How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
THE TEMPEST, Act V, Scene 1
All our planning, all our scheming, all our cleverness, it had all come down to this. We had broken ourselves like waves against an uncaring shore. In time, perhaps, we would have worn mountains down to sand, and washed it all away to the sea.
But time was a luxury we did not have.
I knelt, unwillingly, upon the cold stone floor, my arms and head locked in an iron frame large and heavy enough that I tilted painfully forward, my legs locked in place with chains and bolts driven so deep I could not hope to free myself. To my left, Alice was restrained exactly the same way. To my right, Leah, too, was clad in irons, with one crucial difference: blades were set at her throat, her wrists, and around her legs. If she dared to shift, key arteries would be sliced open in the process, so quickly that even she couldn't hope to survive. All of us had been dressed in sackcloth, rough and itchy against the skin, and our legs and feet had been left bare.
But that wasn't the worst of it. As I gazed at the dais before us, at the three thrones that sat there and the three ancient vampires who ruled from those looming seats, I saw the most heartbreaking of all the sights in this room. Callie knelt next to the central throne, her head bowed and her skin mottled with dark bruises, her arms chained behind her back, a gag fitted in her mouth, and a steel collar about her neck. A chain was attached to the collar, and Aro himself held it in his long, white fingers, grinning like a maniac.
Beside me, I could hear Leah growling, almost constantly, a low, ominous rumble that bubbled up from her gut and echoed through her throat. When I glanced over, I could see her eyes flickering periodically, becoming vaguely wolfish before she managed to wrest back her self-control. I tried to give her as much silent encouragement as I could. The last thing I wanted was to watch her die - to watch any of my loved ones die. But then, really, all I was doing was delaying the inevitable.
"You poor, precious angels," Aro cooed, as though we were nothing more than wayward children. I supposed, to him, we were. "You thought you'd had a new idea, didn't you? You really thought you could succeed where so many have failed. Did you truly believe no one else had tried? That you had weapons and tactics we hadn't seen before, in all the centuries of our reign? Scarcely any of you over a century in age, but oh, never mind that. Your cause is right. Your cause is just. The gods must be on your side. Was that it?"
His blood-red eyes, covered in a milky film but somehow no less ominous, locked with my gaze. "The gods are fickle, my dear. In my time, we understood that very well."
"Someday you will fall," Alice spat beside me.
Aro gave her a look of exaggerated surprise. "Will we? Was that another of your famed visions? A pity you didn't see your own downfall, little one. A genuine shame. I had such high hopes for you, Alice. And you, Bella! Such potential. So badly wasted. If only we could delude ourselves into thinking you were nothing but poor little lost lambs, led astray by false shepherds. Alas. We know better. You, Isabella Swan, were the ringleader. You must be an example to all. And these, your most faithful friends...well. They must be part of that example as well."
My heart pounded in my chest. I looked around frantically. I could see no avenues for escape. But my other loved ones - the other Cullens, the other shifters, the other vampires I counted as friends, Kate, Jessica, Angela, Rosalie, dad - were nowhere in sight. Maybe there was still hope. Maybe some of them got away. Maybe…
There was a sudden murmur from the faceless masses attending this audience in the throne room of the Volturi. Gray-cloaked guards filed in from doors on each side of the room, each of them bearing a silver platter, and each platter bore the lifeless head of a vampire, or a shifter, or a hybrid. Sam, Paul, Jared, Jacob, Embry, Quil, Seth, Eleazar, Carmen, Tanya, Irina, Carlisle, Esme, Eleanor, Jessamine, Jasper, Edward, Emmett, Kate, Rosalie, my father...they all stared in silent, sightless accusation.
I'd failed them. I'd failed them all.
I sobbed, despite my best effort to show no emotion before these utter bastards. Leah snarled, starting to shake as she fought her transformation. Aro's smile widened.
"Bring out the main course," he ordered.
Jane and Alec stepped abruptly into view, dragging Jessica and Angela with them. Both of them looked battered and broken, tears streaming down their faces, and Jessica in particular had been bound tightly and gagged, just like Callie, so she couldn't save herself with any magic spells. Jane shoved Jessica into Caius's lap, and he grinned like a hungry crocodile, but Marcus, as ever, remained distant and impassive. Instead of giving Angela to him, Alec kept hold of her, while his twin sister joined him on Angela's other side. Ang's eyes flicked to Edward, and she let out a loud wail, shaking violently.
Aro dragged Callie up and into his own lap, stroking her hair while she trembled, too weak and too frightened to do anything more. He looked to either side, nodding - and then as Caius, Jane and Alec attacked their own victims, he tore open my best friend's throat and drank greedily.
Some of the vampires watching surged briefly forward in bloodlust and hunger, only to be stopped by the Volturi guard. There was no stopping Leah. An inhuman howl ripped from her throat, her bonds twisting with a loud, metallic screech as she exploded into her wolf form - and the blades did their work, cutting deep, sending her red, red blood spilling all across the stone floor, some of it splattering across my face and arms as she stumbled to the ground. Her howl fell into a low, fading series of whimpers, and her eyes met mine as the light slowly faded and her breathing stopped. Her heart stuttered in her chest and grew still.
A terrible heat began to rise, deep in my belly. I could feel tendrils of starfire snaking their way through me, worming through my limbs, up my throat, into my eyes. Something beneath my skin began to glow with a nuclear fire, writhing and twitching like worms burrowed deep in my flesh.
But no one else seemed to take any notice, even as my eyeballs grew so hot I thought they might explode, even as an unceasing light burned brighter and brighter within me, even as I felt something wake. Aro finished his meal and threw Callie's bloodied corpse into the crowd, a melee breaking out as multiple vampires fought over his scraps. He rose from his throne, his pale hands wiping at his bloodied mouth and chin, though this did little more than spread the mess. He licked his long fingers as he strode over to Alice, smiling beatifically down at her. Then, with an exasperated, almost paternal sigh, he grabbed her head and tore it off, kicking her body to the floor in a smooth motion. He nodded to a guard as he walked away, and the cloaked figure stepped forward with a torch, setting Alice's headless body ablaze, even as the life left her swiftly slackening face.
I began to shake, the light within me flaring brighter still, and something whispering in my brain in ancient and unholy tongues. Beneath my breath, I echoed its words, in a dead language that no human had ever known, and yet, the underlying sentiment resonated in my soul. Death. Destruction. An end to this petty creation and all the petty things that dwelt there. Let the stars align, let the barriers shatter, and let it all be washed clean in the pure and infinite fire.
"Alas. Poor Alice," Aro pronounced, holding her head aloft. He wasn't even looking at me - he'd turned to address Marcus. "I knew her, Marcus...oh, come on, dear boy, the least you could do is crack a smile…"
No words fell from my mouth - or, at least, none that these insects would understand. My mouth opened wider than ever before, my skin cracking to grant it more space, and I screamed. Light exploded out from me, and the creatures all around me lost their sparkle in an instant, lost their strength, their glory. Blood poured from their noses, their mouths, their ears.
I wasn't done. My head snapped back, my gaze turning skyward, and I was nothing but the scream and the stream of light that burst upward like a solar flare. The castle shattered all around us. The former vampires exploded in bursts of light, like tiny supernovae - exactly like supernovae, because I could see the gorgeous gamma ray bursts they gave off, shimmering in the prettiest shades of lethality. I could see so much now.
I giggled, even as I screamed, even as the tentacles of light ripped their way from my crude mortal shell with sweet, delicious agony, even as I grew, and grew. I howled with laughter as my fire expanded across the place I had once known as Volterra, then the place the pitiful inhabitants of this world had called Italy, then something I thought I might have heard referred to once as Eurasia, and finally all the way around a little cinder called...oh, I no longer remembered. It scarcely mattered. I was already spreading out and out and out, across the entire universe, and even that wasn't enough, I was everything and I needed more and oh, just there, someone had thought they could wall me in, foolish little thing…
I shattered the barriers that separated the finite and the infinite, and light met light with the most terrific explosion, and I laughed and I cried and I gibbered and I screamed.
"Bella! Bella, wake up!"
I could just barely hear the voice over the sounds of my own screaming, as I finally tore my way free of sleep, and my eyes snapped open, wide and wild. I finally took in a deep, gulping breath, the cool air soothing my raw throat, and I glanced around frantically, trying to get my bearings. Alice was beside me. Alice was beside me, and she was gorgeous, and she was worried, but most of all she was alive.
I grabbed her at once, pulling her close, tears spilling down my cheeks as I buried my nose between her neck and shoulder and breathed her in: the calming lavender and chamomile notes of the body wash we shared, the green apple scent of her shampoo and the tropical flowers of her conditioner, the underlying scent of her sun-warmed light brown skin and her glossy black hair. She wrapped her arms around me in return, stroking my hair and rubbing my back as I trembled and sobbed, slowly returning to our shared reality.
The nightmare didn't fade away. None of my dreams did that anymore. My memory was perfect, and I could still see all the details of that horrible vision with perfect clarity. I had to fight to sort it properly, to shove it in some disused closet in a dark corner of my mind and let it go. I was grateful, once again, for the changes in my mind since I'd become a hybrid. It was far easier for me now to construct a system to store and retrieve memories, to create an architectural construct in my mind and move through it at will. I'd been intrigued by the idea of a memory palace as a human, and I'd tried to build one many times, but never quite managed the trick. Now I could do it...and now, as a survival mechanism, I had to.
I slowly regained my calm as I put the nightmare in its place, shut the door, and let my thoughts move to more abstract ideas. My sobs trailed off into deep, even breathing, and I sniffed a few times as the tears gradually stopped flowing. At long last, I squeezed Alice's waist one last time and pulled back, offering her a weak, dampened smile. "Good morning."
She smiled softly back at me, her eyes searching mine. "Good morning, Bella. Do you want to talk about it?"
"I…" I trailed off, and let myself be distracted for a moment as I drank in the sight of her. God, she was gorgeous in the morning. The sunlight streamed through the window above our bed, striking her skin, leaving her glowing beautifully. Her hair, which she'd grown out past her chin, was tousled from sleep, not to mention everything else we'd gotten up to last night. Her makeup had been somewhat smeared - we really should have washed that stuff off before going to bed - but her long lashes and shadowed eyelids still framed those gorgeous green eyes perfectly. She was still wearing that little black negligee I loved, with the lace, because last night had been special, we'd both been coming down from dad and Kate's wedding, and of course today…
"Oh shit, the family meeting - our flight!" I blurted, my eyes growing wide again. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, did we oversleep? What time is it? Oh my God, if we've missed our flight mom's going to kill us, Rose is going to kill us-"
"Baby," Alice interjected, giggling a little despite the lingering concern in her eyes. She grabbed both my hands and leaned in, kissing me softly. "I love you. We're fine. You woke us up an hour before our alarm."
I kissed her back, my nerves settling, and then glanced at the clock before giving her a sheepish look. "Oh. Okay. So...shit. Alice, I'm sorry."
"It's okay. You couldn't help it," she replied, reaching up to trace my jawline with her nimble little fingers. I leaned into her touch, letting my eyelids flutter briefly shut. "Do you want to try and get that last hour of sleep?"
I sighed, opening my eyes again and biting my lip. "I honestly don't think I could go back to sleep right now. But you should doze if you need it."
"No, I'm fine." She shook her head, then looked up at me through her lashes, hesitating briefly. "It was that nightmare with the Volturi again, wasn't it?"
I looked down, swallowing hard and nodding. "Yeah."
"God, baby. I wish I knew how to make those dreams stop." She drew in closer to me, wrapping her arms around my waist and resting her head against my shoulder, and I sighed again, drawing her back down to the bed so we could properly snuggle.
"I miss the seaside cottage. Remember those dreams? I kind of liked those dreams."
Alice shifted slightly so her head was resting against my chest, and let out a low, thoughtful hum. "Seeing as those dreams were a harbinger of death, I'm actually fairly glad they're gone."
"They weren't a harbinger of death. Neither one of us died," I protested.
"We could have. And which one of us was Little Miss Exposition when the moment of truth hit?" Alice asked, looking up at me and raising one perfect black eyebrow.
I giggled, tugging her close and kissing that eyebrow. "You were."
"Which means which one of us is a certified expert in the nature of the seaside cottage dream?"
"You are," I said obediently, rolling my eyes.
"Don't roll your eyes at me. It was a harbinger of death," Alice said, nodding decisively. "The expert has spoken."
"Mmm, yes, ma'am," I murmured, kissing her once again. She writhed pleasantly against me, and we went off-track into a little light petting before I finally broke contact, letting out a long breath. "Sorry. I mean, I want to, I just…"
She met my eyes, reaching down to squeeze my hand. "The dream's still bothering you."
"Well...yeah. What if it's another omen, Alice? I know you're the one with the visions, but between, well, the seaside cottage dreams actually meaning something, and what Eleazar said…"
"Oh, I think these dreams have everything to do with what Eleazar said, Bells," Alice replied, her lips pressing together in a firm line. "It's been three months. You haven't even come close to revealing yourself as some kind of - eldritch abomination, and I still haven't had any visions indicating that you will. Maybe it's time to consider the possibility that he was wrong."
I sighed again, shaking my head. "When are our lives ever that easy? Besides, he saw something, and he's always been reliable before, right? We can't just discount that."
"We're facing enough trouble down the road with the Volturi. We don't need to borrow more. And I'm not saying he didn't see something, just...there are precisely two people on this planet that we know of who carry memories of another universe. Who lived through some kind of apocalypse and turned up here. Maybe if he looked at Callie, he'd see the exact same thing. Maybe it's just a side effect of whatever you two went through."
"Maybe," I admitted softly, biting my lip. "That doesn't seem very likely. Anyway, you shouldn't blame Eleazar. He was frightened, and he was just telling us what he'd seen."
Alice scowled, looking away. "Maybe," she echoed. "But when it's left you with those awful nightmares, when it's caused you to second guess yourself and your abilities over and over again…"
"Hey, it wasn't that long ago that you were all but begging me to be more cautious," I reminded her.
She looked back up at me, arching an eyebrow. "I do not beg. And you were human then, and - I appreciate it when you check in with me about stuff you haven't done before, don't get me wrong, but you're still jumping at shadows and looking to me every time you use your powers, or go off to meditate with Callie and Jessica, and it's just...it's not like you. Eleazar caused that. Even if he didn't mean to. It's hard not to resent that."
I pulled her close, kissing her forehead lightly. "I'm sorry. I...I want to find my way back. I'm just not sure how. I'd probably be having nightmares about the Volturi no matter what, though. If it helps."
Alice sighed, her fingers playing across my stomach. "I'm still not sold on this sleep thing in a lot of ways. We're out for hours, most of our dreams are weird or forgettable at best, and don't get me started on the nightmares…"
"Hey, I didn't hear you complaining about that dream the other night," I told her, with a slight smirk.
She grinned back at me. "You mean the one you immediately wanted me to reenact for you?"
"Only because it sounded like you were having an amazing time."
"Oh, I was. And we did," Alice agreed, her fingers running down to my hip and then my thigh. "Kind of proves my point, though. Why waste time dreaming when we could be doing?"
I shivered lightly, feeling a little more frisky as she went on, and I let my own hands roam down her sides. "I suppose. But honestly, I think the pros still vastly outweigh the cons. Yes, we have to sleep, but we can go out in the sun...we don't look like insomniacs all the time...we can eat human food…"
"I didn't say it was all bad. And...ahhhh…" Her breath hitched as I leaned in to kiss her throat, finding a particularly sensitive spot. "There are definite...advantages...feeling better, are we?"
"Oh, sorry," I murmured, grinning unrepentantly against her skin. "I think I am, but if you wanted to doze until our alarm goes off, I can just read or…"
She cut me off with a low growl, sliding up my body and capturing my lips with her own, and with that, the conversation was officially over.
After a long interlude and a shared shower, we finally dressed and made our way up to the main house, and I took the opportunity to revel in the scent of the trees and the flowers, the feeling of the sunlight on my skin. I had been scarce around Forks ever since school let out - officially, I'd been helping out with the preparations for dad's wedding to Kate, but in fact I'd been restoring a few of the Cullens to humanity. Edward had been the first to volunteer - Angela might know the truth now, but he still worried about her safety. Then there'd been Rosalie and Emmett. All of them planned to become hybrids toward the end of the summer, or so they said. I wasn't sure Edward would actually keep to that. But for now, I had reduced Edward and Rose's powers to safe levels, and all three were enjoying their temporarily mortal lives.
Carlisle and Esme had chosen to remain full vampires, as had Tanya, Irina, Eleanor, Jessamine (now going by Mina) and Jasper. Jasper's decision had been a matter of necessity, given his shared mission with Mina over the summer. The others...I didn't pry into their reasoning, and frankly, I wouldn't have had time to turn all of them human if they had wanted it. It was just as well.
After an all too brief walk in the sun, we stepped into the Cullen house to find the family gathered - and a much larger family, at that, than the one I'd met on my initial arrival in Forks. We'd managed to integrate Mina into the household as Jasper's twin sister, temporarily separated due to the vagaries of the foster care system, and Eleanor as Eleanor McCarthy, a distant cousin whose parents had tragically passed. I'd grown fairly accustomed to seeing them about, even if the triad Eleanor had formed with Emmett and Rose still took some getting used to, and things were still slightly awkward between Mina, Alice and myself.
But everyone was here today. The whole extended family, from my dad and Kate, to Kate's sisters, to Leah, Sam, Callie, Jessica, and finally Angela, the latest addition to our circle of trust. I'd seen each and every one of them only yesterday, at the wedding, but there was still a sense of comfort in having them all around me, even if that comfort was a little bittersweet. I wouldn't see most of their faces again for months. And despite all our planning, a part of me worried I'd never see some of them again. That it would all go wrong, somehow, and our family would be broken - broken and hunted, at that, if things went poorly enough.
Alice glanced over at me, sensing my distress, and squeezed my hand as we took our seats. Carlisle moved to stand in the center of the living room, where everyone could see, and cast a smile at all of us before he spoke.
"Thank you for coming, everyone. I know we all have work to do, but I thought we should check in one last time before we go, just to make sure everyone's ready. Charlie, Kate, there's...still time to back out, if you want. We could drop you off at Isle Esme for a real honeymoon, we have other ways of contacting Amun, and as for the Maltese, Bella did say she's uncertain…"
"No," Kate said, shaking her head firmly, glancing at dad for confirmation. "We're your best chance at reaching any of them, and if we do attract the attention of the Volturi, well."
"If we encounter them, my powers are up to it. We've confirmed I can shield Kate and myself," dad finished. "That's still a lot to get used to - powers and all - but I've got a handle on it. Aro won't be able to read our minds and most of their guard's abilities won't work on us. We just have to hope they'll see us as curiosities at worst."
"And I'm mostly uncertain because the Maltese have an existing connection to the Volturi. It's a risk, I'm not denying it, but - in the books, once they realized hybrids weren't a threat and no one had created an immortal child, they refused to grant the Volturi further support against the Cullens or their allies," I added. "If we can get to them first, tell them our story, I think we stand a chance. We'll need to be cautious about bringing them into the revolution, but at least we can give them something to think about. Still, if Malta seems like too big a risk...I don't want anything to happen to either of you."
Dad smiled gently at me, then reached over to put his hand over mine. "Even if it just means the Volturi have fewer allies, it's worth it. Let me do this for you, Bells. Hell, let me do it for all of us. From what all of you have said, the Volturi need to be taken down a few pegs, and chipping away at their supporters is a place to start."
"I won't let anything happen to your father, Bella. Not if I can help it. You know that," Kate promised.
I let out a long breath, nodding slowly, grasping dad's fingers and squeezing slightly. "I know. Thank you, just - just be careful."
"Always am, kiddo," dad murmured.
"All right," Carlisle said at last. "Leah, how's the pack doing?"
"Good. Better now that we're immune to vampire venom." Leah nodded at me, shooting me a crooked grin, and I grinned back. "Doesn't make us invincible, not by a long shot, but it makes us harder to kill, and our numbers should be more than enough to deal with any nomads or scouting parties. With school out we can expand our patrols, cover Forks and the house. We're not going to let anyone through."
"And Jessica and I will keep working on that notice-me-not spell. I'm sure there's a way to cover the town and the reservation, it's just a matter of powering the shield, making it self-sustaining," Callie interjected.
Jessica nodded. "I have some ideas on that. We're working the problem, we'll solve it in no time."
"I know we're not witches, but if there's anything Edward or I can do to help, you'll let us know, right?" Angela asked, lacing her fingers with Edward's. "I feel kind of useless, honestly, I'd be glad to do something."
"There might be something. We'll let you know. I'd say anyone can learn magic but - honestly I'm not sure that's true in this world. There's...a lot we still have to learn."
Callie looked over at me as she spoke, and we locked eyes for a moment before I let my gaze fall into my lap. I hadn't exactly been keeping up with my meditation or mental exercises, but to be fair, they hadn't been doing much of anything. I could shield my thoughts from psychic intrusion, or at least confuse Edward with surface thoughts, but that was just a trick. I still couldn't do proper magic, and I still couldn't feel the living world around me the way I once had. I had power for sure, but part of me was still numb. Alice - the Alice of my dream at the seaside cottage - had said I might rebuild that connection eventually, but eventually seemed to be the best I could hope for.
"Thank you. All of you," Carlisle said. "I'm sure you'll keep our home safe. Jasper, I'm assuming you still haven't heard from Peter or Charlotte."
"No, but that's not too surprising. I know their range, I'm sure we'll find them. And if for some reason we don't, well...there's always Maria," Jasper replied. Beside him, Mina tightened her grip on the armrests of her chair, causing an audible crack. "Aw, sis, don't be like that. Maria was - well, she could be a monster back in the day, but if Peter thinks she's changed, she probably has. Last we spoke he said she was doing a lot better. No more disposable newborn armies, nice little coven, seemed a lot friendlier. If Peter is willing to keep in touch with her she can't be as bad as she was, and she might be able to point us his way if all else fails."
"Yeah, well, from the stories you've told, I'm going to trust her about as much as I'd trust a rattlesnake about to strike," Mina hissed.
Jasper smirked, just slightly. "And that right there's why I'll be doing all the talking. Just stand behind me and glower, you're good at that."
Mina smacked his arm in response, but I caught a smile flitting briefly across her lips, just as Tanya took the floor. "We've made contact with our friends in Japan and Russia. They're expecting us. We have a lot of ground to cover, but hopefully the network will make it easier."
"Hell, I'm looking forward to it," Eleanor remarked, grinning from where she sat nestled with Rose and Emmett on one of the couches. "I reckon I've seen just about everything interesting there is to see on this continent. Can't wait to get a look at another."
Rosalie sighed, leaning into her. "Are you sure we can't convince you to come with us?"
"Baby, you'll have Em all summer long," Eleanor replied, her face softening as she squeezed Rose's hand, then brought it to her lips for a kiss. "And much as I'd like to see you in a bikini, you know I can't go out in that sun. I'll miss you something fierce, both of you, but we're going to have one hell of a reunion."
She exchanged a smoldering, lascivious look with Emmett over Rose's head while Rosalie herself pouted, leaning up to kiss her. Across the room, Irina rolled her eyes and cleared her throat.
"You do realize this isn't a vacation, yes?"
Tanya smiled indulgently, raising her hands. "Well...it's a working vacation, anyway. I'm sure we'll all have time for an interlude or two...or several, in some cases."
She arched an eyebrow at me, and I grinned sheepishly. "Okay, yeah, I guess our itinerary's a little indulgent," I admitted. "But we do have work to do. We're not going to slack off too much."
"That reminds me, I've gotten ahold of Alistair. He's willing to meet, but only people he already knows. He specifically said no new people, even mates. Sorry, Bella," Carlisle said. "It looks like this will fall to Rosalie and Emmett."
"He's in for kind of a shock, but okay," Emmett agreed, flashing a broad grin.
Carlisle chuckled. "I did warn him, but I'm not sure he believed me, so tread lightly. He spooks easily at the best of times. As for Esme and myself, I have nothing more to add - the Amazon coven stays within a fairly well-defined territory, so they should be easy to contact, and then it's a matter of finding Nahuel and Huilen. This is going to be a long summer. For all of us. Stay in touch as much as you can, and stay safe."
There were general murmurs of agreement throughout the room, and then the spell was broken, and we were all getting up and mingling, saying our goodbyes. I hugged my dad fiercely, neither of us eager to let go, and when at last we did, I found Callie waiting right there, ready to pull me into a tight hug of her own.
"I'm going to miss you, Castaway," she whispered, as I hugged her back. "Be careful out there. Don't go too crazy. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"I love you, too, Calamity," I returned, tears stinging my eyes, just a little. "And no promises, there's a lot of shit I'd do that you wouldn't."
"Damn. Here I was hoping you wouldn't notice." Callie let me go, and we both chuckled softly, resting our foreheads against one another briefly. "I do, you know. Love you. You're the one thing that makes sense in this whole damn world sometimes."
I smirked. "Me? Make sense? You have got to have me mixed up with someone else. Anyway, you've got Leah to keep you busy while I'm gone. And the days are going to fly by, you'll see."
"Easy for you to say, you're not the one minding the homefront," she returned. "But yeah. I've got Leah. We'll be okay. You just focus on your little world tour."
"Not exactly a world tour," Leah said, coming over to join us. "You're visiting some of the whitest places I've heard of. But at least you'll blend in."
I grinned, turning to hug her, too. "Yeah, yeah. You have a point. Hey, you take care of yourself, okay? And your pack. And Callie."
"I always take care of Callie! Callie, any complaints?" Leah demanded, though she hugged me back.
"No mints on my pillow," Callie returned, counting off on her fingers. "Nowhere near enough backrubs. Let's see, what else…"
"I said I take care of you, I didn't say I spoil you, and I give you plenty of backrubs, woman. I swear I get no respect around here." Leah shook her head, turning back to me. "Hey. You take care of yourself, too, kid."
"We have like the easiest job. I'll be fine," I promised. "But I'll miss you both. I'll call as often as I can."
"Good. You'd better." Leah gave me a curt nod, then glanced over my shoulder, sighing. "Guess the train's pulling out. Look after her, Baby Dracula."
"I will, Fluffypants," Alice said from behind me. I turned, and she gave me a rueful little grin. "Sorry. Time's up. We'd better go meet your mom."
"Yeah. Okay," I agreed, sighing as I took one last look around, committing the Cullen house and all the people in it to memory - as though I'd forget a single detail. I shut my eyes at last, took a deep breath, and nodded. "Let's go."
Despite the wide array of cars in the Cullen garage, the family had invested in a van for the occasional family trip, and so Carlisle and Esme drove our little party - Rosalie, Emmett, Alice and me - to the regional airport over in Port Angeles, seeing us inside, where mom and Phil were waiting with their luggage. Mom broke into a beaming smile the second she saw me, hurrying over to pull me into a hug, as though we hadn't just seen each other yesterday. With my growth spurt she was a head shorter than me, but I learned into it nonetheless, enveloping her in my arms.
"Bella! There you are! I was worried I'd have to ask your father to put out an APB," she said breezily.
I glanced at the clock. "We're not even late, we left plenty of time for security…"
Mom was already moving on to hug my girlfriend, kissing her cheek. "And Alice, dear, you look lovely as ever. Rosalie, Emmett, welcome - oh, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen! Thank you again for inviting Bella along on your vacation, I know she's really looking forward to it. You know, I have the cutest photos from the Disneyland trips Charlie used to take with her…"
"Mom," I protested quickly. "We, uh, should probably get in line."
"Any pictures with Ariel, Mrs. Dwyer?" Alice asked brightly. "I know she's Bella's favorite."
"We can look at childhood photos later, the TSA waits for no man - uh, thanks Carlisle, Esme, goodbye, see you in a week!" I chirped, grabbing both Alice and mom by the hand and tugging gently in the direction of the security checkpoint.
"Oh, all my albums at my house, but don't worry, I have some photos in my purse, I'll show you on the plane - goodness, Bella, when did you get so strong?" mom asked. "Someone's eager for an adventure."
"Just - really looking forward to this visit. And yeah," I said, a little sheepishly, letting them go, looking out beyond the checkpoint, beyond the departure gates, to the summer skies I could just make out through the window. "I guess that's what this is going to be. An adventure."