Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Together ( Chapter 24 )
[ 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 submitting author may alter this work in any way other than font size and other reasonable accommodations to formatting.
"Anything weaker than the bond between partners is in danger. In a normal coven, at least." -Eleazar, Breaking Dawn
Keep it together. Keep it together. Keep it together...
I'd expected him to choose a prayer, but now that he was here, this made more sense.
Marcell. He was a broad-faced, youngish man, not quite thirty. Caius had selected him for legal service because of a case he'd won on municipal zoning back in Rome. Aro had selected him for his pet project because he'd be able to pass for anything between twenty-one and forty after he was turned. And something about him reminded him of Bella. Personally, I didn't see it.
He was reciting the same words, the same letters, over and over in his head, going through every language he knew. English, then Italian, then German, then one of the Slavic languages that I didn't speak, then back to English. He was turning himself into white noise, but it still wasn't quite better than nothing. Nothing was better than nothing.
I looked across the room, and there she was, next to Renata. Her pale gray hood was up over her dark hair, but I could see her eyes, bright red and hopeful. Her lips were pressed together in a tight smile. She was stone, but she was gentle stone, at least to me.
I would never know what it cost her to stand still and encourage me. She must have been thinking about the two humans she'd fed on. She must have been thinking about the time I'd turned her. But I'd never know for sure.
And that, we'd figured out, was what worked for me.
It hadn't only been Gianna's blood. Gianna had been thinking about being a vampire, imagining what it would be like to be immortal, powerful, to feed on humans. She had misconceptions in a few places, but she was dead right far too often for my liking. She'd had a rather sophisticated fantasy about what she'd do to one of the girls from maintenance whom she'd seen eying Felix a few too many times.
I'd have preferred to think that it was only that she reminded me how wretched she was, how little harm I'd be doing if I let her die, but I could be honest with myself. I couldn't help being honest with myself when Aro saw my every thought and I saw his every conclusion: Her thoughts of feeding had blended with my reality of feeding and holding back had become more than I could manage.
Focus, I warned myself. Thinking about that would only make things worse. I had to think of the human in front of me. I had to get us both through this.
Keep it together. Keep it together. Keep it together.
It was as good a mantra as any, really. He could have been reciting nonsense poems or lines of tax law. We'd coached him to do just that, and I'd spent the past week trying to think of him as a poor fool who didn't know what he was getting into. If he didn't prove me wrong in the next three minutes, I might just manage not to kill him.
I'd raised the issue of anesthesia with Aro, of putting them entirely out. His answer, silent but certain has been, Maybe next time. He didn't want to change too many variables in his little experiment, at least not too many at once.
I turned the man's head aside as gently as I could. I kept my eyes on Bella and tried not to think about what I was doing as I bit down. This was just ...a mold in a dentist's office. I just had to get my venom into the body and then...
For a second, I kept my head. That's all I needed, really. It wouldn't have to take more than one bite. It wouldn't—
It was too good, I thought as my eyes rolled shut. It was just too damned good after all that pig's blood, with Gianna's and Bella's still fresh in my mind.
Keep it together. Keep ...together... Keep...
I kept it together. I didn't let go because if I did this feeling would stop. I had to remember... I had to remember not to drop him. His blood didn't belong on the floor. It belonged in me. There was noise somewhere but it was unimportant. There were thoughts, far away. They were in another universe, with mine.
Oh God, it hurts! But it didn't hurt at all.
...at least not right then.
I was never too clear on what happened next. My nerves seemed to come alive with pain, but that only made me hold on, bite down harder. Then there was a growl, and anger, and a hard, wet crunching sound that seemed to come from inside my head. I was halfway across the room, with another vampire holding my arm in a death grip and her on my other side, saying my name over and over. I would remember snarling and lashing out against the force holding me back from my food, my food, until my body caught fire again, and I stumbled, my captors' grip the only thing between me and the flagstones.
"That's enough! You stopped him already!"
That was when I registered the sounds coming from the center of the room, and they were too much like, just like...
"Come on," she whispered, and two sets of arms pulled me out of the room. The pain left, but all my will to fight left with it. The world was suddenly empty, and it was a relief.
There was something I had to remember. There was something I'd forgotten and I needed it back, but the room was full of thoughts and my mind was full of thoughts and I couldn't tell whether I was Felix thinking about tossing some scrawny boy out into the hallway while his tasty little shrew of a mate watched—Finally made a noise. Guess he's not made of wood after all—or Caius thinking about a newborn who might meet all his hopes or someone else who could only scream, They never told me it would be this bad!
There were voices, far away, far away because they were outside my head instead of in it. "He hit him pretty hard. Can you manage?" a male, and then a female, "I'll take care of it. You go back," and she wasn't in my head and I loved her for it.
At the time, I only knew that something had happened, something had gone wrong and I was terribly exhausted. I felt like a man in a river with nothing to brace himself against the current, just trying to grip with his toes and hold his head upright. I'd been fighting water all day and now I was tired.
Something touched my face and I shuddered. I opened my eyes to find myself leaning against one of the old window casings. There was sunlight coming down through the remaining slits near the ceiling.
I think that I did know, on some level, how I had been injured. Or maybe I only figured it out later and projected the knowledge back onto the memory, but I did know I had to stay still. I did know that the faint, dusty creaking in the back of my consciousness was a good thing, and that the aching and dimness would stop if I held still and waited.
She was touching my face with a damp cloth, my cheeks, my forehead, my mouth. Her eyes had been red a few moments ago, but they were darkening now. I stared into them and watched the black swallow up each fleck of pigment in her irises, like embers going dark. It must have been the scent in the room. There was blood around here somewhere, human blood, and I had to remember... Or was it that I had to forget?
I knew that I knew her. Every cell in my body knew her. She was mine, wasn't she? And if something here was terribly wrong, it was a long way off. I didn't want to move. Something about the ache in my head made me not want to move, not so long as she didn't.
Her eyes had turned dark. The cloth had turned pink. I reached up and took it away from her and felt the air move around me as she breathed in hard. Her hands stopped on my upper arms. Her eyes stopped on my lips.
Go ahead, I thought. She could. Was there a reason why she shouldn't?
She leaned forward, licking at something on the corner of my mouth before drawing my lower lip between her teeth and sucking hard. I dropped the cloth and cupped the back of her head with one hand. I snaked my other arm around her waist until I could feel her shape against me through our clothes. God but she felt good... Her hips and her breast and her scent and her hands on my shoulders and the shudder in her body as I pushed into her mouth.
This was so much better than the time I'd kissed her in the meadow, I realized as my mind became clearer. I didn't have to hold back, and there was what she was doing. There was an eagerness to her that hadn't been there before, some new hunger—
It was like cresting up through the surface of a lake. Reality drew me fast into the cold air, leaving currents of my dream ripping down.
I had a brief moment of clarity, a second to figure out how to extricate myself. I leaned back, but she moved with me, still enchanted by the trace human blood in my mouth. I brought my other hand up to Bella's shoulder and gave her a gentle push. There was a light growl from the center of her throat. I pushed harder. Nothing. She was a rock.
I turned my head away and she growled again, trying to follow me. "Stop," I said firmly.
And there she was, nothing more or less than herself. My newborn fellow prisoner. And she'd only... This had only been about...
I ducked my head down and sucked air in through my nose. Oh God. Oh God... This was too much.
For a second, I'd forgotten. It had taken a goddamned smashed cranium, but for a second, I'd forgotten whom I'd been with, where we were, everything that had happened. But now I remembered. This wasn't really my Bella, and that hadn't really been a kiss.
"I'm sorry, Edward," she said. "I—"
I didn't look up, but I nodded tightly. She took the hint and stopped talking. I pressed one palm against my forehead and felt my shoulders shake. My breathing caught in my chest, so I stopped, but my shoulders shook me again and again and I hoped to God she thought it was because I'd just killed someone.
"Hey," she whispered, stepping toward me again. She put her arms around me and I pressed both my eyes against her shoulder.
"Bella," I whispered, and it sounded pathetic even to me. I missed her. I missed her so much. I'd managed not to break down like this the whole time, not when Alice had left us, not when I'd found her in that cell, not when she'd made her second kill. I did now, for everything we'd both lost. This wasn't my Bella from the old days. Did that have to be so bad? Or it was and she'd just licked a man's blood off my lips and snarled for more.
