75. Powers of Persuasion

I closed the door behind me, standing in front of it so our visitors would have to talk to me before making themselves at home as they would have done under any other circumstances.

"Edward!" Tanya said as she swept up the stairs to take my hands and plant a kiss on each of my cheeks.

"Hello, Tanya," I said, giving her a wry smile. The relentless woman had not changed, and I had no reason to think she ever would. I nodded a greeting at each of my cousins behind her. "Kate, Eleazar, Carmen."

"Hello, Edward," they chorused, returning my nod. They advanced on me, expecting me to move aside and usher them into the house, but I held my ground in front of the door.

Tanya cocked her head at me. The feeling that something was amiss grew stronger. The rest of my family should have come outside with me, or been visible through the open door behind me. Why had I shut it? Where was everyone? Behind Tanya's back, the other three exchanged glances, shrugs, and head shakes.

"Carlisle said he needed to talk to us right away," Tanya prompted, giving my hands a squeeze. "What's the problem? Trouble with the werewolves?"

"No. Our truce with the werewolves is stronger than ever." I made sure my tone was mild, but she heard the reminder in my words. We had no intention of allowing any form of vengeance against them.

When I freed my hands from hers, Tanya linked her arm through mine, expecting me to end this strange stand-off and escort her into the house. I didn't budge, not even to place any room between us as I would have liked to.

Kate laughed at her sister's predictable persistence while Eleazar and Carmen smirked at each other. I had been uninterested before. Now I was married, Tanya's wiles had even less of a chance at attracting me, yet still the succubus refused to give up.

Their amusement was short-lived. Tanya was acting normally; I was not. I simply stood in the way, blocking the door, listening to their confusion without providing any answers or offering an explanation. They knew I heard their unspoken questions. Why did I not respond?

In truth, I did not know how. Where to begin? With their mother? With Irina? With Bella and our wedding?

"Aren't you going to invite us in? Where's Carlisle?" Tanya finally asked. Her eyes were on the closed door, a frown marring her usually untroubled features.

"Carlisle had to leave."

When I didn't elaborate, Tanya pointedly asked, "What's going on, Edward?"

I steeled myself and took a deep breath. "If you could give me the benefit of the doubt for just a few minutes. I have something difficult to explain, and I'll need you to be open-minded until you understand."

I met each of their eyes as I spoke, but my cryptic words only added to their confusion.

"Is Carlisle all right?" Eleazar asked. Something was wrong, and they couldn't understand why my father was not here. It was he who had called them. He should be here to welcome them. I felt the same way. He would have known what to say.

I needed to do better than this.

"None of us is all right, Eleazar." The alarm in his eyes was instant and gratifying. Of course I knew they cared for us, but it was good to see. I reached out for Eleazar, to grip his shoulder and offer what reassurance I could. "But physically, Carlisle is fine."

"Physically?" Tanya repeated, catching my qualification. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that my entire family is in very grave danger. But before I explain, I ask for your promise. Listen to everything I say before you react. I am begging you to hear me out."

I infused my voice with as much passion as I could. I thought I had not made such a heartfelt plea since begging Bella to give up her plans to join my family. Thankfully, I had failed then, each and every time. I couldn't fail now.

Unlike Bella, they heard me. The four exchanged incredulous looks, but each one was followed by a determined nod. The last time we had asked for their help, they had refused to come to our aid. It was a mistake they were not keen to repeat.

Tanya turned back to me, giving my captive arm a squeeze before saying, "We're listening. We will hear it all before we judge."

"Thank you, Tanya," I said, relieved to have her promise. I hurried to assure her, "We wouldn't involve you in this if we had any other choice."

With no reason for further delay, aside from my nerves, I turned to open the door and guide her through it. The other three followed close on our heels. Overwhelming as it had been at first whiff, they had gotten used to the stale werewolf scents outside. Opening the door exposed them to the fresher scent of Jacob, enclosed within our house with no wind or rain to carry it away.

Tanya's nose wrinkled and her lips curled. "I knew those werewolves were involved."

"Yes, and they're on our side. Again," I said sternly.

She heard my rebuke and looked down. I was aware of an intense embarrassment in each of their minds. Our ancient enemy had stood beside us when our cousins had not. If Tanya could still have blushed, I thought the succubus's cheeks would have been bright red with chagrin.

Arms still linked, I stopped and turned Tanya so we faced the other three, paying close attention to their thoughts and what they could sense. The silence was strained, and felt extremely odd considering how our home would normally have been filled with boisterous greetings and exclamations welcome.

Feeling a need to break the uncomfortable silence, and able to think of only one thing that would have me on edge as I obviously was, Kate gave me a warm smile and asked, "Where's your Bella? How is she?"

Returning her smile with feeling - my Bella! The phrase would never get old - I said, "She'll join us shortly. She's well, thank you. She's taken to immortality with amazing finesse."

"Tell us about the danger, Edward," Tanya prompted. "We'll listen, and we'll be on your side, where we belong."

I heard the mental agreement of the other three, felt their determination.

Taking a steadying breath, I said, "I'd like you to witness for yourselves first. Listen - in the other room. What do you hear?"

They each focused, listening as instructed, and I was glad I had left my arm within her grasp as it made it easier to stop Tanya when she was drawn against her will toward the sound she was still not fully conscious of hearing.

"Just listen first, please," I insisted.

Through each of their ears, I heard a loud, wet thudding that was easily recognizable. A werewolf's heart was pounding with his distress. They weren't familiar with Jacob's specifically, but what other creature would be lounging about in our house? They would have noticed and recognized the smell of a human by now.

...some attempt at convincing us all life is sacred… as if we didn't agree… yes, even that of a werewolf…

Rolling her eyes, Tanya said, "A werewolf, I assume. I can hear his heart."

"What else?"

...what else could it be? ...no, but there is someone…. or… something…

"What is that thrumming?" Kate asked, becoming conscious of the rapid rhythm of Nessie's heart. "Is that… some kind of a bird?"

"No," I said with a smile, "but remember what you're hearing. Now, what do you smell? Besides the werewolf."

The four of them took in the scents as bidden, tasting the familiar scents of my family, which would continue to hang in the air long after we moved on. Bella's human scent had long since faded. To our cousins, the aroma she exuded now was simply one among many. Due to his frequent visits, Charlie's scent lingered, however it was obviously days old.

There was another scent, though, coming from whatever it was in the other room. Sweet like a vampire, enticing like a human, but neither.

"Is there a human here?" Eleazar asked. He knew as he asked that there was not, but what else would smell so inviting?

"No," Tanya answered for me. "It's not human... but… closer to human than the rest of the scents here."

Tanya released my arm and took an instinctive step back toward her sister. She frowned at me and shook her head, feeling that the source of the scent was also the source of whatever danger we were in. To her knowledge, there were no creatures capable of threatening us, aside from werewolves and other vampires, and this was neither. But if it was so dangerous, why would we have it here, in our home?

Yet, there was danger. Even if I had not already told her so, Tanya could feel the tension in the air, like a shiver up her spine.

"What is that, Edward?" Tanya demanded. "I don't think I've ever smelled that fragrance before."

"You most certainly have not, Tanya. Please, please remember that this is something entirely new to you. Throw away your preconceived notions."

"I promised you I would listen, Edward," Tanya answered testily.

She didn't have Aro's number of years, but she had lived many centuries. At only a single century, I already felt the boredom of living year after year without change. The unknown and the new were so rare to us. Nessie's scent, the sound of her heart, they drew Tanya. Not as predator to prey, but like a half-remembered lullaby, or a fleeting whiff carried on the breeze, gone before she could identify the source. It invited her to chase it, just so she might name it at last. As nervous as my tension had made her, Tanya was undeniably curious.

The others felt much the same: wary due to my own fear, but intrigued, captivated by the sound and scent as well as the mystery.

I listened intently to each of their thoughts before nodding and taking a step toward Bella, carefully placing myself where I could block any one of them. Just in case.

"All right, then. Bella? Bring out Renesmee, please." I managed to keep my voice steady and calm, warm and inviting. The rest of me felt cold and stiff. Paralyzed. Frozen in fear.

Would we be able to convince our cousins to help us save our daughter? Would they accept the truth? Would they stay long enough to hear it?

For the first time in many long minutes, I touched Jacob's mind, seeing Bella through his eyes. I recognized the very same fear that I felt in the blankness of her expressionless face. She seemed a statue, incapable of movement, but I knew she would. She was no coward. She would meet this test head-on, as she had met and triumphed over every trial before.

