Les Femmes Noires One-Shot Contest

Title: Fire and Ash

Your pen name: wuogkat

Characters: Bella, Edward, Alice, Jasper, Emmett, random members of the Volturi

Disclaimer: Twilight is the property of Stephenie Meyer. I am so far from being her that it's not even funny. This story was written for fun, not profit so please don't sue me or take my stuff.

To see other entries in Les Femmes Noires Contest, please visit the C2 page:

www (dot)fanfiction (dot)net/community/Les_Femmes_Noires/73127/


A/n and other important stuff:

Beta'd by Knitmo who graciously ripped the original version of this story to shreds before assisting me in administering CPR. You're awesome babe!

.

Recommended Music (in order):

Dead Confederate, "Get Out"

Cowboy Mouth, "Everything You Do"

The White Stripes, "7 Nation Army"

Candlebox, "You"

Fleetwood Mac, "Bleed to Love Her"

Vigilantes of Love, "Resplendent"

Evanescence, "Haunted"


Assignment

From: Caius

To: Isabella Swan

Return to the castle tonight. We need someone to protect Vincent on a standard reconnaissance mission.

.

Re: Assignment

From: Isabella Swan

To: Caius

You know I don't do re-con. There's not enough violence involved.

.

Re: FW: Assignment

From: Aro

To: Isabella Swan

Return to the castle immediately. Caius wants your head and I can only protect you for so long if you insist on disobeying orders.

.

Re: Re: FW: Assignment

From: Isabella Swan

To: Aro

Fine, but you and I both know where your "bread is buttered." This had better be fast, I hate re-con. Who is Vincent?

.

Re: Re: FW: Assignment

From: Aro

To: Isabella Swan

You are acquainted with Vincent. He danced with you at last year's St. Marcus' Day Celebration. You would do well to remember who I am, little one. You aren't invincible. You've made many enemies in the past twenty years.

.

Re: Re: FW: Assignment

From: Isabella Swan

To: Aro

Annoying Italian, 5'8", never shuts up and looks like someone's going to set him on fire at any moment, that Vincent? You and Caius both know that I have no patience for the impertinent. How attached are you to him?

.

Re: Re: FW: Assignment

From: Aro

To: Isabella Swan

You have to stop killing your partners. I know that you prefer Demetri or Felix but they don't do reconnaissance. Get here now!

.

Re: Re: FW: Assignment

From: Isabella Swan

To: Aro

I'm getting on the plane. No more re-con after this. Tell Caius I'm finished. I don't want to be called unless there's a war, a rebellion, or someone to destroy. Capiche?

~#Emmett#~

One year prior:

"It's a suicide mission!" I objected.

"I can't do this anymore!" Edward screamed back at me. "You don't know what it's like. I am linked to her somehow and I can't get away from it. I can feel her. She's not in Volterra right now. She's in South America and she's pissed at someone." He tugged on his hair and paced like a caged animal. "She's killing again. I can tell because no matter where she is in the world I can point directly to her and feel what she feels. It's been twenty years since I've seen her but from the second she became a vampire-"

"Edward-" Carlisle tried to interrupt the tirade again only to be shut down.

"It's not normal! I'm not an empath! I shouldn't have to know what she's doing all the time!" He kicked the sofa into the wall and continued to pace. "There are things that no man should have to-" The two began talking over each other in rapid succession.

"This isn't the way to resolve your issues-"

"Carlisle we've tried. She won't talk to me-"

"We could go back, try again-"

"It won't do any good. She's become a monster. Don't you see that?"

"I agree with Edward," Alice spoke up. Every eye in the room snapped to her except for Jasper's. "She's completely out of control. This has to end now."

"Alice, how could you?" Esme scolded her but Alice only shrugged.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Alice and Edward had given up on Bella. She was no longer his future mate or her best friend but an enemy to be dealt with. I let out a heavy sigh and looked at Rose. She had taken this turn of events rather hard. If it were possible for a vampire to look exhausted, then my wife would have epitomized it. She shook her head weakly before settling next to me on the love seat.

"How?" Jasper turned to Edward and locked eyes with him. They were mostly communicating aloud for our benefit. In the past twenty years Edward, Alice, and Jasper had become an even closer knit group and hardly spoke aloud when around each other.

"You're actually going to go along with this?" I accused.

"If Alice has given up hope and is willing to accept this as an alternative, I see no other way." Jasper nodded.

"The plan's already worked out but I don't want to discuss it with anyone who's not going to be involved." Edward indicated the rest of us. As the three of them had grown closer, they had grown away from the rest of the family. They lived in their own little morose bubble of self pity.

"Are you in or out Emmett?" Edward asked. I shook my head.

"Rose?" Alice turned to my wife who also responded in the negative.

They left the house that night and we weren't sure if we would ever see them again. If I thought about it, I couldn't blame them. The three had been tortured by Bella's mere existence over the past twenty years. Edward could feel her like something under his skin, Alice could see her in all of her depraved glory, and Jasper had to feel the emotions coming off of both of them. Rose suffered as well but she thought that it was her fault and Edward still refused to accept her apology.

Over the years we heard rumors. Edward and Alice kept up with them and sought out as much information as they could on the Volturi's latest weapon. The underlings referred to Bella as 'Her Royal Highness.' According to various sources she was virtually untouchable and to make matters worse, she was malevolent. I wanted to make things better, to be her brother and hold her while she screamed and sobbed like I had done so often with Rosalie. But, Bella wouldn't see any of us. She had been angry at all of us when she was changed and the rage that consumed her was the result. I wasn't surprised.

~*Vincent*~

Isabella Swan was the most frightening vampire I'd ever met. Hands down she was scarier than Jane and Alec put together. Isabella once threw Jane across Aro's study because she had the misfortune to look at her wrong. She. Threw. Jane. No one touched Jane! Jane was Aro's golden girl. However, Isabella Swan could. I wasn't there when it happened and truthfully I tried to stay out of the castle whenever Jane or Her Royal Highness happened to be around.

