Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Unsaid ( Chapter 11 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Twilight and its three and a half sequels are the creation of Stephanie Meyer. I'm just having some fun. Also, I was spelling it "Demitri" for like nine chapters. Where were you on that, Internet?
EDIT: As of December 2009, the ending of this chapter has been significantly expanded.
EDIT: This chapter has undergone a moderate change as of July 2010.
"Edward didn't speak. Maybe he was hoping I would sleep. Maybe he had nothing to say." -Bella, New Moon
The blood cleared my head. I hadn't noticed how deep the thirst had gone. It had taken with it anything that passed for pain. I had lost my distractions. My grief hadn't abated by any means, but it had calmed. Once it stopped moving, I found I could carry its weight.
There was no need to move slowly this time. I could sense Demetri tracking us with his gift. He could tell where I was going and it gave him no alarm. He'd give Felix a piece of his mind, then follow us with the key. Bella and I were back at the cell within seconds.
We were alone together for the first time since...
I stopped in the hallway. I didn't want to put her back inside, not before I had to. She turned her head one way and then the other with a newborn's instantaneous movements, her eyes unfocused. I could tell she was listening.
"No one's coming?" she asked.
"Not yet," I answered truthfully.
She nodded her head, still staring off into space. Then she inhaled, as if to take a calming breath. "Edward—" She stopped.
She shook her head. "There are so many things I want to ask you about."
"And they're all jumping around in your head like grasshoppers?" I asked. She nodded again. "That will go away. Well..." I checked, "it'll tone down a little." I closed my eyes, trying to remember Emmett and Rosalie. Carlisle had turned Esme while I had been off on my own, but I did have a few secondhand memories of her early days. I tried to remember my own pitfalls, my own questions and what Carlisle had done to answer them. I shook my head. The circumstances were just too different. Carlisle had taught me how to avoid the daylight and leave the city to feed. We wouldn't have that kind of freedom in Volterra.
"Edward..." she trailed off, her chime-like voice twisting like a child wringing its hands.
"Yes?" I asked. I had to sound welcoming. I had to sound calming.
"Why..." she trailed off again. "Why am I still hungry?"
I felt relieved. I did. It was an easy one. "Because you're young," I said.
I couldn't tell if my answer satisfied her or if she simply didn't want to ask again. Either way, she went quiet, staring into space, and I could tell she was thinking. I stopped for a moment and took her in. She was near the cell door but not leaning against it. She stood the way a pillar would stand, lifeless but elegant. She had no need of any extra support, and she had not yet learned to hide her stillness.
She'd asked about nothing but blood. What had I been hoping for? That her skin would turn soft and warm and she'd metamorphosize back into my Bella before my eyes? Fool... The Bella I had to worry about was standing in front of me. She was the only one I could still help.
She seemed to finish her train of thought, opening her mouth to speak as she lifted her head. I didn't look down in time. I got caught in those burning eyes, the branding memory of all I'd done.
I started to turn, but Bella was in front of me instantly, holding my face in her strong hands as she let out a gasp. I found myself unable to look away from the rings of iridescent scarlet where the deep brown should have been. The flames twitched back and forth as her brow furrowed, lurid and changing like the hell I'd damned her to. Was her soul there now or had it escaped?
"Red..." she whispered.
I tried to pry her hands off my face but her new strength was too much for me to oppose without bringing all of mine to bear. I finally turned my eyes away, but I could still feel hers. "That's normal. Newborns' eyes turn red," I managed at last.
"No, you," she insisted. Her hands slipped to my shoulders and I looked at her, willingly this time. "Edward," her jaw was tight, her expression... It was supposed to be concern. "...did they make you do it? Was that why you didn't want as many? Oh God, Edward, you can tell me."
Confusion overcame my reluctance. "Bella, what are you talking about?" I asked.
Bella closed her eyes, giving me a reprieve. I cast mine this way and that, wondering what could have upset her. "Edward," she tried again. "I'm not trying to be— If you can't talk about it, I understand."
I shook my head, wondering for a second if she'd lost touch. Through Jasper's memories, I knew that newborns were unstable and impulsive, but actual breaks with reality were rare. I took a step back, wondering what I was dealing with.
Then I saw my reflection in the shining brass of the lamp fixture. My hands fell to my sides.
There they were, so tiny that they were nearly swallowed in the haze of the dull metal. Human eyes never would have caught them. Most vampires wouldn't have noticed.
There were tiny flecks of dark red swirling like some non-missive liquid in my yellow eyes. For one cold moment, I remembered Alice's vision, but I dismissed the fear soon after. This wasn't the same thing, I knew. I'd seen it before.
"Edward?" Bella asked, squeezing my shoulder in what she probably thought was a gentle way,
"It's—" I stopped myself. It wasn't nothing as I'd been going to say. Far from it. But how could I say it to her?
"I'm so sorry, Edward," she told me.
"It wasn't your fault," I repeated automatically, still watching the ghosts in my reflection.
"We can convince him," she said. "We'll find a way. We'll convince them to let us feed on animals from now on—" she winced. "I can't believe I said that."
I felt my mouth hang open as I stared into the kindness that I could finally see on her masklike face. She'd thought...
I chastised myself again. Whoever this girl was, she meant well, far better than I'd thought of her.
"You thought they made me feed on a human?" I asked.
She stared into my eyes and I swore I could see her tracking each tiny sliver as it moved along its microscopic path. "Didn't you?" she asked.
I shook my head. "Bella," I stared at her hands as I said her name. And it was her name. She had as much of a right to it as anyone. "Bella the blood is—" Not hers. It had belonged to the living Bella. "—the blood is from when I created you."
Her hands left my shoulders as she reached up to touch her own unmarked neck. The little that I could read of her expression slipped away. She was a mask again, and I could not tell what she was thinking.
"How long will it stay?" she asked at last. Her breathing had gotten heavier. How badly did this upset her, I wondered.
"Weeks," I said. After Phoenix, Bella's broken leg had been halfway healed before the traces of her inside me had melted away.
She nodded, taking another deep breath. "That's better," she said, a dark thickness coloring her voice. "Better me than—" She seemed to shudder. "—better me than just some..."
I shook my head. She'd rather I'd turned her, taken Bella Swan out of the world, then some stranger? Oh perhaps people at random didn't deserve such things, but half the humans serving the Volturi had souls as black as pitch. Better they'd given me one of them by far. This newborn didn't only have my Bella's memories; she was continuing along the path she'd left behind, her maddening selflessness, not that it was much comfort to me now. "You shouldn't be here," I whispered. It was true in so many ways. Not here in Volterra surrounded by these people and not... I closed my eyes.
She stepped close to me, right up against my skin before I even knew she was moving. Her arms were around my waist in what was probably meant to be a comforting hug. She would have to learn to slow her movements if she wanted Marcus to let her outside in the next ten years. But there would be time for that later, I thought. For now, we just had to wait until she wouldn't need that cell.
My eyes trailed across the scarred steel door. It hung open, exposing its pitted underbelly to the meticulously camouflaged hallway. I couldn't believe I was here. I couldn't believe I was doing this. Newborns needed to be kept from running wild, but putting this creature back inside her cage and turning the key felt like shoving a Monet edge-first into the soot behind a furnace. I closed my eyes, part of my mind noting the feel of her cheek against my collarbones.
It had to be done, I told myself. It was only for a while, and it had to be done. There was no keeping a newborn in a city otherwise. Back in Rochester, we'd kept Rosalie in one room until we'd been able to move to the less-populated Appalachians ...and of course, that still hadn't worked out so well. Before getting her out of the compound we had to worry about getting her out of that cell, which would mean reining in her newborn impulsiveness. Otherwise she'd be attacking...
My mind moved quickly. Had she attacked anyone? Jane, of course, but not until after the venomous little minx had used her gift on me. And she'd gone after Felix, but again, that had only been after the fight had already started. She wasn't stable, I knew. I'd seen her agitation rise up like a cauldron of bubbling lead. But I'd also seen her calm herself down before she could spill over. At the time, it had only seemed a little strange. I shook my head. I had been assuming that she'd gone for her keepers' throats every time they'd opened the door, exactly like a hungry newborn confined in a ten-by-ten space would. But had it actually happened?
"Bella?" I asked.
"Hmm..?" Her face was buried against my chest. I almost winced in sympathy. We'd just spent fifteen minutes with a small herd of pigs. I'd managed to avoid the worst of it, but I knew I couldn't smell good.
"Bella, earlier, when you were upset..."
"Hmm..?" she sounded as if she couldn't truly hear me, her smooth cheek pressed against my collarbone as if she were listening for my heartbeat. "Bella," I said again, gently prying her arms away.
She blinked slowly, like someone waking from a light sleep. I looked away in time this time, watching her hands as her fingers dug into the folds of my light gray cloak.
"Is this..." she asked carefully. I wished that I could read her face, her voice, but they were as closed to me as her thoughts. "Is this normal?"
"Is what normal?" I asked. I shook my head. What kind of an answer was that? I could remember those first days. Her mind probably felt like it was still on fire. Her body moved in ways she wasn't used to. Oh, and the part about needing the blood of the living to survive. "You're a newborn," I told her. "You're going to feel things that you wouldn't have been able to imagine as a human."
She muttered something under her breath. Something about having been able to imagine this one just fine.
"Bella," I said as patiently as I could, "I can't answer your question unless I know what you mean."
"So you don't..." she trailed off.
"I don't what?" I asked, still focusing on her hands. Her fingernails were jagged, barely worn smooth from where my Bella had bitten them down in the passenger seat of Alice's Porsche.
"Never mind," she said. Her voice... Was that disappointment or just weariness? I still couldn't tell. I considered pressing the matter but thought the better of it. I had my own questions, after all. "How did you—" I asked just as she opened her mouth and said "Can we—?"
"Can we..." she closed her eyes. Something seemed to move inside her skin. Whatever it was, the thought of it left her agitated. "I don't— I don't even know what I'm asking. You said no one's watching us right now?"
"No," I said. "We have a few minutes." Then Demetri or Felix would come to lock her in, and I would have to face Aro.
She looked back at me. It took a moment for me to see past the eldritch glow in her eyes to the open, almost pleading look they held. I felt her smooth fingers clasp my hand.
What could she—
I didn't want to say it. I didn't even want to know it. Saying it made it more real, and it was too real already.
Do it, I told myself. She's got to know. Get it over with.
"It wouldn't work. I'm sorry. We can't run away." She stood frozen in front of me for a moment. Then she closed her eyes and her expression faded back into nothing. I felt a pang of sympathy. She must have been hoping. Of course she'd hope that there was some chance of escape. "They'd only bring us back. It's not just people like Jane we have to worry about," I explained. "Demetri is a tracker, the best anyone's ever seen. He could find us anywhere. It would not take him long, and he would not come after us alone." Or only after us, but I could keep that part to myself for now. Aro wouldn't want Caius to harm or offend Carlisle, but technically, I was still a criminal, and the law could claim anyone who harbored me. At the very least, Caius would send Jane to ascertain that my coven truly knew nothing of my whereabouts. I had no intention of letting that happen. I had been irresponsible enough.
She breathed in and out. I could sense her body shaking but not nearly as much as when I'd told her that Alice had escaped—and this was far worse news. Even now, forced to face a terrible truth, she managed to hold it all back.
"How are you doing that?" I murmured, half to myself.
"Doing what?" she asked.
"You shouldn't be able to control yourself this well," I said. "Most newborns are wild. Their emotions build and build until they'll attack anything that moves."
Her chest gave a little heave, as if she were shaking off a spider.
"I think of..." she trailed away, "...things," she finished lamely.
She didn't want to tell me. I reached out and stroked on hand down her arm, feeling the smoothness of her body through the cloth of my shirt. But she was already there. It was uncanny.
I looked back at the cell door. If it wasn't necessary, then I didn't have to do it. If it wasn't necessary, then it wouldn't be right for me to do it.
