either way? What do you know?"
"I only know what I've observed and what Lysander told me, but that's his story to tell, not mine. I also know Aro's reputation. Like you, I was changed at eighteen, but I'm closer to Carlisle Cullen's true age. Aro covets power, and if he can't have it, he eventually finds a reason to destroy it. You aren't safe here." I started to speak again, but Annabeth and I both stiffened when we heard distant footsteps turn down the path to the garden. Annabeth ran to me and rapidly whispered in my ear, "Be ready by tonight or tomorrow, at the latest. I'll get some cars ready for all of you. When you're ready, sing something again. If you hear me whistle the same tune back, it's go time… and call me Annie." Before I could respond, Annabeth flew off. A minute later, Marcus walked around the pillars and stopped when he saw me standing in the garden.
"Sorry," I blurted. "I was looking for Jasper. I'm sure you've noticed he and I come here sometimes… Um, I'll leave you alone…" I may be a vampire, but I can still ramble like an eighteen-year-old when rattled. Marcus merely nodded, his usual mask of misery firmly in place. I ran off and took the first door I reached back inside the castle, ending up in the north wing, the Guard's Wing. Normally, that wouldn't be an issue. True, I tried to avoid the Guard as much as possible; only Jane and I had formed an odd kind of friendship, but now that I was a powerful newborn Saturno, the rest of the Guard avoided me as well unless ordered otherwise. Today was different. Today, luck was just not on my side. When I passed Chelsea's door, it was open and Aro was inside.
"Ah, Bella, what a wonderful surprise!" He called in that sickeningly fake amicable voice. "Please, do come in."
"I don't want to interrupt anything," I bit out, forcing myself to smile back. "You're clearly tending to some business with Chelsea."
"We just finished," Aro said brightly, "and it was hardly business. Chelsea just had some news she was eager to share with me. She was just about to go rejoin Marcus."
"Marcus?" That puzzled me. "I was just with him. Well, I just saw him I mean. He's in Didyme's garden. He… looked like he wanted some time alone…" Aro frowned.
"Oh, yes. I'm so glad he's moving on at last, but it will still be difficult for him to let go. All the more reason for you to go to him, dear," he said to Chelsea. He took her hand and kissed it briefly as he stood. She rose with him. "You're just what my brother needs. I do so look forward to seeing him happy again." Chelsea beamed at Aro as if he just gave her an Oscar, an Emmy, and an Olympic gold medal, then she turned and strode out of her own room, paying me no attention whatsoever. Aro beckoned me forward again. Refusal was apparently not an option. I walked into the room, but neither of us sat down.
"So, what's the good news?" I was used to this game. He would lure me in somehow, we'd politely chitchat about some random topic, and then when I appeared relaxed enough, he'd go for what he really wanted. Will you join the Guard? Will you stay in Volterra? Will you help us as an unofficial member of the Guard? We have a problem we need to tend to, and we could really use your gifts… I always declined. That's when I'd see one of those brief breaks in his cheery façade, and I'd change the subject and resume the polite chitchat until he reined his fury in again and either dismissed me or excused himself.
"Oh, it's wonderful news!" He corrected. It was only then that I realized his phony grin had faded and been replaced by a genuine smile. This wasn't how the game was supposed to go… "Though no one can ever truly replace his dear Didyme, it seems Caius and I finally succeeded in convincing our brother that taking a new wife might at least lift some of the gloom of loneliness." Now I understood that odd exchange, and for some reason I was instantly infuriated. I fought the emotion back with all my might and tried to keep my smile in place. I failed and my smile faded, but I did suppress the urge to growl and I kept my face expressionless.
"Marcus is going to marry Chelsea?" I asked flatly. Aro's smile only faltered slightly.
"Of all the options here, she is his best match, their very gifts working harmoniously," he said nonchalantly. Damn, I am still a newborn. I lost control of my anger and snapped.
"Oh, is that how it works around here?" I asked sarcastically, "Is Sulpicia your true mate, or did you take her as your wife because you can read thoughts and memories and she can alter them?" Okay, really shouldn't have said that aloud. Aro's smile widened again. This was definitely not one of our usual games. Where was Jasper?
