All characters belong to SM and she deserves all credit. These are just musings of her creation.

Volterra

My flight landed in Milan just after midnight. It would be six hours before any flights traveled south, so I was opting for a vehicle. It would be faster.

I waited on the the plane, not bothering to make human gestures, as we taxied to our gate. When the doors opened, I deftly took my first steps into Italy. I walked briskly but maintaining human speed, staring at nothing, through the empty terminal. My head jerked up only when I heard a generic announcer speak my name.

"Attenzione, Edward Cullen, si prega di voler riprendere il bianco cortesia telefono."

I had to admit, it was rather dramatic for my family. Publicly calling attention to ourselves wasn't something we made a habit of. It was sad too. I wondered who'd actually made the call to request I be paged, probably in every major Italian city airport.

It's too late.

I entered the dimly lit garage moments later, heading for valet parking. A black Alfa Romeo was parked at the entrance, looking as though it was waiting for me. I admired the car briefly; Italian cars makers were artists. I removed the locked cover of the valet key storage, leaving it mangled. Moments later I was speeding through the city, turning on to the quiet Italian autostrade headed south.

I felt calm, more so than I would've imagined. Fleeting thoughts passed; how much she'd have loved to travel through these beautiful Tuscan country roads. I would've driven at a speed that didn't frighten her. I would have pampered her endlesslyif she'd ever agreed to tour Europe with me. As they often did, my fantasies involved me being human, and I visualized an expression on her face as we shared room service in a luxurious hotel.

Stop it. My internal voice was cold. I wanted to enjoy this fantasy, explore it more. However, the whole in my chest was ripping open, so I complied.

The car pleased me as did the absence of traffic. I gingerly turned on the stereo, tuning in a classical station. Doleful violins kept me company as my foot became heavier on the gas pedal and I extinguished the headlights.

Several hours later I abandoned the beautiful car outside the gates of Volterra.

Now I was a bit at a loss. I wasn't sure how to make my presence known, or if that would even be necessary. I walked along the dark cobblestone streets in silence, listening for any signs of the Volturi guards. It didn't take long.

Standing in the shadows of the Palazzo, I noticed a subtle change. The darkness around me suddenly came to life, and I heard curious glances being exchanged. My kind had found me. They're thoughts were pensive as they felt shocked and threatened. I stepped forward and raised my arms as if to surrender.

I was immediately surrounded. Grey fabric swirled around me and I was bombarded with angry accusations in my head. I tried to drown them out for the time being, only partially succeeding.

"I wish to speak to them," I said hollowly to nobody in particular.

"This is highly unusual," a deep voice responded. My eyes darted immediately to the speaker. Underneath his hood I could barely make out any features, but his thoughts were inquisitive and held no malice. This wasn't true of the others in his company. Seething suspicion filled my senses.

Demetri. I heard his name in the heads of the other strangers. This hooded vampire was the tracker I'd heard about. He had the ability to track any of our kind, anywhere. It was a unique talent, and one that made him very valuable.

This is dangerous. Demetri shouldn't allow it.

The masters won't take his audience.

Look at his eyes. Something is wrong here.

This will not please the masters.

Demetri seemed impatient. "Tell me your intentions," he ordered. There was a moment of hesitation on his part as he realized Aro would obviously want to speak to me.

I chose my words carefully, fully expecting to be acquiesced. "My intentions are to speak with your masters. Nothing more. They'll be curious about me." Demetri realized I'd left no room for argument, but he didn't waver. I hadn't given him enough to convince him I was not a threat.

"What law was broken?" It wasn't so much of a question as a demand.

"I haven't come to bear witness to any crime. I've come to request a simple favor. I will be brief."

"Who are you to come begging favors?" he hissed critically.

"My name is Edward Cullen. Carlisle is my... father," I said, listening to his thoughts for any information I could use. Demetri recognized my father's name, and his tension eased. He held respect for Carlisle. It was enough. He wasn't satisfied but hearing my identification left him little doubt that I was no menace.

Yet, I thought to myself.

"Follow," he commanded. The thoughts swirling around us were incredulous but nobody disputed Demetri's authority. I ignored them as they dispersed into the dark city.

He led me through an alley and disappeared behind an ensconced wooden door. There was a flight of stairs descending to a storage facility. He moved across the cluttered basement and opened a trapdoor in the floor, motioning me towards the opening. I dropped down into a subterranean tunnel beneath the city with the tracker directly behind me.

The final leg of my journey was coming to a close.

Demetri took the lead again as we walked quickly, out of view of any humans who might have been spying in the early hour. I was surprised at how little information his thoughts gave away. I could only see the route he was taking me down, as if he were moving through the tunnel ahead of our current location. It was rather fascinating and I realized my skills at tracking were ridiculously inept.

Darting ahead momentarily, Demetri unlocked and opened a reinforced door in one fluid motion and we entered a long dimly lit room. We were passing through a heavy wooden door on the other end when Demetri threw back his hood, letting his hair fall loosely to his shoulders.

"Wait here." His eyes flashed a warning. I nodded deliberately. I didn't intend to be a nuisance unless they forced me to. I hoped they would not deny my request.

Demetri walked the length of the hallway, pushed a call button for an elevator that immediately opened, and left me alone in the long hallway. I stood, unmoving, for a good length of time.

I tried to regulate my thoughts carefully. If they denied me, I would have to make a decision. Drawing attention to myself wouldn't be difficult, but it would be my final act, and I thought I should make it effective. I humored myself with different scenarios; knocking down some buildings, throwing around a few cars, perhaps going after one their guards. It would be nothing personal, of course, but I doubt they'd stand for that. I grinned at the thought of attacking the Volturi. I might just have to take a swing at Aro. I almost chuckled.

Don't forget why you're here.

My thoughts were dark instantly. I wasn't going to forget. That's absurd. I knew exactly why I was here. My life was over. My life jumped off a cliff and killed herself. My life wasn't ever coming back.

My memories flooded my head, against my will. Biology class, of all things. How pathetically I reacted to her at first. How I'd wanted to kill her instantly, and kill everyone in the classroom in order to cover myself. She'd been that worth it to me, just to taste her, to have her, to claim her as mine. The meadow... our meadow. Every touch was dangerous, exquisite, so complete and never enough.

When the memory of leaving her in the forest floated through my head I could no longer be patient. I buried my face in my hands and felt like I could tumble forward onto the stone. The sound of my breathing seemed irrational, so I stopped. However, I couldn't stop the gentle lullaby that played quietly in my head. The tune was off key, lower than how I'd intended it, sounding now like a requiem of regret. My existence was nothing but regret and it needed to end.

I hoped they would agree to my request and it would be over quickly. If they didn't, I considered taking my rage out on them, and destroying the city in a bloodbath. I could probably kill dozens of the citizens they protected so hypocritically before they'd be able to stop me. I relished in the carnage I was visualizing. Yes, if they denied me, I would start killing and I wouldn't stop until my limbs were ripped from my body and I could burn. Then maybe... just maybe...

The elevator dinged and I straightened. Demetri stepped out followed by another guard, massive in size, also in a grey robe. The figure next to him stared indignantly at my face as they walked towards me. His thoughts were repugnant.

Dares disturb the masters. A request. A favor. I don't care who his father is. Their way of life insults us all. It's disgusting. They should all be eliminated.

My face contorted into a snarl. I had just made my first Volturi enemy. Felix. Maybe he'd be the one.

"Do you thirst?" Demetri asked, sounding polite in comparison. He was scrutinizing my preparedness.

"No, I'm ready now," I replied, impatiently. Felix rolled his eyes. I tuned out his opinions of me and of my family. They both turned and we entered the elevator as the doors closed behind us. Seconds later they reopened into what appeared to be a normal reception area.

This area of the Volturi's residence was made part of a facade, complete with a human receptionist. She raised her head from her work, smiling nonchalantly at me.

"Welcome to the Bishop's Castle of Volterra, Mr. Cullen. It's very nice having you here. If there's anything you desire, please don't hesitate to ask." I noted the slight tone with the word desire. Her voice was professional, flat, but she genuinely wanted to make me comfortable. She wanted to be good at her job. She believed, without a doubt, her efforts were appreciated.

Felix stepped forward and when the receptionist smiled at him, she warmed. Her smile was met with a possessively smug leer from Felix. He revealed her name in his lustful thoughts. Gianna. There weren't words in his thoughts, but a mental image. It was gruesome and carnal. She was nude, broken and drained and her eyes were vacant of life while his eyes were sanguine and blood-filled. I blocked the repulsive image, shaking my head as if I could erase the vision. I couldn't look at her again and I shuddered at the violence Felix was capable of.

