Saturday, July 28, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Fate Interrupted Chapter 8

~oOo~

Chapter 8

BPOV

"You know," Emmett mused, wiping the rain off of his face, "we could lead this shit across the country. Hand them straight to the wolves. They've always been itchin' for a fight."

The ground rumbled and shook with the force of one immortal tackling another. Edward and Jasper were trying out new strategies, new techniques while the rest of us looked on. The two guys were fairly matched in fighting skills – almost even. Where Jasper felt Edward's emotions, used them, played them against him, Edward could read Jasper's mind, so not only could he see what attack methods were coming at him, he could see how his own emotions were being manipulated.

"It's not their fight," Carlisle stated calmly. "It would be unfair to involve them without warning. We can't just bring a war down on their land." He flinched when another collision vibrated the ground as Jasper and Edward continued to spar, but he smiled at the boys' laughter through it all. "Besides," he continued, looking back to Emmett, "we've got more support coming our way. I believe Jasper's contacted his old friends Peter and Charlotte, and I'm waiting to hear back from an old friend of mine."

"Draw, dammit!" Jasper laughed, shoving Edward off of him. "Any more, and the humans will know it's not thunder they hear in this storm."

I grinned at Edward's smug smile as he pushed his wet hair from his forehead before helping Jasper to his feet. They shoved at each other, and despite the impending visit from the Volturi, it was really good to see Edward fitting in with my brothers. I couldn't help but giggle silently when Edward waved Carlisle forward.

"That should be interesting," Alice muttered, wearing a wry smirk, peeking with one eye.

"No kidding," I laughed softly, though it died quickly as I looked over at her weary face. "Okay?"

"Yeah," she sighed. "Nothing new...yet."

She'd begged me to shield her from all the minds and decisions that were being made on a continuous basis with so many of us around her, especially since we only had three days left before Aro was due to appear. Alice wanted to focus on Demetri, Felix, even Aro without the interruption of the second to second decisions behind everyone's training. So we sat off to the side against a large tree completely off everyone's radar – Edward's mind reading, Jasper's empathy, and everyone else's super hearing; we kept our voices low in order to not interfere.

Eventually, I would have to leave her because Edward needed to work with me. He needed to train without the ability to hear thoughts – something Carlisle had insisted on since his fight with James.

Alice opened both eyes, smiling as Edward and Carlisle circled one another, both wearing poker faces of concentration. In fact, the other fight between Rosalie and Tanya came to a standstill as everyone looked on. For a moment, I wondered if it was because this was the first time the two of them had faced off in over eighty years.

"It's been a long time since I've had to put you in your place," Carlisle taunted, smirking at his "oldest" son.

"I was a newborn then, Carlisle," Edward laughed, again clawing at his wet hair. "I could hear every mind within a five-mile radius. I've learned to filter that."

"Ten years old is no newborn, son. Look at Bella," he teased with a chuckle.

Edward scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Do not use your youngest, most gifted child against me. She's rare, and you know it."

That statement made us all laugh, and Edward shot me a quick wink as he continued to circle our father.

"What about that hot-headed temper of yours?" Carlisle countered with a laugh.

"No, that I still have," Edward said with a grin, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip.

In the blink of an eye, Edward launched himself at Carlisle. He was lithe and controlled, graceful and strong. He looked like a large cat on the prowl. Carlisle, on the other hand, was calm and easy in his movements, just barely dodging Edward's attack. It was fast and furious, their fight. Both men were using a different style against each other than they had against other opponents. It was like watching a chess match – move and counter, move and counter. Just when one had the other where they wanted, it would completely unravel, and they'd have to start over with whatever goal they were working toward in their minds.

Esme sat down beside me, leaning back against the tree. "They used to drive me crazy with this when I first joined them. This was before Rosalie."

Alice and I laughed but didn't take our eyes off the fight.

"Carlisle said that Edward had nervous, angry energy that he had to expel," she chuckled. "He didn't always give in, because he said Edward needed to learn to control that side of him, but when he did, I made them go far from the house."

Grinning, I nodded. I could well imagine her shooing them outside like playful boys.

"It was around that time that Carlisle bought Edward his piano." Her voice was wistful and sorrowful, and suddenly, the practice fight wasn't important.

Alice and I spun our gazes to her, and I knew my mouth was hanging open.

She smiled sadly because she knew Edward wouldn't go near that piano now. On more than one occasion, we'd caught him staring at it, but he wouldn't touch it. He'd change the subject or walk into another room, but he wouldn't hear of playing it. I didn't push him, because I knew that there was something holding him back.

"See, Edward played as a human," she explained. "I thought maybe if he had an outlet, a good one, then he'd could focus all his anger into it. When I suggested it to Carlisle, he agreed with me."

"Was he good?" Alice asked.

Esme huffed a laugh, but her chin trembled just a little. "Oh, he was...beautiful. It was like hearing the sounds of heaven through his fingers. And the calm that would take over him..." She shook her head slowly, letting out a sigh. "I wish he'd play again."

"He knows," I told her, smiling sadly. "He says he's not that man anymore."

"Oh, but he is," she gushed softly, just like the proud mother she was. "He is that man, only better now. I wish he'd see it."

"Bella, shield!" a bunch of voices yelled, and immediately, I shot up a wall in front of the three of us.

I laughed as Edward and Carlisle tumbled into my shield, only to bounce off of it. "Watch where you're going, boys!" I teased them, but they collapsed onto their backs into the wet grass, wearing twin amused grins.

Getting up from the tree, I strolled over to Edward, keeping him pinned down on the ground with my shield. I straddled him, plopped down on his stomach, and smirked at the grunt that escaped him.

"My turn with you, handsome," I chuckled, rolling my eyes at the shameless darkening of his eyes. I knew him so well. So I switched to thoughts. Not that, you insatiable thing. I meant practice.

He laughed, his head falling back to the wet grass. "I don't know if my ego can take much more today, love."

"You're mated, Edward," Carlisle chuckled as he stood up off the ground. "There's no more ego. You might as well get used to it."

Every woman with in hearing range cracked the hell up, while every man groaned in agreement.

"Yeah, Eddie, just hand her your balls now. You'll be better off," Emmett yelled.

That statement caused more laughter and a "damn straight" from Rose.

"Defense only, Bella," Edward stated when I finally allowed him to sit up, but he slipped me down to his lap, keeping me there. "I detest the thought of hitting you."

I huffed a deep sigh, trying my damnedest not to roll my eyes. "I'm not breakable, Edward."

He shook his head. "Doesn't matter. It's not in me to hit you, understand?" he asked softly, cupping my face and wiping away drops of rain from my face like tears. "Defense only."

Edward's eyes had lightened again to a honey gold, but this time, they were sincere, begging me silently to understand.

It bothers you that much? I thought to him.

"Yes. More than I can explain."

"You hit me!" Rose accused, but I could hear by her voice that she was just teasing him.

"You weren't Bella," he said, his eyes never leaving mine. "And that was sort of satisfying," he muttered so softly that only I heard him, which caused me to fight my laughter because the two of them bickered almost every hour.

"No mind reading, big guy," I told him with a smile.

"Fine," he chuckled, grasping me by the waist and setting me on my feet. He stood in front of me, saying, "Okay, give me all you got, beautiful."

I already have, I thought to him.

The smile that spread across his face was beautiful and priceless and filled with everything I just adored about Edward. It was a touch of pride, of shyness...and of course, just sweet disbelief.

"Bella," he sighed, shaking his head. "Focus, or this won't last long," he ordered, raising a sexy-as-all-hell eyebrow up at me, which wasn't helping.

"Don't baby me!" I told him, pointing a finger.

"No babying. Just start, love," he chuckled, circling me like I was a gazelle and he was a lion.

Shielding my thoughts from him, I attacked, catching him slightly off guard, but he recovered quickly. Edward countered every move, every kick, and every hit. I got in a few cheap shots to his stomach, but otherwise, he read me perfectly. Feigning left, I dove for him again, suddenly twisting to my right. Edward saw it coming and wrapped me up in his strong arms, pressing me into the closest tree.

"Close. Good, Bella," he praised, his eyes filled with mischief at how I was wrapped around him. "You'll get me next time."

"No, I pretty much have you where I want you right now," I whispered, rubbing my nose up one side of his and down the other.

"Careful, sweet girl," he crooned, his eyes now swirling to pitch black. "We're not exactly alone."

Grinning shamelessly, I shrugged a shoulder. "Mine," I breathed against his lips.

"Yes," he agreed as Carlisle called an end to the day. "Always."

~oOo~

"Do you know this Peter and Charlotte?" Edward asked as we trudged at a human pace through the Appalachians. Not only had Carlisle insisted that everyone hunt, but Edward needed a break from all the minds that were hanging around the house. "I mean, do you trust them?"

"I trust Jasper," I stated simply, shrugging a shoulder and glancing over at him. "I've met them before, yes. They're a nice couple, mated. They don't share our diet, but they seem to respect our differences, and they certainly respect Jasper. He knew them back in his days with Maria."

Edward's eyebrows shot up, but he merely looked over at me, silently asking for me to elaborate.

I smiled and took his hand. "Jasper's told you, and you said you met Maria, so you know what she was capable of." At his nod, I went on. "Peter and Jasper trained the newborns for Maria. They became friends. When Charlotte was changed, Peter mated with her, but Maria said Charlotte had 'outlived her usefulness.'"

"So Maria ordered Jasper and Peter to kill her," Edward concluded.

"But Peter couldn't do it," I told him. "Jasper helped Peter take her, and the two of them escaped. Later, they came back for Jasper, getting him out of the south."

"That would earn loyalty," Edward mused to himself with a single nod. "And then there's the immortal that Carlisle's thinking of contacting..."

I shrugged a shoulder, thinking it could be anyone because Carlisle had lived a very long time.

"Well, I heard the name Garrett in his mind. The nomad. I've met him before," Edward said, wearing a small smile. "He's extremely loyal to Carlisle. In fact, he hates the Volturi. I think something happened when Carlisle was living in Italy, and he saved Garrett's life from the hands of the brothers. Apparently, Garrett's sire had intended to drain him, but something happened, so instead of dying from his injuries, he was turned. He was out of control when he was brought to Italy. Carlisle took pity because he had practically gone through the same situation."

We came to a standstill, both of us catching a heady scent.

I grinned. "Black bear."

"More than one," he agreed with a chuckle. "Go!"

The little cheater took off without a second glance back, but I was right behind him. Dripping trees and dewy shrubs flew by, adding to my already-soaked clothes. The rain hadn't stopped for two days. We found the two rather large bears just outside a cave. Edward took one, and I took the other, rounding off our diet of two deer each for the night. We resumed our slow walk once the carcasses had been buried, taking us farther away from the house. Carlisle had given all of us twenty-four hours to meet back at home. That would leave us with one more day before the Volturi showed up on our doorstep.

