"I get to stay with you?" Nessie demanded.
"Forever," I promised her.
We had forever. And Nessie was going to be fine and healthy and strong. Like the halfhuman Nahuel, in a hundred and fifty years she would still be young. And we would all be together.
Happiness expanded like an explosion inside me - so extreme, so violent that I wasn't sure I'd survive it.
"Forever," Edward echoed in my ear.
I couldn't speak anymore. I lifted my head and kissed him with a passion that might possibly set the forest on fire.
I wouldn't have noticed.
39. THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER
"So it was a combination of things there at the end, but what it really boiled down to was... Bella," Edward was explaining. Our family and our two remaining guests sat in the Cullens' great room while the forest turned black outside the tall windows.
Vladimir and Stefan had vanished before we'd stopped celebrating. They were extremely disappointed in the way things had turned out, but Edward said that they'd enjoyed the Volturi's cowardice almost enough to make up for their frustration.
Benjamin and Tia were quick to follow after Amun and Kebi, anxious to let them know the outcome of the conflict; I was sure we would see them again - Benjamin and Tia, at least. None of the nomads lingered. Peter and Charlotte had a short conversation with Jasper, and then they were gone, too.
The reunited Amazons had been anxious to return home as well - they had a difficult time being away from their beloved rain forest - though they were more reluctant to leave than some of the others.
"You must bring the child to see me," Zafrina had insisted. "Promise me, young one."
Nessie had pressed her hand to my neck, pleading as well.
"Of course, Zafrina," I'd agreed.
"We shall be great friends, my Nessie," the wild woman had declared before leaving with her sisters.
The Irish coven continued the exodus.
"Well done, Siobhan," Carlisle complimented her as they said goodbye.
"Ah, the power of wishful thinking," she answered sarcastically, rolling her eyes. And then she was serious. "Of course, this isn't over. The Volturi won't forgive what happened here."
Edward was the one to answer that. "They've been seriously shaken; their confidence is shattered. But, yes, I'm sure they'll recover from the blow someday. And then . . ." His eyes tightened. "I imagine they'll try to pick us off separately."
"Alice will warn us when they intend to strike," Siobhan said in a sure voice. "And we'll gather again. Perhaps the time will come when our world is ready to be free of the Volturi altogether."
"That time may come," Carlisle replied. "If it does, we'll stand together."
"Yes, my friend, we will," Siobhan agreed. "And how can we fail, when /will it otherwise?" She let out a great peal of laughter.
"Exactly," Carlisle said. He and Siobhan embraced, and then he shook Liam's hand. "Try to find Alistair and tell him what happened. I'd hate to think of him hiding under a rock for the next decade."
Siobhan laughed again. Maggie hugged both Nessie and me, and then the Irish coven was gone.
The Denalis were the last to leave, Garrett with them - as he would be from now on, I was fairly sure. The atmosphere of celebration was too much for Tanya and Kate. They needed time to grieve for their lost sister.
Huilen and Nahuel were the ones who stayed, though I had expected those last two to go back with the Amazons. Carlisle was deep in fascinated conversation with Huilen; Nahuel sat close beside her, listening while Edward told the rest of us the story of the conflict as only he knew it.
"Alice gave Aro the excuse he needed to get out of the fight. If he hadn't been so terrified of Bella, he probably would have gone ahead with their original plan."
"Terrified?" I said skeptically. "Of me?"
He smiled at me with a look I didn't entirely recognize - it was tender, but also awed and even exasperated. "When will you ever see yourself clearly?" he said softly. Then he spoke louder, to the others as well as to me. "The Volturi haven't fought a fair fight in about twenty-five hundred years. And they've never, never fought one where they were at a disadvantage. Especially since they gained Jane and Alec, they've only been involved with unopposed slaughterings.
"You should have seen how we looked to them! Usually, Alec cuts off all sense and feeling from their victims while they go through the charade of a counsel. That way, no one can run when the verdict is given. But there we stood, ready, waiting, outnumbering them, with gifts of our own while their gifts were rendered useless by Bella. Aro knew that with Zafrina on our side, they would be the blind ones when the battle commenced. I'm sure our numbers would have been pretty severely decimated, but they were sure that theirs would be, too. There was even a good possibility that they would lose. They've never dealt with that possibility before. They didn't deal with it well today."
"Hard to feel confident when you're surrounded by horse-sized wolves," Emmett laughed, poking Jacob's arm.
Jacob flashed a grin at him.
"It was the wolves that stopped them in the first place," I said.
"Sure was," Jacob agreed.
"Absolutely," Edward agreed. "That was another sight they've never seen. The true Children of the Moon rarely move in packs, and they are never much in control of themselves. Sixteen enormous regimented wolves was a surprise they weren't prepared for. Caius is actually terrified of werewolves. He almost lost a fight with one a few thousand years ago and never got over it."
"So there are real werewolves?" I asked. "With the full moon and silver bullets and all that?"