Demetri and Felix walked side by side, their steps perfectly synced, and I followed silently behind them. I focused on how to approach the Volturi masters. We hadn't slowed our pace and my time to plan grew short. It would be easier when I was in the same room with Aro, Caius and Marcus, able to read their thoughts. I fully intended to manipulate the situation in my favor.

A direct and honest approach would be the only choice. Aro would see past any deception anyway. I wouldn't make any concrete decisions until I could better understand their minds. I simply wanted to convince them to do this the easiest way possible. The less damage I caused, the easier this would be for my family.

I was led down a long hall and an ornately carved door layered in gold was being held open for me. I stiffly walked through the door.

The office of the masters was stunning, to say the least. A very distinct smell of patchouli lingered in the air. Large leather chairs lined the walls, and behind them, antiquated scrolls were neatly rolled and placed on shelves. Three perfectly polished desks had been lined in an arch in the center of the room. I recognized the figures sitting behind them instantly. Aro sat in the middle with Cauis to his left and Marcus on his right.

Aro was standing and his expression beamed with false surprise as I entered the room followed quickly by the two guards. My mind absorbed as much information as possible. Aro was calculating, theatrical and manipulative. Marcus was despondent and apathetic. He barely perceived my arrival, desperately troubled and utterly hopeless. He was my future if I couldn't convince them…

Caius, on the other hand, was very aware of my presence. He was unpredictable. Aro intimidated him. That was unexpected, and seemed very odd. Everything I'd ever heard of the Voluturi claimed they were equals. This isn't the impression I was gathering now, for myself. I had gathered enough information and knew I had only one opportunity for the outcome I needed.

"The son of Carlisle has finally come to call!" Aro's voice was light and jovial, but I wasn't influenced or fooled by his casual tone. He was appraising my worth, that was perfectly clear.

Aro's smile didn't waiver for an instant. "Come in, come in!" he begged. He lightly stepped around the desk, holding out his hand for me, as if to shake it, but I had been thoroughly educated of Aro's gift. I was aware of all of their gifts, recalling Carlisle's stories. His delighted expression turned to curiosity as he stared at my hand. I was already offering it to him, palm down.

~*~

I sat in the dark, sulking.

It was still dark out when I'd lost my case with Aro and Caius. They dismissed my threats as trite impossibilities. Aro dripped with enthusiasm as he offered me a place in his guard, trying desperately to persuade me to join them in my despair, offering me anything I could possibly desire, which made me furious.

Being deceptively hospitable, Aro guided me through the common areas on a personal tour, proudly discussing the others in his guard and their many "wonderful" talents. He was particularly fond of the dreadful twins I'd been introduced to, as we walked through a courtyard filled with imported flora.

Carlisle had given me detailed information on the dangerous siblings. Jane and Alec had been sitting casually in the garden, each had their head bent towards books they held in their laps. Jane was devouring a modern novel, ironically about vampires, while Alec passively skimmed through an ancient and fragile looking book. It appeared to be a collection of philosophy that hadn't been translated from Camunic, a language that had died out fifteen hundreds year previously.

Both siblings were clearly irritated by the interruption and never spoke a word, only held eye contact for as long as Aro's presence deemed necessary. Jane was unbelievably sadistic and unstable while Alec seemed strangely aloof. They mirrored their own abilities, which wasn't surprising, considering their actual ages. If the moment had been any less tense, I might have studied them more closely. Carlisle's depiction of them was vivid and treacherous. However, their particular gifts would be of no use to me and therefore I had little interest in them.

Aro quickly ushered me deeper into the ludicrous tour, offering quickly to rank me equal to the twins, as he explained why I should consider his invitation.

"If your life is already so meaningless, why wouldn't you at least speculate on the possibilities?" he'd lamented, a hint of regret in his tone. He was obsessively impressed with my mind reading ability, and he called my request "wasteful". The word hung on me. I toyed with it now, here in the dark.

Wasted time, wasted effort, wasted torment, anguish and pain. All summed up to my pathetic, wasted life. Wasted choices, wasted opportunity, wasted attic, wasted phone call, wasted flight, wasted car, wasted humility. And you're still sitting here, wasting time instead of wasting away.

I was, if nothing else in the whole damned world, wasteful.

