~*~ warning ~*~ This story contains very dark themes, including brief mentions of or flashbacks to a past sexual assault. If this subject is a trigger for you, please do not continue.
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Disclaimer: I do not own the Twilight series, or any of the characters created by Stephenie Meyer. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.
This is the final chapter of Aro's Heir.
"Love you, Mase."
"Love you, too, Care."
"You think everything's gonna be okay?"
Masen thought for a minute. "Yeah, I do."
He lay awake a long time after his sister drifted to sleep. He was thinking of ways to make sure things were okay, for all of them.
Saturday, December 30th, Forks
Bella hugged her father, lingering though he'd awkwardly let go. "Bells."
She looked at the floor as she pulled back. "Sorry."
"It's okay. You've never left them overnight before, I get it. We'll be fine." Charlie glanced over his shoulder to where Masen and Cara were debating which Wii game to play first. "I'm sure I can handle it."
"Okay, well, remember you probably won't be able to get in touch with us, but we'll be back…" Her voice trailed away. She tried not to think about any of them not coming back.
"I know, I know. Monday, noon at the latest. I still think that's ambitious given that tomorrow is New Year's Eve. And let me remind you, you are still under age."
She laughed. "You don't have to worry about that. None of us are really… drinkers."
The front door opened behind her and Sue walked in carrying an armload of groceries; Leah was a few steps behind. Sue walked past Bella to Charlie and kissed him on the cheek. "Hi, sorry we're late. I stopped to pick up a few things at the store. Hi Bella!" She casually waved her hand over her head as she walked to the kitchen, leaving Charlie blushing with his hands buried in his pockets. He looked at anything but his daughter. The relationship growing between Charlie and Sue felt strangely perfect to Bella, and she had a feeling that eventually Charlie would know everything about both the wolves and the Cullens.
"Hey, Bella." Leah closed the door behind her and followed her mother to the kitchen.
"Hey, Leah. Plans with the boys this weekend?" Bella knew exactly what her plans were, but Charlie didn't. This was a perfect opportunity to plant Leah's cover story.
"Yeah, they want to head up to Neah Bay. One of Sam's cousins has a big cabin up there. They like to play on his snowmobiles whenever the weather gets like this." She gestured toward the kitchen window to indicate the snow that had begun to accumulate. "Emily and I go to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't do anything too stupid."
Bella smiled. "You'll have plenty to keep you occupied with that bunch, I think."
"Yeah, I'm not going up until later tomorrow. I told mom I wanted to hang out with the kids."
"Well, just be careful when you go. Okay?"
They exchanged a silent glance, acknowledging their part in what was to come. Leah was going to stay close to the kids as long as she could, and Jacob would only call her to join the pack when the confrontation began. Alice's best guess was sometime late in the afternoon on New Year's Eve.
"Lee Lee!" Masen and Cara hugged her from both sides and dragged her to the living room. She laughed despite them using the childhood nickname they'd picked up from Jacob. Little by little, she was beginning to like it.
"So, not too much sugar, nine o'clock bedtime. All their stuff is upstairs in my old room. Not too much time in front of the TV, okay? Jasper's been working on American History, so they should probably spend a little time reading the book he gave them, and…"
Charlie interrupted. "It's New Year's weekend. I'm not going to make them do homework."
She took a deep breath and crossed her arms over her chest, looking longingly toward the living room where Masen and Cara were playing.
He pulled her into his arms and rested his chin on her head, patting her back. "I got this. Go, enjoy Seattle. We'll be fine."
She nodded against his chest, trying not to breathe too deeply when he pulled away. She didn't exactly struggle with her thirst, but the smell of humans was more appealing than she liked to admit.
"All right kids, I'm leaving." She knelt with her arms outstretched and they crashed into her with kisses. Masen and Cara knew what was at stake and why they were staying with Papa Charlie, and knew to be quiet about it. All the gathered families had been asked not to discuss it in front of them, but they'd still overheard enough to realize things could end very badly.
"I love you both, so much. So do your daddy, and your aunts and uncles and Nana Esme and Papa Carlisle, okay? We'll see you Monday and everything will be fine."
They squeezed her tighter.
"Hey now," Charlie said, ruffling Masen's hair. "It's just a weekend in Seattle, not a life sentence."
"I want to come," Masen whispered, too quietly for Charlie to hear.
"Me, too," Cara said, burying her nose in her mother's hair.
