Chapter 17: Stranger

A/N: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. (In other words – I don't own it, I'm just playing). Please take the time to leave some words if you really loved it or really hated it! Thanks to FE71SH as usual.

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"Excuse me."

I heard a familiar voice trying to get the attention of whomever's memory I had fallen into. I turned to see Didyme looking through me with honey-coloured eyes. I felt the overwhelming feeling of joy wash over me again—with no doubt that it was the result of being in her vicinity—only now whoever was behind me reflected it back to her equally. I turned slowly and met Jasper's darkened eyes. As I took in his clothes, and hers, I realised where I was. Or more specifically when I was. It was long before Jasper had been able to leave Maria's clutches. Long before he found Alice, our family, or peace.

"Jasper," Didyme enthused.

I watched as Jasper's eyes narrowed in confusion. "How do you know me?"

"That's not important. What matters is that you are in a position to change your life."

He scoffed. "I'm not interested. I have Maria—"

Didyme cut him off. "Maria is using you. She will keep you around only as long as you are of benefit to her. Once you have ceased to be useful, once she has found a replacement, you too will be killed."

"No!" Jasper growled. "Maria loves me."

Didyme shook her head. "No. She does not. I know you would like to believe that she does, but I have experienced love. I have shared a love so deep that I had once thought it impossible to rival. But I have seen its rival.

"I have seen a family, four matched pairs, connected by bonds so strong that nothing can break them. The eight of them find strength from one another. Not even the loss of all memories of one of their number could destroy their bonds."

Didyme's eyes shifted ever so slightly and she was looking at me, or at least at the spot she must have known I was standing. I knew she was passing information through to me as much as to Jasper.

"I have to tell you this because you are the one member of this family whom Aro would not dare to touch. He has worked so hard to be cool and calculating, to ensure that his emotions do not come into his decisions, that he would not choose to experience the gambit of emotions he would have to endure through the smallest of your touches.

"But this is what you must do Jasper. To save your family, you must make him feel."

"I don't have a family…" he responded quietly.

"You will. And they will be with you forever, if you follow my instructions."

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

Didyme smiled sympathetically. "I know. But please believe me. It will all make sense one day. One of your family members, the one you have forgotten, will need your help. I understand this is hard to accept, but you must. And please…be careful around Maria."

Jasper opened his mouth to argue, but Didyme held up one hand to stop him. "I have a message for you, from your sister. Trust your instincts and your gift. I know you felt an emotion today from me that you haven't ever felt from Maria. You know what that was."

"Love," Jasper mouthed.

Didyme nodded. She smiled once more and then she was gone. I felt the shift to indicate that I was heading back to the present. Only I had no fear about what it would contain any more. I knew what we needed to do now.

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"Edward," I gasped as I returned to my body.

"I saw," he whispered, grabbing my hand and spinning me around his body toward Jasper.

"Jasper!" I shouted. "I'm your sister; the one you have forgotten. It's time." I prepared the memory to share it with him, just in case it was necessary, but the recognition in his eyes told me that he knew what I meant. He had no doubt experienced his memory anew as I had witnessed it, and he would have felt my emotions as I watched. He nodded once before his eyes fell to Alice.

I ran through the divided guard with Jasper and Edward close by my side. A tiny girl in a sundress stood touching Aro's robes. I tightened my shield to surround myself and the two boys beside me, I hated leaving everyone else unprotected from attack, but I needed to concentrate. I couldn't risk falling back into another memory. I made a beeline for Marcus while Jasper and Edward fought his way toward Aro. There was a murmur of surprise amongst the Volturi ranks as I grabbed for Marcus's hand. He gasped and turned to me, ready to fight. I held up my other hand in what I hoped was perceived as a peaceful gesture and stepped closer to him.

"She survived," I whispered into his ear, so quietly it would have passed for an empty breath to any other listening ears. I showed him Jasper's memory. I almost cried when I heard his choked sob. His look was one of elation and grief combined. His face showed every emotion except the boredom which he had displayed so permanently earlier.

