A/N So. This is it. I dragged my feet writing this chapter (sorry, I admit it). I didn't want it to end. I can't believe it's over. The whole idea for this story settled in my brain last August, and wouldn't leave me alone till I wrote it down. And now...well, yeah. It's done.
I'd like to thank JaspersDestiny for being such a WONDERFUL Black Market Beta. I could not have done this without her. I WOULD not have done it without her. I owe her oodles and oodles. If possible, I would wrap Mstislav up in a box with a gold ribbon and have him delivered to her doorstep. The best I can do, though, is write her an out-take.
I'd like to thank the Lambs, because, well, they welcomed me into the fold over at ALSL with open arms. They've been my moral support in the last couple months, and its thanks to them that I was able to finish writing the last few chapters. Even though I've always known where the story was going, and what was going to happen, I did reach a point where RL was making it difficult to write it all down. But having those ladies to talk to made it possible.
I'd also like to thank all my readers. Those of you who reviewed, whether it was once, or every chapter, thank you. My replies were a little hit-or-miss there towards the end, but I read every one of them. They meant a lot to me. I've made a lot of friends through this story, and that means even more. And for everybody that didn't review, I love you too - I hope you enjoyed the story! I was just thrilled to see that people were reading it. I hope you felt it was worth the time it took to read it.
Oh, yeah. SM owns the vampires in my story. I just borrowed them. And killed a lot of them.
"We're out of shampoo. Will you go down to the desk and see if they'll give you more...?"
"It's 3:00 a.m., Bella. I doubt..."
"Nonsense. It's an expensive hotel. They'll give you more. Please...?"
"Bella, you've had five showers since we got here tonight. I don't think you need..."
Jasper rolled his eyes and rolled off the bed, striding to the door of the bathroom so Bella could receive the full effect of his disgruntlement. As if a glare would be any more effective than the waves of 'I don't want to' he was sending her way. The door was already open a crack, and he pushed it the rest of the way open to find Bella, her hair dripping wet, wrapped in a small towel.
Looking at him.
With the look.
"How about if I just stay in here with you instead?" he asked, entering the small bathroom and closing the door behind him. She backed up a step, her legs hitting the edge of the tub.
"We're supposed to be working..." she whispered. She might have been saying 'no', but her emotions were saying 'hell, yes', so he took another step towards her.
"Hmmm...and me getting you shampoo is part of the plan how?" He reached her and snaked an arm around her to prevent her from falling back into the tub if she tried to back up again. She shouldn't fall, of course, being a vampire and all, but he never knew with Bella. Leaning down, he drew his nose along her jaw line, and then dipped his head a little further to lick the scar on her neck. "I fail to see the connection between fetching shampoo and finding a werewolf..."
Bella shoved him backward, and in his surprise he went stumbling into the door. She was on him in an instant, licking the scars she'd left on his shoulder over the last few months before stretching up further to whisper in his ear. He obligingly bent his knees a bit to give her easier access, curious as to where she was going with this.
"Because, lover..." she paused to place a kiss on his neck, "I don't think Mstislav is going to join us in our room. You need to go downstairs because he always meets you in the lobby, remember? That's why we're here in the first place. So, while you're down there, pick me up some shampoo. It's worked before."
"Yeah, well, if you're trying to keep this authentic and all, we've technically made love in the past, too. So...in the interests of keeping all the variables as close to the original conditions as possible, I think we should make love." He kissed the bite mark on her neck, and then moved to kiss down her shoulder and around to her chest, making his way down to the top of the towel before she pushed him away again.
"Jasper, we did it that way last night, and the night before, and the night before that - and you never made it down to the lobby at all. We've smelled him all over this city during the day while we've toured the museums and every other dusty, old building that's caught your interest, and I'm sure he knows we're here. Emmett's getting a little antsy and Carlisle's getting impatient. You need to go downstairs so we can finish this up and go home."
Jasper sighed. She was right. They had a job to do, and he'd allowed himself to get too distracted by her over the last few days. Being able to just love Bella, to just be with her - with no pull, no craziness, no anything hanging over their heads…except Emmett's damn arm – had been fantastic.
Right, then. Shampoo it was.
"Now what?" Emmett asked, looking between Jasper and Carlisle. "We track the werewolf? That shouldn't be too hard – he's changed back to his human form. This should be a breeze."
Neither Jasper nor Carlisle responded. They merely exchanged a look.
"Right? Guys?" Emmett started to sound panicked. "Oh, my God! You don't think he ate it, do you?"
Carlisle sighed. "They can't consume us like that Emmett. I think he took your arm, but I don't know why."
Jasper looked thoughtful. "He probably took it because Caius had taken it. Even if he didn't know why Caius had it, he would have realized that there was some reason Caius was carting an arm around with him."
"But how..." Rosalie interjected, "I mean, I thought they weren't really capable of reasoning when they were in their wolf form."
"They're not," Jasper said. "But he obviously changed back at some point, because he was able to burn Caius. And Caius – he was obviously torn apart enough to not cause an immediate threat to a newly transformed Mstislav. Mstislav must have realized there was an extra limb in the wreckage – good thing you wore that purple sweater, Emmett – and decided to save it."
"Do you think we'll be able to get it back from him? Maybe he's keeping it as a war trophy..."
"I don't honestly know. It's a pity he didn't just drop it. It would have eventually made its way back to you, you know," Carlisle said, watching Emmett for his reaction.
"It would have? Really?" Emmett looked at Jasper for confirmation.
Jasper shrugged. "I have no idea. We've never really, um, had to deal with a situation like this back in the day."
"You mean you never had any of your soldiers lose limbs?" Emmett was surprised.
Rose sighed. "No, Emmett, I think Jasper probably means they didn't keep any soldiers who lost limbs."
Jasper shrugged apologetically at Emmett. "Sorry, dude. It really was a liability we couldn't afford in the world I was in. I defer to Carlisle's greater knowledge in this area."
All eyes turned back to Carlisle. "Yes, Emmett, given enough time, your arm would find you again - if it was free to do so. It might even be possible for you to find it, if you could…um, clear your mind enough to sense where it was…" Carlisle trailed off. Everyone in the group knew the chances of that ever happening. Alice had to stifle the laugh they were all feeling. "But I don't think we should wait for that to happen. A disembodied limb is bound to attract attention, and it would be very vulnerable to such human attention in its current state - that is… assuming Mstislav were to ever let it go. It would behoove us all, I think, to go ahead and attempt to track him down ourselves."
Emmett looked at Bella. "What about you, Bella? Did your body...look for your head while it was separated?"
Bella shrugged. "I don't know, Emmett," she replied quietly. "I don't know anything about happened to my body while my head was separated." Her hands rubbed absently over the bite marks Jasper knew her clothing hid. "I'm sorry. For all I know, my body tried to get back to me, but…I just don't know. They kept it in that hole in the ground for some reason, so my guess is yes, it would have eventually found me."
"Hmmm…alright. So, what's the plan?"
"I think we should let Mstislav find us," Bella said, causing the rest of them to look at her in surprise. "What? It's a good idea. The man found us everywhere we went in Siberia."
"Bella," Jasper said, "that was because he was following us. He has no reason to follow us now. He's completed his mission. He's had his revenge." He tried to sound patient, but he realized as the words were leaving his mouth that he only sounded patronizing. Clearly Bella thought so, too, based on the anger that had bubbled to the surface at his words.
"I disagree, Jasper," she said in a tight voice. "I think we just need to go in the direction of his scent, and you and I need to get a hotel room. He'll show up. He always does."
"He didn't come to us when we were in the village."
"We were never alone, except in the tower," she pointed out. "I hardly think he'd have come into the castle. He might have some impressive cojones, but he's not an idiot."
"She's got a point, son," Carlisle said gently. "And it is at least a place to start."
Jasper sighed. If he was honest with himself, it wasn't that he thought the plan was bad - he just didn't like the fact that it included Bella. He felt like she was finally safe, and the thought of taking her into danger once more made him nervous. He said as much out loud.
"But Jasper," she said patiently, the anger draining away. "I won't be in danger. He's human right now. He won't be a danger to us for another month. I'm not human anymore, Jasper. I'm as strong as you are now. I'll be fine. It's worth a try, at least..."
Jasper pulled her to him, burying his face in her hair. "Alright, alright. You're right, of course. It's worth a try."
"And if I am right, which I know I am," she mumbled into his chest where he had pressed her face, "I get to carry the Bond Bag next time."
Emmett sighed. "Well, thank God we're doing something. This is going to work, I can feel it..."
They all turned to look at Alice, who just shrugged. "Sorry, I see Jasper and Bella checking in to the Art Otel in Budapest, but nothing past that."
Emmett perked up even further. "But that means it works, then, right? Because you can't see the werewolves! That means he shows up!"
Alice shook her head. "Not necessarily, Emmett. It could just mean that none of us make any decisions past that point. But," she said before he could get depressed again, "that's the way these things work. Let's get to point 'A' first and worry about the rest later."
"Not too much later," Carlisle murmured. "We do need to get off the continent as soon as possible. Word of what has happened here will eventually drift back to Italy. I'm sure Sulpicia and Athenodora are quite possibly already aware that something has happened to their mates."
Emmett groaned. "This has got to work. I can't spend eternity without an arm."
"Cheer up, Emmett," Bella said, a wicked grin appearing on her face. "Just think, it would open up a whole new section in your book – Records Broken Using Only One Arm!"
Emmett glared at her. "Not funny, Bella. Not funny at all."
"I thought it was," she murmured, but she turned away to hide her smirk.
Which was why, Jasper thought, he was once again in the lobby of a hotel, trying to get more shampoo from a sleepy and uncooperative desk clerk who only spoke Hungarian - a language Jasper had never mastered or even dabbled in. It was total bullshit, Jasper thought. The hotel had more than its fair share of international guests. He knew damn well the man spoke English. The clerk had disappeared into a back room - whether to hunt up the requested shampoo or return to his bed, Jasper wasn't sure.
"He probably understands you just fine," a familiar voice behind him said. "But you've pissed him off by waking him at this hour. Shampoo? Really, Jasper? I never thought of you as being so...effeminate. Do you have a scent preference?"
Jasper spun around. Mstislav was watching him from across the hotel lobby. He chuckled a little – Bella would be so pleased that she'd been right and he'd been wrong.
"Mstislav," he said, nodding.
"Join me for a drink, Jasper? A toast to our success, perhaps?" He gestured to the bar.
"The bar's closed," Jasper said, his eyes flickering to the glass double doors, which led to the bar area, and then back to Mstislav.
"Not for me," Mstislav said. "I took the liberty of ensuring the door remained unlocked, and I've already procured us a bottle of Hungary's finest Palinka. It's much better than the swill they make back in Siberia."
Jasper smiled and shook his head. "Alright, then." He followed Mstislav through the glass doors, which were indeed unlocked, and joined him at a table. The dim light was not a problem for his vampire vision, and it clearly wasn't a hindrance for Mstislav's either, based on the precision with which he poured two glasses of the fruit-based liquor.
He handed a glass to Jasper. "I realize you do not drink, but perhaps the smell of a fine Palinka is still something you can appreciate, yes?"
Jasper took the glass. "I was more of a whiskey man back in my human life," he said, tentatively sniffing at the glass. He relaxed a bit as the aroma of apricots filled his senses. "It's rather a hit and miss thing with us, I'm afraid. But yes, this does smell quite good. Thank you."
Mstislav nodded. "You're welcome." He held up his glass. "Shall we toast? To the success of both our missions!"
Jasper raised his glass and clinked it to Mstislav's. "Indeed."
Mstislav downed his glass in one gulp. Jasper hesitantly raised his to his lips and took a cautious sip, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the small amount that passed his lips.
"No luck, eh?" Mstislav said sympathetically, pouring himself another glass full.
Jasper shook his head. "No. Hope springs eternal, though."
Mstislav chuckled. "It does indeed, my friend. So, what brings you and your mate to the fine city of Budapest? Or is she still your sister? Or should I, perhaps, ask her?" Mstislav's gaze slid away from Jasper and moved to the door. Jasper turned in his seat to find Bella standing there, watching them both carefully.
"Come," Mstislav said, standing up from the table. "Come, join us, child." He pulled a seat out for her and Jasper growled under his breath. "Oh, relax, vampire. I do not want your mate. I am only being polite. She seems much calmer than the last time I saw her - calmer, and more...in control, perhaps? In her right mind, even?" He looked down at Bella, who'd taken the seat he'd held out for her with a small nod of appreciation. "You've been good for her, Jasper." He seated himself again and held out his hand across the table to Bella, causing Jasper to growl again a little louder this time. "I am Mstislav, dear, and I seem to have a lot to thank you for."
Bella glanced at Jasper and then reached out to tentatively grasp Mstislav's hand. He shook it gently and then released her.
"Now," Mstislav said, his tone more business-like. "I do have a lot to thank you both for, so I've brought you a present." He reached beneath the table and pulled out a metal suitcase, setting it on the table top. "When I found this after dispatching dear Caius, I thought perhaps it might be something you'd be interested in. I did not recognize the scent at all, of course, but I thought that surely if Caius was running away with it in his possession, there must be some reason." He opened the metal case to reveal a brawny arm seated within a padded interior that smelled strongly of naphthalene. The arm twitched and immediately tried to claw its way out of the restraints that held it in the case. Mstislav slammed the lid on it and looked over at Jasper.
Jasper nodded. "It belongs to my brother."
Mstislav pushed the case across the table to him. "Then by all means, return it to him with my compliments."
"I don't understand," Bella said. "Why did you take it in the first place? Why not just burn it or leave it behind?"
Mstislav shrugged. "As I said, I thought there might be a reason Caius had it with him. I didn't want to leave it behind to be possibly found by a human. I thought to give it back to you, if indeed it was something you wanted, otherwise I would have just burned it. I was hoping you'd turn up here soon – I knew you were in town, but really, I dared not approach you on the street and offer you a body part. And I dared not go up to your room in case I had misread your intentions."
"Scared of us?" Jasper asked, smiling and baring his teeth in a way that was usually guaranteed to make humans back away.
Mstislav smiled. "I prefer to think of myself as cautious. I will share a secret with you, vampire. We may be almost your equal during the full moon, but in this form? I am almost as frail as my human brothers - a little faster, a little stronger, a little...angrier, but definitely vulnerable to you."
"You tell me this now? What is to prevent me from killing you?"
Mstislav shrugged. "I no longer care if I die. My reason for living is over."
"That's a little dramatic, don't you think?" Bella asked.
"Is it, child? You think so? I have put a lot of effort into getting to this point. Indeed, most of the previous millennium, if you care to know. And now I am done. I taunted your lover earlier, telling him I had the better life, able to blend in and be human. But I do not really believe that. We are cursed, my kind, far more than you and your kind. You may not be able to blend in easily with the humans, but you have the option of other immortals. You are able to gather together with others of your kind - sharing a life, sharing love. My kind? We are of neither world - unable to fully integrate with a human community, unable to join together easily with others of our kind. Two or three days a month of rampant rage, killing, and brutality do not make for the best of bonds, believe it or not."
"I don't know about that," Jasper said. "It seemed to me you all traveled in a pack just fine, both back in Siberia and just a couple of weeks ago in Romania."
Mstislav shrugged. "An aberration, I assure you - one created by myself and a few of my family members. It took centuries of experimentation on my part, and more recently, decades of planning. You, child, literally falling into our lap…well, that sped things up even more. You were a chance I didn't dare pass up. It forced me to...recruit...rather heavily, I'm afraid. I'd like to say I regretted having you lead all those young men across a continent to their deaths, but I'd be lying. Their lives were empty, and they were destined to die young due to drink or violence. So, really, I just sped things up a bit for them. This whole thing went off far better than I could have hoped for. Really, it was just Caius I'd been aiming for. I've heard, though, that you managed to destroy a rather large portion of your cousins, child. Kudos to you."
Bella looked at him in surprise. "All of this was just for Caius? All that back in Siberia - chasing me, chasing us, using me - was to get back at Caius?"
Mstislav shrugged. "Surely you, of all people, understand revenge, child. Weren't you willing to risk everything," he said, looking pointedly at Jasper, "in the name of revenge?"
Bella looked away. "I didn't ask him to come with me."
"As if you could have kept me away, Bella. You didn't have to ask. I wouldn't have let anything happen to either of us." He pulled her closer to him and glared at Mstislav.
The werewolf snorted. "Young love. How sweet."
"I thought..." Bella began, but then stopped.
"Yes?" Mstislav said, arching an eyebrow at her.
"I thought that werewolves were the natural enemy of vampires. Like, it had been like that forever..."
Mstislav shrugged. "I don't know about that. It was known, in the time I came from, that werewolves could damage vampires. I rather think they avoided each other. There would not have been any good reason for the two to interact. But the mortal – or in this case, immortal – enemy thing, well, I admit that was all me and Caius. He took something of mine, and I've spent every moment of my existence since then making sure he regretted it."
"And did he?" Jasper asked.
Mstislav shrugged. "I don't know - you tell me, vampire. What do you know of werewolves? What have you been told by your brothers and sisters?"
"Caius was terrified of werewolves," Bella said. "Edward told me. He had an irrational fear of them. He'd led wars against them, trying to get rid of them."
Mstislav nodded. "Indeed he did. There used to be many of my kind here in Europe and Eurasia. We have been gone from this part of the world for a long, long time. Only a few of us are left in the frozen wastelands of Eastern Russia. His fear and hatred of me led to the near-destruction of a species."
"I don't know if I'd call that a success," Jasper observed.
"Oh, I don't know, Jasper. That was almost the best part of it - all the killing, all the hunting, all the pogroms he led. And he never was able to kill me. I'd lie low for a while – sometimes for a century or more – and then reappear and remind him that he was still not safe. I must say, though, I'm glad it's over. It was getting increasingly difficult to operate in this modern world. The last time I got close to him was in the early part of this past century. But, as I said earlier, we are vulnerable in our human forms, and one day I found myself rounded up with others, herded on to a train, and shipped to those frozen, misbegotten wastelands where I found you. And that, my young friends, is the short version of my story."
"What did he steal?" Bella asked.
"What did he take that was yours?" she said. "You said he stole something of yours..."
"My wife," he said. "He stole my wife."
"Athenodora was your wife?" Bella asked, shocked.
Mstislav inclined his head. "That was not her name when we were together and both human…but, yes, she was mine before she was his. I have no idea why he chose her – I had no way of determining that when I was human, and once I...changed...I certainly had no way of finding out. He never seemed inclined to polite conversation with me, on the rare occassions that our paths actually crossed. Of course, I was never actually capable of speaking at those times...no matter. No, I have no idea why she was blessed with his attention."
Bella looked pained. "But, Mstislav, you've done the same thing to her that he did to you. You took her mate from her."
"My wife died a thousand years ago, girl," Mstislav said harshly "That...thing...in that castle in Italy is no more my wife than a dog in the street or a cow in the field. Caius killed my wife that night in our village, and now, finally, I have killed him. It is over." He was standing now, speaking loudly and leaning over the table towards Bella.
Jasper was on his feet and he growled in warning. Bella growled, too. Mstislav eased back into his seat, and after a moment, Bella quieted and Jasper relaxed.
"My apologies, vampire."
"Hmmm…I think, perhaps, that it is time for us to part ways, Mstislav," Jasper said. He reached down and grabbed the suitcase and then stood and took Bella's hand, pulling her up with him.
"Yes, yes, you are right," Mstislav said, also standing, but he made sure to stand well back from the two vampires. "Maybe there was some truth to Caius' words – maybe our kinds really are natural enemies. A pity, I could have enjoyed your company, Jasper."
Jasper said nothing, but he did release Bella's hand and held his own to Mstislav. "I'm not sure about that, but...thank you for your help back at the castle. And thank you for getting my brother's arm to us."
Mstislav shook his hand briefly and then stepped back again. "Good luck, Jasper…Bella." He nodded to her and she nodded back briefly. "It was a good day's work we did." Nodding again at both of them, he strode to the door of the bar. They watched him cross the lobby and exit the hotel into the darkness. Jasper noticed the man at the counter had still not reappeared from wherever he'd disappeared to earlier, and he wondered if the human had had more than a passing hunch about who - or what, exactly - were meeting in his hotel bar.
"Now what?" Bella asked, looking down at the suitcase in Jasper's other hand. "I seem to be saying that a lot lately..."
Jasper laughed. "Now we give Emmett his damn arm back, fly home on Carlisle's new private plane, and go find that hot spring I promised you."
"That's it? It's over?" she said, looking at him in surprise.
Jasper snorted. "Hardly. I have a feeling it is far from over, Bella - at least in the way vampires measure things. But for now - for us - it is over. We'll return to North America. The family will split up, making it more difficult for anyone to find us. Alice will try and monitor what happens over here as best she can, along with Carlisle maintaining contact with Stefan and Vladimir. Once we know better what the fallout is from your little adventure, we'll be better able to make decisions about what to do next. This could take years, Bella, maybe even decades. Vampire time and human time are very different."
"I'm beginning to realize that," she murmured.
"Yes, I'm sure you are." He smiled down at her. "And so, while it is not truly over yet - for us, for a while at least - it is over. And I see no reason why, while we wait to see what happens next, we cannot spend our time in a hot spring somewhere - after we return Emmett's arm to him, of course."
"Of course." She started walking for the elevator, but then paused and turned to look back at him. "Jasper?"
"Did you get the shampoo while you were down here?"
A/N2 OK, folks, last chance to review...I'll make it worth your time. sort of.