"I know," she murmured. "I know." She didn't. I hoped she never would.
"It went well," she said, and I could feel the air leaving her chest as she said it. "It went well. He didn't die. You did it this time. It went well."
I didn't say anything. I didn't want her to see. And I did not want it to have gone well. If it had, they'd tell me to do it again.
"All right," I said after a few moments. I breathed in and out without incident. "I'm all right," I said. I was close enough to it, anyway. Besides, we wouldn't be alone in this hallway for that much longer.
Reality. I'd just turned my second newborn in three months. By now, Felix would have taken Marcell down to the holding cells. It would be as much for his protection as anything else. He still smelled human, and fresh blood inside a wounded, twitching body was like vampire catnip. He wouldn't need to stay down there as long as Bella had. They'd be able to do things the usual way.
And now I could hear other things. Was this how it was going to be? Would I be so in tune with Aro's thoughts that he would command me from a world away?
"He's not happy," I said. "He's not happy."
Her face hadn't changed, but I could see she was confused. After all, I'd managed to get through this without killing the human. But that was it. I'd managed. I hadn't acquitted myslf better than anyone else. Felix could have done as well, and his record was hit-and-miss.
So was mine, I reminded myself, letting my eyes trail down the play of the light on a lock of Bella's hair. One success and one failure.
"Nothing special happened today, Bella," I said. "That's how a turning usually goes." I closed my eyes, trying to focus on the flickering images of the minds in the compound. Felix was laying Marcell down on the floor of the holding cell. He was still bleeding. I pressed my lips together. The venom should have sealed his wounds...
Bella was quiet for a moment. "What's going to happen?" she asked.
To the man I turned? Hell. I shook myself. I had to stop thinking of the humans here like that, or I'd never be able to turn one. "If he lives," I said, meaning if he comes back as a ravening blood-drinker, "then Jane will have charge of him. They'll give him time, as they've given you time, but then they'll want to know if he can control himself as you do. They'll test him." Her lip twisted at that. She knew what kind of testing the masters would have in mind.
What wouldn't happen to Marcell was any of the lessons I'd given Bella. Aro's orders had been very quiet, and very clear. I was to step aside gracefully and act as though I didn't mind.
You may have little Bella, Edward, for as long as she wishes to follow you, he'd thought, and I'd known that he also meant for as long as I remained his obedient servant. Aro wasn't a cruel man, but from his perspective, locking Bella in a room with desirable food would not constitute cruelty. But anyone else you turn on my orders is newborn to the Volturi.
It wasn't that I wanted the extra responsibility, but I knew it was mine. And I did not like that I would not do what I ought.
Most of my life had been clear. There was the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do. I'd never been in situation in which doing one thing right meant that I had to do another thing wrong. Helping Marcell would put Bella in more danger. Focusing solely on Bella meant that Marcell would be left to the tender care of Felix and Jane.
It wasn't that I wanted to teach him. I didn't even like him. But he was my newborn and that counted for something.
Bella turned her head and stared down the hallway. "I think I can hear someone coming," she said.
I turned my head, listening for the mental voice. Demetri. Damn. I'd hoped that Aro would have given me more time to compose myself. Losing control this way, in front of half the guard would have been humiliating even if there hadn't been a turning involved.
"Come on," Bella whispered, tugging on my sleeve. "Let's go pretend you're teaching me to fight again. We'll just hang out down there. No one will bother us."
I shook my head. I had no spirit for it. I could see that I was on Demetri's mind, but whether he'd been sent to fetch me or was just remembering the near-debacle in the audience chamber wasn't clear, and I was in no mood to try to figure it out. Demetri was moving away from us anyway, going down another hallway.
Bella pulled at my arm again. With her strength, I was on my feet despite myself. "You can bore me by telling me more about China and the gulf of wherever blowing us all up with World War Three," she coaxed.
