Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Questioning ( Chapter 17 )

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

Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer.

"There was a deep, rumbling growl, and then a high-pitched keen that was horribly familiar. The sound cut off quickly, and then the only sound was a sickening crunching and snapping." -Bella, Eclipse

His hair had fallen into his eyes again. I wondered why he was letting it get so long. Maybe it was Alice who'd made him cut it on schedule. Maybe...

Focus, Bella.

I pulled a breath in and opened my mouth.

"Edward, why did you want me to pretend to be your ...mate? I can think of a hundred things it could be, but I need to know which one's right."
"Edward, what's happening to you? What are they making you do?"

"When are we going home?"

Edward looked up, setting the language book down on the little table that I'd been using for a desk. I still wasn't allowed to roam around unescorted, but at least this place was better than a steel-braced cell.

"Did you say something?" he asked.

I shook my head.

The days were running together. I didn't need to sleep any more or eat all that often, so I didn't have any of my usual markers except the sound of that damned clock tower, and after days of trying, I was finally able to tune that out. I had my own ways of counting time, anyway.

He'd been to see me five times. Today made six. I didn't know how many days had passed since my audience with Aro and Caius, but he'd been to see me five times, and they didn't let him come every day.

Sometimes he'd bring me a new book or we'd study the languages together, and that almost seemed like we were back in Charlie's kitchen going over Spanish verbs or quadratic equations. "Almost" because back then I'd been a lot more trouble, needing to repeat and repeat the same information before I really learned it. I could hardly blame Edward for getting bored with me and leaving. I was still in awe of Edward's intellect. He would tell me things about Chinese culture or Italian history that made the whole world seem fascinating, but my memory was sharper now. I wasn't holding him back.

He never talked much, not about anything we really needed to talk about. And I was no help. Every time he left, I'd think of a million things I should have asked him and every time he showed up again, I'd forget them all. I told myself that it was enough to sit near him and see that he was all right ...but I could see him, and I knew he wasn't all right.

One day he'd kept dropping things. I finally realized that his left hand didn't work. Another day it was his neck; it wouldn't turn all the way. There had been a strange scent in the air that had reminded me of Felix.

He never told me. Renata wasn't talking either. If Caius was going through with his making-more-newborns plan, I wasn't going to find out about it until they let me leave this part of the compound, and from what I'd seen of the Volturi, I was in no hurry for that to happen.

His visits never lasted long. Like Superman on that Lois and Clark show that Renee had made me watch with her, he'd always get called off at the worst possible moment, answering a voice that I couldn't hear. Except instead of some teenager stuck in an earthquake and calling for help; it was a megalomaniacal vampire overlord who wanted to poke at his new toy some more.

Renata usually took Edward showing up for an invitation to run off. I didn't mind that either. She might be an A-negative-guzzling monster, but that didn't mean she didn't have things to do. I saw her enough to be sick of her anyway.

But Renata wasn't my problem. I didn't plan on being here long enough for her to become one. First I had to get Edward to trust me. Then I had to show him that I didn't have to be a millstone around his neck. Then maybe he'd come close to wanting me like I wanted him.

There was that feeling again, that nagging, good-girls-don't-treat-boys-like-toys voice in my head that sounded vaguely like Renee circa 2002, not that she'd needed to tell me. I'd been invisible in middle school.

And it wasn't like I was planning anything bad, not really. What was so awful if I got him back by being nice to him? Or by helping the both of us escape?

Only none of that was going to happen if I couldn't get over myself and ask him what the hell was really going on. How hard would it be, really?

But the look on his face... He'd been so angry when Marcus had told him that I should be his mate. I didn't really want to know why. I'd been through too much too fast. I wasn't sure I could handle it.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

I didn't open my eyes, nodding calmly. I didn't answer. I let the quietness come back. I didn't know why he'd stopped to talk to me like this, but he was trying. He was trying to do something; I just didn't know what it was. Maybe he didn't either.

There were footsteps on the stairs. Stupid Renata was back. I tried not to be mad. She was just doing her job, and right now her job was to not be a total bitch to me, so I might as well be nice about it, even if Edward wasn't going to open up with any vampires around.

I grit my teeth. With any other vampires around. I shouldn't have had to keep reminding myself, but now that I was a little used to my new body, I kept forgetting. It wasn't as if I was bending steel or smashing boulders every day. But Edward had been right: now that the worst of it was over, I felt like me again, as ordinary and boring as I'd ever been. Sure, learning Italian wasn't as hard as I'd expected it to be, but for all I knew this wasn't any different from taking extra-strength Ritalin.

