Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Spared ( Chapter 4 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Twilight, New Moon and the characters Edward, Bella, Alice, Aro and Demetri are the invention of Stephanie Meyer.

"Even as I ran, gasping and screaming, I could appreciate that. And the last seven months meant nothing. And his words in the forest meant nothing. And it did not matter if he did not want me. I would never want anything but him, no matter how long I lived." - Bella, New Moon

Alice had been right. I couldn't move as quickly going in as we had coming out. The foot traffic was moving with me this time, but I had to be a thousand times more careful.

I paused by the tall shadow, waiting for a chance to cross to the other side. How had I ended up here? I was outside in all but broad daylight, surrounded by humans, trusting a scrap of a cloak and a few feet of sickly shade to keep me from the very, very near possibility of Aro's anger. Three days earlier, I'd been waiting out the sunlight in a motel room in Brazil, traveling by night alone, even though I was halfway across the world from him. I knew what had made me so foolish, but what had made me so brave?

But Aro would be angry even if things went perfectly. He didn't make mistakes often and even though monotony bored him, I doubted this was the sort of surprise he'd like. I still didn't know him well enough to more than guess at whether or not it would work.

I would need witnesses, vampire witnesses.

It was possible, barely possible, that Aro feared scandal more than he wanted my sister, so I had to put scandal between them. Even one member of the guard would do. Fortunately, Aro wasn't the type to go anywhere unescorted, not even inside his own keep.

What's he doing?

Goddamned tourists...

The thought startled me back into reality. A woman was watching me loll in the street, seemingly staring at nothing. I waited until her companions urged her off. I had to pull myself together. I didn't have Alice to keep me in line any more. I grit my teeth. I was a disciplined man. I could do it on my own.

The shadows were only slightly deeper now as I retraced Alice's and my steps. I found my feet moving faster and faster as I dodged curious eyes, but the end of each street seemed to take forever to reach me. Time was ticking away. By now at least some of the Volturi would have finished their meal and gone wandering about. I forced myself to think about what I would say to Aro—or to Caius, Marcus or Demetri directly, whoever they sent—just to fight the frustration. I rolled the plan over in my mind like a woodworker smoothing a piece on a lathe.

Even so, she found me.

Bella filled my thoughts as I moved, and this time I couldn't stop. My memory spared me no detail. I all but shivered remembering the perfect rightness of the feel of her in my arms beneath the clock tower, the trust in her eyes even as I steeled myself to take her life away. My imagination had not done her justice. I'd been a fool to fight it, and now we both would pay.

My few minutes of access to Alice's thoughts had given me the basics of the matter: Bella had come to Italy to save my life.

I knew better than to think that meant that her love for me hadn't melted away, just as I'd said it would. Alice had returned to Forks to find that Bella had survived my absence and built a new life. But Bella was simply not the sort of person to let someone come to harm when she could do anything to prevent it. Even if it was only right to leave me to my fate, she would have tried to help. I knew better than to think that meant she'd forgiven me. I closed my eyes, hearing my feet hit the ground as I ran. She couldn't forgive me, not for this. She was losing her chance at heaven because of me, losing her human future, losing Charlie, her mother, her friends...

It didn't matter. Dwelling on it wouldn't help, I thought as I ducked around a corner. Nearly there. I couldn't do anything about it now.

It was selfish of me, I realized as I sidestepped a trio of young men with plastic fangs, but I wanted every last moment of her for myself, to feel her lungs expand and contract until the last breath came, to have her eyes on me until the light behind them died. I would have to make this final taste of her last me an eternity. I would never try to end my own life again.

On a less pleasant level, I knew I also needed to make myself accept my actions. Her transformation was my doing, so it was only right that I be there. Every mark of pain on her face, every shake of her body was my just punishment for what I'd done. If that was all that I could give her, then I would give it. I would stay by Bella as Rosalie had stayed by Emmett and Carlisle by Esme and me. I'd be the voice through the change, even if it meant watching Bella's life slip away and taking responsibility for whatever rose in its place.

I finally made it into the alley. Not an hour earlier, I'd stood here with my sister, using her gift and mine to find her a safe way out of this hell. Now I needed to break back in. I ran my hand alone the wall. There didn't seem to be a latch. I fought down panic as I ghosted over the riveted steel. Did this door only open out? Why hadn't I propped it open with something? Why hadn't I checked? If I had to turn around looking for another way—

My fingers found a notch along the bottom edge, too small for any human intruder to gain proper leverage. I pulled and the door swung open. I leaped inside. Finally free from prying eyes, I ran, really ran, like Rosalie had cracked out a line drive and Emmett and Jasper were on base.
I went through my plans again as I took the stairs.

Aro would find me just as if I'd never been gone, with Alice's absence the only change. The appearance of innocence would add weight to my words. If Aro came himself, as I doubted he would, I'd put Bella down on the sofa and step in front of her. The less he saw of her, the less he'd associate her with what I'd done. But if Aro sent someone to fetch Alice and me, then there would be no help for it. I'd have to bring her along. There was too much human blood in her system, even if was right after a feast, and not even my venom burning away inside her could ruin that beautiful scent.

I had minutes, maybe. Alice had said we had an hour, but the eagerness I'd detected in Aro's thoughts could have led him to leave ceremony to Marcus and come looking for us as soon as his thirst was quenched.

I burst out of the stairwell and into the hallway, skidding to a stop so that I could pull open the double doors. The lobby was almost exactly as I'd left it, except that Gianna was sitting primly behind her desk instead of where I'd left her.

I took five steps toward the sofa before I accepted what I was seeing. I actually had to look around before my brain registered what my nose had already told me. Then a hundred icy spikes drove themselves into my rib cage.

Bella was no longer here.

My movements were as quick now as they'd been sluggish earlier. Before a fly could beat its wings, my palms were pressed against the top of the reception desk, my face not an inch from Gianna's.

"Where is the girl?" I demanded.

The woman looked back at me. "Would you repeat that, please, sir?" she said, as if I were a visiting client asking if he had arrived too early for an appointment and not a demon in a fury. I grit my teeth. This woman had spent years working for vampires a thousand times more fearsome than I was. Of course I didn't intimidate her.

I asked again, this time making certain that my voice was slow enough for her to understand. "The girl I asked you to look after," I repeated, pouring as much ménage as I could into my voice. "Where is she now?"

The young woman paused, mouth open for half a second before speaking. It didn't matter. The words coming out of her mouth weren't the ones I wanted.

I'd used the techniques many times. For most people, it was not possible to hear and understand a question without thinking about the answer. While the woman recited the rehearsed and meaningless runaround that she'd decided to give me, her thoughts went to what had really happened to Bella.

Gianna had not returned to her desk after Alice and I had left, perching just out of reach on the edge of the sofa as the girl's cries grew louder. I felt my stomach twist inside me as I realized that, through my whole conversation with Alice, Bella had been wide awake. She'd just spent all her energy trying not to scream.

Gianna hadn't known what was wrong, why the girl was sick. She'd wondered if that was why Bella had been so afraid when she'd first walked into the lobby. She wondered if Bella had known what was in store for her.

Miss Jane and Mr. Demetri had come in. Felix had not been with them. Gianna had repeated my explanation, just as I'd asked her. Demetri had twitched an eyebrow.

"Thank you, Gianna, we'll take it from here," Demetri had said as he picked Bella up off the couch and turned toward the south hallway.

"—the young lady to other quarters—"

"How long has it been since you've seen Demetri?" I interrupted.

The image in her mind wasn't two minutes old. I turned on my heel and ran.

Gianna didn't know the compound the way Demetri and Felix did. She never went wandering in the building and never put a toe outside reception on feeding days. That was probably why she was still alive. I stopped at the first corner, inhaling sharply. Bella's scent... The ventilation system was running full-blast today, probably because of the mess they were all making in the feasting hall. I closed my eyes and tried again.

I turned left, forcing down the searing cold fear inside me. There was still human blood in her body, what if—No, such a vampire would have eaten her on the spot, not taken her away. What if Aro had thought Alice and I had both run away? What would he do to Bella, then? One of Aro's reasons for having her turned was to use as leverage against me. What would he do if he thought he had no need of her? I remembered Jasper talking about how he'd disposed of newborns during the southern wars. What if they—

Three tall figures rounded the corner in front of me and I stopped. Completely.

The one to my left was Demetri. On my right was the dark-haired woman who'd thought Bella plain in the feasting hall. Between them was Aro.

Something back in my mind was telling me that it was terribly important that I walk right up to Aro, speak politely, keep my reserve. But my eyes fixed on Demetri. I couldn't have looked away if I'd wanted to. "Where is Bella?" I said simply. Demetri looked at Aro, but his thoughts were already moving the way I wanted them to.

Demetri's mind was like a bell. Even for a vampire's memories, the images were unusually clear. He and Jane had gone to the entrance hall to check on Alice and me, but he'd already known we were gone. On Aro's orders, he'd picked up Bella and carried her through the hallways and—

—handed her off to Felix, who would take her the rest of the way.

I realized with a wrenching feeling that Demetri didn't know where Felix had been ordered to take Bella. He'd been told not to ask.

"Where is she now?" I demanded, hearing the thread of panic in my voice. He had to know. He had to know more than I did, at least. And something was forming in Demetri's mind, an educated guess, the only place to take a newborn, really. It was on the lower levels of the—

"Edward!" Aro broke my concentration. Like hunting dogs called to heel, Demetri's thoughts focused on the situation at hand the moment he heard his master's voice. If I could have thought of anything else, I'd have called it uncanny.

I wanted to look away but didn't. There was nothing indulgent in Aro's face. His thoughts were worse. He hadn't been pleased when Demetri had told him that Alice and I were gone, sure that we'd made a run for it. The fact that we seemed to be still here after all made even less sense.

"Aro—" I stopped. I had to get hold of myself. "Master," I said, trying to sound as if the word did not sting my mouth. "Master, where is Bella?" I didn't mean to sound like I was begging, but I did.

"Edward," Aro said, a veil of sternness over his usual exuberance, "it is most unwise to leave a newborn unsupervised. I thought you understood the danger in that."

"I am sorry," I said quietly. I watched Aro's mind, but he wasn't thinking about Bella. I could sense only that his plan for her had been set out ahead of time and set in motion. Now, he meant to concentrate on Alice and me.

"We are not off to a good start, young Edward," said Aro. "Imagine what I must have thought when Demetri told me that you were not waiting with Alice as I'd told you. And leaving Bella with only Gianna to watch over her!" he shook his head. "What am I to make of this?"

"I'm—I'm sorry," I said. It was true. "Where is she now?" I knew I'd already asked, but somehow I couldn't not ask again.

"Bella will be fine," Aro told me.

I know your tricks, boy, Aro thought. I realized that he'd been expecting my question, had decided in advance not to answer it. "There is no one in this house who wishes her harm." Here, Aro knew that he was deviating from the absolute truth, but it was close enough. There were a few of the Volturi who wouldn't mind seeing a newcomer burn but no one who was willing to break the law to see it. "You will see her soon."

My insides clenched. All I could think about was that "soon" didn't mean "now." I watched Aro's face, but I had no idea how this would play out. He only knew something had gone awry.

He never would have left the human. Aro mused. She's his mate, as sure as if she were one of our kind. Marcus was certain of it. His thoughts strayed to his own Sulpicia. He would not have left her in harm's way. I watched his calculations play out. He knew that his reasoning didn't add up. Vampires didn't change over time, not the way humans had, and even a human couldn't have changed this much over the short time since he'd touched me last.

No, Aro thought with satisfaction, the boy didn't change. He simply learned something new about himself in the time since I touched him last. much had he missed? How much did people learn, day after day and year after year? He was making mental notes to find some excuse to touch each of the guard more often, a few times a year should do the trick. After all, most of them weren't actively trying to defy him.

Demetri said they'd gone out into the city, but clearly, it wasn't an attempt to run or else Edward wouldn't still be— His thoughts went cold. They couldn't have. No, there's no way.

"Edward, where is your sister?" asked Aro. But he already knew.

I knew that I'd planned out a hundred different things to say, but now I couldn't remember even one. "She ...left," I answered clumsily.

"East, Master," Demetri said quietly. "Moving fast, probably on the Giosuè Carducci headed for Florence."

Aro looked at Demetri, the tiniest of creases forming between his stony brows. I watched him wonder at the tracker's calm expression. He was reporting Alice's location as if it were a matter of only moderate importance, another product of Aro's unpredictable curiosity. This was not how Demetri spoke of his prey.

Edward, you will answer my question, thought Aro.

"She has gone home, Master," I forced out. Some of my self-possession returned to me and I went on, "She sends her apologies that she could not stay with us no longer, but there is urgent family business that needs her attention."

It only took a second for Aro to realize that by "family," I didn't mean the Volturi.

"She is on her way back to Carlisle," he repeated.

"Yes, Master."

He wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to know right now. His hand clapped down on my shoulder before I could even think of stopping him.

The look in his eyes changed in the time it would have taken a human to blink.

Aro had made two mistakes. The first was that he'd overestimated Alice's need for me. He hadn't thought that she would have been able to leave me or that would have been able to let her go.

The second mistake was the more important. The second was the one that would save us.

There was one way in which Aro's gift was not superior to my own: I could sample the thoughts of many people at once and he could not. Aro knew the minds of each member of his guard, but he didn't make a habit of going back and reliving the same events through different eyes. He did not know his followers as a crowd. Aro had said one thing, meant another, and no one had noticed. It had probably happened a thousand times.

Earlier, during the makeshift trial in the feasting hall, Aro had nodded his head to Jane. Jane had known very well that he'd meant for her to test her gift on Bella, but she'd gone after Alice instead. No one except for the three of us had realized that Jane was not being perfectly obedient.

