Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Target ( Chapter 21 )

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

Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. This story is a fanfiction based on characters, settings and concepts from Twilight, its three sequels and the first half of Midnight Sun, all of which are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. No party other than the fanauthor may alter the text of this work in any way.

"Looking you in that way, analyzing you as a target. Seeing all the ways I can kill you... It just makes it too real for me." -Edward, Breaking Dawn

I let go of the edges of the opening and dropped perhaps twelve feet down onto the dank, stone-cobbled floor of the tunnel. The jolt of my landing felt good against my knees, my spine, my nerves. The past eight minutes had shot them right to hell.

I had not been ready for that. I'd known intellectually how men here in Volterra behaved, but I had not expected it this soon. I'd thought the taboo against bedding newborns would protect her a little longer, but it seemed that her quick development was not going unnoticed. It seemed that Byron assumed that Bella's control of her emotions meant that she was also able to balance out her thirst to the point where she could experience other physical desires. And that she'd suffer his advances.

But you don't know she wouldn't, do you, Edward Cullen? my own voice rang in my head. And in truth, why shouldn't she? He's strong and intelligent and almost civilized ...apart from being a murderous fiend, just like she— I knocked the thought out of my mind. It wouldn't help. Thinking like that wouldn't help.

I'd still been reeling from Carlisle's visit, never mind the fallout from my grotesque mission with Demetri and the others, and there Byron had been, running his fingers over the memory as if he were still dragging them across her cheek, as if he were taunting me.

It was illusion, of course. The poor fool hadn't had the slightest idea what he'd been in for.

Of course, neither had I.

The raw anger that had ignited my mind when I'd realized what had occurred in my absence... I couldn't make sense of it, not then and not now. The whole incident was starting to feel hazy, like something that had happened to someone else. Surely I couldn't have been that angry and still spoken to him in the level way that I had. Surely I couldn't have let him get away with only a torn ear.

I mentally thanked my human mother and father ...or tutors. I couldn't remember exactly who'd drilled those manners into me until form had become second nature. I was reasonably confident that that was why I'd acquitted myself as well as I had with Byron, speaking to him instead of leaping for his throat and treating him even worse than he'd treated Bella. There was no need for her to have to deal with two barbarians in one day.

"You can come down," I called up at her hesitating silhouette.

Framed against the square of light from the upper chambers, she took hold of the sides of the portal and swung her legs underneath. I looked away just in time, remembering that she was wearing a dress instead of the jeans that the human Bella had favored.

She would need to feed again soon. The newborn red of her eyes didn't fade with thirst the way older vampires' did, and she was too young to be able to tell the pressing thirst of true need from the constant, low-level craving that we all felt all the time. I couldn't go by my own appetites eather; she was young. She would not be able to hold out as long as I could. It was far too early to start pushing that envelope.

I didn't imagine it would be difficult to contact a livestock dealer, but I'd have to find out how to requisition funds from the Volturi communal accounts, where to send the trucks, get help unloading them discreetly. A big logistical mess.

She landed on the ground beside me in a slight crouch, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

"That was kind of fun," she said, letting me see a flash of white teeth in the dim light. A memory came to me, a new vampire with a round face and curly hair, and miles upon miles of all but empty mountains.

Emmett had spent weeks smashing boulders and chasing me up trees like I was a goddamned raccoon. Truth be told, "fun" hadn't covered it. She deserved something more like that, I realized with a pang. Being a city vampire didn't come close.

"What is it?" asked Bella.

"Nothing," I said. "Shall we get started?"

The tunnels below and to the west of the compound seemed adequate. The space was close—I'd have preferred an open field well outside the city—but I might as well have wanted the whole Cascade mountain range; any further than this and Demetri would come looking for us.

"We'll start simply," I said. She nodded, her mouth and cheeks perfectly still, though I could suspect that she was still put out with me, Byron, our situation or all of it. I wasn't too keen on it myself. "I'll come at you, and you try to repel me." She nodded again.

This would not be easy for me, but there was no one else I could trust to do it. I opened my eyes and fixed them on her smooth form, taking in her posture, her stance, her size and shape, pushing the thought of her as a person from my mind. I threw myself into analyzing her as a target, seeing all the ways I could kill her.

One empty heartbeat passed and then I sprang.

She reacted quickly, trying to duck to the side and grab my wrist, but even in this small space, I was too fast for her. I had her pinned against the wall in two seconds.

She did better on her second attempt. That time it took me four seconds, my canines pressed meaningfully against her throat as her low gasp shook us both.

