I felt her the moment she set foot outside of Seattle. A Slayer—one I hadn’t met yet. I didn’t know why I hadn’t felt her earlier, but suddenly there she was. I knew the general direction she was headed in and I tried to keep a lock on her ‘signal’ even as I made a mental note to investigate what dark magic was strong enough to hide Slayers from me in Seattle.
I connected with her briefly and was astonished to find that she was fully submerged in quite a bit of water. She seemed to have no difficulty breathing, but I could feel her confusion and her apprehension over what she was about to do. Her thoughts went back to the fights she had witnessed recently and I gasped, immediately reaching for my phone to call Giles.
He answered on the second ring and I didn’t bother with pleasantries, “Giles, we have a problem in the Northwest. There’s a Slayer in trouble. It’s too big to send a team. I’m going to have to lead this myself. I’m not sure if we’ll get there in time, but we have to try.”
Giles tried to calm me down, but I just pressed on, “Giles, it’s those red-eyed vampires you told me about. She’s surrounded by them and…I think she’s one of them.”
Giles sputtered, “Are you sure?”
“About ninety-five percent,” I told him.
When I was in England, Giles taught me about several other species of vampires, including ones that didn’t have fangs and were incredibly difficult to kill. He had assured me that it wasn’t impossible, though, and taught me a few tricks that might be used as a defense against them. They would still have speed on their side, but the Slayers should be strong enough to tear them apart if they could catch them, I thought. It would be up to my magic to even the odds.
I was caught up in the new Slayer’s thoughts once again as she looked out at another large group of vampires. She was afraid, but she kept moving forward as though she was more terrified of backing out. But, I could feel her reluctance to fight even as those around her seethed with excitement over the impending fight. She caught a scent in the air and I realized that I would need Giles to take care of things on our end.
“Giles, I need Faith, Vi, Rona and Kennedy to come with me. Explain the situation to them quickly; we have to move if we are going to save her. I’ll do what I can from here until they are ready to go. And, don’t forget to give Faith the package,” I told him and ended the call before he could protest. I needed to concentrate.
As we stepped out onto the field where the battle was clearly going to be held, I caught the girl’s scent in the air. Her blood was here and I could feel my body react against my own will. Suddenly, I felt something—no, someone—in my mind. The fire in my throat died as quickly as it had begun blazing and I looked around, but the rest of the vampires in our party seemed to be as crazed as ever. After they had all moved ahead of me, their growls and hisses no longer filling my ears, I could hear a woman’s gentle voice guiding me.
That’s it, she soothed. Just be calm. Stay out of the battle. Look around you. Is there somewhere you can hide? Help is on the way.
I followed her advice and hid behind some brush, trying to stay out of sight. The sudden presence of gigantic wolves terrified me, but at least their stench had overpowered the scent of the girl’s blood and my mind cleared somewhat. The army I came with was quickly being decimated, but I couldn’t bring myself to fight with them. I don’t know how I knew it, but I could feel the wrongness of what we had come here to do today. The violence around me was coming to a head. I could still feel the presence with me and it made me less afraid. Every time someone got too close to my position, the voice would warn me and I would retreat further back.
Finally, two of the golden-eyed Vampires stood directly in front of me and I had nowhere to go. I felt the woman’s shock as she looked through me and saw my opponents, but she quickly composed herself and began telling me what to do again. I followed her instructions carefully and prayed that I might still live through this.
“Please,” I begged, dropping down to my knees in front of them. It was not a defensible position, but the woman was confident that if I did not pose a threat to them, they would not harm me. I heard the name Cullen flit through my mind and I realized that I had heard the name before. Riley had mentioned that was the name of the clan we were here to destroy. I suddenly wished I could cry, but that had been taken from me as well. I looked up at them and, at the voice’s insistence, I asked again, “Please? I swear I didn’t attack anyone. He wanted me to, but I didn’t want to and it’s all so confusing, but I didn’t. I promise! Please don’t kill me!”
The woman’s eyes softened, although they were still wary, and I couldn’t blame her. She made a move toward me, but the man stopped her, catching her elbow lightly and telling her, “Not until Jasper says it’s okay, that she won’t hurt you.”
They exchanged an entire conversation in just a millisecond’s time, all without uttering a single word, but the woman nodded. The man turned to me and spoke gently, “If you surrender, we won’t hurt you. I give you my word.”
“I’ll stay right here,” I told them. Just then, the wind shifted and the girl’s blood was once again forced in my direction, but this time, the wall of fire did not consume me. It was as though there was something shielding me from the worst of the flames. They must have noticed the change in the wind as well because they were suddenly on guard again, but I didn’t move. I clutched at my throat, but managed to choke out, “I…won’t…move…I…promise.”
By sheer force of will and the voice soothing me again, I managed to keep myself planted on the ground where I had fallen to my knees, even as I heard a human heartbeat enter the field. Without thinking, I sniffed the air and my world exploded into flame once again—it was the girl. I fell over and clawed at the ground in an effort to douse the fire, but remained where I was. They had kept their word and I would not break mine, but it was a difficult, painful effort, even with the woman helping me. Finally, little by little, I managed to regain control over myself. I was covered in grass and dirt, but thankfully, no blood. I could still hear the girl’s heartbeat, but it seemed farther away now, even though she stood the same distance from me as before.
A tall, blond male vampire came to stand by me and I was instinctively afraid, but I forced myself to meet his gaze. He was very scarred and he was warning the others that I was a danger and should be destroyed like the others, but the other two were true to their word and wouldn’t let him harm me. Even still, I closed my eyes tightly when he reached out and grabbed me by the arm, but all he did was lift me to my feet. A sudden calm came over me at that moment, but it felt different from the calm that the woman’s voice had given me. I didn’t have time to consider where it came from when four figures could be seen coming toward us. I looked around, but the only ones left in the field were the vampires and the girl. All of my brethren were dead and the wolves had all disappeared.
The blond one pushed me back a little, partially hiding me from view, but still kept near me as though I was going to snap at any moment. Truthfully, it hurt to be so close to the girl without taking her, but something inside of me kept me rooted in place. It wasn’t fear, although I was plenty afraid. I didn’t have a name for the feeling. It all seemed too jumbled to be just one particular emotion.
I renewed my resolve to stand still and wait for the promised help to come. I knew the ones coming toward us were not that help.
It took nearly fifteen minutes for Giles to gather our team together and tell us what we needed to know about the Vampires we would be facing. Apparently, they would be much harder to kill than the Turok-han we had faced in the past. Our weapons would be useless against them and the only way to kill them was to tear them apart and burn the pieces. Great, another fun-filled day at the office.
And by the time the four requested Slayers had managed to find Willow, she was sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed and sweating. She didn’t respond when I called her name but when I touched her shoulder, she opened her eyes and looked at me. I was startled to see the amount of pain reflected there.
“You up for this, Red?” I asked, hoping she wasn’t going to start teleporting us there just to drop us mid-transit.
“I’ll have to be,” she replied. She gestured to the circle the girls were already standing in and I helped her up.
Honestly, she looked exhausted and I was still fresh, but before I could offer her some of my energy, Buffy appeared and I could read the same intent in her eyes, so I stepped away and entered the circle.
Over the last year or so, a lot of fences had been mended and I was now, somehow, a respected part of the team. Of course, it might have something to do with not trying to kill them anymore. And, with saving Dawn on the numerous occasions she had managed to get into trouble.
Willow and Buffy exchanged a short conversation that amounted to Buffy not liking what we were doing and Willow telling her that we needed to do it anyway. Then, Willow took the energy she needed from Buffy and the blond Slayer slumped on a couch as she watched Willow enter the circle with us.
Buffy’s eyes were already closing as Willow told her not to wait up for us. Moments later, we disappeared into Willow’s portal. When we reached the field, we appeared in a burst of light and scattered in various directions, all four of us coming up to surround the red-eyed Vampires Willow had seen through the new Slayer’s eyes. It appeared that we were just in time. The small blond vampire was grinning maliciously at a figure writhing on the ground. The Slayer, my instincts screamed. It was clear that the blond vampire was causing her pain and I was in motion before I had even fully made the decision.
I only stopped because of Willow’s booming voice ordering, “Cease!”