"I know you do. But you know why you can't. Grownups only, remember?" She pulled back so they could see her face. "Grownups only, and everything is going to be fine. Right?"
They let go of her and clung to each other instead, glancing silently at each other and then nodding to Bella. "Right," they answered together, none too convincingly.
"Who wants hot cocoa?" Leah's voice rang from the kitchen.
They watched as Bella stood and pointed for them to turn around. "Go on. It's okay."
"Yeah, I know. It's just hard to be away from them."
"They'll be fine," he assured.
She knew Masen and Cara would be fine in Charlie's care for a day or two, but she worried what would happen if the Volturi prevailed.
Snow fell throughout the day and late into the night, leaving a powdery blanket several inches deep. Edward took Bella's hand and bid their family and guests goodnight, leaving them to continue their debates and strategies. He'd had enough and there was little any more talk would accomplish. He needed quiet, and his wife's arms. Each of the covens took the cue and sought a few hours respite and comfort before the coming conflict.
In their room, Bella and Edward slowly undressed and lay down facing each other, twined together as closely as they could.
"Are you afraid?" He smoothed a lock of hair away from her face.
"Yes and no. I've seen first hand how cruel they can be to get what they want."
"That worries me, too," he whispered, placing a kiss on her brow. He worried about the safety of his family, and for those that had rallied to their aid. They knew all too well what the Volturi were capable of.
"But seeing everyone downstairs so determined to protect us and each other gives me more than a little hope."
"Me, too. Knowing we don't have to face them alone, after what they did to us. I was so foolish, before. Everything, from the moment we met. Knowing it was my choices that brought us to Italy, that you were there because of me."
"Don't, Edward. We're here, now. All of that is behind us. We have to focus on now, and the future, and the kids." She traced his features with her fingertips and pulled him to kiss her.
"I miss them so much," he said. "Missed kissing them goodnight."
"Me, too. Leaving them, even knowing they'd be with Charlie, was hard."
"I don't ever want us to be separated again. I can't even think about it – losing you, losing them. I can't."
"You won't." She raked her fingertips though his hair, soothing him with soft kisses.
"When this is all finally over, I want to take you away again. I want this behind us, once and for all."
"Another honeymoon?" She rocked her hips against his, teasing them both, hoping to distract him.
"Mmm, yes." He pulled her thigh up over his hip and slid into her, taking a slow, careful pace. Deep in the back of his mind, fear still crept through. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the feeling of her skin against his, her hands and legs and lips and scent. He wished he could fuse their bodies into one and stay in that moment forever; joined with her, claiming and holding her. Mine. My family, my wife. Mine.
"Shh," she whispered, kissing his neck and chin. "You're trembling."
His voice was hoarse and low. "I can't lose you. I can't lose our children."
"You won't. I'm here, and they're safe."
He pressed his nose into the crook of her neck, moving more sharply against her. He kissed her throat, feeling the scars he'd given her the day their children were born. "I've lost you so many times already."
She rolled onto her back, pulling him with her, urging him on. "I'm yours, I'm here."
"I love you so much, Bella."
"I love you, too."
"They can't break us," he insisted, his voice and movements commanding, possessive.
"No, they can't," she whispered, trying desperately to believe her own words.
Sunday, December 31st, Forks
New Year's Eve dawned clear and cold. The winter storm left a shimmering blanket of white exactly as Alice had seen in her visions. She closed her eyes as new images came to her of the field where they would meet the Volturi. She turned from the window back into Jasper's arms for one last embrace. "It won't be long now."
Deep in the woods, Jacob, Sam and the other Quileutes watched the Cullens and their allies skirt the southern edge of the glade, positioning themselves in small groups nearby. The vampires waited like statues, eyes steadily scanning the hills and forest around the clearing, awaiting the approach of their enemies. They didn't have to wait long.
From the far side of the field, the subtle sound of many feet on snowy ground whispered through the trees. Dark-cloaked shapes slowly emerged from the shadows, first two imposing males, then a trio that must certainly be the Volturi themselves, and then at least two dozen others.
"This is it," Sam said. Paul, Jared, Embry, Seth and the others shivered and shifted, trading their human forms for wolves as Jacob dialed his phone.
"It's starting," he told Leah. Without waiting for her reply, he pulled off his shirt and dropped his phone to the ground, then joined his pack mates on the Cullen flank.
Leah tossed her phone in her backpack and stood, handing her game controller to Masen. "Time for me to go, guys," she said. Charlie and Sue were outside, shoveling the walk.
"Lee Lee, wait." Masens's words locked Leah in place, keys in hand. Her eyes widened as she struggled between her need to join the pack, and Masen's unexpected directive.
"Mase, No! Mom told us grownups only."
He turned to stare at his sister, pleading. "Care, we can help. I can make it stop. You know I can."
She shook her head at him. "Mom and Dad will be so mad at us."
"You know they hurt Mom and Dad and Aunt Alice before. Do you want to sit here and wait to see if they do it again, or worse?"
She shook her head solemnly. She was torn between doing as they'd been told, and wanting to help her family.
Masen turned back to Leah. "Take us with you. Tell Papa Charlie you decided to take us to a movie in Port Angeles or something. Make him believe you."
She nodded stiffly, clenching her car keys in her fist. "Get your coats. It's cold out, and we'll have to go part of the way on foot."
Masen leapt up, pulling his sister by the hand. "Come on, Care. We have to hurry."
Aro strode through the snowy forest between his brothers, smug about the impressive guard amassed behind them. At the end of the day, he'd add at least one more face to their ranks, possibly more if all went well. If he was especially fortunate, he would cripple not only the Cullen coven, but those he knew would take Carlisle's side. Still, no matter what else this day held, he was adamant that the pregnant human would be his.
Marcus sensed the presence of many vampire families nearby. He felt the humming ties that bound them to one another, more vibrant than he'd expected.
The Cullens appeared on the far side of the clearing with nearly two dozen other vampires, including Jane. Aro took note of the faces gathered behind his old friend; some familiar, others not. He was shocked to see Isabella at Edward's side, her newborn-red eyes unmistakable. She had been turned? His mind raced at the implication. What of the child? The seer's vision was wrong! There might not be an offspring to claim, but the opportunity before them was still exactly as he'd hoped. Carlisle's kindly demeanor, and his ever expanding vegetarian coven, had ceased to be an amusing singularity.
Aro gestured for Felix and Demitri to accompany him and his brothers onto the field. He was momentarily taken aback by what appeared to be a pack of enormous wolves emerging from the tree line behind the Cullens. It seemed his old friend's influence now extended to their mortal enemies, as well. He added this to the tally of reasons to end Carlisle's coven once and for all.
Forcing an air of cheerfulness, Aro held up his palms in greeting. "Won't you come across the divide between us and welcome me, Carlisle?"
Carlisle felt Esme take his hand and squeeze. He kissed her cheek, then nodded to Emmett and Jasper. They walked together slowly across the meadow, leaving Edward, Bella and the others at the edge of the field. With a few yards still between them and the Volturi, Carlisle stopped. Aro's exaggerated smile turned Carlisle's stomach. "Aro, Marcus, Caius. It's been many years since we last met face to face."
"The decades have been kind to you, old friend. How wonderful to finally meet your lovely bride." Aro extended his hands, asking for Esme's touch. She stood her ground at Carlisle's side, clasping his arm. Aro's hands, and his smile, slowly fell.
"I see," he said icily. "Is this how things are to be between us, Carlisle? Have you allowed this matter to cloud the many years of our friendship?"
"I find it odd that you choose this moment to recall our friendship, Aro. Do you expect me to pretend I don't know why you are here with so many of your guard, and Chelsea among them?"
With a flick of his wrist, Aro gestured for his guard to form a single, unbroken line. Chelsea and Renata stayed close to The Three. "Would you turn your back on the first family that embraced you, educated you, Carlisle?" His gentle tone was in stark contrast to the none-too-subtle threat posed by the row of guards behind him.
Carlisle pulled back, giving up his hopes for a peaceful solution. "I once knew the Volturi as teachers and guardians of our race. You protected us, helped those of us that needed it most." Carlisle paused to look over his shoulder at his family and friends, his eyes staying the longest on Edward and Bella, remembering the photographs of what they endured in Volterra. As much as he'd hoped to avoid a physical confrontation, he was resolute in defending his family. "You ceased being the men I knew when you raped my children. Whatever good there once was in this institution no longer exists." He took a deep breath and continued. "You've come here to stake a claim that is not rightfully yours, and we are here to tell you the answer is no."
"You dare defy us?" Aro laughed as Chelsea stepped forward.
Stefan's thick Romanian accent rang out from the right flank. "Someone had to stand up – you've held yourselves above the law of reason far too long."
