Chapter 44

Hello, lovelies. It's been a long time, and for that I am sorry. I'd hate to be left hanging too. For a recap of Canzone up to this point, please back up one chapter.

This chapter is for anyone who still cares after all this time, but especially for all the reviewers, Detochkina and Camilla10 for their personal encouragement, and especially to AdorableCullens for that plus a quick sanity check when NelsonSmandela's schedule went to haywire for beta-ing.

This is also dedicated to Just4ALE, and to the painful reminder that sometimes tomorrow doesn't come, so the time is now. Peace to you, sweet friend. You are missed.

Chapter music

Joby Talbot: Path of Miracles

Movement 3: Leon


Paul Simon: Can't Run But


Per-Olov Kindgren plays "Jeux interdits" aka "Romance" or "Romance d'Amour"



**Super short summary for those not wanting to back up a chapter- Bella is in a hospital in Brazil, pretending to recover from an accident that is supposed to provide the cover story for any noticeable changes to her appearance and voice. They are expecting her parents, who do come, but naughty Aro has shown up quite unexpectedly, posing as a doctor.**

He stands, unblocking my view of the doorway to reveal what my ears and nose have already told me: My fragile, gullible human mother, standing entirely too close to the most powerful and manipulative vampire on the planet, gossiping animatedly like new best friends. He looks at first like some soap opera fantasy of a doctor, dressed in a gleaming white, perfectly tailored lab coat, a shiny stethoscope around his pale neck.

Without consciously thinking about it, I zero in on my mother's hand on Aro's arm, watching helplessly as he reaches to pat her hand with his cool, papery hand. The moment seems to stretch in front of me, and I don't think. I can't. She's my mother, no matter what I've become, and I'd throw myself in front of a train for her.

Instinctively, I throw my shield over her, covering her warm human skin with every bit of protection available to me. I feel my shield hold against Aro's receptive touch, succeeding where it failed to protect others from the violence of Jane. I sigh in relief for one stupid instant before I realize what's happening, that I've just demonstrated my power for the one person I really wanted to hide it from.

Aro looks absolutely delighted, and Edward groans a little.

"Isabella, my dear," Aro exclaims with what can only be described as a coy smile. "How wonderful, but you have improved beyond my expectations! I do hope you remember me?"

If I were human, I'd freeze at this moment, but I'm no longer human, and my thoughts inundate instead. I stare at my mother's beautiful face, as a series of human-tinged memories flood my conscious.

I know this particular expression- it's the one she gets on those rare occasions when she's acting like my mom instead of my best friend. It's the look she always used to get before taking me to the emergency room again for yet another broken bone, or if I'm lucky, just a few stitches. It's that look of worry and determination, when she becomes a nearly different person altogether.

I do what I've always done, a reflex.

"It's not really that bad, Mom," I say, and my voice seems to echo with the memory of every other time I've said those precise words.

As the unanswered question hangs in the air, Aro's smile sharpens.

"Of course I remember you, Dr. Aro. I could never forget you."

Take that as you will.

"I should hope not, but we do like to verify that your memory works."

"Perfectly, thank you." And that's the end of my reserve air. I'll have to speak sooner or later- better to get it over with now.

I inhale, taking in the new deluge of scent. My parents- warm and fragrant- smell disturbingly good, in spite of a slightly unpleasant additions to the heavenly coppery tang of their pulsing blood. My father's blood smells too sweet to be thought of as manly, but slightly spiked with alcohol, something harder than beer. My mother's blood has a floral quality, echoed nicely by her faintly perfumed lotion, a ginger and jasmine scent I recognize as part of a gift I sent her from Italy.

Aro's far subtler scent reminds me of the oddly sharp notes of old papyrus, not so much dusty as ancient, but inscrutable all the same. His influence over us seems irrevocable, his presence here with my parents in the same room beyond dangerous. I feel him coiled around us all like a snake, and wonder how I can ever protect those I love from his paranoia and control.

I fear it will never possible.

I focus in on Aro's hand on my mother's bare skin and search my human memories for anything that she might know that could hurt us...

The wedding.

Alice and Jasper were at our wedding, using their real names. Alice and my mom had several conversations in fact- conversations that Aro now knows verbatim. He knows we've been hiding Jasper's whereabouts, and Alice's vampire existence.

Oh God.

One look at Edward's pained expression confirms my fears and then some. I flex my shield, pulling it back so that Edward can read Aro, but hovering close enough to throw it over him at vampire speed when the inevitable moment comes.

"Surprise," Aro whispers sweetly, obviously relishing this moment. "I bet you didn't expect to see me here, did you? The moment I heard about your terrible plane crash, I hopped right on a plane and volunteered my services."

"Can you believe that?" Renee asks, marveling. Charlie looks as if he really can't.

"I can believe it," Edward says quietly. "Hello, Doctor."

"You can, huh?" Charlie asks, his cop senses obviously tingling. "So you know the doctor pretty well I take it?"

Aro smiles at my father indulgently while patting Renee's arm.

"The doctor and his family have always been supportive of our music," Edward says. "They show up whenever anything of significance happens."

"We like to protect our investments," Aro agrees with a crocodile smile. "No third world doctors for my two favorite musicians, I said to myself. They're likely to make some kind of stupid mistake, never realizing what kind of talent they've got right under their noses. After all, there's only one Isabella Swan. Where would we find another with talent like hers?"

He pauses and looks significantly at Charlie, whose expression remains guarded.

"We just had the one kid, doc," he says dryly. "I don't think Renee's new husband would take kindly to us trying again, just to try to produce another opera singer for you."

Aro laughs, looking just a little too delighted with my father.

"Oh Charlie, I don't think he meant that," Renee interjects, looking unfazed. She turns back to me. "Aro here says he's your number one fan, but I keep telling him you can't compete with a mom for that title."

"And I keep telling the lovely Signora here that those are, how do you say in your country, those are fighting words?"Aro pauses, staring at me pointedly before taking on a more serious tone while Renee laughs and Charlie cocks an eyebrow. "Rest assured we're going to do everything in our power to make sure our two great talents here are in top shape and exactly where they belong, fulfilling their destinies."

Charlie's expression tells me he's had just about enough of Aro. I think Renee picks up on this because she asks Aro if she can ask him some questions in the hall.

Even from the hall, I can clearly hear Renee's human-hushed pleas for him to level with her. Her skin is ice-cold, that can't be normal...

Charlie's own whispered concerns pull my attention back into the room.

"Bella, what kind of people have you gotten yourself involved with?"

I pause, knowing Aro can hear Charlie as well.

"It's not what you think-"

"I think," he interrupts, "that you're somehow in over your head and are afraid to tell me what it's all about. I don't want to play to a stereotype, but is this related to some kind of organized crime?"

"It's not the mafia," I begin, struggling for some meaningful distinction that doesn't involve the supernatural. Given that restriction, Charlie isn't that far off.

"Aro comes from a very powerful family," Edward supplies. "But it's far older and far more influential than the mafia. They are a little strange by American standards, but they're only interested in our talents, and they've always been above board in legal matters. They may be used to getting what they want, but there's no reason for me to believe that we or anyone we love will be harmed."

"They've been incredibly helpful to us, and have never asked me to do anything other than sing." Charlie looks dubious at this, and I add, half under my breath, "Besides, Edward and I have absolutely no interest in politics."

"You may not be interested in whatever they're mixed up in," Charlie warns, "but innocent people get swept up in things they don't understand all the time, and you could end up ...dead."

As if on cue, Aro and Renee return, and she sits next to me on the bed, fussing with my blanket. It's just a pretext to touch my cold skin again, and I close my eyes to avoid her searching gaze.

It's a mistake, because without the distraction of vision, I'm overwhelmed by other senses. Human heartbeats, loud, thumping and giving away distress or calm. The scents of subtle shifts in adrenaline, emphasizing every emotion like punctuation. Their blood smells too good, and I open my eyes again, swallowing hard, to find Aro observing me before he returns his attention to my parents.

Aro eyes them with a familiar, speculative expression. "You should really come visit Italy," he says with a decidedly non-reassuring smile. "I think you would find it both entertaining and...provocative."

Now I can actually hear the sound of Charlie's blood pressure going up as the skin around his eyes tightens almost imperceptibly.

"Right. Bella, your mom and I are going to go back to the hotel now," Charlie says, and while Renee looks like she might protest, one look at Charlie's expression changes her mind. Renee may have her faults, but the woman fights no losing battles.

The goodbyes take as long as Charlie will tolerate, and they leave, taking Aro's pleasant facade with them.

"You two," he says slowly, waving a long finger between us, "have been holding out on me."

"You didn't exactly give us much of a choice," I point out, in a half-hearted attempt to avert his gaze from Edward.

"You know, I have wondered if there were genetic aspects to human traits that would translate into vampire talents, but never before have I seen proof like this."

"What?" I ask, confused. What does this have to do with Jasper and Alice? I look over at Edward, but he just shakes his head slightly, managing his temper.


"He's subtle, so rare in America. And I really, really like him," Aro continues, "though at the moment he certainly doesn't like me. But I think his caution just proves that his protective instincts are excellent, and of course, that is the core of what we'd need him for in the first place. Isabella's father will come around. We'll have all the time in the world."

"Charlie?" I whisper, stunned. "Oh no." No.

"Oh yes." Satisfaction blooms radiant in his smile. "Come now, Isabella, surely you can't be surprised to hear that talent can run in families- or did Edward never mention to you that he can't really hear your father's mind either? Not that I'm all that surprised by any of this. Your Edward always keeps his... little secrets. Very selfish, don't you think? It almost makes me paranoid."

"What do you want?" Edward's voice sounds cold and steady, as he tosses his blankets aside. "I'm not in the mood for any more games."

"I want what everyone wants, Edward," Aro says, hands out in mock protest. "The only difference is that I have thousands of years of experience, and I already have all I need. I do not, however, intend to lose it to some upstart with a bit of talent."

"You're wrong, Aro." Edward stands to his full height, peeling tubes and hospital tape from his arms. "Has it ever occurred to you that nobody wants to take your place? Nobody wants to take over Volterra, Aro. You are right only in that it's all yours, it's been yours for longer than anyone remembers. Hasn't it ever occurred to you that maybe some of us just want to go our own way and not be interfered with if we follow the rules? Isn't that our right?"

Aro gazes unblinkingly at Edward, and he looks utterly alien to me in this moment. There is no trace of humanity in him, none whatsoever.

"I begin to believe you." Aro says in an eerily quiet tone. "My dear boy- forgive me, because that is precisely what you are to someone my age, just a boy- you do not see the situation clearly at all. You would be correct if you and Isabella were ordinary vampires, but you are not. You are individuals, with feelings, yes, but when you've been ruling the vampire world for thousands of years, you do begin to see things according to their potential as well as their current state."

"You, my dears, are extraordinary vampires, but more than that, you are valuable, incalculably valuable weapons. Weapons that were just lying in the middle of the godforsaken forest, just waiting for the right ruler to come along to wield you properly, like Excalibur waited for Arthur. You don't leave priceless weapons just lying about in the forest, Edward."

"We're not weapons," I say stubbornly.

"Oh, but you are, dearest Isabella, you are," he says, chuckling as he reaches to pat my arm. I struggle not to recoil from his brief touch. "The question is, whose weapons are you? Up until now I thought it was Edward who was in charge, but I see, I see, he doesn't have the military vision required for this. Does Carlisle?"

"You know Carlisle, Aro," Edward insists, his voice deceptively low.

"I once did," Aro corrects. "I no longer have the same...access to his innermost thoughts. I no longer enjoy his trust. I can only assume-"

"You can assume that his character remains unchanged," Edward interrupts. "None of us can change that much. What you suggest, it is the opposite, the antithesis of Carlisle's character."

"Perhaps," Aro says, his eyes narrowing. "Perhaps not. But I have not maintained my position in this world for so long by allowing uncertainties to pile up. As I said, the two of you have been holding out on me, haven't you?"

What am I supposed to say to that? It doesn't matter, he's got more to say, as usual.

"So to answer your rather blunt, American question, Edward," Aro says thoughtfully, walking slowly to the exit, "I want- no, I require more talented vampires to replace the ones you've cost me. If you are able to produce Jasper Whitlock in the next 24 hours, and if I think that you two will actually honor your agreement with the Volturi, then I will consider allowing Charles Swan to return to his mundane human life."

Aro pauses at the door, and looks at me with something like nostalgia.

"I do miss your human reactions, Isabella," he sighs. "You used to be so much fun."


Mere moments later, we are left completely alone. After the theater that is the small "hospital" has been stripped down to the faint hum of electricity and structure, we slip out of our beds and into the night. I cover Edward with my shield, not wanting to give the thought any power by speaking it aloud.

We can't let him take Charlie.

"We'll figure something out," he says, sounding less than confident.

Then he'll figure something out, and we'll have to react to that, too.

"He's been doing this a lot longer than we have," he agrees. "But we're not helpless, and we're not alone."

Finding the road deserted for the moment, we touch hands briefly before breaking into a distinctly inhuman sprint, slowing down only once to hide in shadows when couple of cars pass by. Once we reach the island's patch of jungle, we run again, stopping for nothing, not even to hunt.

We have GPS coordinates that belong to no road, and the vegetation is so thick in places that we end up climbing trees to find our way out of its lush tangle. As we get closer to the coordinates, Edward tilts his face up, and I follow his gaze, seeing the eerie beauty of unfamiliar constellations in the gaps among the trees and vines.

"New growth," he murmurs, nodding at sandy patches in the ground that remind me of dirty misplaced beaches. New vines twist around old, dead stumps that must have smoldered in a fire of some kind. Green things aren't the only thing missing in this strange landscape.

"The noises are different too," I say, slowing down to match his new pace. "There's a...patch of silence up ahead, in those trees there."

"Silent to you, maybe," Edward glowers, looking concerned. "There are a lot of active minds in there."

"More than you expected?" I ask. Alice warned us that they had company in her latest text message.

"Far too many for comfort- at least twenty-five or thirty vampires, maybe more. So far, I don't sense any hostility in their thoughts. Just...wariness and curiosity."

I take a deep breath, tasting green in the air, and brace myself as we make our way into a dense bit of forest that soon opens up into a breathtakingly beautiful clearing, full of ferns, vines, and the soft glow of a campfire, illuminated the faces of many vampires, several of whom I know.

Outside of the Cullens and Denali clan, I recognize some of them- Benjamin and his wife, and at least one from Volterra- Maggie, the red-headed vampire who disliked the Volturi because her talent involved recognizing a lie. None of them seem very surprised to see us, but several murmur quietly among themselves. Familiar faces glow with firelight as Carlisle and Esme emerge from the crowd.

Esme pulls me into a gentle embrace. She always treats me as if I were still human. I lean into her, tired from all the deception. Over her shoulder I meet the curious gaze of Riley, the vampire I created, and wave, a little guiltily. He nods, a shy smile playing at the corners of his mouth as Tanya wraps an arm around his waist. He leans into her with a kind of familiar ease which I find oddly comforting. He's obviously used to their kindness.

"He's fine," Edward whispers in my hair. "He's anxious for you to know that."

I nod and take his hand, allow myself to be taken into the circle where Alice sits, cross-legged and serene, her violin balanced on one knee. Seeing Jasper, looking focused and calm next to her, I wonder how much he's influencing the mood of the group. In my experience, this many vampires in one place doesn't generally equal peace, but they all seem okay.

How many vampires can he influence at once?

As if in answer to my silent question, I feel one of Jasper's signature waves ripple through me, subtle, like a good mood for no apparent reason. If I didn't know how it works, I wouldn't think anything of it. I raise an eyebrow at him, and he grins. I notice the faint gleam of wood in his hand, his acoustic guitar resting in his lap.

"Welcome," he says. "You missed some good music, but we might start playing again soon. We've got a good group here."

I notice that they're not the only ones with instruments.

"Music always draws a crowd," Edward says, exchanging a significant look with Alice.

"You're right, we should play," she says, staring into the fire. "Otherwise he won't come."

Jasper shifts his guitar into position and starts picking a haunting, vaguely Spanish-sounding tune. Soon he's joined by Alice, and I hear a few percussion instruments and some harmonious humming. The music thrums with a vague anticipation, someone in the distance beating a perfect rhythm, impossibly fast.

Edward watches the forest as Alice watches the fire, but somehow I think he must be listening to her. Carlisle and Eleazar close in, gazing over my shoulder with such intensity that I turn around to see. A vampire, half shadow himself, emerges slowly from the darkness. The music fades, instrument by instrument, until it's just Jasper, keeping that same swift rhythm with each pluck of the strings. The mood shifts, but I feel his influence catching it, harnessing the energy as if wind in a sail. It's an impressive demonstration, and I wonder how many of these vampires know they're being influenced. The stranger gets closer, and I begin to understand the reason for the change.

For a moment I fear it's Aro, but he's too tall. Then, intuition tells me before I recognize his face that it's the powerful vampire whose bite started turning me. His pallor glows in the moonlight as he approaches, and stops directly in front of me, placing a fatherly hand on my shoulder briefly before acknowledging the others.

"Marcus," Eleazar's deep voice sounds cautiously cordial. "It's been a long time."

"Too long, apparently," he replies in a similar tone. "It seems you've been very busy."

"Not my choice, exactly. I prefer peace and quiet."

A very eerie stillness falls over the group, aside from the sounds of Jasper's guitar and the kind of hushed whispers only vampires are capable of- to a human it would sound like a breeze, if my memory of life with the Volturi holds true. I may be used to seeing Marcus out of his regal context, but for the others it must be like seeing, I don't know, the pope or a head of state just walking around.

Or like a lion out of its cage. While the mildest-mannered of the Volturi, he still seems incredibly dangerous.

"Hmm, I wonder," Marcus turns to Jasper and Alice. "So, you must be the ones that have Aro so very intrigued. Jasper, is it? And a human wife turned as well?"

Jasper nods over his guitar, and Alice flashes a pretty smile before speaking. "Hello Marcus."

Marcus turns to Eleazar, his demeanor a bit more imperious than I'm used to seeing from him. He puts one hand on his shoulder, and I can't tell if the gesture is meant to be one of intimacy or intimidation. Perhaps both.

"Eleazar, when we allowed you to leave our service, it was on one condition, do recall?"

"Of course, I do," Eleazar's responds in low, clear tones. "I am to provide the service whenever asked, at your pleasure. I am willing."

Marcus betrays no emotion, but his gaze travels back to Jasper and Alice. By this time only Jasper's guitar continues, the low plucking taking on the minor tones of long-held sadness and despair. I am reminded that Jasper absorbs as much emotion as he puts out. Marcus must be something quite intense for someone of his talent to deal with.

"Let me be direct, Eleazar," he says, his voice so low I can barely hear him, even from a few feet away. "Aro's convinced that you've got someone who can see the future. Is it true?"

"They are both talented," Eleazar replies. "I think a demonstration would be more useful than just telling you."

Marcus looks wary. "I think you should give me an idea of what's going to happen first."

"It's all about emotions," Edward informs him. "He can't make you have any particular thoughts, but the feelings seem very real. Perhaps you'd be so kind as to show Marcus what you can do, Jasper?"

"What would you like to feel?" Jasper asks, still playing the same minor-key tune.

Marcus seems to hesitate for a moment, opening his mouth once, then shutting it again. After a few repetitions of this, Edward breaks the silence.

"Pure, unadulterated joy," he says, quoting one of Marcus' love letters to his murdered wife, Didyme. "As if the sun burst through the clouds, after a thousand years of darkness."

Marcus' eyes squeeze tight as the tune changes, from minor to major, though not any louder. Just brighter. My own chest aches; it is all too easy to slip into the fear that Edward will be taken from me as Didyme was taken. It is too much for me, and from the look of it, it's something between the most exquisite torture and the most unbearable bliss to Marcus. After a long moment, he opens his eyes.

"Stop this," Marcus hisses, and the music pauses as Jasper smiles guiltily.

"Sorry," he says. "Seemed like a nice enough way to demonstrate."

Marcus looks up, and I think that experiencing the imitation of joy might be painful to Marcus as smelling her perfume and finding her nowhere. It's as cruel- a mirage in the desert. His next words confirm my suspicions.

"She is not really here," he says to himself. His expression relaxes into its usual grimace, and he stares at Jasper warily. "Can you project any emotion?"

"Yes," Jasper says, the tune on the guitar going back to the delicate, sad tune again.

"And the music you play now, you can sense what others feel?"

Jasper hesitates, his voice thick with emotion when he finally speaks. "Yes."

"So you know what it feels like, at least for a moment."

"Yes, I do, and you have my sympathy. But it's not my reality," Jasper looks down at Alice, eyes shining. "A fact for which I am truly grateful."

"No, not reality," Marcus murmurs. "Damned close, but it's not the real thing."

"We have yet to find the limit to how many sentient creatures he can influence at once," Eleazar whispers, leaning in. "Seems a bit unfair, don't you think? For one vampire to be able to spread joy, or despair, or hate or apathy even?"

Marcus looks at all the vampires in the clearing, evidently taking in the possibilities.

"Do it. Make them all feel what you made me feel."

Jasper takes a deep breath and turns to the crowd. "Are you willing?"

Marcus reacts with surprise, and frowns in contemplation as vampires signal their general assent. Two older male vampires step away from the crowd.

"I think Balthazar and I would rather not," one of them says, and Jasper nods at them before playing the happy tune again.

As if following the notes, waves of emotion follow, complex and sweet, smooth and thick as honey. I feel...warmth, from inside, and a sudden joy as if everything good that's ever happened to me was happening at once: the sweetest music playing while Edward kisses me for the first and every time since as everyone I've ever loved embraces me-

"Oh," I hear someone sigh delightedly, and open my eyes. They all look like some renaissance painting of religious ecstasy. They all seem to glow.

"I'm sorry," Jasper says, as his fingers still over the strings, no longer touching. The final notes of his playing vibrate and fade like balloons disappearing into the night sky.

And then it's gone.

There are no words for the harshness of the contrast. All I can say is that the world seems wrong now, and I want nothing more than to ask him to do it again. I look around, and find my own sense of disbelief and, yes, loss, echoed on the faces of those around, save the two wise vampires who did not give consent.

"Unfair, perhaps," Marcus agrees thoughtfully. "But very useful."

"Oh indeed," Eleazar replies. "Aro could go with Jasper at his command. He wouldn't need Chelsea any longer to keep unwilling vampires around."

"Hold your tongue Eleazar," Marcus says, his tone firm. "I know what is whispered behind my back; I am not a fool."

"Certainly not," Edward says dryly. "Which is why Aro trusts you to come here alone."

Marcus arches one black eyebrow in response before nodding at Alice. "And you, my dear? Everyone is so attached to you in the most unusual way, their desires flutter around you like ribbons in the wind. Has Aro guessed right then? Can you see what will happen?"

"The future isn't set in stone," she says, tilting her head as she stands and approaches. "It changes whenever someone makes a decision. If they make one. Your Aro seems to have been finding holes in my vision lately."

"So show me something."