The Volturi had dismissed me like a self-indulgent child.

Afterwards, filled with rage, I almost succumbed to my predatory blood-lust. I felt completely unabashed, stalking any fragile human who was already close to his or her own death. Dawn was breaking over Volterra and the streets were crowding for a substantial celebration. I could hear the thoughts around me, repeating the name of the holiday, Saint Marcus Day. Red was everywhere, driving my salacity.

I'd manage to find what I was seeking, picking out my victim from a side alley. The man was embodied with age, easily in his nineties, having no friends or family to concern myself with. I approached him surreptitiously, trying to avoid his face. There was a loud sound behind me, and the man turned, looking directly at me. I couldn't avoid his horrified eyes and I froze.

The monster hadn't resurfaced. There was no urgent need to quench thirst. The monster remained dormant. The victim would've been mine.

I fled.

Bolting through shadows, I hunted again, but not for blood. Following an easily traceable scent, my own, I found what I was looking for. It was the basement I'd been led to hours earlier by Demetri. Solitary confinement. I hoped it wasn't a commonly used passage as I sank into the darkness, brooding. I tried to rationally consider my options.

I'd been sitting here in the dark for some immeasurable waste of time, mulling over the alternatives I faced. I was being ridiculous, unable to choose. I didn't want to think of it anymore. So I allowed my thoughts to return to joyful times. Stolen moments that had haunted me for seven months. Moments I'd tried to shirk from my perfect memory were now being embraced without abandon.

I plunged myself to the depths of my sorrow, now intentionally recalling her face, her scent, her warmth, her sounds, her gestures, everything. I cried her name in my head, begging forgiveness, begging for another chance. Every moment with her altered my fate and led me to this moment in this basement. I wouldn't bother with fantasies that could never ever see fruition. Instead, I drown myself in my perfect memories.

Tyler Crowley's van was in my vision. It had tried to kill her three times in as many seconds. I had saved her, clutching her into my arms, holding her next to my body, and what should have been an instinctive act of chivalry actually turned me into a rude and inexcusable beast, unsure of how I should treat her. She had been too observant and became suspicious of me. It was such an awkward sensation and I handled it miserably.

I'm so sorry.

I recalled, with precise clarity the night I'd burgled into her room. It hadn't been my intent to actually enter her home, but as I crept outside her window, disgusted with myself, a secret was revealed. She talked in her sleep. I smiled into the dark basement, embarrassed and excited simultaneously. I had slipped in quietly and watched her sleep, listening intently, so curious about what she was dreaming, until she breathed my name.

That was it; that was the moment in which I was changed forever.

I need you.

Again, I thought of the alluring afternoon in the meadow. As we sat in the clearing, warmed by the sun, my skin had fascinated her and she'd been curious. For the first time, I allowed her touch, closing my eyes, savoring my acute senses. Her fingers trembled ever so gently on my hand, tracing up my arm. I smiled at her. She was so soft, mysterious, frail, so warm. I could reveal myself to her completely after the incredible afternoon, in the meadow, with the sun warming our faces…

So warm...

Suddenly, my head jerked forward. My epiphany was poetic. I wanted to feel the sun again. I wanted this so urgently my body was already in motion, ready to sprint into the streets. I froze at the bottom of the stairs. This is exactly how it should be, of course, but for her I would need to perfect my final act. For her, I would wait until the sun was directly overhead, as it'd been in the meadow. In the most crowded area of the celebration I would step into the warm sunlight.

They would have absolutely no choice but to end me once the sun was shining on my bare skin. I reeled, going back to the floor where I'd sat before. I would only have to wait a short time, only hours, and I didn't want to waste them.

I allowed my memories to flood me, entirely at peace.

I remembered Bella.

Bella. I love you, Bella.

~*~

Time was growing near, and I'd recalled every moment we'd shared together, every instant in her presence, recalling them dozens of times each. I was completely composed as I stood and slowly exited my confinement.

The Palazzo dei Priori had been transformed into an ocean of red. I could see the sun shining beyond the shadows where I stood, waiting patiently, mere feet from the rays of the sun. I was observing the crowd with a strange sense of amusement. Saint Marcus Day was in full swing and the humans seemed to be really enjoying themselves, creating quite a ruckus. They were clueless of the deception of the grand holiday.

I wondered if Marcus felt flattered by all the attention, and quickly realized; Marcus didn't feel anything anymore. I could completely empathize. Marcus had lost his life a very long time ago. His existence now was a formality. Alone here, lost in my peaceful mood, I was able to pity him.

I decided the time was close enough and began unbuttoning my shirt, staring now at nothing in particular. I casually discarded the garment on the stone, thinking very briefly of my family. I felt so much love for them, even knowing how painful this would be. They would never recover, but perhaps one day they would accept my fate. I smiled, thinking of them, running through images of their faces. I'd been very lucky to have such a family.

The clock began to chime, sounding distant.

I had flashes now of Forks High School. There had been no frightening memory so vivid as when Bella had come so close to me on her first day. I felt no shame, now, and even enjoyed this memory. I'd wanted to take her life myself. Laughable, now, as it was, the memory seemed gentle to me.

Oh, and my rivals I'd experienced jealousy over. Even they were wonderful now, in my recollection. My jealousy had been very intense, and now I realized those human boys had become part of me and I was more like them than I'd ever dreamed.

Bella's father, Charlie, was there, too, in my mind. Stern, disapproving but allowing, quietly wishing I'd fall off the face of the planet. I remembered his love for his only daughter, and remorse washed out of me for him.

Elizabeth. Strange how I struggled to remember her, after all this time. Her face was now clear and beautiful. In my imagination, she was standing just behind Bella.

As my mind bid farewell to all of my magnificent and innocent memories, I allowed my final thoughts to encompass me. I had already chosen which one it would be. And I'd chosen well.

We were sitting near the forest. Bella's ancient truck waited nearby. She'd become dizzy after I carried her through the thick unmarked trail, back from the meadow. I heard my voice, "...something I wanted to try," I'd said. Not asked, which would've probably been the more appropriate approach. No, I'd simply said it; ignorant to the fact I was being oblivious of what she might have wanted. Taking her face into my hands, I'd kissed her.

Bella's response was so incredibly provocative.

I'd lost track of the chiming, completely engrossed, reminiscent. It didn't matter; it was time. Stretching my palms toward the thundering crowd, I didn't hesitate, closing my eyes. I stepped forward into the warmth of the sun.

It was all over so quickly, that I was shocked.

Bella was in my arms. My eyes opened, surprised and overjoyed. It had worked! It was an incredible relief, realizing now, how wrong I'd been about my afterlife. Speaking directly to Bella, I whispered, "Amazing. Carlisle was right." My voice lifted up away from me, drifting almost tangibly on the air. It was the most incredible feeling. Death was beautiful. Bella was beautiful.

"...back into the shadows." I could hear her voice, and my memories had done her no justice. Her voice was energetic and enchanting.

She was trying to convey something she thought might be important. She looked so delighted, panic stricken and urgent over some mundane thought. I almost laughed!

"You have to move!" she shouted.

Her face was bright and warm and I couldn't help raising my hand to caress her cheek, feeling how soft it was. Strangely, I thought I'd heard the clock tower chime again. Bells. It seemed odd, but Bella was too much of a distraction to give it any thought.

"I can't believe how quick it was," I said with gratitude, wondering if they were enjoying watching me burn now. I hoped they were, they had completely earned it. "I didn't feel a thing- they're very good," I confessed with admiration. Bella looked confused, and I decided I'd have to explain all of this to her later.

"Death that hath sucked the honey of they breath, hath had no power yet upon they beauty," I iterated, as I had on her birthday, the words of Romeo to his Juliet. I inhaled the intoxicating aroma of freesia and strawberries. More bells chimed in my head. "You smell just exactly the same as always. So maybe this is hell. I don't care. I'll take it." Wait, that can't be right. Bella would not be found if I'd been sent to hell. I felt like I was missing something.

And Bella was being charming again. "I'm not dead," she was insisting, "And neither are you! Please Edward, we have to move. They can't be far away!" She was almost screaming, and I couldn't imagine what she was so frantic about. But she looked delightfully adorable.

"What was that?" Surely she could explain her angst. Everything was wonderful!

"We're not dead, not yet!" I considered this for a moment. How could it be she was arguing about being together, finally, after so long. What other explanation could there possibly be? "But we have to get out of here before the Volturi-"

Reality spun me around, out of control. How could I have been so blind? But that meant she was really here. How? Why? She wasn't dead. Not yet. That was the phrase that sobered me instantly. We had to vanish. How could I make us vanish? I pulled her into the shadows behind me. Too late!

Demetri and Felix were approaching. I'd caused enough of a commotion to become a nuisance, and now I would have to pay the price. My mind raced, trying to sort together how to remove Bella from the danger.

Again, I was too late. Lifting her too quickly, I spun her behind me towards the wall and took a shielding stance, reaching my arms behind me around either side of her.

"Greetings, gentlemen." I thought I'd start with politeness, or at least political correctness. I wasn't sure how this was going to conclude itself, but I had no intention of putting Bella any further into harm's way.

Bella. The reality of her presence barely beginning to sink in.

"I don't think I'll be requiring your services today. I would appreciate it very much, however, if you would send my thanks to your masters." I hadn't technically broken the law, and hoped fleetingly this would conclude peacefully. Bella was alive. This had all been entirely unnecessary.

"Shall we take this conversation to a more appropriate venue?" Felix suggested maliciously. His thoughts were fixated on Bella and he already found her appealing. I could feel my lip raising into a scowl as the violent urge to strike coiled like a spring inside me.

"I don't believe that will be necessary," I replied as my voice chilled the air with threat.

"I know your instruction, Felix. I haven't broken any rules."

Demetri attempted to alleviate the tension. "Felix merely meant to point out the proximity of the sun,"he said blandly, glancing towards the crowd. "Let us seek better cover."

"I'll be right behind you. Bella, why don't you go back to the square and enjoy the festival?" I suggested without turning to her. Surely she would hear the force of my tone and capitulate.

Felix had a lusty expression as he uttered, "No, bring the girl." I heard his mind echoing her name and it sickened me.

Immediately my stance turned aggressive. "I don't think so," I snarled. If there were any chance of Bella surviving my attack, I'd have killed him for the vile fantasies he was envisioning.

"No," I heard whispered behind me. Bella?

Bella, be quiet, and don't move.

"Shh" I directed behind me, harsher than I'd meant to in my alarm. Was she not aware of the jeopardy she was in? All Felix needed was provocation. He crouched forward and I followed suit.

"Felix, not here," Demetri snapped at the hulking mass. Turning to face me, Demetri continued his attempt to reason. "Aro would simply like to speak with you again, if you have decided not to force our hand after all."

Demetri had no reason to question Aro. He lived under the influence of other's abilities and was anesthetized by the malevolence of his Volturi masters. He believed this confrontation was unnecessary and we should simply speak to Aro.

My determination to keep Bella as far from the Bishop's Mansion was slipping away from me. I had to think quickly. I could sense her fear and knew it was sparking a flame inside Felix. He wouldn't break protocol by harming her within the city walls, unless she was offered to him by the Aro. The idea was horrific.

"Certainly. But the girl goes free." There would be absolutely no compromise and my tone made that perfectly clear.

"I'm afraid that's not possible." The tracker sounded almost compassionate and it caught me off guard. "We do have rules to obey," he murmured as if acknowledging a horrible secret. It confused me for a moment, before I realized he was seeing as clearly as I was the terrible possibilities. His empathy wasn't with Bella, but with me... with who I was... he was considering the effects of my death on Carlisle!

Did he hold my father in such reverence? Yes, obviously he did, but why? I searched his thoughts but found only remorse for my situation. Still, it was enough for me to beseech his rank and empathy.

"Then I'm afraid that I'll be unable to accept Aro's invitation, Demetri," I replied flatly, mentally preparing to pull Bella onto my back and run faster than I'd ever run. Protecting her was all that I had left.

"That's just fine." Felix's posture stiffened. He was preparing to force the situation.

Oblivious to Felix, and with deep emotion Demetri whispered, "Aro will be disappointed."

I suddenly saw Demetri's instruction. I was to be taken and there would be no witnesses.

Vulgarity pulsed through me. My desperation kept me civil in my response. "I'm sure he'll survive the letdown," was all I added dryly, anticipating their assault.

Felix and Demetri began to move in.

Without moving, I theorized how I would avoid letting them near Bella. Being outnumbered, as I was, put her at a deadly disadvantage.

Unless…

Maybe I wasn't outnumbered. My eyes turned to crowd. I clenched my jaw and smiled. My sudden movement surprised them and they hesitated.

