A/N: First, let me say how sorry I am that I kept you waiting for over a year. This years has been tough for me, possibly the worst and hardest of my life, and I'm still working through some personal issues that keep the muse away. On top of that I have a hard time adjusting to my new job, which is stressful and time-consuming. At the moment I'm working up to 70 hours per week, which leaves very little time for anything else. So I can't promise you that I'll be able to update again in the near future. In fact, I wrote this chapter last year and it isn't finished; but I decided that half a chapter is better than nothing. I'm really, really sorry! I'd completely understand if you had lost interest.

Still, thank you so much for the reviews I received, even after all this time. It means more to me than you can possibly imagine.

I'm afraid that this chapter is un-beta-ed, so there might be a lot of errors. I hope you don't mind too much.

Disclaimer: The Twilight Saga is property of Stephenie Meyer. I'm merely borrowing. The new vamps belong to me though! ;)


48. DECISIONS

BELLA

No need to get locked up

Inside the past

I know that isn't changing

Fire by Dead by Sunrise


It was Freya who broke the uncomfortable silence that hung between us.

"Who's Aro?" She looked up at Skadi curiously, poking her in the side when she didn't respond immediately. "And why does he want to kill me?"

Skadi stared. "I never said he wanted to kill you." But she didn't sound very convincing and Freya picked up on that at once.

She huffed. "Please. Just because I'm a kid doesn't mean I'm stupid. I've had a 4.0 average since I started school, you know. You repeatedly mentioned my name and if you squeeze my hand any harder, it'll fall off."

"Impossible," Skadi replied evenly. "You're dead."

"So you keep telling me." Freya rolled her eyes. "It was a figure of speech. Spill. You can't protect me forever and if it concerns me, I think I have a right to know. I'm a vampire, I can handle it."

Skadi didn't look convinced. She didn't want Freya to be frightened, but she also knew that she had a point. She was still a child, would be forever, at least in the sense that she'd be stuck in the body of an eleven-year-old, never changing. However, keeping her ignorant about the world she lived in would be ignorant to the point of dangerous. "Fine," she said eventually. She didn't sound happy. "I don't suppose you've ever heard of the Volturi?"

"No." Freya shook her head, then added, "Oh wait. You mentioned them before. Something about them accusing someone of breaking the law." She frowned slightly, chewing on her lip again as she thought it through rapidly. "Are they some sort of vampire police?" she asked dubiously.

"Well…" Skadi began.

"But if there's a police, then there have to be laws as well," Freya interrupted. "Otherwise, having a police would be pretty pointless."

"Think of them as police and government in one," Skadi said, impressed that Freya had figured it out by herself. "And yes, vampires do have laws. Not many. They are basically variations of one rule—do not attract attention. The Volturi are extremely powerful as they are the largest coven in existence and many of them have abilities that make them more dangerous than you could possibly imagine. There are three of them—Aro, Caius and Marcus—though from what I've heard Aro is their leader."

"I see." Freya pushed a tendril of black hair that had escaped her intricate braid out of her forehead. "But why does he want to kill me? I haven't done anything." Her eyebrows knit together. "Have I?" To my amazement, Freya didn't seem particularly scared by the notion that apparently someone wanted her dead. Then again, judging by the tenor of her thoughts, she couldn't imagine anyone being punished for something they hadn't done. Even her father who was so strict he seemed heartless at times had always been painstakingly fair.

"Of course you haven't, ketlingr." Skadi gave her a smile, but it looked strained. "It's complicated."

That, I believed immediately. I was still shocked by Victoria's audacity—though 'delusion' was probably the better word here. Did she honestly think she'd stand a chance? I didn't know much about the Volturi, only what Edward had told me the night of my eighteenth birthday and what I had learned since then. It wasn't much, but it was clear to me that you didn't cross them unless you wanted to die. If Victoria wanted to get herself killed, I certainly wouldn't stop her.

If Victoria ever makes it to Italy, it'll mean that we're all dead, I reminded myself.

Still, it shouldn't have been complicated at all. But it was. Only I didn't exactly understand why. My mind was so filled with thoughts that weren't my own right now that I couldn't make sense of any of it and Edward was no help at all—his mind was racing, thoughts streaking away in every direction all at once, and I lost focus. As my shield snapped back, everything went quiet.

I understood that Skadi didn't want Freya do die; she'd already lost a daughter, she didn't want to lose another one. But if Victoria went through with this—provided she survived us, which I hoped she wouldn't—she could hardly force Skadi to accompany her on a suicide mission. All Skadi had to do was take Freya and run. I seriously doubted that Victoria would track the two of them down. If she did this, if she went to Volterra, she wouldn't want to have two vampires with her she couldn't trust, who were a liability because they had been forced to come. Victoria was smarter than that.

But Skadi had made it sound like Freya in particular would be targeted and that was what I didn't understand. As Freya had pointed out, she hadn't done anything, had broken no law that I knew of. Besides, physically she wasn't anywhere near as strong as every single other vampire I knew. She wasn't a threat.

I was missing something.

"I see," Edward said tonelessly, the words no more than a whisper, and I barely heard them, lost in thought as I was. Glancing up, I saw that he was staring at Skadi, his face paler than usual. His features were smooth, completely blank. But I knew that look. My stomach dropped.

Yes, I was definitely missing something.

"You've given this quite some thought, haven't you?" He tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace. I assumed that Skadi had already given him an explanation, which I had missed because I was no longer shielding Edward.

Skadi lifted her head, her red eyes dark with worry. She locked her arms around Freya's slender frame, holding the girl close to her body. "I have." She paused. "Perhaps I'm being paranoid." But it sounded uncertain and a worried frown creased her forehead. Whatever it was that she feared, she seemed certain it was a real possibility.

"No." Edward shook his head. His jaw was set and I could feel the tension in his body, his muscles hard underneath my touch. He was gripping my hand so tight it almost hurt, but I doubted he was even aware of it. "You're being careful." Said in the flat voice he used whenever he didn't want others to know that something was very, very wrong. If I hadn't been so confused and worried, I would have laughed. He wasn't doing a very good job. But maybe I knew him too well. He couldn't fool me. Not anymore.

For the fraction of a second, his eyes met mine. I saw fear in them, just a flicker, but it was enough to convince me that we had a problem. "And I think you're right."

"Excuse me," Freya said just as I wanted to ask them to explain what the hell was going on. She twisted out of Skadi's arms and placed her hands on her hips in a way that was probably supposed to look intimidating. Instead, it made her look even more adorable. In his mind, Edward had called her 'kitten' and that was exactly what she reminded me of—a kitten with its fur on edge and its needle sharp teeth bared, oblivious to the fact that it wasn't nearly as dangerous as it thought it was. "Would somebody please tell me what's wrong before I die of old age. Don't," she said, narrowing her eyes at Skadi when she started to say something. "It was a figure of speech again. I know I'm not ageing."

"That wasn't what I was going to say." But Skadi's lips were twitching and I knew that this was exactly what she'd wanted to say. Then she sobered and concern that bordered on fear flashed in her dark eyes. That scared me even more than the fact that Edward was holding me in a death grip—as if he feared that someone would try to rip me away from him any second now. "Okay." She gave a curt nod. "Keep in mind that I haven't actually been able to confirm what I just told you. But in this case I think it's better to be safe than sorry." She glanced at Freya. "If Victoria does this, I will have no part in it. But it won't matter. Aro will find out about me and Freya the moment he touches Victoria and reads her mind…"

I must have looked confused because Edward said, "Aro reads minds by touch. I can only hear what someone is hearing at any given moment. Aro only needs to touch you to know every single thought your mind has ever held." His lips curved into a small smile. "Though I don't think he'd be able to read your mind."

"As I was saying," Skadi continued, "as soon as Aro reads her, he will know what she's been up to and he won't be too happy with anyone who's helped her in any way. That includes Freya and me, though in Freya's case it wouldn't have been intentionally. Unfortunately, I doubt it'll matter to him, In that regard he's ruthless. He has to be. If the humans were to find out about us on a great scale…" She paused. "It would be bad. So he'll have anyone who's ever been associated with Victoria hunted down to make an example out of them and… discourage others from doing the same. Even if he leaves me alone, which I'm certain he won't, he will send someone for Freya. She's still so very young. He might not believe she's able to control herself until he has seen for himself. If he decides that she isn't, she'll die.

"So that's my reason for helping you. To protect Freya. But I need help. I can't take Victoria on alone, not anymore. One-on-one, I could take her easily, but with her protection detail guarding her twenty-four-seven, I can't get close enough. I can only ask you to help me. If you don't want to, I'd let you go and you can take your chances with Victoria another time. But since you're already here, you might as well try. Besides, it's quite likely that Victoria fails to kill you and survives, she will go to Volterra as some sort of last resort."

Edward hissed viciously. The ugly, menacing sound was followed by a string of curses I had never heard out of him before. His temper was getting the better of him. He looked like he wanted to punch something. Preferably Victoria. "Damn her!" he snarled. Freya cringed back against Skadi, her eyes wide. "I wish we'd killed her along with James. Then we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place!"

"I still don't understand," I said calmly as I placed my hand on his shoulders. He relaxed marginally, but the tension didn't leave his body. His right hand was balled into a fists so tight the tendons in his arm stood out prominently. "Edward?"

He looked at me, but he didn't answer—perhaps he feared he'd snarl at me too. As I wasn't going to get an explanation out of him, I turned to Skadi. "What do you mean, last resort? And what does that have to do with us?"

"Victoria knows about Aro's gift." Her voice was quiet, even. But there was something in her eyes I hadn't seen before. Calculation. "Even if she dies, which I'm quite positive she will, she'll still ensure your death." Seeing the confusion on my face, she added quietly, "There are several reasons why Aro could decide to come after you."

"But we haven't done anything," I said automatically. But it sounded uncertain, even to me. Because I had suddenly remembered what Eleazar had told us, that he suspected Aro had used the information he'd gathered for him to add new vampires to his Guard—by having the coven of said vampires killed as penalty for committing this or that crime. Of course Eleazar didn't have proof, so it was only a theory. But what if he was right? I thought of Alice and Edward and Jasper and Kate and Eleazar. Especially Alice. Who wouldn't want to know what the future held?

And then there was me. Just because I didn't find my shield particularly useful at the moment didn't mean that others wouldn't either. Besides, sooner or later I'd get the hang of it and be able to shield more than just one or two people at a time. Provided I got the ability reflection thing under control.

Do you really think they'll want someone who's able to copy their abilities, a voice whispered inside my head. A surge of cold fear shot down my spine and settled in my stomach, turning my insides to ice.

No, I thought, a lump in my throat. No, they probably won't.

"But we have," Edward grit out. He gave me a pained look. "You knew too much about us, about our world, and yet we left you human." He laughed once, the sound bleak and bitter. "Hell, he has every right to come after us for that."

"But I'm a vampire now." Even as I said it, I knew it wouldn't matter, unless Eleazar was wrong. But what if he wasn't? As spark of suspicion ignited in my mind, suddenly and completely unexpectedly. My eyes narrowed. I remembered that look of calculation on Skadi's face and understood what she was trying to do, why she'd mentioned the possibility of Victoria going to Volterra while we were still alive. She'd done it to ensure we'd help her bring Victoria down now, no matter what, no matter how manx casualties we'd suffer. Because letting her live was too great a risk.

But why? Why hadn't Skadi just asked? We would have helped her because we wanted Victoria dead as much as she did. Too many innocent people had already been killed and I wouldn't let anyone else die because of me. The attempt at manipulation stung. Not because I trusted her—I didn't—but because I liked her quite a bit.

All she would have had to do was ask.

She didn't even look ashamed when I glared at her. "I'm not going to apologise," she said calmly. "I won't leave anything to chance. Freya's life is at stake and she's more important to me than anything else." A grim smile. "And I don't care what I have to do to keep her safe."

"I understand that," that retorted. "But you could have asked. Do you think we we want Freya to get hurt or worse?"

"I'm standing right here," Freya muttered, annoyed. "And I'm not deaf."

I ignored her and so did Skadi. "Freya isn't a member of your coven," she said simply. "Your priorities are different. You've never had a daughter, so how can I expect you to understand why I'd do anything for her?"

"But I do," I said softly and my anger evaporated almost instantly because while I didn't have a child and would never have one, I had a family. I'd do anything to protect them. "If I had a daughter, I'd kill everyone who tried to hurt her."

"Besides, it's not like you don't have a point," Edward said. He seemed to have gotten a grip on his temper. His face was composed, his voice calm. He tugged his hand out of my grip, locking his arms around my waist instead and pulling me against his chest. "Personally, I don't think she'll do it. I think she'd just rebuild her army and try again in a few years. And," dry amusement, "judging by what I saw in your mind, neither do you."

Skadi stared back at him. She truly wasn't sorry for trying to manipulate us.

"But," Edward continued and sighed, "it's a possibility, one we cannot risk. Also, if we don't stop her now, her army will continue grow, which means that sooner or later the Volturi will send someone to investigate. So we really don't have much of a choice. We can't allow them to come here."

I felt his arms tighten on my waist.

"Victoria needs to die tonight."