The girl-like creature cocked her head to the side and examined Willow for one brief moment as she squinted in Willow’s direction. Willow held her hand out as if to ward off a physical attack and it was the blond girl’s turn to scream in pain. I glanced over at Willow. Oh, goody, black eyes was back. I knew I needed to stop this before the rest of her started to change.
“Red,” I called out, earning her black-eyed stare. I rolled my eyes and gave her a pointed look and reminded her, “Priorities?”
Willow sighed, but released the blond vampire. She stood up warily and I noted that all of the other vampires were now eyeing us cautiously.
The blond vampire pointed a bony finger toward Willow and decreed, “Felix, kill her. Then, take care of the riff-raff and then kill the rest of the humans. I want to go home.”
Without even looking at Willow, I knew what was coming and I just closed my eyes. When I opened them, Willow was floating over to where the blond vampire was standing. Felix was also floating, or more like flailing, in mid-air. I glanced around and so were the other two robed vampires, although one of them seemed to be simply unaware of his surroundings or that he was a good ten feet off the ground. Goddamned theatrical pain in my ass, I thought as Willow put herself into the blond vampire’s personal space. Out of the corner of my eye, I noted that one of the other vampires, the ones with the golden eyes, was looking at me and I thought I had heard him snort a moment ago when I was thinking about Willow. I squinted at him and he met my eyes unflinchingly. Interesting.
“So, you want to go home?” Willow asked, her black-eyed gaze boring into the blond vampire. “Well, Jane, is it? I think we can accommodate you. But, no need to plan another trip here. We’ll come visit you soon.”
With a flash of light and a wave of Willow’s hand, all four of them disappeared from the field. The Slayers moved to flank us as Willow slowly turned and landed silently at my feet.
“Are you done with the parlor tricks for now?” I asked, annoyance plain in my voice.
Willow shook her shoulders out and her slightly darkened hair returned to normal as did her eyes.
Rona piped up, “Weren’t those the bad guys?”
“Pretty sure,” I replied to her.
“Then, why didn’t she just kill them and be done with it?” Rona asked.
I knew why, but I was reluctant to say in front of this unknown clan of vampires. Willow was not openly hostile toward them, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Plus, their eyes were not the same violent red color that the others had been. I had a feeling that meant something significant.
“It does,” one of the male vampires commented. It was the same one that I had thought might have been reading my mind earlier. Apparently, he could and he was. I raised my eyebrow at him and he continued, “Our eyes are a different color because we don’t feed on humans.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noted that the younger Slayers all seemed to drop their defensive stance at this declaration. I realized that their time with Spike might have made them a little complacent and I reminded myself to rectify that. Just because they didn’t drink human blood didn’t necessarily make them safe.
“Right again,” the vampire confirmed. “It doesn’t mean that we are safe to be around. Accidents happen. But, I promise you that we have no intention of hurting anyone.”
“Okay, okay,” I bit out. “Enough with the reading my mind crap. Unless you want to see a whole hell of a lot of the scariest shit in the darkest places of my mind, keep outta my head.”
I let him see the barest of glimpses into my past and he sucked in a breath in a hiss, instantly pulling the human girl that was with them into a protective embrace. Wait, a human girl? How did I not notice that before? This just got more and more interesting.
Another blond vampire, this one honey-eyed, stepped forward and held his hands up, “That’s enough. Perhaps introductions are in order. I am Carlisle Cullen. This is my family. We mean no harm to anyone. As much as he can control it, Edward will stay out of your mind.”
I was about to respond when Willow beat me to it. “Your introduction isn’t entirely complete, is it Doctor?”
In that moment, I saw exactly what Willow’s plan had been from the beginning. That was why Giles was hastily shoving a small container of what looked like Pez into my hands as we were leaving. Thank goodness, I brought it with me instead of letting Andrew have it for his collection, I thought with a roll of my eyes.
Willow started walking toward the vampires and so we followed dutifully after her. This made some of the vampires nervous and they crouched protectively around their leader. Willow ignored them and I tried to do the same. I felt Vi stumble next to me, but then she was quickly moving with us again. Willow stopped in front of Carlisle and awaited his response.
“Yes, I am a doctor,” Carlisle confirmed. “I have been for a long time, but what does this have to do with anything?”
“We’ll get to that,” Willow told him. “But first…”
She swiftly disappeared and reappeared next to the new Slayer and reached a hand out to her. Another blond vampire’s hand shot out as though to stop her, but his hand froze in mid-air. This seemed to bother him quite a bit, so I called out, “Hey, Red, stop being scarier than the scary monsters, will ya?”
Vi and Kennedy giggled next to me, but Willow seemed to understand what I was saying. She looked over at the vampire next to her and he could move again as she released him from her hold. “I’m sorry,” she told him. “It’s a reflex thing. I get so focused on one thing that I forget about everything else around me. I’ll try to keep it under control.”
“I would appreciate that,” he replied, giving no ground to let her have access to the Slayer.
“I’m not going to hurt her,” Willow tried to reassure him, but he didn’t move.
From behind him, a small voice entered the discussion, full of wonder, “It’s you.”
All eyes turned toward her and she pressed on, “I heard you in my mind. You told me to hide and to surrender. You were right. They didn’t hurt me.”
“Yes, that was me,” Willow told her and the girl pushed past the blond vampire and hurled herself at Willow. The other vampires reacted swiftly, but I knew Willow had everything under control. She let the girl cling to her, offering her the safety and the security of her connection to every Slayer on the planet.
“Chill out, guys,” I told them, wading through the now on-guard vampires. I knew they didn’t understand the bond that had formed between Willow and all of the Slayers, but I knew that the girl would never be able to hurt her. “You just watched her fling four vampires onto another continent with a flick of her wrist. I think she will be just fine.”
Willow was speaking very quietly to the girl and even my Slayer hearing couldn’t make out what she was saying, but I felt the box in my pocket moving and I knew that Willow wanted me to give it to her. I did so and she opened the box. The Slayer-made-vampire reached in with a shaking hand and took one of the Pez-like pieces from the box. Truthfully, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew where Willow was going with this, so I wasn’t afraid that she was going to hurt the girl. In fact, seeing how strongly she was currently connected with her, she really couldn’t hurt her without hurting herself. Faster than the human eye could see and faster than the vampires could react, the Slayer popped the piece into her mouth and swallowed. An instant look of relief came across her face and the blond vampire’s eyes grew wide.
“What did you do to her?” he demanded.
He looked like he was ready to attack, but Willow held up her hand and began to speak, “Centuries ago, our old Council met one of your kind of vampire. He was intrigued by the Slayer and so he didn’t kill her. He watched her fight, kinda like a creepy stalker guy, but when he saw the creatures that she fought, he developed an admiration for her. It is even believed that he began to love her and, in time, she loved him as well. But, her blood was a constant pull to him and the Council had forbidden her from becoming a vampire herself, so they worked together to find a way for them to coexist.”
She held up the box and continued, “These are the result of their efforts. Well, a more contemporary version anyway. I really only created them because I was curious to see if I could duplicate the original effect with modern day methods. It’s part-magic, part-science and part-sheer determination, but just one of these pills can keep a vampire nutritionally satisfied for about a month’s time. Not as much fun as a hunt, but a bit more convenient if someone is going to be anywhere near a bunch of girls that sometimes come home bloody.”
A collective gasp went up from the vampires and then there was mass chaos as they all began arguing that no such thing had ever been possible. Only Edward remained silent and I had a feeling I knew why. Although he had promised to try to stay out of my head, apparently Willow was giving him free range in her skull. Great! Now all she needed to show him was that time she almost ended the world and everything would be just peachy.
Edward turned and looked at me sharply for a moment and I knew he had heard my last line. Crap. Forget that, Eddie, I told him silently. Willow’s a Girl Scout. A harmless cookie-selling Girl Scout.
He snorted again, but whatever Willow was telling him was more important than whatever I was thinking so he was ignoring me again, which was just fine. With a sigh, I walked over to the largest one and used his inattention to slide down to the ground and take his legs out from under him. He landed on the ground with a thunderous sound and then shot back up to his feet, yelling, “Hey!”
“Okay,” I smiled. “Now that I have everyone’s attention, maybe you could notice that the girl isn’t shaking or looking at the human over there like she is an appetizer.”
