AN: With love to all my readers, this chapter is twice as long as usual. Many thanks to Project Team Beta, and apologies to SMeyer.
~: Chapter 6: Pickings from the Pockets :~
St. Petersburg, Jasper's POV
Laurent had better get here soon. The café was slow this afternoon, and the waitress was giving me the evil eye as I lingered over my coffee, no doubt hoping I would cash out soon so she could go do whatever it was waitresses did on a dead day. Sadly, I had to stay. Laurent, you late bastard, hurry the fuck up.
The birds had taken care of the roll, saving me from going through the pretense of eating it. I hadn't meant to order it, but with my Russian skills even being at the right café was a gift from God. I wasn't about to bitch over a few unwanted pastries.
Shifting in my seat, I started in with the affirmations. You are patient, I told myself. You are calm. So calm, in fact, that in less than .02 seconds I was going to show that waitress where she could stuff her stink eye.
Deep breaths, Jasper. You are not here to eat the civilians. I missed being an unregulated gangster. Respectability had its moments, but this was not one of them.
My pocket pinged softly and I whipped out my phone. Alice. Decompressing slightly, I ran my thumb gently over the picture of her that popped up on my phone along with her message. Respectability had its perks, and I couldn't ever regret that choice since she'd been a part of the package.
Not that she knew anything about all that, which was as it should be. She'd been through enough just getting to my side of the world in the first place.
I texted her back as a way to pass the time.
No, he's not here yet. I'm worried that I'm being stood up.
--Good things come to those who wait.
Patience is not my strong suit.
As do I. Different story going on here, though.
--What's your fallback?
We didn't set one. This is on his terms.
--I don't like it.
Did I say I did?
Bite me, Alice.
--My pleasure . . . anywhere you like.
I'm writing that down.
--Please, like you're so deprived you need coupons.
"See something you like?" Laurent's soft voice wiped the smile right off my face. Startled off the sex-ting trail, I pocketed my phone and put out my hand.
"You're still a sneaky little fucker, you know that?" He just laughed at my frustration, and his grip was smooth as he pulled me up out of my chair. We man-hugged and then stepped back to scope each other out.
He looked the same as ever. Perfect dreadlocks no matter what the weather, buffed leather clothes, and a lean form projecting a soft, inviting experience the ladies couldn't stay away from. His teeth gleamed in his dark face, canines carefully shielded as he smirked at me.
"That woman makes you soft, Jasper. You should be more careful."
Right, as if soft was really what Alice made me. "I love that woman, Laurent. And you could sneak up on a ghost."
He dropped into the chair across from me and waved for a menu, much to the annoyance of the waitress. My inner asshole cheered as she stalked over in a huff, but somewhere along the way Laurent must have done something to make her think better of her attitude, because by the time she hit the table she was all smiles with fresh coffees and rolls ready to go. Real ladykiller, that Laurent.
"You're late," I said, fake sipping my coffee.
"My apologies," Laurent said insincerely. He gestured at the food and switched into our traditional French, something we'd honed during the years I never mentioned to Alice. "I know the pretense bores you but I need the appearance of normalcy."
I raised one eyebrow at him and he sighed, dropping the debonair front and looking as tired and frazzled as I'd ever seen him. "I can sneak up on a ghost, Jasper, but I could not sneak up on that woman. She knew I was behind her. It was a trap, a total trap, and I was almost toasted."
"I've seen the video, Laurent. It looked like a distraction blast, not a targeted hit. Don't panic unnecessarily."
"Unnecessarily?" He thumped a fist on the table. "I know what she is better than most. I have reason to panic. It is stupid to be here."
I fake sipped my coffee again and sent calming waves at him. We needed whatever he had to say, and that meant I had to keep him from bolting. It didn't prevent me from toying with him a little, however.
"Why are you here, if it is so stupid?"
He scooted his chair closer, leaning in and buttering a roll while he spoke to me in a lower voice. "Guilt. Past due favors. Bad karma. A desire to live freely. Take your pick." He tossed the first roll aside and started in on a second, flicking his eyes at me. "Mostly guilt. And James, as usual."
"Tell me again why you hang out with him? He's been screwing you over for years."
"He is useful, just as you are."
"Friends for 200 years, and that's how you see me? Useful?"
"You know I have no friends, only allies for a time." Which was precisely why he survived, and precisely why we weren't any closer. Laurent had loyalty only to himself, as I'd had ample occasion to witness from our mercenary days. Still, he was trustworthy up to a point. . . and on his third roll. For a cold, hard man that neither feared nor fidgeted, this was a big deal. I ignored it.
"Fine. James was the ally this time. What was the excuse that brought you here?"
"It's not important. The story starts with the one you seek."
"Every detail matters when it comes to her. You know this. Why were you here?"
He glared at me, angry. I removed my calming influence from the air and played up the underlying fear in his countenance.
"Stop with your tricks, Jasper. My nerves are bad enough." He threw down the roll he'd been buttering, disgusted. "200 years and you think I don't know when you play me?"
"I didn't hear any complaints on the calming."
He stood. I stood. Things got tense.
The waitress ran over with the bill, breaking the mood. No killing each other in front of the human . . . at least not in broad daylight. We both threw money at her and she scurried off again.
"Laurent," I said, keeping my voice even as we faced the street, "I have to know it all or they will never let it rest."
He hissed air in through his teeth and spat derisively. "I do not fear them. I fear only her."
"We can't stop her if we can't find her, and we need every piece of the puzzle to do that. Besides," I said, playing a new angle, "if you're double-crossing the Volturi I need to know. I've got some other deals going with them I'd like to not get derailed."
"This is nothing to do with them."
He growled . . . and gave in. "Walk with me. I am too restless to be still."
We set a brisk pace down the street, away from the open square and its fine sight lines. Laurent was taking me into a warren of back streets that he seemed to know well, but I was S.O.L. if I wanted to ever see my hotel again without his guidance. Still, he didn't give off a threatening vibe, just the same generally pissy one he typically had with me when we were together.
A left, a right, and then a dead stop in front of a work crew repairing some downed power lines.
"Here," he said. "The trail stops here." I just looked at him.
"Don't be stupid."
"Did you chase her here?"
"Don't be stupid, mon ami. Chase her? No. I will not chase the Distiller alone. Others may crave Death's Kiss, but I do not. Are we clear? I share the air with Death and yet I live. Why? Because I do not chase her."
I clapped my hands softly at his performance. "Well-spoken, old friend. Well-spoken. You do not chase Death." I paused, then brought my hand to my face, cupping my chin and tapping my cheek with my forefinger. "You do not chase Death, and yet you know she was here. Could it be that you are a really sneaky little ass-fucker?"
He laughed and shook his finger at me. "One day you will fall for my act, Jasper. One day."
"Never. Now spill." He nodded, amused, and started walking again, circling the workmen. We made like casual rubberneckers and scoped them out as they reattached the wires to the wall. Laurent gestured up and around.
"Okay, so I fear the Distiller but I follow her any way. We were friends once, and what is a little explosion between friends? Clearly she does not want me to follow, so obviously I must. Just with more space so she thinks I am not there. I do not think she will kill me now. It is risky, but she is sick, and I am less afraid of her when she is so."
"But?" I prompted.
"But nothing. One minute she is ahead of me. I lose her for a moment, find the scent, follow back, and arrive here, where it is too late. Poof! She has vanished. There is just a muddle of human scents going in every direction. Nothing you can follow and none of them hers. Now I worry because I do not know where she is and she is a master of being exactly where she should not be."
Several questions flooded my mind. Bella was sick? How? And how could he trail her without being seen? You couldn't follow air, and she was just that. Laurent just watched my mind spin, so I spit out the first thing that hit my tongue. "She doesn't have a smell, so how can you track the scent?"
"Ah, this is the great mystery. Her sudden smells." He wheeled away from the work crew and took off in another direction, forcing me to jog to keep up. We stopped abruptly in front of a gym a few blocks away.
"We are here for this." He gestures broadly at the gym, and the posters there. I don't follow.
"You're working out with James?"
"I forget you have no Russian." Muttering something about time wasting idiots, he walked me over to an announcement in English pegged on a side door. "We are here for the fight." He tapped the poster and smiled a smile with all of his teeth. "Actually, we are here for the fighters. James is participating and we are going to collect a few to sell to the Volturi."