I carefully released her neck and pulled away, but not before I inadvertently drew in a full breath. I tried not to notice, but it was undeniably pleasant. I breathed out, pushing the lingering flowers out of my mind.

"Time out," I murmured. I felt her body relax against me, and I felt an involuntary tingle run through my skin before I could step back to a more decent distance and compose myself. I hadn't been lying when I'd told her she was beautiful. She was. More than that, her smooth limbs and long dark hair were exactly to my taste. By normal standards, I was lucky.

It was only her status as a newborn that named me deviant in Volturi eyes. While it was not unheard of for a vampire to take someone he'd turned for a mate, the fact that only the older partner could draw any pleasure from it gave the practice a lecherous air.

In this way, her self-control was actually a problem. It was making the men of Volterra forget that she was still undeveloped in other ways. At least it had better have been that Byron had only forgotten. Otherwise, he was due another beating.

"You have to protect your neck," I told her. "A strike to the throat is incapacitating, at least for a while. Even a fractured skull won't put you down as long. It's the closest thing we have to a kill shot."

"I remember," she said.

I blinked.

James. Arizona.

"All right," I said. "Ready?" She nodded, and I came at her again.

I should have started this long ago, I realized as I slipped under her guard. Real lessons. Real survival. She was going to need it. I grit my teeth, nodding as she managed to dodge me. She was my ally. She was my charge, and I had not been doing my duty.

I hadn't realized how much I had been counting on Carlisle to come and rescue us ...or to at least rescue her and take this crushing responsibility off my shoulders.

Well that wasn't going to happen. It was time to man up, as Emmett would have put it.

Bella braced for me to land a blow to her chest, so I ducked low and swept her feet out from under her. She landed in the dust with a thud, but she was back on her feet before I could do any more damage.

Now that the shock of seeing my father was wearing off, I felt different. I felt a new stillness inside me, but it wasn't like the icy blackness that had covered my first days in Volterra. It was a living stillness, as if my heart had become some cautious animal, watching the world, waiting for the right moment to break cover.

"There are three ways to keep the men of Volterra from bothering you," I told her. "They can develop true brotherly feeling toward us, but that's not likely, at least not any time soon," I added. "Or they can come to fear me—" I lunged at her again.

Bella shoved my arm to the side, smiling widely when my palm hit the wall of the tunnel instead of her unprotected neck.

"—or they can fear you," I added over my shoulder.

"I like that last one," she said, her white teeth flashing in the dim light.

"Then let's make you dangerous," I added with a grin of my own. Smiling made the hollow place in my chest ache strangely, but it was a good strange. "The first one would have been better," I admitted, shaking flakes of stone off my skin, "but I've made myself too unpopular."

She shrugged. "Who cares what these people think?" she asked, chin in the air.

"We both should," I answered without delay. "Bella, we can't afford to make more enemies here."

She folded her arms, staring at the tunnel wall. It would be better to let her get it out of her system, I supposed. Better that she take her frustrations out on me than throw a tantrum or launch some scheme and get herself killed. "Bella, I'm serious," I said. "If we start to seem like more trouble than we're worth, we will both die of it. If we so much as think of undermining the Volturi, even in small ways, Aro will know," I added with a tap to my head. "He keeps me by him too much for us to hide anything."

Bella looked up at me suddenly, as if I had just said something very important. I exhaled in relief. Perhaps I was getting through to her about the seriousness of our situation.

"Try holding your arms like this," I said, dropping into a crouch. "It's a good defensive posture."

She nodded tersely, mimicking my stance as I prepared to attack her again.

We continued like that for a few hours. Most of the time I managed to outmaneuver her, but I occasionally found myself the victim of her newborn strength, which she had not entirely learned to control But the smile that would flash on her face after she'd knocked me sprawling on the floor was worth the discomfort. I found that I quite liked making her smile.

I remembered what Carlisle had told me, that this was no time to wonder whether she was the same Bella Swan I'd known in Forks or not. I shook my head. I couldn't pull the question from my mind. One moment this Bella would turn her hands or push back her hair the way my human Bella had and I'd almost be fooled, but it couldn't truly be her, could it? The quiet creature that I'd become sniffed the air and blinked its dark eyes, missing nothing.

Either I'd ended Bella's life or I'd condemned her soul. There was no getting around that. But not knowing which one, not knowing if my love was still with me in danger or gone from me and safe, that was eating me alive.

Bella tried to get her arms around me, but only succeeded in snagging my hand. I made a mental note to teach her wristlocks next.

"You were ready for me that time!" she said lightly.

"You have to be ready," I answered, crouching down for my next attack. "A fight can happen at any time. I'm not even sure what sets them off."

Bella seemed to sober at that. "Edward..." she closed her eyes. "I understand if you don't want to tell me. I know it..."

"What is it?" I asked gently.

She looked at me, and again I cursed my inability to read her thoughts. That would have made all of this so much easier. Then I could have answered her without putting her through this.

"Did you really have to?" she asked, her voice like a soft rain falling.

"Did I have to what?"

"Because I think I can deal with it if you swear to me that you only did it because you had to," she said, stepping toward me. She was holding out one hand, like she would touch my arm, but she never did. "When Oleg was being executed..."

I remembered. I remembered having my arms around her while she shook in tearless sobs. I should have realized that it would have affected her.

"You mean his coven," I said, hating the emptiness in my voice.

She nodded, eyelids sliding closed like iron over hot coals.

And did I really have to kill them. What was in her mind? Did she think of me descending on them like some dark angel, tearing their lives from their bodies? Was I as awful a monster in her eyes as I'd always tried to convince her that I was?
"Yes" was the answer, but it wasn't what she really needed to hear. She needed to understand what had really happened in Budapest, but I wasn't sure that it wouldn't make things worse. I remembered Felix crushing my head against the floor. I remembered the brutal certainty in Alec's voice. I didn't want her to know.
I also had a million excuses. Sending me meant that they hadn't sent Jane. I'd asked Alec to spare Miklos. I found that I couldn't tell her any of those either. It would have felt like I was trying to lessen what I'd done.

"They're going to tell me to do worse things," I said at last. "And yes, I'll have to do them."

"Because otherwise Aro will hurt us?"

I nodded. "Yes." She understood that part, at least. Thank God.

"It won't always be spies," I said. "Sometimes, it will be vampires who've behaved too brutally or fed to liberally on humans—"

I cut off as her shoulders gave a heavy twitch. I'd said the wrong thing. That had been the wrong thing to say. "I'm sorry," I murmured.

She shook her head. "Let's get back to work," she told me, dropping back into her stance.

I mimicked her, eyes sweeping her body for the best place to strike, "You've got to resign yourself to this, Bella." I said, inwardly coiling my body like a spring. "Unless Aro changes his mind and lets you leave, this is what our lives are going to be like."

She looked up, mouth dropping open just as my palms hit her shoulders, knocking us both toward the far end of the tunnel. I lost my balance, sending us both skidding into the floor of the tunnel. I blinked to clear the dust from my eyes and realized to my embarrassment that I'd thrown my arms around her.

"What do you mean?" she asked warily as I attempted to find some decent way to extricate myself.

"I mean that once your newborn strength wears off, you're no more useful to him than any other vampire," I said, setting my palms against the tunnel floor. It also meant that she wouldn't be more useful to Carlisle, and that had more to do with it. "If he thinks he doesn't need you to keep me in line, he might let you leave here. Carlisle almost had him convinced today."

"Leave here?" she echoed, still making no move to get up. "Alone?"

"You wouldn't be alone," I promised her. "Carlisle and Esme would be glad to have you."

"Is that what you want?" she asked, the glowing embers of her eyes searching my face. "For me to leave you here?"

I remembered the rippling malice of the guard surrounding Oleg at his travesty of a trial, the black delight as he was torn to pieces. The thought of my newborn Bella as the object of that terrible focus was enough to turn my insides to ice. I answered her with no hesitation.

"Of course I don't want you here."

Quick as a snake, she gave me a push and I landed heavily in the dirt as she got to her feet.

"Bella, we should keep practicing," I called after her.

"Edward, you just told me that you wished I'd—" she screwed her eyes shut. "I need a gosh darn minute. I can't look at you right now," she muttered, eying the distance between herself and the floor above. A second passed and she jumped up, snagging the sides of the opening with both arms. Her legs kicked in the patch of light, one shoe dangling off her toe before she disappeared back into the compound.

"Bella!" I called after her. I took two steps toward the portal and jumped, catching the sides smoothly and vaulting through. I had to catch up to her before she lost me. She shouldn't be walking around the compound alone. She didn't know where to go yet and Renata was still—

"You'd best let her go a while, young one," said a smooth voice from behind me.

Marcus, I realized before I turned around. His thoughts were steady, slow, unmistakable in this frenetic windstorm of vampiric experience. When I met his eyes, I found he was smiling. It wasn't Aro's indulgent grin; it wasn't Caius's glittering smirk. It was oddly unsettling to see Marcus look anything but bored, and he did not look bored now.

The tiny animal that my spirit had become poked one glittering eye from its den. Still waiting.

There, Brother, he thought. I did not deliberately seek them out, as you asked, but now that I've seen them, allow me my amusements as I have allowed you yours. Distracted as I was, I wondered if Marcus always addressed Aro in his thoughts.

I started, looking the way Bella had gone and then back to Marcus again. I'd never been in Marcus's presence without Aro or Caius as well. I'd always had some more present threat to demand my attention. I now found that Marcus's mind was as clear as Aro's but ideas did not take the same shape there. Aro was all logic and deduction. Marcus focused on the interplay between people, passively watching rather than trying to reason things out.

To Marcus's mind, I was a three-way property. I could help the Volturi build a newborn army. That was Caius's project. I could help them see thought patterns in crowds as they developed in many minds at once. That was Aro's point of interest.

Marcus's red-gray eyes tracked down the corridor where Bella had fled.

...and I had a human mate whom I'd turned myself. That was Marcus's. And he'd been denied his rights.

"Sir?" I asked, not sure what else to call him. "Master" still burned my throat.

"Let her go a while," he repeated. "Give her some time to become less angry with you. The more you chase her, the longer that will take."

I frowned, looking the way Bella had gone and then back to Marcus again.

Fool, he thought. The greatest gift of our kind and he squanders it. Interest and irritation were stirring ripples in the thick boredom of his mind.

"I don't share Aro's views about singers," I answered coldly. I'd have rather had her back than tasted that sweet blood a thousand times over.

He raised an eyebrow. I blinked. He had been thinking about singers, hadn't he?

Ah yes, the boy does not need touch to hear our thoughts. I shall have to become used to that, I suppose.

"I try to be discreet," I offered.

"I appreciate that," he said back.

"Why doesn't Aro want you to come looking for Bella and me?" I asked, suddenly bold. Though I felt slightly ashamed to admit it, in some low, brutal way, winning the fight with Byron had made me confident.

Marcus folded his hands across his chest, not breaking his mild expression.

"Or is it Caius?" I said.

His bland smile widened. You will find that I can be discreet too. Aro warned me about your tricks.

I felt my eyes narrow. Marcus's mind was formidable, but he did not have Aro's understanding of my gift. I was able to catch scraps.

...part of my leverage over him, Brother. ...ask only that you do not reveal...

A set of footsteps distracted me, footsteps and thoughts. Rolfe was coming. He'd been sent to look for me. Damn it all.

I looked at Marcus and then down the hall. I had to find Bella. Surely Aro and Caius couldn't object to my seeing Bella back to Renata before going back to being Aro's eye in the crowd. She was still a newborn, after all.

A second later the burly vampire all but bounced into the room, checking at the door to make his bow to Marcus, who nodded back distractedly.

"So do you already know why I'm here?" Rolfe asked.

Odd... Rolfe's thoughts didn't seem contemptuous ...or disgusted or anything else that I'd have expected from one of the Volturi. He seemed more like a man coming to get his fortune told by a beachside faux-gypsy than a soldier sent to give me my orders.

I wonder if he notices, Marcus thought as he watched the confusion on my face. Ah, yes, young one. I told my brothers to send Rolfe rather than Felix whenever reasonably practical. Renata was my idea as well. I used to do this all the time, you know.

I could figure that out later. For now, I decided to play along. "You want to know about the fight upstairs," I said.

He gave a little chuckle. "Maybe later. In the meantime, the masters want you to come and—"

I lost the rest of his spoken words as they were swallowed up by the sickening image in his mind. Not that Rolfe found it sickening. He was actually excited.

"I have to find Bella first," I said, my voice coming out much lower than I'd expected.

Oh come on. That doesn't gross him out too, does it? Rolfe thought incredulously. It's not like he hasn't done it before. Now I saw Bella's turning day from deep back in the crowd. I noted sickly that, from Rolfe's perspective at least, I'd seemed to have been enjoying myself.

"I'll come with you," he volunteered, trotting toward me. "We'd better make it quick."

I nodded, turning away from Marcus and heading down the east hallway, where Bella had gone. Mentally, I reached out, trying to ignore Rolfe's misguided enthusiasm. Even if Bella wanted to be alone, this wasn't a large place. Someone must have seen her.

Two vampires heading toward library duty. No, Bella wasn't in their thoughts. A human doorman turning a guest away. At least Bella hadn't gone near the street. Felix planning how to spend a few off-duty hours. No, and thank God for it. A secretary carrying some forms to accounting, and she was watching a strange, dark-haired vampire walk toward her, something unsettling in her too-bright eyes and—

I broke into a run. Beside me, Rolfe made a surprised sound, but it was lost in the high-pitched, human scream that washed over us like a wave.
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