Alice's figure emerged from the shadow of the alley. Her thoughts raced, explaining a multitude of answers at once. Her vision had been wrong, obviously. Bella never hesitated to come here. Victoria had returned. Laurent revisited as well, with murderous intent. Werewolves?! Ephraim Black's descendant, a bond with Bella.. MY Bella!

I saw it all, in the briefest moment, everything that had led to the present. My guilt was crushing me. Alice's presence was both a blessing and a curse.

Bella... what have I done?

"Let's behave ourselves, shall we? There are ladies present." It was wonderful to hear her voice after so long but my head was perched in a terrible mix of determination and defeat. My sister treaded lithely to my side. Taken back by her sudden emergence, Felix and Demetri straightened, maintaining a guarded position.

I took the moment for their surprise to settle, and regrouped. The onslaught of Alice's knowledge was almost too much to bare, but there was a reason she was letting me see her thoughts, forcing them into me. I was caught in an enclave of power and powerlessness.

"We're not alone," Alice warned lightly, indicated the festivities that were now beginning to take sharper notice of the five of us. We were causing a scene and she intended to use that to an advantage.

"Please Edward, be reasonable," Demetri begged, shaking his head in frustration. I tried to focus on the current situation putting the Quileute Tribe and Bella's dangerous relations with them out of my head.

"Lets," I heard myself say. "And we'll leave quietly now, with no one the wiser." My eyebrow twitched upward, threateningly, begging.

Demetri was becoming exasperated. His sigh had a good deal of weight. He made another attempt to draw us away from the crowd.

"At least let us discuss this more privately."

"No." My answer was final. I would draw her nearer into their clutches. Felix liked my answer, wanting to fight for her.

Then came a voice I'd never heard but still recognized. I knew enough about the little fiend approaching us to be able to not require audible familiarity. She spoke with authority.

Jane.

"Enough."

We were defeated. I was defeated. I could try to refuse her but Bella would have nothing to shield her from them. Jane's power was too great.

"Jane," was all I could articulate.

Beside me, my sister didn't seem as bothered. She shifted her weight and folded her arms, her face expressionless.

"Follow me." Jane's childlike voice was in no manner a request.

Felix waved his arm in a flourish, obviously amused at the turn of events. Wrapping my arm protectively around what was now my desperate cargo, Bella and I followed down the narrow alley, trailed closely by my sister. I had put them in the most despicable position. Why had Alice brought her here? Elation and grief threatened to consume me.

Alice wasn't clear of our outcome, obviously. Aro had not drawn any conclusions as to what he would do to us. She'd come to the conclusion that she and I weren't in any great peril, and she tried to hide the fact that her visions for Bella weren't clear at all.

She was still showing me what had led up to their arrival in Italy, and I wanted to cover any trace of our private conversing.

"Well, Alice, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to see you here," keeping my voice as monotone as possible. My sister was immediately in step with my spoken conversation, not faltering in her thoughts she was sharing with me.

"I didn't any other way," she thought.

"It was my mistake," she responded. "It was my job to set it right."

"What happened?" I said, making my voice sound like I was really asking. She'd already shown me the entire conversation with Bella in Charlie's familiar living room. Bella had casually referred to her "jump" as recreational. She was going to have to explain that to me in great detail, soon.

Still, I needed to hear something, a distraction, to hear her voice while I traced circles on the fragile human I couldn't exist without.

Bella...

I rubbed her skin and felt her hair, wanting so badly to make this a nightmare she could wake up from. I'd pulled her so deeply into my horrific world and I pulsated with energy, ready to protect her at any level, but I knew I was over my head. I was leading her into a lair of evil and I needed to focus.

Alice continued with the charade and I did my best to respond. She embellished slightly, but kept the tone casual. In her thoughts she was now explaining the relationship between Bella and the adolescent pack of wolves. She'd grown close to Ephraim Black's descendant. How close, I wondered, but couldn't ask. This wasn't the time to be jealous but I saw through Alice's eyes and I loathed this young Quieleute.

Jacob.

Ephraim's grandson.

Charlie's living room. The young Quieleute demanded that Alice divulge information. Bella's face was gaunt and frightened.

Jacob Black.

"Hm."

I heard my voice had gone rigid. Without realizing, my arm wound tighter around Bella. I was envious that Alice had been the one to return first. I'd been such a coward.