"You won't believe unless it comes from you," she says reasonably. "Go ahead, surprise me."

Marcus eyes her speculatively. "Close your eyes, little one."

She closes her eyes and, after a short pause, reaches her hand out an instant before Marcus throws something shiny toward the fire. She catches it, eyes still closed, and holds it close to her heart before handing it back to him.

"You'd be very sad if you lost this ring," she says, letting the yellow-gold circle fall back into his outstretched hand. "I'm surprised you risked it."


"Just imagine Aro with the four of them," Eleazar whispers to Marcus, sweeping his hand between Jasper, Alice, Edward and me. "Assuming they can be controlled. But then, Aro has his ways, doesn't he? He usually gets what he wants in the end, somehow. Even if he has to sacrifice someone."

Marcus' expression hardens, as Jasper puts his guitar aside and stands beside his wife.

"This doesn't change anything," Marcus says, squaring his shoulders. "I don't suppose I can talk you into coming along peacefully, can I?"

"Do you really want us to?" Alice asks. "I can't help but notice that you keep changing your mind. Why?"

"This lack of privacy is unsettling," he responds. "But nothing has changed. You cannot imagine that my mind is so easily swayed, no matter how many possibilities I momentarily entertain. I am Volturi, and we keep the peace."

"Peace," says Alice. "There are different paths to very different kinds of peace."

"There are other possibilities, Marcus," Edward says. "We could just be left alone."

"And you of all people know that's not very likely." Marcus shakes his head slowly. "No, your way is not our way."

"So why are you here alone?" Edward asks. Everyone's attention focuses on Marcus.

Marcus ignores him for a moment, and looks around appraisingly. "You really do have something like a family here. It is beautiful, the way you love each other. There is no reason you can't bring that with you, make things better for everyone."

"What would she want?" I ask, trying to imagine what Marcus could see with his talent for seeing relationships. "Would Didyme leave us alone, or drag us back to Aro?"

Marcus flinches at the sound of her name, but smiles, as if through a haze of fresh pain.

"Of course," Carlisle says. "You told me where to find Eleazar when I left. You did it for her memory, didn't you?"

"It's why you persuaded Aro and Caius to let Eleazar go," Edward continues, wonderingly. "You wanted to honor her dream, didn't you? You wanted there to be a place, a group of vampires living as she wanted to live, so you did what you could to facilitate that."

"It was all I could do for her," he murmurs. "I couldn't save her, or avenge her death. Aro had done that for me."

"You still believe that?" Eleazar asks.

"I have to," Marcus says, holding up a hand in front of his eyes, as if warding off harsh sunlight. "You don't understand. You don't know how he loved her. She was his human sister, and he changed her because he couldn't imagine life without her. He changed me to keep her from hating him. He wouldn't have killed her."

"Not even if she was going to leave, and take you with her?" Edward presses. "You know how possessive he is. You've witnessed the way he loves and how it can turn deadly. You've seen it more than once, I can see it too."

"Enough of this," Marcus says grimly, addressing us as a group with a chilling finality. "If I were you, I would present yourself to Aro voluntarily, and spare us any more unnecessary drama. Surely you can see the wisdom in that."

"Imagine Aro with no limits," Eleazar insists. "What if Edward is right?"

Marcus stares at him before speaking again, his words carrying through the night air loud enough for all to hear.

"I repeat, enough. The Volturi have stood for stability for millennia. Do not think that you can change that by planting a few seeds of doubt."

"We didn't plant those seeds," Edward says. "You've felt it for a long time."

Silence hangs in the air, a heavy curtain of hesitation.

"A moment of doubt compared to thousands of years," Marcus finally says. "No, no. I won't listen to another word of such things unless I hear it from Aro himself."

As soon as the last words escape his lips, he dissolves into a silvery blur, disappearing into the darkness.

Alice straightens, her gaze goes vacant before it sharpens back into focus. Slowly, the corners of her mouth curl into a sad smile.

"Hear it from Aro himself?" she muses. "I think that might be arranged."