They all turned, eerily as one, to see the Slayer now standing next to Willow instead of clinging to her. It was true; she wasn’t shaking any longer and her eyes were no longer the red color they had been. Instead, they were a dark brown color. I didn’t know if that was an effect of the pill she had swallowed or if that was her natural eye color before she had been turned.
The silence that followed was one of astonishment. Willow nodded to her and she bit her lip before speaking. Her voice was rough, like her throat had been damaged somehow, but she spoke firmly, “I’m okay. Her blood isn’t calling to me anymore. I can finally think clearly again. I’m not even hungry. I’ve been hungry for months—maybe more—I don’t know, but I finally feel like I am the one making decisions again.”
Carlisle immediately went to her to look her over in his professional capacity and he must have liked what he found there because he nodded and turned to the rest of his family. “Well, as the immediate danger has passed, I believe we should return home where we can all discuss this further.”
There were a few token protests, but they gave up quickly, having seen that Carlisle’s mind was already made up.
We ran through the woods to the house and arrived just as Willow appeared out of nowhere with the five other girls in tow. To my astonishment, Bree had refused to leave Willow’s side, even though we had promised that no harm would come to her. I was quite disconcerted to hear that Willow was able to locate where we lived. It made me uncomfortable to think that someone so powerful could sweep in and annihilate our family when our guard was down. I made a mental note to convince the family to move soon. They hadn’t made any real aggressive moves toward us, and even the one with the dark energy seemed non-threatening, but there was no need to take reckless chances with our lives.
As soon as we were all there, Willow sent Bree with one of the other girls into the living room to help Bree learn how to meditate. She said that even with the pill, newborns could still have uneven temperaments and it was best to give them every advantage to staying alive. Since one of the girls was apparently an expert at meditation, she volunteered to help her. Soon, the rest of us were all seated around the dining room table with only the sound of the humans’ heartbeats in the room. None of us even dared to breathe. Everyone’s emotions were all over the place. Rosalie was scared. Emmett was simply curious with a tinge of anxiety. Alice was frustrated that she couldn’t see the future. Carlisle was in a state of wonder. Esme was hopeful that this might somehow make life easier for her family—for me in particular, I realized as she looked over at me warmly. Edward was clinging desperately to the thought that it might make his life with Bella less dangerous until she was turned and then more bearable for her once she was one of us. For her part, Bella was cautiously optimistic. With all of the other emotions flying around, I wasn’t sure what I was really feeling.
Finally, one of the Slayers asked the question that we had all been thinking, “What happened to the vampire? Is he still around? If so, why the hell wasn’t he haunting our asses when we were being knocked off one-by-one like The First’s version of a carnival game?”
“Other vampires of his kind found out about his alliance with the Slayer and killed him,” Willow told her.
“Um…excuse me,” Emmett broke in. “What is a Slayer?”
“What does it sound like?” the dark-haired one asked, her look expectant.
“Well, pardon me for asking,” he retorted.
I wondered how long it would be before they were arm-wrestling on Esme’s table, but Willow cleared her throat and caught their attention again.
“A Slayer is a girl with the strength and skill to beat back the forces of darkness. At the time, there was only one. She died avenging her love,” Willow told them.
Suddenly, Edward perked up in his seat. He finished her sentence for her, “But, she took three vampires with her. How was she able to do that?”
“There are always ways, Edward,” Willow told him enigmatically. Her hands crackled with lightning, “Magic was more widely accepted in those days. It was before the Crusades even.”
“How come we haven’t heard any of these stories before?” a brunette Slayer asked. “My Watcher didn’t tell me any of this.”
“After the Slayer’s death, the Council changed,” Willow explained. “That was when they started making the rules about Slayers working alone. They blamed her relationship with the vampire for her death and so struck all knowledge of it from the records. The only reason I even found out was because I was helping Giles catalogue a bunch of dusty old manuscripts that were found under an a medieval church and acquired by the Council.”
“But, the vampire probably saved her life a few times as well, right?” a young black Slayer asked.
“Probably, Rona,” Willow agreed. “If nothing else, I’m sure he took out demons that she would have had to face if he hadn’t. But, you know how the Council was then. They had no ability to see anything from another point of view.”
“Glad there’s a new sheriff in town then,” Rona commented. I felt Edward’s surprise before Rona continued, “I mean, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”
I looked at Edward quizzically, but it was Willow who spoke.
“Yes,” she confirmed before turning back to all of us. She slid the box of pills across the table to Carlisle. “Before I begin, I want to make this clear now: If any of you want these pills, they are yours to have. I can make more. Takes less time than a batch of brownies. If you have a place to store them, I can have a decade’s worth of them sent to you in a week’s time. Hardest part is gathering the ingredients, so the pills are not contingent upon you agreeing to our proposal.”
Confusion rose up around the table, from everyone other than Edward anyway. Of course, he already knew what she was going to say. All I could feel was their honest belief in what they were saying.
“I’m sorry,” Esme began. “What proposal?”
With a flash of light, a folder appeared in front of each of the vampires, and even the lone human, non-Slayer girl.
“Damn it, Willow!” Rona groused, rubbing her eyes. “Will you stop that? You know I hate it when you do that flashy thing!”
“Sorry,” Willow replied, completely unrepentant. “Why don’t you go see how the meditating is going?”
Still grumbling, Rona got up from the table, kicking Willow’s leg as she made her way to the living room. The irritation felt comfortable, like they were more than colleagues. Indeed, they were more familial than I would expect simple co-workers to behave toward each other. After she left, Willow turned back to everyone as though she had never been interrupted. “Now, the proposals in front of you are not quite as detailed as our actual employment contracts, but they will give you a quick overview of our organization and, without getting into specifics, our benefits package. We have need of all types of professions, but in particular, we need doctors who can handle an injured Slayer or other non-human being on our payroll. We also need skilled teachers. Believe me, if you want to join us, we’ll find plenty of things for you to do.”
Although I could sense a spark of interest in Rosalie, I understood the acidity in her tone as she closed the folder, crossed her arms over her chest, and glared at the women at the far end of the table. “What’s in it for us?”
Willow didn’t get the chance to answer because Faith stepped in, nodding at the framed graduation caps on the staircase, “Well, for one thing, you won’t be sitting in a classroom for the rest of eternity, at least not as a student. You also wouldn’t have to move around like you do now. We don’t have neighbors and we rarely have to interact with the rest of Cleveland, so no one is going to give a rat’s ass if you don’t age.”
“Or if you sparkle in the sunlight,” Willow piped up.
“Yeah, right,” Rosalie scoffed.
“Sparkle in the sunlight? Really? Like what, a disco ball?” Faith asked, amusement dancing on her face. Her enjoyment only decreased slightly when Willow glared at her. Judging by Edward’s chagrined grimace, she had simply decided to continue her teasing silently.
Willow pulled out a picture and flipped it at Rosalie. I caught a look at it as it sailed past me and saw several different types of creatures all lined up, dripping wet, and smiling at the camera. Well, I wasn’t sure if the one on the end was smiling, but it certainly could have been. It was difficult to tell with the creature’s facial features...or lack thereof. Rosalie’s eyes grew wide as she looked at the photo and Willow smirked with satisfaction, “That was our last company picnic. Our team won the ‘Catch the Water Sprite’ contest. They’re slippery little suckers, but Tito has tentacles managed to latch onto it at the last moment.”
Tentacles? I gave an involuntary shiver and caught Willow’s glare in my direction. “Hey, don’t be speciesist, mister. Our motto is ‘live and let live…or unlive’ as the case may be.”
The brunette Slayer turned to her and asked, “I thought it was ‘don’t get dead’?”
Willow offered her a private smile that melted all of the tension out of the redheaded woman and I saw what I hadn’t seen earlier. These two women were lovers. Not only was she risking her charges by bringing them here, but her lover as well.
In my contemplation, I missed some of the conversation and I tuned in again just in time for Bella to interrupt. She was the only one who had stayed completely out of the conversation and was simply reading the packet of information in front of her. She looked at the women and announced, “I’m in.”
Then, she pulled out a pen, circled something and wrote a little note that I couldn’t see before folding the page into fourths and tossing the folded note to Rosalie. Whatever was on that note left me staggering under the sudden onslaught of Rosalie’s emotions. I barely registered Edward’s gasp of surprise as I experienced all that Rosalie was feeling. Fear, gratitude, amazement and disbelief all warred within her before she looked up and met Bella’s eyes. Her eyes shimmered for a moment before she turned to the Willow and said, “Emmett and I are in, too. Where do we sign?”
