A/N: This is the final chapter in this story. Please visit my LJ at:
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NINETEEN::Benvenuti in Italia
Edward wanted to carry Jacob when they finally gathered themselves and turned for the Cullen house. Jacob pushed him away without a word. Seth padded along at their side with his head lulling in exhaustion and they walked in near silence. The terrified tension had flooded out of them and they moved numbly, weak and locked in their own thoughts.
You've missed a lot while you were sleeping, Seth told him as they neared the house.
You'll see... there was a jumble of images flashing through his head, but it didn't seem to work the same way the Quileute packmind did and Edward couldn't make sense of flashes. Seth seemed so despondent that he didn't press, but he did wonder why Jasper hadn't come running after his 'puppy' yet.
Carlisle met them at the door. An oppressive air hung over the house and Edward felt it fall to his shoulders immediately. Carlisle led them to the living room and Seth broke away, padding up the stairs with his head hanging so low that his nose barely missed each stair. Edward felt like he was wading through thick mud and walked slowly, keeping half of his attention on the silent shifter at his side.
"What's going on?" Edward asked, his brows drawn together.
"I'm glad to see you awake," Carlisle said, sitting down slowly. "We were all worried about you."
"What's going on?" Edward repeated, ignoring the gentle attempt to change the subject. Esme, Emmett and Rosalie were conspicuously absent and Alice was missing her customary smile.
Carlisle sighed. "It's Jasper." He glanced towards the stairs. He looked strained; they all did. "He's loosing control of his talent and projecting his depression in a wide radius." He lifted a hand and pressed two fingers to the bridge of his nose. "I had to send Esme away with Rosalie and Emmett. Seth refuses to leave; of all of us, he seems to have the only type of defense against Jasper's...leakage, but it's wearing on him too."
Edward glanced to Alice and then up the stairs. "This has gone on far too long." He clenched his teeth, the press of depression hitting him, wave and ebb, like a typhoon. He didn't understand his sudden sensitivity to emotions, but the feeling was like slow suffocation: he could feel Jasper's despondency, but it was being picked up and magnified by everyone else. It was nothing compared to the white-hot flame that Jacob's despair had been, but it was stifling in its way. He fell to the couch next to Jacob and reached blindly for his hand, trying to ground himself while a wave built, crested and subsided.
"I have tried every scenario I can think of," Alice told him quietly. "Without you, going to Italy is at best a mass-suicide mission."
Alice shrugged finally and glanced briefly at Jacob. "Uncertain."
"We're going to Italy," Edward gasped once he felt like he could breathe. Next to him, Jacob was silent and still, but he did not relinquish Edward's hand.
Seth understood depression. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he was still a teenager and had felt the deep ache of sadness before. He'd always been good about keeping his head and shoulders above water and his feet planted on the shore. He'd never been caught up in the current like so many of his peers.
This was different. There was no surface, no shore; there wasn't even a single current, but dozens that pulled each way alternately and sometimes all at once. While Seth was beside Jasper, the currents calmed slightly, even faded to brief pockets of respite, but whatever natural immunity he possessed was wearing thin.
We're going to Italy.
Seth whimpered in relief and Jasper glanced over briefly, petting his head. Seth leaned into his touch, trying to evoke a positive response from the vampire. Jasper hadn't moved in more than a week but to occasionally pet him. He wondered, vaguely, if it upset Alice.
When are we leaving ?
Carlisle is calling the airstrip and Alice is leaving in a few minutes to get the jet ready.
Why am I not surprised that you have a jet? Seth asked wryly, spirits lifted by the announcement. He knew that the trip was dangerous; it didn't take a genius to figure out what upset Alice every time she closed her eyes, but it would be doing something, instead of letting Jasper turn into some demented statue that radiated bad feelings.
We don't dare risk taking him on a commercial line, Edward responded. If we are being affected by this, I can't imagine the disaster that would result from exposing him to human pilots.
Seth's imagination immediately conjured a 747 passenger liner dropping from the sky and a fine shudder passed through his body, making his fur stand on end.
Good point. Are you going to let Jacob come?
You think he would want to?
Seth said nothing, but annoyance built in his mental tone like a cloud.
I'm not in a position to let him do anything, or tell him not to. He'll do as he likes.
'Yes' would have been faster, Seth groused. He felt Edward wince and had an immediate impulse to apologize, but resisted. The dense vampire deserved it.
Edward pretended he hadn't heard. Get some sleep. We leave just before dawn.
Jacob sat on the bed with his back turned to his imprinted. Edward had urged him into the room to get some sleep before they left for Italy, but he'd resisted laying down.
"I don't trust you," he decided finally. His voice was soft, but firm. He turned finally and crossed his legs so he was looking down at Edward. The vampire was stretched out on the bed in much the same position he'd been in for the last two weeks. His expression was pained, but he nodded.
"This thing," Jacob continued, gesturing between them. "I can't help that. I can't help that I hurt when you're away from me. I can't help that I feel such... joy that it's almost painful when I'm near you. But I don't trust you."
Edward pushed himself up to his elbows, his expression pained. "I am sorry, Jacob. I deserve that. I can promise that I will do whatever it takes to make this up to you."
Jacob shook his head. "There's nothing that binds you to me, and there never will be. Not like I'm bound to you. You could walk away from me at any time, for any reason with no consequences, and I never can."
He reached out and set a hand on Edward's chest, slowly tracing the lines of his muscles. Edward covered his hand, stilling his listless exploration. He wrapped his hand around Jacob's warm palm and dragged the shifter's hand to his lips. He set a gentle kiss to the base of his thumb and pulled him down to the bed. Their bodies lined up easily and Jacob pressed his face to Edward's neck.
The other man drifted off to sleep and Edward traced the lines of his tattoo with a gentle fingertip, already resolving to stay with him until it was time to leave. Downstairs, his own music floated through the house as Carlisle's shield against the sadness that permeated the air.
Alice arranged herself in the pilot's seat. Generally, she enjoyed flying. She was a little more partial to the smaller, faster crafts. Little two-seaters that Rosalie built for fun and Alice and Emmett crashed for fun. This was their smallest jet. One pilot, eight passengers; it was light-weight, as economical as such things got, and, most importantly, it was fast.
At the moment, she didn't enjoy much of anything. Her lover was living a slow death and the joy had gone from the world. The future was dark, and she was afraid.
Carlisle sealed the hatch and Alice waited impatiently for the all-clear. The pre-flight was done, the engine was warm and she had been ready to leave for two hours. At the signal, she flipped the switches and the engines came to life with a deep roar punctuated by a high-pitched whine. She grabbed the wheel and pushed forward, gently turning the sleek jet towards the runway. The nose was barely lined up when she started accelerating, pulling into the air at the soonest possible moment. They leveled out and she pulled the landing gear up and switched on the auto-pilot.
Edward joined her in the cabin, falling into the jump seat with a sigh. "Let me know when you want to take a break," he said quietly, leaning his head against the bulkhead. She nodded, but didn't respond.
Are you okay? she asked quietly.
"As okay as any of us."
"Less than most, I guess." His voice was soft and she normally would have said something like, I told you so, but it seemed like too much effort just then.
"Do you have any idea what we're going to find in Italy?" Edward asked after a moment of silence.
"I can make an educated guess... but with Jacob, it's nearly impossible to be sure. I still can't see him." Her teeth clenched. She had been trying hard to stay calm and just accept it. Leave it to chance. But this was her lover and best friend and it seemed insane to leave such a thing to the wiles of fate.
"You can see Seth now, though?"
"The moment you made a little pack with him, he became visible." She forced a little smile, one corner of her lips pulling up.
Edward chuckled briefly and sobered. "We should have gone as soon as he started..." Edward sighed. "I'm sorry. I've been... I have failed a lot lately." His voice was almost too soft for even her to hear.
She turned slightly in the seat to look back at him. "I don't blame you. I won't blame you." She wasn't sure it was a promise she could keep, but she would try. It wasn't Edward's fault. It was Isabella's.
"I created her," Edward reminded her, his voice catching.
"No. Caius created her. She created herself. You were just a tool in her return."
That didn't seem to be much better, but Edward reached forward to squeeze her shoulder briefly. She tipped her head, pressing her cheek to his hand.
Distracted by his new setting and the puppies -not one but two- Jasper's output was dampened to a dull sense of sorrow, but it was a long flight. From their airstrip outside Seattle, they would be making the 10 hour trip to a similar airstrip outside of Cerreto, a small Italian city a short distance south-west of Volterra, with two stops for fuel.
Carlisle could imagine that Jasper's emotional leak would only get worse in the confined setting once he lost interest in the contrast between Jacob's rust-colored coat and Seth's much lighter blond fur. Carlisle settled in for the journey, steeling himself for the arrival in Volterra. He had not seen the city in decades, wanting very much to stay out of the politics of the vampire hierarchy. He wondered what changes he would find, if the indelible city would allow such a thing as a change.
He pulled his headphones up and gently turned up the volume, leaning his head back. He thought of Esme and already missed her dearly, but she was such a tender soul. She wouldn't claim it as a 'talent,' but his wife was deeply empathetic and Jasper's loss of control had been heartbreaking to her. He hoped Emmett and Rosalie were managing to keep her distracted.
Rosalie stepped out into the chilly northern air and slid a sleek pair of sunglasses onto her face, despite the overcast that concealed her true nature. Her lips pulled up into a smile; cliché though it may be, she loved New York. The city boasted the perfect location to keep the sun at bay but allow them easy access to prey and the perfect mix of high fashion and high danger. Not danger to her, so much, but the thrill of walking through the 'bad areas' of town in her eight hundred dollar boots, carrying her four thousand dollar purse was exciting. She enjoyed a good fight every now and then, even if the blood went to waste. She enjoyed that she was dangerous to these people; the most dangerous thing they would likely ever encounter.
