Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


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A/N: Here, let me brag on myself. In the 2014 Fandom Choice Awards, in the Vampire category, I Live came in 2nd place for Best Bella Swan!

Satellite Heart Lament came in 3rd in the Best Quote or Passage! The, uh, "green dress" passage.

Thanks, you guys! I do appreciate it! I squealed and everything.

I Live is posted on FanFiction, Archive of Our Own (AO3), and The Writer's Coffee Shop (TWCS)!

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You're a diamond stone

Overthrowing kings


Chapter 57, I Visit

Jasper's POV

I had to jerk the phone away from my ear as Charlotte sucked in a loud, rasping breath. While I recovered, I sent my senses out as far as I could reach to try and detect the Volturi or anyone else that might be near.

There was a group north of Bella and me but still south of the house where Charlotte and Rosalie were. I couldn't differentiate between the members of the group—a couple of them seemed to be blended. They were all projecting confidence and wariness, but there was a surge of happy anticipation along with fear.

Peter and Emmett were not within my range.

Charlotte suddenly found her voice. "I'll be dipped in shit. That fuckin' Demetri!" she exclaimed, her normally sweet tone low and deadly. "Rose! Shut all the windows and close the curtains. Turn on the TV. We gotta get outta here. Where are they, Jasper? Have you seen 'em? How many?"

I could hear the strain in her voice. "Demetri called and said he didn't tell them exactly where we are. I haven't seen them yet. Group of five, south of the house. Two males, three females. Aro, Alec, Jane, Chelsea, and Renata. Bella and I are on the boundary line near where it intersects Long Creek Road. They're about halfway between us and you. Go north to Bella's pond. Rose knows where it is. It's where we caught Felix. Where Peter and Emmett left clothes for us."

Bella was trembling, her hands anxiously grasping and releasing my T-shirt, as I pulled her along with me, heading for the road.

Through the phone, I heard Charlotte rushing through the house, checking windows.

Rosalie's strained voice came through loud and clear. "Charlotte? What is it?"

"We gotta get out. Go north. Jasper says Aro and four of his guards are here."

Hearing Rosalie's explosive, "Oh, shit" and the door slam, I was relieved they were out of the house and moving. "I don't know where Peter and Emmett are. I called you first, Charlotte. I'll call them next. We'll try to meet you."

"Okay, Jasper." Her phone disconnected.

Bella and I crested the hill below the ridge, and I urged her to slow down as we made our way through the trees. Stopping next to a thick pine, I hit the number for Peter.

"Major?" He answered on the first ring, his tone puzzled.

"Captain, we have visitors. Charlotte and Rosalie have left the house. They're heading north. It seems Aro is here, and he's brought his guards Renata, Jane, Alec, and Chelsea. They're south of the house. Bella and I are below them, almost to the road that crosses our line. Where are you?"

"Emmett and I are a few miles east of you. Only reason I got a signal. We'll be right there."

I shoved my phone in my pocket and started moving again toward the dirt road beyond the trees.

"Why did you tell Charlotte and Rose to go north to the pond?" Bella's hands were still tugging at my T-shirt, stretching it out. "Why would they turn on the TV?"

I was surprised she hadn't ripped the shirt off me.

"The TV is just a stalling tactic. If the Volturi get to the house, they might think someone is inside. I couldn't take a chance on Rose and Char coming to us and running into Aro. He may have sent a couple ahead to track our trails, though I don't think any of the guard are very far from each other." I pried Bella's fingers from my shirttail and held her hand. "Go slow through the trees. Listen and scent the air. Just because I can sense them, it doesn't mean I can't miss something," I whispered to her. "I used the pond as a landmark that I know Rosalie knows about. Felix's scent is there, but we didn't run directly from there when we had him. If anyone goes near it, Charlotte can handle herself."

"Maybe we should just call it Jasper's Trap."

Baffled, I gawked at her. "Call what … ? What?"

Bella glanced up at me and then continued to scan ahead through the trees. "You know … that pond. I mean, you caught me there, and then you caught Felix there. It's like a trap for vamps. It should have a name. Maybe we'll catch some more vampires there, and we can light 'em on fire, and then we'd have some place to dump their sparkly ashes. Vampire ashes aren't poisonous, are they? Well, if they're poisonous, we can't dump them in the pond, but—"

I was momentarily stunned again at the violent turn my sweet, little angel's thoughts took; though I shouldn't have been. My venom had certainly enhanced her already strong sense of protectiveness.

It was just another example of how little any of us really knew her when she was human, or how she had completely lost that filter between her brain and her mouth. "Darlin', you really shouldn't talk so much right now. Please." I cupped her cheek and kissed her, hoping she wouldn't be too offended.

"I'm sorry." Her head tipped down, and she looked up at me. "I'm a little nervous. What if my shield on everybody doesn't keep Jane from zapping them? What if Alec's power works on us? Or Chelsea's? She could break us all up! They're mine! I don't want all our bonds broken, and—"

I stopped and yanked Bella into my chest. "Shh, Darlin'." Holding her head against me, my body curled over hers. "I'll take care of Chelsea. She won't break us all up. I won't let her."

Bella's voice was a high pitched breath over my throat. "Are you … are you going to kill her?"

"She's my first target." I wanted to do everything I could to reassure my mate. My eyes kept moving, checking through the darkening forest for a hint or sign of anyone approaching.

"But what if she has a mate? It would break his heart if she died, and he might come after us like Victoria did."

"I don't care if she has a mate. If she does, and he tries to come after us, I'll kill him, too." I squeezed her to me as her hands clutched at my back. "C'mon, Darlin'. We have to get down to the road."

She nodded as her hands slid from around my sides. I brought her left hand up to my lips to kiss her fingertips. "I love you. I'll do whatever I need to do to keep you safe."

Her grip tightened on my hand as we moved silently through the forest. Ahead, down by the road, I thought I caught a small flash of light: a reflection of the rising quarter moon on some sort of vehicle. It was sitting in a field beside the dirt lane. Signaling to Bella to stay quiet, we crept farther through the trees and I could make out a large, black SUV. Bella stiffened when she saw it, but she remained quiet, even though her nose instinctively went up to scent the air.

Staying back from the edge of the clearing, we both studied the shiny Suburban. We saw no movement, and I sensed no one near it, until I picked up the alert and cautious feelings from Peter and Emmett.