After only a brief hesitation, Bella rose fluidly from her chair and walked with even steps toward the front room where I waited. Jacob was right behind her. His thoughts were a wordless blur of worry. Where I felt cold and frozen, the heat of his transformation tingled in his fingertips, swept up his spine, licked at his legs. Despite the near overwhelming desire to shift, he remained human, keeping his form through sheer will.

I didn't particularly care for either sensation, frozen or fire. I missed Bella's gentle warmth against me, how it soothed now, and no longer burned. Even when she'd had a human's heat, even when the dry, scorching thirst had ached in my throat, the burn had brought a welcome calm with it, in knowing she was alive and safe. Jacob's need to transform was anything but calming, but at least he was in control of himself, and ready to defend my daughter should the need arise.

Bella came around the corner, but stopped after taking a single step into the room. She froze just on this side of the doorway, with Jacob hovering behind her. Both their eyes skipped over me and went to our guests. Hers, golden and scared, his, dark and challenging.

At first, our guests did not notice the child in Bella's arms. Their attention was locked on the werewolf standing inches behind Bella, glaring back at them over her shoulder. They didn't see that Bella was holding anything, and Nessie had herself pressed tight to Bella's chest, her face and torso hidden in Bella's long hair.

But then, Renesmee moved, peeking out at them, with warm, melted chocolate eyes so unlike any vampire's. Her skin, a soft rose quartz, luminous as if lit from within, contrasted with the glistening snow white of Bella's. To my eyes, the two were as unalike as it was possible for mother and daughter to be, yet Nessie's face was Bella's in miniature. The shape of her eyes, the point of her chin, they were exactly like her mother's. She even held herself the way Bella had at school, shoulders tight and turned inward, as if expecting a harsh rejection.

Expecting it did nothing to prepare her for it. Even Leah's unpleasantness toward her didn't prepare Renesmee for that of our guests'. I was glad she couldn't hear their mental shrieks. Their physical reactions were bad enough.

Tanya and Kate leapt backward as far as the room would allow. It was a wonder they didn't bust right through the walls. Kate hissed at Nessie, like my precious daughter was a loathsome, vile insect. In the same instant, in a move almost too quick to follow, Eleazar landed in front of Carmen in a defensive crouch, as if he expected the tiny girl to launch herself at his mate with the intent of tearing her apart.

Seeing the hurt in both their eyes, I hurried to comfort my wife and child, sliding an arm around Bella's stiff shoulders and stroking Nessie's long hair.

"You promised to listen," I insisted.

"Some things cannot be heard!" Disgust and disbelief colored Taya's voice and curled her lips. "How could you, Edward? Do you not know what this means?"

Through their eyes, I saw Bella clutch Nessie closer, as if she was afraid they were about to snatch our daughter away, to burn the accursed creature on the spot, before it could do more harm than it had already. To them, it seemed Bella was restraining the child, preventing it from escaping.

"We have to get out of here," Kate said, speaking aloud the single phrase repeating in her mind. She had her hand on the doorknob, ready to bolt. Should Tanya so much as turn toward her sister, Kate would be out the door and gone, the car abandoned. I felt certain she would not stop until she placed the width of the world between us, so desperate was she to escape the danger.

Eleazar stared open mouthed at me. He said my name out loud, but seemed unable to continue. He was remembering, far too vividly for my liking, his own transformation.

...could he condemn a child to experience that? How could Carlisle? Why? Don't they know what those children become? How long have they had it? How many have died already? ...must leave. Now, before the death toll climbs any higher.

"Wait," I said, desperate to stop them before their fear broke through their temporary paralysis. "Remember what you hear, what you smell. Renesmee is not what you think she is."

I heard an echo of a woman's pleas - Tanya's or Kate's memory of their mother, I guessed - saying much the same thing. Wait, please, the woman cried. My child is different.

Doesn't matter what he thinks of it. "There are no exceptions to this rule, Edward," Tanya spat.

"Tanya," I said as she gathered herself to run, "you can hear her heartbeat! Stop and think about what that means."

"Her heartbeat?" Carmen repeated, speaking for the first time. She was surprised, but not frightened like the others, having only heard the stories, whereas they had lived it.

