WARNING: This chapter contains mature themes. If you can't handle it, don't read it. This is the most violent the story is probably going to be, so if you make it through this chapter, congratulations: the worst is over.

I clung to Edward tightly as we made our way through the narrow halls of the sewer system. Even as I feared for my life I couldn't help marveling at the perfection of his features when the half-light that leaked in from the outside world allowed me to glimpse them. I'd gone so long without seeing his face…I could feel my heart drilling into my chest like a sledgehammer and he pulled me closer to him, probably thinking my increased heart rate was due to the graveness of our situation and not his proximity…Still, I wasn't complaining. I'd take what I could get.

I relaxed as soon as we entered the brightly lit hallway, at the exact same moment that Edward stiffened beside me. I tried to remind myself that we weren't out of the woods yet, that this battle was far from won, but it was difficult to be pragmatic with Edward beside me, the sweet, heady scent of him short-circuiting my neurons.

"Aro will be pleased to see you again," hinted Alec.

"Let's not keep him waiting," agreed his twin.

We followed them down a narrow passageway into a room that resembled a medieval torture chamber. From the look on Edward's face I could see I wasn't far off. I shivered, more from the cold than anxiety. I was way past being able to feel fear. In fact, the only thing I wished for as I entered that cold, dank, dungeon was the only thing I cared about anymore at all, the reason for Alice's and my race against time to this evil, ancient city…

Please, I prayed desperately, please let Edward make it out alive.

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After I got off the phone with Alice, I didn't think, I just hopped on a plane. I knew from the sound of her voice that she was in trouble, despite her attempts to convince me otherwise. I arrived in Volterra alone, knowing that Emmet would just love the chance to get a shot at Felix and the rest of the Volturi guard. That was precisely why I didn't ask him to come with me. I loved my brother, but there was no doubt in my mind that if we provoked a fight with the Volturi, we would die.

That was why I was so determined to get there before Edward did something stupid. I was hoping that I could use my ability to influence Aro, Marcus and Caius, or maybe even calm Edward down if I found him before he got himself killed. And Alice…my stomach churned at the thought of the Volturi and my wife in the same room. If they hurt her, if they so much as touched one hair on her head - odds be damned, I'd murder them all.

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After hours of searching, I was beyond panic. My mind had descended into a sort of numbness that I hadn't felt since I'd been forced to slaughter others on a daily basis. I couldn't stop picturing Alice surrounded, her large and beautiful eyes full of determination as they advanced…she wouldn't give up, that I knew for certain, no matter how outnumbered she was. She counted on her visions too much, and that made her cocky. They liked that, that foolish courage, and it would only serve to make her death that much more painful, in the end…

Stop it, I reprimanded myself harshly. Stop being so morbid, you don't that she's dead, you don't know -

But that, abruptly, was where my train of thought ended. I wanted to scream, to deny what my senses were telling me irrefutably, but it was no use, I could not hide from the horrifying reality that had turned my life into a waking nightmare…

I smelled smoke.

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I did not have the strength in me to react as the last vampire advanced on me, slowly, an unmistakable bloodlust in his crazed, scarlet eyes. I did not even have the strength to pray it would be quick. Physical pain was one thing, oblivion was quite another; but both would be preferable to the searing agony that ripped apart my soul, left me screaming as I sprinted toward the pyre, wanting to die too, wanting to burn along with Edward so that, if I were lucky, some of our ashes might intermingle…and yet, even as I registered wanting to kill myself I could not believe he was dead, that this all wasn't just a horrible, sickening dream…

The flames flickered dimly in the corner of my vision as the last figure advanced on me hungrily, the smell of the fire filling my lungs with putrid smoke…he darted forward suddenly and hurled me against the wall; some unwanted reflex threw my arm out in front of me so that I would not be crushed, I heard it bend and then snap like a branch in a thunderstorm, but I was past feeling pain. I only sobbed brokenly for my Edward…bitterly for myself, that he must be stolen away from me when we had only just found each other again, but even more so for the world, that it should be robbed forever of his light, his bravery, his essential good

And then out of the darkness came another, inhumanly graceful figure. For a moment my heart leapt, thinking the last few, terrible moments were an illusion, but I was wrong…it was not Edward that appeared out of the night, not Edward that brutally and totally destroyed the vampire that was trying to kill me…not Edward that put a splint on my shattered arm, that set me gently in the passenger side of his dark, glossy black car, not Edward whose cool hands moved, just a little too quickly, over my matted, bloodstained hair…

No, it was not Edward. It was Jasper.

A/N: I couldn't stay away. I tried, but writing is just in my blood, I guess. Let me know what you think - I'll be eternally grateful.