"Edward, will you teach me how to fight?" I asked him, tensed for his reaction, as he held the door for me.

It was what I expected. He froze, and then his eyes swept over me with a deep significance, like he was looking at me for the first or last time. His eyes lingered on our daughter sleeping in my arms.

"If it comes to a fight, there won't be much any of us can do," he hedged.

I kept my voice even. "Would you leave me unable to defend myself?"

He swallowed convulsively, and the door shuddered, hinges protesting, as his hand tightened. Then he nodded. "When you put it that way... I suppose we should get to work as soon as we can."

I nodded, too, and we started toward the big house. We didn't hurry.

I wondered what I could do that would have any hope of making a difference. I was a tiny bit special, in my own way - if a having a supematurally thick skull could really be considered special. Was there any use that I could put that toward?

"What would you say their biggest advantage is? Do they even have a weakness?"

Edward didn't have to ask to know I meant the Volturi.

"Alec and Jane are their greatest offense," he said emotionlessly, like we were talking of a basketball team. "Their defensive players rarely see any real action."

"Because Jane can burn you where you stand - mentally at least. What does Alec do? Didn't you once say he was even more dangerous than Jane?"

"Yes. In a way, he is the antidote to Jane. She makes you feel the worst pain imaginable. Alec, on the other hand, makes you feel nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sometimes, when the Volturi are feeling kind, they have Alec anesthetize someone before he is executed. If he has surrendered or pleased them in some other way."

"Anesthetic? But how is that more dangerous than Jane?"

"Because he cuts off your senses altogether. No pain, but also no sight or sound or smell. Total sensory deprivation. You are utterly alone in the blackness. You don't even feel it when they burn you."

I shivered. Was this the best we could hope for? To not see or feel death when it came?

"That would make him only equally as dangerous as Jane," Edward went on in the same detached voice, "in that they both can incapacitate you, make you into a helpless target. The difference between them is like the difference between Aro and me. Aro hears the mind of only one person at a time. Jane can only hurt the one object of her focus. I can hear everyone at the same time."

I felt cold as I saw where he was going. "And Alec can incapacitate us all at the same time?" I whispered.

"Yes," he said. "If he uses his gift against us, we will all stand blind and deaf until they get around to killingus - maybe they'll simply burn us without bothering to tear us apart first. Oh, we could try to fight, but we'll be more likely to hurt one another than we would be to hurt one of them."

We walked in silence for a few seconds.

An idea was shaping itself in my head. Not very promising, but better than nothing.

"Do you think Alec is a very good fighter?" I asked. "Aside from what he can do, I mean. If he had to fight without his gift. I wonder if he's ever even tried___"

Edward glanced at me sharply. "What are you thinking?"

I looked straight ahead. "Well, he probably can't do that to me, can he? If what he does is like Aro and Jane and you. Maybe... if he's never really had to defend himself... and I learned a few tricks - "

"He's been with the Volturi for centuries," Edward cut me off, his voice abruptly panicked. He was probably seeing the same image in his head that I was: the Cullens standing helpless, senseless pillars on thekillingfield - all but me. I'd be the only one who could fight. "Yes, you're surely immune to his power, but you are still a newborn, Bella. I can't make you that strong a fighter in a few weeks. I'm sure he's had training."

"Maybe, maybe not. It's the one thing I can do that no one else can. Even if I can just distract him for a while - " Could I last long enough to give the others a chance?

"Please, Bella," Edward said through his teeth. "Let's not talk about this."

"Be reasonable."

"I will try to teach you what I can, but please don't make me think about you sacrificing yourself as a diversion - " He choked, and didn't finish.

I nodded. I would keep my plans to myself, then. First Alec and then, if I was miraculously lucky enough to win, Jane. If I could only even things out - remove the Volturi's overwhelming offensive advantage. Maybe then there was a chance.... My mind raced ahead. What if I was able to distract or even take them out? Honestly, why would either

Jane or Alec ever have needed to learn battle skills? I couldn't imagine petulant little Jane surrendering her advantage, even to learn.

If I was able to kill them, what a difference that would make.

"I have to learn everything. As much as you can possibly cram into my head in the next month," I murmured.

He acted as if I hadn't spoken.

Who next, then? I might as well have my plans in order so that, if I did live past attacking Alec, there would be no hesitation in my strike. I tried to think of another situation where my thick skull would give me an advantage. I didn't know enough about what the others did. Obviously, fighters like the huge Felix were beyond me. I could only try to give Emmett his fair fight there. I didn't know much about the rest of the Volturi guard, besides Demetri___

My face was perfectly smooth as I considered Demetri. Without a doubt, he would be a fighter. There was no other way he could have survived so long, always at the spear point of any attack. And he must always lead, because he was their tracker - the best tracker in the world, no doubt. If there had been one better, the Volturi would have traded up. Aro didn't surround himself with second best.