Minutes later, Aro and Caius had me show my allegiance to the Volturi, addressing Caius as my master, obeying Aro's orders.

Aro had meant for this to stand for both Alice and myself.

But no one but the two of us knew that.

Demetri had seen me take full punishment for my crimes. Felix had seen it. Every vampire in the room had seen it. Apart from Jane and Caius, no one in that room had even considered the idea that Aro would want more than one of Carlisle's freakish children. Most of them didn't even understand why he wanted me. Alice, as far as anyone else knew, was free to leave.

Aro stared back at me in amazement as my mind revealed how the greatest treasure of all the ages had slipped through his fingers.

Oh, if Alice'd stayed in the compound until the feast was over or if she'd only made it so far away that she could have been brought back quietly, then Aro might have found a way to correct himself, but dragging Alice back to Volterra now would require a major expedition. It would require trained trackers and warriors. It would require openly declaring Alice a criminal after her covenmate had already plead guilty to the crime.

I watched as Aro contemplated closing his hand and crushing my shoulder. Demetri and the dark-haired woman were watching Aro.

Why is Master Aro so upset? wondered the dark-haired woman. So the mad girl is gone. We're well rid of her.

Something isn't right... Demetri realized. I should ask him if he wants me to find the Cullen girl. Perhaps she was supposed to take a message back to her coven. Demetri's mind settled. Yes, he was sure that was it, some message to Master Aro's friend Carlisle, something to smooth over the loss of his gifted son before Alice herself could tell another tale.

Interesting... Aro was thinking, his thoughts as tight as clenching teeth. Beneath his anger, he was genuinely fascinated. He didn't usually see people's misconceptions take shape in real time.

That's what I can do for you, I thought deliberately. I can take this problem and turn it to your advantage. You will never mistake the crowd again. Only let my sister be.

Aro looked back at me, his thoughts dark. He had thought of a hundred different ways to use me. The fact that I'd come up with one that he hadn't thought of and that it had come to me in the scanty hours since he'd read my thoughts last... It appealed to him. Strength and supernatural talent were one thing; they could be identified and sought out. Insight was harder to find. It was rarer and more valuable.

But then he thought of Alice.

He thought of calling for Jane. I watched as he read me and knew that I would take it, would accept it, would never make a sound or say one word against it.

"It seems—" Aro began out loud and then thought the better of it. It seems that I have misjudged you, Edward Cullen, Aro thought quietly. His tone was surprisingly level. Demetri and the woman eyed us but said nothing. And I do not misjudge.

You have outmaneuvered me. You have found my weakness, if it can be called a weakness. I cannot do just as I please, not even when it would be for the good of all. Do not feel too accomplished. His fingers tightened painfully on my arm. My brothers and I have never made a secret of that.

Deep down, he knew it wasn't true on either count.

This is the first time that anyone has ever managed to use it against me so effectively.

But this was true. And he did not like it.

"I want very much to be able to trust you, Edward," Aro said out loud. "And for that, I need you to be able to trust me." Here, the words and thoughts matched.

I need you to trust that I mean what I say. I need you to trust that you cannot act against me without consequences.

The next wave of thoughts came all together, images, feelings, memories and words. Aro had planned to welcome me as a new member of the household, but he saw now that this would never do. I could be trained, though. Like a wild dog being tamed into a hound, I could come to trust him, serve him loyally, so long as I could trust that I would be punished and rewarded in due measure.

He would set limits and hold to them. He would not be cruel, at least not outwardly, but he had planned to be so very kind, to the point of tolerating my abnormality publicly, indulging me my diet of pigs and game the way he'd long ago indulged Carlisle. It would not be so easy for me.

Shivering inside, steady outside. That is how it would be between us.

In helping Alice escape, I had attacked Aro's wishes but protected his public purpose. I had not seemed to disobey him, so he would not seem to punish me. He would not send for Jane or pull my limbs or eyes from my body or take vengeance on my former coven. But I would feel it, his thoughts promised. Oh, I would feel it. I would regret what I'd done as keenly as he would regret the loss of Alice and all that she could have done for the Volturi.

Here, finally, the great wheel of Aro's mind returned to my question.

"As for our dear Bella..." Aro began. His eyes were focused on me but he was really speaking for the benefit of Demetri and the dark woman—first my witnesses, now his. She will be well tended, but not by you, Edward Cullen. I had planned that you and dear Alice would share that duty, he thought clearly, images of leaving me with Bella while he learned to exploit my sister's gift springing bitterly to his mind.

Aro dropped me and I hit the floor. I shook. I hadn't even realized that he'd lifted me off the ground.

"...I find I cannot spare you."
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