Though I was - hopefully - invisible to Demetri, I stayed with Edward. Of course. We only had a few hours left to be together.
Edward and I had not had a last grand scene of farewell, nor did I plan one. To speak the word was to make it final. It would be the same as typing the words The End on the last page of a manuscript. So we did not say our goodbyes, and we stayed very close to each other, always touching. Whatever end found us, it would not find us separated.
We set up a tent for Renesmee a few yards back into the protective forest, and then there was more deja vu as we found ourselves camping in the cold again with Jacob. It was almost impossible to believe how much things had changed since last June. Seven months ago, our triangular relationship seemed impossible, three different kinds of heartbreak that could not be avoided. Now everything was in perfect balance. It seemed hideously ironic that the puzzle pieces would fit together just in time for all of them to be destroyed.
It started to snow again the night before New Year's Eve. This time, the tiny flakes did not dissolve into the stony ground of the clearing. While Renesmee and Jacob slept - Jacob snoring so loudly I wondered how Renesmee didn't wake - the snow made first a thin icing over the earth, then built into thicker drifts. By the time the sun rose, the scene from Alice's vision was complete. Edward and I held hands as we stared across the glittering white field, and neither of us spoke.
Through the early morning, the others gathered, their eyes bearing mute evidence of their preparations - some light gold, some rich crimson. Soon after we all were together, we could hear the wolves moving in the woods. Jacob emerged from the tent, leaving Renesmee still sleeping, to join them.
Edward and Carlisle were arraying the others into a loose formation, our witnesses to the sides like galleries.
I watched from a distance, waiting by the tent for Renesmee to wake. When she did, I helped her dress in the clothes I'd carefully picked out two days before. Clothes that looked frilly and feminine but that were actually sturdy enough to not show any wear - even if a person wore them while riding a giant werewolf through a couple of states. Over her jacket I put on the black leather backpack with the documents, the money, the clue, and my love notes for her and Jacob, Charlie and Renee. She was strong enough that it was no burden to her.
Her eyes were huge as she read the agony on my face. But she had guessed enough not to ask me what I was doing.
"I love you," I told her. "More than anything."
"I love you, too, Momma," she answered. She touched the locket at her neck, which now held a tiny photo of her, Edward, and me. "We'll always be together."
"In our hearts we'll always be together," I corrected in a whisper as quiet as a breath. "But when the time comes today, you have to leave me."
Her eyes widened, and she touched her hand to my cheek. The silent no was louder than if she'd shouted it.
I fought to swallow; my throat felt swollen. "Will you do it for me? Please?"
She pressed her fingers harder to my face. Why?
"I can't tell you," I whispered. "But you'll understand soon. I promise.'7
In my head, I saw Jacob's face.
I nodded, then pulled her fingers away. "Don't think of it," I breathed into her ear. "Don't tell Jacob until I tell you to run, okay?"
This she understood. She nodded, too.
I took from my pocket one last detail.
While packing Renesmee's things, an unexpected sparkle of color had caught my eye. A chance ray of sun through the skylight had hit the jewels on the ancient precious box stuffed high overhead on a shelf in an untouched corner. I considered it for a moment and then shrugged. After putting together Alice's clues, I couldn't hope that the coming confrontation would be resolved peacefully. But why not try to start things out as friendly as possible? I asked myself. What could it hurt? So I guess I must have had some hope left after all - blind, senseless hope - because I'd scaled the shelves and retrieved Aro's wedding present to me.
Now I fastened the thick gold rope around my neck and felt the weight of the enormous diamond nestle into the hollow of my throat.
"Pretty," Renesmee whispered. Then she wrapped her arms like a vise around my neck. I squeezed her against my chest. Interlocked this way, I carried her out of the tent and to the clearing.
Edward cocked one eyebrow as I approached, but otherwise did not remark on my accessory or Renesmee's. He just put his arms tight around us both for one long moment and then, with a deep sigh, let us go. I couldn't see a goodbye anywhere in his eyes. Maybe he had more hope for something after this life than he'd let on.
We took our place, Renesmee climbing agilely onto my back to leave my hands free. I stood a few feet behind the front line made up by Carlisle, Edward, Emmett, Rosalie, Tanya, Kate, and Eleazar. Close beside me were Benjamin and Zafrina; it was my job to protect them as long as I was able. They were our best offensive weapons. If the Volturi were the ones who could not see, even for a few moments, that would change everything.
Zafrina was rigid and fierce, with Senna almost a mirror image at her side. Benjamin sat on the ground, his palms pressed to the dirt, and muttered quietly about fault lines. Last night, he'd strewn piles of boulders in natural-looking, now snow-covered heaps all along the back of the meadow. They weren't enough to injure a vampire, but hopefully enough to distract one.
The witnesses clustered to our left and right, some nearer than others - those who had declared themselves were the closest. I noticed Siobhan rubbing her temples, her eyes closed in concentration; was she humoring Carlisle? Trying to visualize a diplomatic resolution?
In the woods behind us, the invisible wolves were still and ready; we could only hear their heavy panting, their beating hearts.