Brady tried not to look guilty while he waited for Addy and the witch she was bringing. He was thirteen, five years below Italy's minimum driving age, and even though he knew perfectly well how to drive, the license in his pocket was a forgery claiming that he was as old as he looked. Stop it, he told himself. Of all things you're guilting yourself over a fake ID? Honestly. They would've sent someone older to pick 'em up if they had a reason to, and all the IDs are fake. He looked at the clock on the dashboard. Either the flight was a bit late or the witch was giving Addy trouble. The latter seemed likely. A helpful witch with the power Brady had heard described wouldn't even need a ride to the compound. She and Addy could just walk wherever through the "hiding place" (how weird was that?) without anybody seeing them. An unhelpful witch with the same power needed to be dragged into the back of a van (that didn't sound sinister at all...) so Addy could focus on keeping her contained.
Brady decided, as he waited, that he didn't like the airport pickup job. The Volturi were still experimenting with what roles suited the wolves, as they'd never had any before and had suddenly come into rather a lot of them. Brady thought it was a little sad that the wolf ability to go about unnoticed in daylight had meant that the Volturi no longer needed to employ any humans, given what terminating such employment meant, but he tried not to dwell on it. They did have to eat. We're the good guys, he told himself, more emphasis on "we" than "good".
He heard the back of the van open, and slam, and Addy's voice say, "Home, please, thank you." Someone else was sobbing and making intermittent pleas in what Brady thought might be Spanish. Actually, he was pretty sure it was Spanish. The witch was from Mexico. Addy talked to her, much less weepily, in the same language.
Brady started the engine and turned on the GPS. He didn't look around at the vampire or the captive.
It wasn't too long a drive, although he was very careful to stick to the speed limit. He didn't want to get pulled over and find out how his few phrases of Italian - which were "where is the bathroom?", "may I borrow your telephone to call my friends?", and "I only speak English" - fared during a traffic stop. With his fake ID. In a country he'd lived in for about a month and didn't really know his way around. With a vampire and a witch who could disappear in the back of his vehicle.
A traffic stop would be just the thing to demonstrate that it was shaping up to be a really splendid day.
Alec was waiting in the garage when Brady pulled in. It was assumed - if untested - that he'd be able to pacify the witch so Addy could be free to do other things. As far as Brady knew, they were going to try that in the garage, and if it worked, Alec would carry the witch inside, as he was immune to his own power.
Brady hopped out of the driver's seat and slammed the door, nodding respectfully to Alec, who looked older than Brady was and was older than Brady looked, but was still so short by comparison that Brady couldn't help feeling the elder. Still, Alec was formally his superior, if not his commanding officer at any degree of remove.
Addy managed to unlatch the van without losing hold of her prisoner, and emerged with the Mexican woman in hand. They didn't even flicker out of view as Brady had thought they might. Apparently the witch wasn't fighting anymore -
She lifted her head, and black hair fell away to reveal her drawn face, and she looked at Brady.
A storm of clichés presented themselves to describe the situation, but that was for writing bad poetry later. In the moment, the important bit was that the witch (he didn't even know her name, and suddenly that was an intolerable sin, not to know her name) was his imprint, and that made him personally, directly responsible for the miserable expression on her face, which made him a terrible person and he had to fix it immediately.
How was he supposed to do that when he had no idea what she wanted, couldn't speak her language...? She was looking right at him, she seemed vaguely hopeful somehow through the tears, and she said, in intelligible if brief English, "Help?"
Something went clack in the back of his brain as the need in her eyes cut through layers of conditioning like a sword through tissue paper, and of course he knew what she wanted, what "help" meant, Addy had kidnapped her and so she needed rescuing, and he fought through the suffocating guilt to summon up the will to phase.
Addy was surprised, but not - quite - surprised enough to drop the witch. Alec had his lips pressed together, summoning his power to control the situation, but it would take a couple of seconds to work.
Brady surged forward at Addy and sank his teeth into her shoulder, and then she did drop the witch, who disappeared, but to make sure she couldn't be followed, Addy had to be deprived of her power -
Brady flung Addy at Alec. They collided, and Brady distinctly saw Addy's chin hit Alec in the arm below his sleeve. That would be it, then.
The witch was safe in her hiding place and wouldn't trust Addy again. The vampires were both on their feet again, staring at him, taking a moment to figure out what had caused this mutiny, and they'd probably kill him. Brady didn't run. He'd been an accomplice in the girl's abduction to begin with, and as long as she was safe, it wasn't so bad to die for that.
He wished he knew her name, though.
Then, Addy and Alec both disappeared, and the witch girl, eyes far drier, was standing beside him with her fingertips buried in the fur of his shoulder.
"Gracias," she said tentatively, and Brady did know what that meant.
It meant that the world was set more or less right, again.
Siobhan was livid when she realized that the Scots were poaching on her land.
The funny thing was, they might have gotten away with it, if they had been only a little careful. If they'd spread out their kills, or gone for the folks thereabouts who were dying of the runs anyway. But they were blatantly hunting people in clumps. Healthy adults, who Siobhan noticed missing when she passed through familiar villages checking up on the state of her domain, whose neighbors speculated about them in hushed tones, who went missing in groups of five and six and seven at a time like the intruders didn't even know Ireland belonged to her.
She made up her mind that their refined tastes were going to end them.
It didn't take her long to figure out how they were choosing their targets. They were working their way north, keeping coastal, striking about once a month. She fed heavily, farther inland, to keep her head around the humans of the likeliest subsequent village. And then she picked a surveillance point, high up with a view of all access to the settlement, and dug in.
The Scots came a week later, at dusk, in a tight pack of three. The leader was a little dark female who moved like a cat, and there were two males following her. Siobhan watched them approach at a leisurely stroll. Like they owned the place. From the way they walked together and looked around, they were none of them mates, just three singles. That would make it easier to leave one survivor to run home and tell tales. Whatever misinformation had led these infiltrators to believe it was clever to help themselves to her resources needed correction. Badly.
Possibilities twisted through her mind. Three was a challenge. A witch among them was unlikely - would probably have either covered their tracks better or been more blatant still. She could take out the female first, leave the males leaderless, take off one head, destroy the other male while the head watched, toss head and torso both into the ocean to float home, heal (maybe), and tell the story.
She wasn't very worried about the arrogant female leader. Siobhan had seen the catlike gait before, and it was usually a sign of overconfidence - it looked slick and self-assured, but it involved unnecessary motions, wasn't very efficient. Vamipres who walked like that didn't know how to discard style for force in a pinch. If they couldn't beat you with flair they couldn't beat you at all.
Siobhan had forced herself to walk, maneuver, and fight in the most direct (not obvious, that would have gotten her killed - just direct) way possible until she'd beaten five territorial competitors who walked like that, and felt like she'd earned her flowing, smooth motion. She'd cleared out the rest of her island with panache, but the ability to fall back on brutal assaults and sheer power was there if she found a superior foe.
She put her quiet gait to use: as the Scots approached the slumbering village, Siobhan crept perpendicular to their path. She'd intercept them half a mile away from the outermost house if they didn't notice her first - and, as her gait against the ground was quiet and could have belonged to a wild animal, they might not. Not through all the trees. Or they might split up, come at the village from several angles.
They did split, the female carrying on with her straight trajectory and the males fanning out to circle around. One, the smaller of the two males, came directly towards Siobhan. How convenient that she wouldn't have to fight the whole group together.
He walked to within a hundred feet of her, oblivious, and then she was on him and had his arms off and head wrenched from his shoulders in a second, and had made enough racket in so doing to attract the others' attention. The head bounced, and landed facing her, openmouthed in astonishment and staring but unable to cry out.
Siobhan stamped on his spine to shatter his torso into a few extra pieces, rendering it untenable for his covenmates to put him back together during the fight, and charged to meet the approaching female.
This fight was longer. The coven leader did know a few things about where to aim her fists and where to snap her teeth together.
But not enough.
Siobhan dispatched her in four seconds without collecting any scars, wondering where the third invader was. He wasn't reassembling his friend. He wasn't joining the fray. She didn't see him - she wasn't looking that hard, as she'd hear him coming if he got close enough to matter, and needed her eyes against the leader.
When the coven leader was in a heap of a dozen pieces, Siobhan pulled out her little box of lucifer matches and struck one, which she dropped unceremoniously into the pile. It went up instantly, pouring smoke into the night air.
Where was that third fellow? she wondered. Run off without even trying to help his coven?
She looked around, and, yes, there he was, standing roughly between her and the other male...
She hadn't gotten a close look at him from her prior vantage point. But it was plain when she saw him square on that this was the most delectable specimen of male vampiredom in the world, and the fact that she noticed this with such instantaneous certainty was a reasonably good sign that he was her mate. And vice-versa. He was probably a bit slower on the uptake (she'd made sure she kept the possibility in the back of her mind ever since she'd learned how these things worked, but had heard that others could sometimes remain ignorant of their own matings for days or weeks, and typically at least a couple of minutes). He was still too confused about why he didn't want to attack her to do anything at all.
"Name?" she asked casually, tossing her head and smiling.
He gulped, blinking with charming wrongfootedness. "Er - mine? Liam."
"Liam, be a love and help me explain to your friend here - the one not currently on fire - that Ireland belongs to me, and he had best go home and make this fact generally known once he's in one piece, if he cares to be in one piece again." She sidled up to Liam, placed one index finger on his collarbone and traced up his throat to push his head back gently, and leaned down an inch to kiss him. "You, though, I think I'll let stay," she purred.
Ilario approached the park, along with Jacob carrying Elspeth on his shoulders, and ruminated on nothing in particular. He felt like he ought to be more preoccupied than he was with everything afoot. They were plotting rebellion. Gianna and Molly were at home, perhaps safe, but if Adelaide had found them the Volturi could do the same. Somehow it didn't seem real.
Maggie had someone with her. "This is Cath," she said brightly, sweeping her arm towards the taller woman, and Ilario dutifully looked at Cath. Then he looked at her some more. Then he went on looking at her, just to confirm that, yes, the hottest woman in the universe was standing in front of him, bedecked from head to toe in embroidery, carrying a parasol, wearing a clingy sweater that covered her arms all the way down to her fingertips but outlined her shape like that was all it was for, and toying with an auburn corkscrew of hair. With her other hand, she waved.
Stop staring. Stop staring. Stop - Ilario tried to tell himself, but his eyes weren't listening (of course not; they were eyes and not ears) and so he was still gaping at her like an idiot when she'd finished taking her measure of the werewolf and his half-vampire accessory, and turned her attention to Ilario. "Hello," she said.
Girls had hit on Ilario before. He wasn't an unusually gorgeous vampire, but he was a vampire, and pretty tall, plus there were the gold eyes; so women from work and occasionally at random other locations sometimes expressed interest. He'd never returned it. And if he had, he'd have needed to turn them down anyway, for an assortment of safety reasons. But he'd learned the signs.
If he was not very much mistaken, the hottest woman in the world was looking interested. Cath. Cath was interested. All he had to do was not... to borrow a term from Maggie's vocabulary... bollocks it up.
She'd greeted him. That at least authorized him to greet her back, didn't it? There were limited ways available to turn that into a mistake, really. He shouldn't be nervous about just saying hello - "Hello," he said - even when speaking to the hottest woman in the world. He took one step forward, just one, he certainly didn't spring forward to kiss Cath's very inviting smile...
"Fuck," said Maggie, and Ilario knew he had it bad when his first reaction was not why is Maggie upset? or should we be swearing around a five year old?, but rather oh, what a good idea.
Cath did not appear to share this response; she turned to her creation and asked, "What are you on about?"
"Brilliant timing, Cath, just brilliant," Maggie growled. "Couldn't have gotten this out of the way early on, could you..."
Ilario had no idea what Cath had just done which could possibly have been mistimed. If she'd arrived later than she'd agreed to, or something, surely Maggie would have complained earlier...? "Gotten what out of the way?" he asked, content to watch his sister-in-law through his peripheral vision so he could go on drinking in the sight of Cath at the center of his attention. Beautiful. Too beautiful. Too covered in embroidery...
"Aah," said Maggie, obviously not intending to answer his question, "was I this bad?"
Elspeth piped up: "Yes."
Cath was not patient with Maggie's coyness. "What?" she exclaimed. Ilario wracked his brain for what knowledge Maggie and Elspeth might share, that would elude him - and Cath - so handily. Then he found that this process distracted him from imagining Cath with less embroidery on, and stopped.
"Oh, just drag my brother-in-law off somewhere where you can be by yourselves until the others show up," Maggie said grumpily, "and have a shag and talk about your futures and see if you can't solve the bloody Rubik's cube that is the mystery here, just come back with all your clothes on when you hear us welcoming the rest of the gang."
Ilario was pretty sure he knew what "shag" meant colloquially, from hearing random humans say it in context. But Maggie still occasionally demonstrated unfamiliarity with recent idiom, and could be talking about carpet or something even more unrelated to... that... (especially since he expected he could have interpreted any sentence as being germane to the same topic, with Cath standing right there). And he didn't want to make a fool of himself pretending to be able to read the annoyed little vampire's mind when he really wasn't sure, not in front of Cath, so when Cath asked him "Do you know what she's on about?" he said "No."
There was a silence, during which Ilario got in some really quality Cath-gazing, and then she said, "Do you want to go -"
"Yes," he said at once, without even waiting for the end of the sentence, because whatever arcane thing Maggie was using "shag" to mean, he had not misheard or misinterpreted the "be by yourselves" part of her advice, and that sounded like a very, very fine idea.