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Twin Flames

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As Irina was called forward to testify as an informant, a strange weight took place over my chest.

It was like looking in a mirror. Not a mirror of the present me, mind you, but a mirror of who I was a little over a year ago. In her eyes, her regret was as clear as day. It was obvious she now understood the mistake that she had made, and was paling under the consequences of her actions. Beyond that though, I could see the weight of loss in her expression. Not just her loss of Laurent, no matter how misplaced it may have been, but also the loss of her family. It wasn’t just the Cullens she had alienated with her actions, but her own coven, her own sisters , as well.

What I could see, and what I could understand more than anything else was the weight of loneliness bearing down on her. I wondered how long it had been there, as it was surely older than just those past few months. Maybe it had been there since Laurent’s death, maybe even older than that—since Sascha’s death, maybe even extending all the way into her human life. It was difficult to surmise exactly how long she had been plagued by the feeling, but plagued she undoubtedly was. 

Most of my feelings and memories of my human life felt distant to me, dulled at the edges, and frayed. When I looked back to them, I could almost pretend that they had happened to someone else. But when I looked upon Irina’s countenance, that sharp, throbbing stab of the pain of isolation was ever present in my mind, the memory of it refusing to fade, even then, especially then.

It was for those reasons that I couldn’t help but sympathize with her. I didn’t agree with her actions of course. The lives of my friends and family were currently at risk as a direct result of said actions. Even if we all survived the ordeal, it was almost a guarantee that we would have to spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulder, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Still, I couldn’t help but think of the actions that I may have taken if I were in her shoes, the actions that I had taken when I was in her shoes. The near cruel, and callous way I had treated Charlie, and the way I used Jake to fill the hole in my heart, knowing that I would not reciprocate his feelings were at the forefront of my mind.

I imagined what it would have been like, how I would have felt, if one day someone had come and told me that Edward had died. That he had been killed as an act of self-defense, because he had been about to hunt a protected human. Would I believe them? Probably(read: definitely) not. Despite the fact that I had known that Edward struggled with his control sometimes, despite the fact that he had left me in the cruel way that he had, despite the agony that I felt over said leaving, I would have struggled to even entertain the idea he were ever capable of such acts, much less believe them. And if I were ever to come under the suspicion that those who had killed him were complicit in illegal acts of their own? It's not a stretch to say I may have ended up exactly where Irina is now. So, knowing this, how could I even hope to fully condemn Irina for her behavior?

As I watched her walk forward and begin to answer Caius’ barked questions, I felt a sort of kinship form between us. I felt the sudden need to protect her, from herself, from the Volturi, from this entire godforsaken mess. Maybe it was simply out of a desire to protect the shadow of myself that I had seen in her. Maybe it was something deeper, a need to prove to myself that true recovery was possible, that even if the object of your loss never came back, it was possible to move on. It was unlikely that Irina and I would ever become something even resembling friends, but still I knew, almost instinctively, that I would not let harm befall her that day.

When Caius asked her if she would like to make a complaint against us for siding with the wolves over her, I practically heard warning bells going off in my head. I tensed, not for myself, but for her. It all felt wrong. Surely he knew she would never betray, at the very least, her own sisters just for a chance to get at the wolves?

My thoughts were a chaotic torrent. I searched fitfully, desperately for the endgame there. Was Caius just throwing things at the wall looking for something that would stick? No. Despite his petulant attitude, he was still a Volturi king, there was a reason he had been able to maintain that position, especially with a power hungry vampire like Aro at his side. He definitely had a plan, but what was it?

As Irina expectedly began to deny her ability to make a complaint against us, I saw a glint start to form in Caius’ eyes that shook me to my core. It took everything I had not to release a growl. I looked at his expression while Irina spoke; not only was he not upset at her denial, he looked downright pleased.

The warning bells in my head were really going off then, and the protective instinct I felt increased tenfold as I noticed the predatory glare in his eye as he looked at Irina. It was then that I noticed a metal object in his hand. I had no idea what it was, but it set every hair on my body on edge. Whatever it was, it was dangerous, and worse, it was moving. I saw it slowly but surely being raised in Caius’ hand. He was apparently waiting for Irina to finish speaking before he used it, and I knew that it was at that moment that I had to act, as I had no plans on waiting to see how the device functioned.

All of a sudden one very powerful, very adamant thought forced its way into the forefront of my mind: shield

Huh? I was already using my shield to protect everyone’s mind. How could that help? I didn’t know the abilities of the device on any definite level, but I was almost certain, its applications weren’t mental.

Again, the thought pushed itself forward, stronger this time, more insistent: Shield

My thoughts were chaotic. On instinct, I dived into my mental shield, exploring it, looking for any sign as to what the thought in my head could be pointing to. I couldn’t find anything, my shield was as it always was, nothing had changed.

On a whim, I moved my consciousness to the spot where my shield had previously been, and began to search around. As I did that, I moved part of my focus back onto the ‘battlefield’ and saw, to my horror, that Caius’ hand and the device were now waist high, and still moving upwards. In the background, I noticed a flicker of movement within the 3 guards standing behind Irina. Whatever they were planning, they were going to act on it, and soon; more than likely directly after Irina finished speaking. Time was of the essence, and it was running out quickly.

Irina was looking at us now, with a terrified, but resigned expression in her eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she said to us before turning to the rest of the Volturi witnesses. My heart squoze in my chest. I knew that if I were to do anything, it would have to be now or never.

Just as I was about to abandon my mental search, and commit myself to a more physical means of protecting Irina, my consciousness ran into something, something hard . It was difficult to describe, as it was for all intents and purposes, only in my head, but it felt even harder than my own skin, harder even than Emmet’s if that were possible. I felt around it, and found that its properties were a direct contrast to my mental shield in almost every way. Where my mental shield felt lighter and flexible, not unlike an elastic band, this object that could only be meaningfully identified as something akin to a boulder, was extremely dense and heavy . I tried pushing my consciousness against it in the same way I did when using my mental shield, and it felt like I was attempting to move a mountain, it didn’t budge a nanometer. I had no idea what it was, and worse, I had no idea how to use it.

Damn it. I thought to myself. I wasted so much time only to get stopped at a dead end. That’s it, once Irina stops talking, I’ll find some way to intervene before Caius can do whatever it is that he’s scheming.

As I turned my attention back to the field, I immediately noticed three things at once. Firstly, Irina had finally just finished speaking to the Volturi witnesses, who now looked beyond anything else, confused. Secondly, the three guard members that were standing behind Irina had converged on her position, and were now less than a foot away. The third observation was without a doubt the most disconcerting; Caius was now staring at us with a sickening, almost demonic, grin on his face, his hand and the object he held firmly situated at shoulder height.

Absolute terror coursed through me at that moment. My already chaotic thoughts were kicked into an entirely new gear. Why is he smiling like that? Why is he staring at us? Think. Think. What is he planning?

I looked into his eyes again and noticed something strange. He wasn’t looking at us. He was looking towards our group, but his eyes were firmly planted on something, or someone. I traced his line of sight, and saw that he was staring intensely at the Denali sisters. Oh.

It all clicked right then and there. His purpose behind questioning Irina, asking her if she would betray her sisters by forming a complaint, letting her admit her mistake, letting her apologize to us, all of it was for this, this moment here. He knew she wouldn’t hurt her family like that, in fact he was counting on it. He did all of it, all of it, so that he could maximize the pain he caused when he enacted his plan, when he killed her.

It became quickly apparent that not only would my, or anyone else’s, intervention not be unwelcome, he wanted it to happen. He wanted war. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I understood that they were put off by the size of our collective—our show of power here was intentional, they were wary of the Cullens long before we started this alliance, even more so now. But still, they must have known that neither side would come out of this unscathed if a conflict was started, even if they were sure they would win. It’s almost like they think they’re invincible. I thought to myself, and then paused. 

They were. The thought occurred to me all of a sudden. With all of the gifts they have collected on their side, most conflicts they’ve had were probably over before they began. They don’t know about my shield, at least not in the capacity I’m using it at now. They’re fully confident that if they go to war with us, we’ll be dealt with immediately.

I didn’t know how to feel. On one hand, I was sickened at how obviously willing they were to play with the lives of my loved ones, and have no doubt toyed with the lives of countless others. On the other hand, the fact that I was a deciding factor in their (in)ability to play their games this time around filled me with a sense of pride. I would no longer be relegated to the role of damsel in distress, I would be the protector.

I had no time to stew on it though. To be honest, I had no time to do anything at all. Any interference I could do at that point would just be used by Caius as an excuse to start a war, and while my powers had given us the ability to level the playing field, a war would still only result in a loss of life on both sides, instead of one. Unlike the Volturi, that wasn’t a sacrifice I was willing to make.

But as I watched Caius’ hand begin to dip downward in a commanding motion, no doubt about to give the order that would end Irina’s life, I knew that I couldn’t just stand aside and do nothing. I rushed through my thoughts for anything at all I could do to stop what seemed like only I knew was coming. Begging, bargaining, compromise; every idea fell short. The Volturi didn’t want compromise, they wanted war, and they would push until they were able to achieve their goals, hounding us until we were forced to act.

I watched in horror as Caius’ hand completed its trajectory, the three guards behind Irina now converging on her with a speed almost faster than thought. It was too late. I had failed. My thoughts were a vortex of misery and self condemnation, but one thought managed to once again push itself to the forefront of my mind. This time it was unyielding, and loud. It demanded to be heard, to be listened to, to be obeyed.

SHIELD!

Knowing that there was nothing else I could do, I closed my eyes, and gave myself over to my instincts, trusting that this persistent thread inside my head was leading me to something meaningful. I felt my consciousness wrap around the solid object in my head with a vice grip, and squeeze with an intensity that made me feel as if my mind were fracturing. Just when the pressure reached a peak that had me questioning whether or not I would survive the ordeal, the boulder began to emit a glow that started out soft and increased exponentially in intensity until its light was blinding. In the next instant, a rumbling started. Like the glow of the boulder, it began at a low intensity and increased until it was all I could sense.

I felt my consciousness unwrap itself from the boulder, and begin to recede into itself, folding itself tighter and tighter until its density rivaled that of the boulder. It had fashioned itself into a spear. With a force that left me reeling, it launched itself at the boulder, attacking what I instinctively knew to be its weakest spot, lodging itself deeply inside, and finally, dissipating into nothingness. For a nanosecond, nothing had happened, the boulder, still shining brightly, and rumbling, hadn't changed. 

Instantly, faster than I was even capable of thinking, a light shot out of the hole left by the spear and bore itself into the barriers of my mind. It mindlessly powered through layer after layer, the rumbling, and the glow steadily increasing in intensity until it broke through the final layer, and then…nothing. The glow and the rumble receded until I was left with pitch black silence. I was faintly conscious of the fact that the light that had escaped the recesses of my mind had not diminished, only moved. I was not sure where at the moment, but I knew it was still activated.

At the sound of a horrible metallic screeching signaling the dismemberment of a vampire, I forced my eyes open and stared aghast at what I saw. The spot that previously held Irina was now obscured by the three guardsmen. Caius, never taking his eyes off of us, specifically the Denali’s, moved to point the device towards the direction where Irina previously stood and fired, releasing an inferno. The guards jumped back suddenly, and resumed their previous positions, their faces not giving any sign of the atrocity that they had just committed other than a brief flicker of discontentment that quickly receded into an impassive expression. 

Needless to say, everyone on our side was stricken at the turn of events. None more so than Tanya and Kate, who were inconsolable in both their sorrow and their fury. The sound of shouting and a clashing of bodies drew my attention, and I looked to see that both sisters were currently being restrained; one more easily than the other, as Kate was currently shocking the living daylights out of everyone who touched her. Rosalie and Emmett had already fallen to her gift, and she was being fitfully restrained by Garrett, who appeared to be on the verge of unconsciousness. His inability to sleep was the only thing keeping him cognizant. I was vaguely aware of a part of my consciousness shifting my mental shield around Garrett to defend him from her power.

I couldn’t help but feel a deep well of sorrow rise up within myself at my inability to protect Irina. I knew that it was unreasonable for me to feel that way, as I had barely known the woman, outside of what I learned about her these last few months from her sisters. Still, the fact that I had failed someone I had committed myself to helping weighed heavily on my chest. Great Protector, my ass. I thought to myself, scornfully.

Caius, not even bothering to look at Irina’s remains glared at us challengingly with a victorious expression upon his face, saying, “ Now, she has taken full responsibility for her—”

He was interrupted by a particularly loud gasp coming from the section where the Volturi witnesses stood. We all turned to look at the one who was making such a commotion, seeing a man standing there pointing to the flaming pyre with an awed expression on his face. 

Caius, angry at the interruption, hissed petulantly at the man. “What is it? Have you never seen the dispatch of a vampire before? Or are you perhaps displeased with my methods? I’ll have you know—”

He was interrupted once again by the man, who had yet to take his eyes off of the inferno. “Look!” he said, pointing.

We all turned to look at the now receding flames, and after a few moments, a collective gasp rang through both crowds. Crouching with her head tucked in between her legs, above the ground that should have held her charred remains, was Irina, alive and well. Directly above, and encasing, her was a shimmering dome. It looked almost liquid in appearance. One would be forgiven for assuming it were a bubble, as it looked deceptively thin and fragile. The only evidence of its true toughness was the meter long perimeter of scorched earth surrounding the dome on all sides, along with the fact that it had apparently withstood the collective assault of three vampires, including the Volturi’s own enforcer, Felix, who was widely known to be the strongest of them all.

Slowly, the shield began to move. It steadily decreased in height until it became roughly the same size as Irina, at which point the dome began to wrap around her. It slowly encased her entire body until she was covered in the shimmery material. It then began growing transparent until it was almost invisible to the naked eye, the only signs that it was still there being a slight warping refraction around it, and a very thin, very bright light extending outwards from its shell.

Every vampire in the clearing, excluding myself and the Denali’s—who had at that point stopped trying to wriggle out of their restraints and were instead staring awestruck at their sister, took note of the light and followed its trail to its origin. While I was obviously interested in how Irina had managed to survive, I was much more interested in the fact that she was alive. She had, by this point, moved her head from between her legs and began looking around with a dazed expression. 

As I watched her continue to come back into herself, I made a new resolution. Regardless of whether or not I had managed to save her, she was alive, and at least now I had the opportunity to make sure she stayed that way.

As I made the commitment to do whatever I could to guarantee Irina’s safety, I became aware of a near crushing weight of eyes on me; I was being watched. I looked up to see every single gaze turned towards me, both allies and foes, regarding me strangely.

I moved to brush my hair behind my ear—a nervous tic I carried over from my time as a human, and almost blinded myself. I looked down at the source of light—my left palm, and became astonished at what I saw. 

In my palm was a disc of hard light. I brought my right hand up to touch it, and found that it was smooth, smoother than anything I had touched before, smoother even than my own skin. I could tell that it was also very dense. Even though it was more than easy enough to lift now, I knew that if I had tried to do so as a human, my body would’ve buckled under the weight. I tried to remove it from my left palm and found that it refused to budge.

I noted that its properties were not dissimilar to the object in my mind. Wait. At that thought I observed the disc more closely and noticed a thin beam of light extruding outwards from the disc and ending at…Irina. So that's where it moved to. I thought to myself.

The answering of that question led to the formation of many more. What is it? How does it work? How did it protect Irina? Clearly it operates as a shield of some sort. Is that my thing? Shields? The light projection seemed malleable though, like it's capable of changing forms. I wonder if I can shape it at will? Can I use it offensively? What if I could make a sword out of light? WAIT! CAN I MAKE A LIGHTSABER?! That’d be so cool.

I was drawn from my reverie at the sound of clapping and a laughter that bordered on maniacal. I looked up to find Aro staring at me intensely. “ Magnifico” he intoned. He was still grinning, but he had a strange glint in his eye. It reminded me of the look he had given me before in Volterra, when he discovered that his gift did not work on me. This look was different though, it was… hungrier. Like he had seen something that he had to have, that he would not rest at seeking out until it was his. 

I felt a shiver run through me at the thought. The only thing worse than being a recipient of Aro’s hatred was being a recipient of his desire; multiple covens had fallen to that very desire, and I had a feeling I had just pushed us to the top of that list.

Aro had now gone silent, contemplating what to do next, I imagined. I took the short reprieve to look around, and take stock of the situation. The lights that represented everyone under my mental shield were still shining brightly, but it would do no harm to make sure they were visibly okay.

I moved my gaze away from the side of the Volturi, but took note of the ways in which they looked at me; their expressions were mixed, a range of awe and wariness, one man in particular looked at me with interest and a warmth that I did not understand, but when I made eye contact with him, he quickly looked away, and adopted a bored expression. 

As I pondered over his behavior I noticed that some of the Volturi appeared almost fearful. I understood why. The power I had just displayed was nothing to scoff at. Even discounting the fact that it had withstood the physical attacks against it, the fact that it had withstood Caius’ inferno was no small matter. The fear of fire is a primal instinct that exists in all species, but especially so in vampires. The only way to truly destroy us, to make sure we had no way of returning, was to burn us. 

Yes, it was a fear that was deeply ingrained in us as a species, and my power had turned that fear over on its own head. They were right to be wary, for all they knew my power made me, and everyone around me invincible. If I could make sure they never found out that this power was new, or worse uncontrollable, I might’ve found a way to bluff our way out of there.

Bella,” I turned to see Carlisle staring at me incredulously, he was obviously amazed by the power I had just displayed. Just as I was getting ready to signal to him to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary, he said, “What was that? I’ve never seen anything like it before. The way it wrapped around Irina, was that an element of the power, or your own control?”

Well, there goes that plan. I thought to myself, sardonically. A glare began to form on my face as the questions continued to spill from his mouth, a glare that he quickly noticed if the abruptness by which he cut off his speech was anything to go by. At first he seemed mildly taken aback, but then, as if he realized what he had just done, he courteously adopted a sheepish expression and uttered a whispered “ sorry” before looking in the other direction.

Carlisle, always the scientist. I couldn’t judge him too harshly of course. Even if he hadn’t given me away, the incredulous expressions found on the faces of everyone else on our side would have certainly raised suspicion. They hadn’t been expecting me to bring out that power anymore than I had.

Turning away from Carlisle, I took note of the expressions on the rest of the Cullens’ faces. On Esme, I saw a mixture of awe and warmth that almost had me preening. She had the appearance of a mother who had just watched their child achieve something unexpected, but brilliant; she looked proud.

Rosalie, who was still recovering from her brief contact with Kate’s powers, looked me over with a curious appraisal, almost as if she were recalculating something, or reconsidering a conclusion she had drawn too early; I wasn’t sure. Emmett, to his credit, just looked as if he had found a new toy. He would no doubt hound me until I allowed him to test his strength against my power’s durability. There was an odd sense of comfort in that, a normalcy, a hope for a pretty future. I looked forward to it.

Turning to Edward, I saw, surprisingly, that nothing had changed. He looked upon me with the same irreverent expression he always had, like he was staring at a being of pure divinity. It was a look that had made me feel uncomfortable in my human life, but that I had now flourished under. It wasn’t that I felt that I had finally earned it, but more so that my perceptions of myself aligned more closely to it. Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest mentality, but alas.

I looked down to Renesmee between us, and she looked, for lack of a better word, excited. At my curious glance, she raised her hand up to my cheek to show me what she had seen. She had been observing me ever since I had closed my eyes, and given myself over to my instincts. I felt her curiosity, and then her concern when a pained expression flickered over my face. I felt that concern become amazement when she saw a bright collection of light moving downwards from my head, into my arm and finally settling in my hand, only to explode outwards towards the Volturi camp.

I smiled down at her, “It looks like I made you worry, I’m sorry little bug.” She giggled at the term of endearment, and pushed a new emotion into my head; contentment.

Looking up from her, I took note of the other covens and nomads, and saw an expected array of emotions, varying in levels of awe and wariness. There were a few notable exceptions however. The Denali’s, specifically Tanya and Kate, were looking upon me with a sort of determined appreciation. Oddly, it reminded me somewhat of Tyler Crowley, after he had almost crushed me with his car. At that thought, I resolved to cut that off as soon as I could. I appreciated the gratitude, but I had no plans on finding out what the vampiric version of being invited to prom entailed.

Eleazar looked at me with a conflicted expression. He looked appreciative, but confused. He seemed to be wondering how he had missed the fact that I held this power, and it was a sentiment that I shared. If I had been able to train this power beforehand, we might’ve been in a much better position than we had found ourselves in at the time. I didn’t hold it against him though. Clearly, he was just as caught off guard as I was. I made eye contact and sent him a look that promised that we would talk about it later, but that I bore no ill will towards him. He nodded and looked away, checking on the status of Carmen, and the two sisters.

Amun, from the Egyptian coven, kept glancing back and forth between me, Benjamin, and Aro. He had no doubt come to the same conclusion that I had, that Aro planned to covet my power, and would likely stop at nothing to get it. Adding on to what he had likely learned about Benjamin from reading Edward’s mind, this situation seemed more and more likely to end with violence. When he glanced back towards me, I sent him an apologetic expression, he hadn’t wanted to get involved in the first place, and now the danger factor had just multiplied. He sent back a resigned grimace and turned to his coven to check over their conditions.

The Romanians, Stefan and Vladimir, were staring at me with a level of maniacal glee that challenged Aro’s. Knowing that they didn’t have even remotely the same level of strength at their disposal, I wasn’t too worried about them, but I made a note to watch out for them. If they believed that they could use me as a weapon against the Volturi, they could become a problem. They may even try to force a conflict to achieve their ends. I bore no sympathies for the Volturi, but I had no plans to put my loved ones at risk in such a way. In addition, I had heard enough about the world they envisioned to quickly come to a conclusion about which was the ‘lesser of two evils’ between them and the Volturi.

An angry hiss had me quickly turning my attention back to the other side of the clearance. Caius, who had apparently grown tired of the silent deliberation happening around him, was incensed. He was steadily glaring back and forth between me and Irina with a degree of rage that had me struggling to contain the growl boiling in my throat. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded, fury lacing each spat word.

“Caius,” Aro began, with a chiding tone. 

“No, Aro,” Caius interrupted angrily. “You may permit these infractions, but I will do no such thing.” He looked to me. “You dare to disrupt official Volturi business? What authority do you believe allows you to intercede? Many here would consider that an act of W—”

“Caius,” Aro growled angrily. The grin was now gone from his face, replaced with a truly monstrous expression. This is his true face. I thought. This is the face that conquered the vampire world. This is the face that has destroyed so many lives without even a hint of regret. “You forget yourself brother,” he continued. Caius, now standing stock-still, gave the briefest of nods. Clearly he knew not to cross Aro when he got like that. “We are not dictators, dear brother. It would not do us well to have it be said about us that we enact punishment without due process. Some may even say that our dear Isabella has just saved us from making a grave error.” The smile was back on his face as he spoke the last part while glancing at the Volturi witnesses.

Ah. I see. He’s performing. Caius’ actions had thrown quite the wedge into the Volturi’s plans to stay innocent in the eyes of their witnesses. In their ideal scenario, Caius would have killed Irina, and the Denali sisters would have retaliated, ending in a battle, and all of our deaths. Whether or not Irina’s death was warranted would’ve been neither here nor there, as we would have attacked first, and the Volturi could easily claim they had enacted justice after the fact.

Of course, even if Caius had succeeded in causing Irina’s death. The Denali’s would’ve been restrained. Clearly, they were counting on Kate’s shocking ability to ensure she made it across the clearing to attack, but they hadn’t accounted for my shield. Even now, some of the guard members were glancing confusedly at Kate, wondering how she had been able to be restrained in that short moment where we believed Irina was dead. I noticed some of them quickly flicking their eyes away from her to me, in obvious wonder of if I were the cause. I very pointedly avoided eye contact with them, it would not do to have them figuring out all of my secrets, not yet at least.

Aro turned towards Irina, who was still recovering from the shock of her near death experience. She was definitely more present than she had been moments before, but she was staring at the ground mumbling to herself incomprehensibly, and avoiding making eye contact with anyone as if she believed doing so would give her the plague.

“Well as it is quite clear that our dear Irina is in no condition to advocate for herself, how about…” he clicked his tongue, looking around our group in the clearance until his eyes landed on me. “ Isabella… why don’t you argue on her behalf?”

“Me?” I questioned, “I mean, surely her sisters, Kate and Tanya, could offer a much better defense of her than I ever could.” I looked to the Denali sisters, who began to nod emphatically at my words, taking the opportunity to testify on their sister’s behalf.

“Oh, nonsense.” Aro stated, ignoring the Denali sisters, never taking his eyes off of me, “ You were the one who saved our dear Irina. Surely you have some reasons for doing so? And I know it would assuage some of Caius’ concerns to learn why his orders were so openly defied. Of course if you’re sure it's something you can’t do…”

“No, no, I have a reason.” I quickly interjected. I knew a challenge when I heard one. Aro was, in no uncertain terms, implying that if I did not personally defend Irina, her life would be forfeit. I didn’t know what he expected to gain from that, but I knew I had to approach the situation cautiously, and with tact.

“Go on then.” he said, grinning.

“I just…I felt that she didn’t deserve to die.” I started carefully.

Caius was enraged. “And you believe that is a judgment for you to make? On what grounds?”

“Well, we were the main victims of Irina’s actions. In our legal system, we reserve the right to choose whether or not we want to press charges against those who have wronged us.” I was really improvising at that point, and poorly. I was pretty sure the actual decision to press charges was made by the state, which in this case, would be the Volturi. I just had to hope they weren’t up to date on the American legal system.

A chorus of muffled laughter rang across the clearing, primarily from the Volturi’s side. I even heard a few chuckles begin to rise up from our side, but those were quickly quieted following a hiss from the Denali sisters. I turned to them, and they both gave me slight nods of  approval, but it was clear they didn’t really mean it. I returned a smile that barely qualified as ‘not a grimace’ and turned back to Aro, who was now grinning at me with an amused tilt to his eyes.

“I see,” he said, his voice heavy with a lilt, “Well, Isabella dear, you must understand that a false accusation of this magnitude must be met with punishment, yes? We’ve traveled here all the way from Volterra, with a very large cavalry. We don’t respond this drastically to just any old crime. Surely your justice system has punishments for situations like this? ‘Lying under oath’ I believe you call it?”

Wow, he’s a regular Elle Woods. “Yes, sometimes people are punished for perjury, but it's usually by way of a fine, or a prison sentence, not death .” I grumbled agitatedly, barely holding in my temper. I knew I was walking a thin line, but honestly, as a newborn, the fact that all I did was grumble was a great service unto myself. 

“Hmm,” Aro mused, “Well, we have no need for more money at the moment, and we have more than enough members already, so a debt of servitude would be pointless. I do apologize Isabella, but I’m struggling to think of any other alternatives.”

He continued to glance around the clearing with his hand under his chin, as if he were pondering the great mysteries of existence, before starting, “Although, ”

I tensed. The next statement to leave his mouth would definitely be his endgame. I furiously tried to anticipate his next step; a bargain, a trade, a threat? What was he planning? I looked to Edward for even a hint of what his next move would be, but he just stared at Aro with a confused expression on his face.

He continued, “I suppose we could extend a favor to you.”

…What?

“What?” I repeated my thoughts. “Excuse me, I mean, a favor?” Those were the last words I expected to hear leave Aro’s mouth. A favor? What could he hope to gain from that? Was he hoping that I would feel so grateful that I’d join the guard? No, he’s maniacal, not stupid, there’s gotta be something else here.

He laughed, obviously taking great pleasure in my confusion. “Yes, well, if we take into account our history with your family, I’m sure we could find enough good will to offer up this second chance.”

At his words, my mind flashed back to Jane’s statement just after the battle with Victoria’s army. She had just killed the vampire newborn…Bree, and after noticing I was still human, she threatened the Cullens, demanding that I would need to be changed soon. ‘The Volturi don’t give second chances.’ she said.

Those words reverberated around in my skull. The Volturi don’t give second chances. That didn’t sound like a passing remark, it sounded like a promise. A policy. The type of hardline stance you’d expect from an organization that ruled over an apex species with an iron fist. The Volturi don’t give second chances. Words that would strike fear into the hearts of even the most bold vampires. Words that promised retribution for even a minor misstep. If Aro was offering a second chance I was certain it was not out of the goodness of his heart.

My thoughts were interrupted by Caius’ angry shout. He does that alot. It's impossible to get lost in thought around him, he’s like a walking bottle of very, very angry Adderall. “You can’t be serious brother. Never, not once, in over 3000 years have you extended a favor like this. Why now?” Caius spat out the words.

“I think you’ll find, brother, that I am quite serious indeed. You see, dear Isabella is quite special to me. If you consider it for only a moment I’m sure you’ll find that this gift will be worth it in the long run.” Aro’s choice of words left no doubt as to exactly why it was that he was giving me this opportunity. It was because of my gift, the powers I had displayed. For a moment, I questioned why he was being so open about it, shamelessly transparent, but when I looked upon the impassive expressions on the faces of the Volturi witnesses, I had my answer.

They’re not surprised. It's no secret that Aro attempts to covet whatever gifts he finds desirable. In their eyes, this was just one of Aro’s quirks coming out to play. The facts that it was a gross misappropriation of power, and that he was essentially using someone’s life as a tradeable commodity were truths that either went unnoticed or uncared for.

This is how he gets away with it. The performance, the song and dance for the witnesses, it all seems so whimsical on the outside, Aro’s folly. It's so much more than that, it’s calculated. My interruption may have thrown him off for a moment but he’s right back to playing the same game. It was foolish to believe anything else, I have to stay on guard.

I brought my focus back to the clearance and was met with Caius’ enraged expression. My first inclination was to turn away, but I ignored the impulse and instead chose to look deeper, searching. In his eyes, I did not see any proof of the anger that stretched across the rest of his face, instead I saw scheming. I watched as he calculated his next step, all the while appraising me. He’s playing the game too.

Finally, noticing that I had been observing him, as he had been me, Caius’ scowl increased tenfold as he let out an angry huff and—after nodding at Aro, turned his head away. He was putting on a show of skeptical acquiescence for the witnesses. You sly bastard. I wasn’t surprised, I had clocked long ago that Caius was more than just his angry visage, but still, it annoyed me that I had no way out of this mess without jumping through his and Aro’s hoops.

I turned towards Aro, and noticed him already staring back at me, an anticipatory expression on his face, as if he were waiting for me to say something. Taking in my confused expression, and apparently concluding that I would not in fact begin jumping up and down in joy and gratitude, he spoke to me. “Well, Isabella? What do you say? Will you accept this favor?”

I didn’t trust him in the slightest, but it wasn’t as if I could just say no, and condemn Irina to death, so I cautiously nodded my approval. “Yes, Aro, I accept. Thank you, really, I appreciate it…very much.” I was perhaps laying it on a bit thick, but I couldn’t risk inciting his, or anyone else’s ire at the moment. Plus, scheming or not, this was still necessary to ensure Irina’s safety, so for all it mattered to them, I was the most grateful vampire they had ever met.

“Wonderful, it is always nice to be able to make it through these dealings without bloodshed, don’t you think?” Aro directed the question at the witnesses standing behind him, who all began nodding emphatically, obviously pleased to have this all be over with. “Now, if any of you would like to step forward to come and collect, dear Irina here, it would be much appreciated; she doesn’t seem quite ready to stand on her own yet.” Irina was no longer mumbling to herself, but she was still staring at the ground, although now it seemed that it was less out of fear, and instead driven by a sense of deep shame. Tanya and Kate looked at each other, then at Aro, and nodded.

Just as they were about to take their first step forward they were interrupted by a sudden exclamation from Aro, “Oh! There was one other thing. Silly me, I’d almost forgotten.”

Edward’s angry hiss was the only warning I got before the next words spilled from Aro’s mouth. “There is still the matter of what to do about our darling Renesmee.”

At that, a collection of hisses rang out through the hearing, some of which even came from the group of witnesses on the Volturi’s side. Most of them seemed confused as to why Aro was continuing to drag this out, while a few others had likely surmised his intent, and were upset that he was using this case as an excuse to continue to play his game.

“What matter, Aro?” Carlisle spoke up, “We’ve already established that she’s not an immortal child. She can learn and grow, she’s no danger to us.”

“You seem so sure, old friend.” Aro replied, almost scoldingly. “Did you perhaps gain the gift of foresight? From what I could collect in young Edward’s memories, even your seer was unable to properly divine the child’s future.” 

“I don’t understand.” Carlisle questioned. “If we were to condemn everyone based on what they might do, we would all be doomed.”

“Now, do not mince words with me, Carlisle.” Aro retorted in apparent reprimand. “That is not what I meant at all. I am not speaking about our young Renesmee as an individual, but rather as a species. None of us have ever come across any like her before. For all we know, once a hybrid vampire reaches maturity, they fall into an inconsolable bloodrage. What about human puberty? Humans often describe their young in that stage of life as becoming entirely different people. How can we be sure that the hormonal imbalance won’t cause irreparable damage to her psyche, and make her deranged? She may not be an immortal child, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t dangerous to us.” 

Seeing the hesitant nods begin to spring up within the collection of the Volturi witnesses, I knew this argument was already lost. It didn’t matter how far-fetched Aro’s theories sounded, as long as we didn’t have proof to lay against him his claims could go unchallenged. As I watched them stew over Aro’s propositions, and come up with theories of their own, I saw their expressions change. Where there was previously compassion and doubt, I now saw caution and fear.

When I saw one male vampire looking at my daughter with an expression that bordered on hatred, my protective urges flared up, and I hissed at him. I felt my palm heat up, and once again gave myself over to my instincts. I watched as a second thread of light shot out from the disc and encased Renesmee in a protective coating. Instinctively, I could tell that her coating was even stronger than Irina’s due to her proximity to the source. That knowledge filled me with a sense of comfort, and I calmed down, my focus returning to the clearing.

Aro looked absolutely ecstatic, and it was to my chagrin that I realized that I had done exactly what he wanted. He planned to direct the crowd’s ire towards Renesmee just to see how I would respond, and apparently I passed with flying colors. “ Absolutely mesmerizing. Tell me, dear Isabella, is it a conscious action on your part, or is it instinctual?”

“It’s both.” I told him truthfully. “It transitions from passive to active automatically but the choice to use it is my own.” I very carefully embellished that part, not mentioning that the ‘choice to use it’ required me to be controlled by my instincts, and that I had no conscious direction as to what it did once activated. It was for the best that they believed that my powers were at least somewhat controlled. They had obviously learned by this point that my abilities were relatively new, but there was no reason to let them know just how unpredictable they were.

“Wonderful, wonderful!” Aro exclaimed excitedly, no doubt already planning on how to position me in his guard. “However, that does leave us at a bit of an impasse. It’s clear that you have no plans on relinquishing young Renesmee to us, is that right?” The chorus of hisses sounding from our side was answer enough. “Yes, I thought not. It does tug at the heartstrings, yes?” He directed his gaze towards the witnesses, who while still clearly nervous, hesitantly agreed.

“When I see how much she means to you, I truly can’t bring myself not to sympathize. It reminds me of my own relationship with my dear Jane.” A hiss sounded from both my lips and Jane’s. Hers as a result of being compared to my daughter, and mine for the same reason but in reverse. “Well, maybe not.” He amended. “Still, it makes me want to give you a chance to prove yourself.” He paused, and looked at me thoughtfully. “You’d have to choose of course.”

Edward’s warning growl and the Denali’s shouts were enough to convince me of the meaning behind his words, but still I asked, “Choose?”

“Well, yes my darling Isabella, we’re not running a charity. I will be willing to give our dear young Renesmee a chance, but you’ll have to choose: her or Irina? You only have one favor remaining to go around. You can’t save both. Either Irina will be punished for her crimes accordingly, or your daughter will be… excised before she can become a threat to our peaceful existence.”

The growls that rang out from our side of the field were such that the ground began to rumble under the force of the vibrations. Everyone on our side shifted forward all at once, almost imperceptibly; the only reason I was aware of such a change was the movement of their lights that I sensed in my shield. I watched as the Volturi tensed, almost in preparation. Even if they couldn’t detect the change in positioning, the change in energy couldn’t be ignored. Everyone was stiff, but ready for a fight; even Carlisle, to my surprise, had adopted a determined expression.

I, however, stayed exactly where I was, stunned into stillness. My thoughts were a torrent. Is this the endgame? Why? This doesn’t accomplish anything. He gains nothing from this. He’s essentially forcing me to kill someone, what advantage could he possibly see in this? Why put their lives in my hands? My thoughts flashed back to my experience in the Volturi throne room, over half a year ago. I remembered Aro’s incredulous expression when he found that I, a human, would put my life on the line for Edward. He seemed amazed at the idea that I would sacrifice myself for someone I loved. I didn’t understand why that memory seemed so important. Is that what he wants? A sacrifice? No, that doesn’t make any sense. He doesn’t want me to die, he wants me to join him…wait…He wants me to join him.

Just as I reached that worrying conclusion, my focus was brought back to the clearing as Edward released an absolutely furious snarl. The pained expression on his face as his eyes flickered back and forth between me and Aro told me all I needed to know, so I had already anticipated what to expect when Aro’s utterance of, “There is one other option.” rang throughout the field, silencing all noise with the declaration.

No!” Edwards' indignant outcry sounded throughout the clearing. 

Aro’s eyes flickered to him momentarily before coming back to me. “With all due respect, my boy, I was not speaking to you. What do you say Isabella? Would you like to hear my proposal?”

Already having had an idea of what he was aiming for, I decided to let it play out. I was vaguely aware of a tugging sensation in my palm, but chose to ignore it at that moment, instead focusing on Aro. Crossing my arms in front of me, I gave a slight nod to answer Aro’s question.

“Wonderful, “ he said, taking in my stiff position, “well, as we’ve already covered, the amount of favors I can offer is limited to the one, however it would not be impossible for me to offer additional aid in exchange for…payment.”

“Payment?” I questioned, “I thought you had ‘no need for more money at the moment.’” I spat his words back at him. I was being petty, sure, but I refused to connect the dots for him. I was going to make him say it. He was going to admit in front of all his precious witnesses that he was threatening to either kill my daughter, or my cousin if I didn’t join him.

Aro, clearly choosing to ignore my petulance, instead laughed in my face. “No, no, Isabella. We haven’t dealt in anything as frivolous as the dollar in centuries. We’ve found, in our millennia of experience, there is nothing quite as valuable as skilled labor . Tell me, Isabella dear, how do you feel about joining the Volturi guard?”

The responding series of roars were deafening. Once again, every gaze in the clearing was upon me. Gone were the looks of awe, replaced instead by expressions of worry from those on our side, and speculative appraisal could be found on the faces of the Volturi members. The Volturi witnesses, to their credit, seemed conflicted. They were used to Aro playing his games, but this seemed reckless, even for him. They saw the obvious value that my gift held, but the Volturi at that point were basically unbeatable, there was no reason to push things this far.

I pondered the same, Aro didn’t need me. He had been a ruling power over the vampire world for thousands of years before I was even born. I knew he was power-hungry, but even then, he had to have known that some things just weren’t worth it in the long run. There was no way he survived this long without knowing the value of moderation. Sure, my abilities were impressive, but as long as we stayed out of each other’s way there would be nothing to worry about. Wait. I paused at that thought.

As long as we stay out of each other’s way. That was a dangerous position to be in. It implied an equal standing, mutually assured destruction. If I ever decided to cross the Volturi in any meaningful way, I had the potential to become a major threat. I had no plans on seeking out power, especially on the Volturi’s level, Aro had to have known that. Even though he couldn’t read my mind, he must’ve seen from Edward’s, and even Alice’s, thoughts that I had no delusions of grandeur. I just wanted to settle down, and live a comfortable life with my friends and family. As long as he didn’t bother us, we wouldn’t bother him. But someone like Aro won’t settle for something like that. As long as we, or specifically me, present ourselves as a potential threat to his power, he won’t stand for it.

It’s not about me allying myself with him. I realized. He just wants to make sure I can’t ally myself with anyone else. He probably plans on keeping me in his guard forever. He has to know that Chelsea’s ability doesn’t work on me, so that’s why he’s holding Renesmee and Irina hostage. He’ll probably hold them over my head for the rest of eternity, not just them, my whole family, everyone here today will be in danger forever.

At that line of thinking, the growl that burst from my chest was almost maddened. It took everything in me to not lash out at that moment. My instincts were going wild, and the tugging in my palm was even more insistent. “Is that a no ?” Aro asked, appraising me. I saw the rest of the Volturi guard tense, preparing to move. I knew that the moment he commanded it, they would descend down upon us, witnesses be damned. I forced myself to calm down, it would not be wise to lose control at that moment.

“It’s just…” I started calmly, “I have a family here, and friends. I’ve started building a life. I feel that joining the guard may present as a disruption to the peace I’m attempting to foster.” As I spoke my pleas, I looked away from Aro, to the witnesses standing behind him. I knew they were my only hope at the moment. Any pleas made to Aro would fall on deaf ears, but if I could appeal to them, make them see that Aro was being unreasonable, I may have had a chance. “I can assure you that my daughter is not a threat. If we have to keep her away from human society until she reaches maturity, or even for 100 years, we will do it if it will soothe your concerns.” I was being somewhat dishonest at that point. I wasn’t even sure if Renesmee was going to live 100 years. One thing Aro was right about was that we knew nothing about what her life would be like.

I observed them as they stewed over my words, and began to tentatively agree. It was clear that they found my proposal acceptable. As I allowed myself to hope for a better outcome, I turned to look at Aro who appeared, for the most part, confused. I could see from his assessing stare, that he had clocked what I was doing, but he seemed almost bewildered at the idea that I would choose to negotiate, rather than just agree to his request; that I would choose to risk dying with my family, rather than living without them. It was as if he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just throw myself onto the chopping block.

A part of me sympathized with his confusion. After all, the last time he had met me, I had tried to do just that. It was just over half a year ago, and people don’t usually change that quickly, but I had. Part of it was just that I hadn’t been in the best space at the time, mentally. The reason why Edward was there in the first place was because Alice had seen me jumping off of a cliff, for God’s sake. But if I were honest with myself, the primary reason was that as a human, I always felt like I had something to prove. My relationship with the supernatural world had always felt tentative, like it could disappear in a moment, and it didn’t help assuage my fears when that quite literally happened.

All in all, human Bella felt like she had to earn her place amongst them, and I just didn’t feel like that anymore. My self-sacrificing nature wasn’t likely to ever fully go away. If it truly came down to a choice between saving myself or a loved one, I would probably(read: definitely) choose them, but I was much less willing to do so if there were any other options; in short, I had grown. I’d felt more attached to the Cullen’s than ever before, and I even had strong sentiments towards the new friends I’d made recently. It wasn’t everyday that you met someone who was willing to risk their life for you, so the fact that I had met so many, endeared them to me in a way I was sure would last for an eternity.

This growth was one that Aro apparently hadn’t prepared for, as he stared at me with an incredulous expression. “ Family and friends? ” he questioned. “You haven’t even known them for a century yet, you can’t be that attached.” I stared at him, dumbfounded. Was that how he measured his relationships? I knew that vampires lived in spans of centuries, rather than days, but that seemed unreasonable even then. I was sure that I meant just as much to the Cullen’s as they did to me; the idea that our bond was less meaningful simply because we hadn’t yet known each other for hundreds of years was mind-boggling. He continued, “You’ve known the Cullen’s for less than 2 years, and most of your friends ,” he spat the word, “are people you have known for merely weeks. How could you possibly—”

“Aro.” a voice interrupted. We all turned to see the one who dared risk Aro’s wrath, by interfering. I recognized the man who spoke as the one who had given me the warm look earlier. His bored expression was still written plainly on his face, but as he looked in our direction, I noticed his eyes lightening slightly. Everyone seemed shocked that he, specifically, had spoken up, and I wondered why. Studying his face, I suddenly remembered that I had seen that disinterested expression before, and realized that the man in question was Marcus Volturi, the Third King. From what I remembered being told about Marcus, he hadn’t cared about the dealings of the Volturi since the death of his wife, Didyme. I wonder what he’s up to. Is he playing their game as well? Why now?

Ignoring the shocked expressions being sent his way, he held his hand out to Aro, “See what I see, brother.” Zipping over to his side, Aro took his hand and stared out at us. I remembered that Marcus’ gift gave him the ability to see the bonds between people, and assumed that that must’ve been what Aro was seeing.

“I see.” Aro intoned, almost regretfully. His eyes continued to move around to each person on our side of the clearing. Each time he looked at someone new, his eyes would flick back to me, the grimace on his face steadily growing until finally, his gaze landed on Irina. When his eyes snapped back to me once again, he seemed almost baffled. “What—” he said, unable to complete his thought, apparently at a loss for words.

He quickly adopted a determined expression before flicking his wrist in an almost indiscernible movement. The only reason I noticed it was because of how heavily I was scrutinizing his movements waiting for any sign of an oncoming attack. That move, and Edward’s hiss were the only warning I had before I felt a new pressure pushing aggressively against my shield. Initially, I tensed preparing for an attack, but when none came, I realized the pressure, at the very least, wasn't physical.

I looked to Edward for an explanation. “It’s Chelsea.” he whispered just low enough for everyone on our side to hear. “She’s trying to interfere with our bonds, but she’s confused. She can’t find them, can’t feel us. Is that you?” He asked.

I nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got this. I can feel her pushing up against my shield but it's light, manageable. I have everyone covered, there’s no need to worry.” I assured them. The awe had returned to their faces, but they at least seemed a little less tense. I would take the small victories where I could get them.

“This level of control is unprecedented.” whispered Carlisle, this time remembering to keep his voice down. “When did—”

“Recently. Very recently. Just before Edward moved to talk to Aro.” A small shiver ran through everyone at that declaration. I shared the sentiment. It wasn’t amusing in the slightest to know just how close we had been. If my powers hadn’t revealed themselves today, it's impossible to guess what might’ve happened. 

…No it's not. It's incredibly obvious what would’ve happened. We would have all died. 

Like I said, ‘small victories.’

A confusing thought ran through my head, and I looked to Edward for an answer. “Why aren’t they waiting? We haven’t finished talking yet, and they haven’t even pretended to charge us with anything.” It didn’t make any sense to me. I knew that the Volturi were corrupt, but attacking before we had even finished deliberating seemed out of character, even for them. If for no other reason than to keep themselves in the good graces of their witnesses, I thought they would at least approach the situation with more tact.

“I’m not sure.” was his reply. “Aro is being careful to only consciously think of whatever he’s planning to say next. All I know is that something changed when Marcus showed him your bonds.”

“Oh yeah, why’d he do that?” I asked. “Is he scheming with Aro and Caius?”

He looked at me with that same irreverent smile, and chuckled, “No, nothing like that. I’ll tell you after this is done.” He must’ve noticed my reluctance. “I promise, it’s nothing bad. It’s just…complicated. His thoughts are more difficult to piece together than most. He’s been stewing in his grief for millenia, and just started to come out of it today. There’s not enough time to lay it all out. Just know that if we come out of this unscathed, you’ll have saved us in more ways than one.”

I nodded my agreement, and turned my focus back to the Volturi in the clearing. I watched as a member of the guard turned to look at Aro, and then shook their head. That must be Chelsea. In response, Aro let out a hiss that had even the witnesses shrinking away from him. He turned to look at me, and I saw an appraising expression on his face. It was clear that he now knew that my mental shield had grown in that short time, since he learned of it from Edward. He didn’t seem surprised, in fact he seemed almost smug. There was however a disturbed look about him, and I watched as his eyes flickered momentarily back to Marcus, who was once again gazing at me with warmth. Whatever was going through Aro’s mind, he was more unsettled than he let on, and Marcus had a large role to play in that.

Turning back to me, Aro began to speak, “Well, my dear, it is quite unfortunate that you are so adamant in your refusal, but I will not push if it is something you don’t want. Let it not be said that the Volturi tears apart families!” he exclaimed, turning to the witnesses. A low hiss from Amun had him quickly turning back around. “Something to say, old friend?”

Amun looked away, refusing to make eye contact, “No, Aro, I have nothing to say to you.”

Aro narrowed his eyes at the obvious barb, but continued smiling. “Wonderful, I would hate for our relationship to become marred by hostility…again.” He then turned to look directly at Benjamin before continuing, “If you do have any concerns you find need addressing, feel free to express them to me on our next visit. It has been a while since we’ve had a chat, yes?” The intent was obvious, Aro had learned of Benjamin’s powers, and he was making sure Amun understood what that meant for them both.

Amun, still refusing to meet Aro’s eyes, nodded his head, “Yes friend it has been much too long.”

“Marvelous! Now, Isabella,” he turned to me, “as you have rejected my proposal, I think you’ll find you have quite the decision to make.” He quickly made his way to Irina, and glared at her with an intensity that I didn’t really understand, but it set my body on edge. A part of me understood that he was likely goading me into acting, the way he had done with Renesmee, and it was that part that I focused on as I fought against my instincts to do something , anything. Irina is under the shield, she’s safe. I thought to myself. “Please, do hurry along, would you? I’m sure our dear Irina would like to know what her fate is before the day is out.” He then laid his hand on her shoulder, and squeezed, staring me in the eye.

At that action, all of the calm I had built up fled me in an instant. I could feel through my connection to the shield that Aro was concentrating every ounce of his strength into that squeeze. Consciously, I was aware of the fact that there was no way he could break through the shield to get to her, but every fiber of my being demanded that I get Irina away from him, and at that point I saw no reason not to listen.

The tug in my palm had gone from insistent to demanding and that familiar warmth had concentrated back into my skin, so, once again, I relinquished myself to my instincts and allowed my gift to do as it pleased. Instantly, I felt the thread of light connecting me and Irina go taut, and then, all at once it began retreating back into my palm. Everyone in the clearing watched as Irina slowly, impossibly, began to float towards me.

For a few seconds, all anyone did was stare in amazement. A stupor had befallen all of us, a sort of agreed upon moment of silence covered the field as we watched Irina hover above the ground, pulled into my orbit like I was a black hole, and she, an unwitting star. The stupor lasted only a moment longer before Aro, who had finally realized that his bargaining chip was quite literally flying away, let loose a fierce growl, but it was too late. Irina had arrived safely on our side of the clearing, and was quickly swarmed by her sisters. They immediately lifted her up from where she landed and carried her to the back of the group, the furthest away they could get from Aro without outright running away.

Aro focused his gaze on me, and I saw that the monstrous expression from before was back in full force, the full intensity of his glare was trained on me, and I froze under his scrutiny. I was still being led by my instincts and every single one demanded that I be still. I was being marked by a predator, and one sudden movement could spell death. “ Is that the choice you’ve made? ” he hissed at me. “So be it.” He raised his hand, no doubt preparing to command his army to attack.

My thoughts raged. No, this is too sudden, we haven’t even gotten Renesmee out of here yet. We’re not ready. I’m not ready. I’m not ready. I have to do something. I won’t let it end like this. My focus was brought back to the clearing, where I immediately noticed that Aro’s monstrous glare, while still on his face, was no longer pointed directly at me. Now that I was free to move again my instincts demanded that I take action, so once again—as it had apparently become a pattern, I let go of my control.

I was instantly made aware of my gift detaching itself from both Irina and Renesmee. NO, not now! Don’t fail now! Just as I was preparing to take back control before any more of my powers failed, I recognized a familiar heat in my palm. But something was different, gone was the comfortable warmth, instead replaced by a scorching blaze the likes of which I hadn’t felt since before my turning. 

My palm was almost burning at that point, and then, as if it had a mind of its own, my left hand shot up in the air pointing at the sky, and released the brightest light I had ever seen; it was what I imagined it to be like to stare at the sun…from 3 feet away. The light extended until it reached a height around 15 feet above our heads, and fractured outwards, each split thread of light falling to the earth in an arc resembling that of a shooting star. 

Once the threads touched the ground they immediately connected themselves together in a circle surrounding us, creating a dome shape. In every direction we looked, we were surrounded by the shimmery filament, which after a moment, as it had done for Irina and Renesmee, cleared up into a slightly opaque filter. Now, coming back to my senses, it was then that I realized that the dome had perfectly wrapped itself around my mental shield. As a test, I pushed my shield outwards about a foot in each direction, and watched as the dome shimmered and then moved, adjusting to the difference in size, before going transparent once again.

For a moment, the gleeful expression had returned to Aro’s face, but then, as if remembering why I had thrown the shielding up in the first place, a resigned grimace took its place. “This continued impertinence makes it quite difficult to maintain my sympathies towards you, Isabella.” he scolded, in a tone dripping with condescension, “It seems that we have arrived upon a ‘Fork in the road’ of sorts. As such, we must decide which avenue we want to travel down.

“The first, much more pleasurable option, requires that you take down your shielding so that we may continue this conversation civilly. The second route, I think you’ll find, is much less pleasant, as it will involve us ,” he gestured to the guard, “taking a much more aggressive series of actions. Choose carefully, the consequences of an unwise decision are much more… permanent than they were before.”

Should we even bother to risk taking the shield down to talk? I didn’t want to, mainly because I wasn’t sure that if I did take it down, I’d be able to put it back up again. I was confident that I could ‘open’ the shield freely if it came down to it, but a full release seemed unnecessarily risky. No, we should at least try to negotiate to leave the shield up, consequences be damned. They can’t hurt us here; it's better to be safe than sorry.

While I had come to my own conclusion, I wasn’t willing to force that decision on everyone else. We would all be affected by any actions I took, so I looked to the rest of the group for their input, and was met with a shocking sight. They were all already looking at me, and the expressions on their faces told me one simple thing: it was up to me.

I had, up until that point, been the one controlling the direction of the meeting. All the way from shielding everyone, to saving Irina, to testifying on her behalf, I had been the one in charge. They saw no reason to change that, so any further steps would be my call. I took a moment to take it all in. They were, in no uncertain terms, laying their lives in my hands. Their display of trust, and faith would have been enough to bring tears to my eyes, but it was not the time for that, so instead I nodded my assent, and turned to Aro.

“We feel,” I started, “that it would be safer for us to remain behind the shield. Perhaps we could continue our conversation in this manner?" I asked. I was, once again, mostly trying to appeal to the witnesses at that point, hoping to convince them of my words, but as I watched them I could see that I was no longer making any leeway with them. The ‘wall’ that I had placed between our group and the Volturi, represented much more than a simple physical barrier. 

While we had not done anything to attack the Volturi, nor given them a specific reason to attack us, a clear tone was set when I erected the dome. My actions at that point could quite easily be construed as open rebellion against the Volturi, and even of those who did sympathize internally, they felt it would be foolish of them to cross Aro in the event that they too become implicated in the affair; in short, they were staying out of it. What good are witnesses, if they refuse to witness anything?

Aro, seeming quite amused at my failure, shook his head “No, my dear, that was not one of the options. Is this a decision that you all agree with?” he asked the group behind me. A spatter of various forms of agreement rang out, not even an ounce of hesitation within a single one of them. “Well then, the second option it is. What to do? What to do? 

“Surely, it would be foolish to attempt to wait out a group of vampires, yes?” He asked, mostly to himself. He wasn’t wrong. Vampires didn’t sleep, nor did they get tired, the only factor that played into our ability to outlast one another was hunger; we still needed to feed. If it ever came down to it, the Volturi—who had free range to hunt, could definitely ‘wait’ for longer than us, but that could be talking about periods of weeks, or even months. “A foolish endeavor indeed…although—”

Edward’s warning growl rang out at whatever thought he had heard in Aro’s mind. Aro smiled, and continued, “Perhaps, if we do choose to wait, we could invite some guests to join us?” He looked at me. “Maybe young Charlie would like to come down for a visit?” The roar that burst forth from my chest was furious, maddened. “No? Well then maybe Renee? And we can bring Phil along as well! You could use the time to get to know him better, inside and out. ” 

My mind was chaotic. No, no, anything but that. Not my parents, never them! “Aro, please.” I begged, “Not them.” I didn’t care if it made me seem weak, I would do everything in my power to make sure my parents didn’t get involved in this whole mess.

“Well, my dear, I don’t want to get bored waiting you out, and you don’t seem to have any intentions of taking your dome down, do you?” I paused. I would put my own life on the line to save my parents, in a heartbeat, but I wouldn’t—couldn’t make that decision for everyone else. Seeing my hesitation, he continued, “As I thought. Well then, since you seem so insistent against us bringing anyone here , maybe we could take a couple trips while we wait.

“I have always wanted to take a trip down into Forks, to see one of the exciting towns that the Cullen’s had chosen to settle in. Maybe while we’re there, we could drop in on some of your friends. Oh, how I would love to meet dear Angela. Edward believes her to be one of the kindest people he’s ever met, did you know that? I wonder where her limit is, do you think she would be so kind if she knew the truth about you?” My replying hiss was ear-splitting, but he spoke on as if he heard nothing, “Afterwards we could visit Ben, or Mike, or Jessica, or Lauren, or Tyler. There’s just so many options to choose from!”

It had never been clearer to me, exactly why the Cullen’s had—for the most part—sworn off human attachment, until that moment. With every name that he listed off, from friends to tentative acquaintances, a painful spasm shot through my heart. I thought back to all the times, that as a human, I had been told that me being attached to the Cullens presented dangers for both of us. I had brushed those concerns aside every single time—even after James, even after Laurent, even after Victoria and her newborn army—telling myself that at best they were flukes, and in the worst case scenario, the Cullen’s could just simply turn me and be done with it. I had never been more wrong in my life, because this was it, this was the worst case scenario, where everyone I cared about was in danger because of me, and they didn’t even know it. Absolute horror shot through me at that very moment; it was all-consuming, paralyzing.

Aro, apparently satisfied with whatever expression happened to force its way onto my face, then turned to Carlisle. “I’ve always wanted to visit your place of work, Carlisle. Personally, I have never considered hospitals as useful for anything other than a quick snack, but perhaps I drew my conclusions too hastily. I would love to see it for myself, the progressions of human medicine. It wasn’t that long ago they were being wiped out by plagues, and look at them now! I wonder if any of the good doctor’s terminal patients would be receptive to some of our home remedies ? I would of course offer them the choice—unlike you, dear friend—and in the case of their denial, a swift and painless death would follow. It wouldn’t do, to have them walking around telling others of their offer, and besides it would be a much less tragic end than whatever the natural way could give them.” He observed Carlisle with an expectant expression.

Carlisle, to his credit, did not growl, or snarl, or roar. He simply stared at Aro with a disappointed grimace, saying, “I am truly sorry it has come down to this, old friend.” He then turned away, like Amun, refusing to make eye contact, or even look at Aro any longer.

Seemingly indifferent to his dismissal, Aro replied, “Perhaps you’re right, old friend.” He turned his gaze towards where Sam and Jake were standing with their respective packs. “Maybe Forks isn’t the most interesting location in this area. In fact, I find the local tribe to be so much more intriguing.” The series of rumbling growls that followed shook the ground beneath our feet. “I would love to hear more about the tribes’ legends ; we do try our hardest to keep abreast of exactly who is privy to the knowledge of our existence, and I would like to learn more about ‘the pack’ as well. From what I have ascertained from young Edward’s thoughts, the information is privileged, so that does narrow the pool down quite a bit.” All of the wolves tensed at that, they knew exactly who that ‘privileged’ group were, and they didn’t like where Aro’s line of speculation was heading.

Aro continued, looking at Jake, “I wonder if Billy would be up to the job.” Jacob’s angry snarl was his only reply, but the winces found on Seth and Leah’s faces were enough to indicate the intensity of the thoughts swirling in his head. “No? Well then maybe Sue would be up for it then? She must have learned quite a bit from our dear departed Harry, no?” He directed the questions to Seth and Leah this time. The winces were now absent from their expressions, their faces displaying an image that could only be described as pure fury. “Hmm, maybe not, after all, the pack legends are quite old; if we want some fresher information, perhaps we should ask for it from younger minds. Your ‘imprints’, I believe you call them—”

The response was thunderous. The threat to the pack’s imprints drove their instincts into overdrive, regardless of whether or not they had imprinted, as pack law demanded their protection. Their backs were taut, hackles raised, and their lips were pulled back tightly, revealing arrays of sharp, glistening teeth. The only two to not react in this way were the Alphas, who simply stood there, regally projecting an aura of calmness. Their faces were unreadable, but it was clear that they were attempting to soothe their individual packs. Slowly, but surely, the wolves began to quiet. Their faces still projected the rage they were feeling, but their eyes had taken on a new tint, one of planning and calculation. A few of them, specifically those with imprints of their own, looked to me with pleading expressions, clearly begging me to take down the dome so that they could eliminate the threats to their imprints. 

I looked at Sam, I knew he was worried about Emily, and I at least wanted to get his opinion on it before I made any moves. He stared at me contemplatively, before shaking his head and looking away, then barking out a command that had the other wolves averting their gazes as well. I turned to Jake’s pack, specifically Seth and Leah; the threat to their mom and the reminder of their father’s death weighed heavily on them, but they stood resolutely.

Turning back to Aro, I noticed that he was still talking. His gaze flickered from the Egyptian coven, to the Irish coven, to the various nomads around us. With each person, he listed off a name, and a vaguely concealed threat. I didn’t recognize most of the names spoken, but the responding hisses and snarls told enough of a story. By the time Aro had finished speaking, the tension and rage felt amongst those under the dome were almost palpable. Aro, having read the thoughts of almost everyone in the dome at least once, targeted their most vulnerable areas.

Silence reigned, for a while. Everyone stood still, not making a sound, both in fear and rumination. I noticed a few glances being shot my way, the expressions in the eyes that peered at me were eerily similar to those of the wolves. They were begging me to act, to drop my shield so that we could battle it out with the Volturi, but I refused to do that unless we were all in accordance. They may have elected me their de facto leader, but that did not make me a dictator. I would not decide anyone’s fate for them.

As we all contemplated our next plan of action, a cheerful giggle drew all of our attention, but it was not from Aro, nor any of the Volturi. We turned to see expressions of smug glee written plainly on the faces of Stefan and Vladimir. “We told you, did we not?” questioned Stefan quietly, whispering. “ This is who they are. This is what they do. We told you , long ago, that the only way this farce of a trial ends is with a pile of smoldering ash. The question is whether that pile will be made up of our bodies, or theirs ?”

Not a single person could bring themselves to speak a word of disagreement. We had known before this meeting that if we survived, we would likely live for the rest of eternity with a target painted on our backs, and we accepted that. We figured that as long as we broke no laws, as long as we didn’t outwardly give the Volturi a reason to hunt us, that they would be bound—either by obligation or scrutiny—to do us no harm. However, it had become abundantly clear that we had underestimated what the Volturi was capable of. It would not just be ourselves in danger, it would be everyone we cared about as well. The threat that the Volturi posed was such that war was quickly seeming like the only safe option.

Seeing the lack of opposition, Vladimir spoke, taking the opportunity to rile us up more. “ First , they come to take the child. Then , they try to take the Sister. Then , they try to take the Mother. Now , they threaten to take your friends, and your families, and everyone you’ve ever cared for, and you stand there debating .” He spat the word. “How much more will you let them take from you?”

Vladimir’s words had the desired effect. As I looked around, I watched as faces that were once filled with fear and hesitation, began to firm up with determinedness. Even the Cullens, to my surprise, had adopted resolved expressions. Once again, every gaze on our side of the clearing was turned to me, but I did not balk under it. I simply stared back with a question in my eyes. Are we doing this? Are we going to war? All at once, they nodded. I nodded back, and then whispered so that only they could hear, “ Wait for my signal.

Quickly, I picked up Renesmee, and rushed over to Jacob’s side, preparing to place her onto his back to set our backup plan into motion. It was to my surprise, when he backed up, shaking his head, and indicating towards Leah’s direction. I looked at her, and saw that the pack that was once tied around Jacob’s leg was now wrapped around her own. I looked at him for confirmation that the plans had changed, and he nodded. 

I understood his line of thought, and found myself agreeing with it. The best way, the only way, to ensure that Renesmee would be safe would be to totally eradicate the Volturi, or to at least make it so that they did not have enough manpower to continue to operate as an organization. In order to do that, we would need both Alphas on our side, and as Leah was the fastest, it made the most sense for her to take Renesmee away. In the best case scenario, we would survive and Jacob could use the pack bond to let Leah know it was okay to come back. It would be difficult for Jacob, but it was our best chance for the best outcome.

Tears welling in his eyes, Jacob whimpered his goodbye to Renesmee, and turned away, blinking away the droplets, a steely expression taking over his face. I rushed over to Leah, and placed Renesmee onto her back. As I buckled her in, Edward ran over, having finally heard the thoughts indicating the full width of Alice’s plan. “Is this what you were keeping from me, all this while?” He asked, sorrow filling his voice.

“Not from you, from Aro. I couldn’t risk him reading you, and finding out.” A pained expression took over his face, and while I wanted so badly to comfort him, there was just not enough time, so instead I handed him the straps to Renesmee’s harness and indicated for him to fasten her in. Giving him the chance to say his goodbyes, I moved over to Leah’s front and looked her in the eyes, trying to convey all of my feelings in that single glance.

“Take care of my daughter.” was all I said. She nodded her assent, and I brushed her fur in gratitude. Leah and I had never had the friendliest relationship, but I trusted her. She was a reliable, and strong woman, and I knew she would do everything in her power to keep both of them alive. I allowed myself to find comfort in that, before making my way back to my daughter who was now firmly attached to Leah’s back. I took her free hand, the other of which was already in Edward’s grasp, and held it. “This is goodbye for now, little bug. Hopefully, it won’t be permanent, but if it is, I just want you to know we both love you, forever.”

Tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m leaving?” she asked. I nodded. “You’re not coming with me?” A sob escaped my body, and my grip on her hand tightened. I shook my head.

“I’m sorry bug, but for now, this is a trip you’re going to have to take without us.” I tried to keep my voice level. With tears falling freely from her eyes, she lowered her hand to my face and sent me a series of images. She showed me a collection of her memories, starting from the moment we met, until now. There was no discernible pattern to these memories, they weren’t large, or overly notable occasions, but all together they combined to form one solid picture: love. 

“I love you, too. I love you so, so much, and that will never change, no matter what, do you understand that?” She nodded. “Good.” Laying one last kiss on her palm, I let her go, and moved back to the front line.

I turned my head back, taking one last glance at my daughter before whispering to Leah. “Are you ready?” She nodded. “Ok, I’m going to open up the back first. When I do that, I want you to run away from here as fast as you can. Don’t look back, not even for a second, do you hear me?” She nodded again. 

I turned my glance toward the group standing behind me. “I don’t want to do this. I know that most of you don’t either. Some of you didn’t want to be here in the first place, but you stayed anyway, and I will love and respect each of you for that until I am no longer on this Earth.” I took an unneeded breath. “As such, if any of you want to run as well, I won’t blame you. I won’t lose respect for you, or curse you. I just ask that you speak up right now, so that we know what we’re working with when we go out there.”

Not a single person moved.

After a moment, I let loose a breath I didn’t know I was holding and allowed a smile to form on my face. “I will love every single one of you until the day I die.” I turned back, facing Aro and the rest of the Volturi, the smile still firmly situated on my face. “Let's hope that day isn’t today.” A few chuckles sounded out, the loudest of which came from Emmett.

Taking in the Volturi, I noticed that the Kings were huddled away from us, discussing something. The conversation was heated by the look of it, but they were talking too quietly for us to hear. I looked to Edward for an explanation. “They’re in council.” he replied, noticing my questioning glance. “After Aro’s tirade, Marcus reminded him that they had yet to actually charge us with anything, and they’ve been in council ever since.”

“Any chance we’re looking at an innocent verdict?” I joked, but I seriously wanted to know. If there was a way we could avoid fighting without sacrificing one of ourselves, I would take it. Judging by the look of the conversation they were having it looked like there was some level of disagreement. I just hoped it wasn’t about the best way to go about killing us.

Edward let out an amused snort, but sombered quickly, “No. Aro and Caius want us destroyed. Aro is trying to convince them of the potential danger we, but mostly you , could present in the future. Caius doesn’t really care about that. He’s still convinced that the Volturi are invincible. He is, however, still furious about your interruption with Irina. He isn’t afraid of you in the same way Aro is, but he saw it, and consequently you, as a challenge to his authority. Marcus is arguing in our favor, but if it comes to a vote they’ve got him beaten 2 to 1.” I looked at him, my question clear in my eyes. “I’m still not sure exactly why Marcus is favoring us. His thoughts are still too jumbled to pick apart. All I know is that it has something to do with you, specifically.” He laughed, dryly. “It's funny, really, all of our lives are on the line, and what it all comes down to, the deciding factor of it all, is how they feel about you , individually.”

I blanched at that. “Maybe I should’ve tried harder to make friends.” I mumbled, under my breath. The replying laughter caught me by surprise. Oh yeah, super hearing. I turned to the rest of them, a question on my tongue. “What do you all think? Do we go now, try to catch them by surprise? Or do we wait for them to vote? It’s almost certainly not going to be in our favor, but there are at least a few people over there who don’t want to kill us. If we attack first, it’ll be all out war, but if we wait, it’s not a definite fact, but there may be some of them who stay out of the—”

Edward’s angry hiss cut my sentence short.”It’s too late, they’ve voted. Marcus lost, and the fight is on, but it looks like you were right. Quite a few of them disagree with the decision, especially amongst the witnesses, but most of them have resolved to fight anyway. Only a few are still undecided.” He hissed again. “It’s starting now. Jane and Alec are using their powers right now, can you feel them?”

Just as I was about to reply in the negative, I felt two strong presences push against my shield. One was sharp and swift, stabbing against my shield like a blade, while the other was wide and constant, like a wave moving against me. The feeling of both was uncomfortable, but manageable. “Yeah, I feel them. They’re not making it through though.” 

I turned to Leah, and the others behind me. “Okay everyone, look alive…or, well…you know.” I shook my head, ignoring the chuckles. “Once Leah is out, and far away enough, I’m going to drop the rest of the shield all at once. It should only take a second to get my mental shield back up, but be prepared to feel Jane and Alec’s powers for a moment just in case.” They nodded their understanding.

“Alright, I don’t want to give them any more time to prepare. Leah, get ready, I’m opening up  the shield now. On my count, Five,” Everyone shifted into their battle stances, slowly, trying to avoid alerting the Volturi, whose focus wasn’t fully on us as the Kings were still deliberating something . Stefan and Vladimir had grins on their faces, the moment they waited thousands of years for, had finally arrived. “Four…Three…Two…O—”

Just as I was about to finish the count down, Edwards startled gasp rang out throughout the clearing. We all stared at him, bewildered. The Volturi had now shifted their focus onto us, and upon taking notice of our obvious fighting stances, they shifted into their own, on high alert now. “Edward? Wh— Why ?” I asked, needing an explanation. Whatever chance we had of catching them off guard had now flown firmly out the window.

Edward only uttered one word, a single word, that set my heart alight with hope, “Alice.”

“Alice.” I repeated. Alice. Alice. Alice. Alice. ALICE. “Is she here?” I asked. He nodded his head. “ALICE! YOU CAN COME OUT NOW!” I bellowed at the top of my lungs. At my exclamation, a series of alarmed mutters spread out. On the Volturi’s side I saw mostly confusion, and on Aro and Caius’ faces, indignation. Marcus’ expression was hard to read, but it looked almost…relieved. I turned my head to look at those around me, and their bodies were still tense, still on edge for a fight, but in most of their eyes shined the same hopefulness that I was sure was present in my own. I couldn’t fight the smile on my face. “Alice.” I breathed. “She’s home.”

 

*****

 

Alice’s inclusion into the meeting was, like many of the things about her, absolutely miraculous. Her introduction of Nahuel and Huilen proved to be the last bit of evidence we needed to justify Renesmee’s innocence. While both Aro, and Caius tried their absolute hardest to fight it, questioning Nahuel about every intricacy of his existence, he stood firm under their scrutiny. He batted away every leading question, and misconstrual of words with effortless grace, until at the end, the Volturi’s own witnesses were nodding at his words. 

The final nail in the coffin was Marcus’ firm insistence that the matter be ended. “Brothers, it is clear that no crime has occurred here. Let us go home in peace. There is nothing gained for us by remaining here any longer.” The sounds of agreement that rang out from the collective of witnesses was the final sign that Aro and Caius had solidly lost the argument.

Still grasping at straws, Caius weakly offered, “What about the Denali girl? Her punishment was interfered with, a direct challenge to our order.” Aro stayed quiet on the matter. He looked at Marcus with a resigned, but calculating gaze, as if measuring his response, but he did not make any indication of where his thoughts on the matter lay.

A series of hisses sounded in reply, from both sides of the field. At his brother’s statement, a dark look had taken over Marcus’ face, one that had even Caius stepping back in uncertainty. It was, in essence, the same bored visage that had been present before, but the new light in Marcus’ eyes caused the expression to look downright menacing. “I believe, in regards to that issue, the case has been well, and truly handled.” He gestured to Aro. “If you recall, our dear brother here, extended quite the generous favor to young Bella. She has yet to use it, but I’m sure she would find it most applicable here. Am I right in that assumption, young one?” He directed the question towards me.

“Right! I mean, absolutely, sir. I would like to use that favor here if possible.” He smiled at me, the warmth returning to his eyes. I’m getting whiplash. Why does he keep looking at me like that?

Still pondering that, I looked over to the Denali sisters. Irina’s livelihood at that point was well, and truly secured, but it had been hanging in the balance for quite a while. As someone who had found themself in the same situation more times than I could count, I wanted to do a status check. The sight that I was met with brought a smile to my face. They were huddled away, just the three of them, holding each other, and whispering words of affirmation. They were there, and they were alive, and they were going to be okay. 

I noticed Irina sporadically looking up from their huddle, shooting a furtive glance in my direction. I managed to catch her eye during one of those glances, and the guilt and sorrow in her expression was visible. Not wanting her to stress anymore, at least as it pertained to my own thoughts about her, I sent her a genuine smile, trying to communicate through it that I had forgiven her, and that I held no resentment for her. Most of all, I tried to communicate my understanding. She stared at me for a few seconds, but eventually nodded and focused her attention back onto her sisters. The glances continued, but the negative emotions in her gaze had lessened significantly, replaced instead by a new curiosity, she seemed to be almost studying me.

Speaking again, Marcus turned to the rest of the Volturi, “Let us go freely, there will be no violence today.” At his words, they all shifted out of their combat positions, and readied themselves to leave. Section-by-section, they all turned and left, starting with the witnesses, followed by Sulpicia and Athenadora, each taking a batch of the guard with them. Finally, Caius left as well, shooting us one last hateful glare, and taking the remaining members of the guard with him. In the end, only two members of the Volturi remained, Aro and Marcus.

Aro continued to stare at us with a contemplative gaze, apparently still scheming on what to do next, but Marcus stared only at me. The warm expression was firmly rooted onto his face, and unlike the other times he did not look away. He spoke, “You remind me so much of her, my Didyme.” A collection of gasps rung out at his statement, the loudest of which came from Edward, who now had an enlightened expression upon his face. Aro, for some odd reason, looked horrified. “Your ability to form strong bonds at ease, while offering nothing but yourself, is a gift that I have not seen in a long, long time. I see it so clearly, you bring such joy to the people in your life, and it is not simply a result of your gift, it is you yourself that causes it. Many misunderstood her power, they saw it as manipulation, but what they did not understand was that it was simply an extension of who she already was: a bringer of glee.” The smile on his face was sad, mournful, but radiant. “I will do what I can, to make sure that no harm befalls you, or your loved ones. Do try to stay on the right side of the law, my authority only goes so far.”

He turned away from us now, his back facing us, but one last time he spoke again, “A word to the wise. Be watchful that your bonds do not become chains. You have, for the most part, surrounded yourself with those who will return the trust and love you give them in equal measure. However, not everyone who is willing to bond with you, does so in your best interest. I have seen you, young Bella, when you allow yourself to be controlled by your attachments. It is beautiful, how your bonds sing with your love, but it is not a state that I wish to see you in again. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” The reply came from both I, and Edward’s mouth. I looked at him quizzically, and he motioned to his head. He was apparently responding to a thought that Marcus had sent at him. 

Marcus simply nodded, “With that, I must bid you adieu, there is much to do when I get back.” He paused. “I believe it may be time for the Third King of Volterra to return, at last.” A moment later, he was gone. 

Aro gaped at the spot where Marcus once stood. He turned to look at us, the horrified expression was no longer on his face, replaced with a tight smile, but his gaze was chaotic, nervous. He looked as if he didn’t want to stand there a second longer, and his next statement confirmed it. “It seems that it is time for me to go as well. I am quite glad that we managed to end this matter without too many unpleasantries. Carlisle, Amun, dear friends, I hope to see you again sometime within the next century?”

Amun simply ignored him, but Carlisle responded, “Go in peace, Aro. I do hope that one day I can call you friend again, and mean it.”

“Wonderful,” Aro replied, not even seeming to notice the underlying meaning in Carlisle’s words. Man, something’s got him really twisted up inside. “Well, I must make my leave, goodbye to you all.” With one last sweeping glance, he left the area, at a speed that would’ve made a passerby believe an angry mob had just chased him out, with torches and pitchforks. That’s not too far away from what happened, I suppose. I thought to myself, humoredly.

A moment of silence ensued after Aro’s departure. Surprisingly, there were no cheers, no jubilee, just the heavy weight of contemplation. We had all almost lost a lot that day, and although we may have survived, our futures were not certain. We stood there, silently  ruminating on the possible consequences that our actions that day might have brought down on us.

The silence was quickly broken by a booming voice, letting loose an amused chuckle, “Badass Bella, saved the day again.” The cackle that burst forth in response to Emmett’s declaration bordered on hysterical. I tried hard to hold it in, there was so much to think about, so much to prepare for, but I just couldn’t. All of the feelings that I had pent up that day exploded out from me in surges of chaotic, unrestrained laughter. Slowly, but surely, the others began to follow my lead, their own stressors demanding a release. 

It quickly became a competition of who could cheer, scream, or shout the loudest. Even the wolves joined in, their roars and barks reverberating across the clearing. In the midst of the pandemonium, I rushed over to Leah, and unfastened Renesmee from her back, collecting her in my arms. It would be a long while before I let her go again. I thanked Leah, and she nodded, running off to go celebrate with the other wolves, who seemed to be wrestling at the moment. 

I turned to Jacob, who was still looking around with a guarded expression, searching for danger. “Hey. Look at me.” He flicked his gaze towards my way. “It’s over, for now at least, go celebrate with your pack, or if you want, you can phase back. I’m sure Nessie wouldn’t mind talking with one of her favorite uncles, isn’t that right?” I asked her, using the nickname he had made for her. She nodded, excitedly. He snorted, but eventually his eyes stopped searching and with a huff, he made his way to the treeline to shift back into his human form.

Feeling a tug on my arm, I looked down to see Renesmee staring at me with a question in her eyes. “I’m not leaving anymore?” she asked. I shook my head at her, smiling brightly. “I can stay with you? All of you? My family?”

“You can stay with us as long as you like, little bug. Forever, if you want. Would you like that?” A relieved smile took over her face, as she nodded. At that moment, Edward ran over, dragging Alice along behind him. Edward grabbed Renesmee’s free hand, understanding my reluctance to let her go, and began cooing adorably. I smiled at that, and turned toward Alice, eyebrow raised, now glaring.

She started, “I hope you understand, I never had any plans on abando—”

“I know.” I interrupted.

She stared at me incredulously. “Wh—”

“I’m not stupid , Alice, I know what a backup plan looks like when I see one. I’m not sure why your clues required that I had the deductive capabilities of a main protagonist in an Agatha Christie novel, but I got there in the end. I didn’t know exactly what you were planning, but I knew you wouldn't just hang us out to dry. I know you better than that. You should know me better than that.”

“I— I didn’t, I guess I didn’t think about it like that. I’m sorry Bella, I guess I could’ve saved you a lot of stress there, huh?” she asked sheepishly, her eyes pleading.

“...You are so lucky my hair can’t go gray anymore.” She laughed, and moved towards me, arms out, asking for permission. “Come on, “ I waved her over. “give your sister a hu—”

It was her turn to interrupt me this time. Her body collided with mine, and she nuzzled into me, obviously relieved. It occurred to me at that moment, that she had been genuinely concerned about whether or not I would forgive her. Considering that, I held her tighter. “You know,” I teased, “you could have just looked ahead and seen the outcome of this conversation, there was no need to worry.”

She chuckled. “No, I really couldn’t. Renesmee still messes with my visions and you don’t have any plans to be anymore than 3 feet away from her for at least the next 72 hours.” I fixed her with a fake scowl, but the smile fought its way back onto my face. I couldn’t even pretend to be upset at that. “Also, I just didn’t really want to. …Don’t look so surprised , I’ve been using my gift almost nonstop for the past two weeks or so, forgive me for wanting to live in the present for awhile. I’ve got a feeling that I’ll have my hands full watching the Volturi’s decisions for the next decade, or so, so allow me this small respite.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” The interjection came from Edward. “In fact, if I’m right, we may not have to worry about the Volturi for a long, long while.” He stared at me with an awed expression.

“Marcus?” I asked him. “You were finally able to read his mind.” It was a statement, I knew from the exclamation he had made earlier that he’d had a breakthrough, I just wasn’t sure of the specifics.

He nodded. “Yes, right at the end there, when he spoke Didyme’s name, his thoughts cleared up for a second, and I was able to find out everything . Bella, you, you are truly mag—”

“You can tell your wife how much you love her later bro, tell us the story.” interrupted Emmett. A quick swipe to the back of his head, quieted him down, but his eyes were filled with anticipation. 

Peering around, the same look could be found on the faces of everyone else, save Stefan and Vladimir, who were still angrily staring at the area where the Volturi once stood, clearly upset at the fact that we hadn’t gone to war. Marcus’ warning came to mind as I watched them, and I held Renesmee closer to my chest. Noted. I didn’t think they’d go so far as to threaten my family directly, but I just didn’t have space in my life for schemers. I would be civil, but the sooner they were gone, the better.

Tuning back in to the conversation happening around me, I noticed that everyone had stopped celebrating and were now standing in a loose circle around us, listening intently as Edward began to speak about what he read from Marcus’ mind. “So, it started from the moment we walked into the clearing—”

 

*****

 

“So let me get this straight—”

A chorus of groans sounded out as Emmett attempted to reiterate the story…for the fifth time. We had long since moved from the clearing and were now lounging in the Cullens’ living room. At the moment, the only people in the house were the Cullens, Nahuel and Huilen, and the Denali’s, along with Garrett. I was sitting on a 4-seater couch between Renesmee and Edward, with Rosalie to my far left, holding Renesmee’s hand. Emmett was standing behind Rosalie, and the rest of the Cullen’s, as well as Nahuel and Huilen, were strewn about the room, each standing or sitting with their respective partners, or in Nahuel’s case: family members. The Denali’s were seated in another 4-seater on the far side of the room with Garrett sitting on the ground in front of Kate, whom he had given—and received, a very impressive confession with after the battle had ended.

The wolf pack had already gone back to the reservation, a combination of their innate discomfort around vampires, and the fact that the threat to their loved ones—even though it had passed—still weighed heavily on them. Jacob would be coming back later, after spending some time with Billy, and checking in on Charlie as I had asked of him.

The Romanians had long since left, after calling us ‘ foolish ’ and failing to convince us that fighting with the Volturi was the best way to secure our futures. We were more amicable towards the idea during the conflict, when it seemed like the only way, but now faced with the possibility of peace, no one was in a hurry to jump back into the fray so impulsively. Alice’s promise that she would keep a steady watch on all of our futures, was the final nail in the coffin, and they ran off, cursing us all the way.

The remaining covens and nomads hadn’t yet left permanently, but some did go out to hunt, while others just wanted space to themselves for the moment. Edward’s story had filled in a lot of holes, and everyone was, for the most part, satisfied in the knowledge that they were safe for the foreseeable future, but that kind of tension doesn’t just go away, so they needed some time to recuperate. Secretly, I was also convinced that some of them just wanted some time away from Emmett, whose excitement had yet to wane, who I also noticed at that moment was still talking.

“No, listen, I don’t think you all understand, this is Bella Bear we’re talking about here. Two left feet, walking danger magnet, Bella Swan.” Thank you so much, Emmett. I went to flip him off, but was quickly deterred by Esme’s watchful eye. I settled for a glare. “Some of you didn’t know her when she was human, but for me to see her go from that, to this Superhero is…” He gestured broadly.

It wasn’t like I didn’t understand where he was coming from. When I was human, I was aware of my flaws to an extent that was probably unhealthy, but after my change I became aware of some of the finer qualities that I had overlooked. Being changed didn’t fix me; sure, I was stronger, and more agile, but those were just physical traits. Everything under that was still me, and I had learned to accept me for who I was. I didn’t miss being human, far from it, but I had a greater appreciation for the humanity I had left behind. As such, it didn’t feel great to know that people saw me as a completely different person after my turning.

Rosalie’s voice broke me from my musing. “I don’t know. I think she’s just showing us what she’s always been capable of.” I turned to her with a stunned look. Rosalie had become a recent friend, but it was no secret that she didn’t like me very much when I was a human. I had since learned her reasons as to why that was, but her words now sounded like praise almost; not just for who I was now, but for who I was as a human as well. Needless to say it was confusing, and judging by the expressions on the rest of the Cullens’ faces the feeling was a shared one.

“Is it really so unbelievable for me to say that?” she asked, looking around. At the various assortment of head nods, snorts, and my own vocal ‘ yes’ , she huffed. “A big part of the reason why I was so against Bella being turned was because I felt like she had so much potential in the human world. I wouldn’t have fought so hard for her to remain human if I hadn’t genuinely believed that she would lose out on so much more than she would gain.”

Something in her words struck me, she had only referred to those ‘beliefs’ in the past tense. “You don’t believe that anymore?” I asked. If so, that was momentous, getting Rosalie to change her mind on something like this was like getting a bullet train going at top speed to reverse directions; it didn’t happen without a lot of damage, and probably a few dead bodies.

She looked at me. The appraising expression from before was back in her eyes for a moment, before she shook her head, seeming to come to a conclusion. “I may have changed my mind, a little bit .”

I let out an exaggerated gasp, to which she responded by flicking me in the head, before asking, “What happened, to make you change your mind?”

“Honestly? You happened, you proved me wrong. Being turned took a lot of things from me, from all of us,” she gestured widely to the room, “and for the most part, none of us really got much of a choice. But Bella you, you made your choice before you even knew that you had to , and I convinced myself that that just meant you were foolish, that you didn’t think things through, that once you saw what this life had to offer you’d regret your choice. On every single one of those assumptions you proved me wrong; you’re intelligent, you’re observant, you measure your risks and you choose to take them anyway. I saw all of that for myself within a few weeks of knowing you, but I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that maybe I was wrong, and I took that out on you, and for that I am truly sorry.”

She paused, seeming to hang her head in shame. I reached across the couch and grabbed her hand, squeezing. We had already addressed her past behavior before, and I had forgiven her, but I knew it would continue to eat at her for a while. After a moment, she squoze back and continued, “After that, I just told myself that you would see the truth after you were turned, that you would understand after you lost everything, but again you proved me wrong. You didn’t lose anything , nothing that mattered to you, at least. You didn’t lose your ability to have a child, you didn’t lose your family—in fact, you gained some, but most importantly, you didn’t lose yourself. 

“You found yourself Bella, you clung to this life more easily and more suitably than any other vampire I’ve ever seen or heard of. When I saw you bring out your shield, to protect Irina, it cemented what I had already begun to know: You belong here, in this life, with all of us, there’s no doubt about it. I spent a long time, so many years, agonizing over what I had lost, that I didn’t really ever take the time to consider what I could gain , what I had already gained. So, what I wanted to say in all of that, I guess, is thank you, Bella. Thank you for showing me another way.”

Following Rosalie’s speech, I found myself unable to do much but stare as I processed her words, but after a few seconds, a smile made its way onto my face. I let go of her hand, and before she could overthink that, I stood up and moved to stand in front of her, arms extended. “Can I hug you?” I asked. She nodded, and opened her arms, the smile on her face almost as wide as my own, if not just a little reserved; this was still Rosalie we were talking about. Embracing her, I whispered so that only she could hear, “ I feel so lucky to have you as a sister. Without a doubt, I consider you to be one of the people I am most lucky to have gained in my life. ” She hugged me tighter, and for a few moments we just stood like that.

“Y’see, the story is so powerful, it’s even able to bring Rosie and Bella Bear closer! What’s the harm in telling it again?” The mood breaking exclamation came from Emmett, who received two sharp whacks to either side of his head from both of us, before we sat back down on the couch, still smiling despite the interruption.

As soon as the laughter died down, Edward began to speak, “Alright,” he chuckled, “one more time, but you’ll have to make do with the abridged version. I’m sure Bella and Rose’s arms are comfortable, but it's about time for Renesmee to sleep on an actual bed, and I’m sure the rest of us would like to talk about something else for a while.”

At Emmett’s excited nod he began telling the story one last time. “Well, like I said before, it all started from the moment we, and the Volturi met each other in the clearance. What drew Marcus’ attention towards Bella were her bonds. He was struck, not only by how many of them there were, but by how strong they were, despite being so new. He had already seen Alice and I’s bonds with her in Volterra, and while he found it interesting that they were so strong, he eventually brushed it off as inconsequential, an outcome of our vegetarian lifestyle. Vampires bonding with humans was rare, but not unheard of.

“When he saw that Bella had similarly strong bonds with a group of vampires, most of whom she hadn’t met more than a few weeks prior, he was blown away. Vampires, by nature, don't tend to have many personal connections—outside of mates and coven members, most preferring to keep their relationships business-oriented. Even we, with the Denali’s—although we may consider ourselves to be family now, when we first met, our relationship was circumstantial at best. We were both vegetarian covens and there was power in numbers, so an alliance was to both of our groups’ advantage. The only other vampire that Marcus had seen with a comparable amount of personal attachments was Carlisle, and he’d had a few centuries to build them. 

“It was at that moment, that he decided that he would at least try to sway the outcome of the trial in our favor, even more so when we proved that Renesmee was not an immortal child. The thing that really sealed the deal however, was when he watched a bond form between Bella and Irina, seemingly without either one of them being aware of it.” He paused. “You still don’t know how that happened?” He directed the question towards me, wonder lacing every word.

“No, I just…sympathized with her, and a part of me felt like she was in danger and I wanted to help.” I shrugged. It confused even me, that a bond had formed between us. No one was really sure what the prerequisites were for the formation of an ‘instantaneous’ bond, but judging by how heavily it had impacted Marcus, I imagined there had to be something meaningful there. I looked over to where Irina was sitting with her sisters, and found that she was already looking back at me. The same speculative gaze was in her eyes that I assumed could be found in my own.

Maybe we’re ‘twin flames’. I thought, facetiously, my mind flashing back to one of Renee’s old hobbies. She had newly gotten into spirituality at the time, and was telling me all about the various ‘soul bonds’. I didn’t pay much attention, knowing Renee too well to believe that she would hold the interest for more than a few weeks, but the concept of twin flames really stuck out to me. As a child, the idea that there was someone out there who shared the same path as me, and who could truly understand me was something that I clung to; if for no other reason than to have someone who understood what I was talking about when I complained about Renee forgetting to do the taxes. If soulmates existed, I knew that I had found mine in Edward, but I found myself surprisingly unbothered by the idea that Irina could be my twin flame, platonically of course. What a pretty thought.

Realizing that I was beginning to stare, I turned back to Edward and shook my head once again, reaffirming my answer from before. His eyes flicked back and forth between Irina and I, contemplating something, before continuing, “Well, whatever reason there was behind it, seeing that bond form, followed by your saving Irina’s life, was what put Marcus solidly on your side. He was telling the truth, when he said you reminded him of Didyme. He saw the way that you so easily gave pieces of yourself to the people around you, even to someone that had…um…” He paused, catching himself before he finished the sentence we all knew was coming.

“Even to someone that had betrayed her.” Irina spoke up from her seat, for the first time in a while. There was no open hostility directed her way, especially since I had made it clear that I bore no resentment for her, but she’d still elected to remain mostly in the background until that moment. “It’s okay, you can say it, we’re all thinking it. Bella was under no obligation to save me at all, much less form a bond with me.”

“Irina—” I started.

“No, Bella, it's okay . Considering what I almost brought down on your heads, it's not an exaggeration to say I didn’t deserve what you did for me. I still don’t deserve your kindness now, and while I can’t for the life of me understand why you’re being so forgiving towards me, I will spend the rest of my existence trying to earn it, and maybe one day I will deserve it.”

That didn’t sit right with me at all. I knew what it was like to go about your days trying to live up to an impossible standard you had set for yourself. I knew what it was like enough to know that you never actually meet that standard. No matter how far you go, the goalposts shift, and it just becomes more unattainable. I wouldn’t let Irina do that to herself, not on my behalf; when I resolved to help her, I said that I would save her from herself if need be, and I intended to stand by that.

I zipped over to where she sat, ignoring the surprised exclamations from her sisters, and crouched in front of her, grasping her hand in mine. “Irina I want you to listen to me closely when I say this. I saved you because I felt that you deserved it. You don’t have to earn anything, you don’t have to prove anything to me. The best thing you can do for me going forward is to live. Just live .” I paused. “For what it's worth, I am sorry about Laurent. I won’t apologize for surviving, I’ve been forced to face my mortality enough times to know not to apologize for something like that. I do empathize however, with how it affected you . Maybe that was why I bonded with you, maybe it was something else entirely. There’s no need to overthink it, and there’s definitely no need to center your existence around it. Let’s just take this opportunity that fate gave us and move forward, yeah?”

Irina slowly nodded her head, her eyes scanning my face for any sign of hesitation, but there was none to be found. I began studying her as well, and it was then that I noticed how close I had become to her…physically. I had apparently been inching forward while I made my statement and my face was now very close to her own. At that realization, I quickly stood and began backing up, only to be reminded of the fact that I was still holding her hand. Squeezing it one last time, I released her hand, and made my way back to my seat, pointedly avoiding eye contact, mostly out of embarrassment. I’d only meant to give a small pep-talk, not a full-on speech.

I could feel the eyes on me as I sat, and I looked to Edward with a pleading expression in my eye, begging him to continue his story and push the conversation forward. After studying me for a few moments, he acquiesced, “Right, so, initially after he saw that he started thinking of ways that he could get the Volturi in Bella’s good graces. He didn’t want her to join the guard as Aro did, but he didn’t want the situation to sour so much that her relationship with them was irreparable. That was why he showed Aro her bonds; he was trying to get him to see that his manipulations wouldn’t work, and that the best approach to gaining Bella’s alliance would be through partnership, rather than servitude. If Aro had taken the time to properly inspect Marcus’ thoughts, he may have taken another course, but instead he just focused on Bella’s bonds. Where Marcus saw beautiful attachments, Aro saw only obstacles, and after he realized this Marcus abandoned his plans. When he discovered that Aro was trying to use Chelsea to disturb our bonds, he became incensed, and decided then that it would take him openly using his power as King to protect Bella.

“It wasn’t long after that, that Bella had taken Irina, erected the shield, and communications broke down entirely. Marcus was worried that Aro would just declare war immediately, and it was at that point that he called the Council session into order, hoping that he could at least sway Caius onto his side. Even after he lost the vote, Marcus kept planning on the best way to avoid conflict. When Alice showed up, he felt as if his prayers had been answered. Seeing that the case had been more or less resolved by that point, he began working out how he would continue to help Bella after he returned to Volterra. He decided that the best way was to formally announce his return as the Third King, and to let Aro know in no uncertain terms, that you—and by extension, us—were under his protection. Aro had completely abandoned scheming on how to deal with you by that point; he was much more afraid of what Marcus’ return would mean for his rule.”

We all sat in silent amazement at just how many things had changed, not just in our lives, but in the Vampire world as a whole. Hearing about how much Marcus had felt, and done on my behalf brought a question to mind. “I noticed, in the clearing, that Marcus would look at me with warmth, but then he would turn away right after, why was that? Was he just trying to keep his sentiments a secret from Aro?”

“That’s part of the reason. He also didn’t want to risk developing any emotional attachments with you out of concern that Aro would get Chelsea to manipulate them, and turn him against you. Once he realized you had the ability to block out Chelsea’s power, he stopped worrying about it, and became more willing to show his allegiance more openly.” I nodded at that.

I went back to thinking about the day’s events. It really wasn’t funny exactly how many things had to go right for us to have the happy ending we arrived at. From bonding with Irina, to Marcus returning as King; if one event had been out of line, we may have found ourselves in mourning, rather than celebration. I was brought out of my contemplation at Renesmee’s tired yawn; it had been a long day for her as well, and it was time for her to rest. “Alright, bug, whaddya say about going to sleep in your bed?”

She gave a tired nod, saying, “You’ll stay with me?”

“For the entire night, and for as many nights after that as you want. Forever.” We made our goodbyes, promising to be back the next day bright and early. No one wanted to be separated away from each other for too long after the day we’d had. We slowly made our way to our cabin—Renesmee in one arm, Edward’s hand in mine; there was no need to rush, we had an eternity layed out in front of us.