"Your mate and husband has certainly changed you, along with your new immortality," Aro said, obviously guessing what direction my thoughts had taken, despite his inability to read my mind. "You are not the timid, awkward, submissive girl you once were. Bold, Isabella, very bold." Switching from Bella to Isabella was never a good sign, but Aro's smile still held. It was different, though… He looked… smug, even as he shook his head as if he were scolding a misbehaving child. "Bold, and a good guess, but incorrect." His smile widened and I caught an odd glint in his dark red eyes as he looked down at me… No, it couldn't be. "Sulpicia is my mate, and unfortunately not gifted at all," Aro continued, "but she's plenty beautiful and a skilled fighter. No, no, cara mia. I am the one who can alter memories." While I gaped in shock and horror, Aro held up his hands in mock surrender. "You caught me. I had a feeling you'd guessed the truth back in April, but you didn't trust those initial instincts and you kept second-guessing yourself. I suppose you just couldn't bring yourself to accept what I am."
"You're a Saturno? Does anyone else know?"
"Bella, I'm sure you can understand why my second gift must be kept secret, but yes. My brothers and a few of our most trusted Guards know what I am. I'm the oldest Saturno alive."
"Why?" I gasped. I had been unintentionally holding my breath. "Why would you hunt down and execute your own kind? You endangered your own species. Why?"
"Because I believed their existence posed a threat to our secrecy, and that misuse of their great power would lead to utter chaos, just as Eleazar told you. Neither of my gifts are visible, and they're used strictly for the good of our kind, and to keep order. Of course, I deeply regret my actions now. I tried to talk some of the Saturnos we found into joining us, so their power would never be a threat, but they always refused, starting with Piers, the man Eleazar told you about. I had to execute them, dear Bella. You're so young; you can't understand what dangerous times we were living in then! The Romanians were building an army to bring us down and destroy the order we'd kept for ages, and werewolves and shape-shifters were killing vampires practically every day. Though they stood no chance against real vampires, humans hunted us, along with werewolves, witches, and every other kind of supernatural creature now widely deemed non-existent, and thank the gods for that! Humans have developed technologies capable of harming us now. No one is invincible anymore. No one is safe." No one is safe… I'm not safe here… I slowly shook my head and took a step back.
"No. I don't believe you."
"Cara mia, please. Don't you see why we've kept you here, now? You and I may very well be the only Saturnos left. You're the only one like me; you're like the daughter I never had, but always wanted. I'm trying to atone for my terrible past mistakes by taking you under my wing and keeping you safe here with me." No one is safe... I'm not safe here…
"No! I don't believe you, and stop calling me that! I am not your dear, I am absolutely not your daughter, I'm not your anything! Your gifts don't work on me, and your tricks won't work on me either! This is bullshit! Cut the crap and tell me the real reason you killed all those other Saturnos! Was it because you were afraid of them, or because you wanted to be the only one, so you could feel more powerful?" Aro's warm, personable façade exploded into pieces before my eyes and I heard him grind his teeth in restrained rage.
"You will not speak to me in such a manner, Isabella!" Aro's growled, his tone deadly. "You will take back those insulting accusations this instant!"
"NO!" I growled back. "I bet you lied about the others knowing what you are, too! After all the propaganda, no one would trust you if they knew, probably not even your favorite toy, Chelsea!"
Aro growled viciously and lunged, grabbing me by the throat and slamming me into the nearest wall, sending some of Chelsea's wall décor crashing to the ground…
End of Preview
Children of Saturn, Book 2: What Can Be Done
A/N: There you have it! The end of COS1 and a peek into COS2. Who saw that twist coming? Though I intended to take a short break from COS to update my two long neglected work-in-progress fics, PSILY and HPGG, I just can't seem to get those next chapters quite right, so I've started posting COS2. Keep in mind, I'll still try to juggle my stories (I'm really sorry about the wait, PSILY fans!). New COS2 chapters may not come as quickly as you'd prefer, but they will come. Click those Author Alert and Story Alert buttons so you'll know immediately when there's more to read. Big thanks to all my subscribers and reviewers. You have no idea how much your support means to me. Now, what you just read is only the BEGINNING of COS2, CH1. There's much more to read in that chapter alone. Aro's evil runs much deeper... Thanks again!