Chapter 41 – Heavy in Your Arms

- This will be my last confession: I love you never felt like any blessing.

Whisper it like it's a secret only to condemn the one who hears it

with a heavy heart.

After his father left, Dominic frequently heard his mother, Trisha, crying. At night when she had thought him asleep, he would hear her muffled sobbing. But by the next morning, she had erased all evidence of sadness; with the risen sun, she would be all smiles. Whatever had made her sad, he would innocently reason, was gone. A weight would be lifted from his young shoulders – until he'd hear her crying again a few nights later.

Her behavior was confusing, and as small children tend to be self-centric, Dominic remembered his young brain working feverishly to figure out what he could have done to make her so upset. Until one day, when he was a teen, he found himself diligently hiding the evidence of being bullied from her, and that's when he understood: she had hid her sadness to protect him, just as he was hiding his pain and disgrace to protect her.

With maturity, Dominic came to understand that in their attempt to shield each other from the hurt instilled in them from his abandonment, Dominic and Trisha never let go of their sorrow and shame. When father left, he left them damaged, ashamed, and harboring feelings of worthlessness. After all, if he had truly loved them as he had said, why would he have left?

The anger Dominic had kept buried towards his father, the man who had left them unable to cope with emotional crises, surfaced. It was his fault Dominic was unprepared to deal with what had been thrust upon him. And as Gianna's body spasmed in pain and tears rolled down her pale cheeks, Dominic had to bite back on his rage against his father to keep from phasing.

"Make it stop!" Gianna shrieked as her eyes wildly searched Dominic's face for mercy.

"I'm so sorry, baby. I can't," he pleaded for her understanding. She had been in a state of fear and agony for almost an hour, and no matter what Dominic said, it seemed she couldn't comprehend any of it. He had tried to reason with her, comfort her, cover her in snow to cool her perceived burning, and eventually, he just held her tightly against his body. Nothing stopped her urgent pleas for death.

He was at wit's end, struggling not to shift and fighting against his strong urge to run as fast and as far as his four legs could take him. "Where are they?" he ground out between clenched teeth.

Though he was glad to be able to breathe deeply through his nose for the first time in weeks, he wanted nothing more than to catch the scent of Edward and Bella. He was not only failing at comforting Gianna, but he was now thoroughly convinced he had made the wrong decision regarding Marcus's offer; he should have let Gianna go, sparing her this horrific transition instead of condemning her to a life of drinking blood. While it was true Edward and his ... whatever he called the others he lives with ... survived on animal blood, it obviously wasn't the natural or easy vampire choice. In addition, had he allowed another killer like those in the castle to be created? His heart told him no - Gianna was good and would make the right choice like Edward - but he could feel his instincts bristling in revolt over her transition.

Man versus wolf. Lover versus enemy. Instinct versus emotion. The conflict of who and what he was tore him apart as much as Gianna's cries of suffering.

Just when he thought his blood was reaching its boiling point, the nauseating, sweet smell of vampire wafted into the cave on the wintry wind. Dominic had just enough time to bolt to his feet before Bella and Edward stood before him. Bella looked more at peace than he had ever seen her before, but Edward … he looked like hell.

While part of Dominic was relieved to see them, a different part of him only became more enraged. "Where have you been? You left us vulnerable!" he lashed out.

Seeing Gianna awake and writhing in pain immediately struck guilt into Edward and Bella. But for Bella, there was another dimension – the stigma of her nightmarish transition was all too fresh. Not that the memory would ever fade, but with time, she hoped it would scab over, not be so raw and tender. Overwhelmed, she fled the cave.

Hearing her footsteps halt not far from the cave entrance, Edward made the decision to remain with Dominic, who obviously needed Edward's experience right now. He had watched uneasily as Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett went through their transition. But for him, listening to Carlisle's anguished thoughts and how he crucified himself over what he had done was the most difficult part. And just like Carlisle, Dominic's thoughts were crushing him without mercy. He would try to comfort Bella as soon as he could, however, Edward knew nothing but time would ultimately allow her to reconcile her experience with what she had become.

"Dominic, get in control of your train of thought. Regret and self-doubt will not serve you – or Gianna - well," Edward offered.

"Really?!" Dominic snapped back. "And what would you suggest I do?"

At their feet, Gianna had curled into the fetal position, her cries dwindling into whimpers as her human body momentarily succumbed to the consuming flames.

"Mostly, I used distraction."

Dawning flashed in Dominic's eyes. "You've been through this before? Watched someone go through this?"

"Yes, my mother and two of my siblings." Edward squatted down next to Gianna, moving his cold hands over her arms. Her head jerked up to look at him, eyes conveying relief. "What does she enjoy?"

Dominic shook his head trying to fight his tumult of emotions to think clearly. "Wine," he blurted out.

"That is no longer a good choice," Edward answered lightly, trying not to smirk at Dominic's stress evoked answer.

"Sing," Gianna whispered through cracked lips. "Sing to me."

"G," Dominic sighed. "I don't know if I can ..." He knelt next to her, tucking several lose strands of her mussed dark hair behind her ears. His voice cracked and Edward could sense Dominic's mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion were about to overwhelm him

"Please," she implored.

Edward plucked from Dominic's mind the lyrics of the song he wanted to sing to her. "Yes, that one, Dominic. Sing it to her," he encouraged, placing an increasingly trembling hand on Dominic's shoulder.

Dominic shook his head. His breathing had become too quick as he tried to gather his strength and suppress his emotions. He was trying to be more like Trisha, tucking away the pain and confusion to be strong for the one he loved. But it was too much. Each time he opened his mouth to sing the words, they got strangled his throat. Dominic closed his eyes and bowed his head in defeat.

But then the words were there, around him, filling his ears in pitch perfect tones that echoed with just the right vibrato off the cave walls. "You are so beautiful to me."

There was a pause after the first line of the song Dominic so desperately wanted to sing to her; the words he needed to tell her.

"You are so beautiful to me, can't you see?"

The second line seemed to give him strength. It was a lifeline he could grab onto. Dominic raised his head to look at Edward and nodded slightly. Together, they sang the next two lines of the simple love song...

"You're everything I hoped for. You're everything I need."

Edward stopped singing and let Dominic continue unassisted.

"You are so beautiful ... to me."

Gianna smiled and reached out to squeeze Dominic's hand. "Go rest, find something to eat" she told him. "Edward, please."

Even in her fractured thoughts, she worried about him. She loved him and didn't harbor any hatred toward him regarding his decision. The words were just too hard to formulate and speak as her brain was muddled by excruciating pain. Edward would make sure Dominic knew her thoughts...

"It's time," Edward said sternly indicating to Dominic he had little choice but to comply. "You have to eat and drink. And actually, I do, too. Let me go talk to Bella. She can stay with Gianna."

When Edward found Bella just outside the entrance, she had a tender look on her face.

"That was wonderful what you did to help Dominic and Gianna. Your first public singing performance... It seems your attitude toward them has changed," she said hopefully.

"Let he without sin cast the first stone," Edward replied. "We've all made choices under duress that we regret – Dominic and Gianna deserve a second chance to do right by you."

Bella's smile grew slightly. "I have forgiven them." But then her lovely face fell. "You and Dominic will be leaving to hunt."

Edward closed the space between them to still her hands in his grasp – she had been wringing them furiously. "Not if you don't want me to."

She shook her head emphatically. "No. It's what you both need to do. Maybe it will help ease the discomfort of your withdrawal. I just ..." She looked anxiously at the cave entrance.

"You have an opportunity to use what you've experienced to help someone else." He placed his palm over her heart. "I know in here the Volturi didn't change who you really are." He paused, deeply contemplating his next words. "In his own way, Marcus cared for the both of you, and in his show of fondness for both of you, his actions have made you sisters."

Reflexively, Bella inhaled deeply at the truth in Edward's words. With every end comes a new beginning...

Taking his stunningly handsome face in her hands, Bella said the words she knew he had been hoping so patiently to hear: "I love you, Edward."

Excitement and happiness burst from him and joy crowded out all discomfort. He picked her up in a tight embrace and swung her around once before placing her feet back on the snow-covered ground. "I promise, when we get home, things will be different. I will be different."

The sound of Dominic clearing his throat stole their attention. They turned to see him waiting outside the cave. His face held a mixture of uncertainty, apprehension, and determination. "Okay. Let's get this over with."

( ~ * ~ )

When Dominic pushed the thought of killing and eating pieces of animal flesh from his thoughts, running down the mountain in his wolf form was actually quite exhilarating. Edward ran silently by his side allowing him to enjoy the experience without distraction.

Once in lower elevations, Edward sniffed at the wind. "This way," he called out, changing directions. Soon, Dominic caught the animals' scent as well. Oddly, the smell had some appeal. They perched on an outcropping of rock overlooking a small herd of Chamois.

Dominic looked to Edward. You first.

Edward smiled crookedly at the irony of the situation.

What? Dominic's thoughts questioned.

"You do know we are natural enemies. I can't wait to see the look upon Jacob's face when I tell him I was the one that taught you how to act like a wolf."

Hearing the name "Jacob," Dominic's memory immediately recalled the night Bella spoke his name and the distinct smile on her face when she mistook Dominic's warmth for Jacob's.

Edward's smile faded quickly. "Bella has a ... special connection with Jacob that I will never fully understand," he said flatly.

Dominic cocked his furry head and plopped into the seated position. Imprinting?

"No, fortunately. He's not imprinted. But you have, so don't regret saving Gianna, Dominic. It would have gone against your nature to let her go. She will forever be the gravity that holds you together."

Dominic pawed the ground in frustration. I know so little about this side of me. Will it ever make sense?

"I will take you to see Jacob. You are a descendant of his tribe, but I get the distinct impression no one in that tribe knew of your existence. I do believe you will shock the hell out them."

It didn't escape my notice that when you spoke of my father, you did so in the past tense. Is he dead?

Edward had to tilt his head up to look Dominic in the eye. Honestly, this was not how he wanted to inform Dominic his father was, indeed, deceased. He couldn't help but hear all the unresolved issues and questions looping through Dominic's mind. How will he respond when he learns that will never be possible?

Your hesitation speaks volumes.

"Here's what I know: he died in a boating accident when he was twenty-nine years old. And contrary to what he told you and your mother, his real name is Quil Ateara, the fourth."

Edward waited, letting the bitter reality sink in that his father had not only kept his heritage mostly a secret, but his real name as well. Dominic snorted, the moisture from the heated air rushing from his lungs hung around his snout before the brisk mountain wind shifted and whisked it away.

Lying SOB.

Edward continued, "I didn't know him, but I do know his generation was skipped."


Edward inwardly cringed. The knowledge he and Carlisle had about the Quileute shifters and the way they came about having that knowledge (Carlisle examining Jacob's blood without his permission) made him uncomfortable. Considering the mounting evidence, it was becoming apparent that his family's presence influenced the fate of the young people on the reservation. That treaty entwined all of their fates in ways that they never imagined.

"As you might have guessed, the proximity of vampires is what triggers the shifter's potential to transform. But in your father's case, during the age range when that chromosome was susceptible to activation, my family had temporarily left the area, thereby removing the catalyst. No one in your father's generation developed the ability to shift."

Go on.

"From what I understand in piecing together bits of thoughts, your father felt ... robbed of his due destiny. He had looked forward to shifting as a rite of passage. Becoming a 'real' man. When it didn't happen, your dad went searching ... for vampires."

To trigger his genetics. Instead he found my mother. Figures. Dominic snorted again. At least it explains how he came to wander into town. But not why he left.

"Maybe that drive to shift drove him from you and your mom to resume his search before he aged past the transition period? I don't know for sure. But eventually he did make his way home. He married and you have a half-brother."

Dominic's posture straightened and Edward got the feeling Dominic had found a faint light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Still, Edward thought it best not to mention the possibility Dominic might also be related to Embry as well as Quil the fifth…

My mother thinks I'm dead - but at least I may have gained a brother.

"We never know what life has in store for us, do we?" Edward added before fixing his gaze on the herd below. Undoubtedly, there was more Dominic would want to know, but the urge to hunt now had captured Edward's full attention. "I think we can do this with a bit of teamwork. I'll take one down, when I'm done, it's all yours."

Yay. Vampire leftovers. Things are really looking up now...

By the time Dominic finished his thoughts, Edward had already began plummeting down the mountain side with deadly intent and complete silence. Dominic gave chase, his large form stirring up the snow and catching the beasts' attention. But it was too late for one of them. Distracted by Dominic's latent approach, Edward was already upon it. Spooked, the rest of herd took off, scattering further down into the valley.

Dominic halted his approach to watch, astounded by Edward's graceful and merciful takedown of the large animal despite his compromised state. As Edward drank from the beast's neck, Dominic's stomach began to rumble in anticipation of a meal. Saliva filled his mouth.

When Edward rose to his feet, licking his lips to remove all traces of blood, his instructions were brief, "Just give in to it."

In the end, it was easier than Dominic had imagined. He had eaten his fill, drank from a mountain stream to wash it down, and then rolled in the snow on their return journey to remove the blood from his fur.

Watching as Dominic vigorously shook off the remaining snow that clung to his fur, Edward reassured him, "You'll find it easier to keep clean with more experience."

And Bella's experience?

This time Edward let out a sound that resembled a snort. "She's a bit more problematical than you. She's convinced her shield will only be able to protect us if she drinks human blood. But I think there's more to it."

Confession time. Go ahead, get it off your chest. Listening is the least I can do.

Edward sighed. "When she was human, I constantly reminded her of her fragility. I hovered; I protected her from everyone and everything. I should have known it would only be a matter of time before she internalized the notion she was weak. I had inadvertently added to her desire to be vampire by diminishing her self-worth." Edward fussed with his clothes, uncomfortable with voicing his shortcomings to someone he barely knew. "So I think now that she's realized her true power, she's not going to be so willing to let it go."

She only wants to drink human blood? That's a problem.

"We're handling it in our own way. We'll work it out. If we could only get home ..." Edward stopped short realizing he had just shifted the burden of their delay in the mountains onto Dominic and Gianna.

Yeah. Home. Dominic began to walk in the direction of the cave, his head and tail hanging low.

Edward listened to Dominic's concerns shoot rapid fire through his mind, and decided he could ease at least some of those concerns. "You and Gianna will stay with Bella and me. With the help of my family, we will get both women on the right diet. In fact, by the time we get all this sorted out, you and Gianna will probably not only be adopted by my vampire family, but you'll be part of a pack of shifters as well."

However, Dominic's concerns ran deeper than just where he and Gianna would live…justifiably so.

You said that we – shifters and vampires - are natural enemies, so the question remains... What if Gianna doesn't accept me? What does 'imprinting' have to say about that?

Edward ran his fingers through his snowy hair in contemplation. "No doubt your situation is ... unique. If you want my opinion, I think love can influence who a vampire chooses as a mate. I know it did for Bella and me, and for the other mated pairs in my family. Gianna's thoughts are choppy and random as she goes through transition, but I was able to hear very clearly that she loves you. The idea of being separated from you is the only fear she dwells on."

Then I need to get back...

Nourished by the meal and with renewed hope about his future with Gianna, Dominic pushed himself at top speed, slightly edging ahead of Edward. When they got to the cave entrance, Edward continued inside while Dominic stopped to transform back into human form and put on Edward's cloak.

When Dominic entered, he found Gianna's head in Bella's lap, Bella's hands smoothing over her face offering their coolness in comfort. And for the time, it appeared Bella had succeeded in calming her. When Gianna caught sight of Dominic, she put on a smile. For him, she put aside her pain to welcome him home.

Dominic rushed to her. "I love you, G. And we'll work this out. I know we will."

She nodded, placing an unsteady hand on his cheek.

Suddenly, Bella felt she and Edward were intruders on a very intimate moment. "I'm going outside. Some sort of 'guard' may be in order considering ..." Bella jerked her head in the direction of the entrance in case Edward was missing her point of leaving Gianna and Dominic alone for a while.

"Yes. Definitely. Guard duty. Out there." Edward hastily excused himself in classic Charlie-style to follow Bella outside.

"Edward, wait," Dominic called after him. He reached into Gianna's pocket and extracted something small. "I have something I've been holding onto. But after what I heard earlier ... I think it's time I returned it to its rightful owners."

He held up Bella's wedding band.

Overcome with emotion, Edward was only able to nod and shake Dominic's hand before taking the ring and tucking it safely in his pocket. The heat of Dominic's hand was welcoming, and Dominic didn't even flinch at the coldness of Edward's firm handshake.

( ~ * ~ )

Over the next two days, Dominic, Bella, and Edward fell into a routine, taking turns comforting Gianna, keeping guard, and hunting.

Bella continued to drink from Edward, slowly weaning herself from human blood as Edward continued to dilute the human blood in his system by feeding on animals during his hunting trips with Dominic. Their interdependence very quickly made them feel like a pseudo-family. Still, Gianna's constant state of agony wore on Bella, Edward, and Dominic. Edward's withdrawal symptoms constantly gnawed at him, and the lack of privacy and the comforts of a home also added to their uneasiness. Everyone struggled with irritability.

It was almost with relief the three listened to Gianna's heart enter into its fatal increased rhythm on day three and she fell into unconsciousness.

"It's beating so fast." Dominic worried. "It sounds like it will explode." He had been holding Gianna in his lap since her tachycardic state began. Her olive skin had lightened, her pale lips and cheeks developed a rosy hue, and her black hair had become glossier, fuller, and considerably longer. Bella surmised it would reach to her lower back once Gianna was on her feet.

"Each transition can vary slight based on the individual, however, it should only be a matter of hours until she reawakens," Edward said, mentally calculating and then averaging Esme, Rosalie and Emmett's timelines once their hearts had lapsed into this phase.

"Then we can begin our journey home," Bella added. Though she was apprehensive of what awaited her once she returned, leaving the inhospitable environment for the Cullen home had irresistible appeal. Once Gianna was ready, they had planned to travel into neighboring Switzerland, as Bella wished to leave Italy behind, before contacting Carlisle to arrange and wait for transportation. Only a private jet was plausible considering Bella and Gianna's newborn states. And even then, Edward knew he'd be guarding the door to the cockpit.

"I'm going to hunt, love," Edward leaned in to whisper in Bella's ear. "I'll need my strength to handle two newborns…"

His sweet breath sent a chill down her spine. She knew that was his intended effect…

"Stop teasing me," she chided. "Or I'll knock you on your ass and have my way with you."

"So feisty. Promises, promises…" he responded nuzzling her cheek.

"Get a room," Dominic sarcastically replied.

"Damn wolf hearing!" Bella teased back. "Really - go hunt, Edward. I'll keep guard." She sent him off with a quick kiss on the cheek. "But if you don't mind, could you try to find a tastier carnivore?"

With a crooked smile, he set off feeling lighter than he had since he arrived in Volterra. Gianna would awaken soon and the four of them would move on, feeding on their way. He would fill himself up on this hunting trip so he could concentrate on Gianna's needs and control.

He moved swiftly toward a different valley than the one where they had been previously hunting since it was reasonable to assume the animals would have begun to avoid that site. He initially thought nothing of the vacant grassy land below...

By the time the wind shifted and he caught their scent, it was too late. Too late to realize the hunter had been the hunted.

Struck by searing white heat, Edward crashed to the ground, skidding uncontrollably across the rocky, frozen terrain. A wail escaped his lips before the pain seized his ability to breathe. As he writhed in pain, he caught the view of a pair of black Mary Jane shoes and thin legs wearing opaque tights approaching.

He rolled on his back to get a clearer view of her. With the sun behind her, she appeared only as a cloaked shadow. But her power was unmistakable.

"It took some time, but this will make it worth the effort," she sneered.

"Sister, your anger is justified, but do you really want to end him now? I can hear his insides beginning to crack." Alec, a slightly taller shadow, arrived at her side. "Allow me to show him what will happen if he tries to run."

The pain subsided, however Edward immediately found himself robbed of all his senses. Plunged into nothingness.

With his point made, Alec withdrew his mist allowing a dazed Edward to again stare up at them. Edward knew he was no match for the mighty witch twins – especially when they were most likely enraged at the demise of their courtly positions. They were two spoiled brats stripped of their perceived birthright.

"It appears you forgot something in Volterra, Jane." Edward gasped out as he couldn't help but notice Jane was missing her right arm.

She spat venom on him. "You are guilty of treason against your own kind! You will be destroyed, as will the traitors Afton and Chelsea." Jane spat again to show her disgust at speaking their names. "It is the least we can do to honor our fallen leaders."

"Then do it! I'm alone, put me out of my misery." Edward barked, hoping to throw them off Bella, Dominic, and Gianna's trail.

Jane considered his statement with skepticism. "We'll see about that. We found you. We are more than capable of finding them, if they exist. We've got nothing but time to seek our revenge, not only on your mate, but on your entire coven."

"You see, we have made it our sole purpose," Alec confirmed. "Ending all of you, finishing with Carlisle. He was the initial curse upon us. And I will throw your ashes in his face!"

"Your end is upon you and everything you ever cared for will soon follow," Jane emphasized the point Alec had already made quite clear.

Edward slowly rose to a stand, folded his arms across his chest, and then turned his back on Alec and Jane. He wouldn't allow them the gratification of seeing his fear.

As expected, Jane brought him to his knees in a debilitating onslaught of agony. With all his might, Edward gave voice to the pain that ripped through him, sending out a warning he hoped Bella and Dominic would hear. Maybe … maybe the head start his warning gave them would keep them out of range of the murderous duo.

"Enough play, sister. I'm ready to end this. Remember, we have much to do." Alec reasoned with his enraged sibling. He found his calm demeanor worked best when she was prone to lashing out in anger. And this kill was going to be his.

Jane scowled, releasing Edward from her effect. "You're fortunate my arm burned in the inferno or I would be the one ripping your head off. And trust me, I would have been less merciful than my brother. I would do it very slowly so you could feel every connection snapping, giving you plenty of time to think about everyone you stupidly care about and how they will suffer the same fate."

"Ready the torch," Alec instructed.

Jane produced a long brass rod from the inside of her cloak that contained a flammable fuel. Clicking it twice, a flame burst from the end. "We came prepared."

Gritting his teeth, Edward attempted one last charge at Jane, but he didn't get very far before she brought him to the ground. "Beg for your life," she said casually, holding the flame over him.

"Sister, do not give this nothing an opportunity for an audience. He need only be silent."

Alec yanked Edward to his knees by his neck. Jane smiled maliciously before him. But as he took grasp of Edward's head, Jane screamed out.


Alec released his hold Edward to turn and face the object of Jane's fury, but not before depriving Edward of his senses as a precaution.

"Don't take another step forward or he dies!" Jane shouted directing the torch only inches from where Edward had collapsed in complete sensory darkness. Jane knew from experience to keep Bella at a distance.

Quickly complying, Bella halted her advance. Seeing Edward completely humiliated and defenseless at the mercy of Jane and Alec's feet fueled her shield. Her body vibrated with the power that clawed at her insides, craving release.

"How dare you!" Jane shrieked, incensed at the sight of Bella wearing Marcus's robe. Assuming Bella's intent, her rant continued. "You think you can replace him?! Never!"

Bella crouched slightly and Jane lowered the torch in response to Bella's threatening move. "Just one more twitch and I swear he will go up in flames— he'll perish without even knowing he's on fire."

Alec's smug smile confirmed what Jane had said.

"What do you want?!" Bella yelled raising her hands up in surrender. "You want me? Take me. Let him go."

"Oh no, sister," Jane replied. "That time is over. We didn't come to take either of you anywhere. We want you both to burn in the flames you left us to burn in. But I can be merciful – do you wish to offer yourself first?"

Jane's nose wrinkled and Alec hissed but no one moved. "I can smell you, you stinking beast!"

From over a crest, Dominic stalked nearer, his body close to the ground and his teeth bared in a menacing snarl.

"Sick your dog on us, Isabella? Not wise. Brother, take care of that."

While one of Alec's hands kept Edward in the dark, mist grew from the other, making a nearly invisible trek to engulf Dominic.

Jane and Alec laughed in amusement as Dominic lay down, whining as all his senses fled from him. They were enjoying their show of power: Edward degraded, Bella held frozen in fear, and Dominic whimpering in confusion.

Despite the lesson Alec and Jane should have learned from Aro, they remained overconfident, unable to recognize the show before them for what it was - a clever diversion...

"Now who shall die first?" Jane pursed her lips in consideration.

"You always did talk too much, Jane. If you're going to kill someone, just fucking do it!" Gianna chided from behind them. Using the cover of Dominic's scent to her advantage, Gianna had moved undetected

behind the siblings.

Suddenly finding themselves surrounded, Jane and Alec attempted to calculate their best chance for survival. Tossing the torch on Edward, Jane turned to capture Gianna with her painful gaze to incapacitate her. But Gianna had anticipated that move. Darting with newborn speed, she avoided Jane's gaze, attacking her from behind.

Leaping on Jane's back, Gianna reached around and clawed at Jane's eyes, digging her fingers deep into Jane's eye sockets – the vulnerability few outside of the Volturi inner circle had thought to attack.

"Edward!" Bella cried out. Racing to his side, she rolled him in the snow as flames had already spread over his clothes and began to blister his skin. Immediately she spread her shield around him to free him from Alec's gift.

Jane cried out in anger and terror as she spun in circles desperately trying to shake Gianna off her back. Her single arm grasped uselessly at the newborn. Without her eyes, her power was useless; she would be no more special than any other normal vampire.

Jane's wailing was an irresistible siren call to her twin. Panic clearly distracted Alec, and his mist of sensory deprivation vaporized. He made a desperate dash for Jane and Gianna.

With their senses abruptly returned to them, Edward and Dominic tried to make quick logic of the wailing and crashing surrounding them. The sudden shock of sunlight, amplified by the brilliantly white snow, momentarily blinded them. But when Edward's eyes adjusted, he was stunned to see Bella hovering over him.

"We have to do this together!" she instructed. "Gianna's under attack by Alec and Jane! Stay close to me – my shield will keep their powers at bay." She thrust out her hand to help him up.

In a flash she saw the familiar struggle move through him. Her hard gaze didn't waiver from his. Her shield was integral to defeating the gifted Alec and Jane … this was no time for Edward to play protector.

He chose wisely.

An expression of determination set on his face as he grasped onto Bella's hand. Running at her side, her shield surrounded him. Bella and Edward crashed into Alec as he attempted to free his sister of Gianna's hold. Despite Alec's mist pouring from him in attempt to stave off an attack, Bella was able to dislodge him from Gianna, who struggled desperately to cling onto Jane despite the growing numbness of her senses.

Bella and Edward baited Alec, pulling him further away from Gianna, Jane, and Dominic and toward the tree line. Working in tandem, Bella and Edward made quick strikes under the protection of Bella's shield. But Alec was an agile fighter whose gift was difficult to elude. Bella struggled to focus on both fighting Alec and protecting Edward within her shield. If Edward was caught vulnerable, she would be compromised as well. Bella found herself battling two wars – one against Alec and one against her concern for Edward.

In an early show of his commitment to change, Edward not only recognized what needed to be done, he was willing to give Bella the opportunity to do it – on her own. "Take him out," he growled before darting out of range. She understood his meaning. With her anxiety for Edward's safety alleviated, Bella let her powerful shield rip from her.

Further up the mountain side, Gianna had was attempting to get the right leverage to decapitate her. With Jane's gift disabled, the battle was evenly matched between Jane's Volturi training and Gianna's newborn strength. The critical difference: Jane fought for vengeance, Gianna fought for her future with Dominic - this was her chance to fight for the life she never imagined she could have wanted.

A thrill filled Gianna as she saw her lover swiftly approaching, and Gianna knew Jane's fate was sealed. She leapt off Jane's back just in time for Dominic to swoop in, large jaws clamping onto Jane's middle. He easily took Jane's entire petite frame in his mouth. As she hung trapped, Gianna had her last laugh. It was the last thing Jane heard before Dominic bit her in half.

Retrieving the torch, Gianna set Jane's severed body aflame.

"The endless terrorizing will end here!" Gianna gave words to her fury. "I am no one's play thing anymore!" she said, declaring her freedom.

Denying herself the pleasure of watching Jane's remains burn, Gianna ran in the direction of Bella and Edward's scent, Dominic close to her side. They nearly collided with Edward who was running in the opposite direction!

Gianna's blazing red eyes were clearly confused at finding Edward separated from Bella and Alec. He appeared to be fleeing. "What - ?"

"Don't go any closer," Edward instructed them.

Dominic growled as Gianna crouched.

Fortunately, the misunderstanding was relieved by Bella's words, though she remained unseen within the trees. "It's done."

Without taking the time to explain, Edward spun around bolted towards Bella's location, Gianna and Dominic followed. They found Alec unconscious at Bella's feet.

Edward immediately took Bella into his arms.

She sank into his embrace. "I didn't know for sure if it would work."

He squeezed her tighter. "Leaving you like that was one of the hardest things I've done. But not because I doubted you could do it. Old habits just die hard." He buried his nose in her hair before releasing her as Dominic and Gianna's actions had caught his attention.

"We've got this one," Gianna said as she slung Alec's body over Dominic's back. "He'll burn with his sister – just as fate had originally intended before Aro intervened."

Edward nodded solemnly while Bella turned her head away. So much death… all in the name of loyalty and love.

"I know they wouldn't stop until they got their revenge … but I just don't want to kill anymore," she whispered, feeling the full weight of gravity pulling her down.

Edward kissed the top of her head. "I know, love. I know."

They walked slowly hand in hand toward the purple smoke that curled above the trees. With any luck, that would be the last of the Volturi they would encounter. Now that Gianna was through her transformation, it was time for them to resume the long trek toward home.

A/N: Thank you so much for reading! We are getting so toward the end of this tale. I hope you enjoyed the little surprises (Alec and Jane, Dominic's dad revealed!). Only a few lose ends to tie up now *sad sigh*.

Thank you so much to Rowan Moon who called my attention to the fact that Bella and Gianna have, in a sense, become sisters. And to Ashling, who keeps me on the canon straight and narrow! I'm so thankful this story has brought me closer to such fine women.

As always, your comments/thoughts are appreciated.