Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Intensified ( Chapter 15 )

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

Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer.
This chapter contains sections that were written at different times. I've had the ending of this chapter reader for several months now, though I wasn't sure where I'd use it. Some of the parts with Renata are about two or three months old.

"Maybe this was the part of me that I'd brought forward to be intensified in my new life. Like Carlisle's compassion and Esme's devotion. I would probably never be able to do anything interesting or special like Edward, Alice and Jasper could do. Maybe I would just love Edward more than anyone in the history of the world had ever loved anyone else. I could live with that." -Bella, Breaking Dawn

Renata hovered at my elbow. She reminded me of a deer I'd nearly run over driving home to Charlie's one night. It had seemed to quiver on the wet road, full of leashed movement, and I couldn't tell if it was about to break left or right.

We were on a staircase, climbing.
I was sure we could have moved much faster, but Renata seemed to want to walk at a human pace. I don't know if that was something that the Volturi just did for practice or whether moving any faster would have made her fly apart.

The truth was, I didn't want to move any faster either. Edward was behind us with Caius and Jane and Aro and Felix and and and—

Jacob in Charlie's living room. Jacob in Charlie's living room. Jacob in Charlie's living room...

"Don't die, Bella. Don't go. Don't."

The shaking in my hands stopped. It was getting easier. It seemed that all I had to do to keep myself from becoming a murderous killing machine was remind myself of what I had to hold it together to do. From what Edward had told me, this part of being a vampire didn't last.

He'd also said something about not being able to run away. I felt the still place in my chest get tight. Maybe we couldn't run but we sure as anything had to escape. There was a way out of Volterra. There had to be. No way could we spend an eternity in this place with these people.

That was it. We'd escape. I'd go back to Forks and find a way to make things right with Jacob and then...

I gulped the dry air. My future was a big blank. I'd wanted to be a vampire for a long time, but not for its own sake. I wanted Edward, and I had to be a vampire to have him. The idea of becoming a vampire but not being with Edward forever hadn't even occurred to me. There was no point to it. It was like a bad joke.

I tried not to think about the way he looked at me ...and the way he didn't look at me. I kept coming back to the look on his face in the hall. Even through the haze of my human memories, I could feel the flinch in the arms that had held me when Marcus had suggested that he...

I tried to remind myself that I'd already known that Edward didn't love me. I'd known for months. Sure, he didn't want me dead, had made terrible, terrible sacrifices to keep me from becoming dead, but I couldn't be sure that he wouldn't have done that for... well, maybe not anyone but maybe anyone who'd come to Volterra to try to help him. Any innocent person. He'd have done it for Angela Weber. Even Lauren Mallory might have stood an even chance.

I would get to talk to Alice, at least. Even the thought of her made something wrench inside me. Edward had said she'd gotten home safe, but he hadn't told me any of the details. Once we got away from here, she and I could be friends again. The whole reason for cutting that tie was gone now.

That was it. The Cullens would help me get started. Maybe I could even live with them for a few years while I learned whatever it was you needed to know to be a vampire.

I breathed a little easier. I had goals. I didn't have any plan for how to reach them, but they were still good goals. Get out of here. Find Jacob. Find Alice. Then ...sit back and wait for time to end?

I pushed my thoughts back into the present. The future was too much to deal with.

Wherever this place was, it didn't look like anyone used it much. Dust motes spun in the air above us. Wide, short windows near the ceiling let in the early daylight while only showing a patch of pale blue outside. I wondered if it was just the style or a way of keeping people in the surrounding buildings from seeing in. There was so much that I still didn't know.

"Um, it's up here. ...Third floor." She was nearly whispering, like she was afraid.

I wondered again why Aro had picked her to watch me. If Jane's talent didn't work on me and Edward's talent didn't work on me, then what made them think that whatever this nervous little mouse could do would work on me?

And it certainly didn't seem like she thought her powers would work on me. She seemed to cringe every time I moved, like I was going to explode or something. I hadn't thought a vampire could be timid until I'd met Renata.

We reached a landing. The door seemed well-used and clean. I reached for the handle.

"No," Renata said, too quickly. "We ...we go up one more."

"Okay," I said, wondering why she was making a big deal out of it.

"That way's the tower. They won't want you to go near it."

"The tower?" I asked. I couldn't remember seeing anything near here that looked like a tower from the streets outside except the clock tower, but then I couldn't remember much about my taste of Volterran daylight except trying to get to Edward.

"The wives live there," Renata explained. Her voice was firmer now. "I don't think they've left it in all the time since I've joined the guard. I hear that Sulpicia used to tend some of the roof gardens, but now she just tells me what to do."

Sulpicia? Wives? Huh?

"Sulpicia," repeated Renata. "Aro's mate."

"His what?" I asked stupidly. In my mind, I could process the idea that Aro would have a mate, but I couldn't think of anyone I'd ever met who'd seemed less likely to be with someone except maybe Caius. I did seem to remember Alice telling me about the Volturi, but somehow I'd taken her "two females," and assumed that she'd been talking about Jane or someone.

No... Aro's behavior toward Jane had been doting, but Jane wore a gray cloak and Aro wore black. She called him "Master," not "Father." She didn't even get to call him by his first name like Rosalie and Edward called Carlisle.

I couldn't help a little smirk. So Jane wasn't an evil little princess, just an evil little apple polisher. I was surprised by how much I hated her already. I didn't think I'd always been this mean. But then Lauren Mallory had never left Angela screaming in pain at her feet. It was a whole new world.

Renata was nodding her head liky a cherry on a shaking twig. "Sulpicia has been with Aro for thousands of years. Caius's mate is named Athenodora. I hear that Marcus used to have one too, but they say she died a long time ago."

Alice hadn't mentioned that, I remembered now. She'd said that only two females had joined the family. Maybe Alice hadn't know about the other one. Or maybe she wasn't real.

"I spend a lot of my time in the tower," Renata went on. "The masters like me to stay with them."

I looked back at her blankly. Why would Aro want Renata near his wife?

"You'll meet them," Renata told me. "It'll be Sulpicia or Athenodora who gives you your first cloak. For some reason, Aro and Caius always want the wives to do that. Just with the females," she added with a creaseless frown. "It's old-fashioned, I guess." I recognized that tone. She was only pretending not to understand so that she could brush it off. Whatever meeting the wives entailed, Renata was trying to make it sound less serious than it was. It was probably way past old-fashioned.

Was it like a debutante making her debut or a new household slave being trotted out for the mistress's approval? I fought back a shudder. I didn't know how to do either of those things. Either way, this was a new level to Volterra, a new way that the vampires here could make life difficult for Edward and me.

I eyed Renata's soot-gray cloak. Light gray for newcomers, dark gray for the guard, black for the elders... I suddenly pictured the wives wearing blue dresses. I was beginning to feel like I was trapped in A Handmaid's Tale. I swallowed, unnerved to find that even that wasn't the same. Would I end up acting like the woman in Handmaid's Tale, trying to find little pieces of beauty or pleasure tucked into the cracks of my new life? I'd been doing anything to take my mind off how worried I was about my family. I let my eyes flick back to Renata. She looked back at me with a studied smile.

I had at least one thing in common with the woman from the book.
I couldn't trust the person who'd been assigned to be my friend.

"It's up here," she pointed up the stairs.

What could I do? I went where she said.

It was only one floor up. This place had an airy, unfinished feel to it. The way the air leaked in and out, I could tell that there was a roof access nearby. Renata pointed to one of only two finished-looking doors and then stepped in front of me to turn the handle. We walked into what looked like a college dorm bathroom with a long, wide mirror over sinks that I suspected were mostly for show. I could see a shower head peeking over the side of one stall.

"Master Marcus was working on this part of the building," Renata said, "but he moved on to another project. Most of the washrooms are downstairs but this one is—Well I guess it's not important."

I tried to ignore her babbling. It was so strange to think of something as normal as a shower. Would the hot water still feel like—

I started. Someone was already up here. I opened my mouth to speak, but the other woman didn't say anything. She just stared back at me from underneath masses of heavy, tangled hair.

"Renata, who's—" I stopped. I'd looked over my shoulder and the woman had looked over hers, tangled hair sticking to the side of her face. I moved my hand. She moved hers. A thick, sucking dread seeped into my stomach.

She was my height.

She was wearing Edward's shirt.

"Who—" I couldn't get all the words out. I pointed. So did my reflection. But it wasn't my reflection. It couldn't be my reflection. I didn't look anything like that!

"What's wrong?" Renata asked, but I could see the fear slipping back into her voice. Deep down in the one part of my mind that wasn't focused on the stranger wearing my clothes, I realized that she was getting ready to bolt.

I could feel my wrists shaking, my legs, my back. My breath came faster, filling my head with tiles, plaster, stale air, vampire scent and the pig smells that still clung to my clothes and skin.

"You have to calm down!" Renata pealed. There was a deer somewhere, telling the oncoming headlights not to panic.

There was a snarling sound that echoed off the tiled walls. There was a crash and a crack and a scream and I was looking at six small Renatas with their arms thrown over their heads. There was something jagged and powdery in my hands.

I rubbed my fingers together. It felt like sand against my skin.

"Okay..." Renata was muttering, but I couldn't be sure the words were meant for me. "Okay... Okay..."

I bit my lip and regretted it. My teeth were too sharp now. I crouched down to the floor and picked up a big, triangular piece of glass.

I'd smashed the mirror. I looked up at it. Check that, I'd smashed the mirror and a good chunk of the wall behind it.

Well that ...that could have been worse, actually, I thought to myself, but I was still uneasy. I'd gotten upset and done some real damage, and I hadn't seen it coming. I hadn't even tried to stop myself.

It's only a mirror, I thought.

Quickly, like a child running her finger through a candle, I peeked at the reflection in my hand. A smooth-skinned stranger blinked back. I looked again. This mirror piece wasn't as big as the whole mirror. Maybe if I only looked at a little bit at a time, I'd be all right.

It was like someone had done an old Renaissance sculpture of my face. Intellectually, we all knew that not everyone from a given time period could have had the same puffy cheeks or the same perfect little rosebud mouths. The sculptors had worked in the sorts of features that were fashionable whether their subjects had them or not. I had been smoothed out and perfected to the point where no one would be able to recognize me on the street.

But the eyes... Good God, the eyes. They shimmered like chunks of red-hot rock, right where I was supposed to be. I felt a crunching in my hand, more gritty powder against my skin.

There was no Bella Swan left there. I'd been erased.

This wasn't how things worked. Something had to have gone wrong. Edward had shown me his old photo of himself with his parents, and he hadn't looked this different. Unless...

I tried to remember that photo, tried to see it as clearly as I could. It had only been a few inches long, I remembered, and the edges had all been blurred. Maybe Edward really had looked different back then. Maybe I'd just been projecting my real memories of seeing him in the flesh onto the blank spaces that the Victorian-era camera hadn't been able to fill in.

"You— Are you done?" Renata looked back at me, like she was afraid.

And I wasn't afraid of her. Her eyes were a dull red, just like the rest of the vampires here except Edward, but I wasn't afraid of her. I was almost sorry that I'd scared her.

I nodded.

"The... The shower's back there," she pointed. I already knew where it was. "I'll... I'll go downstairs and get you something to wear? Do— Do you know what size you are in ...never mind."

She slipped away like a doe darting between two trees.

I turned my head away from my mirror piece. There was still enough of it stuck to the wall to make trouble for me, and trouble I didn't want. For the past three hours I'd had the unpleasant sense that the smell of pigs was sticking to me like plaque on a tooth, and it looked like that was the only one of my many problems that I would be able to fix.

The shower stall looked normal. I half expected things to be backwards. On top of everything, I was in Europe, and they had different voltage in the sockets here or something. Who knew what else was different?

The water turned on and it felt like I could hear each individual drop hitting the floor tiles. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to force my brain to register the sound as one sound, to drown out the patterns and just feel, like I used to.

I gave up before the shower curtain was wet.

Even though I knew intellectually that the water must still be cold, it felt warm to me. Maybe I'd never feel cold again.

The labels on the bottles were in Italian, but I knew it was shampoo and soap. They smelled funny to me now—too many notes. Like the label on the shampoo bottle, it had too much information and all of it incomprehensible, but I scrubbed away like I hadn't seen water in years. My hands only slid against my new skin, though. I couldn't seem to get any traction. Nothing went any deeper than the surface.

I let the water run, rinsing it all away. It couldn't make me feel clean inside. It couldn't make me feel calm and well, like a hot shower was supposed to.

Some time passed—I didn't know or want to know how much—before I finally shut the water off and heard the last drops hitting the drain. I stood very still and listened, but of course I didn't hear anything. Renata might have been a mouse, but she was still a vampire mouse. She wouldn't make any noise.

I twitched the edge of the shower curtain aside. There was a neatly folded towel sitting where my clothes had been, my jeans and underwear and Edward's shirt. I felt a little colder as I realized I didn't know if they would be returned. I hadn't even checked my pockets one last time. For a second, I was worried about losing my passport. God knew that was the least of my problems, and the picture didn't even look like me any more.

I picked up the towel and dabbed at my face. I could feel the soft terry cloth, but it didn't make any impression against me, no gentle scratching like I remembered. I could feel it absorb the water off my cheeks and forehead, but it interacted with the element, not me.

Well at least I could dry my hair with the darn thing. I hadn't even combed it for days. I wondered if it would stay the way it was now or change as it grew out of the follicles in my scalp. Then I could watch my human life sink down past my shoulders little by little until the tips were finally trimmed off and thrown away.

I shook the towel out and got ready to wrap it around my middle. Renata might not be Felix but no way was I letting her see me starkers. I didn't care how scared that little—


I nearly jumped out of my skin.

The old stories about bloodhounds were true. Water really could confuse a scent. Now that I was out of the shower, I could tell, could wonder why I hadn't known he'd been there.

Carefully, I dragged the shower curtain partway down the rod and ducked just my head out. Edward was standing there as if he'd always been there, one hand on the glass-strewn countertop.

The next thing I knew, the towel was wrapped tight against me, covering me from my chest almost down to my knees. What was he doing here? I took a deep breath and realized that he'd been to all the same places I had today. He was probably just here to check on me and get cleaned up.

...which meant that I had to get out of the shower. Gingerly, I tugged the curtain out of my way and stepped onto the floor, one foot moving at a time, as if to test for traction levels.

I watched Edward's face as I moved. I had never, never been in this bad of a state of undress around him. Once, when I'd still been healing from Phoenix, he'd walked in on Alice helping me into my sweatpants. He'd been so mortified that he'd forgotten to mask his speed, turning his head to the side and backing away out my bedroom door before I could blink.

And now his eyes were on me.

And I was almost naked.

I should have been wondering what had happened downstairs. I should have been asking whether or not he was all right, but I couldn't say a thing. There was something coloring the eerie deadness on his face, something moving behind his still gold eyes. I knew he was troubled. I knew he couldn't have gotten away from Aro and Caius without some new weight added to what was crushing him, but somehow I didn't think that was what I was seeing.

I was pretty sure he was just looking at me.

My cheeks didn't flush. I had no shame any more. My heart didn't pound to give me a sense of time. My mind still raced, though. My thoughts were merciless, reminding me of everything I had ever—and still—wanted from this man.

Carefully, I reached out with my free hand. I didn't know what I'd been going to do, not really. I think I only wanted to touch his wrist, but he moved away from me smoothly, as if he'd always meant to.

"Renata left to fetch me something clean to wear," he said, breaking the silence. "I overtook her on the way up. She gave me these for you."

Edward held out the bundle of cloth. I accepted it silently with one hand, never looking away from him. Even talking about nothing, even in stepping away, he was the only thing I would ever want.

"I suppose you can change while I'm in the shower," he said. I nodded. I didn't trust myself to make a sound. In the velvet purr of his voice, he could have been reciting the classifieds and I'd have nodded.

Edward stepped around me, not even asking me to move, not even looking at me. I heard cloth and then the shower starting.

I gave myself a hard shake and forced my eyes onto the clothes that Edward had handed me. The style made me think that they were for someone at least five years older than I was, cut neat and simple. There was a short gray dress and a pair of simple pumps and stockings. I could tell from the feel of the cloth that it was good quality, but I couldn't read any of the labels.

I pulled the dress over my head, willing myself not to think that Edward was not five feet away from me, the water hitting his smooth white skin... I concentrated on deciding whether or not my new clothes fit well. I felt a pang as I wondered if Renata had sent my jeans away to wash them or burn them.

My hair was a mess, but I raked my fingers through it, fixing my eyes on the inert patch of ex-mirror where my face would have been.

The shower stopped and I heard a mild rustling of cloth as I pulled at the tangles. I felt more than saw or heard him move. His bare feet touched the floor steadily. He wasn't trying to sneak up on me, but I felt the hairs on the back of my neck go up all the same. He stepped up behind me, until he was close enough to whisper in my ear.

"Here," he said quietly, slipping something down onto the counter.

My eyes found a cheap, pale blue plastic comb. I wrapped my fingers around it, feeling the material give under my stone skin. It couldn't have cost more than three dollars back home, and God only knew what Edward had had to do to get it.

"Thank you," I mumbled,

I slipped my fingers around one hank of hair and dug away, starting at the bottom. I hadn't touched a comb since Alice and I had left the airport. There hadn't been any conditioner in the shower, and the going was rough. Eventually, I gave up and yanked. Split ends I could deal with.

Edward didn't move away, not touching me but never more than a few inches from my skin. He'd put his slacks back on, but he hadn't had a shirt since he'd given his last one to me. He'd scrubbed the scent of our breakfast out of his hair, and it was plastered in wet clumps along the sides of his face. Without seeing it, I was somehow sure that one stray drop of water was working its way down the back of his neck, like a finger tracing the perfectly spaced ridges of his spine.

I couldn't will myself to catch his eye, not even in the mirror. I kept slipping the comb into my hair, gathering it at the back of my neck and feeling the back of my hand brush just barely against his shoulder.

What I should have done was start asking questions. They'd left us alone but I couldn't believe we'd stay left alone for long. I should have been asking him about the Volturi, about being a vampire, but right now I couldn't make my mind single out any one thing from the smooth, dread-inducing dust storm that had covered up my life. I stared straight at the wet lock of hair between my fingers. At least I could understand now why he didn't want to look at me.

"Edward?" I said quietly. I didn't know what I was going to ask him, not really. Not to back away; I knew myself well enough for that.

He didn't answer, didn't move.

Slowly, I turned around. His eyes were squeezed shut, his lips barely parted over clenched teeth.

The sinking feeling in my belly pulled tight. Something had happened. Somehow, Caius or Aro or Jane or Felix had managed to take this awful situation and make it worse.

I put the comb down on the counter behind me, staring up into his face. "Edward, what is it?" I asked, as gently as I could.

You can tell me, I wanted to say. The fact that we were here was as much my fault as his. Please, Edward, let me help.

His chin turned to the side, not quite shaking his head.

"Edward," I said, reaching up to touch the side of his face with my free hand.

His head snapped back before I could do more than brush his skin. Before I could react, he'd taken half a step away, feet crunching against the broken glass on the floor.

His eyes were open now, and he was looking at me as if he hadn't realized that I'd been there.

"Edward?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said, seeming to shake himself, though I'd have sworn I never saw him move. "You don't have to— It's nothing."

"It's not nothing, Edward," I said, and I could hear my own amazement in my voice. Without meaning to, I took a step toward him. He took a step back in perfect time, as if we were dancing.

He looked me in the eye and I watched the deadness work its way across his face like vines pulling down a ruin. "Just concentrate on yourself, Bella," he said. "Don't worry about me."

I shook my head. Not worry about him? Here? It was impossible.

Whatever I'd seen in his eyes was sinking away, dropping out of my reach. I didn't want it to go, but I had no idea how to stop it.

I was still staring at him when the door slid open.

"I... brought you a shirt?" Renata all but whispered. "And ...those books you asked for?" It seemed that however worried she'd been about being alone in the room with me, she wasn't much happier being with Edward and me together.

Edward looked away from me, accepting a neatly folded white men's shirt from Renata without comment. "I have to go," he said simply. "He told me to be quick about my business here, and I can hear him wondering where I am."

I opened my mouth but couldn't think of anything to say to him. He turned and left without another word.
My fingers still tingled from the almost-contact as I watched him go. I could feel my thoughts writhing and knotting inside my head, twisting themselves tighter and tighter until it felt like something inside me would break.

I knew what I wanted this time. I wanted every cell. I wanted every minute. I wanted his eyes and his lips and his heart and his attention, and just all of him, and I knew that I would never stop wanting it.

"He got your dress wet," Renata noticed aloud.

I glared back at her, realizing a split-second later why I was angry. It wasn't my dress. It was the Volturi's dress. My clothes were a shredded blouse and a pair of bluejeans. Those were my clothes.

Renata turned away from me, walking across the glass to shake out the shower curtain. She moved gracefully, I noticed, never slipping on the smooth, powdered tiles.

...but then... I hadn't either.

...I was like them now, wasn't I? I blinked. No, not like them, like <i>him</i>, and not just because I was stronger. I was the only other vegetarian here. I turned stared at the empty doorway, as if I could see the answer in his footsteps. In all of Edward's strange new coven, I was the only person whom he could consider an equal. Maybe not now, but once I'd figured out my way around...

I shook my head. What the hell was I thinking? Edward and I weren't going to stay here. We couldn't stay here, not with these horrible people. The longer we stayed here, the worse things would get.

Something in my knotted thoughts pulled smooth. The world seemed to flicker. An idea had formed out of the chaos inside me.

Suddenly it didn't seem so strange that Edward would think I could learn Chinese or that Aro could predict a war without Alice's help. The conclusions just came, dark and mathematical: It was only a matter of time. A person couldn't stay in a hostile area with one and only one friendly face and not come to love her. It was like I was back in pre-calculus, watching Mr. Evans trace an example on the board, tallying up the variables of our situation and Edward's character: As time approached infinity, the distance between him and me would approach zero. I would be what he needed, and he would appreciate me and then love me. It might not be the perfect, legendary feeling that I'd thought we'd shared through spring and summer, but an Edward who'd grown to care for me was still a very welcome thought.

I pressed my hands against my temples, glad, so glad, that Edward could not read my mind. Now that I'd had the thoughts, I couldn't un-think them. They were a little cruel and selfish and ...and I wished to heaven they were right. I'd been telling myself to just deal with it. Well I didn't want to deal with it, justly or otherwise.

Another thought snuck inside me, a memory, and I held back a snorting laugh. For a moment, I'd held hope, pure white and blazing, but now something had colored it. Long ago, Edward had told me that the transformation froze and enhanced certain parts of people's personalities. Carlisle's compassion. Rosalie's vanity.

And, apparently, my insane obsession with an unattainable boy. No more hallucinations for you, Bella, just supervillain-style scheming with a touch of hysteria.

It was the perfect irony, that I would become this kind of vampire. I could have bought not having an ability like Edward or Alice. I'd spent most of my life in mediocrity, so I was sure that could have handled that pretty well. But instead I had to have this as my superpower, to be made even more pathetic than I'd been as a human. I had become a supernaturally enhanced clingy ex.

I laughed. It was either that or cry, and I didn't want to try to do that again. Renata looked over her shoulder at me, but I paid her no mind.

I inhaled again, slowly this time. The traces of him in this room were already fading, but he still smelled so good.

What would I be doing, really? Watch his back, support him, protect him when I could... So nothing I wouldn't do anyway. It wasn't as if I was planning to ensnare him with my wicked wiles—I was pretty sure I didn't even know how to do that in the first place.

Suddenly, everything felt better. I finally had a plan.

If I was going to be a monster, I might as well get started. After all, I had nothing but time and very little to do besides think.

I began to plot.
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