After a few minutes of comfortable silence, we came upon an old, broken-down, wooden fence. In fact, the property surrounding it looked just as broken down, abandoned. What once might have been a small farm was now being taken over by the woods around it. The wood fence was green with moss and lichen, the small barn's door was hanging askew on its hinges, and the tiny house off in the distance had a large hole in the roof. It was quite obvious that no one had seen this place in several years.

"Come," Edward said, gracefully leaping over the fence, but he held out a hand for me once he was on the other side. "We'll get out of the rain for a few."

As the words left his mouth, lightning flickered across the dark gray sky. Fingers of thin fire wove through the heavy clouds, causing a strobe effect. Thunder rumbled long and low for a count of fourteen seconds as Edward led us to the closest shelter, which happened to be the old barn.

The swollen door gave way to Edward's barely-used strength, and it gave an eerie squeal when he closed it back again. The sweet scent of old hay, the vibrating sound of rat heartbeats, the sight of enormous spiders and their homes, and the glittering drips of water from the leaky roof made for a rather creepy environment.

Edward chuckled, glancing over at me. "All girl. Down to your bones, right? Can't take the rats, love?" He laughed harder when I shoved him playfully. "Completely rodent bite proof, can fight immortals twice your size, but you're worried about the spiderwebs in the corner."

"Tell me that when you walk through a spiderweb, you don't turn into a ninja, kicking and karate chopping around like a mad man," I growled, trying my damnedest not to smile at his incessant laughter. "I've seen both my brothers freak the hell out. Impervious skin or not."

"Maybe I'm just used to places like this," he snorted, rolling his eyes. "I've certainly waited out the sun in worse." His voice was soft, contemplative, but his eyes were bright, sweet, and far away.

"I'm just saying," I argued weakly, shaking my head at him. "When you walk through a web, you damn well wanna know where the hell the spider is. That's all," I murmured, gazing around the small barn.

Strong arms wrapped around me, but it was the soothing voice in my ear that caused me to melt back against his chest. "I give you my solemn vow that no arachnid, rodent, or any other creepy creature comes near you, my beautiful girl. If they try, they will meet a most horrible fate."

I grinned, a giggle escaping me. "We're about to have the fight of our lives, but you're protecting me from bugs and shit."

"I would lay down my life for you, Bella," he said, turning me to face him. "Bug, rat, or royal immortal army. Don't you understand that?"

How this suddenly became serious, I had no idea, but Edward's eyes were almost black with their ferocity. The whole lot of us had been trying to keep our wits about us, trying to maintain a positive attitude about proving our word to the Volturi. Edward and I were mated, Carlisle wasn't plotting to take over the vampire world, and our diet didn't make us any less cautious around humans than the next immortal.

We were hoping those truths won out.

Hope. It was the key to our sanity at the moment. We hoped that Aro would believe us and would leave us to live our lives in peace. We hoped that if he didn't, Demetri would show up to help us. We hoped that we didn't have to fight, but if we did, we hoped we came out on top. And my only secret, fear-filled, personal hope was that the man currently listening to every rambling thought I had as he stood stock-still in front of me would still be by my side when it was all over. I would be heartbroken with the loss of someone in my family...but I would die without Edward.

Edward said nothing as he reached out to wipe rain water from my face. His eyes were filled with clear understanding. When he finally did speak, his voice was soft, smooth, sad. "Has Carlisle ever told you his theory on why vampires mate for life?" he asked, nodding once when I shook my head no. He glanced around the barn, his eyes locking in on the loft. "Let's go up there," he whispered. "Jump because that ladder looks...worthless."

He leaped, landing gracefully on the edge of the loft, holding a hand out for me to follow, which I took gratefully once I was up there by his side. The hay loft was dry, still filled with a rather large pile of no longer sweet-smelling hay. It seemed this end of the barn's roof was still holding strong – no leaks, no moisture, just a soft breeze flowing through.

However, the sight of the hay caused a movie to flash through my mind. It was one Emmett and I had watched over and over. Teri Garr singing, "Roll, roll... Roll in ze hay," made me smirk to myself, but I giggled at Edward's blank expression.

"Young Frankenstein? No? You know...Froederick...Eye-gor...Abby Normal? What hump? Really?" I asked, still snickering. When he shook his head no, I sighed. "We really have to catch you up."

He chuckled, shrugging a shoulder, but helped me out of my wet jacket, taking off his, as well. He draped them over the loft's rail. Falling down into the fluffiest part of the haystack, he gestured for me to sit between his legs, which I did so instantly. His face was so very serious that I dropped the whole mental list of movies I thought he needed to see.

With strong arms wrapped around me, his mouth was at my ear. "I couldn't imagine that Carlisle would've told you his theory. He keeps it to himself. I only heard it from his mind, and it caused...major repercussions."

I turned slightly in his arms so that it was more like he was cradling me. I wanted to see his face when he told this to me.

"You know how he was raised, with a strict religious father...zealous, really. And I'm sure he's told you of our many debates over God and souls and the monsters that we are." He kissed my lips quickly to stop my disagreement. "I know, baby. Just wait." Kissing the little dip between my brows, he went on. "Carlisle feels that if we do all that we can, live this life to the best of our ability, that we still stand a chance with God once our lives end. That it's our decisions and actions now that make the difference. When he met Esme – first when she was sixteen and then again when she showed up in his hospital a few years later – he knew. He just...knew she was it for him."

"Yeah, they both told me," I whispered, not understanding the look of sadness crossing his features.

