So I walk up on high
And I step to the edge
To see my world below.
And I laugh at myself
While the tears roll down.
'Cause it's the world I know.
It's the world I know.
The World I Know, Collective Soul, 1995
Many thanks to my own Red Pen Goddesses, DeJean Smith, Swimom7, and Shasta53.
Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer.
A note about this and last chapter. Volterra and the Volturi are quite different in this than in Twi. Aro and his brothers didn't set themselves on high to police the immortals; rather, they set themselves over others so that they could be the most powerful and possess anything that they wanted. So the question of who will take over Volterra isn't as pressing as it might have been if they had the same role as they did in the saga.
The Cullens, along with Tanya's family, left Volterra as quickly as they could. The once-proud city was in ruins and for those who chose to remain, there would be a long road ahead. More vampires than Bella had expected seemed willing to join in the reconstruction effort. None of the Cullens, however, had any interest in remaining to help. There was a sense as they walked away that Volterra would experience a reincarnation as a place free from the dictatorial rule of the Volturi brothers. Bella hoped that one day it would be a place that all immortals could come together without fear of discovery – that would be the ultimate defeat of Aro and all he stood for.
Despite getting his family back, Edward was reserved. Bella had expected him to be quiet with her, but he seemed more than simply subdued. There was something brewing within her mate, and she intended to get to the bottom of it. Bella knew that before she could do that, however, she owed him an apology for her choices. In the end, her decision paid off. It didn't excuse the fact that she knew it would hurt Edward to do it. She only hoped that, in time, he would be able to forgive her for keeping him in the dark.
They traveled quickly, only stopping during the brightest hours of the day. Tanya's family left them quietly, overcome with grief for their lost sister. Garrett, unsurprisingly, went with them. Bella wondered when they'd see the Denalis again. She'd grown very fond of all of them and hoped that they would remain in close contact.
When the Cullens reached the Southwold coast of England, there was a noticeable buzz running through the family. They were approaching their home. There was not much chatter as they made their way through Thetford Forest toward the castle, but Bella was silently pleased that Carlisle was leading the way. Whatever Leo had done to their minds while they were in Volterra appeared not to be long-lasting. They remembered the way to their home perfectly.
Carlisle stopped short when he reached the wide dirt path that gave way to the gravel walkway of their home. His eyes were unreadable, but Bella could see Carlisle's thoughts reflected in Edward's face. There were many emotions passing across her mate's face, and she drank them all in. He'd been so quiet, so reserved since leaving Volterra – it did Bella's heart good to see him enjoy the family's homecoming.
Suddenly, Edward's face grew dark as he cocked his head to the side, looking at his father.
"Why?" he asked, his voice confused.
"I can tell there is much you're dealing with right now, and I think you need the time."
"But I want …" Edward began, looking up toward the castle. Carlisle stopped him with a hand on his arm.
They seemed to share a silent conversation and soon, Edward looked down at the ground, clearly defeated. Bella didn't like to see him like that, but she guessed that Carlisle had noticed Edward's mood as easily as she had. Tentatively, she slipped her hand into his. He sighed at the contact and that simple noise filled Bella with great pleasure. Her touch had always relaxed him.
"I just don't understand why it has to be now, Carlisle," Edward said impertinently, his eyes flitting between Bella and his father.
"Because I want you to come home as I have – whole and healed. You are not that right now, and everyone here can see it."
Silence met Carlisle's words, but Bella could see in everyone's faces that they agreed with his assessment. She tugged on Edward's hand gently, pulling him toward the forest path and away from his family.
"Come with me," she whispered. "We'll be back in no time."
Edward looked back at his family as they walked down the path. They stood and watched Bella lead Edward toward the forest before turning toward the house. Edward sighed, shaking his head.
"What just happened?" Edward asked, his brows lowered in annoyance. "We've just brought them home. I wanted to stay with them."
"I know, but Carlisle was right," Bella replied, shaking her head. "You need some time."
"What I need is for everyone to stop handling me," he roared, turning away.
Edward ran full speed in the direction of the meadow, and Bella followed, allowing him to stay far ahead of her. When he reached the clearing, he leaned his palms against a thick tree trunk, his back heaving. Bella knew enough to give him some space; she wouldn't be able to get him to speak by forcing him to look at her.
"I'm sorry," Edward whispered, banging his head rhythmically against the tree. "You don't deserve this … what you did saved their lives."
She had expected the outburst to be about her actions, and she was ready to take responsibility for the hurt she had caused him. Still, it stung to hear him struggling so hard to forgive her. It frightened her.
"What I did was cowardly," Bella murmured. "I don't pretend it was the best choice, Edward. Nor was deceiving you something I'm proud of. I just didn't know … I was so afraid that if I told you, you'd follow and you'd be killed trying to protect me. I didn't trust you to trust me."
Edward turned in a flash, his golden eyes wide for the first time since they left Volterra. "I imagined the worst – every minute you were gone was an agony to me. You can't know …"
"Of course I can!" Bella exclaimed. "You think it was easy to leave you, Edward? You think I didn't worry every second that you were somehow ahead of us?"
He groaned, and shook his head. "It was an imperfect situation."
"I think that's what they call 'putting it lightly,'" Bella said with a small snort.
Edward looked at her, looked through her as he so often did, and for the first time she wanted to swap gifts with him. She wanted to see inside his head, find all of the spots that were hurting and see exactly what he needed her to do in order to fix them. Since it was impossible for her to do that, Bella did the next best thing. Setting aside her shield, she allowed Edward into her mind.
They sat down beneath the tree together, their knees touching as Bella revealed her thoughts before and during their time away from each other. Somewhere during their silent exchange, Edward slipped his hands over hers, and she knew that all was forgiven. It wasn't healed, and it wasn't forgotten – for beings such as themselves, how could it be? – but he accepted her decision.
"I want to make this right," Bella said finally. "Something has been wrong since Volterra, and I don't believe it's only me. Tell me what I can do."
Edward's eyes were haunted with memories. Again, Bella wished that she could look within to see what ailed him. Instead, she knelt up in front of him and framed his face with her hands. He sighed, gently tilting his head into her hand. She thought he would tell her then, but instead, he moved quickly toward her.
Edward scooped Bella up off of the ground, his mouth hot and needy on hers as he carried her across the clearing toward the trees. He covered her chin, neck and chest with open-mouthed kisses, making Bella throw her head back in ecstasy. It had been so long since they were together – alone like this. Her body had been crying out for his since they'd been reunited, but there had been precious few moments when they'd been alone. It had never seemed the right time. Now, however, there would be no interruptions.
Edward's hands knew Bella's body; his body knew all of her curves. Once across the clearing, he laid her in a patch of high grass and ran his fingers lightly across her stomach, tracing the O of her bellybutton in tantalizing circles. She shivered and shook beneath his touch, closing her eyes as his fingers pushed her shirt higher.
"Open," he whispered roughly.
Bella's eyes flashed open, finding his eyes immediately. They were dark and stormy, hiding the memories that had plagued him. But they were vulnerable, too. She could see the hurt roiling below the surface, begging for release. If it was release Edward craved, Bella could give that to him.
"Everything," he said, his eyes darting up toward her forehead.
Oh, she thought. They'd never made love with her shield down. She hadn't been practiced enough with it to try. Also, she just hadn't thought about it. But now that Edward asked for her shield to be down, she could definitely see the appeal. Bella would like to hear Edward's every thought, but especially when they were being intimate. She couldn't think of anything more amazing. She pushed the shield aside, her eyes never leaving his.
This is different, she thought.
"It's something I've thought of from the first," Edward murmured, his eyes lidded as he brushed his fingers over the rise of her breasts. He smiled as her thoughts raced. "I want to hear everything, Bella."
It's all yours. Her thoughts moved quickly, but she knew that Edward could follow them easily. Every thought, every emotion – everything is yours.
Edward purred as he gently eased her shirt over her head. It was a delicious sound, one that Bella hadn't heard in so long. I love that sound, she thought. I remember the first time I heard it.
"Do you, really?" Edward murmured, kneading her breast lazily in one palm. "Relive it for me."
It wasn't a question, and the demand sent a thrill through her. Edward smiled wickedly in response. Bella found that she enjoyed Edward having a direct line into her mind; he responded immediately to her every thought, moving so quickly it was as though he was anticipating her desires.
It was the night you came into my room, she reminisced. I remember being disoriented … unsure why you were there and what you wanted of me. And then you made that sound – right after I said your name. It ran right through me, just like it's doing now. Touch me, Edward. Please.
His fingers grazed her nipples, pinching gently as he reached the tip. Bella arched her back. So good, her mind repeated over and over as he applied mild pressure to her sensitive breasts.
The moment she thought about Edward's mouth on her, it was there – his tongue teasing her nipples and his teeth nipping around the peak. Just as she became frantic for him to move to the other side, he was there – touching, tasting, eliciting moan after moan from her lips. Bella's thoughts were on a roller coaster, begging for what she wanted but what she would never ask for herself, and Edward followed each request without hesitation.
Need to feel you, her thoughts begged.
Her jeans came off in a rustle of fabric followed by her underwear. Yours, she thought forcefully. Edward smiled and shook his head.
"Not yet," he drawled, his golden eyes moving up and down her body greedily.
Bella's hips moved from side to side as she eyed the bulge in Edward's pants. She wanted it, and like a feral animal, she licked her lips in anticipation. Edward ran a finger along the plane of her stomach, outlining the lips of her opening before continuing down her leg toward her knees.
Bella was frustrated, her eyes closed in anxiousness for his fingers, his tongue, anything to touch her where she needed to be touched. Edward splayed his hand across the back of her thigh, making her shiver as he gripped the curve of her ass. Bella's breath caught in her throat as her mind raced wildly through different scenarios. She knew he'd seen the thought of him flipping her over, taking her from behind. He'd seen her imagine his hand stinging her backside as it came down roughly on her flesh.
"Over," Edward said, applying pressure to her backside.
Bella moaned, and scurried to comply, leaning on her elbows and exposing her backside to him. She heard him draw in a ragged breath as his hand traced each cheek and trailed down her thighs. His fingers gentle, ever so soft, as they caressed each curve. Bella's lips trembled, her thighs shook with need, and she begged him over and over to give her some release.
Touch me, dammit, she thought harshly. Need to feel you.
She groaned as she heard him chuckle and continue moving over her flesh in a tantalizing dance.
"It's been far too long," Edward murmured, his breath puffing against her back as he knelt behind her. "I intend to make this last."
Bella felt like she might cry. His teasing touch had whipped her into a frenzy. As he continued to move slowly, she squeezed her thighs together, bucking her hips just slightly to feel some friction. In an instant, Edward stayed her hip and then grabbed her ass. Her mind went blank for a moment as he squeezed and then it was racing again.
Bella moved her hips back toward Edward, smiling when he groaned at the contact. The hand around her waist moved to her stomach and down lower, reaching between her legs. Bella couldn't stand it any longer; she thought she might explode the moment his finger slipped within her.
Infuriatingly, Edward didn't. Instead he cupped her, applying just enough pressure to drive her crazy with want, but not enough to give her the release she needed.
Bella moved with him, her ass brushing against his hardness with each slow movement. When she thought she might not be able to take it any longer, Edward slid one long finger within her. Bella froze, her mouth and eyes open as her body shook. He hovered over her, leaning on one arm so that his chest pressed against her back. His finger didn't move once he was inside, only rested against her throbbing center as she shivered with the delicious pressure. A keening moan began to rise in her throat. She wanted release so badly; she could feel it bubbling up within her. Edward pressed himself against her, steadying himself, and then moved his nose along her shoulder blade.
Bella could feel his lips moving against her skin, and she could feel the warm breath tickling every nerve. When he reached the center of her back, he opened his mouth and traced a circle over her spine with his tongue. His finger within her matched the circular pattern, sending ripples of pleasure down Bella's back. Again, her mouth hung open, and she held her breath in anticipation.
Anything, her mind cried. Anything you do feels so good.
When she gave up making demands, Edward finally relented. He sucked her skin harshly into his mouth, biting down just enough to make her moan. At the same time, he added two more fingers within her and pumped rhythmically with her hips. She didn't last long. Edward had wound her so tightly that she was crying out his name in under a minute, bucking against him with her release.
Edward didn't draw out her orgasm, moving away from her in a flash of movement. Bella heard the whisper of fabric and flipped her hair over so that she could see him. He knelt, shimmering in the afternoon sun, behind her. Her dead heart ached with how much she loved him, and he smiled at the thought. Bella didn't believe they would ever make love with her shield in place again; allowing him to see everything was perhaps the greatest turn on she'd ever experienced.
Edward moved her more gently this time, laying her down in the grass and hovering over top of her. His eyes were quieter as Bella looked deeply into them, but there was still darkness there. What happened to you? she thought, reaching her hand up to cup his cheek. His brow furrowed, and he grimaced. The painful look shot worry through her, and she pushed herself up on her elbows to reach his face with her lips.
Shh, be still. I'm here. I love you.
Edward's mouth moved roughly with hers, and she could feel the tension within him. Bella kissed him back with as much fervor, reveling in the noises Edward made as he kissed her. He broke away panting, leaning his forehead against hers as he looked into her eyes.
"I can't be gentle," he murmured, running a shaking hand down her chest and over her nipples.
She arched up, begging him silently for the rough touch he'd given earlier. He obliged, the corner of his mouth twitching up in a grin.
Take what you need from me, she thought calmly. I'm yours, and I want to give you everything.
In a blinding movement, Edward had lifted her leg up and over his shoulder. Bella cried out as he bent his head down to her neck, kissing and sucking roughly at the flesh just over her scar. She folded her body for him, bringing her center up to meet him. He groaned as he moved swiftly home, filling her completely and then moving away just as quickly.
Edward kept a frantic pace, pulsing in and out in a frenzied rhythm. Bella chanted his name in her head and soon began to moan his name in time with her thoughts. All the while, Edward was quiet and concentrated, focusing on moving within her.
Bella could feel the tension grow within her as the tidal wave of pleasure grew. She could feel herself cresting the plateau of her second orgasm, but held on – wanting to fall with Edward. She focused on him, opening her eyes to watch as he moved over her. He was a beautiful angel. His golden eyes were crinkled and focused on her and the worry line that had formed before had faded and was replaced with a look of determination.
Knowing he was close, Bella angled her hips and thrust upward to meet him. Their bodies slapped together roughly, but Edward's eyes fluttered as a moan escaped his lips.
You like, Bella thought with a smile.
Edward moaned again, nodding his head once. Again, Bella matched his powerful thrusts with her own. The combination of their movements brought him deeper within her, and it sent the waves of desire spiraling through her. Edward's speed increased and Bella matched him. As he came, Bella cried out her own pleasure, throwing her head back in wild release.
"You're right," Edward said lazily as he lay next to her, spent. "We're never doing that with your shield up again."
"Never is a long time for beings like us," Bella replied cheekily. "I wouldn't rule anything out."
The ease between them was so comforting to Bella; it hadn't been like this since well before their time in Volterra. She rolled onto her side, tracing circles on his bare chest.
"You want to talk about it?" she asked, her eyes on the patterns her fingers made on his skin.
"I suppose I have to," he replied, sighing.
"You don't, really," Bella insisted, looking up at him quickly. "I mean, you probably do … but it doesn't have to be right away."
Edward chuckled and covered her hand with his.
"Now is as good a time as any," he said, shaking his head. "It's about Maggie."
Bella dropped her head to his shoulder and nodded, sighing softly. She'd known that her death had affected all of them, but she imagined it had to be inscrutably more difficult for Edward who had actually heard her thoughts as she died. Bella laced her fingers with his and waited as his chest rose and fell for several minutes before he began speaking again.
"Maggie knew that going up to that tower was a suicide mission," Edward said, his thumb stroking the inside of Bella's palm as he spoke. "She went willingly though, because to her the sacrifice was worth it."
"For you?" Bella murmured. Edward opened eyes and looked at her, surprised. "Oh, Edward. It was the only lie she ever really worked to tell you, I think."
"She'd never been able to make her gift work on me before," Edward insisted.
"Because she never truly wanted you to believe it."
He was silent for several minutes. "Did she tell you?"
Bella shook her head, a small smile playing on her lips. "No. But I knew from the first moment I met her that she was in love with you."
Edward shook his head slowly, a crease forming between his brows. "I should have known. I shouldn't have led her on … taken advantage."
"No!" Bella cried, sitting up so that she could run her fingers over the crease between his eyes. "No. She didn't see it that way, and neither must you."
"How can I see it any differently, Bella?"
"She loved you, yes. But I think Maggie was as practical as they come. She didn't expect anything more from your time together than a little comfort. For both of you. So what if you didn't realize you were giving her as much comfort as she was giving you?"
Edward sat up and faced his Bella, his eyes troubled with memories of Maggie. "It seems awful knowing that she cared so much, and I cared so little."
"I don't believe that for an instant," Bella huffed. "You cared for Maggie a great deal. You trusted her. You entrusted her with me."
"It's not the same as what I saw in her head before…"
"No, but it wasn't as though you'd promised her anything. You were honest with her. She couldn't be honest with you, Edward. Not and get the contact she so desperately needed. Don't you see? She knew what she was getting into, and she chose that path. Were her thoughts regretful?"
"Far from it," Edward replied immediately. "That made it so much worse for me. She died with a smile on her face."
"She died thinking of you," Bella said, touching his cheek. "Maggie wouldn't have wanted you to beat yourself up over this. Remember her with kindness, remember her loyalty to all of us, but don't regret your actions. That would be the greatest disservice you could do her."
It took some time, but Edward was finally able to sigh and nod. The weight that Bella knew might never fully be lifted from him seemed to lighten as he straightened up and reached for her clothes, offering them to her with a smile.
"Thank you for that, love," he murmured. "Now, I think it's about time we got back to our family."
Bella smiled radiantly at the term our. She couldn't wait to get back to the castle and see how the family dynamic played out.
As Bella and Edward approached the house, she immediately crouched low, in a defensive posture. She could smell at least one of the Volturi guard members nearby, and it set her senses into overdrive. Before she could pounce, however, Edward gently touched her arm and shook his head.
"It's Demetri and Kenneth. They've come in good faith, and they have no ill intent. They're with the family now. Come."
They ran the rest of the way, Bella's mind racing with questions as to why the guard members would have followed them and how their presence could be considered in any way good.
The family was assembled in the library, broken off naturally in pairs around a roaring fire. Kenneth and Demetri sat close together, one of Kenneth's hands resting lightly on Demetri's shoulders. Seeing their red eyes dart around the room apprehensively put Bella slightly at ease. They had come out of their comfortable element and put themselves in a position of deference to a larger group of vampires. Also, Edward walked into the room easily, his stance open and welcoming. His very presence put the rest of the family at an even greater ease. Bella followed him over to the fur rug and sat down next him, her back leaning gently against his chest and his arms held lightly around her waist.
Carlisle and Esme sat comfortably on the couch together, Esme's hand stroking the back of her husband's hair. Questions pummeled Bella's mind, not only pertaining to the sudden arrival of Demetri and Kenneth. She wanted to know about the Cullens' time in Volterra, how much they truly remembered of their time under Leo's control, and whether they could fill in the gaps left in her exhaustive research of the papers.
"As you can see, we've been joined by two guests," Carlisle said, motioning to Kenneth and Demetri. "They assure us that they've come in peace and that they have information that we might find useful."
Edward nodded, a smile crossing his face. "Indeed they do. I think Bella will be most interested to hear that, Demetri. It was the one thing she could not reconcile in her study of the papers."
Bella paused for a moment, thinking back on her research and wondering what aspect Edward might be referring to and then it hit her suddenly. "The journals?" she asked, looking from Carlisle to Demetri and then to Edward. "Does he know about the journals?"
Edward gestured toward Demetri in deference to the other vampire, but Carlisle spoke up. "Are you referring to my medical journals, Bella?"
"Yes, Dr. Cullen," Bella replied.
"Please. Call me Carlisle. We're family now."
Bella looked down somewhat shyly before smiling. "Carlisle, I finally determined where Leo's gift might have a weakness by reading through your journals and the 'Mutation Journal' you notated during your … stay in Volterra."
"Let's call it as it is, my dear," Carlisle said with a grimace. "During our imprisonment. Yes, the Mutation Journal … that was a fascinating find. I was sorely disappointed when it, along with many of my journals, went missing at the beginning of this year." His golden eyes flicked over toward Demetri. "Is this disappearance something you can shed light on, son?"
Edward, along with Jasper and Emmett, chuckled lowly into their hands at the tone of their father's voice. Bella could hear the commanding tenor, the quality of leadership that brooked no lies. She guessed that at different occasions, the brothers had all been on the receiving end of that tone.
"Yes, sir," Demetri said, covering Kenneth's hand with his own protectively when the other vampire squeezed Demetri's shoulder. "I took those journals from your rooms."
"None of this 'sir' business," Esme said, her voice light and warm. "You are here as our guests and you will call us by our names."
Demetri nodded, his shoulders relaxing minutely. Kenneth still appeared tense.
"Why did ye take the journals?" Emmett asked, his brows knitting together.
His eyes flicked between Demetri and Edward, as though asking Edward what he should do to the thief. Edward held up one finger and Emmett frowned, looking back at Demetri and waiting for an answer.
"Because it was long past time someone challenged Aro," he said with a sigh. "I couldn't do it … whatever invisible chains they'd tied 'round us guard members were simply too tight for me to break free. But I sensed that, in the right hands, those journals might bring someone who could challenge Aro to Volterra."
"What did you do with them?" Carlisle asked.
"I sold them, en masse, to an artifact dealer in Venice. Aro had kept tabs on Edward and Alice, very close tabs, so I knew Edward's name and the circles he ran in. I sent the dealer to England with the express instructions to contact an E. Masen with regard to the journals. I assured him Mr. Masen would pay any price he asked for them. Sorry about that."
Edward flashed a toothy smile and waved Demetri off. "I have plenty of resources at my disposal."
Bella was not so easily deterred. "Didn't the dealer question how you'd gotten your hands on so many journals spanning such a long period of time by one man?"
Demetri shrugged. "He never asked. I quoted him a price for the lot that was next to nothing. He wasn't about to ask questions."
"The dealer never suspected that the journals were all by the same man," Edward continued. "He assumed they were from a family of doctors, all with similar hand writing. He wasn't the kind of dealer who authenticated his finds; he just sold them to the highest bidder. Me, in this instance."
"So, Bella, you found what you needed from these journals?" Carlisle asked, tenting his fingers in front of his face.
Bella nodded. "It became clear to me that Leo required close proximity in order to continue his hold over you and your family. I was uniquely positioned to cut him off from you and provide the distance needed to see if his tie to you could be severed. It turned out, however, that his death would be the only way to truly break that tie."
"Leo was a sad creature," Esme said, shaking her head. "There was a measure of madness to him at times, some more than others."
"In the end, he begged me to kill him," Bella said, bowing her head. "There was so much chaos in his eyes … I can't imagine what it would have been like to live inside that head."
"I only had conjectures about what his mind was like," Carlisle said. "I guessed that he was not only cutting off our access to our own memories, but actually absorbing them in some way. Though, since we all regained what we had lost, he couldn't have truly eaten them."
"No," Alice said, her voice airy. "I suspect the memories swirled like a vortex in his mind." She shivered, and Jasper wrapped his arms more tightly around her. "Looking into his future nearly drove me mad; to live it every day would have been torture."
"It's no less, or more, than what Aro did to every member of his guard," Kenneth said, speaking for the first time. His hand was wound tightly with Demetri's.
"The difference with Leo is that he should never have been turned," Carlisle said gently. "One might argue whether or not turning any of us was right, but Leo more than any should never have been given immortality. His gift drove him insane as a human. To turn someone like that was the very essence of madness itself. Leo's only salvation from the hell he was living in was death."
The family sat quietly for a moment, and Bella looked curiously at Demetri and Kenneth. They both seemed different now that they were away from Volturi rule. For one, they seemed to have found happiness in each other. She wondered whether Aro and his brothers forbade the members of the guard to mate. Also, they seemed more at ease now that Demetri's secret was out. She wondered what they'd do next and if they might wish to stay with the family for some time.
"I do wonder though," Esme said, her head cocked to the side. "When we were going up to confront Aro, Demetri, you spoke to Carlisle and Edward. You said that you wouldn't have guessed what the Volturi were capable of. What did you mean? And how did you hide what you'd done from Edward."
"He wasn't thinking about the journals at that moment," Edward said, looking up at his mother. "I did hear him repeating over and over that he'd been right."
Demetri nodded. "I was disillusioned with the Volturi, that's true. But there was always a nagging worry that I was just being selfish."
"That was Chelsea and Corin," Carlisle said, assuredly. "Their gifts combined to make you feel tied to the Volturi brothers and to make you feel great respect and love for them as well."
"Centuries of service without any thanks had made that respect and love wear thin. Once Chelsea and Corin were dead, however, I could see through everything."
"It was the same for me," Kenneth said.
"Were you mated before?" Alice asked.
"No," Demetri replied with a smile. "Very few of the regular guard and none of the elites were bonded pairs. I suspect that Aro wanted all of our devotion for himself."
All of the vampires in the room nodded their agreement.
"What will ye do now?" Emmett asked.
"We don't know," Demetri said, looking shyly at his mate. "It's very new to us to have choices and to be beholden only to each other."
"I extend our hospitality to you both and invite you to stay here at Thetford castle for as long as you wish." Carlisle's forehead creased only slightly as he looked over at his red-eyed son. "You will not be the only ones who follow the traditional diet."
Jasper looked down, and Alice stroked the back of his neck protectively. Bella had always wondered how Jasper's continued traditional lifestyle affected the others. She could see in Carlisle's eyes a bit of sadness that one of his own sons did not partake of the gentler diet.
"Truth be told, sir, we are both interested in your animal diet," Kenneth said. "The group of you seem so tightly bonded and without any of the tricks and games that Aro used. It intrigues us."
Carlisle smiled radiantly. "We would be happy to share our home with you, as well as our philosophy."
Bella's eyes traveled over Alice and Jasper who appeared to be engaging in a silent conversation.
"Jasper, we've all of us slipped up," Alice said softly.
She looked around the room, each member of the family keenly aware of Jasper's silent struggle, and Alice's pleading looks. Edward squeezed Bella's hands before rising and moving across the room to kneel next to Jasper.
"She's right," he murmured softly. "This diet isn't easy. None of us expect you to adapt immediately."
"Or even within a few centuries, eh?" Jasper asked, a half smile on his face. "It's been long enough. I'm ready to try."
The look of relief on Carlisle's face was palpable, a heady mixture of pride and excitement. There was room for error, and Bella knew well enough that Jasper wasn't the only member of the Cullen clan who was likely to commit an error. Now she was no longer alone in the frailty of her control; she would have the company of Jasper, Demetri and Kenneth to help her along the way.
The concept that she suddenly had a vampire family didn't strike Bella as odd as she would have once thought. There was comfort in the room around her, despite the many gifts and range of ages that were gathered there. There were many stories still to be told, and questions that would need to be answered. But Bella understood that there would be time enough for that another day.
After all, they had the rest of forever to enjoy each other's company.
A/N: This is the final "regular" chapter of The Foreign Papers. 'Scuse me while I snot-sob into my hankie. I am truly blessed to have so many lovely, vocal readers of this story. When I started this, back as a little wit-fit thread, I thought it was a compelling idea. When I pulled it out of the wit-fit forum to make it a full length multi-chapter story, I never could have imagined the kind of response it would get. I'm not an author who judges success by numbers, but to see the number of you who have felt compelled to leave a review for this story, whether it was once or every chapter, warms my heart in ways I can't rightly express. I hope that you enjoyed the story. There will be a small, fluffy epilogue that will post in a week or two. In perhaps a month or two, I have an AH short multi-chapter that will begin posting. It will be complete when I start posting and will post weekly. Those of you who donated to Fandom for Texas will know it: Butterflies are Free to Fly.
One last thing. I posted my Age of Edward one-shot to my profile: Playing for the Heart of a Lady. It would mean a lot to me if you could check it out. It's Elizabethanward and I'm told by my beta that he is swoon-worthy. ;)
Thanks so much for all of the love. I love you all right back. *mwah* ~Jen