Most of the "intell" that I had on Isabella was hearsay. She showed up as a human to rescue Edward Cullen from himself one day and was offered a position in the guard. Offered, not granted, not given, but offered ... She had the option to refuse Aro and go free. She didn't leave. Instead, she made demands. She would serve for exactly twenty-five years rather than be given to Felix as a reward.

Needless to say, I was intimidated. Caius assigned me to go out on a standard re-con mission with her to the middle of nowhere in the Russian steppe in order to spy on a coven that had remained in one place for a suspiciously long time. I was to meet her at the door to her palace suite at eight in the evening. I was late. I ran full-tilt through the corridor to make it there and still found myself arriving a minute or two past the appointed time. When I raised my hand to knock on the door it flew open and I was shocked by what I found standing in front of me. The last time I had seen her she was in formal clothes and appeared much more intimidating than she did now.

Isabella stood about 5-feet, 4-inches tall which made her only a little taller than Jane. Her long brown hair hung in loose waves just to the middle of her back and her crimson-rimmed black eyes weren't hard, angry, or fierce. I looked down from her face to discover that she was wearing a blue long sleeved T-shirt with dark jeans and black Converse sneakers.

She looked like a quiet, demure, teenage human. She draped her black on black embroidered cloak over one arm and cocked an eyebrow at me before closing the door behind her and stalking down the hall. She had been with the guard for twenty years but didn't carry herself the way that the seasoned veterans always did. She was a girl, a very pretty girl. I stood staring at her while she walked away until she stopped and spun around to look at me.

She stopped at the other end of the hall and spoke quietly, "Are you coming Vincent or do I get to do this by myself?" Only one minute had passed and I'd already annoyed her.

"I'm coming," I whispered in return before finding my feet and meeting her at the doorway to the stairwell. She was the senior guard member on this mission and I was going to have to force myself to remember it. I fingered the frog closure on my gray cloak and hurried to catch up. Her Royal Highness folded her arms and tapped her fingers on her elbows.

"Any day now Vinny," she huffed. I flew to her side.

"Please don't call me Vinny," I requested.

"Don't get on my bad side Vin," she warned and flung the door to the stairwell open.

There were voices further down the dark spiral staircase. Isabella cocked her head to the side before groaning. Heidi and Jane were discussing the latest runway show in Paris about five floors down. She rolled her eyes and hopped up on the railing. This was a serious breach of protocol, Caius disliked anyone climbing the railings. She motioned for me to join her and I shook my head.

"Come on Vin, I don't want to deal with their crap today." She didn't wait for me. Isabella looked up to the ceiling and then glanced down at the floor tens of stories below and dropped. I sighed and hoped that her status would protect me before following her lead. The air whooshed past me as I passed floor after floor and came to rest silently in a crouch at the foot of the stairs.

"Not bad for a first try. Next time, try landing in a more civilized position," she instructed. "We're stopping by the prison on the way out."

"The prison?" I asked.

"Yes, I'm thirsty and Heidi's offerings are always too noisy," She scoffed. "They beg. I'm just not in the mood to listen to my food or play with it." She pulled the cloak off of her arm and snapped it straight before pulling it around her shoulders in a flurry of black satin that arced out from her body in a circle. The fabric settled and she fastened the three silver clasps on the front before pulling the hood over her head.

She looked less like a girl in uniform. I could feel the authority of that satin robe settle between us and she became less irritating and more intimidating. I reminded myself that even though she looked ten years younger than I did, that I had only been a member of the guard for five years to her twenty and her reputation was fierce. Isabella Swan took no excuses or prisoners, she was lethal in a fight because she was untouchable, and she was just as hard on her co-workers as the rule breakers.

Her past exploits spoke for themselves. She put down a newborn rebellion in Seattle practically by herself as a newborn. It was rumored that the vampire who instigated it was after her in the first place. The fight that ensued was the stuff of legend. They say that she waltzed into an abandoned building where the army was hiding, and without the aid of Felix or Demetri who were dispatched to help with the situation, she danced between the newborns and slaughtered the lot of them before getting to their maker.

"Tell me Vincent, are you pondering my reputation at the moment?" Her question broke into my internal monologue.

"Truthfully, yes," I responded.

"Let's get one thing straight before we leave, you don't get to ask me about any of it, and if you bring up Edward or Alice Cullen, I will rip you to shreds and burn you myself." She stalked out the door and into the moonlight before motioning for me to follow.

"Stick to the job at hand Vinny." She continued to walk several paces ahead of me. "I'm going to get you to the steppe, conceal you, and bring you back with information for Caius but don't think that our close proximity is going to make us friends. I have no need of such things. Don't think for a minute that I wouldn't kill you for looking in the wrong direction."

"Can I ask a question?" I inquired and she inclined her head slightly. I took the gesture as tacit consent. "Why the prison?"

"Well, Aro, Caius, and Marcus don't want anyone hunting in the city. They've made an exception for the prison, particularly for the inmates who are sentenced to death. The death I offer is faster and more humane, just call me a humanitarian." She smirked and picked up her pace.

At the prison wall she invited me to join her. I fed earlier in the day with the rest of the guard so I stayed outside and waited for her to return. She was gone for exactly ten minutes. Her scent was punctuated by human blood when she dropped from the prison wall to stand next to me. I glanced at her eyes and they glowed an iridescent red.

"So, the prisoners are for convenience, not morality reasons?" I asked.

"You would do well to keep yourself from speculating about my morals," she smiled. "Does Caius want rid of you?"

"Not that I'm aware of ..."

"Just checking, because I don't normally get sent on re-con. The last partner I had that was this annoyingly curious ... Well, let's just say that he never made it back to the palace." She let out a mirthless laugh and I felt the temperature surrounding us drop a few degrees.