She shared the note with Emmett and he kissed her on the temple and whispered, “You know I’ll follow you anywhere, babe.”
As I looked over the information in the packet, I knew that this was really a decision that I would be making for both Edward and myself. He would never leave my side, and he would leave the decision up to me. But, as soon as I saw what the package offered, I knew I couldn’t say no. The rest of the family barely even glanced at the offer in their haste to find problems with it. I understood their predisposition to distrust anything new or seemingly good coming into their lives. One by one, they had each explained to me in their own ways, the difficulties they had with their vampiric lives. Joining the Council would solve most, if not all, of their problems and would help the greater good. The Council wasn’t asking them to go into battle for them, but to help prepare their own warriors. I knew that Carlisle, Edward and Rosalie, each having medical degrees, would be of immense help in caring for the sick and the wounded. Jasper and Emmett would help with teaching strategy and sparring. Alice would be a great friend to the Slayers and Esme was a natural mother. There wouldn’t be a kid there who didn’t know who to go to when they needed a hug.
I also thought it would be good for the younger Cullens. They needed this as much as the Council needed them. Other than Carlisle, they had spent decades feeling useless to the society that they desperately wanted to be a part of, but could only stand apart from. This was a chance to be a part of something more than themselves and a chance to prove to themselves that they were worthy of good things in life.
Edward liked to think he was the most stubborn of the family, although he did usually say that Rosalie was also incredibly stubborn. He was correct; she was. But, I was a part of this family now and I could out stubborn all of them, I decided. Jasper looked at me for a moment just before I told the women I was joining their Council; he must have felt my resolve.
I pulled out one of the pages and circled the note about anyone who joined the Council and agreed to provide a safe, loving home in accordance with Council traditions was eligible to adopt. Next to it, I wrote “Rose, you don’t need to give birth to be a mother.” I was not usually so familiar with my future sister as to use her nickname, but I really thought if ever there was a time that would bring us closer together, it was right in this very moment.
I carefully folded the paper and slid it across the table to Rosalie. She opened it and I didn’t need to be an empath to see what it meant to her. I could see her eyes glistening in that way that usually meant that she would be crying if she wasn’t a vampire, but she also looked grateful and I nodded at her encouragingly. When she declared that she and Emmett were in, I couldn’t help but feel a little thrill of victory. When I looked up at Edward, he had a look of absolute adoration on his face and I knew that he had heard Rosalie’s thoughts as she read the note.
He leaned closer to me and whispered, “Are you sure, love?”
“Positive,” I told him, and I was positive. I reached for his hand and he automatically placed it in my own. I gave his hand a tight squeeze and continued, “Edward, you have two medical degrees. It’s about time you get to use them.”
I watched as the realization ran across his face and he contemplated what I was telling him. I knew he had always wanted to follow in his adoptive father’s footsteps and become a real doctor, but he had never fully trusted himself to be near the blood. With the pills they had, the bloodlust wouldn’t be a problem and it was very possible that he, Carlisle and Rosalie would be the only formally trained medical professionals who would be able to treat beings with superhuman strength. Their own inhuman speed and strength would be appreciated instead of feared. Slowly, a smile blossomed on Edward’s face and he leaned over and kissed me lightly, whispering his love for me in my ear.
Then, he looked over at Carlisle and I knew that he and Esme were waiting to see what choices their children would make before committing to a course of action. But now that the four of us had made our intentions known, I could see Esme’s excitement building as the possibilities began to unravel in front of her. I didn’t know if she would become a teacher or a guidance counselor or if she would also adopt children like I suspected Rosalie would, but I somehow knew that Esme was completely right for Council life. And Carlisle would be perfect as their head of medicine. No one could be more compassionate than he was.
