Chapter 6: Trade
"Leave her alone. It's not her that you want."
I turned my head so abruptly that I lost my balance and had to grab onto Jacob's arm to steady myself. I knew that voice. It had been ten years since I had last heard it, but I knew it. And I wasn't the only one who knew it. I could feel Jake's arm become rigid and tense underneath my hand as he recognized the latecomer's voice too.
A few seconds passed before Edward finally appeared looking slightly disheveled and dusty as if he had traveled hard to get here. I couldn't help but stare at him, even though he was studiously avoiding my gaze. He looked exactly the same and yet, he also looked different. Which was so bizarre. Unlike the other Cullens who looked as if they hadn't changed at all in the past decade, for some reason, Edward looked different to me.
Aro broke the silence with a hearty laugh. "Edward! My dear! I'm so happy you've joined us. I was afraid that you weren't going to make it. I would have been so disappointed not to visit with you."
"Let's get to business. I know why you're here." Edward dismissed Aro's pleasantries with a polite but firm nod of the head.
"Well it's obvious why I'm here," Aro continued with a smile as he flourished his hand in my direction. "I must admit, I was very surprised when I first learned of your human inamorata. I couldn't imagine how it was possible that a mere human could have attracted your attention. But now that I've met her … well, let's just say … I understand why you couldn't help but break the law to get her."
Edward's lips twisted into a wry smile. "I may have broken the law, but I haven't exactly got her."
I flushed at the response. Somehow, all of that stuff seemed like a lifetime ago, a distant memory. It felt weird to have it dredged up again.
"Ah, yes. Well there is no accounting for taste sometimes," Aro said with a sympathetic shrug. "Now, back to the unfortunate situation at hand-"
"-This isn't about the law," Edward interrupted angrily. Carlisle stepped forward to try to intervene and mitigate Edward's aggressive stance, but Aro just dismissed him with the shake of his head.
"No?" Aro asked courteously. He didn't looking the least bit fazed at what was happening.
"You know it. And I know it," Edward continued. His eyes had a hard edge to them. "You forget that I've been traveling around the world the last few years. And I've heard rumors – rumors about you, about the Volturi. And rumor has it that your grasp on power may be weakening."
I looked at Aro, worried that he would be infuriated by Edward's words, but instead he had a Cheshire Cat grin on his face. As if he knew something that we didn't.
"And that's why you've deigned to leave Italy and travel to the New World," Edward continued. "You need help. There is an insurgent in your ranks. A spy. Someone who you fear is trying to unseat you and take over your power as the leader of the Volturi. So that's why you're here. You need a mole."
"My, my," Aro drawled. "Your talents are truly remarkable. To be able to know what every person around you is thinking? There is no greater power than that."
"You can have that power," Edward replied. His voice was firm and unwavering.
Suddenly, I understood what was about to happen. I could see that Esme had come to the same realization too – as she gasped and covered her face with her hands. Carlisle put his arm around her shoulder but his face looked stricken too.
"To avoid any misunderstanding, why don't you elaborate for me," Aro gestured for Edward to
continue. "You know what they say when you assume things."
Edward's face was emotionless as he laid out his plan.
"Take me instead of her." He gestured towards me, but he still hadn't so much as glanced in my direction since he arrived on the field. "That's what you really want. What you've always wanted. Especially now. You need to find the insurgent. I can help you do that. I offer you my services in exchange for her freedom."
Aro smiled then. His first genuine smile of the day. "What a wonderful solution! I always knew we could come to an agreement that was amenable to all parties!"
"But I want you to swear, in front of all these witnesses, that you will do everything in your power to protect her and the Quiletes. The Volturi will not harm them. The Volturi will not bother them. In fact, I want you to personally ensure that no vampire comes within 500 miles of La Push. I don't want her to ever be bothered again by the presence of our kind." His voice seemed to choke up then, but he continued quickly. "As long as she lives, I will serve you faithfully. But if something happens to her, then we're done."
"Done!" Aro agreed without batting an eye. Then as if in afterthought, he turned towards me. "My dear Bella, I wish you the best in your upcoming nuptials. And who knows? As old age begins to weigh you down, I hope you may reconsider our offer."
"Thank you," I replied forcing a pleasant smile onto my face. I couldn't believe that all of this might be resolved so easily and I was scared to move or speak for fear of disrupting the newfound peace.
But Aro seemed satisfied as he gestured for Edward to approach. Edward nodded and walked towards him stiffly. His face was resolute as he reached out to take Aro's hand. Aro's eyes closed as he took it. I realized that he was reading Edward's thoughts, as he had tried and failed to do with me.
After a few moments, Aro opened his eyes again. He let go of Edward's hand but his eyes were thoughtful as he examined him.
"I think that joining us may be good for you, my dear boy," Aro finally said. "You have not been happy for quite a while. A change, a renewed purpose, would do you good."
Edward nodded politely but did not respond. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Esme and Carlisle still looked both relieved and stricken at the turn of events.
"I'm so delighted that this whole situation could be so happily resolved," Aro said with a grand flourish of his hand. "And now, I believe we'll depart to let you all celebrate the upcoming nuptials of this charming young couple. Edward – I'll expect you in Volterra by Monday. "
Edward nodded without expression.
"I bid you all adieu!" Aro said as he smiled broadly. He had gotten exactly what he had come to get. And then he turned to direct his final comment at me. "As for you, my dear, I hope you have a happy and extremely long-lived life. And if you ever reconsider …"
"I know where to find you," I replied primly and as politely as I could under the circumstances.
Aro laughed then. "I see why you like this one. She's got spirit."
And with that, they were off. He motioned to the rest of his assembled team and within seconds, they had disappeared, leaving us all standing numbly in the now silent field.
"Edward!" Esme cried as she launched herself at her son and hugged him tightly. Edward smiled sadly as he returned her embrace.
"Esme, he's not leaving us forever," Carlisle reminded her gently as he patted her arm awkwardly. But I could tell his face looked worried too.
"I know," Esme said. Her voice was muffled as her face was still buried in Edward's shoulder. "But it's the Volturi. They'll never let us see him while he's … while he's in their debt… and who knows what they'll ask him to do. It could be dangerous!"
"I don't have a choice," Edward said softly. "You know that."
"Yes, I know," Esme said as she pulled herself away abruptly. She whirled around to look at me. "Bella, I'm so sorry. Please know that I'm not blaming you in any way …"
"I know, I know!" I said in alarm at the anguish in Esme's face. "I understand. I'm so sorry … I never expected … I never thought …"
Edward met my eyes then for the first time. His eyes seemed to widen as he took in the new me – the 30-year old me – and I wondered how different I looked to him. After a few moments, he seemed to regain his thoughts again as he looked up to see Jake and Sam standing next to me.
Jake spoke first. "Thank you. For everything."
Edward took Jake's outstretched hand and shook it firmly. "I'm sorry about all of this. But I promise that it will never happen again. I'm one of them now. And Aro needs me. I could hear how desperate he was in his thoughts. So I'm confident that he will live up to his promise."
"I appreciate that," Jake said softly. His dark brown eyes met Edward's golden ones for a moment and they seemed to understand each other finally after all these years.
"So, now what?" Sam asked gently. "Does this mean that you'll never return to Forks?"
"Never again in your lifetime," Edward replied resolutely. "But maybe later … I have … fond memories of this place."
"What about the rest of you?" I asked, suddenly, looking around at the rest of the Cullens who had now grouped themselves around Edward, a tight-knit family once more.
"I think it's best that we stay away too, Bella," Carlisle said was a sad smile. "Nothing good ever comes from our presence."
"I wouldn't say that," Jake replied as he reached out to shake Carlisle's hands. "You've been great allies and friends. And you're always welcome back here – no matter what the Volturi say."
"We appreciate that," Carlisle responded. "But it's best that we stay away now that the Volturi are involved. We don't want to cause any trouble for you … or for Edward."
"So this is goodbye? The real goodbye?" I asked. It was strange. Twenty-four hours ago, the Cullens were but a distant memory. But now that they were here, it was hard to let them go again. "Won't you stay for the wedding?"
Alice's face brightened for a moment before she glanced at Edward. Her voice was soft as she replied. "It's probably best that we don't. For one thing, people will think something is up when we haven't aged in a decade. And well, we should probably spend some time together – all together – before …"
"Oh, right," I replied awkwardly. It made sense and I couldn't actually have imagined them at the wedding, but I had to ask.
"We should go," Edward finally said. His tone was firm and resolute, which seemed to ease the awkward silence that had overcome us all. Hugs, handshakes, and goodbyes were said all around. Even Rosalie hugged me – which surprised me.
And finally, Edward came over and took my hands into his. We stood there, without speaking, surrounded by the conversations around us. As the final goodbyes died down and the Cullens prepared to leave, Edward leaned in and kissed my forehead lightly. His lips were cool to the touch.
"Be happy," he whispered.
I couldn't seem to find my voice so I nodded. "Thank you," I mouthed at him silently.
He smiled once more before he turned to leave. And that was the last time I ever saw him.
Hi! Hope you liked how I resolved it! My goal was to (1) give Edward a better ending - I felt like I left him a bit too angry before and (2) come up with a way to ensure that Jacob & Bella could live a happy normal life - so hopefully I accomplished both. I'm thinking of ending with a wedding chapter - let me know what you think!