Bella's lips were at my ear. "Should we look through it to see who it belongs to?"

"No. There's probably an alarm on it, so don't touch it. I think we know who brought it here."

Urging Bella behind me, I crept to the tree line and slowly stepped out from between the trees so I could be seen. Peter appeared from the forest across the road, Emmett right behind him, and they quickly moved to the SUV.

"Arrogant bastards," Peter grumbled, as he stood in front of the vehicle. "They have a personalized plate on the front with a big V on it. Black on black. I guess that shit's supposed to be inconspicuous."

Did they have vehicles waiting for them in every country or was America just special? Maybe one of Aro's guards was assigned the duty of carrying around and attaching those personal plates to rentals. "You had to notice they parked it right on our boundary line." I gestured out across the field, and Bella broke from behind me, bolted toward Emmett, and flung her arms around him.

She practically disappeared in his embrace. He squeezed her until she grunted, and then he pushed her back, his hands on her shoulders, and he gave her a little shake.

Letting her go, Emmett studied her wide eyes, and then slapped his forehead and dragged his hand down his face. "Jesus H. Christ, Bella! Do you have a fuckin' vampire magnet in your ass?"

In a flash, Bella's little fists were propped on her hips, and she scowled darkly at him. "Lookie here, Emmett Dale McCarty. It's not my fault Aro or any of the rest of them knows about me."

He towered over her, but she began poking him right in the middle of his deep blue T-shirt. He held his hands up in surrender and started backing away.

She jabbed him again. "I never had any problems with vampires until I moved to Forks, and Edward thought he was in love with me. Then it seemed the moment I decided I wanted to be a vampire, they started coming out of the freakin' woodwork." She followed him step for step and thumped his broad chest. "Besides, Demetri called Jasper and told us Aro was here. If he hadn't called, they might have caught Rose and Char in the house." She yanked her hand back from his chest and clenched her fists. "And if that goddamn Edward shows up here, after Jasper told him not to, I'm gonna kick his ass! It's his fault Aro knows about me at all!"

As she took another step toward the retreating Emmett, I caught up to her, threw my arms around her, and lifted her up. "Darlin', I'm glad you're not scared anymore, but you need to calm down a little bit. If you get any louder, they might be able to hear us. I'm goin' to put you down now. You're goin' to be all right, right?"

She inhaled deeply through her nose. "Yesssss." She dragged out the word as I set her on her feet. "We need a plan." She spun toward me and motioned for Peter to join us at the back of the Suburban. He wasn't moving fast enough for her, so she zipped toward him, grabbed his wrist, and hauled him back to Emmett and me. "I think they're looking for the house. We give them a little time to get there, then, like in Apocalypse Now, I say we hum Flight of the Valkyries real loud as we're running in and kick their asses." Her bright eyes looked around at all of our stunned faces. "Not that one? How about Darth Vader's theme?"

"The Imperial March?" Peter asked, cocking one eyebrow and folding his arms. His eyes slid to Emmett. "Did you always pick the movies you all watched?"

Emmett frowned at Peter. "Hey, don't try to pin that on me. When Edward wasn't all weepy over some shittilly appropriate and suitable chick flick, our sweet little Bubba was all about the blood and guts."

"Yeah!" Bella's fist shot into the air. "A little action, with some shootin', and some butt kickin'—"

I caught her hand and turned her to face me. "Darlin', you need to get this out of your system. We can't go in there all fired up with guns blazin' even though they came to our place." I smiled as she huffed at me in disappointment. "Aro didn't bring a battalion of fighters with him. He didn't even wait for Felix and Demetri to show up. This tells me he's a little overconfident. He might whip some of that European charm on us while he has Chelsea try to bond us to him. He may have Jane torture one of us while Alec tries to subdue the rest until Demetri and Felix arrive. I have no idea what he's really thinkin', though I suspect he's eager to see if he can read your mind even though he couldn't before. Since you pushed your shield out and let Edward do it, you could probably do it for Aro, too. I'd prefer that you didn't."

Bella sighed and leaned against me. "I could probably put a shield around his mind to keep him from reading other people. If he touches me to read my mind, I could try it." She stepped back from me and reached up to my face. "I could probably do it to Chelsea—keep her from binding anyone else to Aro."

"She's too dangerous, Bubba," Peter said lowly. Over Bella's head, he caught my quick nod, and he continued. "Covertly dangerous. At least with Felix, you know what you're up against. Demetri might be able to find people, but he still has to fight. Chelsea's sneaky and made slaves out of all those vampires, including your buddy Felix who would have stayed there anyway. You know Aro's told her to try it on you or Jasper."

Emmett's darkened eyes were fixed on mine as he thumped Bella's back. "Pete's right, Bells. If vampires want to work for the Volturi, they should do it because they want to, not because she made them want to. We don't even know if you can block her power like that."

Bella covered her face with her hands and pressed her face into my chest. "They won't hurt any of you. I won't let them." She began to tremble. "We have to kill them all. I could knock them all down, and then we could rip them apart."

My hands slid around her, and I held her tightly, my fingers spreading over her back. "We don't have to kill them all. Bella, listen." I pulled her right hand from her face and tipped her head up to look into my eyes. "We don't have to kill them all," I repeated softly. "The Volturi serve a purpose. I don't believe they are as evil as Edward tried to make you believe. They're like police in a way. If vampires fuck up, they go in and clean them out. They're good at it. I sure as hell don't agree with all their tactics, but not so long ago, I wasn't any better. In some ways, I was worse."

Bella's eyes began to shine with venom. "Oh, Jasper—"

"We can't deny the truth."

She sniffed, and her eyes were filled with sadness. "But, Jasper, you're not like them."

"Like I said, in some ways I was worse. I didn't leave any survivors." Sighing, I ran my fingers over her silky hair. We didn't leave any survivors except the occasional, mutilated vampire we set free to spread the word about trespassing into Maria's territory. "I still don't think we need to kill them all. They have to be powerful enough to put a little fear into beings that aren't usually afraid of anything."

She sagged against me. "Victoria wasn't afraid of them." Her voice was barely a whisper.

"But she was. She hid her identity from all those newborns she'd made. She set Riley up to take the fall if they were discovered. The only reason to do that was she knew enough about the Volturi to try and keep them from coming after her."

Bella nodded and looked up at me again, worry etching her face. "So, you think they need Jane and Alec as their big guns?"

"I do." My fingers traced lightly over her cheek and jaw. "Unless they refuse to see reason." I pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Hang on a minute while I look for them."

As he always had, Peter watched me, his face tense as I concentrated on sensing where the others might be. I started to think it would be nice to have Demetri's ability to pinpoint where others were. All I could tell was Charlotte and Rosalie were north of the larger group. I thought Aro and his guards were near the house. I couldn't tell how close they were to it, but the feeling of exhilaration coming from them was hard to mistake. Someone was very pleased and it nearly covered the others' anxiety and anticipation.

"Charlotte and Rose are north near that pond where you left clothes for me and Bella, I think. They're both afraid, but they aren't panicking. I think the others found the house." Peter and Emmett's relief was palpable—their mates weren't with the Volturi.

Emmett nervously bumped his fist in the palm of his other hand. "So, where do we go first?"

"We're going to get your mates and then see what Aro's doing at my house."

.

-oOoOo-

After running silently toward the northwest, staying in the trees and keeping the mountain peak between us and the house, we turned to the north and then northeast to reach Bella's pond. I could feel our coven-mates' increasing anxiety and impatience. Not wanting Charlotte and Rosalie to attack us, I sent them a thick wave of courage and reassurance as we crept closer. At first, Rosalie was alarmed, but Charlotte radiated relief as she dropped out of the trees beyond the north bank of the pond and rushed toward Peter. Rosalie was right behind her and launched herself at Emmett.

Bella was practically vibrating in her eagerness to see them. When they finished the kisses and whispered exclamations with their men, both ladies pulled away from them and raised their arms toward Bella, knowing she would want to get her hands on them.

She sprinted toward them, grabbing them both together in a frantic hug. "Oh! Oh, I was worried about you, but Jasper said you got out of the house, and you'd be all right because you would go north away from them, and Charlotte could handle herself, and—"

"What, and I can't?" Rosalie asked with a crooked smile. "Remember, Bella, we are …"

"Wolverines?" Bella asked sheepishly.

"Not exactly, but we'll go with it." Rosalie laughed and rubbed her shoulder.

"I have to make sure you all are shielded. It has to work because nobody hurts my vampires!" Bella put a hand on each of their cheeks and closed her eyes. "If Jane attacks you, I don't know what I'd do!"

"Well, you could slam her face in the dirt and make her stop it like you did to Peter." Charlotte squeezed her arm and tried to catch her eye. "Bella! It'll be okay, sugar."

"But Chelsea might try to break us up! Jasper, Em, Peter, c'mere!"

She was quivering with agitation as I neared her. She released Charlotte and Rosalie, and then she latched onto me like a squid around a clam.

"Bella, take it easy. Bella!" I held her head and made her look up at me.

"What?"

"That's a little tight, Darlin'." I didn't need her cracking my ribs before we went up against five other vampires.

"I'm sorry!" Her wide eyes stared up at me for a second before she twisted around to reach for Peter's hand on Charlotte's shoulder.

Emmett shifted in behind Rosalie, and like before, plopped his huge hand on top of Bella's head. "What is it with you and the group hugs, Bells?"

"Not that I mind gettin' my hands on the ladies …" Peter arched an eyebrow, peering down at Bella. "But she is starting to damage my calm."

Bella blinked in surprise, snorted, and burst out with a chiming laugh.

Shooting a warning look at Peter's gleeful face, I reached around and put my left hand over Bella's mouth, stepping even closer to her. "Shh, Darlin'. Not so loud." Gathering what tranquility I could, I shared it with her, hoping it would have some effect. Since everyone was in contact with everyone else, it might help take the edge off of everyone's nerves. "Take a deep breath. Emmett, get your hand off her head. Thank you."

Bella released a long breath as I pulled my fingers from over her mouth and slid my hand down her neck.

I kissed the crown of her head. "My plan is to approach the house from the north and try to determine where they are. I think they're all together. Bella, stay behind me. Once we spot them and see what they're doing, I'll go into the clearing first, see how they react, and ask Aro what he's doing in my territory."

Rosalie chuckled. "Well, what you plan and what takes place ain't ever exactly been similar."

Emmett started to snicker and pulled Rosalie even more tightly into his side, planting a loud kiss on her cheek. Bella slapped her hand over her own mouth to cover another amused snort. The rest of them weren't helping very much, but at least she was trying to be quiet.

I narrowed my eyes at Rosalie and tugged Bella's back into my chest, taking hold of her hands and crossing her arms over her body. "Demetri told me Renata is always right next to Aro. She's five foot tall and has black hair. Chelsea's five foot three, her hair is medium brown, and it's about as long as Rosalie's. We know Jane is a petite blonde and Alec is the only other male. We all know what Aro looks like from Carlisle's painting. Keep your eyes on all of them. If any of you notice anything, let me know. Phones off. "

Then it struck me what a stupid motherfucker I was. I had never asked Demetri if Chelsea had a limit to her range of influence. All he had said was she needed to be in the presence of someone to affect them. I shoved that miniscule bit of alarm away before Bella caught it.

Peter and Charlotte already knew the procedure. We'd been in many campaigns together and knew how to work as a team, long before there were cell phones to worry about. I hadn't done any such thing with Rosalie and Emmett, and Bella being such a young newborn—she was still an unknown quantity. I had to trust that the protection she had around our minds would hold. Her shield had sheltered all of us from Demetri—I would hope it would also inhibit Chelsea from tying any of us to Aro or breaking our bonds to each other.

"Phones off?" Bella asked.

"We don't need to take a chance on them making noise while we're moving in."

She nodded quickly. "Oh, yeah. Stealth mode. Got it."

Placing my phone in my pocket, I turned Bella to face me and placed my hands on either side of her beautiful face. Her anxiety was ratcheting up again, and if I thought I could convince her to stay back in the woods, I would have done it. I might be a stupid asshole, but I wasn't stupid enough to think that would happen. I knew she would be right beside me. The thought did send a swell of pride and love through me. Along with a trickle of worry that if worse came to worse, she would be right there in the thick of it and could be hurt. "We didn't know it at the time, but when Demetri showed up, you had shields around all of our minds, and he couldn't catch our … signals. Your shield kept Jane from hurting you when you were human. It's only gotten stronger since you became a vampire. But if things should go south, we'll handle whatever happens."

"We'll take care of each other. We'll protect our coven," she whispered to me, grasping my wrists.

I could feel her determination growing. "We will." I bent to kiss her. "Remember. This is our territory—our home."

Emmett clapped his hands together, his eyes lighting up with anticipation. "Shiny! Let's be bad guys."

.

-oOoOo-

From our hidden vantage point in the woods, I studied our five visitors.

Seemingly at ease in his perfectly tailored black suit, Aro was seated on one of the wooden rocking chairs to the left of the front door. His legs were crossed, his hands rested on the curved arms of the rocker, and a hint of a smile played about his mouth.

His personal guard, Renata, was standing, not-so-at-ease, just behind his right shoulder, and the other female, Chelsea, was at his left shoulder. As Demetri had said, they were both dressed in deep black robes that brushed the floorboards of the porch. I had to admit he looked rather regal even in an old, white-painted, wooden rocker.

The slight Witch Twins, dressed in charcoal grey robes, were standing together directly in front of the door, their hands clasped in front of them. Alec's hair was much darker than Jane's, and he was just a bit taller. It was hard to imagine that such small vampires could be so notoriously powerful.

Those robes would be more of a hindrance than a help in a fight.

All I could think was they seemed much too sure of themselves, and I couldn't suppress the smirk. They were too used to intimidating everyone with their militaristic manner and props. I had to remind myself to guard against my own cockiness. The Volturi had won many conflicts over the centuries.

Aro turned slowly toward the twins and spoke, bringing his left hand up, his index finger touching his chin.

Jane replied to him, bowing her head.

Underneath his calm exterior, Aro was quite excited and bursting with eagerness.

It was a wonder Renata hadn't fainted from her fear. She clung to Aro's shoulder as if it were a lifeline.

Chelsea was so confident, it radiated from her, and a flash of anger passed through me, followed quickly by a slim ribbon of relief. She hadn't bound Bella, Alice, and Edward to Aro when they had been in Italy, but her haughty look and self-assurance made me think she would attempt it as soon as she could. Briefly, I wondered if I would be able to feel it.

The twins were alert, their eyes constantly moving along the tree line, but one of them was annoyed—I just couldn't tell which one it was. If I were a betting man, I'd have to say the irritated one was Jane. Her attempt to hurt Bella before had been thwarted.

The moon had risen quite a bit, and the Volturi were in deep shadow on the porch, but I had no trouble seeing the vivid red of their eyes or the glint from the rubies adorning the Volturi crests each of the guards wore. Aro had no such need. The simple ruby stick pin in his black silk tie seemed sufficient.

From our cover amongst the trees, I glanced at each of my coven-mates. They were tense, but I detected only a trace of fear. Even Bella didn't seem to be frightened any longer, but her sense of possessive protection was a thick cloud around her. I hoped she didn't become jealous of the females. I didn't particularly want her leaping at any of them. I couldn't help noticing that the sight of the two new males added a jolt to my own wariness, but, for once, my jealousy wasn't ignited. I guess I wasn't worried about them being rivals.

Bella was to my left, and I brushed my fingers along her arm, sending her my love.

She smiled at me and moved to whisper in my ear. "I swear Aro was wearing that same suit the first time I saw him. I recognize Alec and Jane, but I don't even remember the other two."

"All black suits kind of look alike, and that's okay, Darlin'. We know who the others are."

"Arrogant fuckers, sittin' on our porch," Peter mumbled in my right ear. "That Chelsea is lookin' mighty damn sure of herself."

I had to agree with him because she was also feeling rather superior. Glancing at Peter from the corner of my eye, I nodded. "Then she'll make a mistake."

Not that I hadn't made enough of my own.

The edge of his mouth lifted as one eyebrow began to rise. He returned my nod.

From my left, I heard Emmett hiss, "May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't."

I agreed wholeheartedly. Squeezing Bella's hand, I asked her, "Ready?"

She gulped and peered up at me. "Yeah. I'm ready to find out what they're doing on our porch. At least they aren't sitting in our living room. That would be rude."

More silent than the night around us, I rose from my position behind a thick pine and started toward the clearing. Bella moved to my right side, working her left hand up under my shirt and placing it on the small of my back. Her steps were as quiet as my own.

We were about ten feet beyond the edge of the forest before Aro's head snapped around in our direction. A smile broke over his face, and he stood, bringing his hands together.

"Dear ones, it appears our patience is to be rewarded," he said cheerfully.

Leading the others, Aro glided across the porch and down the four steps toward us. "Ahh, Major Whitlock, do forgive us for taking the liberty of enjoying the view from your porch while we awaited your return. I've been quite keen to make your acquaintance."

No doubt he was. He knew about my history in the Southern Vampire Wars, and Demetri had told him Bella was with me. He was playing it well; addressing me before focusing his attention on Bella.

About five yards in front of the house, Aro came to a smooth halt, clasping his hands in front of him, while the others fanned out around him; except for his shield Renata. She maintained her position behind him and just to his right, her hand on his back.

Alec and Jane had moved to his left, while Chelsea took the right. If Felix and Demetri had been there, I wondered where they would be standing.

Who would they be standing with?

On a hunch, I stopped about thirty feet from them, Bella staying just behind me, the fingers of her right hand curling around my arm above my elbow. She pressed her body against mine and peeked around my arm. She'd done that practically since she had awakened, and I found it to be comforting.

Keeping my voice low, I asked, "Aro, what brings you and your guards to my home?"

His gaze traveled slowly over me, pausing at the visible scars on my arms and neck. That inspection was no different than any other vampire who hadn't met me before, except Aro displayed no distress at the sight of them. His pleasant expression didn't change until his eyes landed on Bella and remained there. His eyes lit up with pleasure, and his curiosity and anticipation grew as his small smile spread.

"As I'm sure you are aware, Major Whitlock, your young coven-mate, Edward—"

"He is not my coven-mate."

Aro's eyebrows rose, and he bent his head in an abbreviated bow. "Please excuse my error as I was under the impression you were part of my old friend Carlisle's coven."

I put my hand over Bella's fingers on my arm and tipped my head toward her. "My mate and I are not part of that coven." He was fishing for information. I would give him that much and let him know about my claim over Bella while I was at it.

"Yes, of course. I see." Aro smiled again and raised a hand, fanning out his fingers. "After his … little indiscretion, young Edward was permitted to leave Volterra when I was assured Isabella would become an immortal. The thoughts of the seer were simply … fascinating." Aro brought one finger to his lips. "I am quite pleased to see this has come to pass, although …" he raised his head and his eyes flicked between Bella and me "… Edward's thoughts were adamantly against it. I found that to be quite puzzling since he was so insistent that the lovely Isabella was his mate."

At Aro's words about her being Edward's mate, Bella flinched and pressed herself more firmly against me. I could feel her instant of anger, but she quickly suppressed it.

I rubbed Bella's hand and murmured to her, "You're doin' good. I love you." To Aro I said, "Edward was mistaken."

While Aro was speaking, Chelsea slithered forward a few steps, a look of consternation on her face. I felt nothing different, other than her frustration. She must have been attempting to use her power on us and it wasn't working. Perhaps there was a limit to her range, and she was trying to get closer to us.

Peter and Charlotte came up on my right while Emmett and Rosalie joined us on my left.

"Rosalie Hale and Emmett McCarty." Aro smiled knowingly, and his fingers wove together in front of his chest. "Members of the Olympic Coven come to visit the newborn Isabella?"

"No," I answered him levelly. "They are part of my coven."

At the others' approach, both Jane and Alec shifted uneasily, their eyes studying Peter and Charlotte.

Aro extended his left hand toward them. "Peace, dear ones. It is natural that coven membership fluctuates and evolves over time." He gestured toward Peter and Charlotte. "And it would seem that not only has Major Whitlock welcomed members of his previous coven, he has also been joined by his former compatriots."

Oddly, Charlotte took a small step forward. "Charlotte and Peter Whitlock."

Why had she moved forward, and why had she told Aro their names?

I soon found out why.

As she spoke, drawing the vampires' attention to her, Peter's left hand on his belt shifted, and he pointed his index finger to our left. At the same time, Bella's fingers were digging into my arm and my back, and she was staring directly at Chelsea.

"She's doing it," Bella hissed. "I feel it." Bella released my arm and shouted, "She's trying to take you. I feel it!"

Her blast of rage fed my own. As one, we leapt forward. In my peripheral vision, I saw Peter and Charlotte hurtling toward Alec and Jane. Somewhere in my brain, it registered that neither of them dropped to the ground in agony.

Chelsea had taken another step forward, and her deep red eyes were staring fixedly at me. She was so absorbed in her mission; she didn't react quickly enough to the imminent threat.

It was her last mistake.

Even if she had responded more quickly, it wouldn't have done her any good. The little female's eyes flew open with panic, and she twisted around to run. She didn't make it very far. She crumpled against an invisible wall. My magnificent mate had trapped the devious guard within her shield. She couldn't escape.

"Master!" Chelsea shrieked as she bounced back; right into my waiting hands. She spun to face me, and my right hand closed over her throat and my left clamped down on her shoulder.

Roaring, I wrenched her apart, ripping her head from her neck and her right arm from her shoulder. I slammed her head to the ground and backhanded her falling body, sending her limp torso toward the house.

Bella's rippling snarl joined my roar. While I was separating Chelsea's head from her body, Bella was a blur as she tore Renata away from the incredulous Aro. She hurled her to the ground and pounced on her. "Don't move, or I'll rip your head off." She straddled Renata's hips and roughly slapped her hand down on the middle of the little vampire's back.

While Aro gaped at Bella, Emmett and Rosalie were on him.

Wisely, Aro didn't offer any resistance when Emmett's huge right hand went around his throat and his left caught Aro's right wrist. Rosalie had both her hands on Aro's left forearm, and she held it out away from his body.

Emmett lifted him enough that only his toes were in contact with the ground.

"Don't even try to kick me," Emmett warned him.

Peter easily subdued Jane, and his long fingers were around her neck, holding her up off the ground. Cracks were radiating up her jaw and into her face from the pressure of his grip. She was clawing at his hands until he snarled and shook her like a rag doll.

Charlotte came down in front of Alec, sweeping his hands away with her left hand as her right fist crashed down onto his skull, knocking him face first onto the ground. She stomped on his back as she jerked his arms up. If he moved, she would rip them both away.

I felt a surge of lust and looked to my mate. "Bella?" Apparently, my beloved liked it when I ripped other vampires apart.

It was neither the time nor the place.

"Jasssper," she hissed, her eyes blinking rapidly as she tried to control herself. "She was trying to tie us to Aro or break us all up! We gotta burn that bitch," she said with a low growl, her teeth bared. She jumped to her feet, stared down at the quivering Renata, and pointed at her face. "You don't move."

Bella leapt to Chelsea's body, flipped it onto its back, and snarled again in anger. She searched over the ground and picked something up. A thick, gold chain dangled from her hand.

It was Chelsea's Volturi crest. Bella tossed it toward Aro, and the heavy, golden V bounced on the sparse grass at his feet. "Nobody attacks my mate," she said to him, her voice rough.

I kicked the disembodied head closer to the arm and looked again to Bella.

Panting with her rage, Bella's black eyes looked up at mine. "Do you want to take her to the fire pit or burn her here?"

My eyes moved slowly to Aro. "Here is fine, Darlin', but we should move her away from the house. Vampire fires get pretty hot."

Before I could move, Bella grabbed the female's remaining twitching arm, dragged her toward me, and let go, dropping the body on the other parts, and letting the still-attached arm flop over the torso.

"She has a mate," Aro's voice rasped out. He wasn't able to speak any louder because of the grip Emmett had on his throat.

Was he asking me to show mercy to the vampire who tried to enslave me and my mate to him? "I'll ship him the ashes." I held my hand out to Bella, and she was instantly at my side, taking turns glaring down at Chelsea's body and up to Aro. "Or did you want to deliver them personally?"

Aro didn't have anything to say to that.

I backed away from the headless guard and pulled my lighter from my pocket. I knew Bella wouldn't let go of me so I didn't want to get too close to the body. As I rolled the striker to spark a flame, I realized I only had one other and would have to order more. I lobbed the lighter toward the venom leaking from Chelsea's neck and watched as the flames began to spread. It would take longer for her to burn because she hadn't been torn to pieces, but I really didn't give a shit.

