Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Carlisle ( Chapter 19 )

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

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

"I'd thought Aro was exaggerating." -Jane, Eclipse

He'd been kept waiting. He'd come yesterday and the day before asking to speak with Aro and been turned both times. He was expecting to be turned away again. Now he was being kept waiting while Alec made his report to Aro. I could practically feel the sun rising higher in the sky. Had Carlisle learned about the shadow-paths through the city during his own time here? No, by now too many buildings had been torn down and replaced. Even if such paths had existed in his day, they wouldn't have followed the same routes.

Aro wasn't taking any chances today.

Renata walked in, and my heart jumped into my throat until I realized she was alone. Carlisle would want to see her. Carlisle would want to see her. Renata took her place behind Aro with a practiced steadiness. In her impeccable dark gray cloak, she could seem almost imposing to anyone who didn't look straight at her. I felt my jaw clench. My father hadn't come here to fight. Renata's presence was a useless display, and she didn't even realize it.

"Where?" I mouthed, but Renata's only answer was a half-nervous smile that matched her half-nervous thought about being seen participating in my breach of etiquette. The guard was supposed to appear stoic and unified in front of outsiders.

Come on, I thought. Where is she? For all that I could go a thousand years without having Caius and Bella in the same room again, I had to know. But Renata's thoughts were no help. I thought I caught an image of her handing Bella off to Heidi, but I couldn't be sure if it had happened today. I quickly searched the area for Heidi's thoughts and found nothing. I tried again, listening hard for the mental voice that lured humans into the Volturi's feasts. Nothing.

I met Aro's eyes and he smiled.

...Bella was alone, then. She would have to be alone. Yes, I realized as I watched Aro turn to speak quietly to Demetri, the only way to keep Bella hidden from me without removing her from the compound was to put her away somewhere and then send her escort out of my range. He could have told Heidi to take Bella to a place of her choosing and then spend the day somewhere else. I wondered if she'd had time to get out of the city by dawn or if she was stuck ruining her pedicure somewhere in the tunnels.

Unless... Unless Bella had been sent away. There would have been plenty of time while I'd been gone to bring her to some other set of buildings, or even smuggle her out of Volterra entirely. Caius had said that he thought it was too dangerous to keep a newborn in the city. The thought made me strangely cold.

"Master," I said, as calmly as I could manage. The old man met my eyes with a smug indulgence. "I believe that Bella would like to see my father when he arrives," I said plainly. "She's very fond of him."

Aro smiled back, only his eyes showing that he'd understood the real iron in my request. "As impressed as I am with our little Bella, I am not entirely certain that she would be no danger to my friend Carlisle," he told me. "I am sure she would be happier to wait for his next visit than to be the cause of any harm to him." And the crowd heard him give a perfectly plausible response to my innocent request. None of them could see the greed in his thoughts, the desire to win and keep treasures away from his friend.

Perhaps he thought that Carlisle would act rashly if he could visualize taking the two of us and making a run for it. No, that was foolish. Carlisle never acted rashly. It would be me he was worried about.

I was worried enough about myself. I had no idea what Carlisle was doing here. I couldn't think of a single thing that he could say or do that would result in Aro willingly relinquishing my services to someone else. And yet I couldn't stop hoping.

"Edward," Aro said quietly, motioning to me with one hand. I dutifully took my place at his left. He reached out and carefully positioned his hand on my shoulder, as if he really were an old man who needed the support.

I found Carlisle's thoughts, as clear and familiar to my mind as the rare sunlight at our house in Alaska, and Aro was fascinated. Aro had touched Carlisle at least once, I was sure, but that would have been long ago. Did he suppose that I would be able to predict his actions more readily that he could?

He was watching the door, waiting for it to open. He was remembering the time he'd spent in Volterra, long before he'd had a family of his own to worry about. I wanted to be back with them all so much that it should have split me open.

The doors swung open, except this time I was on the inside, watching the visitor enter. I was the Volturi guard, waiting for the yellow-eyed, unpredictable vampire who somehow managed to hold my master's interest.

And Carlisle walked in. Just like that. I would have thought that the air around us would have to crack first.

I could finally understand how Bella could compare me to an angel. Seeing Carlisle walk toward us was like watching my own salvation moving through the shafts of sunlight toward where Aro stood with his bodyguards and me.

I'd known it would be bad, but nothing could have made me ready to see my own reflection in Carlisle's thoughts. I was at Aro's left hand, wearing the gray cloak of a Volturi newcomer, looking for all the world as if I belonged here.

He didn't search the rest of the room. He was not surprised at Bella's absence.

That was why he had waited this long instead of coming for us right away, I realized with a chill in my spine. He didn't know that Bella wasn't a typical newborn. He'd needed to be sure that she would be stable enough to travel. Were Emmett and Jasper waiting in a hotel? I searched his thoughts. Emmett and Rosalie. Yes, Alice would have told him not to bring Jasper. He would be no closer than Heathrow.

...but Alice hadn't told them not to come at all, I realized with a lightening sensation in the pit of my stomach. That meant that Aro hadn't decided against saying yes.

"Welcome!" Aro called out in his smooth voice, just like he'd greeted me the day I'd first arrived in Volterra. Except this time he only raised one hand. The other stayed on me.

"Welcome back, friend Carlisle," echoed Caius.

Aro smiled benevolently, "I trust your mate and followers are doing well."

Carlisle's eyes landed on my face and he smiled.

"Thank you, Aro. We are all very well, although my son gave us all quite a scare a few weeks ago." His thoughts were focused on what he could see and hear, and what he'd planned ahead to say. Good. If he was hiding something, I'd be less likely to hear it and betray it to Aro. Carlisle's eyes turned toward me. Are you all right, Edward? he thought deliberately.

He knew I wasn't. He could see it in my eyes and on my face. But he'd asked. I tilted my head forward, just slightly, our family code for "Yes."

And Bella, Edward? asked my father. Have they killed her?

In a movement that would have been invisible to anyone who didn't know what to look for, I moved my head to the side.


I raised my chin, just barely. Carlisle's thoughts turned to relief. Turned was better than dead to his mind.

And to yours as well, my boy, Aro half-scolded as he watched the exchange between Carlisle and me. They were our signals, our family's code for use in public. Aro noted each one with interest, pleased to see them in action again.

"Yes, young Edward can be a bit of a handful," Aro said in the indulgent tone that he reserved for gifted members of the guard, "but his other virtues make up for that, don't you think?"

The mood in the crowd was mixed. I eyed it carefully, like a rising tide. On the one hand, it had become clear almost immediately that Carlisle was not going to start anything, at least not anything physical. At the same time, though, both men's wishes were screamingly apparent through their polite words. Carlisle wanted one thing and Aro just the opposite.

"I understand that Edward has been the cause of some unease," Carlisle went on. He was choosing his words with great care.

"Nothing that could not be put right," Aro answered. "I am pleased to tell you that Edward took full responsibility for his actions." I could feel the smile in his voice. "My other dear ones tell me that he has already become a credit to our little family."

Carlisle's eyes flicked toward me and then back to Aro. Edward... I could suddenly see images of my face superimposed over battles, executions that Carlisle had witnessed during his time here. I was glad I wasn't Jasper. I didn't want to know what he was feeling. My imagination was bad enough.

It won't work, I thought, knowing he would hear me. There is nothing you can say that would keep him from wanting me back.

No? Aro asked with amusement.

"I must admit, Aro, I became concerned when we had no word from Edward following his visit here," said Carlisle.

"Well that was thoughtless of him," Aro said with the same amused indulgence. "I should have reminded Edward to tell you of his new position. I am sure you would have wished to congratulate him." I managed not to glare. Aro's wishes for my conduct had been quite clear, and writing home hadn't been part of the picture.

Carlisle's smile didn't falter. "May we speak in private, old friend?"

In the shadows, Renata shifted nervously. Aro's benign smile did not change. On his own, he could have guessed what Carlisle was doing, but with me, he knew for sure. I relayed my father's thoughts without complaint. Carlisle wanted to speak plainly without requiring Aro to save face in front of the guard.

"I keep no secrets from my dear ones, friend Carlisle, as you well remember."

And with me around, they could keep no secrets from him. Most of the guard had guessed why Carlisle had come.

Take him off our hands. We don't need him here. And don't tell me Felix needed a new toy that badly.

Swear I was covered in pig shit. I'd step into a bonfire if I thought it'd be a permanent thing.

Wouldn't mind if he went, so long as he didn't take that pretty young thing with him.
I shot this one a look. It was the round-faced man again.

The boy... There were more images than words to this one, and they clear, terribly clear. I turned to look at Demetri, noting that Aro did the same, but he was staring straight ahead, lost in his own wordless analysis of the past five days.

I'd been useful, he determined. Damn it all...

Carlisle's eyes went from Aro's face to his hand on my shoulder and back. His next thoughts were deliberate.

You and I both know that my son is not here of his own free will.

Aro's thoughts flickered to my arrival in Volterra, my impassioned request, my nearly successful attempt to violate the law. I had indeed come here of my own free will, for all that I had not meant to stay long.

...but Aro couldn't say so without admitting that Carlisle had asked the question. I held back a smile. Carlisle had used that trick against me many times.

Aro's mind filled with images of me beneath the clock tower, about to break the law, standing before him with Bella in my arms, law already broken. I was a criminal, and this was my punishment, a commuted sentence. Instead of the pyre I was being given a privilege, an opportunity to make our entire world safer. Carlisle should have been grateful.

He cannot hear you, I reminded him.

That's all right, young Edward, Aro thought with a smile. I suspect that he does not need to.

Carlisle's eyes were fixed on Aro now, hard as stones but still so calm, utterly without surprise.

Sinkingly, I realized what Aro must have known from the start: This was a gesture. Carlisle knew that his chances of returning home with Bella or me were all but nonexistent. Carlisle wasn't here to bargain for our freedom. He had nothing to offer and no leverage. All he could do was play on the thin veil of friendship that he'd forged with the Volturi long ago. He had to try because he had to try, but the primary purpose of this visit was to see me with his own eyes, so that he could go back and tell Esme and Alice that I was all right.

What had I ever done to deserve Carlisle? Why did I continually fail him?

"Coming all this way to see to your first-turned son's well-being when a simple message would have done the job. Your courtesy is undiminished from when I knew you, Carlisle."

"You still know me, Aro," Carlisle assured him. But he did not offer Aro his hand. I wondered what he was hiding.

What do you think it is, Edward? Aro asked, and I answered him in the silence of my mind, without ever meaning to. My sister, my Alice, home and safe.

Yes... Yes, he wouldn't wish to aggravate me, Aro thought with that same raging undercurrent. Not that he should be one to talk. Here, Aro pictured Carlisle with me by his side, hunting secrets, warning him when the family needed to move on, handling negotiations...

That is not why, I insisted. He would have done the same if it were Emmett or Rosalie.

I suppose you are right, Aro remarked with a long memory as Carlisle as a younger vampire. We do become attached to the ones we turn personally, don't we?

"To tell the truth, I would also dearly like to hear any news of Bella Swan. We all grew to enjoy her company when we lived in Washington," Carlisle's words were all but perfect. All of it was true, but those exact words could have just as easily been used to describe a pet or an amusement. Carlisle spoke nothing but the truth, and he appeared far, far less deviant than I did.

It all came together: Carlisle had considered the possibility of taking her and returning to Forks or Ithaca. My mind raced. Bella had never agreed to join the guard. Bella was free to leave.

"Bella is newborn to the Volturi," Caius said smoothly, "turned by one of our guard."

Carlisle's eyes flicked to me. But I thought it was Edward who turned her...

My eyes slid shut. I didn't need to see the smug expression on Caius's face. His thoughts were bad enough.

It was true. Yes, it was possible to consider my turning Bella to be part of a bargain and not my first official act as a member of the guard, but I had addressed Caius and Aro as my masters just before doing it. The whole coven had heard me. And, I now realized, Caius had made sure of it.

I could hear the of satisfaction in Caius's thoughts, rasping like sandpaper against my mind. It wasn't every day that he got to outmaneuver a psychic. Then he wondered how hard it would be when Alice came.

"I did," I said out loud.

Carlisle watched me carefully for a long moment. Through me, Aro could see the wheels turning in his head. "And has Bella... made any vow to the Volturi herself?" he asked.

Aro had his answer ready.

Don't say it, I insisted.

Oh, and why not? he asked, more intrigued than indignant.

If you don't say out loud that Bella is one of the Volturi, then you leave your options open. You still don't know if she'll turn out the way you hope she will, I reminded him. Carlisle will want her whether she has a gift or not; it's all the same to him, I thought, even managing not to sound smug about it. Say something noncommittal for now. You can make a present of her to him later, preserve your friendship. You may need to one day.

Ah... Aro responded. And do you want me to send our dear Bella to Carlisle's coven? Is that your wish?

The idea was like a fist clenched around my stomach, twisting my insides.

It was ...strange. Not the thought of giving her to Carlisle, but the thought of her walking away. I should have wanted it. After all, I wanted her safe. I wanted her pure. I wanted her away from the danger and corrupting influence of the court at Volterra. I should have answered with no hesitation.

It is, I thought. But if I'd had to answer out loud, if I'd had to move so much as a finger, could I still have done it?

An interesting proposal, Aro replied. Behind his surface thoughts, his mind was calculating. Why not do as I suggested? There was some risk that Bella might somehow run away on her own, and then there was the uncomfortable prospect of Carlisle's coven gaining a strong new vampire, even if she was not gifted in the traditional sense. Still, what I'd said was true; he could always change his mind later. Well then, he went on, what do you suggest? You're the one who can read a crowd, he finished, just a touch of indignation coloring his words.

I swallowed the bitterness in my throat and told him what to say. It was something I'd done for years, feeding other people their cues as we saw how our classmates and neighbors and coworkers all reacted.

"Not in so many words," said Aro, finally answering Carlisle's question. The phrase was a bit more modern than his usual speech patterns, but it had the exact result we wanted. "You understand, her attention was needed in other areas." Half the crowd took the message one way and half the other, enough to cause just the right amount of confusion when Aro decided which meaning he wanted to make real. Aro raised an eyebrow at the response but said nothing of it. "But it is good to see you again, old friend. Perhaps we will speak again before you leave." And the audience was over. A deaf man would have known it.

"May I have a moment with my son?" asked Carlisle.

"Of course," said Aro, lifting both hands. The movement was so fluid that hardly anyone noticed that he'd released my shoulder. "Edward, I am sure you would like to speak with your father. You may see him to the vestibule.

Aro released my shoulder and I walked toward Carlisle. I did not look back.

Demetri is here, Aro reminded me. I'm right to think that I won't need to send him after you, aren't I?

"Yes, Master Aro," I promised, and the crowd heard nothing but me agreeing to perform a simple chore. His finger twitched. He wanted me to trust him. That meant taking a risk in trusting me. He could very easily have put his hand on mine, casual as you please, and confirmed that I was telling the truth, but he wanted to show me that he was no tyrant.

I stepped away.

We walked out into the hallway and the wide doors swung shut behind us.

"Carlisle, I—"

I lost the rest of my words as he pulled me into an embrace. For a second, my arms hung uselessly at my sides.

"Never do that to us again, do you understand?" Carlisle's voice had an edge, an alien harshness. He had never been so angry with me, not even the day I'd left him to chase the my delusions of justice. But it did not need explanation. I nodded. He looked down at my pale gray cloak. "I never would have though it, Edward. The Volturi guard."

Was he ...relieved?

This is better by far than if he'd decided to oblige you, son, Carlisle thought clearly, and for him it was no contest. He remembered the Volturi's brutality, and he was alive with worry for what this life would do to me—a relapse to my rebellious ways was not far from his mind—but he also remembered other things. He had spent many years here, not as Aro's servant but as his guest.

These people are not without their virtues, Edward. They love art and science. They are committed, in their way, to a better world. Try to learn what you can from them.

Why did his thoughts make my eyes prick like they could still shed tears?

He may have a change of heart one day. We both know he let Eleazar leave. Until then, make the best of it, son.

"Alice told me that under no circumstances was I to leave you here alone," he said.

Something formed in the base of my throat, something that reminded me of what it was like to feel sickness.

"I told her," Carlisle went on, "that I would not leave Bella behind in Volterra if I could help it, that keeping her here for your own well-being would not be what you would want."

I nodded. "You're right," I told him. "Is Esme angry?" Is Mother angry?

"Very," Carlisle said, with a hardness that sounded quite alien in his voice. He never had been very compassionate toward those who harmed his wife.

"Tell her I'm sorry," I said uselessly.

"She knows," he answered. "Mostly she's angry that you would want to leave us—"

"I didn't want to—"

"I mean the reason you came to Italy in the first place."

"Oh," I said lamely. Yes... Yes, that was my own fault.

"Oh," Carlisle repeated. Rosalie is beside herself, he thought, and I could see my proud sister wringing her hands and she waited with Emmett, her beautiful gold hair in disarray.

"It was not her fault," I said. "Tell her that I know she didn't mean anything by it." It was a lie, but Rosalie would know what I truly meant. Carlisle nodded. This was what he'd been sent to gather. My words to my family. He would bring them back like treasures.

"They want you to leave," I told him. "The sooner the better. You and the others should get out of Volterra no later than twilight."

"Are we in danger?" he asked. "We" meant Rosalie, Emmett and himself. I would have to get used to that.

"Not yet," I said. "Not while you play the obedient subject," I couldn't help a sneer.

Carlisle regarded my expression for a moment. I cannot believe that Aro would need to coerce someone into joining him.

"That's what happened," I insisted.

I don't mean that I don't believe you, Edward. I'm only surprised. He could have had almost any vampire on the planet, and eagerly.

"Well he wanted one that he couldn't have." I closed my eyes. How much had Alice told him about that day? "It was do as they said or..." My heart wrenched. "Or they would kill her. For what I told her about us."

He gently squeezed my shoulder. "And Bella?" he asked. "Edward, tell me what has happened."

"She's—" Gone. Dead. A mystery. A murderess. A victim. All the words stuck in my throat like the spines of some poisoned plant.

I shook my head. "I don't know what to do," I said at last.

Carlisle smiled, placing a hand on my shoulder. "Neither did I the first time," he admitted, though I remembered it well. "In a way, it was no easier the second time. With you at least, I had a clear role. Being both mentor and husband to another vampire can make things very complicated. Of course, I didn't know at the time that Esme would become my wife."

I blinked. "She's not—"

And she wasn't one of these modern girls. It wasn't long before Esme's time that women were supposed to think of their husbands as superiors. Bella will have a harder time of it, having Edward as her husband and her teacher all at once.

"I'm not her husband," I told him.

Edward, we both know why you came to Volterra.

"In my day," he said, "in much of Europe, if a man and a woman lived together for three years, calling themselves husband and wife, then the law would honor it. Of course, I do not know if this was ever the custom in Italy."

"Carlisle—" I stopped. "It isn't like that."

Why not? He wouldn't have said it out loud, but it was still shocking. My newborn and me as... I felt my shoulder blades twitch. For some reason, I remembered her fingers slipping through her hair as she combed it. It hadn't even occurred to me to turn my head.

Edward, I know you are particular about these things, and of course you should give Bella time to adjust to her new existence, but it isn't as if Aro is going to let you two run off to Las Vegas or Gretna Green. For both your well-being, you must consider foregoing an actual ceremony before you start your lives together. Most of our kind do, and they feel none the worse for it.

As tried to order my thoughts, my father's face turned sober. ...she didn't say no, did she? he asked.


It's your own fault, you know. You did not leave Forks under the best of circumstances. It's perfectly understandable for her to be angry with you, and you must accept that before you try win back her love. How did she react when you told her the real reason we left Washington?

"I never—" I lowered my voice. "As far as the Volturi are concerned, she is mine, but it is for her safety. She has agreed to that much."

"Things between you are more complicated than I expected, then."

Good. These thoughts were not meant for me, but I heard them anyway. It will take his mind off things, do him good to put something right. Let him focus on Bella and not on Aro. It might even keep him intact.

Edward, regaining Bella's regard may be difficult. We become frozen when we are turned. In some respects, whatever she felt for you may have been at the moment of her change may become fixed in her character. But she cared enough to risk herself by coming here, so—

"Carlisle!" I interrupted.

It made no sense. Carlisle was thinking of Bella as if... As if she were still the girl I'd known in Forks, as if it were a certainty. But if he could see her, if he knew what I knew, would it change his mind?

I looked over my shoulder, back to the audience chamber. Aro was talking with Caius over something that one of the readers had found. They wouldn't send for me for at least a few minutes.

I had to find a way to ask Carlisle what he thought of all this, have one of our talks like we used to. This was what I'd truly needed. This was why I'd been so off-course. He would know. And if he didn't he could tell me enough to help me work out the rest on my own.

"Carlisle," I said in a more level tone. "Can a newborn be..." my throat closed. Damn it all. "Is it possible..."

What are you thinking? Did something go wrong with the change? He paused, searching my face. I could only stare back. If I could shed tears, my eyes would have been full of them.

Was it not you who turned her? Edward, that should make no difference.

I shook my head.

Is she ...damaged? I've heard of turnings gone wrong, but I've never seen one. I am not sure they aren't myths.

I shook my head again.

How could I tell him what I'd seen, what she'd admitted to me? Even now, it filled me with shame, anger and worse.

"Carlisle," each sound felt like glue on my tongue. "Are we ...the same?"

"Are we the same?" he repeated.

I nodded.

"Her soul," I whispered, and that one sound seemed to take all the life from me.

"Edward..." Carlisle said sympathetically. I shook my head, stepping back. "Edward, I know what you believe about what happens to our spirits when we are changed, but there is nothing you can do about that now."

True. I would never have thought of it that way on my own, but it was true. Nothing I could do about it. There was no sense wishing I could go back in time.

"What went wrong, Edward?" he asked gently.

Edward would not have forgiven himself if he did Bella any lasting harm. That would explain why he is acting so strangely. And this was just as true.

The words felt like lead weights in my mouth. I didn't want to tell Carlisle what Bella had confessed to me in her cell. I didn't want to know it myself.

Carlisle closed his eyes when I finished. "That poor girl," he said. "And that poor human. But you see, from the Volturi's standpoint, they were doing Bella a kindness. The thirst is undeniable in those first hours, and most of the vampires here believe that animal blood causes problems."

I had to hold back a snarl. "That's not—" I stopped my tongue. Could I tell Carlisle out loud that Caius had done it on purpose? Was anyone listening to us even now?

"They did not understand, Edward." Forgive them. "And it was not her fault," he said firmly.

"I know," I said.

"But you don't believe it. Repeat it to yourself out loud if you have to."

Not her fault, I thought. It didn't feel right in my head.

"No matter what she's done, she is still your Bella, and she needs you."

And this was the meat of it. "Is she?" I asked. "Carlisle, are any of us who we were before? Alice doesn't even remember and Esme."

Where is this coming from?

I couldn't look at him.

Son, that is very wrong. It is one thing for us to talk about hypothetical matters. Bella needs you.

"One way or another?" I asked.

"Rosalie believes she is the same person that she always was," he said firmly. "And my own human memories have faded, but I know that I would not have made the decisions that I did in my first days if not for the education and values of my human life.

"Think about it, Edward. Are you so very different from yourself when you were human?"

Yes, I thought. I'd been harmless as a human.

"There's more," I said. "She isn't ...normal," I finished lamely.

"What do you mean?" he asked out loud. He was patient. He always sounded patient, no matter if it was an old woman with a cough or a gunshot victim bleeding out.

I started with her calmness. I described everything that had happened when Jane had provoked her on our feeding day. He knew there was more.

"That's not at all like what you and Emmett were like," Carlisle said softly. "Even with Rosalie, it took a few days for her to be able to focus enough to..." He didn't need to finish that sentence. For all that Rosalie's plan had been murderous, it had been the calculated action of a woman more or less in control of herself.

He was distancing himself from things, stepping back so he could see them clinically. I'd watched him do it many times during our talks over the years. Except now I wasn't his fellow disinterested participant. Now I was the weeping relative outside the operating room, waiting to hear the worst news of my life.

"Aro thought for a moment that that might have been her gift, a calm mind," I said.

Carlisle was already shaking his head. "No, there's nothing about Bella that suggests such a gift."

"Caius thinks there must be something else about her, some characteristic of her blood or background—or in mine."

Carlisle's head tilted back, his face going blank as the implications of this hit him. "He wants you to turn more humans."

I nodded.

"He wants them to be calm newborns, as she is?"

"Yes," I said.

And she's shown no sign of any other gift.

"I still can't read her, but that is all. Nothing past when she was human."

Carlisle wondered, and the day grew long. Thankfully, the Volturi left us alone as the sunbeams slid across the floor. Every now and then Carlisle would ask a question, which I would answer. It was all a large, beautiful, dispassionate thought puzzle. We might as well have been in his study back in Rochester. This was my treasure, these hours. I was storing them up, saving them as a memento of my life.

I heard the thoughts before the footsteps. "Demetri is on his way," I said quietly. "He's been told to ask you to leave, now that the sun is going down."

Carlisle nodded. It is probably best if I do not wait to be told, he said.

I nodded, a bit more stiffly than I'd meant to.

Carlisle pulled me into another embrace. Remember what I said, son, and we both knew that he did not mean his speculation on blood types. Even if I am wrong, even if she is not the Bella Swan we knew, she needs you all the same.

"I know," I whispered into his shoulder.

Carlisle was gone before Demetri arrived. The hatchet-faced vampire looked from me to the empty doorway and back. I swore he even shrugged.

"He wants you," he said.

"I'm coming."

I walked back into the audience chamber. The crowd had thinned out. Caius and Renata were both conspicuous in their absence. Aro was smiling a bit more pleasantly than usual. I knew enough to be cautious.

"Edward, do come here. Give an old man a shoulder to lean on." I went, obedient as a calf.

And I had a front-row seat to the reason Carlisle had been allowed to see me.

Fascinating... Aro mused. He'd wanted to know if Carlisle thought Caius was right. He'd wanted his insight on Caius's project. Carlisle knows far more about genetics than I do. I really must look into it. But he doesn't think that's why she took so well to this life?

Suddenly I could understand how two men who held such deeply different views could live together for four decades and remain friends for centuries after: Carlisle shared Aro's healthiest passion.

Aro's soul, if he had one, was his curiosity. That, coupled with his great intelligence, meant that he could always find some new question or mystery, some way for the universe to keep amusing him, no matter how long his life played out. It was probably why he'd never grown as passive as Marcus or as cruel as Caius.

I could feel my mind spread wider, like a book being opened. Only the book told a terrible story.

Aro expected Carlisle to remain in the world for a very long time. More than the petrifaction, Aro's brothers were aging through their minds. Marcus and Caius might still have millennia to live, but eventually, both they and Aro's mate Sulpicia would succumb to time.

...and Aro would need a new brother.

Insightful, remarked Aro. I nearly started. I'd almost forgotten his hand on my shoulder.

"You could have just asked him," I said, my voice barely above a whisper.

"I suppose," Aro answered.

But then you would have owed him a favor, I realized. The whole court would have expected you to make good. Maybe it wouldn't have been enough to release me, but you could have given him the worthless newborn.

His intellect is his gift, child, thought Aro. It is a trait you share with him.

I swallowed the dryness in my mouth, barely registering the sound of shoes in the hallway behind me or the door sliding open.

And she is far from worthless, he concluded. "With all the excitement of Carlisle's visit, I nearly forgot to tell you," Aro said.

Bella stepped carefully into my line of sight, her lips parted in a question just as Aro whispered, "Welcome home."
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