"I was there, remember?" He waited until I nodded and then said, "I was such an ass." He shook his head slowly. "Or maybe it was my frozen age, or my talent not quite under my control. Whatever it was... I didn't get it. I didn't understand how all of a sudden, every thought he had was of her. The man could diagnose an illness, scan through chess plays, and remember a complete symphony that he'd heard once all at one time, but suddenly, it was solely about her. His mind slipped one day. He never said it aloud, but he was watching Esme relearn her love of gardening, and his theory about mating hit me like a ton of bricks. He thinks that our mates are God's consolation to us. That we're given a gift of perfect love in order to survive this long, never-ending life. That not even humans can find that kind of love."

Edward paused his story, but I kept quiet because he was looking at me like I was that gift. Like I was that perfect...thing he'd thought was a myth. I could hear it in his voice. He hadn't believed it back then.

Edward huffed a humorless laugh as he wrapped one of my damp curls around his finger gently. "That would be an understatement, sweet girl. Not only did I not believe it, I came to think he was so wrong. And it wasn't Carlisle I was mad at. It was me. I was so fucking jealous – of the two of them, of what they shared, of his time with her. There was no way – with what we are – that God gifted us with anything. All of it just...pissed me the hell off. But I was so angry anyway. It was part of the reason I left them, especially when Rosalie came into the picture."

"Oh," I sighed softly, finally understanding. "You thought... You were just convinced it would never happen."

"Exactly," he agreed with a nod and another kiss to my lips. "I tried...everything. And I thought I knew it all after ten years of immortality."

His sarcasm and eye roll made me giggle.

"I knew the feelings he felt for Esme," he said, smiling down at me but tapping his temple. "No one gave me that. No one. The Denali sisters, Rose...no one. And I thought it was bullshit." He stopped, shaking his head one time. "No, not bullshit. I thought something was wrong with me."

I cupped either side of his face, shaking my head profusely. "No, no, no! It just wasn't time yet."

He smiled softly, pressing his forehead to mine, but his eyes were still holding a sadness. "Believe me, love. I know." He sighed deeply, his sweet scent washing over me. "You thought a few minutes ago that you would die without me, and I totally understand. I've seen immortals that have lost their mates. It's a half-life, empty and painful. There's the valiant side of me that wants to beg you to live on if something happens to me, but I can't imagine doing that without you, so I can't ask it. There's a part of me that wants to plan and plot out a future with you, but we've had to put a stop to it. We're in this limbo of sorts, and I hate it."

"Edward, what are you trying to say?" I asked him because he was all over the place.

"If we make it out of this...I swear I'll spend the rest of our existence worshiping you – your heart, mind, and body," he stated firmly. "I'll take advantage of this amazing and beautiful gift I've been given, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure I never deserved it. I've already bound myself to you in this world," he murmured so very softly, his eyes warm and sensual as he tugged my shirt to the side just a bit. His finger traced along his mark on my skin where my neck met my shoulder, causing a shudder to wrack my frame. "I want to bind myself to you in the human one, as well."

Locking gazes with molten gold, I processed what he'd just said...or not said, really. He was talking about marrying me – something that as a human would've caused me to balk. As Edward's mate, it made me absolutely dumbstruck...until I saw the pure fear in his eyes. It wasn't that he thought I'd say no; it was the thought that we'd never get the chance to do it at all.

There were so many things that could go wrong. By law, they couldn't separate us. We were fairly certain that the moment that the Volturi laid eyes on Edward and me, they'd know that we were mated. But that didn't mean they couldn't order our execution, or take us from our family, or even destroy them in retaliation for Edward's "betrayal." And Edward didn't want me in Italy. At all. Ever. And that meant fighting – with or without Demetri.

Following Edward's lead, I didn't say it out loud, but the answer was yes. Always, yes. Reaching up, I traced his gorgeous face as the storm raged outside, only to run my fingers through his rain-dampened hair. Right there in that rundown barn, while curled up together in an old pile of hay, my heart broke and healed all at once. I'd waited so long for him, but he'd waited ten times that for me. And I finally understood what he'd been holding back. He wouldn't ask me to marry him, he wouldn't take the name Cullen from Carlisle, and he wouldn't touch his piano because all of those things meant a new life – a life he wasn't sure he'd get...or one he felt he deserved.

"Edward," I whimpered sadly, wishing not for the first time in my ten immortal years that I could shed tears for him because my thoughts caused the truth to flicker across his face.

His lips met mine roughly, but his voice was barely a sound as his words brushed across my mouth. "Shh... Don't you dare cry for me, sweetheart. Ever."

I was suddenly out of words. Both of us were. The what ifs had finally rendered us speechless. All I wanted was to run away. It was cowardly and low, but it was the truth. My immortality, which used to stretch out before me with limitless time, suddenly felt cut off. And I didn't want it to be over.

Edward rolled us gently, pressing me into the soft hay. "Bella, it's not over, but we can't run."

"I know," I said softly, looking away from him because his beauty was too much to look at sometimes.

He smiled a little at that last thought, cupping my chin and forcing my gaze back to his. "Remind me to shove you in front of a mirror when we get back, love."

Threading my fingers roughly into his hair, I brought his forehead to mine. "Make it go away. Just for now, Edward... Please."

He did exactly as I asked, to the letter. With swift movements, our wet clothes landed off to the side in a pile. Teasing fingers, deep kisses, and smooth skin weren't enough. They just weren't close enough. But long, low, feral growls brought my attention solely to my mate as he loomed over me in pure naked perfection. He forced me to focus, made me forget it all, letting all else fade away.