"The slave trade again? Didn't you learn?"
"These are strong words, mon ami." He scowled at me, wagging a finger. "It is not like before. We are recruiting bodyguards . . . sourcing talent. Nobody is a slave. I am a free agent, representing James as a fighter. That is all. Nothing with the rest, that is James' business."
Yeah, right. First thing when I got back I was enrolling Alice in more mixed martial arts classes. The upskilling of the Volturi's more disposable guard dogs was not a good development.
"Okay, whatever. I'll ignore that for now. What does a fight have to do with tracking?"
He grinned. "I will get there. Let me tell it as I remember. Come." We moved over to the other side of the building, where there was a discreet side exit. "We are here, okay? Finishing after a late night session of practice and discussing. We come outside, planning to hunt a little, when suddenly, we smell her."
Again with the smells. "How do you smell her?"
He snorted. "The blood, of course. We smell her blood."
I shook my head at him. "You are so full of shit. She has no smell. Who did you really smell?"
"You are so smart, Jasper. Why bother to explain? Sniff for yourself."
I gave him an evil eye. He knew my skills were not strong in this area, but I could sense that he was confident that this would solve something for me. I focused, took a deep breath, and smelled . . . blood, actually. I smelled a lot of different kinds of human blood.
Before I knew it, I was on the roof, chasing that smell. Laurent was right beside me. "This is how it was for us. We were minding our own business, doing another thing. And then this blood."
I could only nod. Alice and I had been working on my diet for a long time, but I kept having to cheat and snitch blood samples from the clinic we used as a front for the vamp lab. Animals just couldn't cut it all the time. Even the sample blood was nothing compared to this rich, ripe aroma of recent carnage.
I pulled up at a churchyard full of crime scene tape. "The girls?"
Laurent nodded. "The girls. We wait here, because the trail stopped here for us and we wanted to know about the blood. We fight, but we are hungry. Just when we are about to go in . . . she comes out."
"So you chase her?"
"Don't be stupid."
"You said you didn't chase Death alone. You had James. It's not a stupid suggestion."
Laurent snorted. "James is a coward. When he recognized her we hid."
I snorted. "She could smell you a mile away. She's best at tracking her own."
He nodded gravely. "This is true." He looked out over the skyline for a moment, chewing over words in his mind. I could smell the blood trail continuing on, but we didn't move until he had sorted through all the possible phrases and decided on the arrangement he wanted.
Standing against the roofline, he gestured broadly out toward the city and the harbor beyond it. "In all this space, if anything were to find me, it would be the nose of the Distiller. She can smell my blood. She can smell my soul. She knows my very essence. She described it to me once."
I widened my eyes. This was news. "What did she say?"
"She says to me, it is lucky we are friends, Laurent, because you smell so mouth-watering."
He just nodded and went back to studying the sky. "That night, when she came out of the church, it was not my death on her mind. Even James did not register on her mind, and she had much to kill him for even then. But she did nothing, did not even pause to sniff the air to see if she was followed. She did not care. She simply went home."
I frowned. "That's really not like her."
He nodded. "She sees everything . . . when she is well." We were back on the move, suddenly, as Laurent swooped to the next roof.
"What is this with the sick bit? You know we don't get sick." I called after him, running again, and wishing he wasn't so damn fast. We zoomed over rooftops, past windows, and I was eternally thankful for the human tendency to never, ever, look up.
Over the blood trail I could smell both Laurent and James now, making the path clear. A child could have tracked this. I slowed up, as there was no way I was losing my way now. Laurent waited ahead of me on the edge of a dingy apartment block, pointing down a cobbled alleyway to a blackened window with more crime scene tape.
"She goes in. I stop here. Something is wrong, obviously, and I don't want any part of it. Life is short, you know?"
"Laurent, we're practically immortal."
"Practically. Not actually. And life is short . . . for the stupid."
Okay, so he had a point there. I nodded my acknowledgement. "James was stupid?"
"James was stupid."
Looking at the blackened window, I thought that was a neat summation of what had probably been a really messy end. She'd obviously burned the place to cover her tracks, although the fire pattern seemed to indicate that things had gotten a little out of control.
"Did you watch that? What happened?"
Laurent scrubbed his face with his hands and sat down heavily on the roof's edge, propping his feet against the gutter. He went back to studying the sky, leaning his head back against the slope of the roof. I debated sitting, too, but in the end opted to stand. It gave me a better view of his face, which was running through more emotions than I'd ever seen on anyone not in the throes of PMS.
With an explosive sigh, he started talking again. "It was so many years ago that we met, you know? How could I know what would happen now? I didn't know what he would become."
"And what did he become?" I said, thinking, he was always a bastard in my book.
"A cheater and a traitor."
I waited for Laurent to elaborate on that, but he rocked up on his feet, jumping into a tense pacing pattern. Backing away seemed like a good plan. He was wound up tight with something and getting jumpier by the minute.
"Laurent, I'm gonna vibe you with some calm, okay? You're making me nervous."
He stopped for a moment, then shook his head. "I am making myself nervous with my guilt." His eyes scanned the horizons warily and then circled back to me. "The guilt is very bad here."
Again with the guilt . . . "Laurent, man, what did you do?"
"I introduced them." He looked so mournful I had to laugh, which pissed him off royally. "Mon ami, you do not understand how it was with them that day, and you do not know . . . "
"Laurent, Edward was thrilled when you re-introduced her to him."
He winced. "Not that introduction. I have regret for that. I should not have been involved. This guilt is for introducing James to the Distiller."
"Because you got him killed?"
"No, because they were not good for each other."
I just looked at him like he'd grown three heads. Was Laurent for fucking real? "Let me get this straight," I asked him. "You're feeling all guilty and worked up not because your partner in crime has been murdered, but because you're a bad matchmaker?"
"I am not a matchmaker!" he huffed, stomping into the roofline like a four year old.
"Obviously, since she killed him."
"Well, he shot her."
And we all know how she feels about that. "With what?"
He didn't answer. Instead, he jumped off the building. I huffed on after him down the fire escape and met him pacing back and forth again. "Smell," he commanded.
I smelled. Less blood, lots of soap, ash, and . . . freesia?
"Where the hell did that come from?"
"This." Laurent pulled a gun. Instinctively, I drew my own piece and fired. Shit.
Thump. Thump. Thump. The tell-tale trilogy of shots knocked Laurent back into the wall and he stared down at his chest before looking up at me with a snarl.
"It's empty, you worthless son of a dirty whore! I was trying to show you--" His anger ran out abruptly as his knees hit the pavement. I caught him as he slumped over and pushed him back up against the wall.
"Stay with me, Laurent. I didn't mean it! Instinct! You know how I'm trained!" His dead weight let me know it was pointless to continue and I swore. Leaning into him to keep him trapped up against the wall, I whipped out my phone and typed out an emergency text:
How long do those tranq darts last?
Alice replied back almost instantly.--Who did you shoot?
Laurent. Answer the question.
--Carlisle wants to know how many darts made impact.
--How much does he weigh?
A fucking ton, I thought, shifting him around.
There was a moment of radio silence, which I used to prop Laurent up more comfortably on the wall. I slid his gun into my pocket so that his hands were free, and looped them around my neck. To the street, we looked like a pair of lovers. It was embarrassing, but better than looking like I had a corpse on my hands.
--Around three hours. Why?
Shit. I've still got a lot of questions.
--Why did you do it?
Accident. He was showing me something and I reacted too fast.
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
--Edward says hi, btw.
--He wants to know what's going on.
--He's driving me insane, so throw me a bone here, okay?
I smiled. I could only imagine how insane Edward was being.
One bone. James is definitely dead.
That's what she said.
--If any other she is saying it, you won't have a bone left in your body to bone with. You know, just for the record.
Love you, babe.
--Damn well better.
I pocketed the phone and hitched Laurent closer into me while I racked my brain for somewhere we could hide out until he came back around. I cringed as more of his body brushed against me. Who knew getting shot could make someone so happy to see me?
"You're a twisted fucker, you know that?" I muttered at him while I shoved him up further on the wall, wrapping my arms around his waist and lifting him discreetly off the pavement. I kept one eye peeled on the passerby, watching for a gap in the foot traffic. At the first one I saw I leapt for the fire escape we'd taken down the building and raced back for the rooftop.
Flopping him out on the roofing, I realized I'd misjudged the man. He wasn't happy to see me. Thank God. Instead, a round silver tube winked at me from his pocket. How many weapons was he packing?
Given that he was probably going to kill me the second he woke up, I figured there was no harm in disarming him in advance. Still, it made my stomach turn over to be emptying his pockets while he was unconscious. It felt a little too invasive and intimate for my personal taste.
Not that feelings were going to stop me from doing it. Laurent was going to be one pissed off motherfucker when he woke up, and I didn't want him armed. Who knew what he was packing?
I edged around next to him and tried to prop his pocket open with one hand and slip out his weapon with the other. Don't mind me, buddy. Just saving my own ass here.
From an old-fashioned film canister, apparently. I shook it. Whatever was in there wasn't film, unless film had started rattling. My curiosity kicked in. What was this all about?
There was still another lump in his pocket, a round one further down. In for a penny, I thought, moving fast.
A tarnished silver pocket watch. A quick pat down revealed that was all he was carrying other than some cash.
I eyed Laurent's Rolex clad wrist, then looked back at what I had in my hand. Right. My GQ loving, Rolex-wearing buddy was carting around an old pocket watch and a film canister from another era, while armed with a gun that belonged in one of Carlisle's labs. He would tell me all about it when he woke up.
In 2 hours and 45 minutes.
All I had to do was wait.
Just wait. Patiently.
I shook the film canister again. Four. There were four little things rattling around in there.
I waited some more.
The gun wasn't loaded, and it was definitely a dart gun, just not one I'd seen before. It was empty, so I had no idea what had been inside. I mentally congratulated myself for shooting an unarmed man, then took a picture of it and sent it to Alice. She confirmed that it wasn't one of ours and sent a quick video of Edward pacing the kitchen, looking like the victim of every hangover that ever was and gulping down coffee like a champ.
--Told you he was off the tea.
Yes, Alice, you're right. You're always right.
--Do I sense sarcasm?
Love you, babe.
I checked my watch. Two hours and 20 minutes. I could totally do this. I just had to wait a little bit more, and then I could ask Laurent about all this stuff.
The watch had been on a chain once, which you could see by the broken loop at the top. It was pretty tarnished, but I thought I could make out an inscription on the outside. In Russian. Which was fine, because Laurent read Russian and he could tell me what it said.
When he woke up.
In two hours and 15 minutes.
I sent a photo to Alice of my face, pouting. Wish you were here.
--If you hadn't left in such a rush, I would be there.
Thank you for pointing that out, dear. But then who would have taken care of Edward?
--Edward is not six. He can take care of himself.
As a vampire, maybe. As a human he's a mess.
--Edward says thank you.
Has he showered yet today?
Alice sent me a picture of Edward with arrows pointing to his bed head, his stubble, and the coffee stains on his shirt. Exhibit A in the case of real life vs. Edward.
Alice, would you please call the first witness?
Esme, at any point today has the subject been in contact with water?
--Esme says she got him to drink one glass earlier. What does that count for?
The State rests. Does the defense have any witnesses?
--Edward says to tell you to get a life.
Sadly, just us immortals up here on the roof. Does the defense have anything else to say?
A ping came in from Edward directly: Why don't you do something useful? What else is Laurent carrying?
Hallelujah! Permission to snoop. Which, apparently, was what I'd been waiting for. I grabbed the case and twisted the top off slowly, then tipped the contents out onto the roof slates next to my shoe. Ever since Carlisle and Edward had started working with tipped darts, I been wary of putting anything I couldn't see into my hand. Chemical reactions from the lab could cause a lot of problems I would just as soon avoid.
The prudence was worth it, because the canister had darts inside. There were three green ones and one brown one that looked like it had been fired and recovered. Standard procedure whenever possible, since the serums were so damn hard to make. I took a picture and sent it to Alice. Must be the ammo for the gun.
--Um . . .hang on.
--Edward says to get the serial numbers off the darts.
Serial numbers were a big thing with the lab rats. It was how they tracked which batches were which, although why they thought this passel of strange was going to have our serial numbers on them was a mystery to me. Still, it wasn't like I had anything else to do besides super zoom on the darts.
Only three have serial numbers, the green ones. I punched them in and waited. Then I waited some more.
Fuck I hate waiting.
My phone rang. Esme.
"Jasper, don't lose those darts and don't lose Laurent."
I looked at Laurent. He wasn't going anywhere. In the background I could here the sound of Edward being restrained. "What's going on?" I asked, carefully putting the darts back in their canister.
"The darts belong to Edward."
"How the fuck is that even possible?"
"Yes, Esme." I responded dutifully, even though my mind was racing. "How is that even possible?"
"He says they are the ones he shot at Bella in Italy."
"Can't be," I said, rolling them in my free hand. "They're full and they haven't been used."
There was a pause. "When you say they haven't been used, Jasper, are you implying that the other dart has been fired?"
"I thought that was obvious in the picture. It's about half empty."
There was a sound of keys being pounded and Esme spoke sharply away from the phone. "If you spill coffee on my computer I will end you, Edward."
"Esme," I said, sweetly, unable to resist.
"What?" She snapped, still clicking away at the keyboard. "I'm researching."
There was silence, punctuated by keys pounding.
"Jasper, you will just have to wait." She hung up.
Great, I thought. Everyone else gets to play together and I have to sit up here by myself with the lump. Edward wasn't the only one who could act six. I pouted like a champ for a good ten minutes. Still nothing from the phone—they were officially too busy for me now.
I gave Laurent a look and was shocked to see him looking right back at me. He blinked and I jumped about 10 feet straight up.
"Jesus H you sneaky fuck!" I yelled at him from the top of the building exhaust system.
He rolled his eyes up at me. "I might say the same to you, mon ami. However, since I woke up again I am forced to be somewhat grateful." He paused, then spoke again. "How long until I can move my arms and strangle you?"
I climbed cautiously down the chimneystack back to him and checked my watch. "The darts only last an hour each. You've got about 45 minutes to go before it's fully worn off, although usually it wears off all at once."
"You and your drugs."
"Well, don't pull a gun on me."
"It wasn't loaded."
"Yeah, well, how was I supposed to know that? We trained together, remember? What's the rule?"
"Fuck Maria," he replied.
"No, the other rule."
"Shoot first." He sighed. "That training caused nothing but trouble."
"Maria caused nothing but trouble."
He grunted his agreement. "This is why she is dead and we both pretend she never was." He seemed to tense for a moment, and then gave up with a roll of his eyes. "Stupid cow of a woman." He gave another long sigh of capitulation, and then spoke reluctantly. "Fine, I forgive you. Now sit me up so I can explain my toys."
"Your toys?" I asked, propping him against the chimneystack.
He grimaced as his head lolled over. "This is so undignified."
"Like I said, 45 more minutes."
"I hate waiting."
"Well, we have that in common." I regarded him for a moment, then started with the darts, shaking the little canister in front of his face. "What are these doing here?"
He grinned. "So, I was following her, right?"
"And she'd been shot, right?"
"So she's distracted, right?"
"She forgot her purse."
"Laurent, do you honestly expect me to believe that a woman forgot her purse?"
He grinned even wider. "You know she is no ordinary woman . . . or at least she wasn't."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You smelled it."
He pulled his head up with effort and then let it drop, effectively nodding. "Her humanity."
"Again, how is that possible?"
"You have her things from my pockets?"
"If you mean the watch and this canister, then yes."
His grin dropped. "Okay, so the gun is James' big idea. He will go in and shoot her with the darts, and she is supposed to collapse, right? Then he can bring her to the Volturi and make up for the problem of Italy."
"That's a stupid fucker's plan."
"Well, James was a stupid fucker. We are agreed. I stay outside, he goes in."
"He doesn't come out."
"Correct. Now I have a problem. Do I go in after James? Do I leave? Do I wait? I want nothing to do with this plan."
I frowned. "Couldn't you just call the Volturi and tell them where she is?"
He shook his head. "No. They are not interested in her now."
Well, that was big news. "What gives?"
Laurent grinned a sly little grin. "They are afraid of her."
"They controlled her."
He laughed. "No, they thought they controlled her. They thought they had her contained through James. But they were very, very wrong. They thought they had a tamed weapon, but she was still wild at heart. They pushed too hard, and she threatened them."
"She threatened them how?"
He looked around briefly, then whispered, "It was about that night."
"You are an idiot, you know that? THE night."
"Right, okay, but again, how does one woman threaten all of the Volturi?"
He glared at me and hissed. "She kills our kind! Is that not threat enough?"
"She kills our kind for them!"
"In her own time, in her own way. Never on their schedule. " He looked right at me. "They couldn't stop themselves. They pushed."
"They met with her and James that day. They were angry with her."
"Why? She had Edward wrapped around her little finger. Twice."
"Right. But she had no plan to kill him."
"Laurent, she was hired to kill him."
His eyes twinkled at me. "Again, the Volturi thought they were dealing with someone who could be bought. Maybe even threatened. Certainly bossed around. One of their sheep, you know? Someone like James."
"You said James was there?"
"Yes, he told me about it later. The big wigs were in town, and they wanted her to move things along." He lowered his voice and leaned forward a little, pleased at his ability to move and thrilled to be sharing some good gossip. "So they wait for her at the apartment she is sharing with James and they give her an ultimatum. She kills Edward that night, or they get someone else."
"And this is a threat to her how? She could always walk away from the job."
"You fucking idiot." He tried to thump me one, but his arm wouldn't move. I grinned at him and he scowled back. "She was enjoying Edward's company."
"She hates Edward."
"Did she say that?"
I gave him a look. "It wasn't like we were all playing confidante in those days."
"Right. Well, the Volturi try to push her along, and she gets mad. She says these things take time, these things can not be rushed, and so on and so on. Well, you know Aro. No excuses for him."
I nodded. No excuses, indeed.
"So Aro pushes on her and she fires right back. She says if anything goes wrong, she will blame them for rushing the job."
I thought about that. I thought about all the things that had gone wrong. I thought about how that might look. I grinned. "The Volturi think she's gunning for them."
Laurent nodded. "They had a fail safe. The bomb at the villa. But she was not at the villa when the bomb went off, according to the statement Alice gave the police."
I nodded. "She'd jumped, but they didn't know that until later. So as far as the Volturi are concerned, she didn't do the job and she disappeared into the night."
"Yes. And she was angry when she left."
I nodded again. "They blamed her for Greece, didn't they?"
"That was not her?"
I shook my head. "Alice was pissed about losing the villa."
He smiled. "Then they are running scared for nothing. I like that."
"So what was James's angle?"
Laurent's smile disappeared abruptly. He sat for a moment and scowled into the sunset. "James was tired of playing her manager. He was tired of being a lackey. He wanted the power." He stared into the setting sun, contemplating. "He was trading her."
"It was a deal. She was to do Edward, then Alice, then you, then Carlisle. All of the big enemies, gone. Then they were going to kill her, and James was going to be a full member as a reward for arranging it all."
I just sat there, stunned. All of us? Bella was going to off all of us? "She agreed to that?"
"She had only agreed to Edward. She didn't know about the rest. James was feeding her information one piece at a time. He didn't want her to suspect the big plot. He knew she would kill him if she found out she was being used."
"The Volturi knew who she was, then."
"They suspected. It was a good guess that paid off." He sat all the way up and wrapped his hands around his knees. "It would have been the ultimate revenge for them, to use her against you."
"And now their plan is shit."
"Yes, now their plan is shit. And they are very worried. This is why they do not hunt her. They want to make peace, especially after Greece, but they do not know how much she knows. . . or has figured out. They do not want to antagonize her further."
"What about James? He had no problem antagonizing her."
Laurent shook his head. "James was always power hungry. He loved her for what she could do for him, especially since she would kill for him. At first. I think he knew his control was slipping, and he knew she was a danger. It all blew up in his face. They only let him live because they thought it might upset her more if they killed him. But he lost it all. All his chances. He was back to being a nobody in their world."
"Until you smelled the blood."
He nodded. "The gun was stolen. It's based on one of your designs, but the Volturi don't know what they are doing. James thought to shoot her and take her back to them so they could kill her. So they could rest easy. He thought it would contain her."
"Not so much, huh?"
He shook his head. "Not so much. From what I could hear, he was dead within the first five minutes."
"She works fast."
"I think she knew he'd betrayed her. Besides, he always was an asshole."
We both nodded to that. He put a hand out and I helped him to his feet, dusting him off and making sure he didn't go toppling over the edge of the roof. He saw the watch laying on the ground and nodded to it.
"She didn't carry much with her. Just the gun, the darts, and that watch. Well, and some money, but I'm keeping that, if you don't mind."
He grinned. "Once a thief, always a thief. Besides, she doesn't care about money."
"Like you know her so well."
"Better than you think."
I let that go. There were a lot of holes in Bella's past, and I wasn't sure I really wanted to fill them all in right now. Laurent was eying the edge of the roof like he was itching to make a getaway. I knew Esme wanted me to keep him, but there was no way I could take him in now. He wouldn't let me shoot him again, and I didn't want to, anyway. We were survivors who pretended the past never happened, and being together would bring it all up again. He didn't want that, and I didn't want that. Not with Alice in the picture now. She didn't need to know about those days. None of them did. We had enough problems in the present.
"Tell me how you got her stuff."
"I told you. James shot her."
"And then you showed me the gun."
"Yes. And then you shot me, like a bastard."
"And you lived. Get over it."
He rolled his eyes. "I waited until she came out. I waited all day. It was excruciating." His eyes met mine and I nodded. Fuck waiting. "She came out with a black bag and staggered up the street. She smelled and she did not look good."
"James hurt her?"
He shook his head sharply. "I don't think she was reacting well to the change."
"Have you tried it?"
He shuddered. "Once was enough, thank you."
"That she was even up and moving the same day is pretty impressive. He must have missed her."
Laurent nodded at the film canister. "I think she pulled one out early and kept it. I don't know what the others were from—they were not from James's collection."
"Edward thinks they're his, but he doesn't know how she got them." Well, look at me, volunteering information! Alice would kick my ass if she knew. "Maybe Italy, that night."
Laurent shrugged. "Some people keep strange souvenirs."
I held up the pocket watch. "Like this one?"
He smiled. "I like that one. You know what it says?"
I shook my head. "It's in Russian."
"It says 'It's always a good time to come home.'"
I laughed. "That is a good sentiment."
"Yes. She will miss that."
"How did you get it?"
"I told you, from her purse. It was on the roof, just before the trail ended. She was running after the blast and left it behind."
"That's not like her."
Laurent shrugged again. "I said she was sick."
"Where's the bag?"
"I ditched it once it was empty. What kind of man carries a purse?"
I thought about that for a while. Laurent sighed and looked off into the distance. He tapped his watch meaningfully. I shrugged and gave in. Esme could yell at me later. "Anything else?"
He shook his head. "When you find her—if you find her—tell her I mean her no harm. I am out of this. Out."
"Right," I said. "You're out."
"Just one more thing." He beckoned me closer, and I stepped up . . . like a total sucker. He nailed me right in the jaw with a left hook that sent me reeling back onto my ass. Then he jumped to the next roof, where he could yell at me in relative safety. "Don't you ever shoot me again, Jasper Whitlock." He shook his fist. "Never again."
I shook my fist back at him and he took off over the rooftops at lightening speed, laughing. I rubbed my jaw. Laurent had always been a better hand-to-hand man than I had been, and he'd clearly been working out. With his new technique, it felt like I'd been hit by a ton of bricks.
Pulling myself back together, I gathered up the canister, made sure the lid was on tight, and put it into my pocket. I grinned as I looked at the watch. I liked the inscription. Cheeky, yet tender.
I wound the top of the watch and was surprised to hear it spring to life. I popped open the side and as I suspected, the inside face was filigreed just like that outside.
I didn't suspect that there would be a photo tucked into the other side. Squinting at the trio of faces, I started to laugh at the 1940's era hairdo on Bella. Edward was going to cream himself when he got a load of this one!
My laughter died off in my throat when my brain processed who the other two people in the photograph were, and in the back of my brain, music started to play.
"It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all."
Laurent hadn't said anything about this. Had he even looked? We both knew these faces, from the days that neither of us acknowledged anymore.
Hello Rose. Hello Emmett.
AN: All my love for reading, and review, review, review!