AN: One more after this chapter and this story is finished. With any luck you'll have it next Saturday.
Thanks to mauigirl60 for fixing my mistakes!
Looking down at the horrible roses in her hands, thorns still intact, made Bella realize something. She was no pushover, not anymore — not when she needed to be strong for her children, her family and her Edward.
Her face becoming a mask, Bella strolled to the trash can and dropped the bouquet into it. She turned to Alec with a large and very fake smile and said, "You must have forgotten that I detest roses, Alec."
"I'm guessing you aren't going to be playing nicely, Bella," Alec sneered.
She retorted, "I'm here, aren't I?"
Jane chuckled and took a swig of her doctored coffee. The smell of booze from the cup was strong. Bella knew that Janie was in need of liquid courage. Hell, Bella herself was in need of some liquid courage.
Aro, in his morning suit and scarf, clapped his hands. "Isabella, I see you are still delightfully full of spunk and spirit. You are the perfect figurehead for the Volturi family."
"Yes, because my middle name is 'delightfully full of spunk and spirit'," Bella snarled.
She watched as Aro gracefully lowered himself into a chair. He still had the air of superiority and impeccable grooming that Bella expected, but there was a change. There was a look in his eye of desperation, and the man who had always been the picture of youthful vigor now looked so much older. It was apparent to Bella that all was not well in the twisted kingdom of the Volturi Camelot.
"Let's get this show on the road," Jane announced. "We need answers and assurances."
Alec flopped onto the bed in the middle of the room, patting the area next to him. "Have a seat, my precious Bella."
"I like standing." She wasn't going to move any closer to her ex-husband than she had to.
"You're the family disappointment, Jane, why are you even here in this negotiation?" Alec asked Jane. He waved his hand at her as if he were swatting away a fly. "This is between us and my wife."
Bella walked over to the coffee carafe and poured herself a cup. She picked the cup and saucer up, but the slight tremor of her hand made her put it back down. Turning, Bella looked Alec dead in the eye. "Jane's here because she's being blamed for quite a bit of nasty things, like my father and Alice are. Before I get into a figurative bed with you, because it sure as hell won't be an actual bed, I need to know what you're up to and what you're planning to do on ending it."
"You won't be able to stop yourself from wanting this, baby," Alec muttered.
He was ignored.
"Are you referencing your friend, Miss Cullen? I heard she's been released," Aro stated. His eyes narrowed. He was always looking for a trap.
"She has, because defending me was justifiable. James is a sick monster."
"I'm so sorry that Royce's boy was attempting to hurt you, my dear. Sometimes, though, to get what you want, you need to do unsavory things. Royce didn't care that the boy is in a coma. James is a bastard. He's the child of Royce's mistress." Aro gave a beaming smile, which then became a solemn frown. "It was to my benefit that Royce was messy in his dealings. He has a large shipment of drugs hidden in a storage unit in New York City. I have pictures and copies of his documents that prove that fact. These things are easy enough to leak to the proper authorities. Unfortunately, Royce is too interested in sexual relations with Alec's friend, Katherine, rather than making things uncomfortable for little Alice. Luckily, I have plenty more forged documents that pin illegal activities on your father."
"He's a good man!" Bella exclaimed.
Aro smiled at her. "That is without a doubt, dear. I just made sure that my men were able to perform these activities, so we have concrete proof. My employee, Felix Grant, has an eerie resemblance to your father. We have pictures of him taking bribes that could be easily attributed to Chief Swan. I can make it all go away, Isabella, even the charges that your father is facing now."
"You are way to chatty, Father. They could be wired." Alec announced. Bella narrowed her eyes at him. He was surprisingly astute.
Bella opened her arms wide. "Go on and frisk me, Alec. This day can't get any worse."
She made sure not to glance at where she knew there were hidden microphones and cameras. The agents had been very clever in the way they'd decided to record this encounter.
"I thought you'd never ask." Alec stood up and went over to Bella.
She shuddered, as his hands wandered down her body in an agonizingly slow pace. To think that once upon a time she had loved this man and would crave his touch; how times had changed.
Jane jumped up and flashed her brother, distracting him so Bella could pull away. "Look big brother, all clear!"
"I don't want to look at that!" he shrieked.
Jane smiled and pulled her shirt down. Sitting down, Jane looked at her father. "I think I always knew your hand was in some pretty fucked up stuff, Pop, but the charges they want to pin on me are pretty impressive in their depravity. That means fucked up and nasty, Alec. I always forget you don't know big words."
"Jane, what do you want to know? That you are too mentally deficient to handle the important matters that affect our family?" Aro questioned snidely.
"I have enough brains to know I didn't kill or order a hit on Isaac Karvec. How about one Andre Williams? Because he's dead and, supposedly, I was a part of his murder. There's a list of dead people and smuggling, old man, that my name is attached to." Jane glared at her father.
Aro rubbed his hands together in thought. "How about I make it worth your while to confess to these charges? That you were the mastermind trying to pin your evil deeds on your family."
"You have to be kidding me!" Jane looked at him in angry wonder.
Alec smiled and placed his hand tightly on Bella's shoulder. "Top notch idea you have there, Father!"
"This is all lunacy!" Bella exclaimed, trying to shake off Alec's hand.
"No, Isabella, this is brilliance at work. Jane, I will make it worth your while. I'm positive I can help you get off for good behavior before you're forty. At that time, I will reward you monetarily," Aro stated.
"What if I say no?" Jane asked, trying not to crash her cup in her father's face. She needed to stay calm so they could get the proof they needed.
"I think that a Ms. Hale will have to pay the ultimate price, or would she be more upset if something happened to our dear Isabella? Custody of the children would, of course, revert back to Alec. What compassion the family would obtain over the demise of such a lovely, young mother and the heartbroken father that would be suffering from the loss of his love."
"No one said anything about Bella being involved in this!" Alec cried out, pulling Bella closer to him. He knew he was a horrible person, but a huge part of who he wished he could be still loved her completely.
"Alec, it would be a moot point if the genetic abnormality agrees," Aro sneered at a crestfallen Jane.
Bella knew the look on Jane's face. It wasn't the tough and ready-to-fight girl she'd met years ago at her first meeting with Alec's family. This was a woman who realized that her father was truly a wicked man who would gladly feed his children to the wolves to escape incarceration. There was no love for his offspring, but only for the absolute power he commanded to those around him.
The restaurant was one of those affluent establishments with china so fine and delicate that the fear of touching it would make it immediately shatter. The food had names Bella couldn't pronounce and probably wouldn't want to try. The waiters were snooty and made Bella want to cry when she asked for the chicken. Bella had thought it was best to hide in the bathroom, so there she stood, staring at herself in the mirror and internally chastising herself for the thrift store dress she'd chosen to wear. Obviously, she had been delusional when she'd found its paisley print charming.
Bella hadn't noticed that Alec's sister had entered the bathroom. The previously scowling girl had hopped on top of the sink next to Bella, immediately lighting up a cigarette. She grinned and asked, "You want a drag, White Trash?"
Jane Volturi had been scowling throughout the dinner. Yet, here she was, smiling and dressed to the nines in some designer label gold cocktail dress, perched with her legs swinging on the edge of the sink. The dress was obnoxious as it was the picture of excess wealth but, somehow, the youngest Volturi wore it with a complete lack of care. It was like a costume that once she'd left the critical eye of her parents, Jane could come out of character.
"I don't smoke and neither should you! Someone could come in here." Bella looked around worriedly.
"I don't care. It wouldn't be the first time I've gotten kicked out of here." She hopped down and looked Bella up and down. "You're too good for him. I've only been around you for thirty minutes, but I can't figure out the attraction you have for my brain-deficient brother. Are you on drugs? Do you want to be?"
"I love him...put that out!" Bella grabbed Jane's cigarette and stubbed it out in the sink.
Jane unexpectedly smiled. "You have spunk! You do realize you are getting in bed with vipers?"
"What part of 'I love him' did you not understand?"
"Touché!" Jane started refreshing her lipstick. "I have a feeling we're going to be friends, you Hippie Slut."
"You'd better call me Bella," she demanded, looking Jane straight in the eye.
"No." Jane pulled out her phone. "I need your number. You can help me plan my husband's surprise party. He's on a soft diet, but why should the rest of us suffer?"
Bella politely inquired, "Is he sick?"
"Oh, shi..." Bella began, as Maria walked into the room.
She grabbed Jane's purse and pulled out the pack of cigarettes. "Give Mother a cigarette. I'm about to stab your father with my butter knife."
At that moment, Bella realized she might have gotten herself into more than she could handle.
Bella pushed Alec away and moved to Jane, placing her hand on her friend's shoulder in solidarity. Jane's usually strong expression was crestfallen.
Watching the sad Jane was more than Bella could handle at that moment. She asked Aro, "How can she confess to things that she wasn't even aware of?"
Aro patted a leather briefcase near his feet. "Daughter, all the documents about the more unsavory side of my business are in this case. Memorize it and turn yourself in by the end of the week."
"You had this planned!" Bella went over and wrapped her arm around Jane. "You've wanted to pin this all on her since the beginning!"
"I knew Jane wouldn't let you face this on your own," Aro began to cackle. He looked at his daughter. "Actually, child, Maria has been far too crafty for me to have her take the fall. If I didn't detest your mother so much, I would find her tenacity seductive."
"You know what, Daddy Demon, let me have the briefcase," Jane walked over to her father and held out her hand. "It looks like I have to get to the learnin' so I can be put in the slammer."
Aro stood and faced his daughter, case in his hand. "Don't disappoint me as usual, Jane. You won't like the consequences."
"Just give me the..." She tried to grab the case. That's when a static sound became apparent from a potted fern. It wasn't very loud, but still nosy enough to gain the attention of the occupants of the room. Jane muttered, "Idiots."
Aro looked at Jane, his eyes widening. Out of the inside pocket of his jacket he pulled out a small revolver.
"Put that thing away, Father!" Alec exclaimed, and in a rare act of bravery, pulled Jane behind him. "There's no reason to have a gun."
"Idiot child, you and your sister have been nothing but a nuisance since conception. Jane, did you set your father up?" The old man's face twisted evilly. "No matter...there is always a way for me to get out of this. Where are the recording devices, Jane? Bella?"
"I have no idea, Aro," Bella lied to buy time. She really had no idea why the agents were taking their sweet time coming in. She glanced at a stereo and a small smile played upon her lips. It hadn't been turned off. "It's probably that stereo system. Whoever was in the room last didn't turn it off completely. That just wreaks havoc with the speakers."
Bella had no idea if this was true, but hoped her creative excuse was plausible enough to work.
"Hmm...are you lying to me, sweet Isabella?" Aro sneered, pointing the gun at Alec's head.
"That's like me asking you if you're a delusional, old sociopath. We all know it's true, but what are we going to do about it?" Bella quipped and raised her eyebrows at him. "Why don't we put that gun of yours down and talk about this hot mess like rational adults?"
"I have a better idea, Isabella. I will take this firearm and place bullets in each of my children's heads. I have enough illegitimate sons with actual potential to take over Alec's role."
"This is lunacy!" Alec exclaimed. "Let Bella and Jane go."
Aro scoffed, "Now you want to do the right thing? It's too late, Alec. Give your baby sister a hug and kiss your ex-wife goodbye. Isabella will be accompanying me to my private plane. I have friends in Chile that I will visit for a while, then its off to visit my oil baron friends in the Middle East. I have wanted to travel for such a long time and I must thank you children for giving me the opportunity."
"Yes, because pulling a Medea and killing your children is a wonderful start to a vacation and it keeps you from going to prison." Jane glared at her father.
Aro gave a hearty laugh, lowering his gun slightly. "You are still an astute scholar of the classics as am I, Jane. Maybe I should have given you more credit? It's too late of a realization, unfortunately. Maria will be cross, but I will soon be rid of her as well."
"I'm not going on vacation with you, Aro," Bella stated, inching closer to him. If only she could get hold of the gun.
"Unfortunately no, Isabella, you will not. I will have one of my men make sure you and Maria meet your maker once I'm in the air. I'll have to call Lonnie and have him pick up the old ball and chain after we take care of the children." He grinned at Alec and Jane. "Good bye, offspring."
At that moment, Bella sprang into action. Aro lifted his gun and Bella slid into him, knocking him onto the floor. Bella, because of her questionable luck, ended up crashing her head onto the sharp edge of a dresser. Blood was running down her face as she looked at a grinning Jane, who was now pointing the gun at her father.
A second later, the hotel room door was thrown open and over a dozen agents, guns drawn, entered the room.
Bella looked at them, as she tried to wipe the blood off her face with her sleeve. It was disgusting. She growled at Garrett, "Nice timing, GQ."
"That's my line!" Jane exclaimed, handing the gun she held over to Agent Malloy. She grabbed a linen napkin and went over to Bella, pressing it on her bloody head. "We could have died, you idiots!"
Agent Malloy knelt by the women. "We needed to make sure all the charges were going to stick. Thanks to you two, we'll make sure both Aro and Alec go away for a long time. Bella, what happened to your head?"
"It was that stupid dresser with the pointy corners! That piece of furniture is a menace!" she groaned, as Agent Malloy slowly pulled the napkin away. "Ouch!"
"You're going to need stitches. At least they'll be on the top of your head. You were very foolish, but I respect your gumption, Miss Swan. Think of the stitches as warrior wounds." He motioned to Garrett. "Could you please get Miss Swan down to the ambulance, Garrett?"
"Is that necessary?" Bella had spent enough time in a hospital thanks to James.
Garrett helped her up. "Miss Swan, please humor me on this. I will make sure they do it quickly and you can head home. Listen...I just want to say that you were very brave today. This is highly inappropriate, but if you and Dr. Cullen ever end your..."
"I'm flattered, but Edward and I are very happy," Bella stated, cutting Garrett off.
He smiled. "I had to try."
Jane stood and shook her head at Garrett. "It amazes me that even though she looks like a zombie from The Walking Dead, Bella still has you ridiculous men throwing yourselves at her."
"Shut up, you demonic heifer, I have a big enough headache with my war wound." Bella grinned at Jane.
"That's my girl!" Jane smiled back.
As they were leaving, Bella watched Alec and Aro being handcuffed. She wanted to smile at the scene but she was saddened by the realization that her past led to this. Her dreams of the happy life she would have with Alec were long gone, but Bella couldn't help mourning the young girl she once was, who had married a man she thought would be her prince.
Alec called out, "Bella, I'm sorry!"
"Yeah...I'm sorry too," she answered, turning away from him, a smile finally gracing her face.
Of course, there was another man waiting for her. An imperfect man, who could be infuriating, but ultimately loved her with every inch of his being. Edward was her future and that future was bright.
It was four days later, the sun glistening on the random patches of burnt umber leaves that still managed to cling to the trees. Bella and Edward were hiking to the meadow to get away from all the hovering members of the Cullen and Swan families. Bella thought it had been bad before, but having been at the hospital again made the family absolutely bananas. It was surprising that she didn't have the whole clan trying to sleep with her. Instead, it was a snuggle-fest with Edward, Annie and Matt, which had been mighty fine with her.
It was nice, though, to be alone with Edward. His fingers linked with hers, as their feet crunched the leaves on the ground. He asked, "You aren't too cold?"
"No. It's nice to get some fresh air. The house is getting stuffy with everyone hanging out in there."
"Very true," he agreed. "At least we're having dinner at my mom's tonight. There'll be a little more breathing room." They had reached the meadow. Most of the trees had lost all of their leaves and it seemed somewhat desolate. Edward frowned. "This wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
"It's November, Edward, if you're looking for lush trees and wildflowers then you're in the wrong location." She took a good look at his forlorn expression. "What's wrong with you, grumpy pants?"
"I wanted it to be perfect."
She smiled and kissed Edward's nose. "I'm with you, aren't I? We could be in the jungle, sweating profusely and I'd still be happy."
He grinned back and pulled off one of her gloves. Bella gave him a funny look. "Are you doing what I think you're doing?"
Edward grin turned quizzical when he eyed the pink, sparkly plastic ring Bella wore on her ring finger. "Somebody beat me to it?"
"Well...Annie and Matt wanted to marry me, too. I think they're a bit confused on this whole marrying thing. They think we're all getting married." She smiled at the ring and moved it to her pointer finger.
"We're all becoming an official family," Edward stated, happily. "That's a pretty big deal."
"It is," Bella agreed, as she watched him take out a ring box. Her face lit up when she saw the ring that was inside. "That's my dream ring. You can't get play dough stuck in it!"
"That's what Annie said! She helped me pick it!"
"Our girl has good taste," Bella complimented, making Edward beam.
Slipping the ring onto Bella's finger, he asked solemnly, "With this official ring, Bella Swan, will you marry me?"
"You betcha." She gave him a wink.
Their lips immediately came together, as a breeze came through, making the leaves swirl around them.
It was a beautiful moment on that chilly November morn that they would remember happily, even when they grew old and gray.
It was a moment of true love.