As Edward brought me to the brink of wanton insanity, he finally sank deep inside of me. It was that instant that nothing else mattered – past or future – but that moment right there.

~oOo~

EPOV

"Jasper!" my girl growled, but it was in complete frustration, not in anger.

"Focus, Spitfire," he chuckled, shoving her playfully.

"I really, really wish everyone would stop telling me to focus," she murmured, giving me a glance out of the corner of her eye, but I merely grinned at her. "I'm well aware of the shit that's coming."

"Well, good; then work with me," Jasper urged, his amusement oozing out over just about all of us.

With a resigned sigh, Bella nodded, looking out over the field of flowers they were sitting in. With a quick flash of anger, Jasper pushed it at her, and we all watched in fascination as her shield severed the blooms several feet away from her. They fell off with barely a whisper, giving the wild open field a "buzz cut," as Emmett was thinking.

"Pull it back, Isabella," Eleazar instructed as he stood behind them. "Don't cut them. Bend them."

How much longer until she snaps, you think? Carlisle's mind met mine, and I turned to look at him. She's stressed, worried, and Jasper's influence is making it worse, enhancing it.

"Her mind is open to me," I told him softly. We were just far enough away that our conversation was private. "She wants to do this, but you're right. She's extremely edgy." I sighed, my eyes taking in every movement she made as she tried again and again. "She knows that she's deadly. She wants to control it, be able to just...hold them back. She doesn't want to accidentally start the fight, but she does want to protect us."

Carlisle hummed that he heard me but kept his voice silent. His mind tried to consider the coming conversation with the Volturi from every angle. What his pride wouldn't let him say aloud, his mind revealed to me – whether on purpose or by accident, I had no idea. It bothered him greatly that the brothers from Italy hadn't taken him at his word. It bothered him even more that it didn't matter if they had. Aro's power had gone to his head, and his imagined threat that he saw in my sire was what was driving him to this confrontation.

Glancing around, I took note of who was with us. The numbers had risen since Bella and I had returned from our hunt and time alone.

There was some of my immediate family – Rose, Emmett, and Alice. The latter was cradled in a low hanging branch trying to see anything and everything that was coming our way. The other two were deep in conversation with Peter and Charlotte, both of whom were here simply as a favor to Jasper, though they held no real loyalty to Italy.

There was the Denali clan – Eleazar, who was still guiding Bella with amazing patience, Carmen, Tanya, Irina, and Kate. The three sisters had surrounded Carlisle's old friend Garrett. I fought my smile as I caught brief thoughts between him and Kate. There was intrigue there. I was certain they weren't mates, but that didn't mean they couldn't be attracted to one another.

And then there were the newcomers – immortals that Demetri had sent our way. They'd shown up on our doorstep with only one instruction: See Carlisle. They made me the most nervous because I didn't know them, but Carlisle did, and he welcomed them with open arms.

Liam, Siobhan, and Maggie were from Ireland. Liam had no talent to speak of, but his mate, Siobhan, seemed to have the ability to force outcomes to her favor, which was Carlisle's belief, not hers. She didn't feel she had any talent whatsoever. Maggie, though, intrigued me and worried me at the same time, if I were to be honest. The Volturi would covet her right along with Alice, Bella, and me. She could sense when someone was lying to her. It was an amazing thing to see through her mind. Where I could see someone's thoughts contradicting what they were actually saying, Maggie could sense the untruth, feel it.

Several other nomads arrived shortly after the Irish coven – Mary and Randall, who were American, and Alistair, Charles, and Mekenna from Europe. They were all gathered around Esme, being received warmly.

Unfortunately, we'd had only one communication from Felix and Demetri. It was a text to me that simply stated they were together, they'd be sending help our way, and they were making their way to us. We had no idea if they would make it in time. Once the others had started arriving, Alice had moved us all to the field she'd seen in her visions. According to her, it would only be a matter of hours before the Volturi showed.

"Twenty-four," I sighed to myself, shaking my head. "That's not enough if this comes down to an actual fight. If they merely bring the royal guard, yes, but if they bring more...absolutely not."

"I know," Carlisle stated without inflection. His face held a weariness and a sadness that I hadn't seen since I'd first been changed. And I can't decide if this gathering will show as an act of aggression or as solidarity.

I huffed, rolling my eyes. "Caius will spin it as aggression. Marcus will see who binds them. And Aro will insist on reading our minds." I gestured between the two of us, because I knew Aro well enough that he'd want to know everything.

"Then we can only pray that good will win out," he sighed, gazing over at me. "If Demetri shows and his call for no confidence works, then we'll have done the right thing. If he doesn't make it, then members of my family – immediate and extended – could be killed."

"Edward!" Alice's voice sounded from across the field. My gaze snapped to hers, despite the distance, and I saw the vision she was having. "Look!"

I groaned, shaking my head. "It seems you scare Aro more than you realize," I told Carlisle. "Alice sees the reason for the four-day wait before their arrival. The reason that they waited weeks before leaving Italy..."

"A newborn army," he concluded.

"Yes."

"How many? Can you tell?" he asked, already mentally calculating the odds.

"Fifty?" I guessed, because through Alice's visions, the number fluctuated continuously. "Give or take?"

"Right...Alice wouldn't be able to pinpoint it. Newborns are unstable. They'd fight amongst themselves," he mused to himself more than to me.

"We'll need Jasper's mind for this," I told him, pushing away from the tree I'd been leaning against.

I approached Jasper, Bella, and Eleazar as Alice and Carlisle gathered everyone else.

"What'd she see?" Jasper and Bella asked at the same time.

"It seems Aro's built himself an army...of newborns," I told them, my gaze locking with Jasper's. "The numbers seem to center around fifty."

Jasper gazed around the field much as I had, tallying up the numbers. When he looked back to me, he said, "It can be done."

"Oh, I know it can, but I think we'll have the advantage," I told him, placing a hand on Bella's shoulder as our thoughts meshed. I turned her to face me. "Beautiful, I know you can fight, and I know that you can hold off an attack, but the key to defeating a newborn army is that," I stated, pointing to the decapitated flowers in front of us. "Do you understand?"

Her eyebrows shot up for a second, but she glanced over the field. She let out a slow breath but met my eyes once again. "I'd need to be out front," she simply said.

"And Carlisle and I will be on either side of you," I concurred with a nod.

She grimaced, her eyes flickering to Jasper for a moment. "I might need Jasper, too."

His grin was crooked, yet a touch evil. "I'm there, Spitfire. Don't you worry."

Eleazar sniffed, gazing around him, but his thoughts were on Bella. "You slice that army in two, and the brothers will definitely see it as an act of war."

"Then we wait," Jasper stated. "We wait for Aro's command. We stand fast...behind Bella. If he's built an army, then this isn't a run-of-the-mill conversation he wants anyway. He's coming to remove us and anyone that stands with us."

"That will work," Alice piped up, and I glanced up at her, noticing that we were now the center of the large group. She nudged me with a small finger. "Look."

Her vision was crystal clear. From the north end of the field in which we were standing, the Volturi would send their army at a run, but if the entire lot of us held fast, Bella's shield would dismantle them, leaving only the royal guard.

"And Felix and Demetri?" I asked.

"They've made no other decision except to come this way. They may be doing it on purpose," she said, shrugging a small shoulder. "They either want the element of surprise, or they..."

"Aren't coming," I finished for her. "We'll have to assume the latter, Alice."

"Yes, but really look, Edward!" she growled, focusing her vision for me. "Who's missing?"

My brow furrowed, shaking my head. "Marcus," I breathed, spinning to face Carlisle. "Why? Why would Marcus not come?" I asked him, but it was Eleazar that answered.

"If he disagrees with his brothers, he has the option of stepping back," he said, frowning. "He holds just as much power as his siblings."

"Or it's a trap," Jasper added. "They split up, come at us from different angles."

"We take the far end of this clearing," Emmett growled. "Give Bells the backdrop of trees behind us. I've seen her use it to brace that shield against."

My eyes locked onto Bella's. She was nodding, but her mind was filled with worry. Her fingers found mine and squeezed, a tremor running through her body. Giving Carlisle a brief look, I turned back to her as they gave us a minute.

"No matter what happens, I'll be right beside you, love," I told her softly. "Stay calm, don't panic, and we'll get through this."

"You can't promise that," she argued weakly.

"Should I rephrase?" I asked her. "We'll do our best to get through this."

The corners of her mouth twitched just a little, but the deep sadness and worry in her amber eyes didn't fade. In fact, her mind swirled around a thought that had a growl erupting from my chest. She was thinking that if it all ended today, she was happy that she'd had this short time with me.

"No!" I snarled, cupping her face. "I refuse to think that way, Bella. That's defeatist thinking. Get rid of it." I turned her to face the group of people getting into position at the farthest end of the clearing. "Look at them. They aren't giving up. They're here. They're going to fight, even if it means just standing as one to show the Volturi that we can't be pushed around.

"You want to run. You want to get away from it, but you can't, baby," I breathed in her ear as we watched Carlisle line up at the front of the group, Esme by his side. "Believe me, I wish like hell I could go back in time, make different decisions. I wish we were still in your apartment on that first night, but we aren't. However, I am willing to fight to get us back to that."

She spun in front of me, her eyes fierce. "You're right. I'm just—"

"Scared," I finished for her. "I know. Me, too."

"Love you."

"As I you," I countered. "We need to get over there. Alice is telling me they're close."

We joined the group quickly, standing between Carlisle and Esme to our left and Alice and Jasper on the other side.

"They're here," Alice whispered, her eyes locked on the opposite end of the field.

Every one of us shifted just a little, spreading out a few paces. The minds around me were a mixture of different thoughts. The Denalis were thinking of their mother that Aro had order to be executed when she'd created an immortal child. Just about all of the nomads were scoffing at the pomp and circumstance surrounding the slow-moving group. And my family was calculating everything – distance, time, number of enemies, and possible outcomes. There were silent prayers, chanted mantras, and for the few former soldiers among us, final checklists. There was even a soundtrack of different songs floating just underneath the surface. Some were to help the thinker to remain calm, but for Emmett, it was to pump him up. He loved a good fight, and he was ready and willing to "open up a can of whoop-ass," as he was thinking. Though, his choice in songs caused me to glance over at him.

Generals gathered in their masses

Just like witches at black masses

Evil minds that plot destruction

Sorcerer's of death's construction

In the fields the bodies burning

As the war machine keeps turning

Death and hatred to mankind

Poisoning their brainwashed minds

Oh lord yeah!

"Fitting," I stated.

"Hells, yeah. War Pigs is the shit," he muttered. "That's what they are, right?"

"That's enough," Carlisle chided softly, but his voice held no real authority behind the command.