I almost laughed at that. The truth was that there had been three more girls in the news. The Baltimore Guardian was on a bit of a kick for exposees about young girls from rural China being offered jobs only to find that they'd been bought as wives by men in woman-poor regions. Aro had spent some time dwelling on that one. It wasn't widespread, but it had caught his attention. Through most of human history, high male-female ratios had resulted more in increased prostitution than in things like this. Of course, I doubted that the girls in question felt particularly lucky. They were only forced to submit to one man each, and they technically had the title of wife, but they'd still been kidnapped. The ones who made it home were the only ones anyone heard about. When the reporters got tired of it, they'd move on to the next great injustice and people would go back to not giving a damn.
My eyes trailed down the side of Bella's face. Was that a real kiss? I could open my mouth and say the words, but then she'd hear them, and I already knew the answer. I didn't want her to have to come up with some excuse, or worse, say out loud what she'd really been feeling when I held her in my arms. I remembered it from my own early years, and the thought of those impulses laid on top of her like a layer of rust made me ill.
She was a newborn vampire, much as I might wish she weren't. She wasn't a human. She wasn't a mature woman of our kind. For her, things like this were natural, and I was a fool to forget it. As Emmet would have said, I had to get over my damn self.
She pulled up the grate and put it down to the side. She knew exactly where to grip it now to make it come loose without raining flecks of rust down into the tunnel beneath. She had a practiced hand.
By now, any of the Volturi who gave a damn about our wherabouts knew that we came here from time to time. The ones who paid attention knew I was giving her lessons. The rest supposed that was only a cover for intimate encounters. Either way, it was a giant do-not-disturb sign, and most of our new brethren left us to it. Now that it occurred to me, though, combat lessons or something like them would make a good cover for a mated pair who wanted some privacy. An overheard noise or two would be dismissed. No one would notice if their clothes were scuffed afterward.
She stepped to the side to let me go down first, as if I were still the one leading. My feet hit the cobblestones with a familiar jolt. I moved away so that she could come down behind me, giving the grate a tug so that it slide into place behind her.
The weather had been dry, and the floor was only damp today. In high summer, it might not even be that. Then there would be a wet autumn and a freeze or two this winter. We could watch all four seasons turn without ever seeing the sun. It felt friendly to be down here, in a place where no one had yet come after us.
"This was a good idea," I said. I let her lead me to the edge of the tunnel, where the wall didn't curve back so steeply. She sat down, tugging me down with her. I leaned my head against the ancient brick, and she tucked herself inside the curve of my arm, as if she were still a creature who could be affected by the cold.
I let my arm sink down around her shoulders. I'd put my arm around her before, up in the compound, so that the Volturi would think we really were together. Why shouldn't I do so here? What did it matter if no one was watching? It would be a good habit, make things seem more natural when I had to perform again.
"Do you think I have a gift, Edward?" she asked.
"Like I do?"
The truth was that I hadn't thought about it much. Once Aro had stopped arranging his sadistic little testing scenarios, my attention had shifted to bigger problems. We still had bigger problems. I shook my head. "I don't know."
"Aro thought I did," she said.
I nodded. "Yes." Aro had had better things to think about as well, though it might only be that he waited to speculate about Bella until I wasn't listening to his thoughts. An image surfaced in my mind, Aro with two vampires ahead of him and two behind, and the look on my sister's face when she'd seen it. I actually shook my head to clear it. The less I thought about her the better.
"Do you think he might let me go when my year is up?"
I felt my fingers stop moving. I hadn't even realized that I'd let them slip into a lock of her hair. I told myself that Bella could be asking that question for any reason. And she'd said she wouldn't leave me. "He might," I said, "especially if he thought he didn't need you as leverage. But there's more to the Volturi than vampires with gifts. Not everyone in the guard has a gift." Aro would also need to save face, to make it look like he was perfectly in control, and just letting someone go without a clear political reason... No... No he could always say he'd only kept Bella here until he was sure she had learned to control her bloodlust. He could let her leave in the spring and be none the worse for it. No... no, she had her cloak now. She was one of us. It would be harder.
I knew what she was thinking, and it would be a hard line to walk. She'd have to hover just beneath Aro's standards, be neither so dull that she made herself into a problem nor so useful that Aro or Caius had any desire to keep her on. It was a good plan, but I wasn't sure if she could do it. She didn't have a strong track record of being able to deceive people, especially if it meant she had to cover her anger.
"Who in the guard doesn't have a gift?" Bella asked.
"It would be faster to tell you who does," I said. "There's Demetri, of course, and you know about Renata."
"You said something about Marcus being able to ...see relationships?" she asked.
I considered reminding her to call him "Master Marcus," but I didn't need her to start glaring at me again. "Not just romances," I told her. "He can see the layers of connection between any two people, or even groups of people." It was hard to explain how he visualized it. At one moment, he'd think of them like magnetic waves, and then another, he'd imagine cables of loyalty, animosity and affection glowing white or red or gold, tying people's thoughts together. I frowned, "I haven't put the whole picture together but..."
"But?" she asked.
"I think he's why the Volturi can do what they do. Live together," I explained. She looked confused, and I felt myself smiling. "My family—the Cullens, I mean—we're unusual. Most vampires don't live together in groups of more than two or three. Jasper thinks it's just a practical matter—too many people to share too little food—but Carlisle thinks that we can't live together without fighting, that we have some kind of territorial impulse."
"Felix certainly pushes you around enough," she said in a slightly huffy voice.
"But not to the point where he drives me out of Volterra. That's what entrenched covens do to nomads who linger in their lands too long."
She wrinkled up her nose and for a moment I didn't need to hear her thoughts. Snow leopards, again?
"I've heard Marcus reminiscing a time or two," I said. "I think he was the one who put the guard together in the first place, choosing who would perform which duties, and in which groups. He can't change a person's essential nature, but he can identify the people who rile each other the least—and the most—and arrange things to best effect." Sometimes he thought about it like one of his building projects: Aro, Caius and himself formed the foundation, and vampires with steadier personalities were pillars reaching up to unstable, energetic souls at the clerestory. I hadn't seen where Bella and I fit in to this metaphor just yet.
Breathing in, I found that I was no longer shaking. I looked at her sideways for a moment, finally figuring out a smile. I'd needed to talk about something other than what had happened to Marcell, and I hadn't even realized it. But she had, picking a topic that forced me to concentrate and categorize information. It was perfect.
"Kind of like how Charlotte took care of Collins in Pride and Prejudice?" she asked.
I smiled, imagining Jane Austen's dowdy new bride managing her household so as to keep her pompous, irritating husband as occupied as possible. "Yes," I nodded. "Like that. He was the one who told Caius to have Rolfe and Demetri work with me instead of Felix."
Bella snorted. "You don't need to be able to read people's personalities to figure out you and Felix are a bad combination."
I shook my head. "I don't think that's how it works. I think two people have to start interacting before there's anything for him to read. But he doesn't do it so much any more, not since Chelsea joined the guard."
"She's the one who's like Jasper," Bella added.
I frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Her gift," Bella said. "Renata told me that she can calm people down."
"Oh," I answered. "Yes, I suppose she does, but not the way Jasper can. It's more like she can strengthen, weaken or cut people's ties of affection."
I found the Chelsea's gift a bit distasteful and more than a bit unnerving, truth be told, but Bella went absolutely stiff in my arms. "Wait, what?"
I found that I was staring at her. "There's no need to be alarmed," I said. Then I realized that that wasn't exactly true. Now that I remembered, I'd actually been quite angry when I'd caught Chelsea trying to use her gift on me. It seemed somewhat strange to me now that I would have reacted so intensely. It wasn't that serious of a matter. "Marcus can see the connections between people, but Chelsea can manipulate them directly, like she's a..." I trailed off. Bella was half-kneeling beside me, watching intently as I spoke, but she didn't look any calmer. Whatever I'd said, it wasn't helping.
"So she... She just reaches into people's heads and—what? Pulls things out?"
"No," I said reassuringly. Then I thought about it. I supposed, technically, that that was what she did.
"That's it, isn't it?" Bella was saying. "I can see it on your face." She looked away. "Why didn't Renata tell me about this? Does she even know? Is it like brainwashing or something?"
"No, it's—" I stopped. For some reason, the things Bella was saying were tripping me up. "It's not always that bad," I said. "Most of the time she only makes small adjustments. It reminded me of someone tuning a piano, actually," I said, remembering But why did I also remember being so angry about it?
"Why are you defending her?" asked Bella.
"Well because..." But there wasn't anything after that.
Bella ran her fingers through her hair. I could see the wheels turning in her head. I just couldn't see where they were going. "Edward, you're telling me that there's someone here who can make Julienne fries out of our brainwaves," she said, and I could tell she was upset. She looked back at me, putting one hand on my shoulder. "Edward, you—"
Her breath caught in a little gasp and her eyes focused on something that I was sure wasn't there.
"What's wrong?" I asked, leaning up to take hold of her hands. Something had happened, I was sure of it. She'd figured something out or...something. She'd gone from looking like she was at the point of panic to just seeming a bit dazed. "Are you all right?" I asked.
She nodded, still staring at me as if I suddenly looked different.
Then I realized why I hadn't warned her about Chelsea before today. It was a secret. Most of the guard didn't know, and Aro didn't want them to. I felt sickened, learning that I'd done his will without realizing it, but there was no help for it now.
"Look, um..." I said inarticulately. "Don't tell anyone that I told you any of these things. They're not exactly public knowledge around here."
"Okay," said said.
"I wouldn't worry too much about Chelsea if I were you," I told her. I'd meant to sound reassuring, but there was an edge in my voice that hadn't been there a minute earlier. "She wasn't able to cut my tie to Carlisle," I said, allowing myself to feel a little smug. "She's seen bonds that she couldn't break before, but they were always pair bonds. I don't think she even knows what real loyalty is." I could remember it more clearly now. She'd tried to distance me from my real family. I felt my lip twist in disgust. Conniving bitch... I remembered how much I'd wanted to rip her throat from her body. The thought of her reaching into my mind and trying to steal my love for Carlisle, Emmett and Esme all but set my veins on fire.
"But what if she tries it again?" Bella asked carefully. "When you're not paying attention?"
"It's beyond her," I said. But I found myself seeing things from another angle. Chelsea might just try again. If she was careful to do so while my attention was elsewhere, it just might work. Or...
People like my family could not live in peace without the Volturi or someone like them. Whatever I might think of their methods, I had a genuine admiration for the Volturi's mission. If Chelsea came at me through that, tried to add instead of subtract... I had to hope it didn't occur to her. And even if I caught her in the act, would that stop her?
I met Bella's eyes. "I'll be careful," I said to her. "I promise."
Bella looked off to one side, like she was trying to figure something out. She breathed in and I felt sure she was going to say more on the subject, but instead she asked, "Is Demetri looking for us?"
"I don't know," I said.
"Can you hear him thinking?" she asked. "Right now?"
I considered saying that I was in no mood for the hatchet-faced man's brittle malice, but how much effort would it take, really? I filtered through the crowd of vampires above us until I found his gravelly voice.
"He's thinking about looking for us but he isn't actually doing it," he said. "He expects Aro will send him to find me soon and is debating whether it'll be less work to just find me first."
"Oh," she said, almost sounding disappointed. She pulled her hands away out of mine. "Never mind, then."
Oh, there he is, I heard. Demetri was wondering why he hadn't thought to check down here earlier. Aro won't mind if I wait a moment. After all, I don't want to interrupt if the two of them are—
I focused on Bella as hard as I could. Demetri wasn't as crude as Felix, but the clarity of his thoughts made up for that. "He's changed his mind," I amended. "We should head back up before he comes down."
Bella looked at her fingers and then at me. She was probably thinking about that nightmarish parody of a kiss. I wondered if she remembered how she'd clutched at my shoulders. I could practically still feel her hands on me. Her touch a moment earlier hadn't been so different.
She could leave if she wanted to. Cloak or not, she could leave Volterra in the spring if she played this right. I didn't know how I felt about that. She'd helped me so much already, and not just by giving me something to focus on other than my own selfish problems. When the time came, I knew I could let her go, but what would I do after that?
I'd deal with it when it happened—if it happened. Until then, I would just be glad we were together.
Some people have commented on the presentation of Bella in this story. I'd like to point out that most 'fics portray Bella as more independent and Edward as more sensible than either of them are in the books. A credit to the fandom.
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