A/N: Chapter 28!

I took a little break from this fic while I worked one of my others, but here's the next chapter! We have Cullens! Thank you to idealskeptic, and to all you wonderful readers. I reached 40,000 hits/views with this chapter, which is crazy considering there are only 29 chapters posted. Thank you again for that.

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Greed and Power

The drive to where we may or may not have found Maria was tense. Jasper wasn't projecting anything, but I could still feel the tension rolling off him in the original sense of the word. If the Volturi killed her, it meant there was another death on Jasper's conscience. This time being the death of his creator. I shared no bond with Aro, nor did I ever want one, but Maria had something over him that nobody else did.

They also had a past together, and after everything they'd been through – the bad and whatever amount of good – ending things like this wasn't something Jasper wanted. Going there was a means of giving him some peace of mind, and if she had in fact been spared, he would be able to wipe his slate clean of them.

For now.

The break from the Volturi felt more secure now we were across the world from them, yet the nagging voice in the back of my mind, the one I tried to ignore, told me we weren't done with them yet. There was no telling when they could come after us, or how long they would wait. We simply had to play the waiting game along with them.

There was also the fact Emmett and Edward still didn't know that Aro, a man who always seemed to get what he wanted, had set his sights on them, too. I wondered what it felt like, not to have those thoughts hanging over their heads. I envied them of it, yet was consoled by the fact they'd been spared of even more worry. If only Jasper's return home wasn't to be tainted by it.

We couldn't avoid it, though, or leave it a few days before telling them. We'd already left it long enough as it was.

What I was most worried about was Jasper's frame of mind if we found out Maria had died. Having to deal with that, and then share even more bad news was going to be really tough…and I wasn't even counting the fact he would feel their reactions.

The afternoon was gradually fading into evening when he announced we were nearly there, making it a perfect time for us to arrive. We would park the car and walk the rest of the way; walk until he was positive either way what happened to Maria.

When we finally stopped, Jasper was first out the car, but it soon became clear it wasn't through urgency to get to our destination. I followed suit and moved around to his side of the car, sensing, too, that he needed a moment.

His face was blank, but I knew that meant his thoughts had taken him somewhere far away from here. Or maybe not so far at all. I waited patiently until he came back with a single blink of his eyes. When he spoke, his topic was expected, though his words surprised me a little.

"She was all I had, back then."

I watched him closely, noting the distance still present in the way he spoke. He wasn't waiting for any kind of response.

"I remember the…dread I felt at the thought of losing her, the way it would hang over me like a dead weight," he continued, still not meeting my eye. "The first time she came close to being killed, I let her see my worry."

He said the word as though it was a joke, as though worrying was a foolish thing to do. His gaze flickered to mine, and I could see the reason in his eyes before he confirmed it with his words.

"She knocked me back, of course. Told me that worrying for anyone other than myself would only get me killed sooner." Jasper laughed bitterly under his breath. "Maria was a ruthless leader, one that cared more for land and reputation than those around her. She made it so the dread faded away over time; right until the point I knew I'd never feel anything like it again."

Jasper stopped to run a hand over his face. The roughness of the movement proved how much this was troubling him, and the worst part was that I knew what was coming and wasn't sure how I was going to respond to it.

"It unnerves me that it's back," he said quietly and cast his eyes downward. The crease between them was so prominent. "I ignored it because I had to, but now…I've spent the past few hours trying to make sense of it, and I…I can't. I know it's different from before, but I feel like it shouldn't be there at all."

My uncertainly suddenly faded as I positioned myself in front of him. "I can't begin to put myself in your shoes, but I do know you have every right to feel the way you do. The last time you saw her, she helped you when you needed it the most. I bet anyone else would be feeling exactly the same."

"Maybe so," he conceded. "But the sooner it's gone the better."

He seemed to brush away his uneasiness as easy as anything, but I knew all he'd done was push it to the back of his mind. To a place no one could reach. Straight away, I knew it was time to let it go and simply follow him. The sooner it was gone, the better, just as he said.

I just hoped it wasn't going to be replaced by something worse.

Similar to the drive, Jasper barely said a word as we walked. We were going faster than human speed, but still slow for a vampire. So I took stock of our surroundings, wondering whether any of this was yet familiar to him.

It was dusty and barren, most likely too dry and hot for humans to venture out. A perfect place for a vampire army to thrive. You could smell it in the air, the way it had near Volterra. I was certain Jasper wasn't breathing again.

We headed further in, getting closer to hills that were gradually fading in the diming light. The vampire scents, on the other hand, were only getting stronger.

"Is that promising?" I asked when I commented on it.

Jasper's eyes were sharp as he scanned ahead of his, his posture possibly being tenser than it was in front of Aro.

"It could be anyone," he replied. "If it is, the night is the worse time to be here."

For the first time today, I felt a sliver of apprehension. Armies attacked at night, and if this was no longer Maria's territory—

Jasper's arm shot out across me, halting us both. Lost in thought, I'd missed the flicker of movement to our right.

"Get behind me," he said quietly, leaving no room for argument. I moved, with just enough space to see who was approaching. There were three of them, two men and one female. A quick look behind us was enough reassurance we weren't being surrounded, but with three of them and Jasper being the only one capable of really defending himself, we were easily outnumbered.

The three advanced slowly, fanning out as they got nearer. I felt Jasper reach behind and nudge me backwards. Just like he had in Volterra, except this time I was vampire, and still as useless as ever. But I had speed on my side, and even though they did, too, I could run if I had to.

I kept my eyes on them as I moved back. The two men centred on Jasper, but the woman kept her gaze on me. She was young, maybe seventeen, with red hair and even redder eyes. She bypassed Jasper who was too intent on the pair circling him to be able to stop her.

I wanted to tell her I wasn't an enemy, to ask for Maria and see how she responded, but I feared my lack of prior knowledge would give me away. Anyone could pretend to know who she was just to get a little closer. So I kept edging back, all the while watching Jasper from my peripheral vision.

He was quick, deflecting their attacks and being one step ahead.

The sound of tearing metal distracted the girl and she looked to see Jasper drop the headless body. I took my chance and did the only thing I could – run.

She was on my tail the instant I moved, gaining on me fast. Too fast. I tried to take a sharp left and circle round to Jasper, but she anticipated my move the same way Jasper did the others. I felt the precise breakage where she grabbed me, felt the flare of panic that paired with the though of her doing more damage if I didn't try to stop her.

I acted without thinking, spinning into her grasp and used my free hand to connect with her face. When she caught my wrist, I hardly faltered as I head butted her, crushing her nose and forcing my release. She'd barely recovered when two hands appeared behind her.

She was in two pieces in seconds, and Jasper was before me, dark faced and chest heaving. I hadn't even heard the second man fall.

"You broke her nose," he said squarely as he eased my arm out straight and held the broken part so it could mend.

"Yeah, I'm good at that," I replied in a glum voice, thinking back to when I'd done the same to him. The outcome had been the same; I was released then, too.

"It was a good move," he went on, but there was something off in his voice as well. We both knew a broken arm would've been the least of my troubles had Jasper been a minute later. I knew without having to ask that he wanted me as far away from this life as possible, and the thought of training me to fight was one he didn't want to entertain.

It was another thing we couldn't avoid, but right now, Jasper was doing his best to do just that…and I would let him. We had more pressing things at hand.

"I recognised those moves – they had Maria all over them," he said, and though it was good news, he sounded just as wary. "But we need to move; those three were keeping watch. The others would have heard the attack – you always could in these parts."

Jasper was proved right before we even passed the place the other two bodies lay. It was four men, this time. To my relief, Jasper addressed them the way I wanted to address the girl.

"We are not your enemies," he explained, raising his hands in a peaceful gesture. "Do not force me to retaliate. I am only here to see your leader, Maria."

As I expected, they didn't accept the mention of Maria as enough reason to let us pass…but maybe the mention of his name would.

"Tell her Jasper is here to see her."

It was then they faltered, each sharing a glance and looking towards the brawny one who seemed in charge of the group.

"Whitlock?" was his only response.

Jasper confirmed it, and soon after two of them disappeared the way they came. The two that remained eyed us warily, keeping their distance in a way that made me question what it was Maria told them about Jasper to make them so cautious about him. Maybe even fearful.

When I glanced at Jasper, though, it dawned on me maybe Maria hadn't told them much at all. His scars gave enough of a first impression, and with the mere mention of his name, it was an adequate reason to halt them.

The power he could have here was terrifying.

The arrival of Maria knocked that thought from my mind. She was everything I'd imagined her to be. Fierce and beautiful, dressed all in black with heavy boots on her feet. Everything about her exuded power and leadership, the kind of thing that probably should have intimidated me.

As it was, all she did was look at Jasper as he looked right back. I anticipated a greeting of sorts, yet both remained straight-faced and closed off. Both too stubborn, maybe, to show any relief that the other was alive.

When their moment was over, her gaze flickered to me, giving me a once over before moving onto the bodies of the two male guards.

"Deal with those two," she instructed the pair who had gone to fetch her.

"What about the girl?"

Maria didn't hesitate. "Burn her," she said, her attention flickering to Jasper and she smirked. "I never did like that one."

The remark seemed intentional, as though it were an inside joke only he knew about. I was still trying to derive a conclusion as she led us back towards her camp. I gave up as we got nearer, passing newborns who watched us go by.

We were taken to a small settlement and into a building that was lit on the inside by torches. For a second, it felt as though we'd transported back to the time Jasper had first been here. But of course, electricity wasn't something they could easily access this far out.

"I see the message was delivered," she said as she placed the light she carried on the desk. When she faced us, it was my confusion she seemed to pick up on. "The Volturi paid me a visit, and the tracker left me when everyone else was burned."

She paused to loosen her jacket, pulling the shirt back to reveal two viscous scars curling around her shoulders. "I recognise a hidden message when I see one. The Volturi don't give out second chances for anything other than to warn others what they're capable of."

Despite everything I'd witnessed the Volturi say or do, the fact they left her, dismembered, as a message to Jasper, the Cullens, and God knows who else had left me speechless.

"Debiste pedirmelo," came out as a low murmur. I knew it was for Jasper's ears only, but he ignored her hint for privacy.

"Would you really have done it? If I'd asked you?"

I quickly worked out that Maria must have told him she would have done what he went to Volterra for. His question hinted at his doubts, and Maria's lack of response had me questioning her. Either way, I was glad it hadn't come to that. It was my presence over the course of time that led him to change his mind, nothing more.

She was quick to move the attention away from her. To move the attention to me, apparently, if the way her eyes lingered on my still healing arm was anything to go by.

"How long since you were turned?"

A formal question, but an assessment nonetheless.

"Two years," I replied just as bluntly.

"Still a newborn." Her tone hinted at insult, and she soon faced Jasper. "If she's supposed to be trained, you've lost your touch."

I bristled and so did Jasper.

"She's not that kind of newborn," he shot back. The finality in his voice would have sent anyone else retreating, but not Maria.

Her smirk had returned. "You and I both know there is no other kind of newborn."

The tension in the room crackled, escalating the longer Jasper glared at her. Was it always like this? I thought. Always challenging one another? Suddenly it wasn't at all hard to see why Jasper had once contemplated killing her.

In the end, Maria was the first one to back down, but not in defeat. "If the Volturi come after you, and she is not trained, you will go down twice as fast," she told him, inducing a sliver a fear into my chest. "Even you can't protect someone from the likes of them."

Everything she said was true, as much as I wished it wasn't. Jasper couldn't protect me and expect to fight them off at the same time. Even the newborns had proved that. One second under Jane's ability and we'd both be dead.

With that thought in mind, I had the urge to speak up and agree. I wanted to be able to protect myself for Jasper's sake even more than my own, but the stony expression on his face made me hold my tongue.

"At least they will give you a way out if you lose her, too-"

"Enough." He growled out the word. "You've made your point."

"So long as you took it in," she continued, and I had the right mind to tell her to shut the hell up. I understand why she was saying it, but I didn't like the way she was pushing his buttons. What she said next, however, took me by surprise. "You know where to find me, should you require my help."

Her tone held more finality than Jasper's. Just like that, she was dismissing us. I was stunned at her brevity; even though I didn't want to spend more time than we had to, I'd expected more. The difference, later, when he reunited with the Cullens was going to be immense.

"I'll bear that in mind," Jasper finally said. But what was he considering - her help, or the training? I felt Jasper's hand on my back, hinting at me to move. I offered Maria a nod and a smile, even if she didn't return the gesture.

Then, as I turned away, she said, "Tienes mi respaldo."

Jasper said nothing to this, but there was something in the way he nodded that told me she'd said something good. He would tell me later, maybe. Once we were out, he kept a firm, guiding hand on my back. Even though these were Maria's soldiers, he still didn't trust them.

The guards from earlier had lit a fire in-between the time we last saw them. I knew I shouldn't have watched because I knew exactly what they were doing, but the brutality of it shocked me to the point I couldn't move.

The girl was in pieces, carelessly being thrown into the fire one piece at a time. The smoke was purple, even in the darkness, and the smell was acrid and sickly sweet. I hadn't noticed it earlier, but that particular smell was everywhere.

"Let's go," Jasper said, gentle, yet firm enough to make me move. I allowed him to lead me away willingly, yet the image of their burning pyre was going to stay with me a while. When we finally made it back to the car, it seemed I was the one who forced the silence.

"I hoped you wouldn't see that," he said later, reaching for my hand across the compartment. "You've seen a lot in the past two years because of me, but that should have been avoided."

I couldn't help but agree. "But I would do it again, even now. There's no way I'd let you go in there alone. I know she won't hurt you…it's everything else that makes me not trust her."

His smile was weary. "Not many people do."

I decided against asking where trust lay in his relationship with Maria.

"She certainly fits the image in my head," I told him instead. "Though I thought she would have wanted you to stay longer."

"We're not exactly what you would call friends," he replied, hinting at a little tired humour. "It will always be like that between us. Aggression was a common ground back then, and she knows exactly where to push me. She's my creator, though, and that means we'll never be enemies."

"Is that what she said when we left?"

Whatever it was, it had to be something that prevented them from leaving on a bad note.

"Not quite. She said she had my back." He paused, and I silently thanked Maria. Untrustworthy as she was, her allegiance to Jasper was clear. "We always used to communicate in Spanish. It keeps things private and prevents anyone using something like that against her."

"They would do that?"

"Betrayal is easy," he said simply. "She won't take that risk."

It made sense, but I couldn't understand why she would keep doing it if the risks were so high that she couldn't trust anyone. In the end, I came to the conclusion that it was the life she was born into as a vampire, and unlike Jasper, she had no reason to leave it.

We dropped the topic of Maria, leaving it behind us with everything else. What she said about training was still on my mind. We wouldn't talk about it now, and I couldn't be sure when we would, but Jasper couldn't avoid it forever, and I was counting on that.

The place we were headed – which I found out to be a small town called Ennis in Montana, was a day's drive from here, but after everything we'd been through, a day felt like nothing at all.

The night sky faded into morning twice before we reached the outskirts of Ennis. We filled up on gas one last time and stopped a few miles out from the private road that would take us to the Cullens' house. Like the few days before, Jasper needed a little time to prepare himself.

His mood was far lighter, and he even kissed me fervently before leaning against the side of the car. It was going to be our last kiss; at least without having to hide it. We'd considered whether or not to tell them about us. Ultimately, I asked if we could keep it between ourselves for a little longer. We had enough to tell them without giving them something else they had to get used to.

Jasper pointed out that they would most likely put it together themselves, and Edward would know as soon as one of us thought about it. My response was simple: if that was the case, then so be it. I wanted them to enjoy Jasper's return first.

"You ready?"

He lifted his chin from where it rested on my shoulder and nodded. He surprised me with another kiss, a sweeter one, and then we returned to our seats. We hadn't told them what time we were arriving, just that it would be today.

When we pulled up to the house, I could hardly take my eyes off it. The design was a lot older than their house in Forks, but had to be even bigger. From first glance, I knew I liked this one better.

I shared a fleeting look with Jasper as we heard the telltale sound of someone rushing through the house. I caught his smile as the door flew open and Esme emerged. Jasper was out of the car first, and though I followed, I couldn't look at him for his reaction. I'd seen Esme only a few times around Forks, but I couldn't remember her ever looking as young as she was now. For someone who acted as the mother figure, she couldn't have been much older than I was.

My thoughts were pulled back to the present as they approached each other. I could tell all she wanted to do was rush forward and hug him, but she held back…just. As it turned out, Jasper was the one to pull her into a tight embrace. Had Edward not came out a moment later, I was sure they wouldn't have let go for a while.

I stepped closer as Edward did, smiling because it really had been so long since I last saw him. Like Esme, he looked different to how I remembered. It was startling how much he looked like Jasper had when he first found me.

He and Jasper merely nodded, but I knew from their gaze lasting a few seconds too long that Jasper was telling him something in his mind. Sensing this, Esme approached and hugged me just as tight as she had Jasper.

"Welcome home," she said warmly. Had I any misgivings towards staying here, I knew they would have floated away at her words.

"Where are the others?" Jasper asked as we made our way towards the house. It was clear they weren't inside; we would have heard them by now.

"Carlisle is working and won't be home back for another few hours. Emmett and Rosalie are with Renesmee at the other…"

Esme's voice trailed away as she noticed exactly what I had moments ago. Jasper was frozen in the doorway. I called his name, but instead of bringing him back to me, he snapped out of his inert state and disappeared down some steps just ahead of us. I watched him go, confused and worried. A glance at Esme said she was feeling the same.

What is it?

I directed it at the only person who knew what was going through Jasper's mind. When he answered me, he didn't look up from where he watched the stairs Jasper disappeared down.

"He can smell them. Alice's things."

After everything I worried about, I'd completely overlooked the thought of Jasper finding Alice's things. In retrospect, it should have been the first thing I thought about.

"Should I go after him?" Esme asked worriedly. When Edward didn't answer, I realised the question was for me alone.

"Go," I said easily because she was the only one Jasper could see right now. Without doubt, Esme would have been the one to organise Alice's things. Esme said nothing more and followed Jasper's path. As soon as she was gone, I turned to Edward.

Is there somewhere we can go where we won't hear them?

He signalled for me to follow him, holding up the keys he was now somehow in possession of when he led me to the car.

"We'll go to the garage," he said as an explanation.

It turned out the garage was bigger than my entire apartment in Illinois. There were three cars parked inside, ours making it four. Near the front was a free space for another, which I assumed was Carlisle's. At the far end, there was a whole space of mechanical equipment.

"It's Rosalie's hobby," Edward explained as he caught the directions of my thoughts. "She's looking for a new project, so she'll probably ask if she can do one up for you."

The Cullens and their money, I thought dazedly, and the corner of his mouth quirked a little.

"I'm not sure I remember how to drive," I mused thoughtfully. I had to learn how to walk normally again, so I could imagine driving was going to be just the same.

"It won't take long to learn."

I nodded, idly wondering which car I'd feel comfortable driving for the first time. They all looked fast, but speed wasn't the issue – it never had been with the right driver.

When the silence became too much, I figured I had to say something. "How is Renesmee?"

"She's good. Still growing every day, but not as much as before."

Rosalie had explained Renesmee's unique condition when we saw them last. I couldn't help but wonder how old she looked now.

I watched Edward hesitate over my thoughts. "I'm sorry for not having her with me when you first arrived," he began. I had a feeling I knew where this was going. "It's just that she is half human, and-"

I cut him off with a smile. Of all things, that was the last thing he needed to explain. "It's okay, Edward. Really. I understand that she has a beating heart. You didn't want to take the risk and I agree with that decision. You're her father; I wouldn't expect anything less."

"I will bring her over later," he went on, regardless. "Once she knows you've arrived, there'll be no stopping her, anyway."

"Does she know who I am?"

He faltered, knowing what I really meant. "She knows you were friends with…Bella."

I felt like I should have said something, yet all I could think was I'm so sorry. It wasn't enough, nowhere near enough, but he nodded anyway. I understand the notion. I used to do the same. Back then, all I wanted was for people to move on, so that was exactly what I did.

"Should we start walking back to the house?"

He readily agreed, and while we walked, I asked about Carlisle's job. It was a neutral topic, and I was genuinely curious how he made it work. It seemed he worked nights a lot, just to save those who needed sleep to recuperate. I respected him for that alone.

When we reached the house a short while later, Esme was waiting on the front step. I couldn't see or hear Jasper, and I knew he'd gone off on his own before she even had to tell me.

"He said to make sure you settled in," she added, when she saw me hesitating in the doorway. "Come on, I'll give you the grand tour."

Edward slipped away as I finally entered the house. The place was huge, yet every room was so well decorated that it would be a while before I stopped looking around in complete awe. It was easily the most luxurious house I'd ever stepped foot in.

Aside from the kitchen, dining room and one family room, the rest of the first floor was designated as Rosalie and Emmett's. When we moved up to the second floor, it was much the same. One side was Carlisle and Esme's – a bedroom, a study, and a spare room I guessed was for Renesmee, but the other was what caught my eye. Their family library was huge. Later, when things had calmed down and I had some time alone, I knew I'd find myself in there again.

The smell of paint assaulted my senses as we made our way up the final set of stairs. It was the simplest layout yet, with only two doors on opposite sides of the landing. We headed to the one of them left, first, which turned out to be Esme's personal studio.

Open plan with floor length windows on two sides, it was quite possibly the best room in the house. I looked around at the various easels, paintings and rough plans dotted around the room. I'd never been good with a paintbrush, but it didn't stop me admiring the beauty of how it captured a scene. Just looking at Esme's paintings had a familiar excitement brewing in me that had long since been dormant. She practically had to drag me out of there to show me the final part of the house.

As it turned out, this section belonged to me and Jasper.

For a moment, all I could do was gape in shock. The floor was carpeted in a soft, dark green cushion, with white walls and mahogany furniture. With the windows overlooking the trees, it wasn't hard to see where she got her inspiration. It was beautiful, and that wasn't even all of it.

Along the right side wall were three doors. The first was a bathroom, fitted with appliances I'd only seen in films. That alone made me want to collapse onto the bed in astonishment – which I hadn't failed to notice was made for two people. Even though we didn't need to sleep, I had a feeling Esme had us sussed out already.

The next door held a walk-in wardrobe that had twice the amount of clothes I owned in Illinois, and that wasn't even counting Jasper's.

"Rosalie and I went shopping," she told me, shrugging with a deliberate smile.

When we got to the final door, I wasn't sure what to expect. At first, it looked like any other closet. Only when I looked closer did I realise it was all my old things, and probably Jasper's, too.

"I moved all your things up here so you could go through it," she explained. "I thought I'd leave the more personal side of decorating the room to you."

"Did you only decorate this recently?" I asked, waving a hand at the main room. The smell of paint wasn't just coming from her studio across the hall.

"I don't like the thought of finishing a room and just waiting for it to be filled." I nodded, understanding how that notion would feel. "It kept me occupied last week."

I took the time to look around the room again, and before I knew it, I was hugging her once again. "It's perfect, Esme, thank you. If it was possible to cry right now…"

She laughed. "I know exactly what you mean."

We were just parting when I heard, "We're not interrupting, are we?"

My smile grew as Emmett bounded into the room like a happy puppy and lifted me into a hug. "It's good to see you again, newbie," he said, and set me back on my feet so Rosalie could offer a far calmer greeting. Seeing them made me realise just how much I missed them.

"Is Jasper still not back?" Rosalie asked, forcing our worry to return.

"Do you think I should go after him?" Emmett asked when I told them he was still outside. I glanced towards the window at Emmett's question. If I thought he wanted to see anyone, I would have gone to him already. This time, I knew he just needed some time alone, and would eventually come back on his own accord. Whether he would be okay was another thing. That was something I'd have to judge when I saw him.

"He'll be back soon," Esme assured him, and gradually shooed them from the room. "I'll leave you to settle in. Everything is ready to use, so you're free to shower and get a change of clothes."

I thanked her once more, liking the thought of having a wash before the talk that was sure to come. Esme was at the door when she paused and looked back with one of her gentle smiles that already seemed familiar.

"I'm so glad you're finally here."

"Me, too," I told her honestly.

Once she shut the door and ventured downstairs to join Emmett and Rosalie, I sat down heavily on the bed. I needed a moment to take it all in. This place was even more than I expected, and Esme had welcomed me as though we were old friends.

My only concern now was for Jasper. I couldn't wait until he had returned to my side.

I took the excuse of a shower to occupy myself while I waited. I scrubbed away the smell of Maria's army, and washed the rich shampoo through my hair until it began to feel as it used to. I only started to hurry when I heard someone enter the room. There was only one person it could be.

I towelled my hair and wrapped another around my body, then stepped out to find Jasper sitting on the bed. Our bed.

"Are you okay?" I asked, not bothering to lower my voice, knowing they would hear me either way. As far as I could tell, he looked tired, but I'd seen that expression too many times and I knew it meant he was struggling. I cupped his cheek and he turned into it, kissing my palm.

"I will be," he said eventually. For now, it was clear that was all I would get out of him. "Carlisle called to say he was on his way back."

From what Edward told me earlier, the hospital wasn't all that far away, which meant we had to get a move on. We split, Jasper going for the shower while I found some clothes in our brand new wardrobe. Five minutes later, I was just brushing through my hair when Jasper came out.

What they didn't know downstairs, was that Jasper had emerged without a stitch on his body. When he caught me ogling, he smirked and arched an eyebrow, using the towel that should have been around his waist to dry the water from his hair. When he disappeared to find some clothes, I took his smirk as a good sign.

For Edward's sake, I used the time it took Jasper to change to clear my mind of what I just witnessed. It helped that Jasper re-emerged fully dressed, though sans the smirk he'd entered with. I took his hand while I still could and gave it a quick squeeze.

There was no more hiding. It was time we told them about Aro's wish.

Carlisle was waiting for us when we got downstairs. He hugged Jasper and greeted me just as warmly as Esme had a few hours before. The last time I saw him, was the day of Bella's birthday, and I wondered if he was thinking the same thing.

All thoughts of the past disappeared when Jasper asked someone to call Edward back.

"There's something I need to tell you all."

The tension was cloying, and Jasper was doing nothing to disperse it. In fact, his nervous pacing was only making it worse. Edward was on his way, without Renesmee who was being trusted to remain at home reading. It was Jasper who suggested she stayed behind, which meant he didn't plan for the talk to go on for long at all.

Esme had gone from happy to anxious in a matter of seconds, and though I offered her a reassuring smile, I couldn't be sure how reassured she would feel later.

Finally, Edward arrived. Sensing the discomfort in the room, he silently joined Carlisle and Esme on the couch. Rosalie was on the armchair beside them with Emmett leaning against the back. Jasper and I were occupying the only other couch, which happened to be the one directly opposite them all.

The room was utterly silent as Jasper began. "When we were in Volterra, it came out that Aro wanted me to become a member of Caius' guard. He said they'd been watching me since I was under Maria's control, waiting for the right moment to…claim me."

I watched as Carlisle slipped an arm around Esme, who looked like she wanted to burst into tears. I couldn't imagine what the two of them must have thought. He was their son in every way except one, just as Edward and Emmett were.

"Over the time I was there, my actions and behaviour made him realise he couldn't trust me. I thought it meant he'd changed his mind…" He faltered, as the memories no doubt took him back. "Just before they let us go, Aro told me he wasn't above waiting a little longer and this time…I wasn't the only one he was waiting for."

All eyes watched Jasper as fixed his eyes on the floor. He couldn't look at them, and the words wouldn't come. Even when Esme asked, "Who?"

Whether he was working himself up, or simply counting down the seconds until he broke the news, he didn't respond. It was then I realised he didn't have to. After everything he'd done in these past few days alone, it was my turn to repay the favour and carry some of the burden.

"He wants Edward's ability and Emmett's strength."

Esme's hand flew to her mouth, while Carlisle, Edward and Emmett could only stare. It was Rosalie that spoke first, finding anger over everyone's shock.

"Over my dead body."

Jasper's attention snapped to her, his expression bitter at the mere thought. "If they get tired of waiting, it might just come to that."

"I'd like to see them try," Emmett growled, his defences rising to meet Rosalie's.

"Don't be so confident." Jasper's response was nothing but the truth, despite the fact he was knocking Emmett back. "They have better fighters, but even if we could match them, people like Jane and Alec can wipe us out in seconds."

Neither of them responded of the weight of what we were potentially up against became clear. I'd seen Jasper under Jane's cruel ability and I'd been victim of Alec's. Once under either of them, there was nothing you could do.

Carlisle shook his head, finding his voice. "It doesn't make sense. Aro wouldn't do this."

"Wouldn't he?" Edward said quietly, and I couldn't help but wonder if he'd pulled that from my mind as well as his. "You always look for the best in people, Carlisle. I'm sorry, but your compassion is wasted on people like him."

I felt a pang of sympathy for Carlisle. I knew bits and pieces of his history with Aro and the Volturi; the image he had did not corroborate the one Jasper and I saw. It made me wonder if Aro had abused Carlisle's compassion and hid his real self from him.

"You can train us."

I froze about the same time Jasper did. Emmett was thinking exactly as Maria was, and I knew the reaction was going to be the same.


Carlisle and Esme were quite obviously against violence, and Edward had seen Jasper's response before he said it, leaving Emmett and Rosalie the only ones shocked and disapproving of his refusal.

"Why not?" Rosalie demanded. I could feel Jasper's glare without looking. Neither flinched, and it was Esme that had to intercept them.

"We don't know if it will come to that."

"We don't know that it won't," Edward argued. I knew immediately he was thinking about his daughter. "It's better to be prepared. At least more than we are right now, or else they're going blow through here like we're nothing."

I was quickly beginning to see how badly this conservation was spiralling out of control for Jasper. The whole thing was distressing, and I couldn't be sure whether it was all me or what Jasper was trying to hold back. It looked like he was ready to bolt for the door, and that was as good an indication as any that this topic needed to be dropped. For now.

"I agree that it is better to be prepared, but we don't need to decide anything right away," I said, summoning my best no arguments voice.

"Thank you," Esme said, sending a quick glance in Jasper's direction. "We've been together only a few hours. Let's not divide ourselves over this."

Jasper was out of his seat in the next instant, but he didn't leave as I expected him to. There was still something he wanted to say.

"I will do what I can, but I…I need time." He paused to look at Emmett and then Edward. To look at all of them. "I'm sorry that I've put a target on all our heads."

He was through the door before anyone else could speak. I was ready to follow after him when Edward beat me to it. After asking Rosalie to check on Renesmee, he was gone. The room fell silent as she left, too.

I felt like I should have said something, yet when I tried to apologise for bringing this bad news with us, Esme wouldn't let me finish.

"It's Aro's fault, not yours," Carlisle added, but the bleakness in his voice did little to placate me. From the corner of my eye, Emmett signalled that we should give them some space.

"Don't worry about us," he said once we were outside and a little way from the house. "We've got through a lot of crap these past few years."

I sighed and sat on the bench he'd led us to. "But what about you? How do you feel about all this?"

"I'm made of strong stuff," he replied and threw his arm over my shoulder like we were talking about trivial things.

I nudged him. "I mean it, Emmett."

"I know you do, but there's really nothing to it," he said just as simply. "There's not a thing in the world that would make me part with Rosalie. If they take her away from me, I'll follow her into the fire."

His statement had been given so plainly that I didn't have a single response. There really was nothing to it, and in a way, we all shared that fate. If the worst were to happen, the fire would await us all.

When Edward came back fifteen minutes later, he found us sitting in silence. He nodded towards the path he'd just come from.

"Jasper's still out there if you wanted to see him."

I left them both to it and followed the path to Jasper. I found him leaning against a tree, eyes distant. He came back as soon as I got closer and held out a hand for me. I took it quickly, allowing him to pull me against his chest.

"How are you feeling?"

He shook his head, which I interpreted as him not knowing. I hadn't expected much more because I couldn't be sure how I was feeling right now, either.

"Edward was telling me how he'd planned to do the same thing I had," Jasper eventually said. "He was going to leave Renesmee for the others to raise and fly to Italy. He assured me it could have happened any number of ways and that Aro would have found out eventually. He says he's glad he knows…that it's better…"

I inched back so I could see his face. It may well have made him feel a little better to hear Edward's reaction, but it still didn't change the fact we had to face everything else.

"I'm always going to be this soldier." He shook his head with disgust. "It's exactly what Aro wants."

My eyes cast downwards for a moment. I felt bad that all bar Carlisle and Esme had agreed that Jasper had to return to his roots…to do the one thing he wanted to leave behind.

"I'm sorry I sided with them earlier," I said quietly. "I know how hard you want to break away from that part of your life."

He rested his forehead against my mine, tightening his hold. "Knowing how to fight didn't save Alice's life when she needed it. I told myself I wouldn't do it again, but what choice do I have? It would destroy me if any one of you…because I didn't at least try."

"It may never come to that," I said, hopefully with conviction. For all we knew, I could be right. Aro had waited over a century for Jasper, and even then, it was because he came to them. Aro would have waited even longer, which made me believe he wasn't desperate for Jasper to join them.

Right now, the line between the Volturi waiting or coming to take them all depended on how badly Aro and his brother craved their twisted dream.

It all came down to greed and power.

A/N: Let me know what you think! Did anyone work out why Maria never liked the female newborn that went after Angela?

I can't remember the exact translation for these (sorry), but here's a rough translation. Thanks for vegetarianvamps.

"Debiste pedirmelo." = You should have asked me.

"Tienes mi respaldo." = I have your back.