Edward looked up, half-rising from the table.

"He wants you," I said. It wasn't a question.

He nodded. "Renata is going to say."

I pressed my lips together. "I'm going with you," I decided impulsively.

He shook his head. "Bella—"

"I'm fine!" I snapped. "I promise, Edward, I'm not going to go ballistic in the middle of Volterra."

"Bella," he said, putting his hands on my shoulders and holding my gaze like there was nothing else in the whole world, "Bella, the less these people notice you, the better. Aro hasn't decided how he wants to play you yet, and the longer it takes for him to make up his mind—"

"What?" I asked. "Will it get us home faster?"

Edward's mouth closed.

The door opened slowly. I guess Renata wanted to give us a chance to scream or something in case we were talking about something private.

"Edward?" Renata's voice was tentative, as usual, but there was an edge to it that I didn't quite like. "Master Aro says for you to come downstairs. There's a—"

"I know," said Edward, rising quickly. I did too, my chair and his scraping across the floor in unison.

"I'm coming with you or I'm following you," I said. "You can pick."

"Stay here," he all but snarled. And he was gone, moving faster than I'd seen him move since that day in the baseball field.

I made a beeline for the open door. Renata grabbed my wrist, but I jerked my arm forward and pulled loose. It seemed odd, easier than it should have been. Maybe I'd had my hand twisted just right, like in those self-defense classes that Renee had dragged me to when I was thirteen.

I could hear Renata making some sound behind me, but I didn't know whether she was following me or just collapsing on the floor into a pile of dust. I didn't care so long as she left me alone.

I figured I could find the audience chamber, but I didn't know for sure that that was where Aro wanted Edward to be. The anxious tapping of understated designer shoes behind me told me that Renata had finally figured out that I wasn't coming back. I moved faster. I didn't want her to catch me and drag me upstairs. That room might have been less oppressive than a cell in the bowels of the building but it still wasn't where I needed to be right now.

I followed the echoes of Edward's footsteps down the stairs and then through the hallways. By then, I could hear the rest of them. The place wasn't even close to empty. There were muffled words through the walls. It sounded like there were dozens of people packed into Aro's throne room. I tallied up the arithmetic quickly. That would mean that all of them was there, even the people who were supposed to be working.

Edward hadn't looked back, but I could see the tightness in the back of his neck as I caught up to him. I wasn't feeling too secure myself. Whatever was going on in there, it was something special, and I'd seen the Volturi's idea of business as usual filing into that room for the slaughter. Maybe this hadn't been the best time for me to try to push the envelope.

Well there was no turning back now. I reached Edward in time to put my hand on his elbow. I saw his chin move toward me slightly, but his lips stayed pressed together. I felt a momentary relief when he didn't push me away. He was the one who'd asked me to pretend to be his mate, weird as that was, and while I wasn't too clear on what counted as a Volturi PDA, I was pretty sure a vampire was allowed to touch her mate on the arm in public.

He pushed open the doors and we stepped in.

I didn't need Jasper's gift to know that something was wrong, even for Volterra. The tension in the room was so thick that I barely noticed Renata slipping in behind us, almost hiding behind Edward as she sidled her way into the crowd, which was pressed two rows thick against the outer wall.

I was the only one not wearing a cloak. Edward was the only one who didn't have his pulled up over his head. Everyone was looking in at something near the center of the room. I wanted to stay near the edge, but Edward elbowed his way in, and I wasn't about to leave him behind.

There were a few cold looks and at least one gasp. On the other side of the chamber, Demetri blinked twice and then motioned for two other vampires to change positions, silently placing themselves between the elders and the two of us. I saw someone I didn't recognize mutter "newborn" and shake his head, but most people weren't paying any attention to me. Or to Edward for that matter.

There was an evil shriek from somewhere in the middle of the room. I couldn't see what had made the sound, but through a break in the necks and hoods and shoulders in front of me, I could just make out Jane's beatific smile. With a cold, sinking feeling, I shifted a little to the side so I could see.

There was a man in the middle of the audience hall, right above the drains. He had hair the color of straw. He also had Felix standing behind him holding his right arm hard behind his back, forcing him down onto his knees three yards in front of Caius's throne.

I could make out that his face was white and smooth, but something about the way he was holding himself made me think of bruises and broken teeth. Somehow, I imagined that his left eye, the one I couldn't see, must be swollen shut. The poor guy was breathing hard, muscles gone limp. The fight had gone out of him long before we'd gotten here, not that Felix looked like he had any intention of letting up.

"What happened?" I whispered to Edward.

Edward just barely turned his chin in my direction, but didn't answer. His hand slid down and tightened on my wrist.

From where I was standing, I could see just enough of the side of Felix's face. The answer ran down his thick jawline into the bare hint of a venom-gleaming tooth in his tight, smug smile. I suddenly understood what was happening. It was the same thing that had happened to Edward, Alice and me.

This vampire was on trial. And it looked like he was already guilty.

The Volturi were lined up around Felix and his prisoner like evil spirits around a blood sacrifice, forming a thick, gray wall separating him from either the elders or any route of escape. The drawn hoods, the formed ranks all gave a sense of implacable discipline. This wasn't the pandemonium of a crowd out for blood; it was quiet and cold, like the steel bars that had kept me from digging through the walls of my cell. Even so, there was still an undercurrent of menacing violence so thick that I could feel it welling up around my calves like the first waters of some terrible flood. I found myself inching closer to Edward.

My eyes found their way to Aro. He was staring intently at Edward, and I felt sure that they were having another conversation that no one else could hear, like they had on the day I'd been turned. I watched Edward's jaw flex. He seemed to nod, except that it was less like he was moving and more like he was shrinking, like the muscles in his neck couldn't hold his head up the way they had just a second before. It was like watching someone drag a black Sharpie back and forth across the Mona Lisa.

Stiffly, like a marionette, Edward looked away from Aro, from me, from anything but the man in the center of the room.

"We found him outside the Cattedralle, Master Caius," said a high male voice. I looked through the forest of cloaked shoulders and found Jane's brown-haired twin standing near Felix. "Felix was kind enough to leave his other duties and help me escort him here."

Caius was turning something over and over in his hand. It was made of some dark metal or other material, and it was giving out a crackling energy that made me want to grind my teeth together. I couldn't tell what it was from here, but I didn't like spiders and I didn't like fish guts, and I really didn't like that thing.

"Not a crime..." the captive's voice was a dull, sibilant hiss, like he'd already screamed himself raw. "Not a crime to just come to Volterra—"

"You are a spy!" snarled Caius.

"No!" the man answered with an edge of panic. "I'm no spy. I'm only—"

"Silence," Caius said with absolute firmness, like the butt of a staff cracking against the floor. The man stopped talking. I would have too. "Jane!"

I didn't have time to shut my eyes before the captive vampire threw his head back and howled. I couldn't see where Jane was standing, but I could picture her face, bland and pleased, just like it had been when she'd turned her gift on Edward. I could feel my teeth crack together.

"Enough," Caius cracked, and the scream broke off into a hoarse panting.

"I'm—I'm only h-here to r-report—" the man's breath snagged. "N-nomads near my coven have b-been—"

"You are in league with our enemies," snarled Caius as Felix gave the man's arm another sickening wrench.


Beside me Edward shook his head. "He's lying," he said quietly.

Not many heads turned. The Volturi were too disciplined for that. But I could see red eyes flickering like curious coals. Except for one pair. Aro's gaze was steady, hovering first on Edward and then on the prisoner with a heavy confidence. I realized with a chill inside me that Edward had been reading and recording the strange vampire's thoughts, on Aro's orders.

Edward didn't look away from the man on the floor. His pale hair had fallen into his eyes, which were fixed on Edward with a growing confusion.

"The Romanians contacted him outside of Budapest," Edward said, more strongly this time. "He's their man."

I saw Edward's lower eyelids flex. "He was only supposed to bring a petition, a report about local nomads misbehaving, as he says. He was supposed to get a sense of the Volturi's numbers and the layout of the stronghold and report back. Nothing more."

"What did they offer him?" Caius asked harshly.

I saw Edward's lower eyelids flex. "More territory," he said at last. "Once the Volturi were overthrown. He was to report to a man named Stefan."

A low, growling murmur rippled through the room as Edward spoke the name, but Aro didn't miss a step. "Does anyone else in his coven know?" he asked conversationally.

The prisoner was looking at Edward with unadulterated horror, like a man who's been told that his eyes are to be torn out and sees the tongs in front of him. I saw his head shake to the side. "N-nobody—! Nobody knew but me, I swear!"

Edward didn't move. His intent expression didn't change. He was made of stone.

"Edward," said Aro. No "young Edward," no "my boy." There was no indulgence in his tone, not today.