I'd never seen the Volturi approach from this side of the fight. They moved slowly, almost at a human pace. The royal guard surrounded Aro and Caius, and true to Alice's vision, Marcus was missing. Their deep red cloaks were a sharp contrast to the green field, but even from this distance, I could see who was coming. Aro had not only brought his favorite guards, but he'd built himself quite the army, and they were barely under his command. It looked like Alec was using his talent on them, keeping them blind and unaware. More thoughts invaded my mind, but these were filled with malice, war, violence, and bloodlust.

Bella shuffled her feet, and I linked our fingers tighter.

Emmett gripped Bella's shoulders from behind, whispering, "We've so got this, Spitfire. All those times I kicked your ass...take it out on them. Shield us, baby sis."

The familiar push of air brushed over me, and I knew that she'd just wrapped herself around us all.

Aro stepped forward, planting a false and sickening smile on his face. "Carlisle, my old friend. What's this you've done now? I merely wanted a chance to speak with you. There are some charges you must answer for."

Maggie growled low, her thoughts consumed with the lie.

"I could ask the same of you, Aro. A newborn army?" Carlisle replied, gesturing to the eerily-still cluster behind the guard. "Surely you didn't mean to talk."

Bella flinched, her eyes blackening, but her thoughts were directed to me. Someone's attacking my shield. Feels like pinpricks, but they aren't getting through.

"Jane," I whispered back, and she nodded.

Carlisle heard that simple exchange and turned back to Aro. "Aro, please call off your guards. It won't do any good."

Bella relaxed slightly as Jane hissed, her face filled with fury as she leveled her gaze on me. Aro did the same, though he also took in my hand in Bella's. Suddenly, he was livid because he knew. We were mated, and he couldn't do a thing about it.

"Ah, my young Edward," he gushed, and it was all I could do not to roll my eyes at him. "It seems congratulations are in order, I see."

"Cut the shit, Aro," I snarled. "You would never leave the comfort of your castle just to prove I've mated. You wouldn't drag the entire guard out here for a simple conversation. Why are you here?"

Caius sneered, but he kept his mouth shut. The guards shifted uneasily on their feet, their minds filled with hatred for my indignant behavior.

"I still don't have proof," Aro countered with a deep chuckle. "Come to me, son. Let's see what you've been up to since you left me so abruptly."

"I don't think so, Aro," Carlisle answered with a shake of his head. "Where's Marcus? I was so looking forward to seeing him. It's been too long."

Carlisle asked that question for me...and quite possibly Maggie.

"He's been called back to the castle. Urgent business," Aro replied.

I smirked at the same time Maggie sighed, both of us shaking our heads no.

"Enough of this," Caius growled. "This blatant disrespect must stop. Carlisle, you've clearly decided to fight against us. This grotesque diet you insist on partaking is disgusting and disturbing. You've obviously come to fight."

"Merely protecting my family," Carlisle stated calmly and smoothly.

"Family!" Caius scoffed. "Your coven has grown too powerful, too large."

"Not all of us answer to Carlisle," Garrett suddenly piped up. "Some of us answer to...no one."

"The young patriot has spoken," Aro laughed. "Yes, I'm sure you don't answer to anyone, Garrett, but you are quite faithful to Carlisle, aren't you?" Garrett remained quiet, but Aro went on. "I think I'm ready to give judgment."

Oh hell, Alice thought to me. Brace yourself, Edward.

I nodded but said nothing, my eyes never leaving Aro's face.

"Carlisle, I'm going to give you a choice." Aro paused, pacing slowly back and forth in front of his guard. "I've received reports of strange happenings in the city, so clearly you can't control your coven. This strange diet is ridiculous, but it's given you a false sense of self-importance. You've surrounded yourself with talent and strength. And you've stolen my mind reader from me. His contract with me was not over. He didn't fulfill his end of the bargain. You obviously are building up an army against us."

"I'm doing no such thing, Aro. And Edward mated. I do not like my honor questioned," Carlisle stated. How he was remaining calm, I had no idea. "I've done nothing wrong, and neither has any single one of these people."

Aro leaned in to listen to Caius, but I could hear their plan.

"He knows it was James in the city," I murmured quietly. "He's lying. However, no one else with him knows that. Not even Caius. He's going to order your death and the death of anyone that stands beside you. Or he's going to offer to...thin your ranks." I locked gazes with him, well aware of the anger that Jasper was trying to tamper down around us. "Those that don't walk away quietly or don't come with him willingly will be taken against their will."

I didn't have to tell him who. He knew. He was well aware what talents were coveted by Aro – Alice, Jasper, Bella, and myself. He also wanted to protect those talents that had come to stand with Carlisle – Maggie, Siobhan, Kate, and Eleazar.

Carlisle looked to Alice. "Any word on Felix or Demetri?"

"Not yet," she said, but her eyes were slightly glazed. She was flickering through every single probability that she could think of.

Aro stepped forward again. "We think it would be best if Carlisle was removed from his post. Or...several of you can come with us, take a place of honor in my guard. Edward, you can bring your beautiful mate, stand by my side once again."

"No," Bella suddenly growled, and I pulled her to me, keeping her back to my chest.

I smiled. "You heard the lady," I chuckled darkly. "She says no. Aro, you should drop this. Your lies and deception have come to an end. Don't think I don't know," I told him, tapping my temple. "Your guards don't know that you've been leading them falsely for centuries, do they?"

"Make your choice!" Caius snapped, but his mind slipped.

I suddenly saw the reason why Marcus had not joined his brothers. He was against fighting Carlisle. He held no ill will against the man, and he had stated simply that he knew that Aro's contract with me wasn't a contract at all, but blackmail. He could see the connection that didn't exist between us.

