Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Feeding ( Chapter 10 )

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

It is Stephanie Meyer who wrote the four and a half Twilight books, but I hope that my fellow fans will enjoy this following chapter.

"It lasted through the morning. He walked silently beside me, never seeming to actually look at me." -- Bella, New Moon

He'd been here.

A week ago, I would have been sure that it had all been a dream, my imagination or another one of my pathetic hallucinations, but all of my memories of the past five days were sharper than razor wire. Edward had been here in this room. We'd spoken. He'd held me while I'd tried to cry. Felix had nearly ripped one of his arms out of its socket. It seemed callous of me, but this room was more real than Phoenix, Forks, the city that I could hear above me or anywhere else I'd ever been. Not one word, not one hair of him had faded. I could remember every breath he'd taken, the feel of his hand against mine when he'd finally left, the sound the door had made when it had let him out, when it had first let him in, when it had opened that first time and I'd been so sure for just a second that someone had come to let me out, but instead they... they...

Another chunk of my wall crunched away under my fingernails as I blinked, staring into the empty rock. I had to keep my mind off it. I wanted to forget, but I couldn't. I couldn't!

I felt like a tennis ball bouncing back and forth inside a box, never losing its energy. I could think impossibly fast, and there were only two things to think about. I felt like a rat running back and forth in a tiny cage. I felt like a powerful new being locked in a cell.

If I didn't keep my mind off it, I'd fly apart. My mind was racing. I should have felt sick to my stomach. I should have felt my heart pound. My skin should have broken out in a cold sweat. I had the terrible sense that I would never feel any of those things again.

I jammed my eyes shut and concentrated as hard as I could on Renee and Phil's wedding day. The flower girl, Phil's little niece, had stumbled in the aisle and spilled half the rose petals. I'd felt like part of the family already.

Maybe the problem was that I'd been trying to think about pleasant things. Maybe that was why it didn't work. So far, I'd followed Edward's advice and played my human memories over and over in my mind. The clean light in Phoenix, the green dampness in Forks. Gran. My childhood. Renee and Charlie. Every moment I'd spent with Edward from that first glance across the cafeteria to that horrible, beautiful moment when he'd turned me. Alice. Angela. Hunting motorcycle parts with Jacob. Maybe I had to think about something that would freak me out but only a little, release some of the right kind of energy.

Charlie. Yes, that would do it. By now, Charlie would have come home and find me gone. I counted the days in my head. Way before now, actually.

I forced myself to imagine my dad reading the slapdash note I'd left him. He wouldn't have waited. By now, posters with "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL?" would be on every telephone pole in Forks, every police station corkboard in the State of Washington. He'd have called every number he knew, all the fake contact numbers and mail forwarding addresses the Cullens might have left behind. He was probably in Los Angeles now, trying to brother or bully some poor, unsuspecting member of the LAPD into putting out an Amber Alert. Never mind that I was already eighteen.

I pictured him there, in the piercing-bright sun and awful traffic of the sprawl. He wouldn't show it, not there, but I knew his heart would be breaking.

And he would be safe. I finally understood what Edward had meant. As long as he was looking in the wrong place, nowhere near Volterra or vampires, then he would be safe. Maybe one day it would be all right to send him some letter, some story to let him know I was still alive, even if he never saw me again. For now, I'd have to be satisfied that he was safe ... and probably hounding answers out of the only person who could possibly have known where Alice and I were going.

Poor Jacob.

Yep. That did it. If there was anyone who would be more worried about me than Charlie, it would be Jacob. He'd known what was waiting for me here in Italy. He'd have to face not only Charlie but his dad and the rest of his pack. The wolves were supposed to save human lives. Would they blame Jacob for letting me go or would they accept that it had been my choice? Would he blame himself?

What would he do when he saw me again?

He would see me again. Maybe it was wishful thinking. Maybe my weirdly perfect new brain still had enough flaws to let me get a nice, thick denial going, but I felt sure that I would see him again. I was Bella and he was Jacob, and we were supposed to be in each other's lives.