"Bella, I want you to do something for me," I said carefully. I gently moved my hands to the sides of her arm, not restraining her, but getting myself into a position from which I could if the need arose. She was stronger than I was, and immune to my gift, but I was confident that I could slow her down until she came to herself.
"What?" she asked. Again, even this simple question should have given her some alarm. I could see nothing, nothing but the reflection of some imagined concern on her white mask of a face. Something about her seemed to have gone dark. One of her hands came up to brush my forearm.
I had to know how she was doing it, not some vague answer, but the real mechanics of it. It could be invaluable for our kind. It would fascinate Carlisle; he'd run it by Jasper and—
I squeezed my eyes shut. I remembered where I was. I realized exactly what I'd been asking. Telling me how she kept her mind off the things that made her want to lunge for my throat would be asking her to relive them. My curiosity was not as important as keeping her calm.
And if she told me how she was doing it, then Aro would know too. Perhaps that wouldn't be a bad thing. But I couldn't know and decide. But then ...Aro would know that I had had this moment, had decided whether or not to learn. He would know every question I asked in the silence of my mind, every answer that I discovered or worked out.
"Never... never mind," I said, relaxing my hold on her arms.
The glimmer of expression that I'd thought I'd seen dimmed and receded back into the stony symmetry of her face. I nodded to myself. If Aro wanted to know, he could just order me to come back here and find out. But this way, he'd have to go to the trouble. He wouldn't learn anything about her by accident. I would see to that.
I cast my mind back behind us. Demetri was thinking about the keys in his hand and the conversation he'd just had with Felix. Something about being less of a pervert. I smirked. Demetri didn't approve of Felix's interest in young Bella. He wasn't sure that she was "clean," that my own predilection for non-human foods hadn't tainted her somehow. Felix's own mind was beginning to understand what Demitri had said, for all that it would take some time to sink in. Whatever kept her safe. This whole coven could revile her as they reviled me so long as they did not do her harm.
It only made my duty easier.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Demetri is going to come to lock you in in a moment," I said. "Right now he's ...busy." I didn't want to remind her of Felix's unhealthy interest in her clothing, but the thought of going back into that cell was probably more than enough. Again, it should have upset her, but it didn't seem to.
"But we have a minute?" she asked hopefully.
"Just," I said.
She nodded, "Good, because we have to talk."
I felt my own mind go quiet. Of course she needed someone to talk to. Carlisle had been at my elbow almost nonstop for my first days. I had been so full of questions.
She was silent, as if expecting me to speak first. When I didn't, she pulled in a breath and did it herself.
"Tell me you're not going to try it again," she said boldly. A ripple of some deep emotion moved past her eyes and forehead as she took both my hands in hers. "Tell me you won't try to get yourself killed."
I must have stood there with my mouth open for a long minute, because she went on.
"I know we're in danger here. I just want to know that you won't let your guard down, that you won't let something slip on purpose." She was begging. She was gently begging me not to do what I'd already sworn I wouldn't. "Because it wasn't your fault, Edward. I wasn't trying to kill myself, and even if I had been, that would have been my mistake." The words had a strange, rounded cadence to them, as if she had practiced them over and over. "You're not responsible for what happens to me."
"But I am." The words were out of me before I knew I'd said them. "Now," I corrected myself. "I am now."
"I don't mean this," she said, gesturing to her new body. I noted that the movements of her hand were as graceful as if she were plucking an orchid from its stem. The mortal Bella had had graceful hands too, for all that it didn't extend to her movements. I missed her so much that it was like a white-hot knife in my chest.
"It wasn't because—" I stopped myself. What could I say? That I hadn't been trying to kill myself out of guilt but rather because I was simply not willing to live in a world that did not have Bella Swan in it? Well, that had changed. She was gone, but here I was. It seemed to be an offense to her memory for me to go on living, but I would never attempt suicide again. This world was stuck with me and I was stuck with it.
And with this strangely kind new vampire, but that was hardly her fault. She hadn't asked to be dragged into existence and shoved into my dead beloved's body.
That would become my new mantra, I realized. Not her fault. Not her fault.
I licked my lips, trying to figure out what to say. "I did feel guilty," I said. "I still do. But I won't try to kill myself again."
She was watching me. I could read the look on her face now. She was waiting for the rest.
"I promise," I said, taking her smooth hand in mine. I put my hands on her shoulders. I even managed not to flinch when I looked into her eyes. "I promise," I said firmly. "I am not going to leave you."
Something flickered across her face at that.
"What?" I asked.
" 'What?' " she asked. The flickering grew clearer. I'd said something wrong. The hand I was holding clenched into a fist, crushing painfully around my fingers. " 'What?' " she repeated.
I searched her face for a clue, turning my attention to where her thoughts were supposed to be, but her mind was as impenetrable as the old Bella's, just as silent, just as—
I shifted my hands to her shoulders. That day in the woods... I'd been trying to avoid thinking about it for the past seven months. This vampire had echoes of my Bella's memories, and that couldn't have been a pleasant one. My Bella had been a strong young woman. I was confident that she'd managed to get on with her life after my departure, but I hadn't exactly been kind—not in the short run, at least.
"Well I'm not," I told her. "You're my newborn. I turned you. I'd stay with you no matter how it came to happen."
She stared back at me. Time seemed to pass slowly. "For how long?" she asked.
"As long as you need." I said. It seemed like the best answer. Not that I could go anywhere after that anyway. A number of feelings flickered up inside me at that thought, but I beat them down again. This wasn't about me.
The momentary animation had left her face, but I was getting better at reading her minuscule cues. She was scrutinizing me carefully. Something I'd said had given her something to think about. And she did not seem to like it.
She stared at me for a long time. I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. We needed to talk, but we also needed time to think about what to say. I closed my eyes. Just seeing her once every few days would not do. I had to convince Aro to let her out.
Behind us, in the hallways, a constellation of ice-clear thoughts began to move our way.
"Demetri is coming," I whispered as she looked away. "I will come back as soon as I can," I promised. "I'll bring you the books, but I don't think you'll need to be here much longer." The words stung my tongue like acid. I didn't want this kind, genuine creature to be locked away at all. Taking part in the process ran so counter to my nature that I felt as if I were trying to walk backwards on my hands.
Demetri did arrive, and he did lock Bella away. The rasp of the metal on stone as the door closed felt like a file wearing away at my heart. It just wasn't right. Once it was done, the other vampire turned his attention to me. I saw the words in his mind, but I waited for him to say them out loud. It was only polite.
"The Master wants to see you," he said.
"Which one?" I asked.
"All of them," he said.
I nodded my head, just as if he'd been answering a question about a football match, and followed him to the feeding chamber.
I took a breath, tasting the scents in the air. There was nothing for it. Even if I had wanted to run, Demetri already knew I was standing here. I closed my eyes and pushed the doors open.
The crowd was arranged like a tableau before me, a random but thick scattering of vampire faces lined the outer walls. I wondered if I should have been flattered that so many of my new brethren had showed up to watch. Caius and Aro stood forward, flanked by their guards. I remembered Adrienne from the library. Demetri took his place beside Felix at Caius's right hand. Jane smirked from Aro's shadow.
The silence hung in the air. If they were waiting for me to speak first, I was in no mood to oblige.
"Edward Cullen," said Caius, the harshness of his voice fracturing the space between us, "did you or did you not lie to Jane about the orders given to her by Master Aro?"
I fought the urge to look at Aro. I knew it wouldn't help.
Marcus was seated near the back of the room, watching the proceedings with mild interest. He was thinking about the brightness and depth of the bond he'd dected between Bella and me the day I'd turned her. If anything, they should be surprised that the boy did not attack Jane himself, he thought. I shook my head. That was what I'd done last time, but she had been Bella Swan last time, the love of my existence, not this incomprehensible if somewhat sweet newborn. There was a difference between the desperate love that I felt for the old Bella and my resolution to do right by the new one.
The three elders were staring at me. The whole room was waiting for an answer.
Somewhere, there was the exact right thing to say. Somewhere, there was a combination of words that would, if not dispel the situation, then at least give me the best possible outcome. I couldn't lie about what had happened. Jane herself had too much credit with the elders, and there had been too many witnesses.
Keeping my eyes fixed on Caius I turned my attention to Aro, almost hoping that there was something specific that he wanted me to say.
I saw that it would be different this time. I knew that without even touching Aro's thoughts. This wasn't some carefully plotted defiance like helping Alice escape. This wasn't some involuntary impertinence in the course of our mental conversations.
No, I had disobeyed him publicly this time. There had been witnesses.
...just as there were witnesses now, I thought, eying the sea of pale, red-eyed faces.
"It won't happen again," I said carefully.
Aro gave a gentle, indulgent smile. "Edward..." he said comfortingly. "We both know that you don't mean that."
"Your dedication to your newborn is commendable, Edward Cullen," said Caius, "but it must never come before your duty to the coven."
He'd used my name deliberately, reminded the people watching that I was the newcomer, the outsider, the freak from the cult out west.
Jane smiled. So did Caius. "Since your offense was against Jane," he said. "It is only fitting that she carry out your punishment."
I remembered what it felt like to have my heart pound. I could see the trap closing in on me from two sides. And the damned thing was completely unnecessary. My feet were chained to the ground. Demetri was there, but I wasn't going to run.
Aro turned his thoughts toward me. He couldn't hear me, but he knew I could hear him. Aro needed to punish me. He needed to be seen to punish me. These were two different things. On one level, he needed the guard to know that I was not being granted lenience, that, though he might have made a pet of me, he had not made me the sort of pet that would be permitted to bite his attendants.
More importantly, though, he wanted me to know that I couldn't get away with lying to my fellow guards about their orders. Aro had meant what he'd told me when we'd struck our bargain—he wanted me to trust him. That meant trusting that I would not be able to get away with disobedience. On this level, he didn't want to punish me, but he knew that it was probably necessary. Deep down, I could admit that he had a point. That was how my personality worked. Aro had seen the deepest parts of my being, and he knew that I could be bent to his will in this way, that I would slowly break under his firm hand, and he could reward my obedience instead. He also knew that there was only one way to truly punish me.
I shook my head. I couldn't help it.
Not her, I thought, forgetting for the moment that he could not hear me. Leave her out of it.
And the crowd saw the gesture, saw the naked fear in my eyes. They just didn't know what I was really afraid of.
My eyes and thoughts were fixed on Aro. I barely saw Caius nod to Jane.
I wasn't ready this time. A shout left my throat as I went down. With what little thought I was able to muster, I realized that it might go better for me if I didn't fight the urge to scream. After all, this punishment was for show, and there was no Alice here who needed me to be strong. There was no Bella here who was frightened enough as it was. There was only me.
I forced my throat closed against the power of Jane's gift. It was harder now. It was so much harder this time, but I managed to keep silent. My hands clenched and unclenched in my hair. My legs beat at the floor like a retarded monkey's, but I kept silent.
Only an illusion, Jane's gift was only an illusion, I managed to remind myself as someone pulled my left hand out behind me. I felt like I was in perdition itself, but then it would be over and—
"Aah," the sound left my throat, but it was nowhere near as loud as the crunch from my left hand as Felix crushed it between both of his.
<>That's more like it.</> Felix's thoughts were like the sickly-sweet trail of a slug across my mind. <>Stuck-up freak...</> I tried to tug my arm free, but Jane's gift had stolen control of my limbs. I couldn't even turn and watch as Felix moved on to my fingers.
And then it was all gone, and I lay gasping at Aro's feet.
I rolled onto my back, cradling my injured hand. I forced my eyes open, forced myself to look.
My skin didn't bruise or swell, but it didn't look much like a hand any more. Three of my fingers were sticking out at unnatural angles. Some echo of my medical training came back to me, and I realized that the bones needed to be straightened and set or else they would heal twisted.
I lowered my hand to my lap, placed my free arm behind me and tried to sit up. Caius nodded to Jane again and my back arched with the force of her attention.
I pulled my mind into line. I forced myself to think. Aro was doing this for show, and I had no reason to keep fighting him. It would only make things worse for me.
It would wear me down. I could see it as clearly as if I were Aro, looking dispassionately into my own soul. I wasn't as brave as I'd thought I was. I wasn't as strong as I'd thought I was. In time, I would come to fear Jane, just like all the other vampires here. I would flinch when her name was spoken. I would duck and jump and do whatever I had to avoid feeling this pain again because, one day, I would break.
But I hadn't broken yet.
What do you want? I threw the thought at him. He couldn't hear me, not now, nor would he risk touching me while Jane's power did its work, but he knew me well and he'd provoked me well and I could see that he'd guessed where my thoughts were.
So you don't want little Bella to share your punishment?
I shook my head. To the other vampires who'd gathered to watch the spectacle of my punishment, it would seem like a thrash of my head, but Aro knew it for what it was.
Then you must see to it that you earn no more. I do not want to ruin the newborn, but I will if that is the only way to reach you.
I nodded. Or at least I thought I did. I did know what he wanted, I realized. He wanted a change in my essential character. He wanted more than token obedience. He wanted me to be the sort of man who could put his duty to the Volturi and its vision before all else.
That wasn't me. Not yet. But I would break. It was only a matter of time.
The air around us was filled with low snarls and hisses. I could hear the whispering, shouting, muttering thoughts of the crowd. I held onto them like a life preserver as Jane's gift kept pushing me under. Many of these vampires had joined the guard for the privilege of attacking and punishing their own kind. The rest of them had developed a taste for it over time. For the time being, though, they were content to watch with Jane or Felix as their proxy. At heart, we were a brutal race. Or perhaps we taught ourselves to be brutal. Either way, the delight that snapped through the crowd at the sight of Jane's gift ripping away at another vampire was bright and palpable. Most of them had been in my position at one time or another—all of them feared it—but there was no compassion, only a sense that this was how things were. Punishment was a source of entertainment here. I was better than anything they'd find on TV.
How does he stand it? Why doesn't he cry out?
It's better when Felix does it alone. The vampire imagined our hulking covenmate pressing his boot against my shoulder blade, the metallic snapping as he broke my arm. It seemed that damaging arms was a bit of a signature move for him.
He kicks his feet against the ground almost like that Ukranian bleater did last year.
That poor boy... I blinked, casting my eyes and ears around for the owner of that voice. It hadn't been kindness I'd heard. It was fear. The sight of me in pain had made the vampire imagine herself being dominated and defeated, and she feared it. I listened but it fell away, a piece of flotsam pulled into the storm around me. I did not hear it again.
I was watching Caius's thoughts when he nodded to Jane. I was watching Jane's when she decided to act on it. The time in between felt like a thousand long years.
And then it stopped.
I returned to myself immediately, arms and legs curling me into a fetal position on the ground. I was on my feet before the next second passed, but they'd seen. They'd all seen.
Why'd she stop?
Damn but that was a short one. I thought Master Caius wanted to teach this whelp a lesson.
And he might yet. I fixed my eyes on Caius, gently holding my arm, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Physical pain and a public spectacle. I had been punished inside and out, but was there more? I didn't see anything in Caius's thoughts other than the speech he meant to make, but that didn't mean there wasn't more.
Aro held out his hand to me. Gingerly, I released my left arm and took his offered hand with my right. To the crowd, this was a gesture of welcome and forgiveness, a sign that my punishment was over, and that I was receiving lenience as his gift. Between the two of us, he was curious. He wanted to know what I'd been thinking.
If you had a heart, you'd know, I thought. Aro ignored me as he rifled through my memories of what had happened during Bella's first feeding. I saw his lip twist in amusement as he watched me tell Bella to learn Chinese to make herself more useful to the elders.
Thoughtful, he mused. On many levels. He was pleased that I'd thought of it, pleased that I'd even gone through the motions of looking for what would be useful to the Volturi.
I hadn't done it for him. If it had been raining, I would have brought her an umbrella. If it had been sunny, I would have taught her to keep her skin covered. Aro was like the weather—an unpleasant reality to which we had to adapt.
Aro's thoughts flickered like a movie projector on speed. Something bothered him. Something about what I'd seen with Bella hadn't added up. Another memory asserted itself. His conversation with me, days earlier.
"How many newborns could hold their breath?"
What did the events of that terrible day have to do with our meal?
I'd seen her calm herself down before she cold spill over.
Aro was thinking and I did not like where his thoughts were going. They were lingering on another day in this room, another time I'd lain convulsing on the floor as Jane did her work on me. Oh at the time I had realized that Aro thought Bella was a possible treasure, but now I had no distractions. There was no shivering human in my arms, no sister to protect. Even my own guilt had begun to dull. I could finally see what Aro had seen that day.
He'd been sure, sure that Bella had a gift like Jane's or his own. Not only was her silent mind immune to his touch—and mine—but he had been certain that she'd been able to extend that power outside herself. What he'd later seen in my own thoughts had confirmed it: I had known a moment of utter terror when Alice's thoughts had disappeared from my hearing, as if she had already been torn apart and incinerated while my back was turned. But Aro interpreted things differently. To Aro, Alice had temporarily become another Bella, like a paper clip that had touched a magnet.
A gift that powerful, granting immunity not only to herself but to others would be of incomparable value. But what if that was not the case? She hadn't been able to protect me from Jane, not even when I'd been right in front of her.
I saw with suppressed anger that that had been the plan—and the reason why my punishment was so light. Aro had wanted Jane to go for me. He'd wanted to see what Bella would do. Only she hadn't done what he'd expected.
Aro continued to muse, immune to my stifled rage. What if Bella's gift was something else entirely, he wondered. No vampire in history had ever had more than one gift.
Earlier, in the feeding chamber, she had behaved as if she were months, not days old. Her self-control wasn't perfect, but it was way ahead of schedule.
"Demetri," he said out loud.
"Yes, Master," said the tracker, coming to heel, as always.
Aro gestured with his chin that Demetri should come closer. I watched balefully as he complied. Demetri's thoughts were refreshingly clear and focused, as always. If they had been about something else, I might even have enjoyed hearing them.
Hasn't the boy caused enough trouble? If he'd minded himself, he might have taken the newborn off my hands. Demetri didn't like looking after Bella, it seemed. Fine. Wonderful. He was barely better than Felix in my mind.
"Did you notice anything unusual today?" asked Aro. "About our new arrival, I mean."
Demetri's eyes flicked to me as he recalled all the very unusual habits that irked him so.
"He means Bella," I growled at him.
Aro blinked. as Demetri looked at him to see if I'd been telling the truth. I could read surprise on his face and in his mind. He hadn't realized that he'd been misinterpreted. "Perhaps, if you would be so kind, Demetri," he said, releasing my hand to reach out for his, "as to answer my question in a more direct manner?"
The crowd heard it as a request. Even Demetri heard it as a request. Only Aro and I knew it was an order. Only I knew that no one realized it.
Demetri took Aro's hand and, for the first time, I watched as Aro explored thoughts that were not my own. It would have been fascinating if the situation had not been so serious. Aro didn't play a man's life backwards and forwards like a video recording; he absorbed it all as once piece, only then turning his attention to the spots that he felt were the most important. Today, it was Demetri's memories of Bella—all of them.
I felt the growl rise in my throat as I saw that he'd gone with Felix and Heidi to deliver Bella's first meal, a woman in a hat and a blue dress. I wondered briefly what they'd done with the body, then shook my head. I'd learn all the grisly workings of this place soon enough.
Demetri had little experience with newborns, he saw. Not enough to make any real judgments as to how typical Bella's behavior had been. At least I had Jasper's secondhand memories of the wars in the south. Aro's mouth tightened as he realized that he would learn nothing from Demetri that he had not already learned from me.
I felt my own chest tighten as I realized what he meant to do about it.
"Very well," Aro said simply. "Bring us the girl."
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