Charlotte is terrified of the twins.
She knows it’s not a rational thing to be, because they probably didn’t even notice she existed, back in the day, but they’re all tangled up with the big ball of trauma that is Maria and the Southern Wars and when she thinks of them, she thinks of the dumps and of pain and of, well, terror.
But then, a lot of things terrify her. She spends decades afraid of Jasper and then wary, of the coil of darkness that surrounds him, bleeding off so slowly that, some days, she thinks there’s no color left at all under all the darkness.
Finding Swan terrifies her because with her will come so much change. Afterwards, losing her terrifies her even more. Losing Peter. Losing Jasper. Losing what they have and what they are. Losing herself.
She’s terrified of going back South, of having to fight again, of turning to marble and losing the ability to kiss her man. Of breaking Bella, fragile, human Bella and then, in her newborn year, of being broken by her in turn.
Damn but that girl is strong.
Charlotte’s life is defined by terror. In the early days, it’s one born from fear and the trauma of being violently murdered. Nowadays, her terror is born from love and the risk of losing it.
But too much of any one thing, she has learned in her long, long years of living, eventually takes away its potency.
Charlotte Whitlock is used to terror.
She makes it work.
So when Bella sits down and says, “We’re taking down Maria and if we can, we’re getting those two kids out,” Charlotte lets the terror she feels bleed in and then locks it down.
Bella wants to do it for them, she knows. Wants Maria dead so they can be unafraid, finally. And she wants to save the twins because of all Jasper’s sins, that one weighs heaviest on him, even after all these years.
Charlotte is terrified.
But for the sake of family, it doesn’t mean a damn thing.
Jasper, she knows, worries that there is nothing but slavering beasts left of the children he once gave Maria. It was the only way to stop her slaughtering more and more children, he tells them, voice quiet with an old secret and an old regret, but he still murdered them. She wanted her own witch twins, and he gave them to her.
“If they can’t be saved,” he starts, but doesn’t finish the sentence. Instead he says, “I’ll be doing it.”
Baby girl, sitting next to him, squeezes his hand and doesn’t try to argue. Sometimes, the only way to erase one sin is to commit a greater one.
Charlotte watches his colors carefully, finds some grey creeping in at the edges, but nothing more. He’s not drowning in the dark. Not yet. And if he starts, she’ll tell the others and they’ll stop it. Somehow. Because she’s not the scared little girl she was at the camps, anymore, and these days when something bad happens, she acts. She fixes it. With her family at her back.
“Maria first,” Peter says, that telling glint in his eye. “Then the kids.”
As much as Charlotte hates fighting, she can acknowledge that the four of them are far too good at it. Tank team, Peter calls them, because they break through any wall and shatter newborns like toothpicks.
Bella throws her shield over them and the Major – always, in battle – sends out emotions hard enough to cripple. The two of them move across the field, shielding and incapacitating, and all Peter and Char have to do is mop up after them, one severed head at a time.
Maria screeches and rages and hides between two children she had murdered a century ago and neither the Major nor his Swan even break their stride.
Once they reach her, Bella flips her shield somehow, in that impossible way she has, to encompass the twins’ shields, cancelling them out. Jasper flings something at Maria that turns her colors a bleeding, oozing puss yellow and then, as she sobs helplessly in the dirt, he kneels before the children, those dead, hollowed children he made.
“We’re going to kill her,” he tells them, bluntly, because Jasper has only ever known how to be gentle with actions, not words.
“Will you kill us, too?” Adam asks. His hair is dark and curly and his eyes are the dull brown of the barely fed. He clutches his sister’s hand in his and Charlotte carefully watches the green creeping into their colors instead of their faces. It’s a soft green, a warm green. A good color.
“Do you want me to?” Jasper asks and beside him, Bella makes a wounded sound.
The twins exchange looks, shake their heads.
“Then you can either go your own way, or you can stay with us.”
Bella shakes her head, sending her hair flying. “My shield is far more powerful than yours. We don’t want you for your ability.” Because Bella understands what it is to be coveted for her blood, her skills, her knowledge, better than most. “If you want,” she hesitates, puts a hand on Jasper’s shoulder. A conversation happens with nothing but emotions between them, their colors swirling in sync. “If you want, you could be children again.”
Then she offers them her hands, palms up.
They take them with only a beat of hesitation and, holding onto her like babies, they leave the battlefield without a backwards glance while Jasper makes Maria scream one last time.
They take them home and wash them, feed them on a rapist and dress them in warm clothes. They give them a laptop apiece and a wifi connection and Peter shows them how to work both while Bella frets in the kitchen, unused since her death.
“I never wanted children,” she whispers, sharp incisors making a mess of her lower lip. Charlotte wraps an arm around her.
“They might choose to leave.”
Her sister snorts. “And go where? They’re what, twelve?”
Young enough to satisfy Maria, old enough to be capable of rational thought and caution, satisfying the Vulturi’s law about immortal children. Seldom has Charlotte been more impressed and disgusted with Jasper’s capacity for rational cruelty than right now.
“The Cullens would take them,” she tries, tangling her fingers in their Baby Girl’s soft, long hair.
“And break them,” Bella argues, flat and cold, the way she was when they found her, tired to the bone and somehow still walking, all her colors faded to a dull sepia, a washed-out grey. She was barely there at all, when they found her, and the Cullens did that. Put the blackness back into Jazz as well. They mean well, Char knows, but they break things too wild for them to comprehend and a former Southern warlord and a Swan girl have always been that.
Eventually, Bella shakes her head. “Doesn’t matter now. They’re here.”
Peter steps into the room then, and his eyes meet Bella’s, dull orange to predator gold and Char can see the way they sync up, for just a second, their colors bleeding the same, a future shared between them, gifts aligned.
Then Peter hauls Char in for a kiss and Bella’s colors lose the dull purple throb of worry.
Three days later, Adam leaves the room they gave him on his sister’s hand, and both of them are quiet and bright. “We want to stay with you,” Sophie says. “We can’t survive on our own, not for long. We want…,” she trails off, unsure.
“Maker,” her brother fills in for her. “We want Maker.”
The room floods with a heady mixture of guilt and relief until Jasper gets himself under control and just like that, there’s six of them.
It’s weird, a little. Rationally, the twins are adults. But their bodies, their brains, are frozen. The hormones, the brain chemistry that make an adult body will never happen for them. Emotionally, they’ll always be children.
“It’s like living with genius kids,” Peter mutters as a particularly destructive tantrum early on takes out the kitchen wall. “Or really irrational adults.”
Charlotte, picking through the debris in the yard, shrugs, “Or both.”
“I’m sorry,” Sophie mutters, hiding her face in Bella’s stomach, because for all that she never wanted kids, the youngest of them has taken to mothering the twins like she was born for it.
“You broke the house with my body,” Peter complains, sulkily. There’s plaster dust in his hair.
Char spots the spout of her favorite teapot and pulls, disappointed to find the rest of it missing.
“Sorry, Uncle Peter,” Sophie reiterates, looks at Charlotte. “Sorry, Aunt Char.”
Because that’s a thing now. Char rarely gets annoyed over the fact that she can’t see her own colors, but she’d dearly like to know what they do whenever she gets called aunt. She remembers, vaguely, an older brother, a bright little thing in his arms, and that title. But… long gone. Peter turns orange with glee every time they call him uncle.
“When’s Adam coming back? He and dad have been gone a long time.”
Thirty minutes or less actually, to buy tarp and building materials so they can hide the worst of the damage while they fix it overnight.
Bella holds the girl tighter. With their vampire eyes and paleness, their dark hair, they actually look mother and daughter.
It’s like living in a really weird family unit where the children occasionally heckle your sexual preferences through the supposedly-soundproof walls.
“Patience, grasshopper,” Peter chides, still grumpy. He claps his dusty hands over Sophie’s head just to share the dirt around and she snaps out of her morose mood just to leap on him and try to bite.
Which is how the kitchen got ruined in the first place. Charlotte gives up on the salvage job and drops to the ground next to Bella, pulling her down with her. They watch Peter and Sophie take the scuffle outside, snapping and snarling like newborns with a grudge.
“Are you still afraid?” Bella asks, sudden in the tranquility. Dust motes dance in the air around them.
Char doesn’t ask how she knows because sometimes, just like Peter, Bella just knows, still. If she thinks about it, Bella’s shield is a great, terrifying thing. So she doesn’t.
Instead she watches an eternally twelve-year-old put a fair bit of effort into ripping her mate’s left arm off, only to have him laugh and dance out of the way time and again. She feels for that old, familiar terror, half memory half worry, and finds…
“No. Not anymore.”
Bella wraps her up in cold arms, squeezes. “Good,” she says, just as Peter picks up a piece of broken window frame and chucks it at his niece with a war cry. He misses and takes out Char’s begonias instead.
Sophie screeches retaliation.
And it is.