"Bella, drop your shield." I picked out Edward's voice easily amongst the crowd and complied immediately. I had no idea why he wanted me to stop shielding him, but I trusted his decision. I heard a sickening cry come from the other side of the room and swung around to look at the source, readying myself to leap into battle if I needed to. Instead, what I saw made my spirits leap. Edward and Jasper had Aro cornered. Edward had one hand on Jasper's shoulder and the other clasped Aro's hand while Jasper held Aro's forearm tightly. I couldn't see what was happening, but Aro cried out again and again; he whimpered and whined as he tried to back out of their grasp.

The fear that I'd felt because of him bubbled into rage. I felt tension rolling off Marcus in waves, and a quick glance confirmed what I had suspected; he had his attention focused on the same men as mine.

I ran over to Aro, with Marcus close behind me, but stopped short when I heard Edward's voice. "No, Bella, we have it under control."

"What are you doing?" Marcus demanded. "What have they done to him?" Something akin to fear crossed his features as he watched Aro cry out in agony again.

"They're making him feel…" I whispered as I watched the three of them. I could almost see the flow of energy. Jasper was doing what Didyme had asked. He was pouring every emotion he had ever felt into Aro. Edward was undoubtable lending his gift to magnify Jasper's. Between the two of them, they had bought Aro to his knees, forcing him to feel the hatred and pain that he had caused every person in the room. My months spent away from Edward, and the pain we had endured since our reunion, sprung to the forefront of my mind and suddenly Aro cried out again.

"What will you do with him?" Marcus asked quietly, his voice laced with pity and despair.

Jasper wrapped his arms tightly around Aro's waist, locking his arms into place so that Aro couldn't escape—not that he was able to even try with the barrage of emotions he was encountering.

Edward turned to Marcus. "That will be your decision."

I nodded, confirming to Edward that I would support his choice.

"It's up to you and Didyme to choose his destiny, but it will also be your responsibility to ensure he is kept under control."

"You just want the power of the Volturi for your own," Caius hissed as he stormed toward us, I hadn't realised that the fighting was beginning to falter all around us.

Carlisle laid his hand on Caius' shoulder. "We don't want anything more than peace for our family. We have members who are coveted for their abilities, we want nothing more than assurance they will be left alone."

Jasper passed Aro on to Felix at Marcus' command, before stepping toward Edward.

Slowly the four couples that made up my family stepped together. Each had one hand linked with their partner; my own was wound tightly around Edward's. We wouldn't be separated so easily again.

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- EPOV -

I knew what I had to do as soon as I saw Jasper's memory through Bella. Even before she had cried out to him that she was the one he had forgotten, I had known where I needed to be. I just hoped Bella's shield would work to get Jasper and I close enough. I didn't need to see if Jasper was willing to follow Bella's plan, as soon as the words left her mouth, he knew precisely what she meant and what he needed to do. He had not spent time agonizing over Didyme's words, but neither had he forgotten them.

Jasper immediately began to catalogue a series of the painful emotions he had experienced over his many years. I knew he was going to inflict all the hurt he had felt over the years back on Aro. As he pulled the pain to the surface, I felt it all through his thoughts. It would have been too much for me to handle had I not experienced the sharp sting of saying goodbye to Bella or the slow, twisting agony of being apart from her.

We ran straight for Aro, his eyes and thoughts filled with confidence that his personal shield would protect him. As we closed in I said a silent prayer that Bella's ability to shield from mental talents would be enough to break through the line and reach Aro. A look of fear crossed the face of the vampire who was lending her talents to protect him, the one with the ability to physically shield others, and I knew my Bella had done it. Without even realising what she had done, Bella had allowed us to force our way to Aro, something no one else had ever done.

I touched Aro, preparing to help reinforce Jasper's talent, but there was no reaction. Aro wasn't sure what I was doing, because he couldn't read my mind. Bella's shield was still up. I called out to her, asking her to drop it away from Jasper and I. Suddenly, Aro cried out.

If it were not for my experiences with dealing with anguish, it would have been harder to concentrate on helping double the emotions Jasper was creating. I focused all my energy on drawing in each feeling, holding onto the painful thoughts before passing them onto Aro via his talent. Each emotion twisted sickeningly through Aro, who was unused to feeling anything. The magnification caused by Jasper's and my touch was unbearable for him. The barrier he had built between his thoughts and his emotions shattered as he cried out loudly again. The horrific sounds issuing from him were nothing compared to the anguish flooding through his mind.

