Chapter 16: Ambition
As I'd expected, Alice had gotten us both booked and we were soon on our way to Norway. "Are you okay?" I finally asked Gianna, as the plane took off. I kept my voice low enough so that nearby travelers wouldn't hear.
"I'm fine," she squeaked, sounding less than fine.
"Gianna, you are not in danger," I reminded her. Then, "Flying is the safest form of travel."
That got a choked, sob-like giggle out of her. "Do you really think they'll let me live, after deciding to kill me?" she asked in a breathy whisper.
"That depends on why they decided to kill you," I said. "It could have been that they have something against me, and thought it'd be useful if I ate you, since then they could be offended and have something concrete against me."
"Maybe," Gianna murmured.
"How did you know they wanted you dead?" I asked.
"I hear more than they think I do. Not everything, but... I heard Chelsea and Santiago talking..."
"Who's Chelsea? And remember to keep your voice down. I can hear you just fine."
"One of the guard. She - her power is a little like Marcus's. He sees relationships; she can weaken them or build them up. They use it to keep the guard unified, to divide covens they punish. I heard Santiago asking her to... break the one between Santiago and me. I didn't know there was anything to speak of. None of them were my friends. Santiago was more cordial than most of them, I suppose. But the only reason I could think of to break anything that might have been there was, would be if I was going to die, and Santiago didn't want to care."
"Did you hear what Chelsea said?" I asked.
Gianna shook her head. "She was too quiet. But I went out for lunch and called you. Your coven-mate, Alice, let me through. I don't think they know I did it, or that I heard Santiago."
"Probably not." I paused. "Uh, there's a complication with how I got you out, that you should know about."
Gianna went stiff in her seat. "What?" she asked in a small voice.
"I had to explain why I wanted to get you out, I needed to have some use for you. Aro said I couldn't just let you go off by yourself because you know too much. I wasn't going to eat you, and that didn't leave me a lot of options." I required another lungful of air, but the scents of humans had almost stopped bothering me. I sipped from my complimentary water anyway, just to be safe - it would be a long flight. "I, uh, told him that I need you to be the surrogate mother of my child or children."
She stared at me. This was an entirely reasonable reaction.
"My sister harvested some eggs before I turned," I explained. "I wasn't planning to use them soon. Actually, I didn't have any concrete plans to use them at all, I was just hanging onto them in case I wanted them later. But they exist, and it was something I could say, that would explain why I'd need a live human around who knows about us. But Aro said he was going to check on me in a year or two to make sure I'm "pleased with my gift". So that means that unless you really hate the idea, or my husband does, or we think of a great way around it..."
"No, that's fine," said Gianna. "I'll help you."
I hadn't expected such ready acquiescence.
"Can I ask you a favor?" she asked tentatively, after a pause.
Ah. "What is it?"
"...Do you know why I was with the Volturi to begin with?" she asked.
"You wouldn't tell me," I reminded her, and she flinched. I was starting to think that she'd been very thoroughly trained to obey vampires and the fact that I retained continuity with my human self, whom she'd given the runaround, was throwing her off. "If you're willing to share now, I'd like to hear it."
Gianna ducked her head. "What I did tell you was true. They tell a lot of vampire stories in Volterra." She paused. "I believed them... and so did my brother. Ilario. He believed more than I did. He wanted to be one himself. He looked for them, but never found them, and then he got sick. He's going to die. The doctors said there was nothing I could do, but he told me that there was - and I did it - and I found the Volturi, and I knew they'd never help my brother themselves once I realized how they are, but I thought perhaps they would -"
She'd started crying partway through this recitation. I could fill in the rest of it myself. If the Volturi had "kept" her, she could have turned her brother - or tried, anyway. Gianna probably didn't know that syringes worked, and I didn't think even I could manage to administer venom by mouth without flipping out and devouring the human I'd meant to save.
I wanted to offer Gianna a tissue, but I didn't have any; she sniffled for a minute, and then collected herself. "Gianna," I said, "do the Volturi know about Ilario?"
"Aro's read me," she said quietly.
Well, then -
Wait. Did that necessarily mean that he knew about her brother? He could absorb a lifetime of memories with one touch. But vampires had perfect recall, nothing more or less than that. Could he process a lifetime of memories that quickly? I'd spent hours and hours just re-reading my own notes and integrating them with my memories. That sort of thing wasn't the work of an instant. Would he have bothered to spend a couple of days analyzing Gianna's? Even if things she'd forgotten with her imperfect recording weren't accessible to him either, it'd be a richer set of stuff to take in than my notes and hazy, blocked human memories. I was almost sure that he wouldn't bother with the far longer period of time it would take to deal with more complex, better-remembered, and longer vampire histories.
This probably boiled down to a very significant limitation. I'd need to check with Carlisle and Edward, to confirm or disconfirm. Aro might just have an astronomical mental capacity incomprehensibly greater than that of every other vampire. He might be quite capable of assimilating hundreds of years of sleeplessness where every last sixteenth of a second was packed with sense data and thought, all in a mere moment. And capable of doing this without toppling over as though affected by Alec's power, cut off from the present and his own experiences by the foreign additions.
But probably, he could only find memories he looked for - memories he knew to look for. Either he had to plan to seek them before touching his target, so he could catch them as they flashed by; or he stored them all as they came in, and then could investigate them at his leisure. The first would be less dangerous, because it meant that only a fresh read could get him information he didn't yet possess. But even the latter was importantly different from his simply knowing everything his targets knew.
Edward might not know. He (and Alice and Jasper), despite their extra senses, didn't have any spare room in their heads relative to the baseline vampire. If Edward was listening to Aro's mind when Aro took in someone's thoughts, it probably sounded like a compressed blur - he'd get a couple of images, could probably swipe anything he was particularly trying to see, but wouldn't be able to distinguish between the possibilities unless Aro ruminated on his limitations in Edward's range.
This was unlikely to mean that Aro hadn't learned about Ilario. If he'd read Gianna, the most obvious motivation was to discover why she'd looked for the Volturi and whether she could be trusted. Her brother was clearly relevant, the sort of thing he'd have dug up.
But it could mean that my private moments with Edward were safe unless he was some kind of silly voyeur. It could mean that he didn't know about the Quileutes. It could mean that I could plan the Volturi's downfall with the help of others, given certain precautions. It could mean that he was less powerful than he thought we believed him to be.
"Then he probably knows," I told Gianna. My own head was still the safest place to hide information. Gianna didn't need to hear this, not yet. "But there may be a way for us to save your brother anyway. You say he wants to be a vampire?"
She nodded. "Very much. I don't think he knows all the details - but I'm sure he won't care."
"And he believes in vampires," I pressed. Oh, but Aro, of course we had to turn him - he knew too much - you know how much respect we have for the law -
Gianna nodded again.
"Okay. I think we can do this. But we've got to check in with my family first."
"Thank you," she said fervently.
"Do you want to be a vampire too?" I asked. "After Aro's been convinced that I wanted you for the reason I told him?"
Gianna thought. "If my brother were already safe, and didn't need me to be one..." Say yes, I thought at her uselessly, yes you do...
She seemed really stumped by the question. "I mean," I said, "not like one of the Volturi. I'm sure my family, or our friends in Alaska would take you in." I still needed to meet the Denalis. Perhaps there would be time for that soon.
"What is it like?" she asked.
"Oh, I can't even - it's amazing," I said. "The transition is..." I mulled over the word choice, too quickly for her to catch it. "Not fun. But mine was better than most and we could do the same things for you. And being a vampire is the most marvelous thing. Did you know we can see ultraviolet? And everything feels and looks and sounds and smells so intensely." She flinched when I said smells. "And," I went on, "the evidence suggests that if you know about vampires beforehand, if you're expecting to become one before you start turning, then it's easier to control yourself, have the full use of your rational faculties to start with and not slaughter humans. I'm not magical like that - I have a power, but that isn't it. I just had warning."
"Oh," she said, a fascinated glint in her eye. "It's as wonderful as it looks? The way you move, and sound..."
"It's more so. A hundred times more so. My experience might be a little better than most," I allowed, "because I turned with my mate already waiting for me, and that isn't likely to happen for you. But even without Edward - yes, better than it looks." And turning is worse than it looks, my conscience hissed at me. Nothing can look that bad, there's only so much volume you can get out of one pair of lungs when you scream...
"I think I would want it even if Ilario didn't need me," said Gianna, speculative. "But I will help you first, with a child, if it seems like that makes the most sense. Will your sister be willing to take eggs from me as well?"
"I'm sure she will." I wasn't, but I was sure I could convince her or get Carlisle to do it. My conscience prickled. "Uh, Gianna... It's worth it. It really is. Eternal life alone is worth it, even without the added bonuses, which are themselves awesome. But while you're turning, it won't feel that way. No matter how much you believe it now. There's nothing you can imagine that's enough to prepare you. When I said "not fun", that was a flippant reference to how my sister Alice described it to me before I turned - she can't remember her own turning at all. She was going by secondhand information. I remember everything about mine except the beginning, because Carlisle put me in a coma first. And it's not going to feel like anything could be worth it, while you're in the middle of it."
Gianna went still and quiet. "I don't know what to think about that," she said after a silence.
"It's worth it," I told her again. "And you'll get it easier than me. We'll put you in a coma too and as soon as you come out of it, a broken spine will cut off most of the pain - I didn't think of that until hours after I woke."
This had probably not been a clever thing to say, I decided, after looking at Gianna's expression. The pinch to my neck was so laden with positive associations of relief and mercy in my head, and I didn't think of the injury the way any given human likely did. In Gianna's mind, "broken spine" was probably very high on the list of things least pleasant to experience. I had memories of two hundred fifty nine thousand, one hundred and twelve seconds which each would individually place higher on that list than anything I would have been capable of experiencing with fully human mind and nerves.
"But we won't push you into anything you don't want to do," I said reluctantly. But on the other side everything is beautiful and you can keep it all forever...
"If Ilario's going to do it, then I will too," she said, and that sounded firmer than her previous statement.
I grinned at her.
The rest of the flight was mostly small talk, tidbits about our respective lives that had for whatever reason not made it into our e-mails. Gianna was 23; Ilario was her only sibling, and two years younger; their parents were alive but irretrievably senile; she'd found the Volturi ten months previously (I was briefly startled to realize that Gianna had known vampires for longer than I had, when I felt like I'd known them forever).
Edward picked us up at the airport. Rosalie had gotten around to buying at least a few cars, apparently, because the sleek black thing he drove was definitely not a rental. I wondered if she'd grabbed one for me - she'd asked me what kind I wanted and I told her I had no idea, and was willing to leave it up to her expertise. She wasn't quite as pleased as Alice with permission to buy me a new wardrobe bursting with chiffon, but she'd seemed to find it a compliment.
I hadn't yet directly taken much frivolous advantage of practically unlimited financial freedom, although Edward had troubled to make it very clear that, as his wife, I was entitled to it as much as he was. He'd informed me in no uncertain terms that I shouldn't hesitate to whip out my shiny black credit card if I saw something I liked. ("But if you need more than a couple million dollars at a time," he'd said, "let Alice know so she can spook her stockbrokers first.") Mostly I'd deferred various purchases to people with a specialized interest in making them. Now that I was moving around in the human world without much trouble it was probably time for me to take a more personal interest in my possessions.
Conversation during the drive between the airport and the house was limited; I did want to talk to Edward about my insight on Aro and the condition of Gianna's release, and he like everyone else in the family needed to be informed about Ilario. However, the first conversations were best kept between the two of us to start with, and the second would be more efficient with everyone there.
He drove fast, of course, and it didn't take long for us to reach home. The cars were living outdoors for the time being, but I could see the skeleton of a garage going up. The house itself looked completely refinished - fresh paint and sanded surfaces and new window glass. Esme had been busy over the last couple of weeks. We brought Gianna into the house, gave her a purposeless little room with a bed in it on the first floor, confirmed that someone had brought in some groceries for her to feed herself and generally deal with human needs, and let her alone to settle in. It was surprisingly unceremonious - having Alice around took a lot of the oomph out of significant lifestyle changes.
When Gianna had shut the door to her new room and could be heard unpacking, I turned to Edward. "I believe," I said, "that you've got a threshold to carry me over."
"I believe I do," he agreed.
I spent four minutes running around in our cute, tiny cottage, inspecting everything and exclaiming over it. Edward had already seen plenty of the place, in Esme's mind and Alice's, and didn't need to investigate so thoroughly; he watched me with a fond and indulgent look on his face. Alice had been in the house before, and moved all my clothes old and new into a closet that was almost half as big as the entire rest of the building. Edward's were relegated to a corner of the crowded walk-in, pushed there by my inordinately large collection; she was not quite so fond of buying men's clothes. She had not been able to quite resist buying me posh swaths of dress-shaped silk and satin, but there were only half a dozen of the most impractical numbers. The rest of it was more discreetly upscale.
It was a compact home, so in short order I'd seen everything and returned to Edward's side.
Simultaneously, we said, "We need to talk."
"What's your thing we need to talk about?" I asked Edward.
"It's kind of a long story - what's yours?" he said.
"I have several," I replied. "One is that I thought about something that might constitute a limitation on Aro's power, besides my immunity. It might or might not have already occurred to you. The second is about what I had to tell Aro to get Gianna out, and what we need to do about that. And then there's a favor I want to do for Gianna. Why don't I start one of mine, and then it'll be your turn?"
Edward nodded, and I related the thought processes and dialogue that had led up to the situation with Gianna. "So," I concluded after the explanation, "unless we have a brilliant alternative plan, Gianna needs to have, or be noticeably pregnant with, my child by the time Aro investigates us, on some unspecified date on the order of a year or two from now. I guess that's probably enough time to find a sperm donor." I winced apologetically. "I didn't have a chance to consult you, or time to think of anything else I might want a human for that Aro would find plausible."
"And how do you feel about that?" asked Edward. He was carefully looking neutral about it - probably trying not to pressure me either way with his own feelings.
I hadn't stopped to consider this in any detail. I took this invitation to do so, and thought.
When I'd said to Aro that I needed Gianna to bear my children, I had been motivated by the need to get her out, to save her. Now that she was freed but would be checked up on, any comparatively weak opinions I had about child-rearing were close to irrelevant for purposes of what I would do. I didn't hate the idea so much that I'd let Gianna die to avoid it. I didn't love the idea so much that I'd demand her participation even if I found a way to bail her out for free. But there was a reasonably wide range of possibilities between those two extremes, and Edward - as well as I - wanted to know where I was on the spectrum.
I wasn't thrilled about the sperm donor part. Some stranger's child. But Edward had gone and become a vampire before collecting gametes had been medically realistic, so that meant that (sooner or later) I needed to figure out how I felt about having children without the chance that they'd have his hair or his nose or something.
I supposed a pair of vampires who never needed to sleep would have a leg up in the parenting department. I was only seventeen, but it wasn't like I was getting any older. With twenty-four hours in a day, and each second sufficient time to actually accomplish something, I didn't find the prospect of adding childcare that terrible of a time sink. So maybe it'd take me two or three times as long to learn Farsi when that came up on my list - wow, an entire week and a half per language, the horror.
Kids were typically cute, but varied in personality as much as adults did. The odds were pretty good that my own would be similar to me in at least some ways. Paging through descriptions of donors would be another level of control. There were plenty of people with adversarial relationships with their parents, but I'd gotten along all right with mine, and they'd gotten along all right with theirs. If there was any genetic correlation, there would probably be no serious issue there.
I wondered what it would do to a human child, to have vampire parents. Among other things, we weren't warm and huggable. I supposed we could wear fluffy coats or something, if that seemed important. In most visible ways, we could pass for human, though; we'd be likely to raise a quirky kid, but probably not an outrageously bizarre one unless we were very incautious. It might be wise for Edward and me to live alone with our child in case a scraped knee set Jasper off. For that matter, I would need to test myself around fresh human blood before I could be sure of mothering a human baby safely.
The timing wasn't ideal. We wouldn't be the first couple to wind up with a honeymoon baby - or the nearest artificial equivalent - but a child would restrict us in some ways. For example, if I decided I wanted to spend a year living in the Mariana Trench for no particular reason, that would not be something I could do with a toddler. After fifteen or twenty years, though, my offspring could likely be left more or less to his or her own devices. And I didn't think I'd run out of child-compatible things to occupy myself with in that time.
The fact that Edward and I wouldn't age and the child would could get awkward. We looked a bit young to be parents to an infant, let alone an eight-year-old or a teenager. That would just mean that we'd have to teach him or her to call us by our names and pretend to be our niece or my sibling or something in public, though.
And I could show Charlie and Renée their grandchild. That wouldn't be a problem as long as we found a way to be away ourselves at the time - drill the kid on airport procedures, send them to Washington or Arizona, let the relevant grandparent pick them up. It might be, in some small way, compensation for the fact that there might never be a way for me to see them again face-to-face.
"Well," I said finally, having spent about forty seconds to fully mull over all those thoughts, "it's sooner than I had in mind, but I kind of like the idea of having at least one."
"That's good," said Edward in relief, touching my face, "because I found out after you left Rio that it may be possible for vampires to have children."
"Does Rosalie know?" I asked immediately.
Edward winced. "Not female vampires," he said. "At least not that I discovered."
"Spill," I insisted.
"After I saw you off to Italy," said Edward, "I went back to the island to leave a note for the cleaning crew, so they would know that we weren't going to be there as long as planned. They were there when I arrived, but one of them had brought her cousin to help, who's familiar with a lot of local legends and had a good guess of what she was looking at as soon as she saw me. Since all she'd heard about who was using the island was that it was a young couple, the first thing she thought when she saw me without you was that I'd eaten you." He smiled wryly. "I explained that you were my wife and had been called away prematurely, and her next thought was that you were pregnant and rushing home."
"She still thought I was human at that point?"
"Right - but I didn't understand how she could think it anyway, when for one thing I'm a vampire and for another you wouldn't have been showing after only twelve days."
"It didn't occur to her that a lot of humans cheat on their spouses?" I asked dryly.
"Didn't cross her mind just then, at least, which was curious," Edward replied. "I managed to convince her I wasn't going to hurt her, or you, and I got her talking. The Ticuna Indians, of which she was one, have legends about vampires who seduce young women - and their stories say that pregnancies can result."
The vague plans for raising a human child evaporated in my head. We could have our child. I felt my face spreading into a much less ambivalent smile...
"But," said Edward (I froze), "the pregnancies are supposedly unnaturally rapid. That was why she'd thought twelve days would be enough to notice. Start to finish, it takes about one month - but you can imagine the toll that takes on a human body, going from zygote to infant nine times faster than normal. She didn't know of any stories where the mothers survived. Not least because the children aren't at all typical."
"Not typical how?"
"That, she didn't know much about. But if there are stories about half-vampires, there might be actual half-vampires, somewhere - South America would be a good place to start. I wanted to come straight home to meet you and discuss it before investigating any further."
"If it'd kill Gianna..." I said uncomfortably.
"These are old stories," he told me. "Perfectly ordinary pregnancies were dangerous then - no modern medicine. And vampire venom can do some amazing things. When Esme was found at the bottom of the cliff, she was brought directly to the morgue, because they didn't think there was a chance they could save her - but her heart was beating, and Carlisle turned her and now she's fine. None of us were in such good shape - you were the only one in perfect health. I know Gianna was hoping that the Volturi would turn her anyway."
"She was, but not for the reason you're thinking." I told him about Ilario, barely clinging to life. "Now, I asked her, and she said she'd still like to be a vampire even if he didn't need her help to turn, and she said she'd be willing to help us out with surrogacy - but I don't know if she'd sign on for pregnancy-on-rocket-powered-roller-skates that's believed to regularly kill people just because we might be able to save her with venom at the end of it."
"Of course if we determine that there's no way that's safe for her to carry a half-vampire, she shouldn't," Edward assured me. "But it seems worth investigating." There was a trace of something in his voice that he was trying not to make too obvious - perhaps it really mattered to him that our child be biologically his own but he knew that it would do no good to press the issue if I thought it would be at the expense of Gianna's safety.
I nodded. "I think it's safe for us to take six months to research and decide," I said. "Even if Aro checks in after just one year and we wind up going with a slower-developing human baby, she'll show by then."
"I agree," Edward said.
"Is there going to be any trouble dealing with Ilario?" I asked.
"I don't think it would be wise to have him and Gianna in the same place when he's first turned," said Edward. "Unless he adjusts like you - which he might, if your theory is correct - then it wouldn't be safe for her."
"So should Ilario go somewhere else, or should Gianna?" I asked. "And where to? The Denalis have already got David, and he's not unusually well-adjusted - Gianna can't go there. Ilario could after he's turned, but it's not obvious how we'd get an uncontrolled newborn to Alaska safely."
"It might be necessary for the family to split up temporarily," Edward said. "We'll discuss it with everyone."
I frowned, not quite happy with that idea. But if Ilario managed as well as he might, didn't eat his equivalent of Nils when tested, then it would amount to some of us taking him on a couple weeks' vacation in some remote area and then bringing him back. Fair enough.
"And my last thing," I said.
Edward had barely any idea how Aro's power worked. Aro didn't think about it explicitly himself, at least not in range. "When he's decided to find something in particular, and I listen, I can always catch that thing," Edward said. "But the rest of it is too fast. It doesn't spend enough time as a surface thought for me to read it. If there's a different way he retrieves absorbed memories and personal memories, I can't tell the difference when he remembers things."
"So that doesn't narrow it down," I said. "It looks like there are three possibilities. That he's as powerful as he wants everyone to think, or that he stores but doesn't automatically process everything from his targets, or that he has to know what he's looking for in advance."
Edward nodded. "I can't believe I never thought of this before - he has no reason to leave the Quileutes alone; by rights he'd want to obliterate them in case the activated version of the species ever resurfaces. But the most recent occasion wasn't even the first time he's read one of us since we encountered them seventy years ago."
"That means we can probably rule out the first, then," I said. "But is there a safe way to tell between the second and third?" We thought. The problem was that, of things that made suitable test topics, there were very few that we thought we'd like it if he came to think about them. It would be safe to make oblique references to werewolves and read his thoughts about them if the last hypothesis were true, because he'd assume that we were talking about the Children of the Moon and wouldn't have any special reason to go poking around the next time he read a Cullen. But if the second one were the case instead, then bringing up werewolves could lead him to dig up exactly the memories that would send the Volturi guard on a killing spree in La Push.
And in fact, if Aro ever had cause to discuss werewolves or a related topic with his own coven, this could happen at any time anyway... if Caius expressed skepticism that they'd truly driven the Children of the Moon extinct, if someone in the guard had a penchant for horror novels and discussed them over a shared supper, if Aro developed an interest in Native American culture...
I didn't say that out loud.
Instead, I said, "Edward, do you trust me?"
"Absolutely." This was not, as he used it, an emphatic form of "yes"; it was a description of his trust. It was absolute. And I needed no less.
"I want you to stop thinking about this, and not to bring it up with anyone else," I said. "And I may need to travel or use medium-large sums of money unexpectedly, alone. I want you to avoid thinking about that or talking about it any more than you have to. I might need you to pretend to our family that you're on a trip with me so the others don't become curious. I might ask weirder things unexpectedly without being able to explain."
Edward understood - not all of it, but enough. My mind was still the only place where things could definitely go on without risking Aro's knowledge - if he merely happened to be idly curious about the wrong thing, even the third and safest type of scenario was dangerous. It wasn't as though anyone he chose to ask for a handshake could refuse to be read without falling under immediate suspicion. There was no reliable safeguard but my own contrary witchcraft.
Edward and I went back to the main house. Carlisle had gotten Ilario's information from Gianna and was already in the process of getting him transferred to his new private specialist practice in Norway. Carlisle had begun a new job at a hospital in the nearest town, but he was working as a surgeon, not an oncologist. So the practice was fictional, and so was the clinical study which Ilario was invited to participate in. But Gianna's help let the process go much more smoothly. She got on the phone with her brother when he had a lucid hour, said the magic words, and soon had him demanding to be sent north.
Rosalie arranged to pose as Carlisle's medical assistant - she had the knowhow to pull off the role and, unlike Edward, wasn't among the witches that the Volturi desperately wished to collect. Her presence in Volterra wouldn't attract undue attention. She hied herself off to Italy to pick up Ilario, seeming unresentful - maybe she was happy to help Gianna because Gianna was planning to bear the first, and possibly last, baby the family would ever have.
It was decided that after Ilario arrived, but before he started to turn, Edward and I would go with Gianna to the house the Cullens kept in Québec. In theory, Gianna could have gone alone - she was an adult, she could drive, etcetera - but she thought it was better to stick with me, in case Aro checked in early to make sure I hadn't "released her into the wild". Since it suited my purposes to be in North America, I didn't put up a fight.
After these things had been set into motion, Alice insisted that I be presented with Aro's other presents. Her eagerness should have tipped me off to the nature of the things, but at least they were far less creepy than the gift of a human being. One was a box, but no typical box: it was made of ancient wood, inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl that lay flush with the surface. It was also dotted with gems in a rainbow of colors - small ones, but so many that the entire box glittered. Inside the box was the other gift. Alice said that it was one of the few objects in the world that wouldn't be outshone by the priceless box itself: a golden chain, woven into rope that could coil around the throat and clasp there. Attached to this necklace was a diamond about as big as my eye - not just the visible portion, the entire thing.
Carlisle identified this item as one of the crown jewels pawned by John of England in the thirteenth century.
Yeesh. Was this an attempt to get me interested in joining their guard? It didn't seem like practical combat gear, so I couldn't see the ornament being presented as a message of "join us and you will get more old shiny rocks". I'd met some Volturi women - they wore cowls or sundresses, they weren't dressed to go to the Oscars or like they'd just committed jewel heists.
I put my box and necklace in my cottage, on the shelf above the dresses I had no plans to wear. Just to be contrary to the Volturi in a safe way, I put on the bracelet that Edward had given me on Valentine's day.
And then, faced with a moment of downtime that wasn't on an airplane, I called my mother. She was surprisingly even-keeled about my having eloped, telling me that I had good judgment and she was sure Edward was a wonderful "boy, I mean man". She wanted to be visited, but thought (luckily) that we ought to have time to be newlyweds first. That bought me time. I told her, in my artificially low and scratchy voice, that I loved her and was thrilled to be married, and thanked her for her vote of confidence.
The next day, Ilario showed up, wheeled in by Rosalie. He looked awful - it was impressive that he'd managed to survive as long as he had, although I supposed vampire-related hopes might have helped. It was one of those cancers that leave one with a couple of months to live, that rare individuals sometimes managed to hold up under for longer - but not well. At least not in Ilario's case. He had no hair, he slept most of the time, he had to be fed via tube. The trip had not done him any good either. He was able to confirm that he really and truly wanted to become a vampire; he was able to smile weakly at Gianna - and that was all he had in him for the day.
Carlisle didn't have any more coma drugs. There hadn't been enough warning about Ilario to get them, and the little hospital he worked at didn't keep them on hand. But Carlisle did have plenty of morphine on hand. I watched, out of curiosity, as painkillers and then two syringes full of clear venom were injected. Gianna was out of the room at this point - no one wanted her to have to hear her brother scream.
Ilario didn't scream. In fact, he didn't do anything. He held perfectly still, though I could hear his heart beating steadily. Had the morphine eliminated the pain as effectively as my coma had? If so, and if it lasted longer than thirty hours, it should be the new gold standard for humane turning in the future - I'd have to ask him about it later.
Since Ilario wasn't in obvious, heart-wrenching pain, we let Gianna in to hold his hand, and to tell him - in case he could hear - that she loved him. Then we had to leave to catch our plane to Canada.
On the trip, Gianna slept most of the way, and Edward taught me French. It was faster learning with a conversation partner than out of a book, and while I still wasn't fluent in any of the languages I'd started learning, I had smatterings of a whole bunch of them. I'd be able to find my way around in Québec.
But I didn't plan to spend much time there.
We arrived. The Cullens had the usual complement of cars at the house, so instead of renting one, we took a taxi. Once it had dropped us off, Edward popped out to the grocery store to get some food for Gianna and I started pulling white cloths off of furniture. There were no beds in the house, but I found a sofa that looked like it might be reasonably comfortable for her, and I picked it up and moved it into the bedroom that looked like it normally belonged to Rosalie and Emmett. While she settled in, drowsy from the travel, I went out of her earshot to make a call.
The phone rang once, twice, three times.
And then Billy Black picked up the phone.
"Billy, this is Bella," I said, not bothering to disguise my voice.
"Bella?" he asked. "Are you... what are you?"
"A vampire. The treaty, though, says "bite", not "turn", so I hope this isn't going to cause any friction in the friendship between my family and yours." This was wryly said - "friendship" had never been the exact word. The wolves of seven decades ago had considered vampires their natural enemies, and the Cullens were barely suffered to live.
"Why are you calling me?" Billy demanded.
"Is anyone listening to this conversation on your end?" I inquired.
"No, Jacob is out with his friends..."
"Okay. Now, as you probably know, my family aren't the only vampires in the world..."
I explained, as succicintly and comprehensibly as I could, the danger that Aro posed. Billy listened in silence until I came to my conclusion: "Assume for the sake of caution that he's got the more dangerous of the two forms of mindreading. Right now, if it occurs to him that you exist, he'll realize through Edward's memories that you're all inactive - vulnerable. One vampire could get the drop on you and murder everyone in La Push without anyone having time to activate; a handful more could track down absent tribe members like Rachel and Rebecca and mop them up too. The Volturi have over a dozen at their beck and call. They would not consider it a big hassle to make you extinct, and they'd want to do it, because if you ever wake up again, you'll be a threat to them."
"And what do you want to do about that?" Billy asked guardedly.
I said, "I want to wake you up."
Edward didn't take very long at the grocery store, and while I was in the middle of coaxing Billy into giving me more information about Quileute wolf legends as he knew them, I had to cut off so he wouldn't hear anything. Edward brought the grocery bags in to Gianna, who began to put their contents away according to an organizational system that suited her; then he came outside again.
He walked up behind me, wrapped his arms around me, and kissed the back of my neck. He was holding two sheets of paper. "I don't know what you're up to," he told me in a low voice, "or what you're going to need, and I know it's best that I don't know. And if you had to ask for contacts or resources later, I'd have details, however vague - so I made you a list of everything I could think of." He handed me the list. He had very small handwriting, and had filled five marginless columns on both sides of each sheet with names, addresses, and phone numbers - each accompanied by notes on who their usual contact person was and what they did. He'd also bought me an atlas of Quebec, which would see me a fair part of the distance until I got where I needed to be.
I scanned both items quickly, memorizing everything on them without regard for whether I expected any given entry to be useful later. The atlas first, and then I handed it back to him; then the handwritten note. It was quite a list: private investigators, black marketeers, sources for forgeries, computer hackers, officials of various stripes in the Cullens' pockets by bribery or intimidation who could cut through assorted red tape and help cover up slips. They operated from dozens of cities, scattered around the world but mostly concentrated in the northern half of the United States. Once I'd seen it all, I shredded it, tearing it up into confetti even a patient vampire couldn't reconstruct. I let it scatter in the wind and then turned in Edward's arms to kiss him. "Thank you," I murmured.
"I hope it helps. I hope you know what you're doing," he added wryly.
"Not really," I said. "But I know enough to think it's the best thing I can do."
He didn't love the answer, but didn't press.
"I need to go," I said apologetically. "I'll be back - uh - later. You have my number."
Edward handed me the keys to the car he'd taken shopping. I kissed him goodbye and got behind the wheel.
I headed southwest and called Billy, confident that my brain wasn't going to be overtaxed by driving and talking on the phone at the same time.
"Sorry about that," I said when he picked up the phone. "For security reasons," (I felt ridiculous saying that) "I need to keep everything out of my husband's earshot. You were in the middle of telling me why I shouldn't pick up Rachel from Spokane on my way to activate werewolves, even though anyone who got into your house and looked at your stuff could tell that she's your daughter and therefore carries the gene and would be part of a complete extermination project, and even though she's smack dab between me and La Push unlike her Hawaii-dwelling twin."
Billy didn't answer me for a while, although I could hear him breathing. Finally, he said, "Because the women never became wolves."
"They simply didn't have the magic," said Billy, which meant I have no idea.
"Okay, let's think," I said, which meant I'm going to think aloud so you understand where my conclusions came from. "We do know that wolves are activated when they're young or not at all, right? How young?"
"Under twenty-five," he said, "as far as I know."
"And in those days, did Quileute girls under twenty-five years of age tend to wander around in places that might contain vampires to activate them?" I asked. "Either before or after the tribe had a pack of protectors capable of keeping such vampires far away from villages?" He didn't answer, which I took to be a no. "Is it possible," I continued, "that they just never had the opportunity to activate?"
"Perhaps," grumbled Billy.
"So it would seem that it at least bears testing," I said, "for me to pick up Rachel. If nothing else, a Volturi committee sent to destroy your people isn't going to care if your stories say she can't activate. They'll guess that she carries the gene anyway and could pass it on to a son, or that the stories are wrong, or that she might think it's a little funny that her entire family is dead and investigate a little too closely. Just because she doesn't come home when you ask her to visit doesn't mean she won't talk to me - and I can prove most of what I have to say, and get her where she has to go."
I was uncomfortably aware of how patronizing I was being, but this was Billy's daughter I was trying to save, and he was being astoundingly uncooperative. I went on: "The Volturi do not care about human life. They kill people - vampires, humans, European werewolves - all the time. On a daily basis for food. When they are annoyed or feel flouted or need to put on a show. It would not come as anything resembling a surprise if I learned that at least some of them do it for no reason other than personal entertainment. Whether she can turn into a wolf or not, Rachel isn't safe from them. They won't ignore her if they find out you exist. She'll be as safe as I can make her if she activates, and the next best thing if she's at least among a bunch of people who I can activate. Tell me where to find her, Billy."
He mumbled an address and a phone number.
"Thank you, Billy. I'll see you in about a day and a half." I flipped my phone closed.