Here we are, at the very end.
Thank you to Octoberland and evieeden for all their hard work and encouragement throughout the story, and for everyone who has read and reviewed along the way. Also thanks to Lamia for pre-reading the last few chapters (even though I think her motivation was to get to read the chapters early, and 'DIE JACOB DIE' is not particularly constructive :P ).
Originally this was going to be a short fluffy piece set about a year after Bella's change. However, as I wrote the final few chapters I realised I needed to do something a little less cliche and wrapping up a particular aspect of the story. So here it is.
I'd always thought that airplanes were relatively quiet when the engines weren't pushing for power during take-off or landing. At some point the journey would settle into a kind of hush as people slept or engrossed themselves in the in-flight entertainment, as if being confined to a seat made them automatically reluctant to make any noise.
Like so many things, my perception had completely changed upon becoming a vampire.
The middle of a flight was a constant barrage of noise, even when the engines had dulled to a less dramatic roar. The air conditioning hummed and whirred. There was the muffled soundtrack to the movie as dozens of people listened to it through headphones, all slightly out of sync. There were the continual gentle sounds of people shifting in chairs, or adjusting blankets, or moving their legs.
The muted beat of three-hundred hearts.
It wasn't the scent that was the worst, strangely enough, although I was dealing with a burn more powerful than I'd felt since I was changed; it was the sound, the constant seductive tattoo reminding you that blood was close, and it was plentiful.
We'd practiced this, after I'd celebrated my first year as a vampire with no loss of life (close though it had been). First with short flights from our home in Labrador to other airports within Canada, then with longer flights across the width of the States. So long as I fed well beforehand Alice never foresaw a problem occurring.
Preparation seemed to be the key – physical and mental – and that was the reason Carlisle had attributed to my adjusting to my new diet so well. I was the only Cullen who'd been given any warning that I was going to become a vampire and he thought that had an effect on my self-control after the change.
Personally, I thought it was all down to Edward. He'd been endlessly patient in the early days, always catching me before the worst could happen. He'd found a perfect way to redirect my bloodlust, too – back into the bedroom.
It was a tactic that was limited on a commercial flight, even in First Class, even though we'd managed it on a similar journey just eighteen months before. Part of the limitation this time was the fact that Alice and Jasper were sat just a few rows ahead of us.
Poor Jasper. It had to be worse for him than for me.
Of course, what could be made easier for us had been, so Edward had paid for exclusivity in First Class for us. It was just the four of us and some untouched champagne. I hadn't asked how much it had cost to pay for every single seat, although I knew that Carlisle was acquainted with some people at British Airways that could pull the required strings. I no longer shrank away from spending money when it came to practicalities. Anything that made this journey easier was welcomed.
It was hardly a journey I was looking forward to completing.
We could have delayed our visit to Volterra indefinitely, since I was still technically a newborn, but the longer we left Bree with the Volturi, the less chance there was of her being able to return with us and attempt a vegetarian diet. It wasn't just the constant human blood she was surrounded by there, but the view that it was the normal and right way for a vampire to feed, and it would be too easy for her to be seduced by that. Jasper had had Alice's surety that enabled him to make his way towards our diet; Bree wouldn't have anything like that.
Well, she'd still have Alice. Alice had seen and shared her visions of Bree as her little sister and she was eager to get that future.
I heard the tap tap tap of the attendant's shoes before she appeared, so I had time to get my sunglasses in place. My eyes were currently a muddy ochre, since the newborn red had not quite faded, and contacts wouldn't last the entire flight without dissolving in the venom around my eyes, so I was going without. The color still wasn't muted enough to pass for human though, hence the glasses. I curled up against the window and Edward wrapped his arm around my waist under the blanket.
The arm wasn't for my comfort. It was to restrain me if he needed to.
"Can I get you anything, Sir?" the attendant murmured to him.
"Perhaps some painkillers? My wife is suffering from a migraine and we didn't bring her medication in the hand luggage."
"Right you are, Sir."
She trotted away again and he leaned in to brush a kiss over my cheekbone. Even a year on, the sensitivity took my breath away. I'd thought, naively, that gaining the impermeable skin of a vampire would mean I would feel less, but that wasn't the case at all. Everything was heightened, my sense of touch now as strong as my sight or hearing. The best part was that when Edward was taking advantage of my newfound sensitivity, we had all the time in the world to explore it, spending days and nights twined together, leaving our house only to hunt.
I hoped we weren't giving that up. Alice was being…Alice - resolutely optimistic - but all it took was one misspoken word that Aro took the wrong way and we were either dead, or prisoners.
The attendant returned with the pills and water and left without waiting to see if I took them. Edward crushed them to a fine dust and tipped it to the floor.
"Not much longer," he whispered, "half an hour or so, and we'll be landing."
"I can do that." It had been getting harder to resist as the journey progressed, but having an end in sight helped.
"We could always find something to pass the time until then," Edward breathed into my ear, and cast a glance towards the toilet.
"Edward," I replied in my best sultry tone – something I'd found came rather naturally when you were a vampire. He grinned at me hopefully. "It was a bad idea when I was human. Now the scents are heightened and I can practically see the bacteria…it's never going to happen."
He scowled, but there was still a hint of playfulness to it, and he leaned in to kiss me softly.
"I just want to be with you before we go to Volterra," he whispered.
"Can't it wait until we hunt?" The plan was for us all to hunt in the countryside when we got off the plane, so we were less likely to be distracted if the Volturi decided to feed when we were there. Edward liked watching me hunt. He liked attacking me after I'd hunted even more.
"Can't we do it here and when we hunt? I want to hear you."
There'd been another surprise that had come not long after my change, in the middle of an intense day in bed with Edward. He'd abruptly stopped what he was doing and asked me to repeat what I'd just said. Considering my mouth had been occupied, I didn't understand what he meant – until he repeated the tumble of words that had been my thoughts moments before.
After giving an edited version of the story to the family, they'd decided I had a mental shield, one which had been in place while I was human and why I'd been immune to certain powers: Edward's mind reading ability and Jane's talent of inflicting pain. The shield had become more flexible since my change, although I currently had no control over it. It would only lift away at completely spontaneous moments, all of which involved a naked Edward. Still, we had eternity to figure it out, although he was eager for more constant access to my thoughts.
For now, we needed to keep it a secret from the Volturi, in case they saw a way to manipulate it.
"Here is a no go," I stated, and although he pouted, he made no more attempts to change my mind. I heard Alice whisper a soft "thank you" back to us. Our moment of lightheartedness had helped Jasper relax a little. We snuggled together again, Edward's arms firmly around me, as the attendants bustled back and forth preparing for landing.
Getting off the plane, through the terminal and into the rental car was close to torture and required careful orchestration from Edward and Alice: she was constantly assessing our immediate future, he was watching the future through her thoughts and Jasper's.
To describe the thirst as a burning sensation was an understatement of epic proportions. Here, surrounded by hundreds of bodies, every movement of a person nearby caused a fresh burst of delicious scent, and the flames seemed to radiate outwards from my throat and encase my entire being. It was like having tunnel vision too – my gaze focused not on people's expressions, or movements, but on the smooth ridges of veins under skin. I leaned into Edward and took a deep breath of his scent, then cut off my breathing, keeping him in my lungs. The fog only lifted when we exited the terminal through sliding glass doors into the cloudy morning.
Even the car smelled like people, under the tang of cleaning chemicals and artificial scent. Not like blood, but the fragrance that promised the richness of blood if you followed it. till, I could relax in the passenger seat, since there was no one to bite within range.
Edward drove, of course. Alice gave directions from the back seat, out of the industrial land the airport lay in and into the countryside, until we reached a tiny lane to leave the car in. We clambered out and split into our mated pairs, the clouds lifting and the sun breaking through.
"Think you can find a wolf out here?" Edward challenged me and I nodded, taking off in a sprint across the grass. Once, Edward had had difficulties keeping up with me, but now that was fading and he easily overtook me.
He grabbed me around the waist, knocking me to the ground and we rolled for yards, shrieking and laughing until we came to a stop. I had him pinned, utilizing the last of my newborn strength, although he rarely complained about being caught beneath me.
With the sun on his skin, out here in the empty space, it reminded me of another time, back when I couldn't see every single shining facet on his skin in the sunlight, just the shimmering effect it caused. It brought up a happy memory, dulled by my human senses though it was, one of a warm afternoon in a courtyard, where we'd created our own corner of paradise. Every day now was as happy as that moment had been, joy thrumming through me so powerfully that I never understood how I could hold so much of it in my body.
And it could all be coming to an end.
"It's going to be okay, you know," he promised, reading my expression. "Nothing is going to tear us apart."
"Edward Cullen, is that optimism I hear?" I teased. For most of our courtship, he hadn't been known for looking on the bright side of things.
"Being married to the most beautiful woman in the world will make a man an optimist."
I shifted myself above him, keeping his hands pinned beneath mine and my hips over his. "Perhaps. Although…"
In one movement I pushed myself to my feet and launched myself into a sprint, yelling the end of the sentence back to him. "…it won't catch him a wolf."
The mood in the car was definitely lacking mirth. The clouds had returned, mirroring our moods, and even Alice was struggling to hold onto her determined optimism. We had plans and we had back-up plans, but we also faced a team of elite soldiers - the Navy SEALS of the vampire world. Despite Jasper's experience and despite our combined abilities (although mine didn't count, yet), we were probably going to be outclassed.
We'd been briefed by Carlisle and Edward about the key players in the Volturi guard: the brother and sister pair, Alec and Jane, who we'd already met. Jane, I knew, could inflict pain with her mind, just as she'd done to Riley that day in the clearing. Alec was the boy that Riley had thrown into the tree, spurring his execution, but we hadn't witnessed his power that day – the ability to remove a person's senses completely.
Then there was Chelsea, who could loosen the bonds of friendship we felt, even dissolve the loyalty we felt for our mates, and Renata, Aro's personal bodyguard, who could divert any attack against him. There would be Demetri and Felix too, who had come to Forks, but Demetri's power would be redundant unless we needed to flee and they pursued us, and Felix had no power apart from sheer strength due to his size.
They weren't the only members of the guard, certainly not the only ones with powers, but these were the ones that mattered.
It was vital that none of us touched Aro bare skin to bare skin, in case he saw our thoughts and found out what we believed was going to happen.
We crested a hill, and Volterra was there in front of us, crowning the other side of the valley, the clock tower visible even from here. It rose above the other roof tops like a sentry, keeping watch above the town.
The road was quieter than when we had previously been here, our journey the opposite of our against-the-clock race to save Edward. We weren't racing to get to the town as quickly as possible; we were taking as much time as we could.
There were no throngs of tourists crowding the streets as we drove through the city walls, although the town was by no means empty, but it looked so different without the masses in red cloaks. We parked in a lot designed for tourists, although we must have been the most somber group of visitors that ever came to Volterra, and followed the clock tower's shadow towards the Volturi's domain.
Edward knew the way and he led us to an imposing stone building behind the central piazza that, several storeys above, another tower sprouted from, rounder and squatter than the square, the majestic clock tower. It was utterly nondescript apart from that, built from the same rough-hewn ochre stone as the rest of the town. There was nothing to say this was the headquarters of the world's most powerful vampires.
Inside was a different matter, and for a moment I thought we'd stepped into the reception area of a New York office building. Paneled in wood, richly carpeted and with plenty of seating, it didn't match my expectations at all. The vampire sat behind the reception desk, idly flipping through a copy of Vogue even though she should have been on the cover of it, was closer to what I expected.
"Heidi," Edward greeted, as warmly as he was able to – he was never any good at faking emotions, and it was clear he didn't like her. She looked over to us, blinking strange violet eyes and feigning the same boredom as any other receptionist. It was all an act though, designed to fool any humans that might be unfortunate enough to stumble inside the building.
"You must be the Cullens," she replied, the sullenness of her expression saturating her voice too. "Aro is expecting you. Continue through the doors and down the hallway. You know the way, Edward." She smirked at him.
"Thank you," he said, still feigning civility. "What happened to Gianna?"
"She reached the end of her usefulness. Demetri tells me she wasn't particularly appetizing."
Edward nodded then led the way, through a pair of heavy mahogany doors and into a wide hallway that was paneled in elaborately carved wood. We were out of the modern world and back into the medieval realm.
"Who was Gianna?" I asked Edward.
"She was their receptionist the last time I was here. She was human."
"Human?" I echoed in shock.
"They do employ people, usually people from the town who are aware of the secret and wish to be changed. If the person proves to be particularly useful – or Aro believes they might gain an ability when they are changed – then they might be. Unfortunately, most begin to grate on some of the older vampires' nerves fairly quickly and become a convenient meal instead. Heidi is filling in while they try and recruit a new receptionist."
"Why did she have such peculiar eyes?" Jasper asked.
"Blue contact lenses," Edward muttered. Blue over red – it created the purple hue of her irises, at least before the lenses dissolved.
We'd reached the end of the corridor next to a pair of doors covered entirely in gold leaf, but Edward ignored them and knocked on the panel opposite. It slid open a moment later, and Alec and Jane were behind it, appearing even more similar today, as Jane had pinned her hair back. They stood on either side of the gap like creepy bookends.
"Glad you could join us," Jane said, her voice soft, but there was a macabre glee underneath it. Carlisle had pointed out that Jane delighted in using her power to inflict pain, although she could only do so on orders from one of the Volturi. I hoped Aro had her on a leash.
We stepped into another corridor, this one much shorter than the other. When the panel slid shut behind us, it was also dark, dark enough that a human wouldn't have able to see anything. It wasn't long before we reached our destination though, emerging into the throne room of the Volturi.
No one had ever called it a throne room, but that was the only thing I could think to name it as we entered. We were clearly up in the tower: the room was wide and circular, with completely unfurnished and undecorated walls, the same bare stone as outside, and the only windows were set high above our heads, thin slits that were the only source of light in the room. At one end, set back against the curve of the wall, were a handful of wide, tall wooden thrones, carved from heavy mahogany. Five of those seats were filled, and around them were scattered the other members of the guard that hadn't come to meet us – I recognized Felix by his stature alone. It took a moment of searching, but in his shadow I saw a slight body and a head of brown curls.
Jane and Alec herded us toward the thrones and there the four of us stood in a row, like supplicants to the king - or prisoners awaiting a sentence from him.
"The Cullens are here to see you, Master," Jane announced and curtseyed low as the central figure rose, his black hair shining in the beam of sunlight that hit it.
"Well, how wonderful!" Aro said, stepping closer to us. The other vampires fanned out casually, as if spreading out, but it was easy to see in my peripheral vision that they were surrounding us. All they would have to do was move closer and we would be caught in their knot. "Isn't this wonderful, miei amici?" he said to the figures still seated.
I took a moment to look at them – one, with shining white hair (Caius, as Carlisle had described him) and the other with the same long, black hair as Aro. This was Marcus. His attention didn't appear to be on us, or on the world around him at all. There were two seated women, both Italian in appearance though their skin was as pale and crepey as Aro's, the mates of Aro and Caius. The chair beside Marcus was conspicuously empty. A long time ago, Aro had killed Marcus' mate - Aro's own sister – to stop them leaving the coven. It had been a stark warning from Carlisle about how ruthless Aro could be.
"We've come, as you asked us to," Edward said quietly.
Bree stayed to the left hand side of the thrones, eyes startling red and fixed intently on us. A few yards from Aro, a young woman stood poised, still but ready for movement. She had to be Renata.
"I'm glad to see you have honored our bargain. Isabella has survived the change magnificently." He stepped in front of me, reaching out a hand, and I realized he intended to take mine. I had no choice but to hold it out to him.
His touch wasn't as cold as it once had felt to me, but it didn't make it any less repulsive. I tried to keep my smile bland and neutral.
He bent to kiss the back of my hand, but we all knew the real reason he was doing this. After a moment he straightened and moved back, curiosity alight in his features. "I still hear nothing from you. I take it this hasn't changed for your husband?"
"No, unfortunately, he is still unable to hear me, much as it frustrates him." I prayed that Jasper was doing his best to make everyone feel that little bit more trusting, and that they didn't understand how subtle his ability could be. I could lie much better now, without the cues of my body to give the game away to vampires, but we still needed them to believe us without question.
"Useful," he mused, "at least for yourself, in a protective capacity, as you were shielded from Jane, although I suppose you could only aid yourself. There would be no point in pitting you against Jane. However…"
He nodded at Jane, a fractional dip of the head, and in the next moment Edward was on the floor, back arching as he sought to escape the pain, his cries reverberating off the stone.
"Please!" I pleaded, falling to my knees beside him. "Stop it! STOP IT!"
Venom pooled in my mouth as my body readied itself to attack, instinct taking over as I prepared to protect my mate, but Alice came to stand beside me as Edward's body relaxed to the floor, murmuring to me, "No, Bella."
It was what we'd agreed. No matter what they did to us, if none of us were under threat of death, we weren't to fight back. We could survive anything they did to us, but if we attacked any of them, we would never leave here alive.
Edward panted, reaching for my hand, eyes unfocussed on the stone of the ceiling. I stayed crouched beside him, while Jasper came to stand beside Alice.
Jane smirked broadly at me, although Aro looked disappointed. He'd retreated from us and Renata had moved even closer to him.
"It does appear that your ability to shield yourself is just tied to you, Isabella," Aro said after a moment. "Even when Edward was in pain, you didn't use it to protect him."
I swallowed the growl that rose in my gut, working its way up to my throat. That had been a test to see if I was lying, or unaware of my ability to shield Edward, hoping it would manifest when he was at Jane's mercy.
I decided that if we got out of Volterra I would dedicate the next few years, decades, however long I needed, to learning how to use my shield to protect him.
Jasper sent a wave of calm my way and the urge to fight, to leap up and rip Aro's head from his shoulders, was washed away.
"As I said, I'm glad that you fulfilled the conditions of the bargain we struck, although I'm sure you know why I asked you to come here. Alice, at least, has surely seen it."
We all nodded, reluctantly. Bree was still stood away from us, her expression inscrutable. This all rested on her desire to help us and leave with us. If something had happened to change that decision… But beside me, Edward and Alice shared glances. They were each checking on her and ensuring that decision remained true.
"I have seen that you wish for us to remain here in Volterra," Alice answered, and she did a much better version of politeness than Edward; she sounded genuinely flattered. "However, you must understand that none of us have an aptitude for politics, and we have a commitment to our particular diet. I'm sure you'd do your best to accommodate us, but it would be difficult for us to hold true to our beliefs when blood was so freely available. You also need to know that my gift, in particular, is not as convenient as you might believe. I'm not infallible, and I have failed to see things that have had great consequences for our lives. The more people that are involved in the future I am seeing, the greater the chance there is for me to miss something or to be simply wrong."
Aro appeared to consider this for a moment. "I'm glad that you are so honest, although I am sure you just have a healthy case of humility. We all have our blind spots, don't we?"
A soft rap echoed from the direction of the stone corridor and everyone looked towards the sound. Caius sat up, suddenly interested, and Jane's malicious smile grew wider. Alec strode off to open the panel and he returned with Heidi, who ushered a middle-aged couple in front of them, both olive-skinned with dark eyes and dark hair.
I stiffened, reaching for Edward's hands. Even in a room this size, their scent permeated the space, causing the venom to flow and my instincts to rise.
"These are Gianna's parents," Heidi said. "They requested an audience to discover why she disappeared."
"Thank you, Heidi," said Aro, and she left us.
The woman was quaking with fear – it spiced her scent, made it richer and that much harder to resist - and in the silence that followed, while Aro studied her, she launched into an impassioned speech in Italian. Where I'd once not have understood her, Italian was the first language I'd learned since the change, in anticipation of this journey.
"Please, we just want to know what happened to our beautiful daughter. She worked so hard to be good enough for you. Did you make her like you? I don't need to see her, I just need to know, so I can pray for her soul. Please tell us you made her an immortal and she survives. It's too hard to go on without knowing what her fate was…"
On and on she pleaded, but both Alice and Edward were exchanging wary looks. "Bella," Alice whispered as the woman carried on her plea, "Jasper, you both need to be prepared."
Aro moved to stand beside the shivering woman and he took her hands in his. She froze at the contact, caught in his gaze like a bird hypnotized by a snake, and I had to look away.
"My dear one," he said to her softly, benignly, "I can't put your mind at ease, and neither can I let you leave this room. You will tell everyone what we are."
"I won't! I promise you that I won't breathe this to a living soul -"
He shook his head and stepped back, pulling her with him, closer to Bree.
"I would offer you her blood," he said to us, in English, "as you are our guests, but I know you will not be offended that I don't." Instead, Bree wrapped her arms around the woman from behind, one around her waist and the other around her neck, her hand cupping the woman's face and tipping her head so the curve of her neck was elongated and bare. Then she bit down.
The scent of the blood as it filled the air was like a punch to the abdomen, the burn in my throat exploding and consuming me. I was dimly aware of Edward's arms tight around me, restraining me, his soft voice whispering in my ear, fluid words about love and devotion, calming words about coming back to him through my bloodlust. Bree drank and drank and I struggled to reach her, watching the movement of her throat as she swallowed the rich blood.
But Bree was thirsty and she dropped the woman's empty carcass to the floor in less than a minute, not a drop left to spill out onto the flagstones. Edward didn't relax his grip and a moment later, someone retrieved the woman's husband - who had dropped to his knees on the floor, his head bowed in fervent prayer - and they too fed, releasing another cloud of sweet, heady fragrance into the room. I clawed at Edward everywhere I could, desperate to get to the blood, but he carried on with his mantra until I stopped trying to escape from him, and softened in his arms.
The man was abandoned next to his wife's body.
Now that the blood was gone, the burn was still there, more persistent than it was in day to day life, even though we'd fed only a few hours ago, but I was back in my mind, in control of myself. Next to us, Alice released Jasper from the kiss she'd initiated before Bree began drinking.
"Now why didn't I think of that," Edward murmured, and in any other situation, I'd have laughed.
"Demetri, Corin, would you mind?" Aro said, indicating the bodies, and they were bundled up and taken away. While that was happening, he turned his attention back to us.
"Of course, I was anticipating your answer, and I quite understand it, but I'm not sure you're aware of how good life can be here with us." He approached the corner where Bree was waiting, holding out a hand and leading her towards us. "You know Bree, of course. I thought you might like to hear from her, as she is the newest member of our family here in Volterra."
This was it. Bree had been told to use her skills – no doubt vastly honed after a year here – to convince us to stay. If she had sided with the Volturi, then our only hope was that her power didn't work on me, and I could break the others out of her spell somehow.
There was no hint that she had just fed, no drop of blood anywhere on her, but I no longer saw her as the young girl that needed saving. I was seeing her as a killer, the image of her teeth slicing into the woman's neck fresh in my head and without the haze of bloodlust it was clearer to me. She was as much a monster as the rest of us. Oh, I'd been close enough to drinking myself, but I'd decided that if the worst did happen, I wouldn't be feeding from humans, no matter what they offered me. I'd starve myself if I had to.
"I didn't know what to expect before I came here," she began, "but the coven have been more like a family than my human parents ever were. They've helped me gain strength and understand what it means to be like this. I've grown into the potential I had, and I'll continue to grow with their help. I don't have to hide what I am and I have freedom."
In my peripheral vision, Aro was standing with his hands clasped together, already anticipating his victory. From her opening words, it certainly seemed like it would be a victory.
On the other side of me, Alice was smiling, still confident in the future she saw.
"But I don't think they should stay here, Master," Bree continued, and he looked at her in consternation. "They won't be happy like us, even if they can feed on animals in the hills. Seeing people die around them will make them all miserable, and that will affect all of us."
"Bree -" Aro began, his tone carrying a warning.
"They pose no threat to us," she carried on, like he hadn't spoken. "You know that Carlisle has no intention of replacing you. If he wanted power, he could have stayed here all those years ago when you offered it to him. His family just want peace, and you know what I say is true because I watched them for many weeks. To rip their family apart by forcing these four to stay here won't gain us anything. If we allow them to leave, we keep them all as allies that we can call on again if we should ever need to."
The other vampires around the room were nodding, clearly swayed by Bree's words. There was no reaction at all from Marcus, but he hadn't moved since we first entered the room. Caius was watching us all with an inscrutable gaze, and Aro was staring at Bree with confusion.
"This isn't what we talked about, Bree. I want them -"
"Aro, just let them go," Caius spoke up, his tone irritable. "They don't want to be here. If we imprison them it means more work for the guard, making sure they don't escape, and then you can't utilize them anyway, and I see no need to kill them."
Aro looked between Bree, Caius and our group, his confusion growing. He was fighting the persuasion Bree was working, but she'd definitely grown in skill.
"Master, if we let them go now, it will help us in the future. It's the right thing to do. You know it is."
"Well, when you put it like that…" He was back to his smiling self, seduced by her words. "I see no reason why you can't leave. Please let Carlisle know he is greatly missed by all of us here, and if he ever wanted to visit himself he would be extremely welcome."
He glided back to his throne, sitting down and smiling at us once last time. "Jane, Alec, please see our guests out."
We retreated as fast as we could without being rude, but as we passed Bree, I saw Alice give her a questioning glance. Both Bree and Edward shook their heads at her, and as we entered the stone corridor she threw Edward a hurt look. We passed through the wooden panel without a word to our guides and into the hallway beyond. I gasped a breath at the freshness of the air, finally escaping from the taint of blood in the throne room.
"I don't understand," Alice said. "Why didn't she come with us? All year, I've seen her as a member of the family, and it just changed so quickly…"
She was talking about Bree. Only then did I remember that Bree was supposed to come with us, but she'd given no indication that she'd wanted to leave Volterra.
"She'd fed too close beforehand," Edward said. "She could still taste the blood and it swayed her decision. She didn't want to give that up."
"They got to her," I said. "We were too late, in the end."
"Maybe," he replied. "But she wasn't lying when she said they'd treated her well, like family. Jane hasn't had anyone close to her age, other than Alec, and mentally in many ways she is still a young girl. She's intrigued by the idea of Bree as a sister. Besides, Bree is still a young vampire. She may one day grow tired of the Volturi and decide to leave them. She'll either become a nomad, or maybe she'll come look for us then."
"I just -" Alice said, hurt plain in her voice, "- it was so clear. I didn't even see it change, I was so focused on what Aro's decision would be. We were going to have so much fun. It was going to be hard work, but when she was ready she'd come to school with us and it was going to be exciting again. Everyone would be so much more relaxed around her and we'd play games and throw parties without anything going catastrophically wrong. I know I had a sister when I was human, but I have no memories of her. Bree was going to feel like I really had one."
"Maybe one day," Jasper murmured, wrapping an arm around her waist and kissing her temple. "You can keep watching for her and if she ever changes her mind, we'll come get her." She leaned into his touch and I almost feel the comfort pass from him to her. It wasn't his power; it was just one of the benefits of being a mated pair.
"What now?" I asked. We walked through reception – Heidi was nowhere to be found - and then out onto the street, into the fresh, clean air.
"I need to hunt again," Jasper said. "It's been too long so I've been exposed to human blood like that – and even that was just a paper cut."
"How about you?" Edward asked me. "Are you okay?"
"I think I am, actually," I replied. "I might need to hunt later, but for now I'm good."
"We'll meet you back at the car later," he said to Alice and Jasper. "Where do you want to go after that – Rome? Milan?"
We hadn't made fixed plans, despite bringing luggage and Alice's assurances that it would be alright.
"The weather would suit us better if we head north," Alice declared. She hadn't quite shaken her despondence off, but time alone with Jasper would be the best cure for that.
"I'll book for Milan, then," Edward said.
"I love Milan," she replied, then grabbed Jasper's hand and they disappeared down the crooked street.
"So what are we doing while they hunt?" I asked.
He smiled slowly, relief and want brightening his expression. "We're going to find our courtyard."
Miei amici – my friends
If you haven't already read the outtakes - including the first chapter in EPOV - they are linked from my profile.
There is also a brand new LJ community dedicated to vampire and supernatural stories called Lovely Dead Things. If this floats your boat, the link is on my profile.