Aro stared at him for a moment, wishing for all he was worth that Jane was still at his side and could be commanded to strike them all down where they stood. He narrowed his eyes and advanced, loudly addressing the entire field. "Carlisle Cullen would turn us all into vegetarians, render us as low as the humans on which you feed. Is this what you want?"
Garrett crossed his arms over his chest. "Carlisle lives as he pleases, as do the rest of us. We won't be governed by those that know only cruelty and greed."
Aro was incensed, pointing at Carlisle as he spoke to the crowd. "He seeks to expand his coven even as he challenges the sovereignty of the Volturi and of our entire race. Would you forsake all that we have built for you, and the natural order of our very existence?
Eleazar spoke up. "The Volturi live in isolation and darkness, in your own little holy city, deluding yourselves that the world revolves on your fingertip. You are no longer the center of our world."
Aro's sardonic laugh echoed across the field. "Do you think for a moment that I will step aside and allow any of you to take my place?"
Marcus hissed "Your place?" Caius glared at Aro. "Brother, I think you misspeak."
Edward struggled to find Aro's thoughts amongst the layered minds and thoughts on the field. Once he isolated Aro from the others, he found Aro's darkest fear in a vision that must have come from Alice – more and more vegetarian vampires assimilating with human culture, becoming accepted, relegating the Volturi to an archaic figurehead, replaced by a young vampire so gifted it terrified him, a vampire that could erase gifts and command with a single word.
Suddenly two other, more familiar minds approached the field, encroaching on Edward's awareness. "No!" Edward spun around, looking for his children.
Leah burst through the trees in human form, running behind Masen and Cara, struggling to keep up. The twins spotted their parents and ran to them, ignoring the shouts and shock of everyone on the field. Jacob intercepted Leah and pinned her to the ground beneath a heavy paw, growling as she struggled to catch her breath.
"Mom! Dad!" Edward and Bella fell to their knees as Masen and Cara threw themselves into their arms.
Aro staggered back, clutching his robes tightly around himself as he stumbled into Felix. "How can this be?" Isabella had already given birth, to twins?
Marcus was stunned by the strength of the bond he sensed within the small family. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, allowing the sensation to wash over him. He felt the bright, pulsing warmth of undeniable devotion woven in ribbons of color and light, stretched amongst each individual gathered on the Cullens' side of the glade, centered on the two children. It reminded him of his beloved Didyme, and he was drawn to it. He walked toward Edward and Bella without awareness of moving.
Alice fell to the ground, clutching her head as the evolving visions she'd seen over the last few months all collided and unfolded before her in a storm of choices too fast to track.
Sam attempted to intercept Marcus, but Renata diverted him with a wave of her hand, leaving him stumbling aimless in the snow. Leah phased when Jacob released her, both of them searching for Seth. Members of the guard took up positions to defend Aro and Caius from Stefan and Vladimir's advance and the meadow immediately erupted into a blur of robes, wolves, Cullens, and allies charging at one another and crashing into struggling knots throughout the field.
Renata shrieked and fell writhing to the ground, presumably under attack by Jane, who stood motionless near the edge of the woods. Sam once more targeted Marcus, but Edward waved him off. He knew Marcus was hardly their biggest threat. Emmett darted through the trees circling the meadow and came out behind the Volturi with Seth and Jacob close behind. They each tackled a different guard while Emmett wrestled Felix to the ground. Seeing an opportunity to act, Jasper tackled Chelsea, pinning the much smaller woman with her face in the snow. She focused her energy on dissolving his allegiance to the Cullens, weakening his resolve, but Alice leapt to his side and ripped Chelsea's head off before any lasting damage was done.
Leah ran to help Seth. Blindsided, she let out a high-pitched yelp as Demetri wrenched one of her fore legs, pitching her over onto her back at his feet. He leered when the pain caused her to phase back to her human form, naked and clutching her damaged shoulder. Jacob howled and leapt onto Demetri's back. After one well-placed bite, Demetri's headless body collapsed beneath Jacob's paws.
Everyone on the field was engaged with an enemy in shifting clusters of two and three. Those with special gifts held off the Volturi assault as best they could, while the others fell into hand-to-hand combat.
"Stop!" Masen's bell-like voice rang out across the field as he and Cara squirmed to get out of their parents' arms. In an instant, the fighting halted.