I'd left Bella in chaos. Of course she bonded with the young Quileute.

Jane had already descended down a narrow grate in the alley. Alice disappeared directly behind her. I hesitated, not wanting Bella out of my sight.

I'll catch her, stop worrying. Your face is a dead give away. Plus you're making her uncomfortable.

I squinted at my sister's thoughts as they filtered from the darkness below. I glanced at Bella. Alice was correct, as usual. Bella's expression was filled with terror and her eyes were searching mine for some sort of grasp, something I wasn't providing.

"It's all right, Bella," I said calmly, noting it was the first time I'd spokenher name out loud in almost half of a year. It was also the first time I'd spoken directly to her since I realized my death had not gone quite the way I'd planned.

I needed to make this right and I had no idea how to ease the tension. Bella's fear was completely valid. We were headed back to the Bishop's Castle and I was powerless against it. I felt frantic and I needed to give her strength.

"Alice will catch you." I tried to sound reassuring. This drop was not a threat and yet I knew it was going to put her into the clutches of every evil. Once she dropped, I would either die to save her or witness a miracle that would save her. She was alive and I'd do whatever I could to preserve that fact.

Demetri and Felix were becoming increasingly impatient. It was rare they traveled at a human's pace. Bella complied, reluctantly, sitting at the mouth of the grate. Her voice was shaken as she called down below.

"Alice?" I simply broke, hearing her fear, her determination. This human, this child, this incredible creature... the love I felt was suffocating.

"I'm right here, Bella," came Alice's voice from below. I could see her clearly, but Bella must be terrified by the drop.

She needs to move faster. Assist her, if necessary.

I took a knee over Bella, holding her wrists which seemed so frail. This was wrong, I knew. She felt limp in my arms as I lowered her into the darkness, leaning down to shorten her fall as much as possible.

"Ready?" I called to the empty space below.

Good grief, Edward, stop being funny. What do you think I'm doing down here?

I smiled at my sister's good nature and her humor. She loved Bella almost as protectively as I did. And now she was offended.

"Drop her," she answered, curtly. I let go. I heard air rush out of Bella's lungs the second Alice caught her, and I stiffened. Alice hadn't caught her gently enough.

She's fine. Sorry.

Scowling, I joined them, silently landing below. My arms were immediately around Bella in the dark. I felt a thrill shoot through me as Bella wrapped her arms tightly to my waist. I was smiling as we walked, not knowing our outcome but overcome by her presence and her touch. It wasn't difficult to see Alice in front of us, Jane in front of her. My eyes were never lost in the dark.

Bella had no visibility, and she stumbled often. I kept her on her feet easily, but I was keenly aware of the patronizing Felix was thinking. Demetri was oddly amused. Yes, my girlfriend is considerably less dexterous than most humans, I humored to myself.I didn't relinquish the chance to touch her face. I tried to do this so Felix and Demetri wouldn't be terribly aware of my vulnerability towards her, so I kept my movement subtle. And I allowed my fingers to trace her smooth features as we walked.

I breathed her scent several times, allowing the intoxicating feeling to spin in my head. She was here, in my arms. Dire straights be damned, she was here. I no longer cared what the guards behind me saw and I kissed her gently on the forehead. While we walked, I repeated this often. She was trembling and enticing. I had momentary dreams of Pinocchio meeting the Blue Fairy.

My vanity of her response were violently obliterated. She was shivering, not trembling.

Idiot! She's freezing... she's human!

I quickly removed my cold arms, scolding myself for the amount of contact I'd forced on her in the cold dark. I had nothing to offer her for warmth, still bare chested. I felt completely useless. I settled for holding her hand.

But Bella protested, her teeth protesting the cold. She wrapped herself tighter around my torso. What could I do? I tried to rub her arm, quickly enough to summon warmth in the friction. It was an odd sensation, stimulating even in the tension that surrounded us.

Her slow progress didn't go unnoticed, and I heard Felix huffing frustrated sounds behind us. He was provoking me to no end. But we soon passed through the entryway to the long hallway with the elevator. I tensed, knowing we would soon be in the presence of the Volturi, and Bella would soon be mortally exposed to them. I would talk us out of this or we would die together.

Nobody would touch her without a fight.

Bella, the human who knew all of our secrets, because of me, would soon be facing all of them. I felt my body react, my mind alert and focused. For this, I was ready, finally.