"There are so many of us," Edward answered dully. "They must want to make sure that..." He didn't finish.

"That doesn't answer the crucial question! Why?"

I felt I knew the answer to Carlisle's question, and yet at the same time I didn't. Renesmee was the reason why, I was sure. Somehow I'd known from the very beginning that they would come for her. My subconscious had warned me before I'd known I was carrying her. It felt oddly expected now. As if I'd somehow always known that the Volturi would come to take my happiness from me.

But that still didn't answer the question.

"Go back, Alice," Jasper pleaded. "Look for the trigger. Search."

Alice shook her head slowly, her shoulders sagging. "It came out of nowhere, Jazz. I wasn't looking for them, or even for us. I was just looking for Irina. She wasn't where I expected her to be...." Alice trailed off, her eyes drifting again. She stared at nothing for a long second.

And then her head jerked up, her eyes hard as flint. I heard Edward catch his breath.

"She decided to go to them," Alice said. "Irina decided to go to the Volturi. And then they will decide.... It's as if they're waiting for her. Like their decision was already made, and just waiting on her___"

It was silent again as we digested this. What would Irina tell the Volturi that would result in Alice's appalling vision?

"Can we stop her?" Jasper asked.

"There's no way. She's almost there."

"What is she doing?" Carlisle was asking, but I wasn't paying attention to the discussion now. All my focus was on the picture that was painstakingly coming together in my head.

I pictured Irina poised on the cliff, watching. What had she seen? A vampire and a werewolf who were best friends. I'd been focused on that image, one that would obviously explain her reaction. But that was not all that she'd seen.

She'd also seen a child. An exquisitely beautiful child, showing off in the falling snow, clearly more than human...

Irina... the orphaned sisters... Carlisle had said that losing their mother to the Volturi's justice had made Tanya, Kate, and Irina purists when it came to the law.

Just half a minute ago, Jasper had said the words himself: Not even when they were hunting the immortal children.... The immortal children - the unmentionable bane, the appalling taboo...

With Irina's past, how could she apply any other reading to what she'd seen that day in the narrow field? She

had not been close enough to hear Renesmee's heart, to feel the heat radiating from her body. Renesmee's rosy cheeks could have been a trick on our part for all she knew.

After all, the Cullens were in league with werewolves. From Irina's point of view, maybe this meant nothing was beyond us....

Irina, wringing her hands in the snowy wilderness - not mourning Laurent, after all, but knowing it was her duty to turn the Cullens in, knowing what would happen to them if she did. Apparently her conscience had won out over the centuries of friendship.

And the Volturi's response to this kind of infraction was so automatic, it was already decided.

I turned and draped myself over Renesmee's sleeping body, covering her with my hair, burying my face in her curls.

"Think of what she saw that afternoon," I said in a low voice, interrupting whatever Emmett was beginning to say. "To someone who'd lost a mother because of the immortal children, what would Renesmee look like?"

Everything was silent again as the others caught up to where I was already.

"An immortal child," Carlisle whispered.

I felt Edward kneel beside me, wrap his arms over us both.

"But she's wrong," I went on. "Renesmee isn't like those other children. They were frozen, but she grows so much every day. They were out of control, but she never hurts Charlie or Sue or even shows them things that would upset them. She can control herself. She's already smarter than most adults. There would be no reason___"

I babbled on, waiting for someone to exhale with relief, waiting for the icy tension in the room to relax as they realized I was right. The room just seemed to get colder. Eventually my small voice trailed off into silence.

No one spoke for a long time.

Then Edward whispered into my hair. "It's not the kind of crime they hold a trial for, love," he said quietly. "Aro's seen Irina's proof in her thoughts. They come to destroy, not to be reasoned with."

"But they're wrong," I said stubbornly.

"They won't wait for us to show them that."

His voice was still quiet, gentle, velvet... and yet the pain and desolation in the sound was unavoidable. His voice was like Alice's eyes before - like the inside of a tomb.

"What can we do?" I demanded.

Renesmee was so warm and perfect in my arms, dreaming peacefully. I'd worried so much about Renesmee's speeding age - worried that she would only have little over a decade of life.... That terror seemed ironic now.

Little over a month...

Was this the limit, then? I'd had more happiness than most people ever experienced. Was there some natural law that demanded equal shares of happiness and misery in the world? Was my joy overthrowing the balance? Was four months all I could have?

It was Emmett who answered my rhetorical question.

"We fight," he said calmly.

"We can't win," Jasper growled. I could imagine how his face would look, how his body would curve protectively over Alice's.

"Well, we can't run. Not with Demetri around." Emmett made a disgusted noise, and I knew instinctively that he was not upset by the idea of the Volturi's tracker but by the idea of running away. "And I don't know that we can't win," he said. "There are a few options to consider. We don't have to fight alone."

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