Grateful that she was capable of listening, I turned toward Carmen to explain. If I could just convince one of our cousins to see and hear the truth, the others would follow. "She's not a full vampire child. She's half-human."

My statement was met with blank stares. Even to Carmen, my words meant nothing.

"Hear me," I said, trying to do that dazzling thing Bella always accused me of. "Renesmee is one of a kind. I am her father. Not her creator - her biological father."

I wasn't sure it worked. Carmen frowned in confusion, and Tanya shook her head, while Kate and Eleazar stared at me as if I were a mad man, but I knew they could hear the pride in my voice, the awe I always felt at having played a part in bringing life into the world.

What he says is not possible. ...have to crush this delusion. Eleazar found his voice. "Edward, you can't expect us to - "

"Tell me another explanation that fits, Eleazar," I interrupted. The truth was staring at him, if he would just recognize what his senses were telling him. "You can feel the warmth of her body in the air. Blood runs in her veins, Eleazar. You can smell it."

As one, they inhaled, tasting the proof in the very air.

Kate released her hold on the door. Shock and disbelief crossed her face, but her posture relaxed, no longer poised to run. "How?"

Relief. With one whispered word, I knew the first hurdle was behind me.

"Bella is her biological mother," I explained, meeting each of their eyes in turn. "She conceived, carried, and gave birth to Renesmee while she was still human. It nearly killed her. I was hard-pressed to get enough venom into her heart to save her."

I touched Bella's stomach as I spoke, grateful for my total and complete recall. The perfectly round shape of her belly, full with my child, would remain etched in my memory for the rest of my life. I wished my memories of Bella's screams of pain were not so clear, but the tears that always accompanied birth quickly became tears of joy. I moved my hand to stroke her cheek, hoping she would look into my eyes and see the awe in them, but hers remained locked on our guests.

...must be lying… some other explanation… I don't have one, but there obviously is one… "I've never heard of such a thing," Eleazar said coldly.

"Physical relationships between vampires and humans are not common. Human survivors of such trysts are even less common. Wouldn't you agree, cousins?" I smirked at the succubus sisters, knowing full well how many of their lovers had died due to their pursuit of such relationships.

They scowled back, but could not argue.

"Come now, Eleazar. Surely you can see the resemblance." I looked from mother to child, prompting him to do the same.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Of the four, Carmen had less reason to fear immortal children, having never joined the Volturi and lacking Tanya and Kate's experience. While she usually preferred to follow his lead or theirs, it was she who stepped forward, walking around Eleazar's protective stance and ignoring his wordless objection to come and stand before us, to lean down so her face was level with Renesmee's.

The first thing she noticed was the color of Nessie's eyes. Not red as she expected nor even golden like ours, but the same warm brown she remembered Bella having at our wedding. Then she noticed the hue of her cheeks and lips. Nessie's skin was different from ours, flushed pink with the blood flowing through her veins. The air around her vibrated with her pulse. There could have been no other source for the sound they all heard. Carmen felt the warmth against her face, radiating out from Renesmee's tiny, living body.

Carmen recognized my features, too. She knew me well, and could see the blend of my features with Bella's, the mix of father and mother that had created such a unique, beautiful child. Although I thought she resembled Bella more, I was there, too. Nessie's mouth, that had come directly from my mother. I could remember that much. And her hair, curlier than Bella's, was the exact shade of mine. To anyone with eyes willing to see, she was ours without a doubt. Bella's and mine.

"You seem to have your mother's eyes, but your father's face," Carmen said, purposely making her voice reassuringly calm, speaking as much to our daughter as our cousins.

Without meaning to, she smiled at Nessie. It was an automatic thing. How could anyone look into those beautiful eyes, that sweet face, and not smile? She had such beautiful eyes. I was struck again by them, how like her mother's they were. I had loved their color, and was grateful they had not been lost, that I was able to look into them still.

As automatically, Renesmee grinned back. Carmen's smile was full of approval and acceptance, and she knew how much we needed them to accept her.

Renesmee knew she was not supposed to show her thoughts to humans, but our cousins were vampires as we were. Surely it would be alright if she communicated with them. Without looking away from Carmen, she reached up to express her desire to Bella.

"Do you mind if Renesmee tells you about it herself?" Bella asked. "She has a gift for explaining things."

Having yet to take her eyes off Renesmee, Carmen asked, "Do you speak, little one?"

"Yes," Nessie answered, "but I can show you more than I can tell you."

Her high voice shocked the others. She didn't notice their reaction, too busy returning Carmen's frank appraisal to pay them any attention. Already captivated by Nessie's charm, Carmen didn't flinch, though I was aware of her surprise. No human child her apparent age would have spoken so clearly.

Without hesitation, Nessie reached out to place her hand on Carmen's cheek, choosing first to replay the moment when Carmen smiled at her. It was a pleasing image to her, and she wanted to share it.

Caught completely off guard, Carmen sucked in a quick breath. She felt an instinctive desire to jerk away, but though every muscle in her body tightened, she did not move.

Perhaps I should have warned Carmen, but there really was nothing that could have prepared her. No description would have sufficed. As familiar with hearing thoughts as I was, I found my daughter's shared thoughts to be far more vivid than most, so much more than simply overhearing. My family had gotten used to it, but at first, the experience was overwhelming.

Eleazar, worried Renesmee was hurting her in some unseen way, flashed to Carmen's side and put his hands on her shoulders, prepared to yank her away from the dangerous girl-child, but Carmen forestalled him with a single whispered word. "Wait," she said, her eyes still locked on Renesmee's.

Like a movie being rewound, Renesmee showed Carmen her own first glimpse of our cousins. Four vampires, with pearly white and slightly shimmery skin. One with curly hair like hers, but a pastel strawberry blonde, lighter and softer than the bright red she had inherited from me. One whose hair was perfectly straight and pale gold, much lighter than Carlisle's or Rosalie's. The other two, Carmen herself and Eleazar, were especially beautiful in Renesmee's opinion, with dark hair sharply contrasting their pale skin, rather like Bella's, or Jacob's, though his skin was a rich, warm brown compared with ours.

Jacob next, his anxious eyes were the first thing she had seen that fateful morning, waiting for her to awaken so he could tell her how her world was about to change. Had it really been only yesterday? Watching our family prepare for their trips without her. Her shock at the tears she had shed.

Hunting. A montage of animals, always with the thrill of the chase ending in the inevitable distaste over their flavor. The pleasure she felt as she ran beside Jacob in his enormous wolf form. Laughing when he allowed her to ride on his back. Her awe and delight over seeing a true wolf. It was much smaller than her Jacob. None of us would hunt one - not anymore - but we had tracked a pack over the course of several days, just so she could watch them hunt and play.

Music and games and clothes. And food! The wretched stuff she ate to make us happy. Charlie and Sue. The packs. Young Claire always fascinated her. Cars and books. Running and dancing. Her first step. Carlisle's constant measurements.

The perspective changed as she showed Carmen her life in reverse; everything seemed to get larger as she got smaller. Her own face in the mirror changed daily as she grew and grew and grew.

I ignored the others as I watched along with Carmen. When Jacob got irritated enough to voice his question aloud, asking, "What's Nessie showing her?" I simply said, "Everything." What else would have sufficed? He knew how vivid Nessie's images were, how real and here and now they could seem. And what else could she have shown Carmen, other than the experiences of her life?

And through it all, me and Bella. Her mother's eyes were the only thing about any of us that changed. Now they were golden like mine, but in the beginning, they had been a vivid red. But before that, they had been brown, like hers. Bella's chocolate eyes had been one of the first things she had seen. Her face had been different then, too. Pale, but not white like ours. Ashen, an unhealthy grey. Her cheek bones prominent after the difficult pregnancy that had drained her. Venom had restored the sweet roundness of Bella's curves, but all Nessie had known at the time was that her mother was beautiful.

But before Bella, the very first thing she had seen after her birth had been me. In the past, the image of my blood-smeared face had been distressing, reminding me too much of the killer I used to be. This time, though, I had been helping Bella to bring our daughter into the world, giving life instead of taking it. Nessie hadn't been bothered by the blood. The only thing that mattered was that I had been smiling my love at her. Mine was the first face she had ever seen, and she had known me instantly as her father. She had recognized my voice when I said her name.

She remembered first hearing it now, as well as Bella's laughter, muffled by the fluids in which she'd floated. The red tinted haze of the only world she had known. Other voices, indistinct and unintelligible. A half-heard melody. Being lulled by the steady beat that constantly surrounded her. Shadowy impressions of our hands. The first moment of true consciousness, and the immediate feeling of being safe and loved.

Renesmee let her hand fall away from Carmen's face at last, giving her another brilliant smile. She was pleased Carmen had allowed her to share her memories and had no reason to think she wouldn't believe them. I wasn't as sure. People, and children especially, could have quite vivid imaginations. I worried that in this case, seeing would not necessarily lead to believing.

"She really is your daughter, isn't she?" Carmen said at last. She met my eyes, knowing that with my gift, I had watched along with her. "Such a vivid gift! It could only have come from a very gifted father."

Despite her words, I worried. "Do you believe what she showed you?"

"Without a doubt."

And I knew she was convinced.

This child was not one of those she had heard about. This child had not been stolen from its parents. We were her parents. Our child had been born into this life, not bitten and forced to endure the agony of transformation. Our child had not lost her mind during those seemingly endless days of burning torture to awaken as a new creature, a being made of fear and rage, subjected to overwhelming stimuli and insatiable thirst and little else.

Carmen could see the intelligence in Renesmee's brown eyes, could see the sweetness in her upturned lips, could see her curiosity as Renesmee gazed back at her. No vampire child would have returned her stare with such calm interest.

"Carmen!" Worried that his mate had been convinced against her will, that her reason had been subverted by whatever powers our child possessed, Eleazar protested her certainty, but she took his hands and let him look into her eyes, to see that she was still herself.

"Impossible as it seems, Edward has told you nothing but the truth. Let the child show you." She guided Eleazar toward Bella and bade Renesmee, "Show him, mi querida."

Curiosity outweighed caution. Prompted by his mate's approval and my daughter's enthusiastic grin, Eleazar stepped to just within Nessie's reach. She thought he, too, would enjoy seeing Carmen's smile, and chose that image to place in his mind. Whereas Carmen had held herself in place through the first shock, he jerked back, yelping, "Ay caray!"

"What did she do to you?" Tanya could tell his reaction stemmed from surprise, and that Nessie had not hurt him. She and Kate were unhappy with the situation we had placed them in, but their fear was dwindling, and they both edged nearer to where we all stood.

"She's just trying to show you her side of the story," Carmen explained.

When Eleazar continued to keep his distance, regarding her with distrust, Nessie frowned her irritation.

"Watch, please." Nessie's voice was full of such authority, she reminded me of Carlisle. I wanted to laugh, but now was not the time. She leaned closer to him, but stopped short of touching him, imploring him with her eyes to close the distance himself.

Eleazar looked back at Carmen, as if he expected her to change her mind and warn him away, but when she merely nodded in encouragement, he took hold of his courage and leaned forward, pressing his forehead to the tips of Nessie's outstretched fingers.

Seeing one thing with his eyes while seeing something else that Nessie was showing in his mind was confusing, so he closed his eyes, concentrating only on what she wanted him to see.

Which, this time, was an instant replay of his surprise, Carmen's encouragement, and Tanya's and Kate's nervous curiosity. When he remained, allowing her to share this memory, she felt free to share her others.

I followed along, once again witnessing Renesmee's life in reverse, paying close attention to Eleazar's minute reactions. Somewhere along the way, there was a shift from dubiousness and suspicion to acceptance, albeit an unhappy one. He didn't appear to doubt that what she showed him was the truth, but he didn't want to believe. It would have been easier if we were lying. He could have gone back to his uncomplicated life, secure and safe.

When she was done, he sighed and opened his eyes. "I see."

Renesmee flashed her winning smile at him, but the one he gave back was reserved. We had already told him there was danger, that we were in trouble. He didn't know exactly how yet, but he knew from whence it would come. Any other details were immaterial. They all led to the same conclusion. There could only be one thing behind our fear.

Tanya could see his reluctance as easily as I. "Eleazar?"

"It's all true, Tanya," he answered. "This is no immortal child. She's half-human. Come. See for yourself."

The words were clipped, sounding almost angry, but Tanya crept across the room and allowed Nessie to share her memories. Kate was more inclined to escape, but she, too, followed our prompting and permitted my daughter to share her memories. And like Carmen, it only took seeing our daughter's memories of her life to convince them that what I claimed was the truth.

The moment Renesmee's hand fell away from Kate's cheek, as Kate gave her a tentative, incredulous smile, a soaring elation filled me. I felt I would burst with it. How could even an immortal's body contain this profound sensation of relief? They believed! They had stayed, and they had witnessed Nessie's memories, and they believed! Surely the others would be convinced as well, Aro included. Surely we would survive this, and Alice would see that it was safe to return.

But if we were safe, if it were as easy as this, why had Alice left?

As quickly as it had come, my elation drained away. Alice had left! The danger could not be negated merely by presenting the truth of our innocence. She had said there was more to this. Nothing was as simple as it seemed.

Carefully composing my face, I didn't let any of what I was feeling show. I couldn't let them see my doubts, not now, not when Nessie had just won them over. I could feel Bella's eyes on me, but I couldn't look at her. I needed to be strong, to pretend there was no reason to doubt. One look at her would be my undoing. I would not be able to stop myself from pulling her into my arms and giving into the despair that threatened.

Instead, I concentrated on our cousins and said, "Thank you for listening."

Tanya waved my gratitude aside. Listening was the least we could do… and we did promise… "But there is the grave danger you warned us of. Not directly from this child, I see, but surely from the Volturi, then. How did they find out about her? When are they coming?"

Blaming their sister outright would not sit well with them. I needed to phrase my explanation now as carefully as I had before. "When Bella saw Irina that day in the mountains, she had Renesmee with her."

Kate sucked in a sharp breath. "Irina did this? To you? To Carlisle? Irina?"

Tanya's eyes darted to Jacob and considered the army he had helped us fight, wondering if we could have other enemies, as yet unidentified. Because surely her sister could not be to blame. Her words were almost inaudible as she whispered, "No. Someone else…"

"Alice saw her go to them," I said, ignoring the stab of pain from saying my sister's name. How I wished she were simply out looking for more of our friends like the rest of our family. Their absence didn't cause me the pain hers did. Their absence meant hope, but Alice's left too many questions.

"How could she do this thing?" Eleazar believed me when I said Irina had done this but he didn't understand why she would.

What would anyone have thought if they had seen our half-vampire child? My voice was dull as I said, "Imagine if you had seen Renesmee only from a distance. If you had not waited for our explanation."

Tanya knew what she would have thought… she had thought it upon seeing Nessie, despite all that her other senses were telling her, despite my plea for them to set aside preconceptions. But knowing of our crime and choosing to report it, choosing our deaths… Tanya didn't want to think she would have chosen the same. "No matter what she thought… You are our family."

I shook my head, dismissing Irina's betrayal from further consideration. I found I couldn't even blame her, not really. If the situation were reversed, wouldn't I have done whatever it took to protect my family? If our cousins had chosen to flout the law, wouldn't I have protected Bella, at any cost?

There was no undoing what she had done. All that was left was to try and survive. "There's nothing we can do about Irina's choice now. It's too late. Alice gave us a month."

"So long?" Eleazar asked.

"They are all coming," I explained. "That must take some preparation."

All? "The entire guard?" A dozen faces flashed through Eleazar's mind, some familiar to me, some not, but not even briefly did he entertain the possibility that the main trio, the central coven, would leave their fortress.

"Not just the guard," I corrected. "Aro, Caius, Marcus. Even the wives."

Once again, I was met with blank stares. It seemed it was easier to believe in a living half-vampire child than that the rulers of our world would trouble themselves with punishing our transgression. That's what the guard were for! Their layers of protection existed for a reason. Why abandon them to face off with a coven as powerful as ours?

"Impossible," Eleazar muttered.

"I would have said the same two days ago."

"But that doesn't make any sense. Why would they put themselves and the wives in danger?"

"It doesn't make sense from that angle," I agreed. "Alice said there was more to this than just punishment for what they think we've done. She thought you could help us."

"More than punishment," Eleazar repeated. "But what else is there?"

What indeed?

It was a relief to finally have him considering the question Alice had felt needed answering, perhaps more than any others. And she had thought he would have the answer. I hoped so. I certainly had none.