The fires burned into the early morning hours, and a haze of smoke hung over the valley as dawn broke. We retreated into the shelter of the forest before it was light enough for human eyes to distinguish the crowd of mysterious creatures that had gathered in the night. We were all anxious to return home immediately, but Carlisle wanted to stay and help Marcus deal with the guard members who would be returning soon from their various missions. The two of them went up to the castle together later that morning, Marcus wearing his somber, dark cloak with the hood pulled low over his face, in spite of the fact that heavy clouds hid the sun. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the old vampire; after all, he had just lost friends that he had lived with for several centuries. In spite of that fact, he seemed to be more relieved than saddened by his sudden bereavement. Of course, he would mourn in his own way, but I noticed that he was less detached now and more opinionated and decisive when it came to making decisions about the immediate future. In a way, I fancied, he had been set free as well. We had given him a chance to start over with a clean slate, and with that, a way to escape the wickedness that had infiltrated his life in recent years. Renata and Heidi, having recovered from their shock, were also doing relatively well. Neither of them had forged a strong bond with any of their deceased comrades, and they were happy to have escaped with their lives. For now, the three of them wished to remain in Volterra, though Marcus did not want to maintain a guard as Aro had done. Carlisle agreed to help him explain matters to the remaining guards and send them away peacefully. It looked as if Marcus, Heidi and Renata had the makings for a happy coven, and I hoped that they would find harmony together.
Our army would disperse at nightfall, returning home immediately so as to be well clear of the area before any of the stray Volturi members returned. We didn't want them to have any hard feelings toward any of our friends in particular. Before everyone left, Edward, Emmett and Jasper were determined to figure out who had killed whom during our "Three Second Battle", as Alice had christened it, and they questioned our allies relentlessly about their individual contributions to the fight. This left me feeling very singled out, as I was the only one, other than Carlisle, who had failed to take any part in the killing. From the accounts that they received from the other vampires though, it seemed like everyone had had similar experiences to Edward's. It drove Emmett insane that no single person could claim responsibility for any given kill, but it sounded about right to me, considering we had outnumbered them three to one. I didn't get involved in the debate though. It was enough for me to know that we were finally rid of the Volturi, enough to know that I would never have to hear that name spoken again.
Eventually, I tired of hearing the battle rehashed and wandered over to where Esme was talking with a few of the new vampires. She kindly introduced me to them, and I had the pleasure of meeting Raul and Theresa, who were friends of Carmen, and Roger, a young vampire that Mary had created shortly after we had last seen her. In the course of our conversation, Mary revealed that Roger had the interesting ability to hear dead people. This sparked my interest immediately, and I threw Roger an appreciative look.
"Dead people--does that mean just humans, or vampires as well," I asked him.
"I possessed the gift as a human, and now, as a vampire, I've found that I can hear both humans and vampires," Roger explained. My mind reeled, digesting the implications of those words. I noticed that Edward had suddenly gone silent in the middle of his debate with Emmett, and I guessed that he was eavesdropping on our conversation.
"Where are they, Roger?" I asked pointedly. "Do you know where souls go when their bodies die?"
"No, I don't know. I can't ask them questions or anything like that. It's just that sometimes souls want to send a message back to the ones they've left behind. I hear those messages. They don't say anything more once their message has been heard."
"But you do hear from the souls of both humans and vampires?" I refined my question. The destination of vampire souls wasn't the issue so much as the existence of vampire souls.
"Yes," he answered slowly, a little confused as to what I was getting at.
"And is there anything different about the souls of vampires, that you can tell?"
"No, not that I can tell, but I haven't run across very many vampire souls. There aren't nearly as many dead vampires as dead humans, you know."
"That's all I wanted to know," I concluded triumphantly, throwing a significant glance at Edward. He took this as his cue to join our discussion.
"Thank you for settling an age-old debate, Roger. I am surprised, however, that Bella should worry so much over our souls when we are, in fact, immortal," he said with a nonchalant shrug. "With Bella and Alice's extraordinary abilities combined to protect us, I can't imagine anyone trying to pick a fight with us again," Edward said, beaming at me with pride. Then, he pulled me close and nuzzled his face into the hollow of my neck, whispering, "Bella, this time we really are going to live happily ever after."
I didn't have a response, so I let the subject drop for the time being. I continued to mull over his words in the back of my head for the rest of the day though. As darkness descended, our friends prepared to depart, and we said our good-byes. When the last of them left, Edward and I went with them to the edge of the forest and lingered there, watching as they quickly disappeared into the distance. It felt good to be alone together again. I leaned against his side, and thought about how nice it was to finally have a happily-ever-after ending. All the other times when we had come away from a battle for our lives, there had always been something unresolved that would resurface to threaten us again in the future. It felt strange to think that we might actually live the rest of our existence in peace now. That thought brought me back once again to the question that I had been pondering silently ever since our conversation with Roger.
"Edward, do you think it's really possible that we might never die?"
"Sure, it's possible. There are some vampires alive today that have existed for millennia. Of course, those ones are usually the type that stay out of trouble," he added ruefully.
"And we're probably not that type, are we?" I laughed, thinking of all the angst and turmoil we'd suffered over the past several years.
"No, I'd say we're more the 'danger magnet' type. Though we were all fairly inconspicuous before you came along."
"I've done my fair share of getting us out of trouble, too," I reminded him with a pout.
"Yes, you have, without a doubt. With the Volturi gone, I don't think we'll have anything to worry about for a long, long time. Thanks to you," he added with a smile.
"All the same, you might want to keep me around. Just in case."
"There's no question about that, my love. We make a pretty good team."
"What do you say we go home and just enjoy ourselves for the next millennium or so? And maybe after that we can save the universe from an alien invasion or something like that." After all, I was fairly sure that since vampires and werewolves were real, aliens probably were, too.
"Maybe," Edward agreed, "If we get bored."
Ha! Right. We both knew that would never happen. I didn't get a chance to argue with him though because he was already proving my point, swallowing me up in his arms and kissing the sense out of me. I gave in, hoping that we wouldn't be interrupted for at least a decade.
"Momma? Daddy?" Renesmee's questioning voice burst my bubble. She was looking for us, and it wouldn't take her long to find us. Maybe a decade was too much to hope for with a young child. A week would do nicely though. Once we get home, Edward, Renesmee is going to spend some quality time with her grandparents, and we're going to finish what you just started, I thought, adding a few vivid pictures for good measure. Edward all but flung himself on me this time, and I gave in, sinking with him into oblivion. Again, Renesmee's voice dragged me back to reality.
"Ew. How embarrassing," she muttered. I looked up, surprised to see her so close, then embarrassed myself as I realized that our entire family was standing there with her, watching us. I reluctantly disentangled my arms and legs from Edward's body, noticing the smirk on Emmett's face and the awkwardly averted gazes of the rest of the family. How had they walked right up to us without me even hearing? An echo of something Edward had said on our honeymoon sounded in my head, You seem to be extraordinarily unobservant when your attention is otherwise involved. I guess some things never change.