"His mate knew," Edward said at last. "Lucia." Edward pronounced each syllable, each sound like a suffocating rain, as if he were talking about something that had happened long ago. "He keeps nothing from her."

The prisoner was shaking his head. "No," he said. "No, no, I'll take the punishment. I did it all alone. There's no need—" his words dissolved into a tortured, gasping cry. It took me a second to realize that it was because Jane was at him again.

When I'd been eight years old, I'd found an armadillo next to the road. It had been hit by a car, but not all the way. Its tail and most of its hind legs had been crushed, and there had been something leaking out of its belly, but it was still dragging itself along. Renee had told me to keep away, but I didn't. It had been making the weirdest noises, and I'd never seen anything dying before.

I hadn't thought that a vampire could be pitiful.

I couldn't help him, I realized. I couldn't even put my hands on him and tell him it was going to be all right.

He had red eyes, like the other vampires here. He was a killer. But at the same time, I knew that look. I'd seen that look on Edward's face before Alice, Jasper and I had fled to Arizona to escape James. Whoever this vampire was, whoever his mate was, he loved her. He didn't care who she'd killed or what she'd done. He just loved her.

And Edward was going to tell the Volturi where she lived so that Jane could go and get her. I knew that like I knew that the sun was going to set and come up and set again.

I felt like my insides were a raw egg that was cracking open. I felt like a white rat stuck inside a thick, glassy bubble. I was pushing and pushing on the sides of my cage, only able to budge it a tiny bit at a time. All the same, I wasn't sure I wanted to get out. I was safe in here.

I closed my eyes, throwing myself against what was happening with my useless, defective mind. I pushed out until I felt like I could reach him, even imagined that I could see him like I'd seen Edward the day I'd been turned.

In the back of my mind, I noticed that it wasn't as strong this time. Maybe my new brain wouldn't let me hallucinate like when I was human, but instead of a steady ray of light like I'd felt with Alice and Edward, this vampire was fluttering like some luminescent butterfly, bright but unsteady, like a radio station that I couldn't quite tune in on.

I thought about wrapping my arms around him and the feeling got clearer. It was as if this strange vampire were part of me, and he felt so alive that it broke my heart.

"Felix," Aro said blankly, and the sound snapped me back to reality. I was in my own skin, standing on my own feet, holding on to Edward's right sleeve for dear life.

There was a throat-deep, gurgling scream accompanied by a discordant crunching and tearing, like someone wrenching apart a security door. I felt my shoulders hitch, my breath snagging in my lungs. I think I made a noise, but it was drowned out. The crowd had given up a roar in time for Felix to grab the man's remaining arm, one foot braced against the middle of his back. Two more vampires, quick as shadows, jumped forward from the ranks and took hold of the man's neck and right leg.

"Wait," Caius held up one hand and it all stopped.

"Edward," Caius's voice was like crows cawing to let each other know there was dying meat nearby. "Where is this man's coven? The mate in particular, the one who knew of his treachery."

The prisoner's eyes were locked on Edward's, coal-bright and rolling onto flat, still amber. His head was shaking side to side.

I saw Edward's eyes close, his lower lip tensing before he pressed his mouth into a thin, cold line.

"Edward," Aro echoed. His voice wasn't as harsh as Caius's but there was more finality to it. If Caius was a crow, then Aro was a tiger, too strong to need to make any noise.

Edward didn't say anything, didn't budge, didn't move.

"Edward, we cannot let this pass. I will not explain myself to you again. Where are the other criminals?"

I saw the prisoner's lips moving. There was no breath, no sound, but his eyes were fixed on Edward and I could see his lips moving, forming the same words over and over.

Edward took a long breath and opened his eyes. "They're still in Budapest. You will find them in the Rakosmente district," he said to Caius. "The female Lucia and another male, though they share their shelter with passing nomads. There is a warehouse where they hide during the sunlight. He thinks of it in images, so I don't have an address."

"Are any in the coven gifted?" asked Caius.

Edward stared at the prisoner for a long moment and eventually shook his head. "I don't think so." Edward seemed to shake, to give a twitch in my arms. "I don't think so, Master," he corrected himself.

Caius nodded to Felix, who braced his leg and heaved. There was a hideous wailing of abused metal that made me want to weld my palms to my ears.

"What else did you have planned?" Caius demanded of the prisoner

"Tell them." Edward's whisper was so quiet that I couldn't be sure anyone had been meant to hear. "Just tell them."

"N-nothing..." It was only the empty outline of a word. Felix wasn't letting the man get any air into his lungs, but I could understand it, and that meant that every vampire in the room could understand it. "J-just supposed to count you and go back..."

Edward was shaking his head. "There's more," he said. "I can't tell what it is, but there's more."

"Quite all right, young Edward," Aro said, only a trace of smugness in the crystalline elegance of his voice. Uncannily graceful, he moved down the steps until he was just out of arm's reach. "I find that I would rather see all this for myself anyway. Felix," he said companionably, "would you be so kind?"

"Master, he's cooperated," Edward said out loud. "Let Alec use his gift."

I looked from Edward to Aro to Alec and back. Use his gift? Meanwhile, hooded faces had turned to gawk, accompanied by a discontented muttering. Caius stared Edward down like a man with a flea pinched between his two fingers. Aro's expression stayed mild, but there was something behind his eyes, something I couldn't place.

"There are no witnesses here, Masters," Edward said, more calmly. "The spectacle of an unanesthetized death serves no purpose."

Another low rumble went through the crowd. I didn't know what Edward meant by "anesthetized," but it sounded like it wasn't too popular.

"This man has lied to us, young Edward," Aro said simply. "That you and I were both able to detect his deceit does not absolve him." He turned his head. "Felix?"

I had just a flash of Felix's smile before I shut my eyes tight, slammed both palms over my ears. Through my hands, I could hear someone shouting, echoing inside my skull, only the voice was high and female and reminded me of Alice. By the time I knew what was happening, four hands were dragging me backwards through the now-roiling forest of gray cloaks and I didn't even try to fight back. There were arms around me before I knew what they were. Someone was whispering, backing away and taking me with him. I let him lead. I didn't want to think. I wasn't sure I could at the moment.

"Don't watch," someone was murmuring. "Don't watch, Bella..."

The tearing sounds became muffled as the heavy doors swung shut behind us and I found myself kneeling on the stone floor of the hallway as the shaking in my arms and legs begin to ebb.

"Did they just—" the words wouldn't come out more than three at a time, like grains of sand clumping inside an hourglass. Time wouldn't move. "His arms and legs—"

"For Aro's safety," said a sad, velvet voice. "And then for when they burn him."

"That man!"

"Oleg. His name was Oleg."


I opened my eyes. Edward was crouched in front of me, holding both my upper arms. He was staring at me, but it wasn't the hollow spiritless look of the past few weeks. It was as if I could see down inside him again, and he was looking at me like I was something impossible, something out of a myth, as if he didn't quite understand how he could be seeing what he was seeing.

I looked back. I took a deep drink of him, not knowing how long I'd be thirsty afterward. He hadn't let me see him this way in a long time, not since before my birthday back in Forks. Only this time I knew better. It wouldn't last, so I would take all I could get while he was willing to give it.

A sound on my right distracted me. I turned my head to see Renata with one hand clasped tight over her mouth. Her shoulders were hitching forward over and over, making her tight curls shake. She looked as if she were choking on her own breath.

I finally realized that she was crying.

Was she sad? I knew I felt sorry for that poor man, but why should she?

"You can go if you need to, Renata," Edward said gently. "I think we'll be all right."

Renata shook her head but didn't say a word.

"Athenodora will want to hear about this," he prompted again. "You know how she is about the Romanians."

"Give me a minute," Renata spoke only the edges of the words with almost no breath inside, like a hermit crab's shed skin.

The screaming had stopped. I could smell smoke seeping through the cracks between the door and the walls. It was sweet and it stuck to the back of my throat like a bad memory.

Edward turned his attention back to me. He tugged gently on my arm as he started to get to his feet. "Come on," he said quietly. "You'll feel better if you move."

I didn't think there was anything that could make me feel better. I'd imagined that man's life in my mind, felt it like I'd had my finger on his pulse and now...

Edward kept his hand on my arm as we hurried through the reception area and into the hallways. I didn't know if we were going anywhere in particular, and I didn't really care. There was nowhere in the compound I wanted to be for even one more second.

"Does that... Does it happen all the time?" I asked.

Edward shook his head. "This was something special. Criminals are usually executed on the spot, not brought back to Volterra. And Caius... Caius doesn't usually play with his food first. At least not this way."

I shook my head. It didn't make sense. It didn't make sense.

"They'd already decided to execute him," Edward went on. "Aro just wanted to make sure he'd gotten the whole story first."


"Safety for one," said Edward. "Felix is very good at what he does, but even small vampires can do amazing things when they're cornered." I pictured Alice, remembered her jumping onto James's shoulders to tear his head from his body. I smiled without meaning to. "Most of the guard is very protective of the masters. I doubt they would have let Aro come near Oleg without disabling him first."

Something wasn't right. Something still didn't add up. My mind wasn't quick today. I felt like I was a swarm of grasshoppers all jumping in different directions. "If Aro was going to touch him anyway," I managed, "Then why do any of this at all?" I suddenly imagined Jasper in Oleg's place. In my imagination, Oleg's mate suddenly looked like Alice. "Why did he want you to say where Oleg's friends were?"

Edward didn't answer right away, tucking my hand into the crook of his arm as he steered us around a corner. "For one, Aro likes the guard to hear things for themselves, right from the traitor's mouth. He can tell them what he's seen in their thoughts, of course, but the less he has to do that, the less chance someone will come to doubt his word. He also wanted to see if I could do it," he said at last, finally looking me in the eye. "And..." he breathed in and out. Edward stopped walking, but he didn't let go of my arm. "This way, the next time they want to know something, they'll send me and not Jane."

Everything clicked into place. Somewhere, back in the part of my mind that wasn't sad and quivering, I could see the pieces fit together. Yes, Jane would be very persuasive, but whoever she questioned would probably end up saying whatever they thought would make her stop. Even Caius would be able to see that Edward would be a far more valuable interrogator.

I tried to picture him in the dark gray cloak, cold face expressing nothing. It was easy enough to make me shiver.

But that couldn't be why Edward was looking at me like that.

"He would have told them everything anyway," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "This way..." I felt his hand go tight on my arm as he turned to look me in the eye.

This way Oleg hadn't gone through being Jane's target. This way Oleg didn't have to say out loud where Lucia was. He didn't have to betray her. Edward couldn't save him, so he'd saved him some of his pain.

"I believe you," I said.

Edward looked away, but I felt his fingers flex around mine. When he looked back I could see something that hadn't been there before, or something he'd been hiding.

Edward wasn't who I'd thought he was. He wasn't an angel or a hero out of a story or a dream made flesh. He was someone else, someone who could be worn down until he was exhausted. I didn't really know him, so why did I still love him so much that I felt like I could drown?

"Why do you want me to say I'm your mate?" I asked, not realizing that the words were out of me until they were.

"It keeps you safe," he said simply. "Most of the men here..." He managed to look at me. I didn't know if he was too tired to be afraid or if he'd just realized that there wasn't anything he could say about vampires, any violence or shamefulness that he'd been trying to protect me from that could possibly be worse than what we'd just seen. "Even though most of the men here have worked with female vampires, they have a medieval attitude about women and..."

"And sex?" I asked, and Edward nodded. It made sense, somewhere. "No means no" was a modern idea. Renee had always warned me that some fathers still taught their boys that "no" really meant "maybe" and "maybe" meant "yes."

"If they think you already have a mate, they'll leave you alone," said Edward, "unless they're trying to take you away from me, but then they'll go for me first."

I took a minute to let that sink into me. I didn't want to have to know it, but now I did. "Do you think anyone's going to do that?" I asked.

"It's rare but it isn't unheard of," he said. "And you're very beautiful."

The words were like a spark going off inside me. I tried to push the smile back, but it wasn't working. He'd said I was beautiful, and it felt so good to hear him say it, but I had to ask my next question, and it was more important.

"When are we going home?" I said.
Edward looked away, finally letting go of my hand.
"When are we going home, Edward?" I asked again.
I saw his throat flex as he swallowed. "Bella..."
I knew what he was going to say. I knew before I'd asked, and now I was wishing I hadn't.
"Bella, I don't know."
I have kept Alice ripping James's head off as part of my personal canon. Because it's awesome. I read the Cleolinda material before the actual Twilight books—they're what convinced me to give them a try, actually—and I was actually very disappointed when I got to the fight scene in the ballet studio and stupid Bella passed out before I could see Alice and Edward's not-brothers rip James into stalker-flavored bacon bits. It's nice when a film actually adds to a fandom instead of cheesing or diluting it. In this case, they fixed the pacing and added some much-needed action.

Speaking of which, thank you for your wonderful reviews, in which many of you helped me to realize that this story has one of the same problems as the original books: THERE MUST BE MORE VAMPIRING. I am planning some modifications to previous chapters in that respect and some more action in those to come.
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu