Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Reason ( Chapter 13 )

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

I am still taking suggestions for a better chapter title. Support Stacie starts March 26! If you want me to do your bidding (or just watch the sideshow), then come to SupportStacie dot com to help Stacie Holeman kick cancer's you-know-what!

"Very young vampires are volatile, wild, and almost impossible to control. One newborn can be reasoned with, taught to restrain himself, but ten, fifteen together are a nightmare. They'll turn on each other as easily as the enemy you point them at." -Jasper, Eclipse

Her lips parted. Her wide, ruby-bright eyes blinked. I closed my own.

I shouldn't have said it. There were a thousand reasons why I shouldn't have said it. But I couldn't take it back.

"And if it doesn't come up, don't raise the issue," I told her, opening my eyes. "Do you understand?"

Her face was blank. Of course she didn't understand. And I didn't have time to explain. Inside Aro's audience chamber there were so many complexities of which she could have no idea, each one a wrong turn with disaster waiting at the end. She needed to know what she was getting into, and I could not stop to tell her.

That and the thought of having Bella Swan, my or any Bella Swan for a mate, a mate was— I clenched my teeth together.

Behind me, Demetri was shaking his head. What is he playing at? he wondered. Either Bella was my mate or she wasn't.

I let my eyes slide down the half-familiar curve of her face.

In truth, she was and she wasn't. The human Bella Swan had changed me, and I was hers, but was I tied to her body or to her being? If her body, then I belonged to this newborn, and while that idea created certain ...problems for me, I might as well use it to protect her. Damage done. But if it had been Bella's spirit, then I—

There was a hollow clicking sound behind us. I felt every muscle in my body tighten up as that sound and the shallow, clipped thoughts of the person making it washed away my self-centered musing. I'd failed again. I'd been so focused on Bella, on myself, that I'd lost track.

Damn, the thought was ice-clear, rippling with images of torn, drained corpses, all in perfect makeup. I knew we'd forgotten something.

I tightened my grip on Bella's arms. I should have dragged her out of the room. I should have yanked open the doors and gotten us to where Aro was waiting. But it felt I was glued to the floor, to those eyes. All I could do was hold on, so I did.

"Hold your breath," I hissed.

Her face showed me neither confusion nor comprehension, but her chest stopped moving.

And Gianna walked into the room, just as she did this time every morning, so regularly that even Demetri could forget the significance of it, the heels of her sensible, elegant shoes echoing like the tick of some ominous clock.

Bella's eyes were just a little wider, her pupils dilating only by a fiber, but enough for me to notice. I'd seen that look on Jasper's face on the first night of this long downfall.

"Hold your breath," I murmured again, shifting so that I was pinning her arms to her sides. With her strength, she could pull free of me, but I might be able to slow her down long enough for Demetri to—

Why wasn't he moving?!

"What in hell are you waiting for?" came a snarl that I would never in a hundred years have known for my voice. "Get her out of here!"

Demetri stared at me as if I'd lost my mind. Bella was already shaking and I didn't want to think about why. "Her," I couldn't take my hands off Bella to point, so I thrust my chin to where Gianna stood, struck dumb in the middle of the room. "Haul her out of here by her hair if you have to. Now go!"

I had to hand to to him. His thoughts were quick. In the space it would have taken me to add up two and two, Demetri had weighed his master's orders to not let me out of his sight against Caius's displeasure at having to train a new human servant to anything like Gianna's level of skill and the fact that I was only just outside the audience chamber and then the echo of a surprised human yelp was all that was left of them.

He was a fast runner, even dragging a human. I would have to remember that.

Bella's eyes were wide as ever. I was pinning her arms to her sides, only the side of her face clear to me behind her tangled hair.

For a moment all I could see was that impossible image in my mind, courtesy of Gianna.

She was good at reading vampire faces. It was part of why she was still alive. She was better at it than I was.

I looked at Bella's face again. Superimposed on all that blankness was everything I'd seen in Gianna's mind. Thirst, as I'd expected. Fear, like I'd heard in her voice. But she'd also seen everything else, everything else. To Gianna, Bella looked like a child trying to pull something out of a fire, groping sightlessly and praying that it wouldn't be lost. Gianna hadn't recognized the expression, but I had. I'd seen Esme press her hands against her face and pull herself away, long ago last September.
Quickly, I let my eyes dart across eyebrows and cheekbones that had, a moment ago, seemed no more expressive to me than glass. In my urgency, I nearly lost the question she was mouthing, not daring to draw in a breath to give it voice.
"Is she gone? Is she gone?"

"Yes, she's gone." I heard amazement. I realized that it had come from me.

The reality of the past few minutes crashed down around me.

Had it all just happened?

I'd told her to hold her breath and she'd done it. She wasn't a week old, and she'd stood in the same room with a beating human heart.

The eyes finally closed, and I tried to see what Gianna saw. Shame? Relief? Or did I only want to think they were there? I stroked my hands down her arms, finally loosening my grip. I looked up at the heavy double doors.

They'd have heard it all, I realized. They'd want to know what the commotion was, and if they had to send someone to find out, it would not go well for us.

"Ready?" I asked quietly. It seemed like a week since I'd first asked.

She nodded her head, short and quick, sliding her right hand down to take mine. I clasped her fingers and watched the stillness come back to her. By the time she opened her eyes, she was marble again, a predator so still that no rustle or breath would reveal her to her prey.

As I lifted my free hand to the handle, a memory came to me, a lifetime old. The last time I'd walked through these doors with Bella, she'd held herself so close to me that her steps had staggered, her head tucked under my chin, her heart beating like a hummingbird against my chest. One heart for two of us.

And now we had none.

I yanked the door open and led Bella into our new coven's sight. The wave of curious thoughts hit me like a swarm of clicking locusts.

Is that the same girl? They always look different, but I think that's her.

Well. Not so bedraggled now, is she?
Jeans and tennis shoes. Slovenly like some tourist. She's not quite tall enough for her body type. And her lips are out of balance, thought one woman. "Adrienne," I remembered. I watched her ruffle her mental feathers like a disgruntled peacock as she grudgingly tallied Bella's graceful cheekbones and the hints of smooth limbs underneath her torn and mismatched clothes. She did not want another rival to her own dark good looks.
What was that noise? Whelp couldn't even get her here without making some fuss.
Well... This thought was followed by a visual undercurrent of Bella's charms. It was far less critical of Bella's clothing than Adrienne's had been, and far more imaginative with regard to what might be underneath it. I turned my eyes to my right, glaring at Felix.
The freak looking at me for? his mental voice was low, peppered with images of the time he'd beaten me and of the new delights he had planned, but he hadn't been the one undressing Bella with his mind. Gianna's perfume, he realized, nostrils widening slightly. Her perfume but not her blood...
I searched the crowd again, honing in on the voice. My eyes settled on a stocky vampire with light brown hair
Don't even try it, I thought, giving him the strongest glare I could without breaking my stride toward the center of the room. He couldn't hear me, but he got the message all the same. He stopped trying to see through the tears in Bella's shirt and starting sizing me up instead, measuring his own observations against what he'd heard from Felix. Good. So long as he wasn't thinking about her any longer.
The only person I couldn't hear was her. I couldn't even feel her pulse through her fingers or smell sweat on her skin. I hadn't learned the new cues, even if I now knew to look for them.
It was strange seeing her through the eyes of others of our kind. And they were our kind now. Even with her tangled hair, the cuffs of my torn shirt dangling past her palms, she was a vampire now, with her birthright gleaming out through her skin.
I had looked at her, but always with some purpose. I'd tried to puzzle out her thoughts or find some visual connection to my lost human love. I'd watched her face and carriage for signs that she was losing control but I hadn't stepped back and just seen since that first day in her cell. I supposed that I'd noticed she was beautiful, but I had been more concerned with the tragedy of her being there at all.
It was true. She was beautiful. I wondered what Esme would have thought of her. I wondered what crazy outfits Alice would have engineered. I wondered about Rosalie.
I wished I could look longer, but I had to keep my eyes straight ahead. Caius was standing in the fore now, Aro off to his left. Marcus was no longer in the chamber. I took a few steps toward them, feeling Bella match my stride. I saw Afton and a female vampire with tight black curls mirror our movements to stand near Marcus's empty throne. It was all so graceful that I'd barely have noticed they were positioning themselves to pounce on Bella if she made a false move. Alec and Jane were already in place. I noticed Chelsea hovering behind her mate, her thoughts like needles against my mind. I would deal with her later.

"Ah, Edward. And where is Demetri?" Caius asked with enough smugness in his voice to make me wonder. A split-second later I knew for sure.

I swallowed my anger. It would not help us. It would not help us.

"Someone forgot to tell Gianna to take the morning off, Master," I answered. But he already knew. "Demetri has escorted her out of the lobby."

"How ...thoughtful of him," he said, only just faltering. I honed in on Caius's thoughts like a lifeline. I knew that he'd put Gianna in Bella's path on purpose, but I still didn't know why. I could see in his mind that he'd had some other response ready. He'd expected a Bella fresh from feeding on a coven servant. He'd expected Bella but hoped for both of us.

Aro's cobwebbed eyes flicked to his brother, amusement touching his lips. He had figured out what had just happened outside. From what I could see of his thoughts, he hadn't known ahead of time what Caius had planned, but he wasn't surprised. It was in his character.

I turned my attention back to Caius and I had my answer. He wouldn't have needed an excuse to keep a newborn confined, not really, but liked to have the law on his side. The penalty for feeding on a human servant was not severe—these things did happen, after all—but a crime would give him power over her. Punishment was his domain.

I allowed myself a tiny, tight hint of a smile as I looked the cruelest of my masters in the eye. She'd outdone him, my newborn Bella. He'd meant to take advantage of her appetites, but she'd restrained herself. She hadn't done it perfectly, but she'd done it, though God only knew how.

"Masters," I said, raising Bella's hand to shoulder height. If I wanted them to treat her like a lady, I might as well present her as one. "This is my Bella," I said deliberately. They could interpret it however they wished.

God, that smell... Why do they both reek like a pigsty?

Could he mean that they're already... No. There wasn't time. He's just her maker.

Still say they should have let us all have a taste. Twenty years since I'd smelled blood that sweet.

Wait... I watched the stocky man put two and two together. If she's his mate now, that means... He looked from Bella to me and back. So did he fuck the newborn or was he fucking a human? I watched his image of me change in his mind's eye. I seemed less formidable, more spindly, the way a pervert ought to look. But Bella looked just a hair less appetizing. It would do.

Ugh... With a human? I recognized Adrienne again. She pictured Bella's appearance from a few days earlier. Disgusting. Of course, she's not that much prettier now. I shook my head. Lauren Mallory had nothing on this one.

"Welcome, Bella," Aro said familiarly, taking a step toward her. "I know I've said that to you once before, but I'm sure it sounds a bit different now." I had to hand it to him. His smile actually looked indulgent, like a good grandfather's.

Bella looked at me. I forced myself to look back and gave a tight nod.

"Thanks," she said tentatively. I squeezed her hand

"My dear Jane tells me that her powers do not work on you," he continued. His tone was slightly scolding now, as if he'd caught Bella turning in her homework late, but there was a gleam of greed somewhere behind the cobwebs in his eyes. "And I know from our Edward's thoughts that your mind is as closed to him as it ever was."

"Sorry," Bella said quietly.

"No no, don't apologize," Aro answered, taking a step toward us. Behind him, Felix adjusted his position, and the dark-haired woman gave a little jump. Nervous thing. "Never apologize for being talented, little Bella. But I must admit, I am curious. May I?" he asked, holding out his hand for her to take.

Bella looked at me again. I nodded and let go of her right hand. It wasn't as if we really had a choice. Slowly, she reached up and grasped just the ends of Aro's fingers with hers.

Not a whisper, he thought in amazement. Not a thing...

I saw his eyes narrow just a bit before the bland smile took over. "Fascinating," he murmured. I could tell he wasn't pleased. He'd been sure that his gift would succeed where mine and Jane's had failed, and he wasn't happy to find out otherwise.

Still, he thought, a gift of this nature is not without its uses. Yes... I was right not to let this one go to waste. I wonder if she won't be more valuable than her mate in the long run. But not Alice, he remembered with a tiny twitch of his lip. No one could ever match Alice.

Bella's hand had found mine again. I couldn't even remember taking it, but I didn't let go.

And then there is that other matter, thought Aro. Caius is right. We mustn't ignore the possibility.

"Ordinarily, we'd have to keep a newborn like yourself locked away for her first few weeks, but Jane and Felix tell us that this may not be necessary in your case."

"She's surprised even me, Master," I said, keeping my voice as level as I could. "She's managed to keep very good control of her actions ...even when provoked," I finished. I couldn't resist glaring at Jane.

Aro eyed Bella appraisingly. I clenched my teeth and ordered my throat not to growl. He was thinking about provocation, either by setting Jane on myself or having one or more of the guard attack Bella directly.

Too risky... he decided at last. Even with only two elders to protect, his bodyguards might not be able to stop Bella before she did some real damage. Besides, he had Jane's and my memories of Bella's accomplishments, and that was in some ways even better than seeing through his own half-calcified eyes.

"Edward tells me that you're of a studious bent," he said, "that you like to read."

I felt my jaw clench. I hadn't exactly told him. I'd made a point of telling him as little as I could get away with. He'd stolen it from me with the rest of my secrets.

Bella nodded.

"We will see if we can find some duty for you there, eventually," Aro added. "For now we'll have to keep you away from any of the employees, you understand. Accidents happen from time to time, but that's no reason to be careless."

But Bella was already nodding. "Please," she said. "I don't want to hurt Gianna or anyone."

Aro paused, shrewdness flickering behind his polite façade.

Is she that good of an actress? he wondered. His scummed eyes moved from Bella to me and back. He was remembering our conversation from a few days before, when I'd told him how Bella had confessed to her first murder, how he'd doubted that she truly hadn't wanted to kill anyone. Then he remembered the Bella who'd shown up in the throne room with Alice and me, shivering, shaken, and completely without guile. No... No, I don't think she's faking it. Damn but this is maddening. He had time, he thought in the back of his mind, time to pull up all of Bella's secrets, crack her open like a stubborn walnut.

"What do you think, Brother?" asked Aro.

"I think it would be safer to keep her confined, Brother," answered Caius, "at least for another few months."

"But we should give little Bella a chance, don't you think?"

Caius didn't even pause. He didn't want Aro to countermand him in front of the guard, but he'd spent centuries keeping his followers from noticing. "A well-supervised chance," he said, picturing Felix and Adrienne at Bella's side. I tensed.

Aro nodded. "An excellent idea. Renata," he called.

"Yes Master?" answered the nervous little brunette opposite Felix. Her tight black curls were piled in a round bun on top of her head. Her features were smooth, marred only by her obvious fearfulness. She looked like she'd been black or Caribbean during her human life. Her fingernails were neat and perfect. She didn't look like a fighter, not in her form or her carriage. But she'd been next to Felix, at a bodyguard's post.

"Take little Bella upstairs to get cleaned up," said Aro. I watched him remember my plan about Cantonese. "Then see about getting her settled, not in the main library for now. You know the place I mean."

"Yes, Master," she said. Her voice was steady, but her thoughts were more revealing. I could see where she'd been told to take Bella, a part of the compound that I'd never visited. It was out of the way, a place where most of the coven wouldn't go without an excuse. She'd be safe enough. More importantly...

Oh, I don't want to go. What if my gift doesn't work on her either— I saw images of vampires, always terrifying vampires, running at Renata or her companions, turned aside from their attacks by some invisible, triumphant force. —then I'll be killed before anyone knows to come help me. Oh but she looked nice enough for a human when she was in here before, even if she was all wet and windblown. Maybe if I help her, she won't be mad at me...

Timid, I sized her up as she forced a smile onto her face and stepped toward us. Timid but with something like kindness to her.

"May I accompany them, Master?" I asked Aro. I already knew what he'd say. But that wasn't the point.

Oh, that's better, Renata thought gratefully. Even if he is as bad as they say. Here she pictured a pair of evil yellow eyes.

"We yet have need of you here, Edward," Caius answered harshly.

Bella looked up at me, fingers tight around my hand. I could tell she didn't want to go. I didn't want her to walk out of this room without me either, but it was better than leaving her in Felix's or even Heidi's tender care. I couldn't think with those eyes on me, so I leaned in, as if to press a kiss to the top of her head.

"It's all right," I whispered, quietly enough that no one else would hear. "She's all right. You should go."

Bella pulled back to look me in the eye. I recognized doubt.

"Trust me," I whispered. And I found that I wanted her to, very much.

I could feel the uneasiness in her neck and shoulders. I let go of her hand, recording the perfect smoothness of her fingers as they slid past mine. I did not watch her go easily. She seemed to find my presence comforting, and I could remember the ballast that Carlisle had been to me in my early days. What if she lost her hold on her control once I was gone? And what if—

"Shouldn't we send someone to clear the hallways, Master?" I asked. "After all, someone other than Gianna might have decided to come to work early." It was a little after eight in the morning, early for an Italian work day, but there was no one so motivated as a human chasing immortality.

"Of course..." Caius said cleanly, concealing his displeasure. "How thoughtful of you, Edward." He nodded his head toward one of the vampires behind him. "Afton," he said curtly, "see that none of our tame humans run afoul of our new friend."

I recognized Afton from my run-in with Chelsea in the library. The man didn't like that I'd threatened his mate, but he'd taken Caius's orders at face value. It hadn't even occurred to him that he could sabotage Bella to get to at me.

Renata and Bella left through the main doors, followed loosely by Afton. I tried to get a fix on Renata's mental voice. I wanted to be able to find them again as soon as my attention was free. In the meantime, I saw Renata think about winding stairways, about what clothes she'd pick out for Bella to wear, where she'd run if Bella attacked her...

"A moment," Caius said to the crowd. He looked to Aro. "Brother, let us counsel."

"Let us counsel," agreed Aro, taking Caius's hand.

It was fascinating to watch their two ancient minds working in concert. Caius had no gift, but he knew Aro's, and Aro himself, so well that it hardly seemed to matter. The patterns of tension in his hands were their code. Caius would think, and Aro would respond to his carefully worded questions, and it would look as though they thought as one. They nearly did. I watched the images flickering back and forth between them. Aro was leader here, the senior brother, but it was Caius who provided the true, ruthless insight.

Caius believed that Aro's initial assessment of Bella's gift had been mistaken. He felt that she was not a true shield—a word they used for vampires with any protective powers—but simply different, her mind a wavelength off and out of reach, defective somehow. He wondered if humans were not developing some natural defense against vampires, the way that sickle cell anemia persisted in parts of Africa because of the protection that the defect offered against malaria parasites. That being so, perhaps Bella's unusually quick development was her gift.

I narrowed my eyes. There was something underneath that thought, as if Caius were playing devil's advocate, as if he would prefer to believe otherwise...

No, Aro said back.

Aro was sure that he'd been right, that Bella's silent mind was her unique gift. This was more useful both ways. Self-control was not a very helpful ability, not as a gift. The only advantage it gave was a peaceful mind a few months early. But if Bella had a true gift, a shield gift, then she could be useful to the Volturi throughout her life.

Also, and I watched the two of them come to this conclusion like sharks spiraling inward on a raft, if Bella had not gotten her self-control from some supernatural source, then she must have gotten it somewhere else.

Caius got to the idea first, uncoiling it into image after image of a Volturi guard backed by focused, iridescent-eyed novices.

One calm newborn does not confer much advantage, Brother, but many... This boy has given us much to think about. Caius's eyes settled on me and I felt the weight of them like cold iron. We must re-create the conditions, he thought. We must see if he can do it again.
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu