Chapter 26: Sister

I woke up the next morning quite alone. The bag of food Jake had brought in the previous night was on the floor next to my bed; I ate most of it but left a respectable breakfast for him in case he hadn't set aside any of it when I wasn't looking. Jake had presumably found some other place to sleep. I supposed he wouldn't be up yet, but I found the vampires in the same room we'd been in to begin with when I looked. Liam was back from his excursion.

"Morning, Elspeth," said Maggie. "Sleep well?"

"I slept fine. Did anything interesting happen overnight?" I asked, looking particularly at Liam.

"No response from your mother, at least not yet," Siobhan said, "but Liam told her how to get in touch with us, so that could change at any time. Once your wolf is up I want to leave for Belfast, in case any of Cath's friends show up early or try to grab dinner on their way in - in fact, if you could get him now, before sunup, it'd be easier to get from here to the car without risking someone driving by and noticing us. He doesn't have to drive; he can sleep in the car if he needs it."

I nodded and went looking for Jake; he was snoring just a few doors down from where he'd put me. "Jake," I said, tapping him on the shoulder.

"Bwuh," he said groggily.

"Wake up," I said, "we're going to Belfast. You can sleep more in the car."

"Bwuh," he repeated, sounding like this was intended as a not-very-verbal acquiescence, but he didn't actually move.

"I can pick you up if I have to," I said. "Think of how silly that would look. I bet Maggie would laugh at you."

Jake hauled himself up to a sitting position and out of bed, and looked at me blearily. "I know you're stronger than you look, but I still can't really get that you could carry me around," he said. "I'm like four times your size. You're little."

"And you're a giant, but I have superpowers," I said. "Well, I might accidentally clonk you against a doorway, but you can heal, right?" I asked cheekily. "C'mon."

"You're in a good mood," he remarked, ambling after me back down the hall to where the vampires were hanging out.

"I feel pretty optimistic, with Siobhan helping," I said. "And probably at least some of the English vampires and probably everyone in Denali if Siobhan helps figure out how to get the coven not interested in being the Volturi's spies anymore."

"I guess. I'm going to be all nerves around the big vampire shindig, though," he muttered. "Not that I could actually, you know, win against any number of them without a pack backing me up, but I'd feel better for no good reason whatsoever, if you stood behind me once we're there. Personal friends of the lady who gave birth to you are one thing; distant acquaintances of said lady's sire-in-law are another."

"Why would any of them want to hurt me?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "I mean, you don't smell like food to them any more than I do, I guess, but maybe one of them wants to see if half-vampire could be an acquired taste? I really don't want to think about that. Are you okay standing behind me just on the grounds that I'd be less irrationally terrified, or would I have to be rationally terrified first?"

"Well, I want to see what's going on," I said. "I could sit on your shoulders, would that do it? And then if somebody looks at me hungrily you can phase and I'll already be sitting on you and you can carry me away."

"Fair enough," he said. We rounded the corner to rejoin the rest of the group, and Siobhan impatiently crooked a finger. We piled into the car with some difficulty, and Jake promptly fell asleep.

Siobhan occupied me during the drive talking about the Denalis. "You said last night that Kate was the weak point, since she's likely to want to ignore you and find a way to interpret things that doesn't make Sasha's death her fault," she prompted.

"Yeah," I said. "I said that. I was tired but I still think that's probably the most likely way it would go wrong."

"So," Siobhan said, "how do we fix that?"

"Shouldn't you be the one coming up with plans, since your plans are magic?" I pointed out.

"I would, if I had your memories, and I will, after you blast me, which I'm increasingly confident you should - but I need to be alert for the meeting, and can't be sure I'd recover from a blast in time. I probably should have asked you to do it last night before you went to bed. But in the meantime, we should have at least a rudimentary plan, however much it suffers from being non-magical or of reduced magicalness, which draws on the best available source of information about the Denali vampires, namely you." Siobhan sounded vaguely contemptuous when she talked about magic, but continued. "We need this rudimentary plan in case something happens to you, or me, such that you can't blast me later; we need this rudimentary plan so we have something more coherent than Carlisle's "let's all sit in one place and pat each other on the back for being so rebellious" inclination when we decide what new information is worth gathering and what resources are worth acquiring in the short term; we need this rudimentary plan so we don't sound like idiots to Cath and her friends tonight. So. How do we fix the problem with Kate? If you need your train of thought refreshed, you were in the middle of saying -"

"That I could blast her. I remember. Is there something wrong with that idea, that we need another one?"

"A few things," said Siobhan. "It's kind of an aggressive behavior. Her family and friends might not like it and could take exception. Also, in case it hasn't occurred to you, she's currently sitting in the middle of a large gathering of friendly vampires, many of whom haven't met one another before. I'd be kind of surprised if Carlisle's gathering hadn't yielded at least one new mated pair. She could be half of it; we wouldn't know. That's a wrench in the works of any plans we make that assume Kate is single. It's also probably overkill. Also probably not the most precisely targeted solution you can come up with."

"Is precise targeting that important?" I asked. "I mean, I might not have thought of the way Kate would actually behave, so -"

"So you want to nuke her brain with everything you have in case something sticks? If you didn't think of the way Kate will actually behave, the solution is to think of the way Kate will actually behave, or at least a menu she's likely to choose from. If you can come up with a plan that will work no matter what - that doesn't rely, one way or another, on us having an accurate prediction - please, enlighten me." I didn't say anything, and Siobhan continued, "Now, maybe you were thinking of the fact that it's a good idea to minimize how bad the worst-case scenario is, and that's a factor. But blasting her is probably not the best way to do that, either, because it could make a lot of people very angry, and if it backfired, we'd have a very knowledgeable electric witch who didn't much care for us on our hands."

"Right," I said.

"So how do we -" Siobhan began again.

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking." Kate... I had comparatively few memories from her. She'd been a vampire for shy of fifty years, when Sasha's trial occurred and Aro read her. Her life had consisted of a lot of material that I would not have been allowed to see in theaters even if I could convince the ticket taker that I was sixteen, mostly, with occasional dollops of less deadly play and conversation between her and her sisters and her mother. She hadn't had to confront many inconvenient truths during that time, and I couldn't remember being a subsequent Kate.

So I watched her through Irina's eyes, instead -

- "Hey," Kate says, dropping lightly next to us in our current meeting place. "Huh, all three of us here at once? There's something new. We've been here a week and this is the first time none of us got caught someplace else by the sun."

"I just got back myself," I say. "Tanya, on the other hand, has been lazing about all day."

"It's not lazing," says Tanya. "I've been thinking."

"What've you been thinking about that's worth skipping a hunt?" Kate asks. "Mm, I had myself the most delightful blacksmith not an hour ago. There was this entire subtext-laden conversation during which he accused me of being fairy folk and I picked up some iron to prove I wasn't, and he said "lovely one, if you are not fey, you are surely an angel"... I think he knew I wasn't one of those earlier than some catch on. Didn't affect the flavor, though..."

"I was thinking about... men, I guess. Do you ever think about going back to the same one twice?" Tanya asks.

I blink. "Tanya? Tanya, honey, we can't really do that. They die. I mean, if you're into that now... well, it'd surprise me, but..."

"Well, that's my point," Tanya says. "They die. Why do they die? Because we decide to kill them. I guess I don't know about you two, since we haven't tried sharing one since the fiasco in Berlin, but I haven't accidentally shattered a pelvis or even cracked a collarbone in a few decades. They could walk away, after, if we wanted."

"Then... who would we eat?" asks Kate, tilting her head. "Doesn't it seem inefficient to partition the hunting like that?"

"Oh, I think I see what you're getting at," I say to Tanya. "Until we kill them they're reusable. Like your blacksmith with the pretty compliments, Katie, you could have left him alive and visited him as many times as you wanted. Maybe he'd have thought of something else charming to say."

"I think he knew what I am, though," Kate reminded me. "We don't want to get in trouble! We all agreed we would stick together and not get in trouble after Mother..."

I bow my head, and so does Tanya. But Tanya looks up again and says, "Well, we could leave the ones who don't figure it out alive. It's usually pretty obvious when they notice, right? I mean, mine tend to start saying things like "succubus!" and whatnot, when they notice, as though this could be new information to me; those I could go on eating... There are probably even ways to make it harder to figure out. I bet a good soak in a hot bath could warm us up long enough to -"

"Long enough to selectively kill the best ones," Kate giggles.

"Well, the men themselves are also rather warming," I say. "Niiiiice and warm. Oh, or we could make them take us to comfortable places with good fireplaces, keep the room very hot... And if we didn't kill them, if we got really good at not needing to kill them, we could pick out practically anybody! It wouldn't have to be just people we can seduce quickly so no one sees us, or just people no one will notice missing too soon." I pause. "Tanya, are you bringing this idea up so we can go back to Russia and give you another chance at having that prince you fancied but couldn't get because -"

"No, he'd be old now," Tanya scoffs, but then she looks thoughtful. "He might have aged gracefully, though, he'd look distinguished with a little silver in his hair..."

"Ooh," says Kate, "and if he lived, it wouldn't matter who saw you go into his room... well, except his wife, I guess she could be annoying... because there wouldn't be any body that people would be looking to explain!"

"There would be a body, just a live one," Tanya purrs, "and such a fine -"

"Your interest in Russian royalty aside," I say, "this is kind of interesting. All kinds of novelty would open up."

"Novelty and repetition at the same time," says Kate. "Neat." -

- "Okay, look," Kate says, "I went along with it when you said that maybe we shouldn't kill all the men we go home with, and sure, that's worked out or I think one of us would have given up on it in the last forty years, but this? You've gone around the bend, sister. And I can't get used to your eyes like that."

"No, listen," Tanya says. "Please take me seriously, you owe me that, don't you? Katie -"

"Don't "Katie" me," Kate says. "You had lots of good practical reasons indicating that we shouldn't necessarily eat in bed, and I went along, didn't I? This isn't practical at all. This is... I don't know what this is."

"We were human once too," Tanya says. "Katie."

"Irina, back me up," Kate insists. "Have you ever gotten near enough an animal to smell it? That's not food, that's poison -"

I don't have time to speak. "It's not poison!" says Tanya. "I waited until I was sure before I told you, I've been drinking it for weeks, did you really think I wanted to go to Uzbekistan for two months on my own just to see if I could convince anyone there to marry me? And I'm fine."

"You're weak as a kitten," says Kate. "I was watching when you sparred with Irina, you're usually matched up evenly, but today she pins you like you're some two-year-old with no training? The animal blood's not good for you. Maybe it didn't kill you in small quantities, but what if you waste away? Irina, back me -"

"I would have noticed if I were wasting away!" Tanya shouts. "Okay. I'm not as strong. That's true. But I'm just as fast - and I think my head is clearer, I think I'm thinking better -"

"Right, this is a sign of clear thinking," scoffs Kate. "Spontaneously deciding to experiment on yourself so you don't "have to" drink human blood, like it's some awful burden, that's high-quality, clear thinking there. I should knock you over and have Irina bring me a human and see if some decent food clears your head..."

Tanya doesn't respond normally to the threat. She'd usually crouch, or at least hiss. I know her, I know Kate, this is their thing - Kate takes offense at something Tanya says, suggests using her witchcraft, Tanya pretends to be up for a fight, then they laugh...

No crouch, no hiss. Tanya just looks sadly at our sister. "Think about it," she pleads. "I'm... I'm going to go not kill a guy." And she runs off. Just as fast as normal, like she said.

"Irina," says Kate, "you didn't say anything."

"I couldn't get a word in edgewise," I say. "You kept interrupting each other."

Kate shrugs. "True. Do you think she'll be okay?"

"I... I think she might be okay," I say. "Already. Did you notice she didn't hiss at -"

"Of course I noticed," Kate says. "Weird. This not-eating-people thing has really changed her. Definitely not safe. I just hope she comes back to her senses soon. I like both my sisters the way we've always been," she says, grinning at me.

I don't say anything.

"You're not taking her seriously, are you?" Kate asks me. "I mean... animals? Really? When we can go on eating all the yummy, nutritious human blood we -"

"You remember the man in Sarkand that I -" I interrupted.

"Yeah," Kate interrupted back. "You were seeing him for almost a month, he would have been hard to miss."

"He had a very close family," I murmured. "He would have been sad if they died."

Kate looked at me quizzically. "You didn't eat any of them, did you? I don't think I did. Did Tanya -"

I shook my head. "I don't think anybody ate any of his relatives. But I wouldn't have wanted him to be sad. I liked him."

"...Well, then, I don't understand your point. Isn't it good that no one ate his family?" Kate said.

"Yes," I said. "My point is that I cared if he was sad, and he cared if things happened to them, and... it's not crazy to care about humans. Tanya's not crazy, Kate, she's just extending it a little farth-"

"Shut up," said Kate.

"Katie -"

"Don't "Katie" me," she hissed.

"But -"

"No, not "but"! Irina, listen to yourself! While you were seeing the fellow in Sarkand I know for a fact that you ate three people that month. And that's just that month. If you agree with Tanya, that's like saying that was wrong, like you did something bad. It wasn't wrong. We haven't done anything wrong. We're all nice people. Our mother didn't raise bad people. It's okay. We're all okay. You didn't do anything wrong, Irina, Tanya's just being silly."


"Shut up." I open my mouth one more time, and she smacks me hard across the cheek, and the lightning arcs through me and I'm on the ground with a gasp. Kate's already gone. I don't know where to. I don't try to follow her.

I ate two people that month. Kate ate three -

- "Dear God," says Kate.

"I don't think he's listening, Katie," I say. "Evil soulless damned creatures and all -"

"Ugh, don't say it, I can't bear it," she says. "Don't say "evil". We weren't, were we? Really, were we? I mean, yes, p-people died, but..."

"We didn't understand," I say, trying to be soothing. I don't know what made it hit her, I don't know why it happened today instead of yesterday or a year ago when Tanya first rejoined us after Uzbekistan... but it's today. I haven't seen Kate since last week. Tanya's been on iffy terms with her. I've had to be the mediator - I'm sort of wending towards Tanya's diet, but sometimes I treat myself, sometimes I slip up, I don't have her willpower, or not yet. They'll both talk to me. "It's still hard, for me, you know -"

"I can't bear it," says Kate again. "How do you? How do you say "yes, Tanya is right, we must not kill humans, they are nearly as valuable as us, if we kill someone's sister it is almost like if someone killed one of us, if we kill someone's mother it is almost like - like -" How do you stand it?"

"...I'm not sure what you're having trouble with here," I admit. "If you're asking how I resist the blood you should talk to Tanya, I'm still not very -"

"I'm asking about the guilt, how do you live with the guilt? How do you walk around believing that you've killed people and that was wrong, that you probably won't be able to stop yourself from doing it again and that will be wrong?"

I shrug. "I don't worry about it that much. I think you might be overthinking things. I'm still doing better than most vampires, right? Even if I mess up a little? It's, you know, a lifestyle choice. We did the one thing, we're doing this other thing now, Tanya's good at it, I'm okay at it, you can see how you are at it or not. I still love you either way. I think Tanya does, too. I think she'll eventually talk to you again even if you decide to go on eating people. I mean, it's hard to see how she could blame you all that much... humans are really tasty, animals are really not. She's being petulant but it's obvious she misses you; she'd talk to you again eventually no matter what."

Kate shakes her head slowly. "You think she'd get over it?"

"Yeah," I say.

She stares into space. Then she shakes her head again and adjusts her hair. "I want to move," she says abruptly.

"Like where? Ooh, we could go to Greece -" I begin. We've been doing this awkward dance where Kate or Tanya says they want to go somewhere, and I propose it like it was my own idea to the other, so we can still stick together like Mother wanted.

"Nowhere we've been before. I want to get out of Europe and Asia entirely. I want to go to... Let's swim to the New World," she says. "Let's start over, there."

"By start over, you mean..."

"I'll eat the damn animals, Irina," says Kate, and then her face scrunches up as though she would cry, and she flings her arms out and hugs me. No electric charge. I hug my sister back -

"I think," I said, "I have an idea, but I don't know if we can pull it off."

"Do tell," said Siobhan.

"Kate was the last of the sisters to become a vegetarian," I said slowly, keeping my eyes closed, waiting for Memory to push something at me that invalidated my idea. "She couldn't handle the guilt that would come with admitting to herself that she'd, well, murdered a lot of people -"

"Wimp," said Maggie smugly.

"- and so she ignored it," I said, ignoring Maggie. "And went on eating people for a year. But when she finally changed her mind, it was when Irina assured her that she still loved her, and thought Tanya would eventually talk to her again even if Kate didn't change her diet. So I think that maybe, if we had some way to be sure that everyone would promise to forgive Kate for working with the Volturi, she'd follow Tanya and confess to Carlisle."

"Well, Carlisle's a convenient person to have in charge of the matter, then," said Siobhan. "He'd forgive her for anything. I would only be somewhat flabbergasted if he'd forgive her for killing Esme. The man is some kind of alien. And Esme will follow him, and the two of their children who are in Denali have the depth of a petri dish apiece and can't hold grudges with any substance, and the others there aren't her personal friends, they aren't family... That leaves you, Elspeth. I imagine you still count in her mind, wouldn't you?"

"Probably. My parents might, too, and Alice and Jasper..."

"Alice and Jasper aren't likely to throw off something like this. They're working for the Volturi far too explicitly to have a leg to stand on if they complain about Kate, Chelsea or no Chelsea. What about your parents, Elspeth?"

"My father... is a little like Carlisle. Well, not in how he thinks about forgiveness. Carlisle is more about always hoping that people will grow and improve and stuff, and my father is... actually kind of depressed, in nearly every memory I have of him where he wasn't with my mom, and some where he was. He doesn't like himself very much. He doesn't think he's in a position to judge anybody for a moral failing and forgives by default so he can be more like Carlisle. I don't know if my mother would actually forgive Kate, but she'd probably be willing to pretend to, or would consider it completely irrelevant. Technically Gianna used to work for the Volturi, too, and so did I, for that matter. I don't think she'd give Kate that hard a time about it."

"Excellent," said Siobhan. "And you really believe all that? I can't tell when you decorate your sentences with all those hedges."

I blinked. "Yeah."

"Excellent," Siobhan said. "Now, if you were dropped in Denali right now and you managed to get out the words "Aro framed Sasha, but we'll all forgive you if you stop working for the Volturi right now, guys," what would be the most likely way for this to fail...?"

I groaned.