"What is this about, Aro?" Caius snapped before Edward could answer. Just the question had me pulling Renesmee around into my arms, cradling her protectively against my chest.
"Something you've never dreamed of, my practical friend. Take a moment to ponder, for the justice we intended to deliver no longer applies."
Caius hissed in surprise at his words.
"Peace, brother," Aro cautioned soothingly.
This should have been good news - these were the words we'd been hoping for, the reprieve we'd never really thought possible. Aro had listened to the truth. Aro had admitted that the law had not been broken.
But my eyes were riveted on Edward, and I saw the muscles in his back tighten. I replayed in my head Aro's instruction for Caius to ponder, and heard the double meaning.
"Will you introduce me to your daughter?" Aro asked Edward again.
Caius was not the only one who hissed at this new revelation.
Edward nodded reluctantly. And yet, Renesmee had won over so many others. Aro always seemed the leader of the ancients. If he were on her side, could the others act against us?
Aro still gripped Edward's hand, and he now answered a question that the rest of us had not heard.
"I think a compromise on this one point is certainly acceptable, under the circumstance. We will meet in the middle."
Aro released his hand. Edward turned back toward us, and Aro joined him, throwing one arm casually over Edward's shoulder like they were the best of friends - all the while maintaining contact with Edward's skin. They began to cross the field back to our side.
The entire guard fell into step behind them. Aro raised a hand negligently without looking at them.
"Hold, my dear ones. Truly, they mean us no harm if we are peaceable."
The guard reacted to this more openly than before, with snarls and hisses of protest, but held their position. Renata, clinging closer to Aro than ever, whimpered in anxiety.
"Master," she whispered.
"Don't fret, my love," he responded. "All is well."
"Perhaps you should bring a few members of your guard with us," Edward suggested. "It will make them more comfortable."
Aro nodded as if this was a wise observation he should have thought of himself. He snapped his fingers twice. "Felix, Demetri."
The two vampires were at his side instantaneously, looking precisely the same as the last time I'd met them. Both were tall and dark-haired, Demetri hard and lean as the blade of a sword, Felix hulking and menacing as an iron-spiked cudgel.
The five of them stopped in the middle of the snowy field.
"Bella," Edward called. "Bring Renesmee... and a few friends."
I took a deep breath. My body was tight with opposition. The idea of taking Renesmee into the center of the conflict... But I trusted Edward. He would know if Aro was planning any treachery at this point.
Aro had three protectors on his side of the summit, so I would bring two with me. It took me only a second to decide.
"Jacob? Emmett?" I asked quietly. Emmett, because he would be dying to go. Jacob, because he wouldn't be able to bear being left behind.
Both nodded. Emmett grinned.
I crossed the field with them flanking me. I heard another rumble from the guard as they saw my choices - clearly, they did not trust the werewolf. Aro lifted his hand, waving away their protest again.
"Interesting company you keep," Demetri murmured to Edward.
Edward didn't respond, but a low growl slipped through Jacob's teeth.
We stopped a few yards from Aro. Edward ducked under Aro's arm and quickly joined us, taking my hand.
For a moment we faced each other in silence. Then Felix greeted me in a low aside.
"Hello again, Bella." He grinned cockily while still tracking Jacob's every twitch with his peripheral vision.
I smiled wryly at the mountainous vampire. "Hey, Felix."
Felix chuckled. "You look good. Immortality suits you."
"Thanks so much."
"You're welcome. It's too bad ..."
He let his comment trail off into silence, but I didn't need Edward's gift to imagine the end. It's too bad were going to kill you in a sec.
"Yes, too bad, isn't it?" I murmured.
Aro paid no attention to our exchange. He leaned his head to one side, fascinated. "I hear her strange heart," he murmured with an almost musical lilt to his words. "I smell her strange scent." Then his hazy eyes shifted to me. "In truth, young Bella, immortality does become you most extraordinarily," he said. "It is as if you were designed for this life."
I nodded once in acknowledgment of his flattery.
"You liked my gift?" he asked, eyeing the pendant I wore.
"It's beautiful, and very, very generous of you. Thank you. I probably should have sent a note."
Aro laughed delightedly. "It's just a little something I had lying around. I thought it might complement your new face, and so it does."
I heard a little hiss from the center of the Volturi line. I glanced over Aro's shoulder.
Hmm. It seemed Jane wasn't happy about the fact that Aro had given me a present.
Aro cleared his throat to reclaim my attention. "May I greet your daughter, lovely Bella?" he asked sweetly.
This was what we'd hoped for, I reminded myself. Fighting the urge to take Renesmee and run for it, I walked two slow steps forward. My shield rippled out behind me like a cape, protecting the rest of my family while Renesmee was left exposed. It felt wrong, horrible.
Aro met us, his face beaming.
"But she's exquisite," he murmured. "So like you and Edward." And then louder, "Hello, Renesmee."
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