Worlds Collide

Dragon meets vampire. Remember Sera's grandfather? Yeah, I'm afraid I don't have time to introduce him without dragging this out too much. Sorry. Maybe I'll do a spin-off or something …

By the time anybody felt like going anywhere again, my kin had started to return to the valley, unable to hold back curiosity. I was grateful for my Great-Aunt Fio, whose authority would ensure that my vampires stayed safe. I mostly tried to keep the Cullens under my wings, away from curious eyes and the threat of fire, in case some idiot decided to break the Matriarch's law. I sincerely doubted that anyone would, at least not on purpose. When our Maker was literally just beneath our feet, it would have been a very bad idea to try to hurt the vampires. The only trouble was, of course, that we were … dragons. Huge, indestructible, and dangerous. All it would take was one misplaced landing to give one of the vampires a good crunching, and a single thrash of a wayward tail could shatter one of them into dust.

Veramyzanwil, my amethyst-violet friend, came sweeping up over our heads, screaming furiously at me in the shrill dragon tone of great irritation. YOU COULD HAVE FREAKING TOLD US!

I pressed myself back against the stone, bracing my talons, and hissed at her. Watch it!

Great-Aunt Fio growled, unhappily, shifting where she clung to the side of the mountain. She didn't know Vera personally, but she knew the young violet dragon was my friend, so did not chase her away. Vera cast my great-aunt a single very nervous glance before touching down heavily in front of me on the ledge. Arina squawked a greeting. Vera flared her frills in a dragon's wordless yo, homie! and then turned on me. Freakin' heck, Sera. We were all thinking something horrid happened to you, and that's why you didn't have any ash. But NOOOOOO, you just had to find a bucketload of the golden-eyed vampires from LEGEND! And then you didn't say anything!

What else was I supposed to do? I roared back. Tell you everything? I had to keep them a secret until I knew they'd be safe. Can you think of what my grandfather would have done if he'd heard the news?

Vera inhaled deeply, parting her jaws to scream something back, but then she hesitated. Then she settled down a little, hissing and snarling in her reptilian way. I'm still mad.

Well, if you're going to be mad, you'd better be careful. I can't have you hurting one of the Cullens, I replied, grumpily, settling down on my belly again and mostly folding my wings, still giving the vampires a place to hide if they wanted it. Most of them tucked beneath my wing membranes just in case, but two peered bravely out—Alice and Emmett. Emmett whistled as he looked up at Vera.

"She sure yells," he commented. I snorted, and carefully re-formed the telepathic link with him, which made him wince slightly.

She's just angry. I wasn't very nice to her when I was here last.


Crispin peered out from beneath my wings, too. He'd claimed the spot right up against my muscled chest, where he'd been snuggled for the last few minutes. Now he stood right under my collar, his hand on my warm scales, looking up at the newcomer with large, honey-gold eyes. Vera took notice of him and tilted her head, breathing a low whuf. I breathed gently on the top of Crispin's head, flicking out my long, forked black tongue.

This is my friend, I told him. Her name is Veramyzanwil, but you can call her Vera. She's usually nice, but she's mad at me because I didn't tell her you all exist when I came here last time.

Vera lowered her head to have a look at Crispin, who stood bravely where he was, and I kept close watch, feeling incredibly protective and ready to lash out if I had to. Vera's long forked tongue slid in and out a few times as she tasted the air. He smells like honey and dirt, she commented to me in a low, throbbing groan. I snorted.

You mean he smells like honeybees and pine sap. I put my snout close to Crispin, and he leaned into it. Vera flared all her frills and snorted in surprise.

You two seem awfully close, she bark-roared.

It's complicated. I sighed, wearily, and Crispin rested his cheek against my scales.

"I don't really like being out in the open," he told me, quietly. "I don't like all the eagle eyes."

We should go to my house, I suggested. I'm not sure my parents are all that excited about you, but I know they wouldn't hurt you. That would be defying the Matriarch's decree.

"Carlisle and Esme need some time together," Crispin added. "After what almost happened."

Vera lowered her head and took a deep sniff of Crispin, apparently still trying to figure him out. My boyfriend retreated a little to hide at my side, and I growled at Vera, although I tried not to be too mean about it. Vera snorted. He's kinda thin, don't you think?

So he's not your type, I shrilled, irritably. Don't be rude. He'll learn the dragon language soon enough. Don't make him self-conscious.

Vera squinted at me. I glowered back, and she sighed. Yeah, something's off about you, she decided. You gonna tell me?

I debated. But then my silly little sister jumped in for me. Oh yeah, she's mated to him, she told Vera. The Matriarch said so. Dad doesn't like it.

WHAT?! Vera thundered, flaring all her frills again. Noooo, that's impossible.

I whipped my tail at Arina so fast it made a deafening crack like a whip, catching her right on the hip. Arina squalled, indignantly.

You didn't think that was a secret I wanted to keep to myself for a while? I demanded, furiously. Arina bawled.

Whaaat? She was gonna find out somehow, anyway! And it's totally obvious.

I bared all my teeth and made a lunge for her, aware of the vampires who were still hiding beneath my wings, who I needed to be very careful not to squash. Arina yelped, and launched herself like a torpedo off the ledge, snapping her wings open at the last second and gliding down the length of the valley. I took a deep breath and thundered a huge roar down at her. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT ABOUT MY LOVE LIFE! AND TELL MOM AND DAD I'M COMING!

I stepped back to my original position, snorting in irritation. Vera backed up toward the edge, looking wary. I growled grumpily at her. Look, a whole lot of crap has been going on in the last month, okay? Just don't tell anybody what Arina said. I really don't think the Great Siege is ready for it.

Vera shot a look at Crispin with her jewel-blue eyes. He looked alarmed at my outburst toward Arina, but the look from Vera made him worried, and he inched back toward me again, ready to duck for cover. I nudged him carefully with my nose, chirping at him. Don't worry. We're all just trying to figure this stuff out.

Vera shook her angular head, looking up at Great-Aunt Fio. Fio was pretending not to notice anything going on below her, still clinging to the mountain, idly examining her tail fins, which she had spread wide like a frigate's sails. Vera flicked her long tongue a few times, and then said, So … do you like him, then? Like, really like him?

I took a deep breath and flicked the tip of my tail a few times, looking for the right words to tell her. Yes, I finally rumbled. Yes, I do, and for many, many reasons. It's not going to be easy to explain. You have to see them as people, not as mindless killers. And then you have to meet him. He's my kindred spirit, really.

Huh. Vera huffed. Okay, I guess. I don't totally get it, but I know you wouldn't go doing something too stupid, so I guess I trust you. I couldn't decide if this was a compliment or not. Vera tilted her head at Crispin again, lowering her head to see, and was promptly distracted by none other than Jacob, who had come out of hiding to stretch his legs. That's not a vampire, Vera recognized, her tongue flicking rapidly as she put her nose abruptly close to him to figure him out. He backed away slowly, looking worried. Vera was just as large as I was, and she could have swallowed Jacob like a pill.

Be careful, right? I growled, wearily.

Yeah, yeah, I know.

At that moment, sixteen of my other little friends came whirling through the air, following Vera's lead, all wanting to come see what I'd brought home with me. I rumbled a low growl of warning, spreading my wings slightly, and those who'd left the safety of the hiding place scurried back beneath it. Heck if I was taking chances, especially with my excitable friends.

Great-Aunt Fio came to the rescue, then. She let loose a long, wailing, screaming cry, shifting her position against the mountainside in preparation to take off, her pale blue eyes tracking my peers as they whirled around like a pack of colorful, scaly, indestructible kites. They were reluctant to leave, at first, but then Fio launched herself off the side of the mountain, spreading open her impressive wingspan, and they all hurried away. No point in getting the Matriarch's mouthpiece angry.

I rasped at Vera. Go explain what's going on, okay? I don't want them to come prying around my house or whatever. I need to keep these golden-eyed ones safe until everything settles down a little. You guys can meet them later. I just need to get them to safety.

Vera seemed grumpy. Dang it, I don't want to be left out of all the fun!

Believe me, there's plenty more to come. We've got some important missions coming up; the Matriarch told me. You'll probably be involved. I just need everybody to be patient a little longer.

Okay, fine. I'll tell them. Vera crawled to the edge of the ledge. She dropped smoothly off it and into the air, solidly beating her vast wings. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. This was going to take some getting used to. I couldn't help but feel extremely, incredibly protective of my vampires. Amidst a thousand members of the race designed to kill them, how could I not be?

Great-Aunt Fio returned. She came in for a landing on the side of the mountain again, and then backed down to the ledge where we stood, sending small boulders tumbling down the slope as she went. She roared to me. If you plan to take them home, now is the time.

I flicked my long tongue in and out a few times. Then I breathed another warm breath on the top of Crispin's head. It's time to go. Great-Aunt Fio will have to carry some of you.

It didn't take us long to reach the home valley. The gingerbread houses that stood on the slopes and in the valley all appeared as we crested the next range of mountain peaks, and Crispin's mind drew my attention with his surprise. I coughed a soft, draconic laughter. I told you I live in a house, remember?

I remember … this is just not how I pictured it. Looks like a cute little village, and then there are all the living, flying volcanoes zooming around. How do you keep from destroying your own houses?

I deliberated on the answer. Well, let's just say we have to rebuild sometimes. Maybe a little more often than "sometimes." But we all exercise caution, and the largest of us never make landings in the village. Things stay pretty well intact.

Aunt Fio led the way to my house. She bore the adoptive parents and Edward's family on her smooth, white back, and I carried all the rest, Crispin nestled in the crook of my shoulders, clinging on tight. I abruptly thought of a harness of some kind, something that he could grip more easily. Strong as he was, my scales were smooth and slick as obsidian, and really didn't make great handholds. I wondered if it would be too weird to have a saddle made for him.

When we reached the house, Fio landed first, and I followed her, using the strong claws on my wrist to cling onto the craggy stone on the side of the mountain. Fio called gently to the occupants of the house, a long, keening sort of wail. Arina came trotting out with robes for us, and I rumbled gently at the vampires on my back, crouching low so they could get down. You'll have to rock-climb, a little.

"Good thing we're vampires," said Emmett, jokingly. "We're not gonna slip and fall."

You'd better not, I told them telepathically. It would be a long, long fall to the bottom. Plus who knows who might attack you by mistake on the way down?

Arina reached us where we clung to the landing pad, grinning. "Mom made dinner," she said, happily, "even though the vampires can't eat it. She's mad because we burned our stuff back in Idaho."

Correction: I burned our stuff, I said. I pulled myself up to her level once the vampires had dismounted, clinging squirrel-like to the side of the mountain. Then I reached into my fireheart again, letting the power of the Mother Sun course through my veins. Arina threw one of the robes around my shoulders once I stood in my tiny, squashy human form again. Crispin hauled himself over a boulder and came to me, beaming. He scooped me up with a happy sigh, and I buried my face into him. This was the one good thing about my human form: I could snuggle my vampire boy.

Aunt Fio came to us, smirking, wrapped up in her own robe, Arina at her side. "So this is the vampire who won the heart of a dragon," she commented, knotting the sash around her waist. "I don't know what Vera was talking about. He looks perfectly cute to me!"

Crispin did his if-vampires-could-blush thing. I laughed aloud. Oh, how I loved that look on him. The other Cullens were reaching us, climbing or descending from the various points on the mountainside where we'd left them. Jacob paused when he reached the level pathway, sweeping Renesme off his shoulders and setting the hybrid on her feet. "Somebody mentioned dinner," he said. I smirked. As one of the few who needed to eat, I was sure he had to be hungry.

"Let's go," I said. "I guess we'll have to introduce you all to my parents sooner or later." I paused to grin at Dr. Cullen before I started leading the way to the house. It was still an aching relief to have him back. I'd started to look to him as my friend, especially since he'd taken such good care of me at the hospital, and all I'd been able to think was how ridiculously unfair it was that he had to be the one to get hurt.

Well, it didn't matter, now. It was all going to be okay. I took Crispin's hand and led him up the leveled path toward the house. Assuming my father didn't lose his wits, this would be perfectly safe.

When I reached the door, I said, "Knock, knock," and stepped in. Mom was laying out an entire roast goose on the table, and I couldn't help but feel just a little bit hungry, even though I'd had several good elk not all that long ago. Jacob groaned.

"Oh, yeah!" he said. "That's the good stuff. I love turkey."

"No, that's a goose!" Arina said, happily. "We don't eat turkeys very often."

"Delicious," Crispin mumbled, touching my wrist. He was trying not to make eye contact with anyone, nervous and skittish as a jackrabbit. Well, he had a good reason.

"Where's Dad?" I asked Mom, worriedly.

She sighed. "Upstairs. I think he's gearing himself up."

"Hope so," I mumbled. Then I smiled. "Mom, these are the Cullens. It's going to be a full house tonight."

" I can tell," Mom said. She smiled slightly, though it didn't completely ease the tension from her warm brown face. She glanced at all the people who clustered into the kitchen, spilling into the sitting room, leaning on the red marble counters, looking somehow more like humans than vampires as she knew them. Mom threw a hand towel over her shoulder and put her hands on her hips.

"Well, here you all are," she said, sighing. "The stories were right about the golden-eyed part. I suppose I'll have to see the will-strength of twelve to believe it."

"The will-strength of twelve," Crispin murmured. "You said that once back home," he commented to me. I chuckled.

"It's part of the legend. The vampires with gold eyes had the strength of will to turn aside from the lusts of their natural appetites. It's part of what makes you special."

"That sounds like Carlisle," said Edward, the mind-reader. He leaned up against the wall with Bella, his mate, rubbing his eyes. Everybody looked tiredly, gratefully, helplessly at Carlisle. He smiled around at them all.

"You all learned to have strong wills," he said. "Mine is somewhat innate, but that was simply lucky. Even then, it took practice." He paused when Esme wearily rested her head on his shoulder. He pecked her forehead. "I'm glad I have you," he told her, sighing the words out.

My mother was watching the exchange in open fascination. We rarely bothered to listen to vampires talk. Hearing them speak like perfectly normal people was alien to my family. And Carlisle's gentle interaction with Esme amazed her even more.

That was when Dad came down the stairs. He paused at the bottom, and I had a moment's deliberation: stay with Crispin, or to give Dad a hug. Eventually, Dad's lightning blue eyes fell upon my tall, black-cat Crispin, and he frowned. I shifted slightly in front of my boyfriend, ready to defend. My thoughts flickered to the house. I really didn't want to see it get destroyed.

"Hi, Dad," I said, speaking slowly and hesitantly. "I brought them home."

Dad took a deep breath, looking around at them all. It was almost comical to see how worried all the vampires looked when confronted with my father in his small, thin human form. He certainly didn't look particularly intimidating this way.

I thought of his dragon form, red and furious as boiling lava. He was a lot scarier in that shape, to be sure.

Dad observed the bundle of vampires for a moment, pausing when he noticed the wolf-shifter and the hybrid, and finally stopping on Crispin, his brows knitting. Crispin cleared his throat, fidgeting. Dad's calculating look changed to slight bafflement. A fidgeting vampire? How odd!

I couldn't stop the smile that made its way onto my face when I saw that look. The human behaviors that Crispin had been ingraining into his habits were showing themselves. "Dad, this is the Cullen family," I introduced. "This one is Crispin." I gave my boyfriend a playful nudge. "He's the one the Matriarch swore me to. The one I love," I added, gently. Dad's calculating look returned.

Crispin cleared his throat again. "H-Hi," he said, struggling a little. "I, ah … I know this is all happening rather quickly. It's not how I would have liked to do it," he added, awkwardly. "I really would have liked to meet you before the whole … sworn-for-life … thing."

To my great relief, my father's expression changed again, this time from calculating to surprised. He twitched his head slightly, squinting in bafflement. Clearly, whatever he had expected out of Crispin, these had not been the first words he'd anticipated. "I would really have rather met you beforehand, myself," said Dad, cautiously, "but what the Matriarch says, goes. Sometimes we just have to trust her. She sees the whole picture, after all."

Crispin smiled, shyly. "All the same … Hi. I'm only around thirty years old, and I was turned when I was twenty-three. I'm definitely the youngest here."

The rest of the family all smirked. I got the feeling this was something of a running joke among them. Aunt Fio made us all jump with a bark of laughter. I patted Crispin's arm, soothingly, and he made a soft, slightly trembling laugh.

"See, Dad? They're okay," said Arina, pushing her way to the front of the gathering while grinning. "Sera was right. They're not like the others."

Dad glanced at her and sighed. "I'll be the judge of that," he said, but he sounded more resigned than angry. I leaned gently into Crispin and linked my pinkie with his. This was my vampire. I would defend him fiercely if I needed to, although I really wanted my dad to approve of him. Crispin was a little comforted. He glanced into the living room, where there were inviting couches.

Some of the others had already gotten the same idea. Aunt Fio led the way in, calling back to the vampires. "Why don't we sit and talk? I'm particularly interested to hear what it's like to fight for your soul," she said, raising a dark, sculpted brow at Carlisle. The doctor massaged his forehead with a very grim expression. Dad spoke suddenly, apparently unable to restrain himself.

"Soul, Fio?" He said, critically. She snorted at him.

"Yes, soul! All vampires have them, silly, even if it doesn't show well. These are some of the few in the world who have learned to let it guide them, eh?" She grinned at my father, and I saw Alice elbow Edward sharply out of the corner of my eye. He gave her an unhappy look, and she shrugged, raising her eyebrows. Carlisle had seen the interaction, and he looked amused. I recalled that Edward hadn't believed that he had a soul.

Well, the Matriarch's mouthpiece had just confirmed it. He'd be stupid not to believe it now.

Dad looked a little disgruntled at being called out by his aunt, and he covered the embarrassment by going to help my mother. Mom had picked the shapeshifter out of the bunch and was talking to him about the roast goose, which he enthusiastically agreed to. Jacob pulled the hybrid, Nessie, to the table, and Mom started serving them, talking with great interest to Renesmee. For a very long time, she and the other researchers had wanted to know exactly how a hybrid happened, and how they worked. Since we'd learned that they existed many years ago, we'd never managed to actually get our hands on one. There were very few of them.

The doctor and his mate settled on one of the couches to rest. Esme snuggled up close, and I got the feeling she'd never let poor Carlisle out of her sight again. I gazed at the two vampires, all singed and tired from nearly dying in several ways all in the same day.

I gritted my teeth as I thought of Tavora again. That little devil! I was satisfied that she'd been destroyed, although I sort of wished I'd had enough sense to pin and capture her. Then I could have dished her up to my grandfather for his experiments and studies.

The rest of the family was mostly quiet. They stood or sat around in their pairs, recuperating after a very long and rather awful day. Crispin was still tense, afraid of my father, so I snuggled into him, putting my arms around his waist, and gave him a firm peck on the underside of his jaw, which was as far as I could reach. "Hey, you. It's okay. Relax."

Crispin sighed through his nose, turning his head to look at me, smiling a little. "It's hard to. Meeting the dad is supposed to be the scariest part, and yours could totally kill me if he wanted to."

"But he won't. The Matriarch wouldn't allow it, and he wouldn't want to shatter my heart into a million little pieces, either." I gave Dad a meaningful look, and he became a bit disgruntled, scooping up a dish towel and wandering to the sink, even though there were no dishes to wash yet. I smiled, resting my cheek on Crispin's chest.

Alice came to us where we leaned against the wall. She sat cross-legged on the floor, smiling a little, squinting up at me. "So … that was quite a spectacular display of dragon fire."

I laughed, but it wasn't funny. "I went too far," I said. "I burned way too much of that forest. But I … I don't think I've ever been so mad." I remembered for a moment how awful it had been. The army had been swarming like ants. Never before had a dragon been in such hopeless circumstances, trying so desperately to kill some vampires while actively preserving others. The army had gotten too close to the Cullens, leaping upon them. If I'd tried to use my fire, I would have killed the golden-eyed ones. If I'd tried to use my tail, I would have smashed all of them to pieces. I had very nearly killed Crispin several times during the fight, when he'd gotten in the way of my attempts to destroy the army.

As it turned out, being huge and indestructible wasn't always the best. I was an efficient vampire-killer, yes, but not a vampire-saver. It was difficult to select targets out of a group.

Arina came to sit with us. She looked a little grim. "I've never seen a dragon do that," she said to me. "It was like you turned into the Matriarch the way she was in the stories when she was born. Stone and fire."

I nodded, settling cross-legged on the carpet and resting my chin on my fist, my elbows on my knees. I'd felt a change sweep over me when the army had broken away from the Cullens. Seeing my opportunity had filled me with a fury and a savage glee. With the army scattering like frightened mice before me, all I'd had to do was ignite the blaze. It was what I was designed for: destruction.

Crispin sat beside me and drummed his fingers lightly on my knee. "It was … awe-inspiring," he told me. "But terrifying. I couldn't tear my eyes away. Alice had to drag me."

"And thank you," Alice added, glancing at Arina, "for protecting us. I'm not sure we would have escaped without you."

Arina smiled a little. "I saw Sera changing when the army took off. I decided to let her have it.

I rubbed my face. "Now that I feel guilty about. I could have killed you all. If Arina hadn't been there …"

If she hadn't been there …. Oh, the thought was sickening. In my rage, I could have destroyed the very ones I loved.

"Dragonfire has to be controlled," said Arina, speaking to the vampires. "Without restraint, it could destroy everything, even things we love. We learn to keep it under control when we're little, but sometimes …"

"Dragons get a little volatile," Crispin finished. He smiled at me, looking tired. "Yeah, I figured it was something like that. Let's hope you never have to do that again."

"Agreed," I said, resting my head on his arm. "That could have gone really wrong. I can't let myself get out of control again."

"Sounds like something we shapeshifters talk about," said Jacob from the table. He swallowed a mouthful of goose. "We can hurt people sometimes, if we phase without being careful. It's happened."

I raised an eyebrow curiously at the wolf-shifter. I was thinking about his powers and the way he transformed, my natural dragon curiosity budding up. There were similarities between us, and I was curious to know how the magic that powered him worked. But before I could ask, Aunt Fio abruptly spoke.

"… I have bad news."

We all looked over. I recognized that tone in her voice. That was the tone she used when the Matriarch was speaking through her. My heart dropped into my gut. Oh, no.

Fio looked around at us all, her face sad. "Tavora still lives."

I felt Crispin collapse into himself. His breathing changed. I heard his throat tighten, forcing his dry breaths to wheeze past the obstruction. The vampires were all on their feet at blinding vampire speed, except Alice, who dropped her head into her hands. My parents went into high-alert mode. They didn't know exactly what was happening, but the tension in their vampire guests made them instantly wary. Edward spat out a curse between clenched teeth, and Jasper cried "How?!"

For a moment, I was too shocked to respond. But then I felt Crispin shudder. He was curling into himself, and the terror came off him in waves. His abuser lived still. Just when he'd thought he was really safe, it turned out he wasn't. And that made me mad. I was on my feet, now, and the fire raged through my veins. I felt it burning in my eyes, felt the heat energy coming off my flesh in waves. "What?"

Aunt Fio rubbed her face hard. She was disoriented, as often happened when she was trying to divide her attention between the Matriarch and those she was talking to. "She … the Matriarch says she escaped by using her army as a shield and a distraction. Tavora isn't in good shape, but she is not dead. She is about to take the secret of our existence to the rest of the vampire world. This is Sera's new assignment: to stop her at all costs."

I clenched my fists. The power of the Mother Sun roared and writhed within. How had I missed her?! Slippery little snake! Little devil-witch! Alice stirred behind me.

"I know where she is."

We all looked at her. She was paler than ever, white even for an undead. "I can see so clearly … I know exactly where she is."

My spine tingled. The Matriarch's power was in the air, and I could almost taste it. She'd given us all the time she could spare for a rest, and now we had to move. Alice looked at me in sorrow. "She's among the humans. Trying to find an airport."

"She'll have quite the job finding a flight that she can catch in that tiny little place," said Carlisle. "We still have time."

I turned my attention to my poor boyfriend. As the others talked about what was happening, Crispin was still struggling to control his breathing, fighting against the anxiety, but unable to escape the collapse of his mental processes. I took a few deep breaths, myself, reigning in the fire of my powerful, sun-fed soul. As my body temperature came slowly down to a level that wouldn't do serious harm to him, I reached out and gently took his hand. He hissed faintly. I winced. Yes, it was probably still a little too hot. "Crispin."

He looked up at me. I could see that awful, haunted look. He was trapped. Cornered. I squeezed his hand, focusing determinedly into his beautiful honey-golden eyes. "Hey, it's okay. I'm right here. She's far away."

Crispin's gulped. His breathing was still trying to race out of control. "She'll find me."

I squeezed his hand, holding it to my chest so he could feel my beating heart. "Crispin, I swear to you. She will not escape me a second time."

Crispin closed his eyes. I scooped my hands around the back of his head and tugged him gently down so his forehead rested against mine. He let me do so, not fighting. His hands tightened slightly over mine. I could feel the springlike tension. "I'm right here, Crispin. It's okay. We can do this."

Alice groaned faintly in despair beside us. I glanced over at her. She had her face in her hands again. "I don't see … a way … we have to get her away from the humans, but I don't see a way. She's injured. She just needs to get to the Volturi. If she gets there, the only way to keep dragons a secret would be to destroy the whole of Volterra. A whole city full of humans ..."

Well, we certainly couldn't have that. "We dragons know ways to coax vampires away from the public," I said, still holding Crispin's hand, trying to help him ground himself and gain some control. "We pretend to be prey, and vampires follow us to places of isolation in the hope of getting an easy blood meal."

"Promises of blood won't work," said Alice, looking at me between her fingers. "She needs safety among the Volturi, and she wants to make a report. They'll reward her for her discovery of the dragons."

I paused, glancing at my father. He wrinkled his brow, his eyes flicking between us all. "What?"

I squinted at him. "Is there any other way? She's following orders. The higher-ups among the vampires have her under their control, and she won't stop for blood meals. Not when she's already been injured. She needs sanctuary, not prey."

Dad slowly shook his head. "I … I don't know if we have plans for that. There's a reason why we never went after Volterra. We couldn't get the old ones out of their tower, away from the humans. Their prey comes to them."

I rested my forehead back on Crispin's. There had to be a way … we had to remain secret from the humans, and we had to stay hidden from the rest of the vampire world. There had to be a way …

"You could confront her or something," said Emmett, suddenly. "You know, you could surround her. You get enough dragons in there, and you could lead her somewhere away from the humans."

Arina snorted. "Without taking our dragon forms?" she said. "If we confront her in our human shapes, nothing will stop her from killing us. We're fragile like this. You vamps have the upper hand."

"Oh …" Emmett scowled, realizing his mistake. Rosalie pipped up.

"And what if we confronted her?" she asked. "We could surround her and force her to come with us."

"Without starting a fight?" Aunt Fio asked. "You must keep yourselves secret from the humans, too. Getting into a physical altercation would defeat that in an instant. I can't see why she would go with you quietly."

My mind raced as I tried to think. Blood wouldn't tempt her, and there was no quiet way to force her to come away from the humans. We could fly after her, maybe on a plane, and try to stop her in Italy. But the problem still remained about how to drag her away from people. The way to the Volturi was crowded with people, people she could use as cover in case someone wanted to stop her. Vampires could not expose their kind. The punishment for that was catastrophic, as I knew from my training.

Crispin suddenly stirred. I'd lost my focus on him while trying to think, almost forgetting that his forehead rested on mine. Now I paid attention, and I was surprised to find that his breathing had come under control. "I have a way."

Everyone looked at him. He rubbed his face, taking great, deep, steadying breaths. I touched his knee, and he touched my hand in response. "... What are the chances that she thinks we're all dead?"

I raised an eyebrow in confusion. This wasn't what I'd expected out of him. "I …" I paused, taking a split second to think. I could kind of see what he was getting at. "Chances are pretty good, I guess. There was a lot of fire, and you almost died as it was."

"Then we should keep it that way." Crispin put a hand on his cheek, closing his eyes and taking another deep, shuddering breath. I could see him still fighting to stay calm, trying to hold on, to work through the anxiety. I wondered if he was just going in circles, completely lost. I took his other hand and tried to hold it to my chest, but he held back, his vampiric strength easily overwhelming my attempts. "No, no, I see … a way. I need to think."

I glanced in some concern at the rest of his vampire family. I shot a look behind me over my shoulder, and noticed Jacob and Nessie, both with half-eaten meals on their plates, watching in alarm. The others were shooting looks at each other. "Crispin," Jasper started, but Crispin shook his head, rapidly, his lovely dark hair flying all over his face.

"I see a way," he said again. "I see it. I just need … I need …"

I gazed up at my boyfriend. His eyes were closed, his breathing still strained. I wanted to help him somehow, but I knew that it would distract him. It was all he could do to hold his mental processes together. Finally, after a pause, he spoke again. I couldn't make heads or tails of what came out of his mouth next.

"Do we have a fireproof safe?"