It was then I realized I wasn't picking up the full force of everyone's emotions. I bent to Bella's ear and whispered, "You shielded us? I can't feel anyone but you."

Peering up at me, she reached up and put her lips to my left ear. "Yes. The shield's stronger around us—our coven. But not the physical one. I'm afraid to let go. What if Jane hurts Peter?"

"Then I'll crush her fucking head. She can only hit one at a time. Ease up on it so I can feel them or knock them down if I need to." My eyes went to Peter, who was still holding the little blonde off the ground. I stroked Bella's head, hoping he took it as a message to prepare himself, just in case.

He winked at me.

Bella let out a slow breath, and I was inundated with a jumbled mass of panic, amazement, fear, envy, anger, uncertainty, bewilderment, determination, and protectiveness. But Peter didn't fall to the ground.

I pushed back against it all and focused on Aro. He wasn't as disturbed about losing one of his top guards as I thought he would be. There was a strange mix of regret, guardedness, and a touch of fear. What puzzled me most was the slice of relief cutting through it all. Could he have been glad to be rid of her?

Catching the eye of each member of my coven, I raised my head. "Let them go."

Gathering her robes, Renata scurried toward Aro as Emmett and Rosalie released him and moved to stand guard behind him. Charlotte leapt away from Alec and was busily wiping her hands off on her jeans, a look of distaste on her face.

Then there was Peter. He lifted Jane even higher, let go of her neck, and jumped backwards, landing right next to his wife.

He never had been fond of Jane.

She dropped to the ground like a rock, landed on her ass and just sat there, stunned for a moment. Alec was growling and on his feet in a crouch when Jane let loose a furious shriek, scrambled to her feet, flipping her damn cloak out of her way. She and her brother both rocketed toward Peter.

I hit them both with a paralyzing blast of terror. A few yards in front of Charlotte and Peter, the twins struck the ground screaming, their hands clutching at their heads, as each of them curled into tight, little, charcoal grey balls.

As his dear ones howled in fear and dread, Aro's eyes met mine. "Are they in pain?"

He was actually concerned about them, but he made no move to try and stop me. "No. Fear."

Bella shifted against my left side, her arms squeezing my waist, and her hands digging into me. No one else would have heard it through the vampires' shrieks and cries, but when Bella whimpered with sympathy for them, I shifted my assault to the old standby of lethargy and utter apathy. The twins gasped and their rigid bodies seemed to almost melt as their quivering muscles instantly relaxed.

Aro's shoulders had tensed and inched up as he helplessly watched his little guards scream and writhe. When their bodies went limp, a breath whooshed out of him, and his shoulders dropped.

"Aro, I believe we have much to discuss. Have a seat." I gestured toward the porch, turning nearly all of my attention to him.

He hesitated only a moment before he inclined his head, lowered his eyes, and walked smoothly toward the house, Renata close behind.

They had to realize that the tiny female wasn't safe-guarding him—at least not against us—but the habit was so ingrained in her to protect her master; she couldn't seem to help herself.

When Aro's foot touched the first step of the porch, I heard stereo growls behind me. Bella twisted away from my left side, crouched, and snarled deeply. Alec and Jane had vaulted from the ground and were flying right toward us.

They slammed into Bella's shield. When they hit the ground spread-eagled on their backs, Bella actually beat me to them. Her growl rumbled through her chest as she kneeled on the ground between them, her right hand on Jane's throat, her left on Alec's.

"I said …" she shoved their heads a little deeper into the ground "… nobody attacks my mate!"

Charlotte and Peter hadn't moved. It was like they had been waiting to see what would happen. They were standing just beyond Bella and the powerless guards, smirks on each of their faces. They enjoyed watching Bella handle the pissed off pint-sized vampires as much as I did.

Charlotte crossed her arms, jutted out a hip, and looked down her nose at them. "For bein' so old, both of ya'll are pretty damn stupid."

"They're not used to gettin' their asses beat—especially by a newborn." Then he chuckled deeply. "Or by anyone." He grinned at Bella and hooked his thumbs in his pockets. "It's like they're learnin' shit, huh, Bubba?"

"They need to learn a little faster." I moved closer to Bella's left side. Peter and Charlotte couldn't get through the barrier, but, once again, I went right through without a problem.

She must have been holding them down with her shield also. Neither one of them had tried to punch or claw her.

I crouched down beside her and peered into her face. Her eyes were a glittering black, her teeth were bared, and venom was dripping down her chin. She was ferocious and beautiful, and the siblings were trembling with fear.

During their long lives, they must have seen how newborns behaved. Without the use of their powers, they should have been terrified. They were lucky Bella hadn't bitten them, though if she gripped their throats any tighter she might just pop their heads off.

Reaching to place my hand lightly on Bella's shoulder, I whispered to her, "Darlin', let me and Peter have 'em."

She jerked them both up to a sitting position and took in a deep breath, closing her eyes. She was struggling to calm herself so she wouldn't tear them apart.

"It's okay, Darlin'. Peter and I will hold them. Just let them go."

"In a sec." Bella nodded her head, slowly opened her black eyes, and studied each of them. As she blew out a breath, her fury disappeared and her compassion and sympathy returned. The stiff, angry lines of her face softened.

Her eyes flicked quickly from Alec, to Peter and back to Alec. As she released her grip on the young-looking male, Peter bent down, clamped his hands on Alec's arms, and snatched him away.

Gently placing her hand on Jane's cheek and speaking softly, Bella said, "You have your whole death ahead of you, Jane. Don't make us take it away."

Jane flinched when Bella reached for her hand and cautiously rose from the ground, drawing the little blonde up with her. "We don't want to hurt you. You can't affect us with your power. Alec can't either. You know this." Bella slowly shook her head and grasped both of Jane's hands. "You know we could have torn you both apart. Jasper, Peter, and Charlotte are very good fighters. You can see that. I know you and Alec were nervous when they came out of the woods and you could see their scars. Without your power, you don't stand a chance against them. Oh, for future reference, you don't scream and leap. You just, ya know, leap."

"How … how did you do that?" Jane's eyes were still dull black with her fear.

"You also know when I was human I had a shield around my mind. After I became a vampire, I put shields around my coven-mates' minds to protect them. I could do the same for you and your brother. Aro wouldn't be able to read your thoughts and memories." Bella cautiously moved her right hand to cover both of Jane's.

Jane's eyes widened, and she drew in a quick breath. She tried to step back, but Bella held firmly onto her hands. "What did you do? I felt it. It's like … it's like a soft blanket around my mind."

Alec began to fight against Peter's hold. "What did you do to my sister?"

Bella turned her head slightly to look at Alec. "I didn't ask if I could, but I put a shield around Jane's mind." Bella stroked Jane's small hands and looked steadily into Alec's eyes. "I could do it for you, too." She guided Jane's hands to mine so that I could hold them, and she stepped around her toward Alec.

When he snarled at her, Peter's hold tightened around him, and Charlotte slapped his head back against Peter's chest and held him there.

"No! No! It's a trick!" Alec shouted as he struggled to break free.

Jane looked at her brother with resignation. "It doesn't cause pain, Alec. It doesn't even feel the same as when Aro touches us."

"We don't know what she's actually doing! She could be enslaving us to them!"

"Enslaving?" I asked. "Is that what you really thought about Chelsea's gift?"

Bella's fingertips touched his cheek, and then she turned back to Jane. "I can take it away if you want. I'm not like Chelsea. It's for protection."

Once again, I felt a burst of pride in my mate. She was brilliant. She had put a shield around the minds of Alec and Jane, covering four of the Volturi's closest and most infamous guards. I was beginning to think she should also shield Aro. Of course, we wouldn't definitively know until they arrived, but I was fairly certain Bella had removed and replaced the shield around Felix's mind while he and Demetri had been in Alaska. Perhaps it was something that could work in our favor.

Jane hadn't moved at all while I held her hands. Her fear had drained away, but she did seem worried about her brother. His own panic was replaced with anger, and though I couldn't blame him for being outraged and mistrustful, I didn't need him trying to attack any of us again. "Charlotte, take Jane. Peter, let me have him."

As soon as my hands were on the small male, and Peter let go, I hit Alec with a dose of submission and enough lethargy to calm him down, but not enough to drop him. "You need to settle down." I took hold of the back of his neck. My eyes flicked back to Jane. "It had been rumored that Aro's closest guards stayed of their own free will. We know that wasn't exactly true." I pushed the nicely sedate Alec toward the house. "Perhaps we should join your master."

I knew Emmett and Rosalie had been keeping an eye on Aro and Renata, not that the short guard was anything to worry about, but she was at his right side as before, her fingertips on his shoulder. Aro was sitting in the rocking chair he had previously been in, and Emmett and Rosalie were flanking them both.

True sadness fell over Aro's face as he watched us walk toward him. "Major Whitlock, are you going to end them as you ended Chelsea?"

I handed Alec back to Peter and came to an abrupt stop as I caught the slightest tickle of someone else's awareness. When I turned my head toward Peter to tell him someone was coming, a snarl ripped through Bella's throat.

Taking advantage of my moment of distraction, Aro had stood up and leapt toward us. His trajectory made it appear as if he was aiming at me. Bella was faster. She sprang from the ground; her right hand clamping down on Aro's left wrist and spinning him as she gained height. As he twisted in the air, he swung his right arm around to capture her, but she grabbed his bicep, and I caught his right forearm with my left hand. Faster than lightning, Bella's teeth were in his throat. My right hand shot out to force his jaw shut, and when we crashed to the ground, I shoved his head deeper into the dirt.

Emmett roared behind us. Aro's entire body shuddered in pain as Emmett tore away his left foot and flung it toward the parking area north of the house, before he dropped into a deep squat and held Aro's legs down.

Alec and Jane's screams and threats were suddenly silenced when Peter and Charlotte wrenched their heads off and let their bodies slump to the ground.

Their terror and agony was a battering ram against me and then, as quickly as it had started, it stopped. I couldn't tell if Bella was shielding me or blocking them.

Her furious growls filled the night as I quickly checked over her and my coven. They were all okay. Renata was the only Volturi who hadn't had any appendages ripped off. Rosalie held her with arms like steel bands. The black-haired female was sobbing as she stared at her master flat on his back on the ground, covered with vampires.

"Charlotte. Peter. Someone's coming." I spread my fingers across the side of Aro's head and squeezed when I realized he was growling, too. Closing my eyes, I forced my senses outward. Bella was blocking the twins—not me.

To the east, there were two beings. I picked up alertness, dismay, anticipation, worry, fear, protectiveness, vigilance, urgency. "From the east. I think it's Demetri and Felix. They're moving fast." I looked over my shoulder toward Rosalie. "Renata, be quiet. Rose, if you think you need to, rip her head off so she doesn't make any noise."

Peter and Charlotte bounded to the porch roof and flattened themselves against the siding on either side of the center window, waiting for our next visitors.

I was reasonably sure Felix and Demetri would be joining us shortly; it was uncertain how they would react to seeing their helpless king maimed and on the ground, regardless of what attachment Demetri might feel for my mate.

Then there was the little matter of Bella pumping her venom into Aro. The jealousy that was formerly absent, decided to make an appearance. I shoved it aside.

"Bella," I said firmly.

She stopped growling.

"Stop biting him. We'll hold him down."

She started growling again, and I felt the vibrations through my contact with Aro. I released his face and began stroking Bella's hair and running my fingers down her back. I didn't want to force calm on her. sShe needed to be alert, and it might piss her off again. "Bella, I'm okay. Everyone is okay. We'll hold him."

She snatched her teeth from his neck, but kept hold of his left wrist and sat back on her heels beside me at Aro's right side. "He was aiming right for you, Jasper!" She dragged her right sleeve across her mouth and slapped her hand back down on Aro's arm.

As soon as she moved her head, I had hold of his throat. "I think that was to distract you."

For once, Emmett didn't make a comment about Bella biting everybody.

I felt Aro's Adam's apple move as he tried to swallow the venom flooding his mouth. He spoke with a strained voice. "Your mate has exceptional control for a newborn, Major. She listens well."

Bella glared at him. "Gee, thanks."

Aro's dark red eyes shifted to her. "That was not meant as a backhanded compliment, Isabella. I've seen quite a few newborns, and your control is quite good. You realize, of course, it's because you found your mate as soon as you awoke. It is rare, but when it does occur, it has quite an effect on a newborn's temperament." A slight frown crossed his face. "I was unable to read your coven-mates, and I am unable to read either you or your mate."

"That's because I have shields over them." Bella huffed. "I don't feel like I'm in control." She glowered at him. "To answer your question, before you so rudely jumped off our porch, we don't want to kill Jane and Alec. Jasper said you needed them."

I spread my fingers over his jaw and cheek to turn him to face me. "You're concerned about them, but you don't seem very upset about the loss of Chelsea." I sent a mixture of honesty and compliance to him. Bella would feel it, but I really didn't have to worry about her being truthful.

"To be perfectly honest, Major, regardless of your subtle influence …" The corners of Aro's mouth turned up slightly. "Chelsea, though useful, had become … too big for her britches, as you Americans say. Over the last few centuries, her demands were becoming more onerous."

So, Aro could feel it when I pushed a bit at him. "But you had her bind the members of your coven and guard to you."

"It seemed the more expedient way of encouraging others to join us and remain loyal to our noble cause."

Emmett snorted. "Noble cause, my ass. It was how you got vampires with gifts to join you and stay even if they didn't want to."

Emmett was obviously feeling my influence also. Not that he normally had a problem with speaking the truth either.

"Shh. Listen." I could just make out rushing footsteps coming closer.

Demetri and Felix darted around the north side of the house and skidded to a stop. They both looked to the smoking remains and the headless bodies of their comrades before they turned their eyes to Bella, Aro, Emmett and me.

Felix's expression didn't change, but I felt a definite wave of satisfaction and humor from him.

Demetri pissed me off. His eyes were trained on Bella, and the surge of love and relief from him was stronger than the blast of exhilaration from Aro.

Bella leaned against me. "The shield is on him."

Aro was puzzled, but I knew what she was talking about. Felix was still covered by her shield. I hoped it meant she had been able to remove and replace it while he had been three thousand miles away. Somehow, I was sure she had done it.

I pressed my head to hers. "Very good, Darlin'."

Then a phone rang. It was coming from Aro's breast pocket.

"May I, Major?" Demetri asked.

Could I trust him? If it wasn't answered, would the caller assume Aro was busy or in trouble? We didn't have time to debate it. I nodded at Demetri, deciding I would take him at his word when he said he wouldn't do anything to hurt Bella. He already knew I could knock him out without touching him. He darted forward, reached around Bella's arm to the inner pocket of Aro's suit coat, plucked out the phone, and backed away from us.

"Demetri here. Master Aro is indisposed. May I help you?" His eyebrows went up. "Which guard? Afton?" Demetri's gaze moved to the smoldering ashes out in the yard. "If Master Caius directed you to capture and dispose of him, why was this not done?" Demetri's eyes fell to Aro. "Master Aro is in negotiations and is in good hands. It would be inadvisable to disturb him." His brow furrowed as he listened to the voice on the phone. "Dispose of Afton, quickly, before any more of the guard are dismembered or he breaks free and leaves the castle. I will inform Master Aro." He snapped the phone shut and put it in the front pocket of his charcoal grey slacks.

Aro's exhilaration plummeted to despair in the space of a human's heartbeat, and the hopeful expression fell from his face.

Emmett began to chuckle. "A little chaos in the castle?"

Bella glared at him and turned back to Demetri. "What happened?"

"Inexplicably, Afton became enraged and fled through the castle, attacking other guardsmen and some of the servants. They managed to surround him before he made his way outside." He glanced from Bella to the ashes and back. "Perhaps it is not so incomprehensible. Afton was Chelsea's mate."

"I'm sorry about her mate, but we had to kill her, Demetri. She was staring right at Jasper and trying to do something to him. I could feel it. I couldn't let her do that. He's mine." Bella's jaw clenched with a resurgence of anger and possessiveness. "As long as she was alive …"

"Bella, I understand," Demetri said softly.

She forced down her anger and shook her head before speaking. "Was she a friend of yours?"

Felix walked forward and stopped a few feet away from us. "Not especially," he said in a flat voice.

Aro cleared his throat. "Might I assume Bella has also placed shields around the minds of my captain and his lieutenant?"

My eyes snapped to his. "You assume rightly."

Bella bumped me with her shoulder. "What do we do with him? Keep him on the ground?"

I smiled at my mate before returning a hard gaze to Aro. "As a show of good faith, I think we should give Aro his foot back. Shall we return to the porch to begin our negotiations?"

Peter and Charlotte leapt from the porch roof and landed silently behind the male guards.

Peter dusted his hands and grinned down at Aro. "We won't be needin' to ship Chelsea's ashes back to Italy, I reckon."

Charlotte patted his arm. "After they cool down, we'll get 'em swept up. Maybe spread 'em around our border, along with the ashes from that red-headed bitch."

After Felix retrieved and reattached his foot, Aro was back in his rocking chair, Renata huddling just behind his right shoulder, and Felix and Demetri were out in the yard, standing over the twins as the tissue of their necks knitted back together.

With Bella snuggling against my right side, her emotions flipping between wariness and guardedness, with the occasional spike of lust where her fingers would caress my back and my stomach, I held her right hand down against my belly as I leaned back on the porch rail directly in front of Aro. His anxiety clearly showed he was unhappy about the fact I wasn't concerned about his guards being behind us. Bella trusted Felix and Demetri, and I would trust her.

Still in pain from Bella's bite and the reattachment of his foot, Aro nervously glanced to Emmett and Rosalie to my left at the north end of the porch, and then to Peter and Charlotte stationed to my right at the other end. "I believe the ball is in your court, Major."

..


"You're a diamond stone, overthrowing kings" ~ from "When You Gonna Run" by Alpha Rev from the album Bloom.

"Wolverines!" ~ battle cry from the original Red Dawn movie with Patrick Swayze.

"She is starting to damage my calm." ~ Jayne Cobb about River Tam in Serenity, the Firefly movie.

"Well, what you plan and what takes place ain't ever exactly been similar." ~ Jayne Cobb to Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Serenity, the Firefly movie.

"Shiny. Let's be bad guys." ~ Jayne Cobb in Serenity, the Firefly movie.

"May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't." ~ General George S. Patton.

"You know this." A little shout-out to BetterinTexas.

"Scream and leap" ~ the primary mode of attack by sci-fi author Larry Niven's large, tiger-like aliens, known as Kzinti (plural) or Kzin (singular) in his "Known Space" series of stories, books, and the extensive group of books written by guest authors in the Man-Kzin Wars collection.

..