Heads turned as she walked down the street and she contained her smile like she didn't notice. She preened under the attention, intentionally making her hips move, intentionally arching her back just enough to lift her shoulders and press her breasts forward without seemingly like she meant to.
"Enjoying yourself?" Emmett asked, pushing away from the wall he'd be waiting against and falling into step beside her.
"Always," Rosalie answered without looking at him. "Missing your mutt yet?" she asked casually. She glanced at him sideways, her lips pursing slightly at his expression.
Emmett shrugged. "Sure. I like Seth."
Rosalie rolled her eyes contemptuously. "Why didn't you stay with him?"
"You need me more." Emmett turned and grinned at her, wrapping a hand around her elbow. She was stiff and temperamental for the rest of the walk to the cafe, but she eventually relaxed against him, again taking enjoyment in the envious looks they were attracting.
Esme waited at one of the small tables, a cup of hot water in front of her. The tea bag was resting on the saucer, wet as though it had been steeping. Rosalie stared at it for a moment, the old feelings of alienness rushing up. The things they did, without thought, to seem normal...
"Did you find what you were looking for?" Esme asked, smiling in greeting.
Shaken out of her reverie, Rosalie reached into her shopping bag and pulled out the gown for Esme to see. "And for you, as well."
"I'm not sure I'm really interested in the social circle this time, Rose," Esme said gently.
Rosalie drew in an irate breath, but it was Emmett who spoke first. "We all need the distraction, Esme. There are a great many charities that need the help of two such lovely benefactors. You could do a lot of good while you keep your mind occupied."
Rosalie turned a guarded, reluctantly hopeful eye to Esme. The older vampire finally nodded and brought out another smile. She made a gesture and pushed the tea cup away so Rosalie could bring the midnight blue gown out for approval.
"You know me so well," Esme said, fingering the satiny material. Rosalie smiled and gently pushed the dress back into the zippered bag. The two gowns, designed specifically for them, would be auctioned off at the charity event later that night. Rosalie thought it sufficiently amusing that it was an ASPCA event. Emmett's tux, a masterfully fitted piece of blues complete with cummerbund and tailed jacket would also be auctioned off. It amused her more that the people who bought these outfits would probably never be able to wear them.
Esme picked her hot water back up and sipped at it gently, her eyes turning out the window. She had said her goodbyes to her husband and could only hope that she got to say hello again soon.
Tomorrow will solve itself, she reminded herself, and smiled.
Edward sat behind the wheel. They were greeted and challenged and Edward answered back in flawless Italian, identifying himself. The radio crackled briefly and then the voice returned, far more pleasant.
"Benvenuti in Italia, Mr. Cullen," the controller said, continuing in heavily accented English, "Would you like me to have the car prepared?"
"We will be taking a van, today, thank you, Mr. Conti. Please have it brought the tarmac. We will not be requiring the services of a driver."
"Very well, Mr. Cullen."
The radio clicked off and Edward lined the plane up to the runway. As Carlisle had predicted, Jasper had become accustomed to the setting and the new "dog" a mere three hours into the flight and his level of emotional output had been steadily climbing. Jacob had tried to shift out only briefly, and they had quickly discovered the source of Seth's apparent immunity; while phased, they seemed to be more resistant. Neither was looking forward to shifting back into their human forms, but both did when Edward popped on the seatbelt light and lowered the landing gear.
Plane safely and expertly on the ground, Edward left the pilot's seat and joined the rest of his family in the passenger cabin. Jacob and Seth were dressed and standing uneasily near the hatch. Alice was urging Jasper out of his chair; Seth seemed vaguely uncomfortable on two legs and kept eyeing the pair, wanting to join them.
The blond vampire was finally convinced to leave his seat and followed sedately when Carlisle popped the hatch, letting in the temperate night air. As they had requested, a large black van was waiting on the tarmac and there was no one in sight. Edward probed distractedly and found the permanent staff of three all close to the door, crowding around the small window and gossiping in whispers. The airport and nearby house were rarely used, but Esme kept a full staff on hand for the eventually. The villa had been the location of three of Rosalie and Emmett's honeymoons, though none close enough together for the staff to recognize them.
This time they would not even be stopping at the villa, but driving straight on to Volterra.
Edward paused at the top of the stairs, watching Jacob descend. He lifted his eyes to the barely visible mountains and felt a strange sense of dread coil low in his gut. Tomorrow would see them in the heart of Volterra, a place he had hoped to never see again. Tomorrow would see him again staring at the creature who had stolen his wife's body.
Tomorrow was blind, deaf, dumb, and filled with forbidding nightmares, and would come whether he willed it or not.
Overhead a nearly full moon drifted on a cloudless sky, and Edward took a slow breath before starting down the stairs, in so many ways right back to where he started.