When no one else made a move, Aro shook his head sadly. "Such a waste..." he murmured, waving a hand to his guard.

"He's releasing the newborns," I whispered.

"Hold rank!" Jasper commanded as we all crouched into a fighting stance.

But Bella pushed away from me, stepping forward away from us all. She looked so small, so fragile, though I knew she wasn't. For a split second, I wasn't sure what she was going to do – block them, or remove them. Fifty-two red-eyed newborns that had been frozen at just about every age closed in on us quickly, but the extreme rush of air gave me my answer. When the feral army was about half the distance to us, Bella's shield severed them all in two. They fell to the ground, the vibration rumbling through our feet.

Screams of frustration and agony met my ears, minds assaulting me, but I glanced up to see the incredulous look on Aro's and Caius's faces. Their army had been rendered useless. They weren't dead, but being as young as they were, they had no idea what was happening to them.

For the first time, I saw fear crawl over the faces of the Volturi, all of them frozen. They couldn't decide who to look at – the writhing mass of newborns...or Bella.

"I see that you have a secret weapon, Carlisle," Caius stated. "You've come to destroy us."

"I've come to defend myself and my family. I would just as soon walk away from this without fighting," he countered. "Those that stand beside me have grown tired of your ways. We are all well aware of the laws of our kind, and we all follow them to the letter. These false charges will not stand. And you know this, or your brother would've joined you."

"I've heard enough of this, Aro," Caius growled. "Let's end this and go back home. Alec! Jane!"

I dragged Bella back to my chest, my mouth at her ear. "We can't fight them if we can't touch them. Can your shield hold them and them alone?"

The shimmer on the ground had already begun to slowly head our way. Bella flinched again as the twins stepped forward.

"Pull that shield, Bella," Jasper told her, getting ready to run.

"You hold the creepy twins, and we'll get the rest. Got me?" Emmett stated, also stepping forward.

What we didn't realize was that Aro wasn't going down without a true fight. From the trees behind him stepped at least another hundred newborns.

"Dios mio," Eleazar sighed but crept forward into attack position. "This wasn't a judgment; this was an annihilation."

We were completely outnumbered, and several thoughts around me centered on Bella's shield.

I looked to Carlisle, saying, "We have no choice but to rely on her."

"I know," he sighed, eying the shimmer on the ground.

"If Bella so much as moves that shield, Alec and Jane will eke through," I told him. "She can't hold them all."

"I can," Bella sneered. "And I will. Go!"

Through my girl's mind, I could see exactly what she was planning. It would be risky, but she was keeping everything I'd told her in the forefront of her mind. She needed Alec and Jane out of the picture, but the newborns posed a serious risk to the rest of us.

The Volturi gave us no time to discuss it any further because Caius called, "Attack!"

"Steady," Jasper urged, and strangely enough, his mind was calm, ready for the fight. "Hold off until they pass the other newborns."

Our small band crouched in preparation to fight, but a low rumble caused us to glance around. The middle of the field started to shake, the ground breaking up. Flowers and grass were soon replaced by dark dirt bubbling up out of the ground like it was molten lava. Higher and higher it piled, until there was a rather large wall of earth between us and the Volturi.

"Edward!" Alice called at the same time a deeper voice met my ears.

Spinning to the forest behind us, my mouth fell open. "Felix, Demetri..." I turned to Bella. "Let them in, sweetheart."

Suddenly, we were joined by not only Felix and Demetri, but several more people I didn't recognize. However, one, I did, which would explain how there was now a rather high wall in the middle of the clearing.

"Benjamin," I greeted, bowing my head slightly to the small man whose dark skin still showed through his immortal skin.

His grin was infectious as he bowed his head back. "Causing trouble again, Edward?"

"You, too, I see," I chuckled, turning to Felix. "Fantastic timing as always, old friend."

Felix laughed. "I try. Got to keep you on your toes, you know."

Demetri greeted Carlisle solemnly, nodding once to Benjamin and then to Bella. "Bella, this is Benjamin from Egypt. You two should work really well together. Benjamin can manipulate the four elements...fire, earth, water, air."

"Nice to meet you," Bella told him, though she was still struggling against Jane's painful assault.

"Hold steady, okay?" Benjamin asked her, and she nodded.

The rumbling started again, and the wall leveled back out, displaying the Volturi once more.

Demetri stepped forward, his gaze on Aro unwavering. "No one wants to fight you, Aro, but your time for lies and rule is over. We're calling for a vote of no confidence in our leader."

Aro's face went slack with shock as he realized just what had been stated. His mind reeled with different escapes, plots, and plans, but he only countered with one statement.

"You can't call for such a thing if both of my brothers are not present," he said, gesturing proudly around him. "Request denied, and you're all charged with treason."

"Not so fast," Alice piped up, smiling like it was fucking Christmas, but when I saw the vision playing in her mind, I couldn't help but gasp and turn toward the west. "All three brothers are present."

Several immortals stepped through the trees, their leader wearing an expression of absolute blankness. But Marcus's mind was anything but blank. He was assessing the entire scene around him.

When his gaze landed on his brothers, he sighed, shaking his head. "They've called for a vote of no confidence, brothers. They have the right to give witness." Marcus held up his hand when Caius started to argue. "They have the right," he reiterated, but he turned his gaze to Demetri. "Do all of you have cause?"

"I have brought forth several witnesses, master," Demetri stated with reverence.

"Very well, then," he replied, his expressionless gaze falling to me. "We'll start with Edward."

~oOo~

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