"You wouldn't actually kill another guard member ..."

"You'd never know if I did. It's not like Aro can read my mind and I wouldn't leave any witnesses. I assume that you're familiar with my reputation and exactly how many haven't come back from missions with me." She led me to a side street and flipped her car keys around her fingers. "It's a dangerous business, Vincent, and Aro wants to keep me around badly enough that no one questions my actions. I'm not like you. Chelsea binds the rest of you together. You'd follow Aro or Caius off a cliff like lemmings but not me. Chelsea's little gift doesn't work on me. I have no sentimental attachment to the Volturi. I'm only here to serve out my twenty five years of active guard membership and then I'm buying a little island in the Pacific."

She led me to a classic Mini Cooper and swung herself inside. I looked at the vehicle questioningly before sitting down.

"I like British engineering," she explained.

My legs barely fit. I couldn't figure out why Aro's darling would drive a piece of junk. Then, she revved the engine. The car had obviously been modified. She sped to the private airstrip and parked in her reserved space. The jet sat on the tarmac waiting for us and the pilot stood next to steps with his flight plan in hand.

"Bella!" He waved at her and she smiled at him. I was shocked to see that the smile she gave this human wasn't predatory or sinister. It radiated out like sunlight. She ran to the human, wrapped him in her arms and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"Mario, when did you get back from Africa?" She was suddenly casual and relaxed.

"Just this morning but when I heard that my Bella needed a pilot I volunteered." He cupped her cheek and the two appeared almost intimate. Isabella was truly a mystery. She was hard when it came to vampires but exceedingly gentle with this human man. I wondered if the reason why she didn't have a mate in the guard was because she was secretly a succubus. Most of the guard had mates. Demetri and Felix remained single but it was well known that the two were vying for Isabella's attention. She was known to be involved with both but hadn't picked one as her mate. There were rumors about Edward Cullen having broken her heart when she was a human child but most of us felt our human memories and feelings fade within a few years of the change.

Mario escorted Bella up the stairs and onto the plane. The gesture was absolutely ridiculous. She didn't need his hand and she didn't need to be kind to him. He was hired help, like the receptionist in the lobby of the castle. He would serve us and then either be turned or disposed of at the end of his usefulness. Developing any sort of affection for the help was frowned upon. I was starting to get the feeling that Isabella didn't follow any of the rules.

~*Bella*~

The flight to Russia was uneventful. Vincent continued to spend his time trying to trick me into giving him some sort of personal information so that he could 'understand' me. After twenty years of being the guard's most reclusive member, I was used to it. The older vampires knew to steer clear of my bad side and not to ask about my past; but every time they stuck me with a rookie I had to put up with questions.

He started with my relationship with Mario. I was always friendly to the human staff. Correction, I was friendly with most of the human staff. Gianna, who was the receptionist when I first came to Volterra was an exception to the rule. She was really upset about my relationship with Felix and Demetri.

"Why did you kiss dinner?" Vincent sneered.

"You need to learn some manners." I tisked at him.

"Sorry. Why did you kiss the human?"

"There's no reason to scare him. He's a human man who knows his place on the food chain," I explained and tried to ignore him. "Besides, he's nice."

"Nice? You are aware of what you are, aren't you?" Vincent tried to be daring and accusatory but fell short. He had all the conviction of a wet dishrag.

"You are aware that I'm the senior guard member on this mission, aren't you? I will choose to be nice when I feel like it," I snapped. He was positively terrified. However, he continued to pry with random questions whenever he could catch my eye.

Early on, I had put a partner or two in a position to get himself killed. It was only partially intentional but the privacy that my new reputation afforded was something that I cherished. The entire guard disgusted me. They were all slaves. Chelsea saw to that. She and I were among the few who weren't fanatically loyal to Aro and Caius. I would have added Marcus to the list but Marcus was simply a shell that used to house a vampire.

Chelsea spent my first year trying to enslave me on Aro's orders. It didn't work. By the end of that year I had actually begged her to break my painful ties to Carlisle Cullen's 'son.' She worked on that one tiny thread of my allegiance for hours at a time but could never dent it. After another four years I discovered that he was keeping tabs on me and decided to change my diet to spite him.

I couldn't bring myself to participate in the carnage that passed for 'family dinner' at the castle. It seemed unsporting. Instead, I made a deal with the Italian government and occasionally a violent prisoner would show up dead in the cell block. When out of town, which was most of the time because Aro quickly discovered while he couldn't read my mind I could borrow his ability when he was under my shield, I dined on vigilante justice. There were more than enough criminals in the world to go around. Human blood tasted better than that of animals and the crimson tint that it gave my eyes helped to maintain respect in the guard. I also had it on good authority that my actions ticked off one Edward Cullen. That was a bonus.

After all we'd been through, he was going to let the Volturi dispose of me rather than turn me into a vampire. I dropped everything and flew into a highly dangerous situation to rescue him, to keep him from harm and he couldn't have the common courtesy to give me one little nip on the neck to ensure that I wouldn't become dinner for Felix. The thought made me shudder. After becoming better acquainted with him I came to know what being Felix's dinner would entail and it wasn't something that I wanted any part of. He was very sick. As a human, I would have died of shame and fright before his teeth met my neck.

Twenty years did nothing to ease the pain. The sad part was that I could sense where Edward was. He came to Volterra with Carlisle about one year after my change. I found that I could accurately tell exactly what he was doing and where he was when he was that close. Aro forbade me from killing the 'guests.' By that time I had already cleared up the situation that Edward created in Seattle. I knew that Victoria was after me but the fact that she was allowed to roam free and chase after me night and day for my last few weeks as a human loomed on the horizon. Edward should have known better and taken care of that sadistic female. How could he not have known what lurked in that fiery red head?

I asked for the assignment. It was my first. That was the day that we discovered that my shield wasn't just mental, it was physical when I needed it to be. Felix and Demetri were to assist me in taking down Victoria and her army but it became readily apparent that I needed no help. The anger that raged within me was enough fuel to send me over the edge. I felt a shift somewhere in my mind and let the rage take over. Victoria begged for mercy by the end. I gave her none. It was then that I realized that I enjoyed violence. I relished in her destruction and took my time with it. When we returned to Volterra Aro was willing to grant my petition to go out on more assignments. Outside of my penchant for violence, I had wonderful self control. I was usually sent on violent work and when I gained enough control over my shield I led small groups to put down larger covens and armies. I loved that part of my job.

Day to day castle life on the other hand was irritating. I often had to put Jane in her place. The simpering little witch had it out for me from the beginning and spent most of her time trying to find holes in my shield. It didn't hurt, but it was irritating. Every time she tried it felt like something tickling the back of my mind. I lashed out at her once and threw her into the wall in Aro's study. He found it amusing. Jane and I avoided each other as much as possible after that. I was dying to put her under my shield and use her own ability on her though. That seemed like it would be fun to play with. I could make her scream. Yes, Jane would be a lovely toy if Aro would allow me to play with her.

I knew that I had certain freedoms when it came to my behavior. I was dangerous enough that Aro was wary of me but I had my weaknesses. My physical shield took time to get up and if I was ambushed then he could certainly exact some form of revenge for torturing his pet. It would be foolish to think that he trusted me. I knew that so long as I didn't take things too far that I'd get away with a lot both in and out of the palace. He wanted my shield on his side in case of a skirmish because I could offer more protection than Renata. However, I had no intention of having my fingertips attached to his robes and he knew it. Renata was loyal and I most definitely lacked that characteristic. My only remaining loyalty was one that I despised.

Palace life wasn't entirely dull. Felix and Demetri had both spent twenty years trying to win my affections. Demetri made better headway than Felix because he was less unsavory. Early on he would go with me out into the countryside and watch me hunt; that was before I made my dietary change. We weren't close emotionally. The relationship was more about scratching an itch as far as I was concerned. He seemed to take it a bit more seriously. There were days when he could almost make me forget Edward. He would run his hands through my hair and pull roughly or nip at my neck with his teeth and I would get lost in the sensation. However, we never went beyond simply making out. Something would always happen and I would feel like I was cheating on Edward and I'd push him away. The relationship ran hot and cold, but he seemed alright with that. He obviously considered groping each other in the halls of the castle to be more of a relationship than I did.

The first time it happened was when we returned from my first mission. I waltzed out of Aro's study flying. I felt so good until I passed Chelsea and Afton in the hallway. They were holding hands and looking longingly at each other. It hurt to see them. I was completely crushed and in desperate need of a distraction. I wanted Edward. So, I went to the only male that I knew and might consider trusting, Demetri. He had been very kind to me on the trip. He even made arrangements for me to go hunting before each flight. He had an honest emotional attachment to me. I didn't feel guilty knocking on his door. His suite was conveniently just down the hall from mine. It was so easy to slip over there and knock.

The air spilled out of my lungs when he opened the door. He was beautiful. Since he wasn't called into my private meeting with Aro he had the opportunity to change. With his cloak and shirt removed I could see his muscular chest. His hair was dark and long; it hung around his face and tickled his shoulders. The pants from his suit still hung around his hips and I knew that I couldn't go away from his room without taking what I needed from him. I explained the situation very carefully so that he knew that I was taking advantage of him.

He placed his hand on my cheek and told me that I was beautiful before slipping the same hand down my neck, over my shoulder and down to the small of my back to pull me into his room. We discussed how far I was willing to take physical contact with him with his hand still firmly in position on my back. I was eighteen and naïve, and he treated me with kid gloves. We finished talking and he pulled me closer. I stood up on my toes and wrapped my arms around his neck. He smelled like sawdust and lavender. I fought down the feeling that kissing him would be wrong and imagined a different set of arms around me. His build was similar enough to Edward's that I could delude myself if I closed my eyes. He gingerly moved a lock of hair away from my face and I pulled his mouth down to mine. From there it was an inferno. Even though I couldn't feel the same magnetic electricity that I always had with Edward, it was intense. My newborn instincts for all things enjoyable took over and I pinned him to the wall. The air left his lungs and I attacked his mouth ferociously. He didn't fight for dominance that first time. He let me lead and work through the emotions that raged through my body.

I became absorbed in what I was doing. All of the stress that I had experienced since Edward left came out. I pushed on Demetri and clawed and nipped until his hand brushed the hem of my shirt. His fingers touched the bare skin at the small of my back. I stopped cold and backed away before sobbing violently. Demetri lifted me and took me to his couch. He curled me protectively into his chest.

"He's a fool, Bella. He is a fool," he whispered into my hair until the sobs abated and I became too embarrassed to stay in his room. "I'm here when you're ready," he said when I walked out the door. That is exactly how all of our sessions ended for the first five years. The pain never numbed, Demetri just became more aware of exactly how deep my scars were. He stopped offering because I would always come back. I would always be with him but never in the way that he that wanted me.

On bad days when Demetri was out of town and I needed to feel something other than the ache for Edward, I went to Felix. He was rougher and I often had to use my shield to push him back when I'd had enough, but he was better than nothing. Felix knew his place in my world. He never asked for more and never questioned my interest in him. He knew that he was just a means to an end and he saw me that way too. Felix liked humans a little too much and what he did with them was depraved and disgusting. However, an occasional encounter with me was something that he welcomed. It made him seem almost normal to everyone else. We would unleash our anger on each other and channel it into a combination of violence and passion. Priceless antiques were often damaged when we were together. Sometimes he hurt me but it was easier to feel that than to feel Edward. I would allow him to brag about things that we didn't do together and he would be there to meet my sadness and rage with his own whenever I needed it. I would always have to be the one to stop and he hated it.

If neither of them were around when feelings about Edward boiled up in my stomach and forced to crush me, I would seek out Jane and goad her into a fight. Her skills had improved since I joined the guard. In a way, I had helped her immeasurably. She was finally able to fend for herself without the use of her gift. It was doubtful that she would see it that way but it was the truth. She was merely Aro's lapdog before I arrived in Volterra. Since then she had become a warrior in her own right. We hated each other but we both realized how much we actually needed the conflict. That didn't mean that I didn't want to make her scream and beg for mercy, because I did.

"Are we going?" Vincent asked.

I nodded and exited the plane. I didn't know how long we sat on the tarmac in Russia but it must have been a while for him to risk angering me by speaking. Mario had exited the plane and begun getting our customs paperwork taken care of. We took care of things 'po-blatu' when it came to moving around in Russia. The Russian mafia bowed to the Volturi without knowing what we really were. The human customs agent let us slip past without even looking at our passports.

Our car was waiting. Since we were heading into the wilderness, a Combat T-98 had been arranged. I rolled my eyes at the monstrosity before climbing into the drivers seat. I hated these things. They drove like tanks, probably because they were a close cousin to a tank. I clicked my tongue while I set up the seat and mirrors. It was barely possible to get my feet to the pedals. I preferred to drive a Volga or an old school Vostok motorcycle while in Russia but heading off road demanded something more sturdy.

Vinny finally found the sense to shut his mouth. I spent a serious portion of our plane trip considering disposing of him along the way. I did need to keep him alive for the actual mission. As irritating as he happened to be his gift was useful and I couldn't hear at the distance needed without him. When he wasn't talking incessantly he was actually pleasant to be around. He didn't cower like most of the younger vampires did and he was actually from my generation so I could relate to him a bit. I had to be about five years older than him in human years. I let him pick the music in the car and was pleasantly surprised. 'Seven Nation Army' wouldn't have been my first choice but it certainly suited my mood. Something other than Vincent was irritating me that day and I couldn't put my finger on what.

~*Edward*~

Are you absolutely sure that you want to go through with this? Jasper rested his hand on my shoulder.

"According to Alice, it's too late to change my mind," I replied and crushed a ball of snow with my fingertips. "It's been twenty years and the pain hasn't gotten any better, has it?"

You know that Alice isn't always right when it comes to her. She can't see her all the time. This could be a fools errand.

"She's out of control Jasper," I whispered. "I can't help it. She's too far gone and if destroying her destroys me as well then so be it. I can't live like this anymore. I can't take the anger and the rage and the pain anymore. It ends now. Think of it as physician assisted suicide. Bella and I are both terminally ill." A weary laugh escaped from my lips.

My battle-hardened brother shrugged and walked back to the series of huts that we were using for housing. The plan was in place. Bella would be coming to me. I hadn't seen her in twenty years -- not since her change. Every day without her broke my heart just a bit further. Early on, Carlisle and I attempted to visit her in Volterra. I was prepared to stay with her in Italy but she wouldn't see me. After a week Aro turned us away stating that our prescience, mine in particular, was making her agitated and difficult to control. Keeping her docile and happy was Aro's priority.

The world of vampires was a small one so I found it easy to keep track of her. Eleazar went to Volterra under false pretenses to see her. She was a shield and a very powerful one at that. He doubted that Chelsea could affect her allegiances. For a while I allowed this information to let me hope for a future with her. When she calmed down we could be together. However, time passed and she made no effort to contact me and her rage continued to grow. She was angry and upset and sad and frustrated all at once. It was difficult to deal with. Those weren't the worst though; the worst part were her occasional feelings of lust.

There were rumors about her and Felix or Demetri. She had grown close to the two of them and could regularly be seen and heard in intimate contact with either one. The thought of one of those two, or both -- as some of the rumors went -- touching her made me sick. I found her truck in a junkyard and destroyed it when I heard. It must have been true that my feelings were stronger than hers all along. She had never really wanted me; she wanted immortality. I should have realized it immediately. She was way too accepting of the supernatural in her life and asked me to change her too many times. She was too insistent to just be asking so that we could be together. In Volterra, she found what she wanted without me.

It wasn't long before word reached me that she was drinking human blood. Maria, of all people, passed that bit of knowledge on to Jasper. Bella led an offensive in the South against another vampire whose army had grown out of control and Maria saw her. Bella's eyes were crimson with human blood. It had been five years since I went to Volterra for the first time at that point. The revelation made sense as my own blood lust had inexplicably grown. Years of control and patience eroded out from under me, and I desperately clawed at the cliff of self control to keep from plummeting to the bottom and feeding off of a human. Maria also pointed out that Bella was utterly barbaric. The Volturi showed no mercy but Bella wouldn't hesitate to kill her own troops at the slightest delay in following orders. Jasper was horrified by her callousness.

She wasn't my Bella anymore. My Bella wasn't a killer. The Volturi hoped that after several years her blood lust would calm and that she would ally with them. That seemed impossible. Twenty years into her twenty five year servitude and she was still as volatile as a newborn. Her partners sometimes didn't return from missions and she doled out Volturi justice with an iron fist. However, it wasn't keeping the law that she truly cared for but the violence that she could inflict while doing it. Caius contacted me with a desire to dispose of her or reign her in. He knew that Alice and I were the only hope that anyone would have at defeating Bella, and that I desperately needed relief from the constant pain that Bella put me through. Caius skipped contacting Carlisle and went straight to me. Carlisle wouldn't approve of our plans to dispose of Bella. He would forgive us, because forgiveness was right, but he would never condone these actions.

Bella didn't follow orders and Caius couldn't stand it. Aro protected her to an extent because he had changed her and saw Bella as an investment. She was worth two of Jane by his reckoning because she could take on the abilities of those under her shield. It was like have two of any one member of the guard. Caius couldn't convince Aro that the cost of keeping her around outweighed the benefit. So he turned to me. He knew about my tortured emotional state and that I would take relief any way that I could find it.

I felt her. She was on the ground but still miles away. Her irritation was palpable across the space. I could finally imagine how it felt to be Jasper. I knew Bella's emotions but none of the thought behind them. It had been like that from the nanosecond her heart stopped beating. Alice and I stayed in Italy for three days and I felt the difference when she opened her eyes. The memory wrenched a sob from my soul. My pain for the loss of her had only intensified with time. I was doomed to this one-sided love that she refused to share with me.

Her vehicle drew closer and I felt her irritation transfer to me. I felt like a caged lion. I paced back and forth in front of my bars.

~*Jasper*~

"She's close, he agitated again," I mumbled to my wife. Alice stood at the window staring at our brother. Her sadness would have been tangible to anyone. Today would see the death of her one time best friend and her closest sibling. They would meet, fight, and die.

"It's not him, it's her." I could feel the venom in her eyes pooling and wanting to overflow without the ability to do so.

"Twenty years have changed nothing," I explained again. "It's too late for them."

"I can still see it. That vision of them together was so real. I could taste it, Jasper," she sobbed. "It was set and then he forced us all to leave and put the future to complete crap again!" Her hand left indentations in the window sill where she gripped it. "This isn't what was supposed to happen."

"I know, Alice. I know," I tried to soothe her. Knowing what might have been and the happiness that we would have had took its toll on her emotionally. "It's time for this to end," I whispered.

"We could stop it," she asserted.

"Not without dying ourselves. You have seen that." There were no other solutions left. We could watch Edward die slowly of heartbreak until he was as much of a shell as Marcus or a monster like James or we could act and end it now. He stood bravely in front of the compound awaiting his fate.

"I don't want to live like this." Alice pulled at the roots of her hair and clawed at her scalp. Her fingers pushed her hair into further disarray.

"It'll get better with time, dear, after they're gone." I knew that this wasn't much comfort. We would still be without them. She could see in her visions that we would still be sad but at least we wouldn't have to watch Edward any longer. I wouldn't have to feel him and she wouldn't have to watch Bella. I gave up on trying to help him emotionally ten years ago. Sending waves of calm and happiness had no affect on his emotional state; it was too deep.

When Caius initially contacted Edward, I wanted nothing to do with the plan. Bella broke all of Caius' treasured rules. She resisted loyalty to the guard and openly disobeyed him. He wanted rid of her. In the meantime Edward suffered knowing that she was out there, knowing what she felt and when she felt it. He was turning into a wild animal. Edward needed to be free and her death seemed to be the only way to end his torment. This event took a year of planning and I eventually came around. However, it became apparent as we became more committed to the plan that this would end both of them. There was no separating Bella's fate from Edward's. They were two sides of the same being, light and dark.

They had always been light and dark but their sides had changed. It was odd to think that Edward was the light half of anything. His inner darkness had always sat dangerously close to the surface and threatened to consume him and everyone around him. He held the potential for destruction at bay by a thin layer of restraint.

The human Bella, on the other hand, radiated light. She was Edward's sun and he involuntarily orbited around her. Her light was as strong as his dark and she could brighten even his darkest desires into something more human, more manageable. When we left her star turned into a black hole. She actively sucked the light out of anything according to those who were close to her.

I talked to Demetri once. He wanted to love her but he knew that it would be suicide. She was a ball of rage, fire and ash. He often pulled her back from the edge of destroying everything. It was his opinion that Edward was to blame for her emotional state, and he felt the Edward should burn for it. He told of Bella violently pushing him into walls and kissing him passionately just before breaking into uncontrollable sobs. She couldn't see anyone else happy without the violence and rage boiling out of her soul. Demetri had seen other scars too. When he was gone Bella would sometimes willingly submit herself to Felix. There were teeth and claw marks on her body and rumors of what might have happened but she was always adamant that she went to him willingly.

Edward refused to believe it. It was easier to hate her than to accept his role in her undoing. He poured all of his effort into hating her. He was so insistent that she never loved him, that it was always one sided. Edward was a blind fool. He often complained that as a girl Bella couldn't see herself clearly. But he couldn't see her clearly either. The fact that he couldn't read her mind crippled him. When it came to Bella's mind he was clueless. He couldn't even use context clues like her expression to figure her out. Mind reading was too much of a crutch. She loved him so much, that even in her utter despair, she flew into the heart of a hostile, vampire-run city to save his life. I had often witnessed the love that she had for my brother and it was astounding that one little human could feel all of that. However, when he hesitated to save her in return it must have all crushed in on itself. Her heart was an abandoned building that imploded. Her change intensified the emotions further. There was nothing to be done. By the time we were allowed access to her, she wanted nothing to do with us.

So, we waited for her. She would come and she and my brother would finish each other off. Alice could see the flames and the emptiness that lay beyond them. It would be both beautiful and terrible. They would both be crushed under its weight. If they weren't, if for some reason one of them lived, Alice and I were to kill the surviving party. My brother and the love of his life would die either at the hands of each other or we would kill them.

I took a deep breath to steady my emotions. It had been so long since I was able to actually feel for myself that my own sadness felt foreign. There was no room to allow myself the opportunity to feel anything of my own. I had given everything to keep my family together. On the other side of the flames that would consume Edward and Bella that afternoon I hoped to find some small grain of happiness that Alice and I could keep for ourselves.

Alice and I needed peace.

~*Alice*~

I stared out the window but I wasn't watching Edward. I was watching Bella. She barreled across open countryside in a giant SUV toward her doom. I watched her face as she realized who was waiting for her. She could feel Edward; I knew it. Her eyes focused on the distant spot where his form would come into view and they narrowed.