I saw Bella and Marcus coming closer to Aro, but I couldn't risk Bella's plan unravelling now. I had seen enough the visions that had been assaulting Alice since Bella had corrected the course of history. Didyme was alive and waiting for Marcus; together they would form the head of a new, more peaceful Volturi. If I allowed Bella to bring Marcus any closer to Aro—who was a dangerous, cornered animal—it could change the future.

"No, Bella," I murmured to her through gritted teeth. "We have it under control."

"What are you doing?" Marcus demanded, his anger and fear evident in his thoughts. I tried to block it out, but it was just one more emotion adding to the load I already suffered. My head and heart ached as I continued to help Jasper pummel Aro with emotions, feeling the toll of each one myself. Aro cried out as he experienced his Marcus' pain though me. "What have they done to him?"

"They're making him feel…" Bella whispered awed. She had her shield extended still, stretched and taxed to almost breaking point, making it easy for me to read every thought and emotion she was experiencing. I wanted to confirm her suspicions, but I couldn't speak anymore with the weight of the emotions crushing me. Jasper was just as strained, struggling to hold the emotions in. I knew he wouldn't be able to last much longer without sending out a wave of despair, hatred and anger strong enough to crush the spirits of everyone in the house.

Bella began to think about the pain she and I had endured because of Aro's greed and the danger he had posed to us. Aro cried out again when I was unable to filter her pain from my thoughts.

"What will you do with him?" Marcus asked quietly. He hadn't had time to process the fact that Aro had plotted Didyme's death, or the fact that miraculously Didyme was still alive. Instead of anger and sorry, he felt compassion toward the one he had considered his brother.

When I knew Aro was subdued enough that Jasper would be able to handle him alone, I touched Jasper's arm lightly to tell him to take over. He wrapped his arms around Aro's waist, locking Aro in place so that he couldn't escape.

I turned to Marcus. "That will be your decision."

My eyes fell to Bella, and she nodded her support. We had been through so much, and had so much more ahead of us.

"It's up to you and Didyme to choose his destiny," I continued. "But it will also be your responsibility to ensure he is kept under control." I had already seen most of the alternatives for Aro and knew one thing for certain, he was unlikely to be a threat to us in the future.

I turned my complete attention to Bella, no longer concerned about the threat of the Volturi. With Aro incapacitated, they were not a threat to us. We had done nothing wrong. In fact, Bella had done something so, so right and Marcus would realise how much he owed her soon.

There was a constant buzz of thoughts and voices around me, but I was able to tune it all out to concentrate on the one thing that was important to me. I took her hand in mine and held it tightly. She squeezed my fingers in return. Slowly, my family gathered around us, each of them determined to protect both me and my 'brunette saviour'. I stepped closer to Bella and read the reaction from my family. Without fail, everyone of them wanted to know more about Bella, but trusted her implicitly. They knew she was good for me.

"There's just one thing left to do," murmured Alice. "Reintroduce Marcus and his mate."

"Two things," Bella countered.

Alice scrunched her eyebrows in confusion.

"I need to go back into Didyme's memory and tell her everything that happened," Bella whispered, dropping her voice low enough that only Alice, Jasper and I could hear. I knew Jasper was confused by the statement, but he held himself together well.

Alice shook her head slightly. "Your talent is confusing, you know that?"

Bella laughed, and the sound was so wonderful. "I know."

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The reunion of two lovers is a sight that is wondrous to behold. I could still remember the feelings that flooded through me when I reunited with Bella—both the first time in Fairfield when I saw her in the classroom but also when I had my memories returned more recently. Yet for all the heartache and subsequent joy we had felt, I wouldn't have been able to even begin to imagine how Marcus felt while he waited for Didyme's arrival if it wasn't for my gift. He had been apart from his love for thousands of years. He didn't know what had changed in the intervening time. He only knew that he hadn't loved again, that he'd barely even lived without her.

I felt and understood every part of his apprehension. Would they both still feel the same as they had? Would things have changed between them? I wanted to ease his suffering, but I already knew nothing I said could change his thoughts.

I smiled as I heard Bella approaching with Didyme, whose thoughts echoed Marcus' perfectly. I could have told them what would come in the future, what Alice had seen repeatedly since the battle in our house a few hours earlier, but anything I said would have been nothing more than words to them. With the emotions coursing through their bodies, words were rendered meaningless.

I would have told Marcus that the girls were close, but he already knew. I could hear in his thoughts that he had recognised the shift in the atmosphere. He could feel the thrumming of electricity that happened when one body recognised another and two souls communicated silently.

When Didyme finally came into view, nothing could have held Marcus back. He ran toward his love at full speed and she broke into a run almost simultaneously. When they came together, there were no obvious grand gestures of love. There was no long, linger kisses or instant smashing together of bodies. In that first instant, there was little more than a shared smile and prolonged eye contact, and yet I felt like I was intruding on an incredibly intimate moment by watching. I turned away quickly, leaving them to rediscover one another.

I found my eye wondering to Bella, who was watching me in return. Her face broke into a wide smile as she confirmed what I had suspected; Didyme had long been anticipating this reunion. She had even come to this precise location numerous times to relive the memory of their reunion even before it had happened.

"You know what you need to share with her?" I asked quietly.

Bella nodded. "She's shown me everything that happened to her up until this point. I just need to show them to her past self."

I felt a little bit sorry about the life Didyme had led. Because of what Bella would soon go back into the past and tell her, she knew exactly what would happen in her future. I knew from Alice's experiences that knowing the future wasn't always a good thing, it took the surprise out of life. But everything had worked out so well, we didn't want to risk changing a single thing.

It meant that Didyme had always known she would be reunited with her love, and she had known the exact date. I could barely begin to comprehend how hard it must have been for her to force herself to stay away from her true love for so long, but seeing the joy in their reunion and hearing the relief in her thoughts that they were safe and together again—forever this time—made it easier to understand. After all, I had stayed away from Bella for seven years to try to guarantee her safety—and would have done so for longer if it was necessary—and Bella had wiped my memory for the same reason. Both were decisions made in haste, decisions we might take back if we could, and yet both decisions had left us exactly where we were, together and happy, with the knowledge of the certainty of our love and the safety of each other.

Bella and I clutched each other's hands as we moved away from Didyme and Marcus, leaving the lovers alone for their reunion. They knew where to find us when they were ready, but we had some catching up of our own to do before we headed to Italy. Bella had volunteered her services to Marcus' new administration in return for anonymity and peace for our whole family. During our two week stay at the castle, she was due to wipe the memories of all of the guards who either chose to leave or could no longer be trusted. It was all part of Marcus' new strategy, to rehabilitate rather than kill wayward vampires. There would still be death if no other action could be taken, but it wouldn't be used as a means to collect talents as it had been under Aro's watch.

Aro was the first vampire to undergo Marcus' regime. He had his memories stripped and was offered second chance. No one was foolish enough to believe it would stop him from becoming power hungry again, and we all knew that it wouldn't remove his talent, but he no longer remembered leading the Volturi or plotting the murder of his sister. He was a blank slate, ready to be rewritten. It was his choice about the direction of his new life. The one thing that gave us the greatest hope was that the emotions Jasper and I had subjected him to had opened up something inside him and now he felt. No one could say with certainty what he would do in the future, but Alice wasn't concerned, so we held no fears for the safety of our family.

Once we were alone again, I bent down to Bella and kissed her softly.

"What was that for?" she asked sweetly.

"For everything," I murmured. "Because that's what you are to me."

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A/N: I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who supported me through Teacher's Pet, Student Liaison & Life's Lesson. Through these fics, I have met so many wonderful people, many of whom are now intergrated into my life so firmly that it's hard to imagine how things were before they came along.

There may be an epilogue to follow at some stage, but I am happy with where this has ended. Multiple attempts to continue past this point in the story have resulted in the characters revolting on me again and again, so I will take their hint and leave them alone to enjoy each other.

I wish I had something more eloquent to say as a final farewell to these two characters who I've put through so much (and who've put me through so much in return) but I don't so I will simply say goodbye and enjoy your forever together ;)