Aro stared wide-eyed, trembling. The child Alice had shown him once, the child he feared above all else, was now two. They had to be destroyed, before they destroyed him. He shouted across the field. "You must not allow these children to live!"
Masen recoiled. They don't want to hurt my family, they want to kill me and Cara! He reached for Cara's hand and squeezed.
Bella spoke up, infuriated. "I gave in to you once, you took from me once, but never again. I will fight to the death before anyone harms my children."
Aro shook his head, enraged. "You must destroy them!"
"Stop, I said!" Masen shouted, and everyone on the field flinched with the force of his command. Edward and Bella had wanted to avoid the children's involvement, even though they could lend an advantage. They hadn't wanted to manipulate them for their gifts. Edward squeezed his son's hand. "Mase."
"No, Dad! I have to make them stop!"
"Make them leave, but nothing more. Don't forget who you are, what we stand for." Masen nodded solemnly, remembering the words he and Cara both knew well. Cullens are helpers and protectors and friends, and I'm a Cullen so I have to make the very best choices I can.
Masen and Cara walked forward with their parents, toward Aro. Still bound by Masen's command to stop, everyone on the field could only stand and watch.
Aro eyed the boy warily as he approached, not knowing the depth of his power, what gifts his twin might also have, or their level of control.
Masen's voice was calm and steady. "I'm not going to hurt you, but you have to go home. I want you to go home, right now. You can't be here like this. We don't want you here."
Aro laughed. The boy's first command had been physically irrefutable, but this timid directive felt more like a pathetic suggestion in comparison. Perhaps he could still prevail, if he could win the child over. "Oh, child. Have they told you who I am?"
"I know who you think you are. You think you're the king of us, and that you can do whatever you want, and make everyone do as you say."
Aro's voice softened in an attempt to cajole the boy. "I am Aro de Volturi, and these are my brothers, Marcus and Caius. We've guided and protected our race for many, many years."
Masen puffed out his chest and tilted his chin up. "You hurt our Mom and Dad, and our Aunt Alice, too. I know that."
"And we're so terribly, terribly sorry for that, dear one. Did you know I live in a castle? We have a whole city all to ourselves. You could be part of that, you know." An idea germinated in his head. "You can bring your parents. You're always safe with them, right? Come see my city, learn for yourself who we are. You can have your own rooms, anything you want. You and your sister will be like royalty in my city. Wouldn't you like that? Hmm?"
Bella smiled when Edward squeezed her hand. If there was one thing they knew, it was that Aro's ploy wouldn't work with their children.
"No, I wouldn't like that. Cara and I don't need your castle, and we don't want to be royalty. We're Cullens and we don't need anything you have."
Masen was becoming angrier by the moment, and he realized he'd tried to be nice, instead of using his gift. This man didn't understand nice. "No! Stop talking! Don't you understand? Take your people and go back where you came from, now!" He took a breath, but was afraid he hadn't said enough to protect his family. "Leave my family alone, leave all our friends alone," he shouted, gesturing at the allies and wolves. "And never come back here! Ever!"
Aro staggered back, his feet carrying him off the field in the direction they'd come. Silently, the Volturi guard followed suit, none of them able to resist Masen's command to go.
Edward leaned down and whispered in his son's ear, making Masen and Cara both smile.
"And if any of your guards want to leave you, let them!"
Victory shouts and laughter filled the Volturi's ears as they fled, leaving their fallen on the field.
Bella and Edward fall to their knees and pulled their children close.
"Is it over, Edward?'
He felt Alice's hand on his shoulder, soothing. They're going straight to Volterra, with no diversions. Several of the guards have already deserted, and I don't see any complications.
"Yes, I think so," he answered, kissing Bella's temple.
"This wasn't just about them hurting you and Daddy and Aunt Alice, was it? He said Masen and I should be killed. I heard him."
Bella sighed. "No, sweetheart, it wasn't just about your dad and I, and Aunt Alice."
Masen wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "First he said we should be destroyed, and then he wanted us to go with him. I don't understand."
I know you saw my vision in Aro's mind. I hid it from you, Edward, and I shouldn't have. They deserve to know, and so does Bella.
With a sigh, Edward began. "It's a very long story, Masen. Some of it is too much for a child to understand."
"Just tell us, Dad." Cara squeezed her brother's hand.