"Are you in on this?" She turned to her companion.

"What are you talking about?" The male next to her seemed puzzled by her accusation.

"He's here and he's waiting for me," she spat. Her teeth ground together and her fingers pressed themselves more tightly into the wheel. She was going to permanently damage it.

"Who?"

"Edward Cullen," she growled. "We've been sent to spy on the Cullens. That would have been helpful to know before we left Volterra. Congratulations, Vinny. You've officially been sent on a suicide mission. They know that I'm coming. It's a trap. Caius must really dislike you." She let out a dark laugh and I pulled away from the vision. Vincent would be a victim of her rage before she reached us. Caius wanted rid of him because he was too timid. I would have tried to save him but at this point his fate was sealed. If Bella didn't destroy him, then Caius would find some reason to continue throwing him into harms way until someone finished him off.

I had seen it before. The second our plan was set in motion the outcome became a fixed moment in time. A meeting between Edward and Bella would end explosively. Both parties would be utterly destroyed. I played it over and over again in my head and always came to the same outcome, flames and a void. They would wink out of existence.

It had become increasingly harder to see Bella. Carlisle hypothesized that her physical shield must make her invisible to me. It was perfectly logical. I could often see her unless she was in the middle of a battle and then she winked out of existence. Morbid curiosity kept me following her through twenty years of pain and mistakes. I worked very hard not to show those images to Edward. He was already so broken that seeing her this way would kill him. She was feral and self destructive. It was his fault that she became this creature.

It wasn't long before I saw the plume of purple smoke that marked Vincent's death. I frowned and Jasper came to my side. He wrapped his arm around my waist and I felt the familiar comfort of having my mate near. Jasper had been strong for the rest of us in the past twenty years. He held the family together and worked on his self control. He probably didn't even realize how far he had come in that respect. Bella was the last person he tried to attack. It changed him.

If it were possible for a vampire to age then I would say that he had. He still looked the same but the strain of the years showed on his face. He rarely smiled and he carried himself hunched slightly over. The weight of the entire situation sat firmly on his shoulders. I could never tell whether or not he blamed himself. He kept it all in and pushed calm and peace out to the rest of us.

The end would mean some solace for my husband. He would finally be able to relax and breathe. We could go back to normal. Carlisle and Esme would forgive us quickly and we would go back to some cloudy town in the northern U.S. and go back to school again with Emmett and Rosalie. We would miss Edward but it would be less painful than watching the situation poison his thoughts by degrees. Without an end, he would become an animal.

"How long?" Jasper whispered into my ear.

"She'll be here in a few minutes. She won't watch Vincent burn."

Edward heard our thoughts and looked over his shoulder at us. I pulled in a deep breath and made my way toward the door. It was time for goodbyes. The door swung open easily and I made my way to him with Jasper's arm firmly around my waist. Edward's eyes were black, he saw no sense in hunting before his death. He looked like he wanted to claw his way out of his skin.

Jasper and I embraced him before moving back to the doorway of our little hut. I would be glad to get back to the house in a few days. We didn't need most modern conveniences but they were just that, conveniences. Some new clothes and a hot shower would feel wonderful. Edward smiled bitterly over his shoulder and turned his head back.

We didn't have to wait long. The giant armored vehicle pulled into sight and barreled down on Edward at an alarming rate. It skidded to the side and stopped twenty feet shy of hitting him. Bella jumped from the driver's seat and literally ripped the cloak from her body. The wind caught the cloak and sent it off like an elaborate black satin sail and swept it into the birch trees. Her hair whipped around her in thick locks that reminded me of Medusa. She leveled her blistering red gaze on Edward and his black eyes met hers. The two were blazing embers and charred wood. They stood still for almost a full minute before charging. Jasper tensed behind me. When they collided with each other I caught the briefest image of the two with their hands locked, fingers interlaced at chest height, each of them trying to push the other but neither moving. Their lips were curled in identical sneers. That was when the fire happened. The two of them were engulfed in a ten foot bubble of flame and their futures floated into nothing, but there was no smoke.

~*Bella*~ ~*Edward*~ ~*Both*~

He was there. I could feel him like he was inside of my skin. How dare he stand there like nothing had happened? My uniform was suddenly too constricting. The heavy black satin kept me from being able to breathe; so, I tore it. I felt the cloak billow away in the breeze and I didn't care. I would never need it again. I felt him for a few moments. His body felt like an extension of my own a mere eighteen feet away. I felt his hatred and I charged. I started to put up my physical shield but I was on him before it came up.

My eyes instinctively followed her movements as she leaped from the SUV and rent her cloak from her body. My heart lurched. My body was hyper-aware of hers. There was an undercurrent to her rage, it felt almost like sadness but too intense. It was an emotion felt on a physical level - phantom limb pain. She was missing something and could still feel it. Was it me? I had never been close enough to sense it until that moment. Her face twisted into a snarl and she ran toward me. Her fingers were splayed and curved menacingly. I snatched her hands with mine and held them with locked arms to keep us apart.

Everything stopped.

The world froze on it's axis.

I gasped.

Pain.

Agony.

"Flames," I whispered. The fire raged between us. It started when we touched. Had there been a physical spark? I didn't know what to do but I felt my physical shield come into place.

I felt my flesh burn. She closed her eyes and the heat moved out from our bodies. A dome of fire came to life around us.

"You," she sobbed and her lip trembled.

"You," I accused.

How dare he look at me like that, like I had done something wrong. With the shield around him I could hear his thoughts. He came to kill me because I was a monster. My skin pricked with anger and I heard that he could feel it. Whatever I was it was his fault. I merely survived the hell he created for me. I lowered my inner shield to show him the pain that he caused and...

We were one. Confusion clouded the air between us. We were thinking separately but somehow in tandem.

"Get out of my head," Edward growled.

"Why, do you have a problem with someone being in your head? You're in everyone else's all the time. You afford no one else privacy, why should I give you any?" I spat and pushed on his arms to try and gain the upper hand physically. Unfortunately, being linked, he could see the move as I thought it. He tried the same and was met with similar opposition.

I couldn't figure out why she'd done it. I had access to her mind. Why did she give me access? She was taking as much as she gave. So, I tried to use it to my advantage. I showed her herself.

"You're a monster."

"Just like you always said you were," she grunted and tried to push my arms back again. Then, I could see the reason. She was broken. Aro changed her when she was broken. An expletive slid across the back of my mind. "That's right and it's your fault, not Aro's," she spat.

My chest felt like it was being crushed. I had to tell her, to show her:

The forest – the lie.

The lie?

'Was it a lie?'

'Believe me. I lied to you, Bella.' I showed her my conversation with the family, the decision to leave. I had to show her Alice and Esme crying and Emmett's anger. I showed her my guilt. She had to see my guilt.

"Stop it!" She screamed at me. Her feet kicked up muddy slush and she twisted us to the side.

Hurt.

Pain.

The images raced from her mind into mine unbidden.

He needed to see the consequences of his actions. If I hadn't been so angry then the memories would have knocked me to the ground. Most vampires forgot their human experiences, they faded, but mine never did. I developed a new and deeper understanding of the pain associated with them. What had been a dull ache and depression turned to rage and hatred. I showed him those first few hours and found that he knew. I fought back a new bubble of anger at the fact that he knew how far I chased him into the woods and he left me there anyway.

"I left a note," he defended.

I assaulted him mentally again. I was utterly alone and cold on the forest floor. I wanted to die. I skimmed the memories in between and showed him the void that he left in my life when he disappeared. I showed him pain and loneliness.

"I would have been better off if you had killed me."

"I didn't know-"

"You didn't want to know."

"In time you would have moved on-"

"I've had time. You call this moving on?" I pushed at him again and he stepped backwards to regain his footing. I assaulted him with pictures of my stunted love life. Jacob, whom I could never fully love the way he deserved, swam across my mind to his. I filled the memory with the feeling of settling, the slight feeling that something was off. My sadness at my own inadequacy. When he grasped that I moved on to Demetri. I barely got the memory across before I found myself on my back on the ground.

"Don't you dare show him to me!" I pinned her to the ground and felt her pressed fully against me as she suddenly sobbed. Then, I felt it. The emotion from her memory was too intense. There was lust there, but I had never assessed it any further. She didn't want him, not that way. The lust was tainted with sadness and anger.

"I need you to explain that to me," I whispered into her ear. She didn't respond. Instead she closed off the link that allowed me to see inside her mind.

"If you didn't feel it, then I can't explain it." She struggled with me.

"Bella!" I slammed her hands back down into the mud on either side of her head. "Bella, let me back in!"

She flipped me over her head and my shoe made contact with the fire. I jerked it back quickly and released her fingers. She was on her feet faster than I was. I kicked off the flaming shoe and popped up to a standing position. She sunk into a crouch.

"I tried to contact you. Alice tried to contact you. Even Emmett and Rosalie made a trip to Volterra. You would never see any of us." I kicked off my second shoe and stepped toward her. My socks sopped up the muddy soup that the fire created from melting snow. I didn't know whether or not she could still hear my thoughts or if she could feel me the way that I felt her but I had to try. She had opened her wounds to me so I did the same.

"I have never stopped loving you."

She snarled in response and stepped crossing her legs over each other around the circle. I was forced to move to maintain the distance between us. I showed her my broken state without her and the decision to go to Volterra after talking to Rosalie. Her eyes narrowed and I knew that she was listening.

'So, you can hear me. This doesn't necessarily go two ways then... Listen to me and believe it.'

My heart broke when I found out about her exploits with Felix and Demetri so I showed it to her. I showed her how it looked and felt to me when it started. I dredged up my reactions to all of the news that we received and forced them to the front of my mind where she could see them plain as day.

"I wanted to make things work when I came back for you."

"YOU LEFT ME!" She shrieked and charged. I grabbed her wrist before she could make contact and found her teeth burning into my shoulder. I bit into hers in protest.

I dropped my inner shield again and gave in to the feeling of oneness, the strange two-way flow of information. His teeth burned into my shoulder and I could feel mine searing into his. The result was a feedback loop that built into an almost unbearable pain. I loved it. I relished in the physical pain. It was easier.

'You think that it was so hard to be you? You think that you had it bad? Do you know what you were leaving me to?'

I showed him Felix's latest human conquest. Her body was completely broken and grotesque. It was hard to look at but I forced myself to show him the monster that his indecision would have subjected me to.

'You wouldn't change me to prevent that.'

'I never would have allowed that. I would have fought.'

'You would have died and you would have taken me and Alice right along with you.' Felix came to the front of my mind. We more fought than made out and the results were sometimes brutal. I had trouble pushing down the memory and Edward released my shoulder. I unknowingly sunk my teeth further into his to quiet a sob.

"Bella," he gasped. "I didn't know."

'Well now you do. It's been hell.' I released his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around me.

"The violence, the pain, the recklessness, Demetri, Felix... It was all about forgetting you," she sobbed. I pulled her to the muddy ground and held her.

"Can you come back?"

"I don't know."

"Please Bella, let me help you."

"I think I'm beyond help."

never

"I ENJOY it too much."

The violence

The death

The destruction

"You have to end it."

"What if I can't."

"End me."

"I can't."

"You can, you have, finish it ..."

"I never wanted to hurt you."

"You killed my heart and I killed my spirit. Kill this body. Finish it."

"No."

"I will let this fire consume both of us."

"So be it."

'So be it.'

I dropped my physical shield for the last time and let the flames lick us to ash. We were together even if it was too late.