Aro stared wildly for a moment before composing his face.

"Perhaps you would tell us the rest of your story, for there seems to be more."

Nahuel frowned.

"My father came looking for me a few years after my mother's death." His handsome face distorted slightly. "He was pleased to find me." Nahuel's tone suggested the feeling was not mutual. "He had two daughters, but no sons. He expected me to join him, as my sisters had.

"He was surprised I was not alone. My sisters are not venomous, but whether that's due to gender or a random chance... who knows? I already had my family with Huilen, and I was not interested" - he twisted the word - "in making a change. I see him from time to time. I have a new sister; she reached maturity about ten years back."

"Your father's name?" Caius asked through gritted teeth.

"Joham," Nahuel answered. "He considers himself a scientist. He thinks he's creating a new super-race." He made no attempt to disguise the disgust in his tone.

Caius looked at me. "Your daughter, is she venomous?" he demanded harshly.

"No," I responded. Nahuel's head snapped up at Aro's question, and his teak eyes turned to bore into my face.

Caius looked to Aro for confirmation, but Aro was absorbed in his own thoughts. He pursed his lips and stared at Carlisle, and then Edward, and at last his eyes rested on me.

Caius growled. "We take care of the aberration here, and then follow it south," he urged Aro.

Aro stared into my eyes for a long, tense moment. I had no idea what he was searching for, or what he found, but after he had measured me for that moment, something in his face changed, a faint shift in the set of his mouth and eyes, and I knew that Aro had made his decision.

"Brother," he said softly to Caius. "There appears to be no danger. This is an unusual development, but I see no threat. These half-vampire children are much like us, it appears."

"Is that your vote?" Caius demanded.

"It is."

Caius scowled. "And this Joham? This immortal so fond of experimentation?"

"Perhaps we should speak with him," Aro agreed.

"Stop Joham if you will," Nahuel said flatly. "But leave my sisters be. They are innocent."

Aro nodded, his expression solemn. And then he turned back to his guard with a warm smile.

"Dear ones," he called. "We do not fight today."

The guard nodded in unison and straightened out of their ready positions. The mist dissipated swiftly, but I held my shield in place. Maybe this was another trick.

I analyzed their expressions as Aro turned back to us. His face was as benign as ever, but unlike before, I sensed a strange blankness behind the fa?ade. As if his scheming was over. Caius was clearly incensed, but his rage was turned inward now; he was resigned. Marcus looked... bored; there really was no other word for it. The guard was impassive and disciplined again; there were no individuals among them, just the whole.

They were in formation, ready to depart. The Volturi witnesses were still wary; one after another, they departed, scattering into the woods. As their numbers dwindled, the remaining sped up. Soon they were all gone.

Aro held his hands out to us, almost apologetic. Behind him, the larger part of the guard, along with Caius, Marcus, and the silent, mysterious wives, were already drifting quickly away, their formation precise once again. Only the three that seemed to be his personal guardians lingered with him.

"I'm so glad this could be resolved without violence," he said sweetly. "My friend, Carlisle - how pleased I am to call you friend again! I hope there are no hard feelings. I know you understand the strict burden that our duty places on our shoulders."

"Leave in peace, Aro," Carlisle said stiffly. "Please remember that we still have our anonymity to protect here, and keep your guard from hunting in this region."

"Of course, Carlisle," Aro assured him. "I am sorry to earn your disapproval, my dear friend. Perhaps, in time, you will forgive me."

"Perhaps, in time, if you prove a friend to us again."

Aro bowed his head, the picture of remorse, and drifted backward for a moment before he turned around. We watched in silence as the last four Volturi disappeared into the trees.

It was very quiet. I did not drop my shield.

"Is it really over?" I whispered to Edward.

His smile was huge. "Yes. They've given up. Like all bullies, they're cowards underneath the swagger." He chuckled.

Alice laughed with him. "Seriously, people. They're not coming back. Everybody can relax now."

There was another beat of silence.

"Of all the rotten luck," Stefan muttered.

And then it hit.

Cheers erupted. Deafening howls filled the clearing. Maggie pounded Siobhan on the back. Rosalie and Emmett kissed again - longer and more ardently than before.

Benjamin and Tia were locked in each other's arms, as were Carmen and Eleazar. Esme held Alice and Jasper in a tight embrace. Carlisle was warmly thanking the South American newcomers who had saved us all. Kachiri stood very close to Zafrina and Senna, their fingertips interlocked. Garrett picked Kate up off the ground and swung her around in a circle.

Stefan spit on the snow. Vladimir ground his teeth together with a sour expression.

And I half-climbed the giant russet wolf to rip my daughter off his back and then crushed her to my chest. Edward's arms were around us in the same second.

"Nessie, Nessie, Nessie," I crooned.

Jacob laughed his big, barky laugh and poked the back of my head with his nose.

"Shut up," I mumbled.