Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Strong ( Chapter 12 )

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

Some of you may be wondering what took me so effing long. Well, it's been a bunch of things, really. In addition to general real-life-kicking-my-you-know-what, one of my favorite writing hangouts happens to be the B&N in my local palace of excess. And it's December. During the Christmas season. So no, I wasn't going to get my usual serene fanfic writing environment. The other reason is that I realized that the ending to the previous chapter was no good at all, so I have gone back and written an extended ending to chapter eleven. I also redid the fight scene in chapter seven and altered eight and nine to match, but you don't absolutely need to reread those to understand what happens next. So there was a wait, but you get more than this one bitty chap for it. As always, I post my rough drafts on Bloodfeud first.
Also, come on out and Support Stacie at this weekend's vampire fandom auction! See darkfrog24 . livejournal . com for links!

"I should have guessed, after a day like today, that it would be better." -Bella, Breaking Dawn

Once I was back in my cell, I unbuttoned the shirt and slipped it off. I didn't care if they were watching me through some camera—as if there were anywhere to hide one in here. I held the creased white fabric to my face and inhaled. I could smell dust and filth and other vampires and Volterra, but under it all there was—


God only knew when they'd let Edward come back to see me again, and until then I was going to have nothing to do but think. I knew exactly what I was going to think about. There was one thing that hadn't changed when I'd become a vampire. I was still a complete masochist. I didn't have any cliffs or motorcycles (I doubted that my new brain would let me hallucinate anyway.) but here I was, dying to get my fix. I relaxed my fingers, hoping that I hadn't ripped any holes in the cloth. With my luck, I'd vacuum the whole thing up my nose before I'd realize what I was doing.

I saw it coming this time. I could feel it building like a wave inside me getting ready to crash.

I was sad. I was angry. I was embarrassed. I was scared—not the way I had been when I'd walked into the audience chamber and I'd thought that Edward and Alice and I could get killed at any second but I was still scared. I was scared of this room and I was scared of leaving this room and I was scared of Volterra and the Volturi and my new thirst and my new body and most of all, most of all, I was scared of Edward. Out of everything in all the world, he was what could hurt me the most. That hadn't changed in the months since he'd left me or the days since I'd become a vampire or the minutes since I'd seen him last. I knew, somewhere deep near where my heartbeat used to be that it never would change. He was still the center of my universe, bright and blazing, and he could either anchor me or burn me to nothing.

I didn't have to think about Jacob this time. I just buried my mind in that wonderful scent and everything else evaporated.

For a few seconds, I didn't care how humiliating it was. It just felt so... damned ...good! Almost as good as when he'd been standing here in front of me.

My last minutes with Edward had hit me like a one-two punch. When I'd first seen the flecks of red in his eyes, swirling like a cloud in front of the sun, I'd thought the worst. Bad vampires had red eyes and good vampires had gold, and Edward was good. Edward didn't kill innocent people and he didn't have accidents. Edward was in control, always. I'd felt as if the foundations of the earth had fallen away underneath my feet.

And some small, selfish part of me had been happy. Maybe if he'd done it, he wouldn't be so horrified that I had too. Then I'd felt guilty about even thinking like that.

I wouldn't have thought that my emotions could turn on a dime like they were doing. I'd been trying so hard to be strong for him, like he was being strong for me, pushing and pushing myself in one direction, but when he'd told me, when he'd told me...

Even now my eyes closed, all but rolled back in my head. That day in the audience chamber, when Edward had changed me into a vampire, it had felt like he'd really wanted me. I must have known on some level that it would all fall away the minute the surprise of seeing me alive wore off, that he'd remember all his old reasons and realize that I was just as boring, just as much trouble to take care of as I'd ever been. Shock wears off and real feelings come through. That was how it was supposed to work. But I'd gotten my stupid hopes up.

And these past few days had given me nothing to complain about. He'd been kind and brave and generous and he'd done all I could reasonably expect him to do for me. He was everything that a nice boy should be to a nice girl when they're stuck in a bad situation together. He didn't love me, but I'd known that on the flight over. Saving him didn't mean that I got to keep him.

But seeing it in his eyes... Not some dim human memory, but bright and exact and literally staring me in the face... It was a connection that he couldn't deny, proof that it had all really happened.

It had gone through me. It had into me the way I'd gone into him, and my new body had hummed with the thought of it. I'd wanted his eyes and his hands and his voice and his scent and just ...all of him and I'd had my arms around his waist and my ear pressed to his chest and it had seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I was sure I'd have kissed him if he hadn't turned away.

I missed it this time. I didn't catch it soon enough and it hit me hard. Embarrassment. Sheer, utter, spine-wrenching, gut-pounding embarrassment. I curled up in a ball, turning Edward's shirt between my wrists until the threads seemed to twang in my hands. God, what had I done?

Come to think of it, I wasn't sure that I hadn't kissed him. I bit my lip and clenched my fists together. I didn't even remember if I'd ...had I said anything? I remembered asking him for something, but I didn't remember what it was, only that he'd answered me about running away. Oh God, I'd probably said something so stupid... And I didn't know whether to be grateful or angry that Edward didn't seem to have noticed a damned thing.

Angry. Angry for now. I was going to be stuck in this cell until they decided to let me out, and who the hell knew when that would be? I had time to be angry. I could be angry at Caius and Aro for forcing Edward's hand—I wasn't too sure how much the third one had had to do with it—with Felix for being so completely creepy, with Jane for hurting Edward, with Edward for hurting me. I loved him. I'd already forgiven him, but that didn't mean I wasn't angry.

And what the hell had been that "promise not to leave you" bullshit? As if that particular promise could hold any weight after—I closed my eyes. Sure, there was a big difference between leaving someone five hundred feet from her dad's house and leaving her in the middle of this goddamned lion's den, but the words still bit me. It had happened months ago. Well it didn't feel like months ago. It never had.

I dropped the shirt, letting it slide against my smooth skin. I didn't want to tear it. I knew I'd need it again. It wasn't like I could just pop into an Old Navy and get something else to wear—or like I had any chance in hell of finding Alice's Porche and getting my overnight bag. For some reason, the thought of my forlorn, lost toothbrush and extra socks lying on some back seat somewhere, never to be picked up just sent an aching sadness all the way through me. They would just sit there and sit there and no one would ever know why I didn't come to get them. I was never going to see my socks or Charlie or Forks ever again.

I dug my fingers into the stones of the wall. The steel worked against its insides kept me from getting a proper grip, but I could still feel the rocks crunch to powder under my hands, smell the dust spilling into the air. It felt good. It felt damned good.

I let it all wash over me. I should have felt hot. I should have felt my face burn and my blood boil, but I wasn't so sure I even had blood any more. Instead, I felt chills down my back, tightness in my arms and chest and stomach. Those were my physical cues now. That was how my body would respond to me. I curled up on my side and let it all happen.

I didn't make a sound—I didn't think that I was making any sounds—but not because I was holding anything back. It was just the way it hit me.

I didn't know how long I lay there. I didn't want to know. I only wanted to the time to pass, and for all of this to end. It did, in a manner of speaking—I heard footsteps outside again. The pattern of footfalls seemed familiar to me, but I didn't know if that was only my imagination.

I listened quietly, trying not to move, and I found that keeping still was strangely easy. Then there were muffled voices in the hallway. Edward and Demetri. Staying in this room must have been getting to me because I perked up like a kid on Christmas morning. Back so soon!

I pushed it down. There was no need to humiliate myself again, and I just knew I was going to fawn all over him like a puppy if I didn't rein in. Of course he was back, I recited in my head. He was only bringing me books, like he'd said. And of course they hadn't let him come alone. He probably wouldn't be able to stay long. He'd said that Aro liked to keep him close by. God I hated Aro.

I could hear the keys clinking outside. And then I remembered that I was standing there in just my jeans and a bra. A startled sound escaped me a I snatched up Edward's shirt and pulled it over my arms so hard that I ripped one sleeve half off the shoulder, barely managing to button the whole thing down and drag four fingers through my tangled hair before the lock thudded into alignment.

I tried to look neat. I tried to look calm. I wasn't used to all this and I hoped to God that I would never have to get used to it.

The door opened and I held in a gasp. I hadn't thought that Edward could look worse, but he did. Edward looked like he'd lived a hundred long years in the time since I'd seen him last. How long had it been? An hour? What could they have done to him in an hour?

In the back of my mind, something registered that he wasn't carrying any books. Wrong. Something was wrong, and I didn't like wondering what it was.

"Aro wants to see you," he murmured, and then knowing was worse.

He held out his hand, the same as he had last time. I looked at it, white and immovable in the air in front of me. I half-expected it to be shaking.

"Why?" I asked immediately. I didn't want to see Aro again. I supposed I'd realized that if we were stuck in Volterra, I would have to see Aro and Caius and the other one, but the idea hadn't really been hammered home. I also didn't like what my new brain did with the idea, calculating up every possible reason and outcome. Maybe he wanted to let Jane at me again to see what would happen. Maybe he'd heard of Edward's "learn Chinese" idea and wanted to quiz me on Tang dynasty verbs right now. Maybe he wanted to toss me another human so that I'd— I thought of Jacob. I felt like crap. I shook it off. Because I had no real idea of what was true and what was fiction, things got very creative and very bad. I knew how vampires could get by without sleeping—they had their bad dreams wide awake.

Edward's head jerked toward Demetri, who glared back.

"He's waiting," Demetri said in a low rasp.

Edward turned back to me. "Come on," he said gently. He reached out again. "I'll explain as we go, but come on."

There wasn't anything for it, I realized. I didn't want to go. I didn't want to stay. I wanted Edward. I would always want Edward. Whatever was waiting for us, I would be a thousand times happier being there with him than leaving him to face it alone. I took his hand.

It was strange being out of my cell. I didn't like being locked up, but the entire world felt new and ominous. Edward still didn't seem to want to look at me, leaning sideways until his lips nearly brushed the top of my head. "Aro wants to know if you have a gift," he explained, speaking quickly as we walked ahead of Demetri down the hall, "an ability like mine."

I shook my head. "But I don't." My thoughts were made out of defective, off-kilter brainwaves that Edward couldn't read, but that wasn't an ability. I couldn't do anything with it.

"He thinks you do," he said. "He wants to see for himself."

I swallowed hard, cooking up a thousand images of what that might entail.

"Easy..." Edward whispered in my ear. I nodded, willing myself to stop tensing up. It was easier this time. There wasn't any part of me that didn't want to give in to that smooth, velvet voice...

The footsteps behind us paused. Edward seemed to want to keep moving, but I turned around to see Demetri staring at me with a frown on his thin face. I looked away. I didn't want to ask this man any questions or draw his notice in any way. It was bad enough that he was even here. But there wasn't anything I could do about it.

Edward gave my arm a little tug and we started walking again. "Why would Aro think I had a gift?" I asked him. He pressed his lips together and didn't answer. "Edward," I prompted.

"You're not like an ordinary newborn," he said quietly. I felt a rush of winter in my veins as he said it. There was something wrong with me. I should have known. It would be just my luck. I'd barely been a functioning human, and now I'd become a defective vampire. Edward's grip on my arm grew just a bit tighter as he continued. "Most newborns are wild, at least for the first few weeks. They'll jump at shadows, attack anyone who doesn't approach them just right."

"But..." I trailed off. "But I am like that, aren't I?"

"No, Bella, you're not. You didn't jump at Felix or Jane until they'd attacked me," he insisted. "They created the dangerous situation. Usually, the newborn is the one starting the fights—and that's under ordinary circumstances."

"Ordinary circumstances?"

Edward's jaw tightened and he looked straight ahead. "Anything that's not this," he finished. There was a soft sound from behind us, barely a whisper. Demetri had exhaled slightly. I wondered at the gesture for a moment, then decided that he hadn't liked what Edward had said.

As we walked, my eyes kept zooming in on random details, the texture of the carpet, scrapes of dust where the floor tiles met the walls. This place was like a rabbit warren. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to retrace my steps without help, vampire memory notwithstanding. As we walked, Edward slipped his arm around my waist again. I closed my eyes. It wasn't the same. It wasn't the same affection that I remembered, but it was still his touch, and I craved it like a drug.

It was as simple as turning a corner. It was turning a corner. One second, we'd been walking down some unfamiliar hallway and the next, my surroundings came into view and I knew exactly where I was. It shouldn't have upset me. It shouldn't have seeped into me like black ice on my bones, but it did. And the second I realized where we were going, I couldn't make my feet move forward.

"Bella, what is it?" asked Edward, just a thread of real concern coloring his voice.

"We're not..." I shook my head. They were human memories, but they were sharp, jumping and slashing at the front of my mind of the last time I'd seen this lobby and these doors. Pain. Screaming. Welcome to Volterra! "We're not going there?" The words sounded pathetic in my ears, hysterical, but I had to know. I had to hear him say it, because that meant it wouldn't be true. He had to open his mouth and say—

"Bella, my arm," he said firmly. I looked down and saw that I was holding onto him so tightly that his skin was starting to crack.

Behind us, I heard Demetri take a step forward, shift his weight as if to spring, but Edward held up his free hand. "Don't," he said, an artificial calm coloring his voice like whitewash over a rock. "She can do it," he muttered, almost as if he didn't mean for Demetri to hear.

His eyes fixed on mine, his perfect, honey-gold eyes that held me trapped inside them. "It's just a room," he said. I knew that. It was what happened in the room that was freaking me out. But I didn't want him to stop talking. I loved his voice. I still loved his voice. "It's used for many purposes. Today, Aro wants to talk. Just to talk." It wasn't a promise but it sounded like one.

"It's just a room," I repeated. I closed my eyes. It was just a room. I forced myself to think of Jacob as I'd last seen him, disgust mixed with sadness on his face. I would see him again. If I was going to put things right between us, I had to see him again, and that meant that I had to make it through the next few minutes. And it was just a room.

I nodded, though my fear hadn't given way entirely. "Just a room." Edward smiled back at me. It was tight and tiny, not his real smile, but a smile, and it made me feel better. I hoped I would still feel better once I was actually in there.

Demetri muttered something in what might have been Russian. The way Edward glared at him, I was pretty sure it wasn't a nice word.

"Are you ready?" he asked, turning back to me, looking just to the side of my gaze in a way that I hoped I wouldn't have to get used to. My new life wasn't five days old, but already I could say that something was rare. Edward looking me in the eye was like a comet, bright and beautiful, but rare.

"No," I admitted helplessly.

He nodded. He just nodded. Whatever tightness and closeness I'd felt—or imagined—from him in the past few minutes had evaporated like a brush of alcohol on my skin. "Look Aro in the eye," he said quietly, as if he were Charlie trying to tell me how to keep a trout from slipping the line. "Don't mind the others, not even Caius or Marcus unless they say something to you. And if anyone asks..." he trailed off.

He was looking straight ahead, his lips pressed into a tight line. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good. I watched his eyes flick sharply to Demetri and then ahead again. He didn't want the other vampire to hear what he was going to say. I didn't have to have Edward's gift to know that. Eventually, he closed his eyes, as I watched him resign himself to whatever unpleasant thing he was going to tell me I had to to do. I steeled myself. I could be strong too, I resolved. If I had to kowtow to Aro or let Jane try to burn me alive, I would do it. I would protect him like he was protecting me.

"If anyone asks?" I prompted.

Edward breathed out, fixing his eyes on the door ahead of us. "If anyone asks if you're my mate, say yes."
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