Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Overture ( Chapter 20 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
This story is a fanfiction based on characters, settings and concepts from Twilight and its three and two half sequels, which are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. Although it contains one character, Byron, who is the invention of the fanauthor, the Volturi themselves were invented by Meyer. No party other than the submitting fanauthor may alter this work in any way.
"The inning continued before my incredulous eyes. It was impossible to keep up with the speed at which the ball flew, the rate at which their bodies raced across the field." -Bella, Twilight
Welcome home? God, could Aro get any more creepy? Well I wasn't afraid of him.
"Edward?" I asked, stopping a few feet away. I was so sick of all this, so sick of looking at him looking like he'd just lived through a holocaust and wondering what the hell had happened to cause it.
"I'm sure you two have much to talk about," Aro said gaily. "Nothing fosters young love like tales of heroic deeds in the field."
Edward looked like he'd just swallowed a gila monster. I could still hear Oleg screaming in my head. Whatever had happened out in "the field," I was pretty sure "heroic" didn't cover it.
Edward didn't look at me, but he reached out and took my hand, tugging gently for me to follow him out of the room. I had to hurry to keep up, my flat-soled shoes hitting the floor in time with his boots. I was still expecting to trip and fall on my face any second.
"Renata said you got back this morning," I told the back of his neck, "but they wouldn't let me come see you." That wasn't exactly the whole story, but no way was I getting into that mess now.
"I was ...guarding a guest," Edward answered. He turned his head toward me, seeming to study my face. His mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally spoke. "It was Carlisle."
I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach and then filled with balloons. Floating, happy balloons. "Carlisle?" I asked, picturing his face as I'd last seen it, kind and patient as he'd stitched my arm back together. Alice had said he'd started teaching at a medical school back east. I should have expected him to show up. "Where is he?" I asked. "Are we—"
Edward was slowly shaking his head.
"Oh," I said quietly. At some point we'd stopped walking. I stared at the wall in front of us. Carlisle had been here, but Edward didn't look happy. And Carlisle wasn't here now. "So," I said carefully, "...we're not going home today?"
"No," he answered. "We're not going home today."
I swallowed. For a second there... I pressed my lips together. Of course Carlisle couldn't just swing in for the rescue. "So, Budapest?" I asked, hoping that that was the right way to say the name of the city. I'd been imagining the worst for days.
Edward stared back at me, something flickering in the back of his eyes. "We killed them both," was all he said.
Killed them both. Just like that. Like cutting a string. Lucia and someone else. I tried not to think of Oleg's execution, the way his light had pulsed and flickered when Edward had told the Volturi his secrets. I felt my mouth set in a hard line. I'd thought I'd had that kind of love, once.
"Bella?" he asked.
I shook my head. "It's nothing," I said.
"No it isn't."
"You're right," I answered, in no mood to mince words. "No it isn't." My Edward, my angel, my voice through the darkness... No, the thought of him killing Lucia was not nothing. "But it's not like they gave you a choice," I added, even though it didn't feel real.
We started to move again, though I wasn't sure exactly where Edward wanted to go. He was still holding my hand, but stiffly, as if he didn't remember how. Was this how things were going to be between us? Would I spend my whole life trying not to think about last spring?
"So what happened while I was gone?" he asked.
"Nothing!" I said. Dammit, who'd told him? It couldn't have been Renata; she'd rushed back up to the tower right after Aro had let her go this morning. Edward eyed me with suspicion and I had to fight back a wince as I realized I'd answered too quickly.
"Bella?" he asked, a slight warning in his tone.
"They're not letting me walk around on my own, but I've seen more stuff," I offered, hoping to distract him with the more banal parts of my trip down to the basement where Renata'd taken me to get clothes. "They don't want me in the big library with the computers yet. Afraid I'll email Interpol or something, I guess."
It worked. "Bella, we can't joke about those things here. If someone hears you, they might not know you don't mean it."
"Who says I don't?"
"Bella." He turned, putting one hand on each of my upper arms. "It is our most important law. Keep the secret. They will kill you if you try to pull something like that. Tell me you understand. They will kill you."
I tried to roll my eyes. I didn't want to have to say that I was kidding. They deserved all the trouble I could bring them. They deserved it and more.
"Bella," he insisted.
"All right; I've got it!" I snapped back. He released my arms and I felt guilty. He was only trying to protect me. But I was so tired of needing protection.
How much time would we have together? Sure, we didn't need to sleep, but what was the rule on downtime? I still wasn't too clear on where everyone went when they weren't working. Did Jane ever take an afternoon off to play Bejeweled or did she walk around plotting evil every second of the day?
In any case, I eyed Edward carefully, wondering how much I could risk asking. Safe or not, it wasn't as if I could trust Renata to tell me.
"I'm strong, right?" I asked him. "Stronger than other vampires, I mean." He'd said something about Emmett being strong like it was his gift.
"Yes," he said, and I was halfway to a smile before he added, "all newborns are."
"Wait..." I paused. It was because I was a newborn? "So it's going to go away?" Oh God, was that what he'd meant about next spring?
"Yes, it usually lasts about one year," Edward answered with a confused frown.
Oh no. This was not good. This was so not good.
"What's wrong?" Edward asked.
"Nothing," I answered. If I stopped being stronger than they were... But I had a year to come up with something, like getting the hell out of Volterra.
"Bella, did something happen while I was away?" he asked. "Was there another fight?"
"No," I said, truthfully this time. It hadn't been a fight.
"Look, forget I said anything, all right?"
Edward stared ahead of us for a long moment. "You really are infuriating, do you know that?" he told me.
"Edward, I know you're trying to take this newborn-whatever-you-are thing seriously, but not everything that happens with me is going to be your—"
I never got to finish speaking. There were footsteps and then another vampire had joined us. And that vampire couldn't be Renata or Heidi or Jane or anyone like that. I didn't have that kind of luck.
Byron looked at me first, pushing that same creepy smile all the way across his face before he even noticed that Edward was there. But Edward was there, and he was staring into the space above Byron's light brown head, listening to things that only he could hear. The other vampire looked to him and me and back with a confused frown.
Edward didn't respond. He had become a sculpture.
Guess what, jerkwad? I thought bitterly. My ex can read your mind. But if anyone thought I was going to shout "hey na!" and burst into fifties girl pop, they were in for a nasty surprise.
I took hold of Edward's right wrist with both hands. I did not know much about vampires—at least not the kind that rounded up humans for the slaughter and ripped each other apart in the living room—but whatever it was that Byron had done with me the other day, Edward was going to be angry about it and I did not want him trying to put it right.
I watched Edward's darkening gold eyes flicker back and forth and tried to imagine what he was learning. He'd be seeing it through Byron's memories, of course. What first, I wondered morbidly. Had he been following Renata and me as she'd shepherded me from the clothing vault in the basement back up to the reading room or had he just happened to see the pair of us, Renata holding my hand like I was the sidekick in some schoolgirl sitcom?
No, he had to have planned it at least a little. He'd had the flower ready.
My new memory wouldn't let gloss over any of it, not even now when I really didn't want to be distracted. My first clue that something weird was going on was when he'd just appeared directly in front of me. Vampires in Volterra just didn't do that, not unless they were unschooled newborns. And from what Renata had told me, even unschooled newborns were supposed to practice moving at human speeds all the time, even inside.
He'd been holding the flower out in one hand. I could barely tell a carnation from a daffodil, but it had been white and graceful with wide, smooth petals and a sweet, gentle scent. I'd been able to smell it even from three feet away, and I'd wondered when had flowers started smelling like anything but an allergy attack waiting to happen.
"For you, signorina," he'd said in slightly British-accented English.
The smile hadn't seemed creepy, not right then. In fact, it had sort of reminded me of Quil from back home, asking me if I wanted the last muffin. Renata had put her hands on her hips and said something to the effect of, "Sulpicia won't be happy if that came from her garden, Byron," and he'd given her a cocky smirk, and I'd still been wondering whether or not to reach out and take the flower. I was supposed to be pretending to be Edward's vampire girlfriend or something, but I was pretty sure I was allowed to accept it if it was just a welcome-to-our-evil-lair gift, and I was curious about why it smelled the way it did.
I'd turned my head toward Renata, my mouth already opening to ask what she thought, and the minute I'd taken my eyes off Byron a boa constrictor had wrapped around both my upper arms and there was a rush of air and then he'd had me pinned against the far wall.
"Byron!" Renata had called out. "You stop that right now!"
It only took me half a second to realize what had happened, Byron's smile seeming much less friendly now that I saw it close up. I'd wriggled to get loose, surprised when I managed to push his arms out from my body.
"You're a strong one, aren't you?"
"Stay away from me!" I'd snarled at him.
"Are you sure you want me to, missy?" he'd answered. And that had made me angry, like every middle-school boy who'd ever made a PMS joke. I'd scowled and scowled but he'd only grinned like he knew exactly what I was up to and it was nothing at all.
He'd zipped around behind me, close enough to hum his amused chuckle in my ear. He'd been gone before I could land a punch, materializing by my left ear just in time to brush my hair across my neck. I'd pulled my knee up to kick him, but he'd sidestepped, matching me move for move like we were doing some twisted prom dance.
He'd been moving so fast that my eyes could barely track him, ducking out of sight almost as soon as I'd gotten my eyes to focus on his smirking face. It felt like being in a snowstorm or in a horror movie where the ghosts choose a victim and don't stop until she's pulled out her hair and most of her mind.
And the angrier I got, the more he smiled.
"Byron, stop it or I'll make you stop!" Renata had shouted.
"Don't be like that, Renata," he'd responded. And when his head was turned I'd stomped on his foot as hard as I could. He'd staggered and I'd heard the stone floor crack underneath us. "Nice kick," he'd said.
"Yes!" I'd shouted back inarticulately. "Leave me alone or I'll kick your head in!"
"I guess I'll just have to wait and give you a fall flower, then," he'd answered. "Early spring at the latest."
There had been another pair of hands on me and I'd wondered if Felix or someone else had come to help Byron rip me up, but it had only been Renata holding onto me, her face screwed up like she was concentrating hard on something.
"Oh come on," Byron had said, like a schoolboy to a finger-shaking chaperone.
"She could have killed you, you know that?" Renata had snapped back. "You know what newborns are like."
Byron had only shrugged. "Fair enough. Until another day, missy." And he'd been gone.
And the whole thing had been so goddamned confusing. I could tell that Byron had been trying to accomplish something, but nothing I could think of made any sense. I mean, I'd seen that awful fight between Edward and Felix and I could tell that Byron hadn't been trying to do that, hurt me or scare me into doing what he said. I'd still been shaking, though, and I couldn't say for sure that it was only from anger.
"He shouldn't have done that," Renata had said into the empty air, her hands still gently touching my arms. "He ought to know better." And I'd almost felt better myself until she'd added, "You're still too new."
I shuddered, and Edward's eyes turned toward me before fixing on Byron again. He was breathing just a little harder than he needed to. The muscles in his forearm flexed like knotted steel, but I didn't let go. There was one thing that I did not want and I did not want Edward to try to kick Byron's ass for messing with me. I could remember enough about that fight with Felix to know that when it came to the Volturi, Edward was completely outclassed. More than I wanted to smash Byron's teeth out through his Euro-hipster haircut, I didn't want Edward to get hurt.
"Bella," Edward said with mock calmness, not taking his eyes off Byron, "would you excuse us for a moment? Our friend here and I need to have a word."
"Edward," I said warningly. "You don't need to—"
"Actually, I'm quite sure I do," he said, looking at me this time.
"Edward, its nothing."
"Stay here and don't say a word until I get back," he said, twisting painlessly out of my hands. "Byron, isn't it?" he asked in in what was otherwise a friendly tone of voice—other than the electric charge of menace running through it like the crack of a whip.
"Yes," the other vampire answered guardedly. He looked Edward up and down as if what he saw didn't much impress him. In a way I could see where he was coming from. Byron wasn't as tall as Demetri or as imposing as Felix, but he had arms like tree trunks. Edward looked for all the world like he'd stepped out of an Ambercrombie and Fitch ad, long and lean but not exactly imposing.
"It's come to my attention, that while I was gone you did not behave in a manner befitting a man of your position. In fact, it seems that certain impertinences took place."
Byron's eyebrows shot up into his hair. I had to sympathize. Of all the things I'd been expecting, Edward doing a Jane Austen imitation hadn't been on the top of my list.
"I don't believe my—my lady gave you her permission to accost her in that way. Am I right, Byron?"
"Your lady?" Byron repeated. "What is this, Medieval Times?"
"I want to hear you say that the incident will not be repeated," Edward said levelly.
Byron gave a little laugh. "Look, if she's too young for me then she's too young for you. You've hardly got any right to—"
For a second, it was as if I could hear thoughts myself, and the whole room was thinking, "Wrong answer!" Then Byron let out a surprised grunt as Edward pile-drove him back around the corner and into the next hallway.
I said a word that Renee would have smacked my mouth for and then hurried after them. It was wider in here, with columns supporting the high ceiling and carefully cut windows high on the walls letting shafts of sunlight down onto the floor. Edward and Byron were dodging around two of the pillars in the far corner of the room. The one or two vampires passing through had already turned to stare.
I registered footsteps behind me and risked looking over my shoulder to see Heidi and two other vampires whose names I didn't know. "What's going on?" one of them called out.
There was another snarl and a crash of vampire flesh against stone and the two of them were rolling heavily across the floor, Byron's cloak tearing thickly. Beside me, Heidi was shaking her head. I felt my shoulder blades clench together. Any second now, she and her friends would pounce in and pull the two of them apart and probably beat Edward to a pulp. I looked Heidi up and down, wondering if I could take her or slow her down or ...hell, do anything useful for once.
Byron snarled, deep and low as Edward regained his feet. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if Heidi interfered.
"Aren't you going to do something?" I hissed in a loud whisper.
Heidi looked at me like I'd just turned on my cell phone at the theater and then turned back to watch.
I did too, and then I felt my face go blank. In my human memories, there was a field, and thunder. The baseball game. Esme had said something, something about Edward being fast. Well she was right.
Edward let out a shout as Byron aimed a heavy-fisted punch toward his solar plexus.
It never connected. I felt my eyes get wide. Byron knew what he was doing. Even I could tell from the way he varied his punches that Byron knew how to handle himself in a fight, but Edward always managed to be somewhere else.
Byron had been fast, but Edward—Edward was faster, breaking in between moves to strike at Byron's face and eyes. I looked around the room again, wide angles with plenty of space, and I felt my mind open up. Just like in the fight with Felix, Edward was dodging Byron's blows just a split second before he moved, but this time, he had enough space to make his speed count for something.
"What in hell do you think you're doing?" Byron yelled.
Edward didn't answer, not with words, anyway. The two of them were moving like bluejays in a jetstream, fluttering through the dusty air almost faster than I could see. Byron looked completely different without that damned smile. He looked angry and dangerous and fully capable of taking Edward apart piece by piece—but only if he could catch him.
Byron still looked tough, but it was a frazzled kind of tough, with his hair and clothes in disarray. I looked from his gasping face to Edward's low smirk and back. Somehow, Edward was getting the better of the fight. I shifted from one foot to another, and I honestly couldn't say for sure whether I wanted him to stop and run away...
Edward ducked Byron's lunge and slid easily out of his reach, bracing himself against the near pillar.
...or keep fighting until Byron dropped...
I saw a ripple move through Edward's lean body before there was another rush of air and Byron was doubled over with a low grunt of pain, both Edward's feet hitting the floor a moment later.
...or tell me how to join in and get my share of him.
Edward's eyes shot my way and I realized that I was growling, low and deep and far back in my throat. I swallowed hard, stopping it, and Edward pulled his attention away from me in time to see Byron make a lightning-fast lunge that I knew, knew, in the deepest most instinctive part of my being was going to tear Edward's throat from his body and leave him helpless.
I covered my eyes and neck, cringing at the metallic wrench and the general shout coming from the other vampires who'd come—I now realized—solely to watch two of their brethren rip each other apart. Oh God...
Beside me, Heidi laughed.
"Watch your language," Edward answered confidently.
I looked up, seeing Edward standing quite unharmed on one side of the hallway. There was something small and pale between his finger and thumb.
Byron had one hand pressed to the side of his head as he snarled throatily at Edward, "You ripped off my ear!"
"I'll give it back if you promise to use it to listen," Edward said calmly, like some freakish version of a kindergarten teacher.
Heidi muttered something in what was either Italian or German. The vampire to her left, a woman with curly hair and a square jaw, chuckled.
"I won't have your throat for this," Edward said, as calmly as if they were both standing on the sidewalk. "Bella seems to want to avoid any unpleasantness and, unlike you, I know how to respect a lady's wishes."
Byron answered with a low snarl. "Give it back, asshole!"
"Well I suppose you don't really need it. I hear longer hairstyles are coming back."
"It won't happen again."
"What won't?" Edward prompted.
The male beside the square-jawed woman was shaking his head slightly, "Shouldn't push his luck...."
Edward's eyes flicked to Afton and then back to Byron.
Byron turned to look at me, an echo of his earlier smile making a comeback. "Okay," he said. "I think I've made my point anyway."
Edward flipped the whitish scrap of flesh toward its owner, who caught it before it hit the floor. An instant later he was by my side, one hand on my elbow. "Let's go," he said. I was too startled to do anything but what he said. "Don't look back," he whispered into my hair as we moved away from the small crowd. "I'll explain."
He was darn right he would.
"I saw someplace in Demetri's memories," he said quietly. "It should do for our purposes. We'll go there now."
"Our purposes?" I asked, tugging on his sleeve. Obligingly, Edward drew to a stop. Behind us, I could hear Byron muttering to Afton as his and Edward's audience started to break up. "Edward, what in hell was all that?"
He blinked, his gold eyes losing some of their hardness. "You really don't know?" he asked.
"Some guy messed with me in the hallways yesterday and you pulled one of his ears off his head. Sure. What's hard to understand about that?" I said. "But the part about you doing it two minutes after telling me to keep my nose clean and not make waves has me a little stumped."
"I'm sorry about that," he said, "but if I hadn't fought him, he would have interpreted it as cowardice on my part. He'd have done it again—or something worse. I'm sorry you had to see me behave so badly, but it prevented more trouble than it caused, I promise you."
"Okay..." I trailed off. I didn't really understand where he was going with that, but I had an idea at least. It could sit for a while. "But why did Byron go after me in the first place? Is it some kind of torture-the-new-girl thing?"
Edward's mouth opened. Then he closed it again. "No," he said. Then he turned and pointed to our left. "It's this way," he told me, "one of the access tunnels," he added before I could ask. "They don't use it this time of year. No one will follow us." We moved into a vestibule with a worn grate in the floor. Edward knelt down to open it, lifting the heavy bars with ease as a few flakes of rust fell away.
"Bella... Byron's methods might have been..." he looked away. "He wasn't trying to attack you the other day."
"I know that," I said, though I wasn't quite sure why I did. I wanted to know what was going on. Edward knew and wasn't telling me, and that was pissing me right the hell on off. "Renata acted like it was no big deal."
"In a way it wasn't," he said, closing his eyes. "He was showing off."
"But Heidi and everybody didn't get there until you were already fighting," I pointed out.
Edward set his jaw, staring at the wall for a long moment. "Bella, what do you think happens when two vampires meet in a city ...or in the wild?" he asked, setting the grate beside the dark square opening.
"You're not snow leopards, Edward."
He shook his head. "You've only ever seen covens," he said. "My family, the Volturi. Even James's coven was actually unusually large. We are not social creatures," he told me. "If you have companions, it means you have to share your food, kill that much less often, move on that much sooner. It's not that unusual for two vampires to fight each other over territory. Do you understand?"
"I guess," I said. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"So if you meet a vampire whom you don't want to fight, perhaps someone with whom you'd like to have ...some other type of encounter," he added awkwardly, "well, you have to get that message across rather quickly, before your new friend does any damage."
I suddenly had a good idea of why Edward was having so much trouble talking about this and had to swallow the sick feeling in my stomach.
"Byron offered you a gift, then he showed you that he was fast and strong, that he could fight if he wanted while at the same time passing up a half-dozen opportunities to actually hurt you," Edward went on. "It was his way of making his intentions known."
"So, uh..." I said, the words sticking in my throat, the pictures blossoming in my mind like mold across a rotten fruit, "he was going to, um..." My hands moved with the words I didn't want to say.
"No, no," Edward said, stopping me. "Even the Volturi don't approve of that. It is more like he was trying to impress you."
I felt better but not much. I suddenly had a vision of my third grade reading teacher pushing a Kleenex into my hand and saying, "Honey, they're only doing it because they like you." It hadn't made any damned sense at the time, and I didn't like it any better now.
"He couldn't just talk to me?" I asked. "'How about the Marlins?' and all that?"
Edward smiled sadly. "Our instincts don't go away when we move into cities and put on gray robes, Bella," he told me. "Byron was doing what vampires have been doing for thousands, maybe millions of years. He just ...adapted it a little. I'm not sure, but..." He looked away. "Byron wouldn't have meddled with you if he'd thought that you and I really were together."
I sat down on the floor next to the grate. I hadn't been upset earlier, but now I was positively sick to my stomach. Medieval attitude. Edward had warned me about that. But then, hadn't he just fought a duel over my honor or something? And... And Edward was really from the Victorian period, wasn't he? Back in Forks, he'd only been pretending to be my age. What if he'd been hiding things, things that he didn't have to hide in Volterra?
And if this is how he takes it when someone gives me a flower, what will he do when we see Jacob again? Maybe nothing, I hoped.
"It's normal here, Bella," Edward was saying. "You were vulnerable, and I showed weakness, and someone moved to take advantage of that. It's not civilized, but that's how things are. There are only a few ways to deal with it."
I pointed my eyes at him, not really listening.
"Here," he said, holding out his hand for me to take. "It'll be at least an hour or two before Aro wants me again. No one will come looking for us."
I looked at his hand, then back at him again. "What are we going to do?" I asked carefully.
"I'm going to teach you to fight."
Taking all suggestions for the improvement of this chapter.
No, he's not named after Lord Byron. "Byron" seems to fit into the cultural hodgepodge of Volturi given names.
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu