Cold, Fragile Hearts

Chapter one

Life After Forever

Eternity sucks.

I never thought I'd miss being able to cry, but if a price were named for me to get that back, I'd pay it without hesitation. I never realized how cleansing and healing tears could be, until I needed the kind of healing that vampire venom can't give me-emotional healing.

And while I'm wasting time on useless wishes, I'd wish to sleep again. Maybe if I could escape for a few precious hours into dreams, I wouldn't feel like I was existing in an eternal purgatory.

He's gone.

Perfect memory lets me know all I've lost. Perfect recall lets me replay again and again his final moments. And it never goes away.

It's been two years now, and that's twice as long as humans allow for grief to play itself out. But I'm not there yet. I don't think I'll ever be there, even though I try to remind myself I still have reasons to live.

Nessie and Jacob are expecting their second child. She wants to name him Edward if it's a boy. I envy her that she's able to move on. But then again she still has a husband, as well as their own little girl Sarah Esme.

My granddaughter will never get to meet her grandfather. She'll never see the man who gave her the unruly sun-kissed hair that drives our daughter crazy.

I remember him. Some days it's all I can do to function in the real world, and not just sit and sift through my memories. They're like handfuls of sparkling sand, and each glittering speck is a glimpse of his smile, the touch of his hand, the sound of his music, the smoldering gleam in his eyes, his sweet smell, his fierce protection, and his all-encompassing love. I feel like I'm a walking, talking, tribute to his memory.

The days here are cold and bleak. Denali has so much natural beauty, as well as an abundance of the animals we hunt. But all I can remember is how he died here. I can still see the red-stained snow, even though it's been washed away by two years of summertime thaws. I can still smell the burning...

It all went so horribly wrong.

I'd read history books and I'd learned of wars. But what I'd learned was for my human life. Humans make war on a marathon scale, and it can last for years-decades even. There are battles, skirmishes, advances and retreats, and rarely does one battle show the winner.

But it's nothing like vampire war. I never knew how fast things could change. I never understood the scope of the devastation of war, until it was too late. Now I will never forget it.

I didn't know it then, but the first shots of the war were fired with Irina's death. Her cold, brutal execution set something in motion that none of us really saw coming. We celebrated our victory over the Volturi that day, but the Denali clan had lost one of their own. Even the addition of Garrett wasn't enough for them to consider it a win. When it was all over, they went home to lick their wounds, and plot their revenge.

They took their time.

On the other side of an ocean, the Volturi plotted their own revenge for their humiliation that day. It was silent, and equally slow.

Ten years passed, and I was so blissfully happy with Edward. I didn't pay much attention to vampire politics-they didn't even enter my world. We raised our daughter, and kept to ourselves, living near Forks. The rest of the family moved on to New York as they'd planned, and we stayed behind so my dad could spend time with me and his granddaughter. And of course Jacob was tied to the reservation.

When they got married eight years later, I felt like a chapter of my life had come to a close. I missed having her around all the time, but in a way I was satisfied with how our lives had turned out. I was looking forward to spending time with Edward alone.

We took a year just to travel and see the world. On this side of the vampire/human divide, I find that I can learn languages with ease. It made visiting different countries and cultures an amazing experience. I can actually speak several dialects of Chinese with native fluency-and I'd struggled so hard with high school French.

Languages aside, it was Edward who made it all worthwhile. Being with him alone was like being on a continuous honeymoon. My husband was all I ever wanted, and I savored each day as a tiny taste of forever. It never got old. I mean you would think that we would tire of each other, or get used to being together, but we didn't. I still hung on every word he said, even though I knew him well enough to finish his sentences. I delighted in his insight and the different ways he looked at everything around him.

We climbed Mt. Everest together, we walked the Great Wall, we explored the pyramids, and hiked the Grand Canyon. We explored Europe like hyperactive tourists, and came up with our own excursions. We took to sneaking into the cathedrals, castles, and museums to have our own look around at night, without the crowds. Only in Vatican City did we actually manage to trip an alarm, and we took great delight in haunting the guards who came to investigate. Those days are precious memories now.

Explorations and tours at night, would leave us lounging in bed throughout the sunny part of the day, making love. Edward apologized repeatedly for not changing me sooner, once we discovered how much we enjoyed the physical side of our marriage. We just couldn't get enough of each other. And vampires don't wear out or get tired, so sometimes it was sensory overload that went on for hours.

After traveling, Edward pushed me into going to college. He'd done it himself, and he thought I should experience it at least once. I packed two years into one, and aced my classes. Vampire memory is almost like cheating. In fact I had to intentionally make mistakes so I didn't wind up on some Deans List and get my name recorded somewhere.

If the classes were too easy, the library was a joy. I learned like never before, and each book I read stayed with me. It helped that Edward and I were together, and we made the library our home away from home. We were there so often, the librarians started asking us where to find things. We were there so often, we'd even hidden among the stacks and made love there a few times. The things we could get away with as vampires would fill a book, and I know exactly where it would be shelved.

I'd finished my sophomore year when we got the news that Nessie was pregnant. Knowing how difficult a time I'd had when she was born, I rushed back home to be with her. I needn't have worried. It seemed she was close enough to vampire, and tough enough, she didn't have any of the problems I'd suffered through. But it didn't go as quickly either. Carlisle monitored her progress and set a due date roughly five months from her conception. It seemed in that at least we were alike – she knew exactly when she'd conceived.

I was about to be an eighteen year-old grandmother, and the only thing funnier, was that Edward was going to be a seventeen year-old grandpa. My daughter trumped us when she reminded us that she was only ten herself. Still she was going to be a mommy, and we were all thrilled.

She was only halfway through her pregnancy when we got the news about the approaching war. The Denali coven was calling on every friend, and calling in every favor. The Volturi were coming for them. After losing Irina, their loyalty to the Volturi disintegrated. Adding to the problem, was Garrett's open criticism of the ancient Italian vampires, as well as his campaign to gather a force that could oppose them. He'd brought to light that the Volturi had been systematically eliminating everyone who'd stood against them during our conflict. Many nomads were simply gone-either in hiding or executed. One of Carlisle's oldest friends, Alistair, was presumed dead.

The Denali wanted those of us who were still alive, to assemble and organize to fight the Volturi once and for all. Of course we answered the call. Alice and Jasper left us as they had before our own encounter with the Volturi. But instead of trying to find another hybrid, they went to find all the nomads and alert them to the coming war. The Volturi may have been powerful, but they were slow, and we needed all the time we could get. Edward and I renewed the contacts we'd made during our trip around the world, and we called all those who'd come to witness for us.

When they began to arrive, we were impressed with the numbers. When the Volturi had come before, we were doing well to have about thirty witnesses. But the Volturi had burned a lot of bridges, and everyone left alive was suspicious and afraid. They came together, knowing that they only had one chance to make a stand, or forever live in terror of the Volturi coven. Somehow we'd gathered fifty old friends to join with us.

Still we noticed gaps in our numbers. Of the Amazon vampires, only Kachiri remained alive to tell of how the Volturi had picked off Zafrina and Senna. The Irish coven didn't come at all, and we weren't able to reach them. Of the Egyptians, only Benjamin and Tia came, and also with tales of surprise attacks. The accounts of the viciousness of the Volturi made us a troubled and melancholy group. But it also galvanized us in knowing we had no choice but to fight. There would be no talking our way out of this one.

As the days passed our group solidified, and we had another dozen come in. The Romanians came, and we insisted they would fight or they would leave. This wasn't a spectator event, it was a showdown, and it would be to the death. They were eager to take on their old enemies.

When Alice and Jasper returned, they brought the Southern vampires with them. Forcing them to put aside their turf wars and hatreds became a full time job for Jasper, even though they'd agreed to stand together. When Peter arrived, it was without his mate Charlotte, and also without his right arm. They'd fought bravely, and it was only the threat to his own life that forced him to leave Charlotte to the flames.

"I tried to save her... I fought them so hard... even when they took my arm... even when they broke my bones. All I had to do was keep them from burning her body. Dear god the flames were so hot, and I would have gone into the fire for her. But I couldn't reach her through the flames-they were so fierce! We were outnumbered, and it was ten of them against the two of us."

What he reported was repeated among those who'd already encountered the Volturi. They'd attacked with greater numbers and with greater strength than the typical strikes the Guard were known for. They didn't come to recruit, punish, cover-up, or negotiate; they came to kill. We were assembled after Jasper and Alice had returned, and Jasper spoke up. We had all suspected it, but his words put aside all our doubts.

"The Volturi are using newborns."

It was hard to believe they would break their own laws so blatantly. But it was the information the older vampires needed, to know they had to fight. The Volturi were no longer the law among us. They were going for power, and control, and they were eliminating any who would stand against them.

Delphine, an olive-skinned Creole woman, with cascading waves of dark brown hair, was one of the Southern leaders up from Louisiana. When she spoke up, all eyes turned to her.

"I don't know why this comes as a shock to you. We've known for decades this would happen. The only reason to have a strong and powerful coven, is to take over those who are weaker. We've always found it funny that they managed to convince you that their laws were to benefit all of us. 'No newborn army's, keep the secret, no public displays, don't draw attention...' " She sneered. "They've made you weak! They've kept you afraid. And they made you mistrustful of one another. Ten years ago you had the chance to wipe them out, and you stood by and let them walk away. And now they've pecked away at your numbers. Now they know all your weaknesses, and I guarantee they will know how to counter your strengths."

Her words were chilling. Her casual disdain for us was irritating. But she came with fifteen fighters, even though some were clearly newborn, and most had no special abilities. Along with Delphine, there was also Maxim and his coven of twelve from Mississippi, and two more large covens from Texas. There were two large covens in Mexico who refused to fight with us. They were enemies, and they wouldn't cooperate, no matter what was at stake. Jasper suspected that they might motivate to fight the Italians after their numbers were reduced by the upcoming battle.

All in all we had a fighting force of almost a hundred and fifty vampires. We knew from Alice we'd have ten days before the attack, and we left the minimal civilization of the Denali compound and headed off into the uninhabited wilderness to train. Carlisle had used his title and money to obtain enough donated blood to keep the edge off of their hunger. But none were enthused about what they considered a stale alternative.

Alice for once wasn't able to see any clear future, and what she saw had stolen her bubbly nature. She looked harrowed and withdrawn, and she wouldn't tell anyone what visions haunted her. She clung to Jasper like he was her only lifeline, and she kept away from Edward to keep him from seeing into her mind.

"Tell me it's going to be okay, Alice." I couldn't stand to see my friend so obviously in pain. "We can leave now... we can find someplace where they won't hunt for us-maybe join the Mexican covens..."

"No! We have to stay, or they will all die!" She looked tortured at my suggestion. "We're going to win this Bella. But only if we all stay. We need to stay strong, or we all perish. If the Volturi win, not only will they hunt down and kill every vampire, it will be open season on humanity as well. Something has changed, and I can't see what it is. They've got a new purpose, and all I know is that Aro is no longer in charge."

"What?" I couldn't believe what she was saying. "Who... I mean what happened?"

"Keep it down Bella. We don't want to spread this news, we'll lose some of them if they find out. The Volturi is under new leadership, but the old ones are still with them. I don't understand what's going on, but I know we can't talk our way out, and I know we all have to stick together. Just... don't say anything. Please."

I hugged her, and kept quiet.

Five days later I wanted to trap her and force her to tell me what she knew. The Quileute pack arrived, and Renesmee came with them.

Edward and I fought and begged, but she was resolute. Jacob needed to be there with his pack, and she needed to be with her husband. Even Jacob was on our side, but Ness wouldn't listen to any of us.

"Not only do I need to be with my family, you need me as well. I can help-you know I can."

"You're pregnant, Ness!" She'd rarely heard me yell. "You can't be in the middle of this."

"I'm already in the middle of it! Everyone I love is here, and I'm one of you! Maybe you can forget that I'm not human, but I know the Volturi won't forget it. Even if I stayed away, they would come for me... " She rubbed her small, rounded tummy. "...they would come for us." I hated that she was right. "Besides, every member of the pack is here. Back home there's no one to look out for me, and if I have problems with the baby, my doctor is here too." She smiled as she finished her winning argument.

I hugged her tight, and whispered into her ear. "Just stay out of the way. I don't want you in this fight, baby. They won't think twice about killing you, and I know they can feed on you too. And that goes for our allies as well."

"I want to help." Her declaration made me sorry for all the times I'd put myself at risk, and how I'd tortured Edward with those decisions. She may not have been as fragile, but she was just like me-unconcerned about her own safety.

"No! There's no need for your gift in the middle of a war." She couldn't possibly think that projecting her visions into someone's head by touching them would be of value.

"I've gotten better. I can help!" She stalked away from me then. She went inside the aluminum structure we we were using to store supplies. "Can you hear me now?" Her mimicking of the old cell phone commercial shocked me. Not because of the sarcastic tone of her words, but because she was speaking inside my head!

She came back out, looking proud of her demonstration. "I started working on it before I got married. At first I was just able to communicate with Jacob. He's receptive to telepathy because of his pack. But one day I needed to get a message to Grandpa when he was out fishing, and it worked on him too. I've been practicing for two years, and I can project up to five miles if I know the person. It doesn't go nearly as far if I'm not familiar with them, but I can at least get beyond hearing distance. I can also communicate with up to six people at once. It works on the pack as well. Like it or not Mom, I can help."

I wanted to tell her no. I wanted to send her back home where she would be safer. But she was right. She had a powerful ability, and we needed every one we could get. Even pregnant she joined in the training. Jasper quickly learned to rely on her to send messages to the different units he'd organized. Each group of twenty-five was under the strongest or wisest member, and he used Nessie to direct them in maneuvers and formations. Still I would have given anything for cell phone towers and electronics rather than my daughter being used for communication.

Delphine was Jasper's second in command since she was used to fighting other vampire armies. I'd thought Jasper was the strongest military leader. But she matched him, and the way she thought was much more calculating than Jasper's genteel style. For training they simulated a battle, each choosing half our forces. While Jasper used military tactics with Renesmee as his communications liaison, Delphine chose a guerrilla style, with strong leaders and fast unpredictable moves.

Each of us carried a flag inside a pocket, and to lose your flag meant you were incapacitated. If your incapacitated body could be dragged or carried back to the other side, then you were considered destroyed. It was a good demonstration of how we would be fighting in brutal close combat. I wound up on Delphine's side, working against Edward and Nessie. For training we had to go all out, and she insisted that I move with her army, rather than stay behind to provide the shield for them.

By the end of the skirmish, both sides had lost over half their numbers. It was a wake-up call that we would likely suffer serious losses when the actual battle was joined. Of my family, Nessie was "killed" in the action. The mock battle let us know where our weaknesses were, and it gave us more incentive to train.

Of course many thought we should create newborns of our own to fight alongside us. It was Carlisle who put up the biggest roadblock. If they wanted to fight that way, they could fight without the Cullen's. "I'll not create murderers just to save ourselves. Nor will I have an army that we'll kill after they've served their purpose. If we can't do it on our own, then maybe we deserve to die."

Surprisingly, it was Alice who argued strongest for the newborns. "If we lose this war, humanity will pay the price, and it will be a lot higher than whoever the newborns would feed on. We could choose those who have noting to lose... I'm sure we could find some terminal patients, maybe people in vegetative states, or mental patients."

"Did you even hear what you said?" He demanded. "You're talking about someone just like you! How many of these damaged individuals should we recruit? Ten? Twenty? How about fifty? Even if we could get fifty ideal candidates, what do we do with them? Kidnap them, hide them, and change them? Add in a couple days for the change, and you've got fifty screaming people to hide and watch over., and whoever is watching over them has to forgo their own training. Then when they come around, we've got fifty confused, displaced, hungry, newborn vampires who are strong enough to tear you to pieces. Would you like to be in charge of them, Alice?"

"Alright, I get it. You don't have to be so mean." She really did look sorry.

"Yes I do. There are reasons we don't play God like that. I would think you'd understand that better than most after being with Jasper for so long."

"The only thing I really understand right now is that we're going to be under attack in a few days, and I don't want to lose anyone I love. If we had more time to train them, I'd create the newborns myself!" She'd stormed off, leaving us all to wonder what we had coming our way for Alice to compromise her values like that.

The decision was made not to bring in unpredictable newborns. We also decided that we would start the battle using Jasper's organized units. But then we would use Delphine's effective blitz moves. Most terrifying to me was that they both believed Nessie was too valuable to stay safely out of the fight. I could shield her, but only from mental attacks, and she was still vulnerable to the deadly physical attacks. She would also be one of the few with a heartbeat in the presence of newborn vampires.

"We could use that in our favor." Delphine wore a calculating look when I brought up how vulnerable Nessie would be. I wanted to slap the look off of her face, but she went on. "She's going to be a lure no matter what we do, so we may as well use it for our benefit." She went on to outline a plan where my daughter would appear to be minimally defended, but she would actually be the bait in a trap. I didn't like it one bit. Edward was even more upset about the plan than I was, and I thought Jacob was going to tear someone apart when he heard it.

It really didn't matter. None of it mattered. We were plotting, planning and training as if we would be fighting a normal battle. We didn't realize their plan until it was all over. We knew they were coming to kill and to wipe us out. But they had a more sinister plan beneath the obvious one.

They weren't just planning to kill indiscriminately, they wanted to break up mated pairs. Specifically, they planned to eliminate the women and leave the men if possible. Their only miscalculation was that they didn't realize how hard the men would fight for their mates.

A/N: If you're reading this to feel good, be warned. There is a lot of angst in these early chapters, and it's not pleasant to watch. It will eventually dig it's way out of the pits, but I don't want to give too much away yet. Let me know what you think. I promised myself I wouldn't write another one in present tense, but I also said I was going to leave fan fiction after I finish May December Divide. I gotta quit lying to myself.