Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Time ( Chapter 8 )

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

The four and a half Twibooks are the creation of Stephanie Meyer.
So far, Support Stacie is going great. Sign up to bid or just to cheer people on and watch the crazy at http:/ / majiksfanfic . com / phpbb / viewtopic . php?f = 119&t = 2735. Remember, the last time I did this, "The Sweet Kiss of Charity" happened.
Okay, biting the bullet. I could use a good story-level beta for this thing. Most of the beta ads on ffnet are for grammar and spelling and—I think we can all face it—that's not what I need. I'm pretty darn good with the nuts and bolts and expressions. I mean in-depth characterization and plot beta-ality. I have some long-term scenes fleshed out and a general idea of where I'm going, but I could use some chapter-by-chapter.
EDIT: This chapter has been altered as of December 2008 to match changes made to chapter seven.
"There are many choices before you. Consider them." -Aro Breaking Dawn

She's rather graceful, isn't she? And her gift still confounds you?
I set my jaw, staring straight ahead at the library wall as Aro leafed through my experience with Bella, paying little attention to anything else that had happened in the cell. None of it was important to him, not the way it should have been, but he sucked up every last bit, like a child drinking a vanilla soda with a straw, down to the dregs of her fingers smoothing over the hem of my shirt when I'd left.
"I hope you can forgive my lateness, Master," I said carefully.
He said nothing of it. I hadn't lasted long once Felix had dragged me out of the cell, not with my arm in such a state. More importantly, though, I simply hadn't had any reason to continue. Bella was separated from Felix by a steel security door, and he'd already done more damage than I wanted to think about. Felix had ground my head into the floor tiles and snarled some meaningless tripe about how I was to do as I was told. I'd been too caught up in the image of that girl whose face and form whispered an echo of my Bella, snarling and screeching something out of Jasper's worst memories.
I'd still been able to hear those sounds, though, the scrape of iron-hard nails against the inside of the cell, the wordless screaming of an alien voice. I closed my eyes. There had been nothing on her face in those last moments, nothing. No human thought or compassion, no hope, just blind, feral aggression, a perfect mirror of Felix himself. I'd hoped she'd calm down once she could no longer hear us fighting, but it hadn't happened.
Felix hadn't done it on purpose. If he had, if he'd planned it, I might have been able to see it coming. I might have been able to... I shook my head. It was better that I knew. The girl in that cell was, whatever else she might be, a vampire newborn, and I would forget it at the peril of everyone around me. I'd forced the image into my heart, the new Bella's face distorted in an animal hiss, without any trace of human thought or compassion.
It was how she must have looked to the human she'd killed.
I'd jammed my shoulder back into joint. Then I had followed Felix, obedient as a new lamb, to the upstairs chambers were Aro had been waiting. The sounds had followed me almost all the way back here. It made me want to take both of Felix's arms off.
I'm rather glad you didn't. However, all things considered... He toyed with the images of Felix owning me in the cell. My arm still tingled. Aro had been expecting something like this from him, I saw. Felix is not unknown to be territorial when someone joins the family, he told me, the words of his thoughts glossing over the reality. Felix was a thug. But you seem to have aroused his particular interest. It might have been that I'd made such a spectacle of not wanting to join the guard in the first place. It might have been that I was so emotional and responsive to his provocations. It might have been that there was a new, young female of whom I seemed protective and jealous. It might have been that he didn't like my face. My recollections of what I'd seen in Felix's mind suggested all three, but confirmed none. Aro made a mental note to look into the matter the next time he had an excuse to touch Felix's thoughts.

I watched the idea rise in Aro's mind. He didn't need to wait for an excuse. He could easily order Felix or any other member of his guard to present their thoughts to him, but it was usually expected that he'd give a reason. I met his gaze as he sized me up.

It would work, I told him. Just call him in. He won't even know that you're reading his thoughts. Eventually, the Volturi would learn what it meant when Aro grasped my shoulder, but for now, while I was new, Aro could act with impunity.

An interesting idea, young Edward. I may just take you up on it.

I closed my eyes, not for too long. He would want me to keep them open, but I needed to think.

I'd seen her. I didn't feel at ease, not close to it, but my anxiety was more focused now. I hadn't seen that she was safe, but I'd learned what kind of danger she was in. That meant that there were things that I could do about it. Action, I was sure, would take the gnawing feeling out of my chest, at least for a while.

All my strength had been centered on seeing Bella, finding out if she was all right. My distraction had caused me to underestimate Felix. I was sure that I had yet to fully realize the consequences of that mistake. But one venomous ox was the least of it. I had other problems. Bigger problems.

I couldn't tell.

I'd hoped I'd be able to tell. I'd hoped that I'd be able to read her mind now that it was more like my own, but even without it, I couldn't tell.

Was she still my Bella?

My insides clenched around the thought like a constrictor around a bear trap, unable to let go even as it tore me apart. I couldn't think straight. Guilt and grief were knotting together, twisting like rope burns in my throat and stomach. Nothing about the past hour seemed to add up.

Her eyes, her face, her voice... None of it had been right. She hadn't looked or sounded or moved like Bella Swan. She'd moved like a newborn vampire, almost to quickly to see, even with my eyes. And Aro was right; she was graceful. Even at her best, my love had only rarely been graceful in her movements, when she'd told me about Phoenix, using her hands to trace the Arizona horizon on to the air in front of us, when we'd danced... I shook my head. That was nothing. Those things were trappings. They ought to be nothing.

The cold reality of the situation was that Bella had never killed anyone, would never kill anyone. Not my Bella. What had happened in that room was completely at odds with her nature. I tried to imagine Bella Swan attacking some captive human and drawing the lifeblood from her body. My whole being rebelled against it.

My memories of my own human life were dim and shaky. Most of the time, my own human life in Chicago felt like it had happened to someone else. The only person I'd known both before and after her turning was Rosalie, and I'd barely known her at all, just a stray thought here and there as she passed me in the street back in Rochester. She'd seemed so different, going from a vain, weak and silly girl to a scarlet-eyed demon hot for revenge. Esme had been sure that it was only because of what she'd been through, and hadn't she settled down after a few years?

Carlisle and I had discussed the matter, well out of anyone's hearing, another thought puzzle, another academic mystery of our existence. He'd thought that any changes in Rose's personality would be due to her new situation. I hadn't been so certain, but we'd both agreed that there was no point in worrying about it.

But something inside me kept saying that the love of my existence had spent her last hours in this world tormented and alone. Just like with her injuries the past fall, I hadn't been able to so much as hold her hand as it happened.

I wished I could shrug it off. I wished I could tell myself that it didn't matter. Esme and Rosalie were both good women even if they weren't the same women they had been. Carlisle and Emmett were good men. I ought to have been able to get past it. But I couldn't. I burned. I had to know. It had been my Bella, the human Bella, who'd changed me. No one else could ever take her place.

Fascinating... Aro reacted, lingering on the memory of my conversation with Carlisle. I grit my teeth, angry at myself for having let my thoughts stray.

"Never mind, Edward, never mind," Aro scolded lightly. "It is an interesting question, and, I must admit—" His voice was laced with amusement now. "—one that has never before occurred to me." It was true, I could see. Aro did not think of humans and vampires as more than remotely the same kind of being. Becoming a vampire, to his mind, was an elevation on par with turning a microbe into a redwood or a chimpanzee into a man. There was no comparing the before with the after. Asking him whether a vampire was the same person before and after the transformation would be like asking an atheist how fast an angel could fly.

Aro looked back at me slyly, guarding his thoughts. He knew something. He was hiding something from me...

I pried and he could tell I was prying, but he knew his own mind too well.

No matter. It was Carlisle I had to talk to, not Aro. I had to own what I'd done, ask his forgiveness. And that was only if I was permitted to contact him. I hadn't found out if Alice had made it home safely. I hadn't found out how Forks was accepting the disappearance of Chief Swan's daughter.

...I hadn't eaten in nineteen days.

It came like a flash storm, out of nowhere. Intellectually, I'd never lost track of the amount of time that had passed since my last meal, but the pain of losing Bella, first to suicide and then to my own weakness, had taken its power away, made it a ghost in my body. Now... now...

Now it was still nothing I couldn't handle.

"Oh don't be ridiculous, Edward," Aro said out loud. Three of the vampires around us looked up from their reading. "You will need to eat sometime."

Aro almost jumped back at my mental snarl.

"Oh come now. You know very well that I didn't mean it like that."

I looked away so that he wouldn't seen the anger on my face. I could tell how he meant it. He thought I was offended because of some suggestion that I'd be willing to drink human blood.

I knew why he hadn't suggested it until now, why he hadn't pressed me after the feast, why he had let me bury my hunger to the point where it strained my self-control. He'd kept the idea of me feeding, of anyone feeding, far from his thoughts. He wouldn't have been able to help my learning of his plans for the newborn.

He held out his hand like a man helping someone up. I took it. It was less undignified than having him use my shoulder.

"As I was saying earlier, Edward, you do have to eat something. We don't usually bring in humans from the area near the city, but seeing as your arrival was unexpected—"

No! I all but shouted. I breathed deeply, trying to block my own anger. I'd seen Aro's thoughts. He'd known from the first that I wouldn't immediately acquiesce to the Volturi's manner of feeding. He had already decided what to do about me. He just wanted the others to see me stew first. He couldn't risk being interpreted as weak.

There was a reason we'd kept a permanent home in Forks, despite the risk—and property taxes. It had been a luxury to us, so close to all that rich woodland, but we'd lived in Rochester. We'd lived in Chicago and Hanover and even Boston...

It did take some creativity to explain why you wanted to buy half a truckload of pigs, especially as the health codes had gotten more complicated and the raising of livestock had become more centralized.

But it is still less trouble than explaining the disappearances of several dozen humans, Aro acknowledged, taking in my memory of watching Emmett haggle with a rancher in North Dakota. Yes, we shall be able to manage this, he told me in a reassuring tone. Not elk or mountain lion, but some domestic beasts might be feasible. Perhaps four or five...

Six, I corrected, trying to translate deer into pigs as I recalled Emmett's and Rosalie's newborn appetites. Four for her. You only gave her one human—I forced myself to keep my thoughts calm. She'll need more than that.

Aro watched me disapprovingly. "Listen to me well, Edward," he said firmly. "You may be little Bella's maker but that doesn't mean that you know what is best for her. How do you know that she will want to share your peculiar lifestyle?"

That got people's attention. Half the library's occupants were only pretending to hunt information. The rest were watching openly.

Don't tell me we're going to have two of them, thought a skinny male who was supposed to be scanning Latvian newspapers. Ah well. More for me, at least.

Bad enough they turned the human. Now she's going to have to live off rats? Poor thing... That thought had come from a medium-skinned female with dark, tight curls. I noticed that she didn't seem to be here to work.

I know better than anyone else in this compound, I answered Aro's question, but I knew better than to say it out loud.

Aro's thoughts flicked to the loose crowd. I know your views on this matter, Edward. And while I do not personally benefit from the way you keep your judgments to yourself, I can appreciate it. But do not condemn a new vampire to your limited way of thinking without allowing her to experience a normal life.

"Condemn her?" I said, disbelief twisting my voice. That was what I'd been trying to avoid. That had been the point of all of this.

I thought of that missing hour, of Bella shaking with tearless guilt in my arms, all but pushing the image into his mind so that he could see what she'd thought of his "normal life." She wouldn't have wanted Aro to know, but he did know and there was nothing I could do about it, so I might as well hammer in my point with the strongest nails I had.

"Many of us react strangely during our first few days," he said, as if explaining darkness to a frightened child. "In my three thousand years I have seen a few vampires react as she did." He recalled my memories of the Bella who'd emerged during the fight with Felix, completely without humanity. "And she seems normal in other respects."

Did they hold their breath? I thought sharply. I hadn't meant to make the point; the thought came unbidden, but it didn't matter.

Did she? Aro asked. He returned to that part of my memory, Bella swearing left and right that she hadn't wanted to, hadn't meant to, had tried her best...

I'd believed her. I still believed her.

"Not because it's what you want to believe, young Edward?" Aro asked. "She's frightened of the rest of us, but not of you. She may have told you what she thought you wanted to hear. She may even believe it herself. Our minds play tricks on us during those early days."

I didn't want that thought. I didn't want it. But what newborn could resist fresh human blood?

My doubts left me as I answered my own question: The newborn who never went near it. Rosalie, in the violent passion of her revenge, had resisted her murderers' blood—because she'd chosen to and prepared accordingly.

"Interesting," said Aro, his thoughts turning over my memory of Rosalie coming home in a torn white wedding dress, blood in her eyes but nowhere else. "But a bit wasteful, don't you think?"

My own tricks were turned back on me. I couldn't help thinking of Rosalie's answer: I didn't want them in me. Bella had had no such experiences, no reason to hate the thought of another person in her body with a fury that could compare to my sister's, nothing to sustain her in her attempt to resist the call of blood.

Aro was silent, his thoughts still and wordless. I tried to make sense of them. Something about Rosalie, something about how her life had ended...

She made a decision, I insisted.

"That may be," Aro answered out loud, "but neither you nor I can know for sure, can we?" He held up the fingers of his free hand meaningfully.

Against my will, scenes from my hour in the cell returned to me, the fear in her uncanny eyes when she'd first seen my face, the way she'd backed away, almost into the wall— Yes, I realized bitterly, she did look panicked enough to say anything.

"I don't want to get out."

To Aro's mind, this was explained by her fear of a world turned to chaos by her new senses. Even in an underground cell, the sounds of the city above must have seemed like a maelstrom waiting to swallow her. Bella had shielded her eyes against my neck, put her hand to my lips to stop me from speaking. She'd been trying to shut off sights and sounds. Aro had seen it in many vampires' first memories.

"Does—Does he have anyone with him?" she'd begged to know. In that voice, I'd heard guilt, fear, desperation...

Aro saw something much simpler.

Hunger, Edward, Aro answered with a patience that was almost sympathetic. As you said, one human is hardly enough to slake that early thirst. She wanted to know if Felix was bringing her next meal.

I snarled out loud again. The other vampires in the room were openly staring now, their thoughts filling the air like whispers.

Why does Master Aro put up with this boor?

Yellow-eyed freak and his insolent ways...

The boy needs a good beating, one woman thought. Then her mind took on a wicked twist, ...I wonder if Master would let me do the honors, she supposed, images of the experience quick to follow.

Aro raised an eyebrow at that last but didn't turn around. He was used to other people's sexual thoughts, but only within the arger context of their daily lives. This was a lustful moment, alone.

I turned and glared at the woman. She had an oval face beneath honey-blonde curls. I supposed she was beautiful.

Why is he staring at me? ...such a pretty thing.

I shook my head and turned away. She hadn't realized that I could read her thoughts, that Aro was listening through me to every thought in her head. I saw no reason to enlighten her. They'd all catch on soon enough.

"Calm yourself, Edward," Aro said gently. It was more for the crowd than for me, to let the witnesses know that he had me well in hand.

I did as he asked, but it wasn't easy. His interpretation of Bella's actions galled me. Worse, I knew that I wouldn't have been so angry if I didn't suspect it were true. I believed her because I'd decided to, not because I was truly convinced. There was no way to tell.

Aro was watching me again, with his own eyes this time. He was sizing me up. His dusty eyes moved carefully to the room's other occupants, though he already knew that some of them were beginning to go back to work.

I did touch Jane and Alec before I had them turned, he told me, and the knowledge was like a trail of warmth creeping up my spine. And I remember what I saw there quite clearly. But he was blocking it now, damn it all! I would be more than willing to share that memory with you, young Edward. Perhaps you will see something in it that I did not.

" 'But I shall have to earn it,' " I finished for him.

Aro nodded, an amused smile on his face. "You have a fascinating mind, young Edward," he said, thoughts reaching back to my many discussions with Carlisle, superimposing them on his own. "I would greatly enjoy sharing that information with you, if only to hear your impression of it."

How long would it take, I wondered. A year of good behavior? Two? Twenty? No matter. I could be patient. I would just have to live with the uncertainty. Time would tell.

And time, I realized sickly, watching Aro's thoughts flicker outward into his other plans for me, time I had.
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