But it was sort of his job to kill vampires who came sniffing around Forks and La Push. And I didn't exactly have a clean record, not since...

—It was easier to pull myself back when I didn't have as far to go. Thinking about Jacob made me feel like a piece of leftover rat leather, but I was calm.

Why hadn't I told him that I really had meant to come back? Why hadn't I told him how much he meant to me? If he hadn't been who he was, I would have let the voice in my mind lead me down a very different path. Like a Will'o'the'Wisp, the shadow Edward haunting my brain would have drawn me out until I was too far gone for anyone to help. There wouldn't have been enough of me left to come to Volterra with Alice, not if we meant to do any good.

Jacob had saved me, and that meant that he'd saved Edward too. And for that, I would never stop loving him. For that, I had to remember, if only so I could make things right if I ever saw him again, if only so I could thank him. And now here he was, drawing me back from the brink all over again, and he wasn't even really here.

The hours passed. Like I was back swimming through the surf beneath the cliffs, I began to pull my way out of my own head. Reality creeped in. Unfortunately, so did boredom. Now that I wasn't freaking out any more, I could really appreciate the fact that I was stuck in a cell with nothing to do. I counted the scratches on the door, trying—successfully this time—not to think about how they'd gotten there. I felt the contrasting textures of the steel and stone that made up my dark little cage. I tried to mentally measure the angles of the steel lattice that covered the room's one light fixture—and then I tried to figure out how they got in there to change the bulb, all interspersed with my now infuriatingly managable worrying about Charlie and Jacob and Edward.

I closed my eyes and listened. My hearing was better now. I knew that I could hear all the way to the city outside, so I tried to focus on separating out the sounds. Was that rushing noise traffic or water in the pipes? I could tell that there were people speaking a few floors away, but I couldn't make out any words. And footsteps... Nothing helped.

Now I felt like a spider stuck under a glass, all quick, needle feet, and nowhere to put them.

Eventually, the sounds changed direction, separating from the distant din of the town. Footsteps. I listened again. Two pairs. All the muscles in my back had gone tense before I realized that I couldn't hear any heartbeats. Vampires, then. I inhaled but smelled nothing but dust and a faint sweetness that was probably just me. I considered getting up, pounding on the door to ask who was there as if I were the intruder. I took a breath, reminded again that it couldn't calm me. Whoever was coming was coming.

"It's me."

He hadn't shouted. With the door in the way, he was soft as a whisper. But his voice went through me like a velvet lightning bolt. I got to my feet and brushed rock flakes off my clothes. What was the etiquette for when your ex-boyfriend-come-vampire-mentor came to visit you in your medieval holding cell? I didn't have time to wonder before the door scraped open, and there he was, the edges of his his medium-gray cloak brushing his ankles as he stepped toward me.

I froze in place.

If I hadn't known that he didn't need to sleep, I'd have thought that he'd been kept awake for days as some kind of torture program. But that wasn't the worst of it. His eyes were hovering somewhere near my hands, and his face was completely blank. I'd seen that look before. I'd seen that look before, back in those horrible days just before he'd left Forks.

He didn't say anything, just reached out with one hand. It took me a minute to realize that he wanted me to take it and come with him somewhere, that that was what the gesture was supposed to mean. It had looked half-done, as if he were only going through the motions. He hadn't even been looking at me.

"Edward," I said carefully, not sure what to say. "How are you?" would never cut it and "Oh my God, tell me you weren't waterboarded" would probably just make things worse.

He breathed in and explained. "They brought us something to eat—" I tried to clench down the memories before they could scatter me again. Even so, his next words were almost lost against the roaring backdrop of my thoughts. "—it's not human. I think it's pigs. They don't taste like much but they'll take the edge off."

I focused on that. It's not human. It's not human. It's not human. I thought of Jacob and Charlie, used them as a stepping stone back to myself. It worked. I nodded and met Edward's eyes. He was staring at me as if I'd just built a suspension bridge out of feathers.

"Edward, what is it?" I asked.

"Nothing," he answered quickly. He held out his hand again. "Come on, you need to eat."

I felt a burning in my throat and realized he was right. I was ravenous. But I'd only felt this hunger once before and that hadn't ended well. I didn't want to... "I don't..."

"I know," he said, in his velvet-rich voice. And even in its coldness it was still so perfect. I closed my eyes. "But once you've eaten, you'll be able to think more clearly," he promised.

I nodded my head. I reached out and took his offered hand, holding onto it like a lifeline as I stepped out of my cell for the first time in my new life.

"We're not alone," he whispered.

"I know," I said. I'd heard two sets of footsteps, and there was a scent on the air that wasn't his.

Demetri was waiting for us in the hallway, lean and menacing. This was the first time I'd been near him since that day in the gathering hall. He was still a wicked hatchet of a man, but I could see his edge more sharply now. This vampire was far, far more dangerous than Felix. His deep red eyes didn't miss a thing.

Edward seemed to be sizing Demetri up, making a decision. It cut me how well I knew him, even now. I waited for him to speak, to tell the other vampire whatever it was that he was preparing in his mind. Instead, he turned away, pointed his eyes toward the end of the hall, and slid his arm around my waist. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It wasn't the gentle embrace I remembered from our meadow near Forks. It wasn't the steady anchor from days earlier. I knew this too. I could practically see him posing stiffly as Charlie took our picture.

He was still going through the motions, making a show of loving me, but why? There was no reason for him to make me think he loved me. I came to a the answer before I'd even fully comprehended the question: The show was not for my benefit. I wasn't his audience. He wasn't trying to convince me. He was trying to convince Demetri. This only left me more confused. What would Demetri care?

We had to talk. We'd had to talk ever since Alice had told me he was on his way to Italy, but now there was another thing to work out. I would tell him that he didn't have to pretend with me. I would demand to know what the hell he thought he was trying to pull.

"Lead the way," Edward was saying to Demetri.

"Oh no," he answered. His voice was richer now too, as layered as Edward's, but menacing instead of soothing. "After you."

I didn't know where we were going, but Edward seemed to. Turning my back on Demetri was like turning my back on a ravening bear. It made my whole spine prickle, and I had to be hurting Edward with the way my hand was clamped on his. I knew I had to distract myself again.

"I've been doing what you said," I told him. "You know, with my memories." I wasn't sure why I'd gone to this. Was I back in third grade? Did I want a gold star? "Edward, I keep ending up back..." I shut my mouth. Great going, Bella. Just great.

"I should have thought of that. I'm sorry," he murmured into the top of my head. He paused, and for a moment the only sound was our matched footfalls against the floor. "Learn Cantonese," he said, "Mandarin too if you can manage it."

I blinked. "Chinese?" I asked. Edward's face was emotionless. This had been a calculated decision, something thought rather than felt.

"You can do it," he said, as if that could possibly be why I was so confused. "I'll bring you the books. You don't need to sleep any more," he reminded me. "You'll have time to study."

"I can try," I said, still skeptical. "But why Chinese?"

Edward paused again, his eyes fixed on something near the end of the hallway.

"Because Aro thinks there will be a war," he told me.

The footfalls behind us stopped. Mine almost did as well, but a microscopic tug from Edward kept me moving. This had been planned, I realized.

"What in hell are you talking about?" Demetri called from behind us.

Edward turned and fixed him with that same indifferent gaze. Beneath his smoothness, he seemed to be appraising something. Demetri's eyes bored into Edward like a chisel into ice.

"China," Edward said, as if that explained everything. "It has a gender gap of about thirty million girls."

I'd read that same thing in the newspapers. Back in Phoenix, Mr. Cummings had mentioned it in history class when we'd gotten to the seventies and China's one-child policy. Because male children were so important, lots of couples had either aborted female fetuses or neglected the girl babies, resulting in a lot more boys than girls. But what did that have to do with war?

"Aro's... seen patterns in history," Edward went on. I looked sideways into his face, the black of his thirst blocking the depth of him from me. I'd been trapped in a cell for the better part of a week, but Edward had been out here. Things had happened to him. What had he seen? "Whenever a society, whether it's a village or an empire, has large numbers of young, unmarried men, the chance of armed conflict goes up. If they're young married men, it doesn't work. Married men are more settled. If the young men are unemployed or unoccupied, war becomes more likely still.

"They're already starting to feel it," Edward explained. "Stories about young men who can't find partners and about young women kidnapped from other parts of the country have been in the Western news for some years now." He shook his head. "This is only the edge. The men who'll face the worst of it are only boys now, but it's working its way upward through their demographics. In fifteen or twenty years, China will have literally millions of young men on its hands."

I let the idea settle into my brain. Mr. Cummings had never gotten into anything like this.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward turn his head toward me, just barely. His mouth gave a microscopic twitch, as if he'd been going to bite his lip but then stopped himself. It was strange to me. I'd never thought of Edward as fidgety. Was he truly agitated or had I simply been unable to see these tiny gestures before?

"It's not certain yet," he said. Somehow, I got the impression that he'd said this same thing before, to others or to himself. "It can be avoided, but it would take drastic measures. China will either have to import large numbers of women, export large numbers of men, experience unprecedented economic growth—"

"Or invent a new industry," Demetri finished.

Or find something else for all those people to do, I thought. I pictured monasteries full of monks like in Ben Cheny's martial arts movies. But thirty million men?

That was the first time I truly noticed my new mind at work. I found myself racing through all the different possibilities, almost effortlessly considering the likelihood of each one: A new industry? More like a new industrial revolution. Export men? More like tell them they were being rocketed off to space colonies but really vaporize them on the launch pad. Monastaries? Putting them all in an army did seem like the obvious outcome. But what if this didn't mean that China would invade other countries? What if it meant that different parts of China would go to war against each other? My mind raced again. I didn't know that much about China. In the movies, they always made it seem like a homogenous, unified country, but how could it be? It had a billion people! I knew that Lenin and Stalin had both tried to turn the U.S.S.R. into one unified country—Soviets instead of Russians and Ukranians and Georgians—sometimes using drastic and brutal measures. I also knew that, in the end, it hadn't worked. Surely Mao and his successors had tried something similar. What if it hadn't worked either? Even if no other country became involved directly, China still had trade relationships with almost everyone. A civil war would mean that the U.S. and Japan and France and England would all have to take sides. It would be just like...

I felt cold.

Had Aro just predicted World War Three?

Edward nodded at Demetri. My mental coalescence had gone unnoticed. "So no matter which of these things happens," he said, still not looking at me. "China is going to be important over the next fifteen to thirty years."

"Chinese," I finished quietly. I would learn Chinese. And Italian. And Russian. And Quileute. And anything else that I could. I realized with a pang that I would never go to college. My mother had always impressed on me how important it was to go to college, and now I never would.

Of all the ways to become a high school dropout. Kidnapped by vampires...

Edward's arm was still around my waist. I realized with a start that it was the same one that Felix had nearly ripped off the last time I'd seen him. Almost without meaning to, I took in his pace, his posture. He wasn't carrying himself any differently from usual. It looked as if the injury had never happened.

"Does it hurt?" I asked.

Edward nearly looked at me, confused, then looked away. "Does what hurt?"

"Your arm," I said. I didn't want to say too much out loud about what had happened. I didn't know if Demetri knew.

"No..." he trailed off. "No, it's fine now."

The hallways couldn't really have been that long, but the walk seemed to take forever. Edward didn't look at me once. Finally we stopped outside a wood and metal door. It wasn't anything more or less to look at than any other, but I could hear something inside. Oh there were sounds that I recognized from the movies as being those a pig would make, and there were others that were probably the sounds of hooves on stone, but there was another...

Heartbeats... And not human. He'd promised, so they couldn't be human, could they? My mind ran off ahead of me again. Hot... wet... Good God, I was so thirsty. Would there be enough?

"Three?" I breathed without thinking.

"Six," Edward murmured beside me. It didn't seem at all strange that he knew what I'd been talking about. His eyes were so dark. I felt my own throat throb in sympathy. He had to be dying of it. Even then, though, I couldn't help but hope there would be enough for both of us. Six... Was that a lot?

Edward took a deep breath and held it. I could see the tension in his neck and in the shadows under his eyes. Somethng was bothering him, and it wasn't our food. There were more vampires inside, but I hadn't learned to separate their scents yet. Whoever was in there, it was making Edward extremely tense. Caius? My memories of Caius were agitating enough, but hadn't he said that none of the elders wanted to come near me—and that was something he'd have to explain—until I was safe?

Edward's jaw set. He seemed to decide something. While Demetri waited behind us, he put his hand on the door handle and pulled. The solid wood must have weighted hundreds of pounds, but Edward moved it easily. But I didn't have time to be awed by his strength. There was too much going on inside that room.

There were animals inside, and I could hear the blood pulsing heavily through them, though their scents were perfectly unappetizing. Felix was here, and from the expression on his face he wasn't happy about it. There was also another vampire whom I didn't recognize.

And there was Jane.

Her eyes were a deep red now. Unlike Edward and me, she'd eaten recently. Somehow that made the danger of her seem more more concentrated. Her eyes were fixed on me and she was smiling. That same damned smile.

I could feel my emotions taking over, rising like a sudden hurricane. What she'd done to Edward. What I'd thought she'd been going to do to Alice. I felt my breath come rapidly as Edward shifted his grip to my wrist and pulled me behind him.

"It won't be necessary," he said quickly. "Aro said to tell you to wait another few days."

One fraction of my mind recorded Edward's words, filed them away for some time when I could ask him what he was talking about. The rest of me was watching Jane. Her smile was turned toward Edward now.

"You're lying," she said simply, and every muscle in his body went tense.

The next few seconds blurred together, even for me. Edward's jaw locked open silently as both his knees hit the floor. The feel of his sleeve against my fingers as he trembled and let me go. The smug tightness underneath Jane's eyes as her smile never faltered.

The next thing I knew there was a startled yelp, too high and light to have been mine. I could feel vampire skin under my hands and something was making a noise, an awful crunching, ripping, tearing—

Three pairs of hands jerked me back and I felt pain for the first time since waking up in this house of monsters. I struggled, kicking my feet. I had to finish! Why wouldn't they let me go?

"It's all right," someone was whispering, but it wasn't. The voice was too cold, too empty. That voice had given me nightmares like nothing else in the world.

Jane hissed. I hissed back. She wouldn't get away from me!

"You'd better go," the cold voice said. Jane snarled again. Edward gave what I swore was an exasperated gasp, his arms still clamped like steel girders around my waist. "You've done what you meant to, haven't you?" he half-shouted.

Jane glowered and took a step toward me. I still couldn't move my arms.

"Don't," Edward warned her. "I will let her go if you attack her, Jane." I snarled. He should have been letting me go now! I felt his grip loosen—though the other two were strong as ever—and I nearly got free as Jane slunk out of the room.

With her gone, the rest of the world started to come back. Edward. Edward but two other people.

Behind my left shoulder, someone chuckled deeply. "You're in for it now, freak," said Felix.

"That's as may be," Edward answered calmly. "But it's not your concern."

Felix laughed again, letting go of my arm. I felt Demetri let go of my right. Edward held on a little longer, but,as I came back to myself, I felt his arms slide back to his sides.

Slowly, I put together what had happened. Jane had used her gift on Edward, and I had completely freaked out, just like I had the week before. Except this time, I'd been able to do something about it. I felt the corner of my mouth tug upward, remembering the look on her face. Jane had not been expecting that.

I looked back at Edward. Somehow he seemed less tense. Was this what he'd been worried about? But for that to be true, he'd have to have—

He'd have to have known, I realized as Edward avoided my eyes. Edward had known what Jane had been going to do. He'd lied to her to get her to stop. But... But he'd know what she'd been going to do and he'd taken me by the hand and brought me here anyway.

Something was cold inside me. The air seemed warm, but inside, I'd gone cold.

"Bella," Edward was saying. "Bella you need to eat."

Did I? My thoat flared. Yes, it seemed like I did.

"I don't..." I couldn't talk right, not now. Not for too many reasons.

"Yes you do," Edward said. "Feeding is natural. Just follow your instincts."

I looked around the room again. Three other vampires were guarding six domestic pigs, all in assorted states of terror from the fight. They'd done what pigs did when they were frightened. I didn't think I'd ever seen—or smelled—anything less appetizing.

It must have shown on my face. "I know," Edward said. "It's not ...ideal, but it will take the edge off."

Felix shook his head. "I can't believe you can eat these stinking things," Felix announced. "You might as well eat this." I looked down to see him shove a pile of filth with his boot.

"Ignore him," Edward whispered, barely moving his lips.

I couldn't. Felix was unignorable. I realized that Felix and Demetri were going to see Edward feed, something he'd never once let me do (not until today, anyway). I'd always gotten the impression that feeding was a private thing, that losing control was supposed to be among friends.

Edward put both hands on my face, stroking my cheekbones gently with his thumbs. I closed my eyes. I couldn't help it. "Don't breathe," he said. "Just listen."

So I did. I could hear the other vampires' soft movements, the distant buzz of Volterra, someone two floors up having a loud conversation about football, and I could hear... Yes, the heartbeats. I focused on them, feeling the venom pool in my mouth.

"That's it," Edward whispered, and I didn't care if he or I or both of us were as cold as Antarctica. My food was hot, and it was right here.

I'd jumped on the nearest animal before a second had passed. The screams of the others echoed in my head as my teeth cut through skin and tendon. The poor thing struggled, but I held on, swallowing and stretching and sucking until there wasn't anything left.

I got to my feet slowly. I felt Edward's hand on my elbow. It wasn't necessary. I wasn't really going to fall, but...

They were staring at us. Suddenly I felt exposed, naked. I'd just done something completely primitive and three strangers had seen. I pressed my lips together and looked away. Edward didn't seem to care. His blank, dead eyes were steered toward me. If he cared that anyone else was there, he didn't show it. "Comes naturally," he said again.

I opened my mouth to ask him—Hell, anything. Why I was still hungry. Whether they were supposed to taste like that, but Felix was chuckling softly behind me, and I couldn't stand the idea of him hearing, knowing any more weakness from me than he already did.

Edward looked away, down to the side, avoiding my eyes as usual.

It was strange to watch Edward feed from so mundane an unpleasant a creature as a pig when he'd told me stories about wild elk and mountain lions. Even so, I couldn't take my eyes away. He was impossibly graceful, striking his prey like a snake as his full lips parted over his teeth. So quickly that I almost missed it, I saw him strike the animal on the back of the head just before he bit down. The creature was so stunned that it hardly struggled. It was probably less painful, less cruel.

I would try it, I resolved, picking another beast from the shrieking, panicking herd. Fingers curling precisely, I lunged. I heard a crunch and felt a sickening softness under the heel of my palm. The pig's legs twitched convulsively as I realized that I'd just shoved my hand halfway into the creature's brain. I clamped my mouth down on its throat in disgust, the feel of blood in my throat banishing all other thoughts from me.

It was as if every physical discomfort, aching muscles, itchy skin, sleepy brain, had been concentrated into one problem: my throat-burning thirst. Quenching it was like getting a back rub, a hot bath and a good night's sleep all in one. It coated my throat, filled my belly, and even if it didn't taste like....

I didn't need Jacob to pull me back this time. The blood in my mouth was too good. It was easy to think of nothing else.

And so we ate. Edward was gracious, telling me that he was content with two, leaving me four to myself. I was too thirsty to protest. I gave up on mercy, just concentrating on feeding without making a worse mess of things than I already had. The last one got an angle on me, jabbing at my chest with its sharp hooves as I pulled the life out of its body and into mine.

I stood up carefully. I felt... I was warm. I didn't just feel warm; I was warm and from the inside all the way to my fingertips, which were—only for now, I was sure—not pale but pink and flushed, almost like real human flesh. I stared at my hands in amazement, turning them over. There was a dull gleam that told me that my skin would still sparkle if I were out in the daylight.

I felt something soft brush my shoulders and flinched away before I realized it was Edward leaning in close, as if to tell me a secret. I noticed with another start that he'd taken off his shirt, his gray cloak still rippling from the motion. He was pink too, I noticed, feeling something that reminded me of a blush in my cheeks. His neck and the smooth planes of his chest were flushed all the way down to where his waist disappeared into his beltline. Before I could ask him what he was doing, he'd slipped the spotless sleeves of his discarded shirt over my wrists and began tugging it into place.

What was going on? It wasn't as if I'd gotten cold. Why was—

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a patch of blue on the floor. My blue. I felt my fingers touch my lips as I realized that I'd lost my blouse while I was feeding. I'd been so caught up in the act that I hadn't heard the cloth tearing or felt the scrape of the stone floor against my sensitive skin.

Edward was naked from the waist up, and I was wearing his clothes... I felt the thought of it ripple through the fading warmth in my veins.

Except we weren't alone. That thought turned stopped the current. I couldn't see Felix from this angle, but the other vampire was watching me with an amused, appreciative gaze. Evidently, he thought this was funny. I tried not to shiver. Better funny than other things.

"I've got it," I said quietly to Edward, taking over the job with the buttons. He drew his hands away from the shirt, just barely, his eyes following my fingers on the cloth. He didn't step back to an ordinary distance, though, not touching me but as close as if he were. I was almost glad that the warmth from our meal was fading. I didn't want these men to see me blushing at the sight of Edward's perfect body.

"How do you feel?" he asked me.

I thought about how to answer. What would seem bland and non-commital to Caius's spies? "Full," I told him at last. But I was still hungry. I was still a little hungry. What did that mean? I needed to ask him, but I couldn't do it here.

His mouth opened a bit and then closed again. "I have to take you back now," he said at last.

I nodded, even though he wasn't really looking at me. "Okay," I said. I was the one who reached for his hand this time. He took it and I saw him nod to Demetri. The hactchet-faced vampire looked back at us. He hadn't missed a thing, I knew, but he wouldn't have wasted his time laughing or sneering. I might have questions, but Demetri would have more. Except Edward wouldn't want to answer his. I shivered. Demetri would make him answer anyway.

We stepped back toward the hallway. I didn't know who was going to clean up the pig bodies and the detritus of their stay, and I didn't care. If I hadn't just had the second worst week of my life just then, I would have hoped that they'd at least get the meat to a homeless shelter or to other people who could use it, but I didn't even know if they had those here in Italy or what they were called if they did.

As we left the room, Edward suddenly turned around and snarled. I twisted my chin over my shoulder just in time to see Felix's fingers twist around a scrap of my ruined shirt. My stomach clenched and I tasted blood in the back of my throat.

"What?" Felix asked of Edward. Then his red, greedy eyes focused on me. "Do you want it back?" he asked, holding out the scrap as if it were a flower in some nineteenth-century romance novel. Edward turned his head and stalked away, drawing me along with him. He didn't have to pull for me to keep up.
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