The only two hold-outs were Alice and Jasper. From the look of frustration on Alice’s face, I had the feeling that she couldn’t see the future clearly, much like she couldn’t see me when I was with the wolves. I really wanted Alice to be a part of this, Jasper too. He had the most to gain from the pills that would control his blood lust. He must have felt my desire to see him happy because he looked at me suddenly with surprise in his eyes. I just didn’t know how to convince him that I didn’t hold what happened against him. After a moment, I took a deep breath and released it, dropping Edward’s hand and standing up from the table. I walked in silence over to Carlisle and held out my hand for the box. He placed it in my palm, meeting my eyes and trusting me not to hurt his son.
I walked around to where Jasper was sitting and I pulled the seat Rona had vacated over until there was barely an inch between the chairs. I reached for his hand and waited patiently until he placed his cold hand in mine. I made sure that I only sent him good vibes so he would feel the sentiment behind my words.
Finally, I took a deep breath, and began, “Jasper, we haven’t really been able to get too close and I’m not blaming you for that. I’m just stating fact. But, these past couple of weeks, I feel like I’ve gotten to know you a lot better and I’ve come to respect you and love you even more than I did before. I want to keep getting to know you, but I don’t want you to take one of these because of that. I want you to take one because you’re my brother and I love you and you are in pain. This will ease your pain and open up whole new worlds of options for you. You deserve good things, Jasper, and I want them for you, but it’s your choice. Don’t take it for anyone else but you because you want more, because you fight the cravings every day and you deserve the reprieve to see what else you can achieve when the thirst isn’t continuously hounding you.”
I lightly placed the box in his hand and saw Edward stiffen as I stood up and brushed my lips against Jasper’s forehead. Jasper froze for a moment but then I could feel his eyes following me as I walked back over to Edward and sat down beside him again. He instantly reached for my hand and pulled me close to him. Jasper was still watching me and I made sure that I didn’t let even one iota of blame into my emotions.
Finally, Alice broke the tension in the air with an audible sigh, “Well, I suppose I will never run out of people to shop for. They probably destroy a lot of clothes when they go off to fight demons.” I tried not to laugh as she looked first at my clothes and then at Faith’s before continuing in her tinkling voice, “And, some people I’m sure could really use a fashion consultant.”
The room was quiet again as Jasper opened up the container without saying a word and popped one of the pills into his mouth. He looked at Alice and she squeezed his hand. Then he met my gaze for a quick moment before turning to Willow and saying, “If you have need of a history teacher, I would be happy to oblige, ma’am.”
Once all of their children were on board, Esme’s face lit up and I was glad I had been right about that probability. We all swiftly began changing our plans for after the wedding. It would take some re-arranging, but ultimately, everything would be in order by the time school started. And, I would actually be able to go to school and become a vampire, I realized with a start. Before I could mention this to Edward, Kennedy piped up with a question.
“Um, not to be a killjoy or anything, but what about the red-eyed vamps Willow poofed away?” she asked. “Won’t they be pissed off and looking for revenge?”
“Perhaps, but they aren’t stupid,” Edward answered her. “By now, Aro knows all about Willow and her powers.”
Kennedy jumped up, “I know it may seem that she’s invincible, but she’s not. What’s to stop them from coming after her when she’s vulnerable?”
“Kennedy, one thing I learned about the Volturi is that they don’t go into battles that they can’t win. Willow gave them something to fear more than us,” Edward explained. “The Volturi are worried that our coven is too large and too powerful for them to control—that we are rivals for their power—but now they will be focusing on Willow and her obvious abilities. She made herself a target for us and she knew what she was doing when she did it.”
“And now that the Cullens have joined the Council,” Faith began and I was suddenly more afraid of her as she smiled a humorless smile than I ever had been of Victoria and her newborn army. “If they even think about coming after any of you, I’ll be happy to personally shove blondie’s head up her own ass before I light it on fire.”
“Yeah, well, first, I need to go drop kick a dark mage’s ass into another dimension,” Willow informed her before smiling brightly and asking, “Wanna come?”
“Do I get to kill something?” Faith questioned.
“Probably,” Willow answered. “He was powerful enough to hide Bree from me. Who knows what else is skulking about his lair.”
Faith stood up and produced an ornate scythe out of seemingly nowhere. She offered Willow a wicked smile that once again made my blood run cold, “Good enough for me. I call dibs on anything with more than two arms. You can get anything that spits acid. These are new pants.”
Up Next: Edward's POV of the situation