Sparing her husband the crafting of a difficult summary suitable for children's ears, Bella took over. "Your daddy and I fought, a long time ago, and he ran away to Italy because he was sad. Alice and I went to get him, because she understood that your father and I loved each other too much to let a fight break us apart."
"Italy – that's where they're from? The Volturi?"
Edward spoke next. "Yes, that's right. When Alice and your mom got there, Aro touched Alice and saw her vision of Mom and I having a child with very powerful gifts. Alice didn't know then that you would be twins."
Bella ran her fingers trough Edward's hair, soothing him, giving him the strength to continue. He leaned into her touch and closed his eyes for a moment before continuing.
"Aro likes to collect vampires with special gifts. It makes him feel powerful, and when Alice showed him the gifts that our child would have, he wanted you for his own, to raise you as his own."
Tears were streaming down Cara's face. "But we weren't even born yet, right? How could you give us away before we were born?"
Bella blotted Cara's tears. "That's why he hurt us. He hurt us," she said, but she couldn't continue. She pulled Masen and Cara into her arms.
Carlisle cleared his throat. "He threatened to kill them unless they promised that as soon as you were born, they would give you to him."
"Just because we have powers?"
"I think he was afraid, little man. For years, the Cullen family has been growing, and you and your sister have very special abilities."
"He was afraid, of us?"
"I think he didn't want Papa Carlisle's family to become any stronger. You sent his entire army away, with just a few words, Masen. And Cara has the ability to turn off the gifts of anyone she touches. Together, you are very powerful. That's why it's so important for you and Cara to learn control, and not use your abilities to hurt people. We don't want you to turn into one of them, into the Volturi."
Cara hugged her brother. "Never. We won't ever be like them."
The allies regrouped with their coven members, embracing, cataloging injuries and trading congratulations before leaving. There were a few amputations slowly healing, once the severed parts were located. Several of the Quileutes were limping.
As soon as the Volturi left, Jacob phased back to his human body so he could check Leah's shoulder with his own hands. He was frantic, moving her limbs, lingering on her warm skin and her dark eyes. "You stupid, stupid woman." Leah silenced him with a kiss. When the shock wore off, he kissed her back, sitting in the melting snow, rocking her in his arms.
Jane cradled Seth's head in her lap, discouraging him from moving. He had a few cracked ribs, but they would heal quickly enough. Bella, Alice, and Rosalie made sure the other wolves were well before they made their way home to La Push. They sat with Leah and Jacob the longest, working out how to get the twins back to Charlie's house to keep up Leah's cover story. Fortunately, her shoulder was already nearly healed enough to drive. Emmett and Jasper helped Edward find enough wood to start a fire while Carlisle and Esme gathered the fallen Volturi in the center of the glade. Even though they'd come as the enemy, Carlisle prayed over their bodies before setting them ablaze.
Edward put his arm around his sister and whispered in her ear. "Will they truly stay away?"
Alice gazed off into the distance, letting her eyes lose focus. Her brows knitted together as she searched the future for an answer.
The entire family, swimming and playing with the twins on Isle Esme. Jacob cradling an infant with Leah's eyes. A trip to Alaska for Kate and Garrett's wedding. Jane, finding happiness with a young nomad in the Canadian wilderness. Masen and Cara grown, with mates of their own. Days and years passing, with no hint of the Volturi's return.
She smiled, feeling at ease for the first time in months. "Time and distance don't seem to change the impact of Masen's words. I don't think they'll ever bother us again."
Edward and Bella stood beside Alice, surrounded by their family, watching smoke disperse in the breeze.
The funeral pyre smoldered long after everyone left.
Thank you for reading.
November 2012: Immeasurable thanks to my beta, Fatally Obsessed, without whom this story would never have been finished.
What started as a bad dream in December 2008 has finally come full circle. Nearly four years later, I feel as if I am saying goodbye to old friends. There has been an amazingly loyal group of readers that stayed around for this entire ride, and I wish I could send you all cookies. The hardest part wasn't telling this story, but in ending it.
Some folks in the fandom have been critical of my use of Edward and Bella's rape as a plot device, but far more have thanked me. I can't count the number of readers that have contacted me privately to thank me for expressing some of their feelings about their own experiences, or for opening their eyes to a survivor's perspective, or for always linking to RAINN in my chapter notes. I am humbled that this story may have given you an outlet for your grief, or an avenue to healing.
You are not alone. You are not to blame.
Aro's Heir is now marked complete. I would love to receive your comments, one last time.