Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Protected ( Chapter 26 )
[ 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.
So I was reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and I thought, "You know who would like this? Current and former Twilight fans." The premise is that a WWII nurse falls back in time two-hundred-odd years to Highland Scotland just before the Rising of 1745. It's relatively thorough historical fiction with a consistent time-travel mechanic, and the main romance has the type of divided intensity that brought most of us to connect with Edward and Bella. It's also a little smarter and the main characters are a little more independent and sane. I particularly recommend the second book because there's more action and a big Scotsman throws a French guy into a fountain. Things get a little stupid in book four, but if there's any group of readers who can deal with that and keep coming back...
"Believe it or not, it's possible to lie with your thoughts." -Alice, New Moon
The words in his head added up to anger and to fear, but beyond everything else, drowning it all out—
"Well?" she prompted.
I didn't need ask what she meant. "He's normal," I told her.
"What are you, my mother?" she paused. "And good God, Edward Cullen, but don't you dare say any version of 'well, kind of.'"
I clamped my teeth together. I didn't know whether to be glad that she was trying to make me laugh or angry that she was jeopardizing our chance to build a good reputation here.
Well he has been doing enough mother henning, Rolfe was thinking as his eyes drifted down Bella's elegant shape, but I bet he makes up for that with his—
God, evil puns. Evil puns and no way to shut them out. It was going to be a long eternity if this was what passed for humor in Volterra. At the same time, I couldn't help but smile. Emmett had done a number on the 1998 Lewinski scandal. He'd tended to stick more with drycleaning jokes, but there had been a few blue dress puns mixed in. And that was nothing to his speculations on Nixon's "tricky dick."
We'd reentered the city from the south and were on our way back to the compound. It had been well past twilight, so hadn't needed the shadow-paths that Marcus had built into the city. I'd only managed to learn a little more about them in Demetri's thoughts, but I have them all sooner or later. We would be doing this relatively often, after all. And unless Demetri convinced the masters otherwise, Bella would be coming with me.
At this time of day, we could simply walk up to the main entrance and go in through the front door. In other cities, the sight of robed men and women moving in and out of a retrofitted office building might have attracted attention, but the citizens of Volterra were used to it. I'd even spotting a few of the young people wearing cloaks themselves.
Bella stayed close as we skirted the edge of the piazza, the hem of her cloak brushing against mine with each step. For some reason, our fight after the battle had made her want to stay nearby. I didn't mind, for all that things were still tense between us. It was just as well. It wasn't as if she had any way to avoid me.
I knew I was being irrational, but I also knew I couldn't help it. I couldn't reconcile what I'd seen her do with the woman I thought she was. The sweet and sorrowful vampire girl I'd supposed that I'd come to know over the past few months was not the sort of person who could kill someone in cold blood. She just wasn't and I couldn't find a way to explain to myself that it wasn't all some elaborate trick.
Even reminding myself that I'd done as much when I'd killed Gianna only helped so much. Intellectually, I knew that her hands were as forced as mine. It was like seeing every piece of a small jigsaw puzzle, perfectly aligned and ready to be connected, but I just couldn't make them all fit. I just didn't know what to do about it.
It would come to me sooner or later. Now was the time to put personal problems aside. Demetri would need to report to Aro and Caius, though I knew Aro would also want my own rather more complete account of the event.
It was strange, but I almost felt relieved as I felt the walls of the compound close in around us. I offered Bella my arm, suddenly finding that I wasn't as angry with her as I'd thought.
Behind us, Rolfe knocked his hood down to his shoulders with a swish. "Hell it's good to be back," he said. "Not that I mind a good romp, but I hate all the damned hiding."
"Well we can hardly enforce the law if we're breaking it ourselves, Rolfe," Demetri said simply, and I couldn't help but agree with the sentiment. I could see just enough of the side of Chelsea's face to tell that she was smiling too.
I might as well take the good with the bad, I found myself thinking. I'd spent most of my life faking human. Perhaps it would be good for me to live in a large community where I would not need to. They were my own kind, after all. And I had to admit that the idea of protecting humans from criminal vampires appealed to me.
Bella took my arm, her hand tightening on my wrist, "Is Aro angry?" she asked. "About Marcell, I mean."
I knew Aro's mental voice well enough by now to be able to pick it out of the dozens of vampire and human minds in the building. "I can't tell," I said. "Right now he's thinking about our mission report." I tugged my hand away, suddenly irritated. The walls that had seemed almost comforting a minute earlier now pressed in like a yoke around my neck. Rolfe's seeming resemblance to my brother dissolved; he was a brutal thug. Felix was worse. Jane was a monster. Chelsea was a parasitic hag. And then there was her, my beautiful murderess.
I shook myself, as if trying to escape from a dream, and reminded myself not to make things worse than they already were. We headed toward the audience chamber. "Let Demetri do the talking," I murmured. "Answer any question the masters put to you, and honestly, but don't—"
"—draw their attention," she finished for me.
"Yes," I said. Did she have to sound like a schoolchild tired of her lessons?
A few heads turned as we made our way down the hall, but not many. I noted that Gilda in reception seemed pleased enough to have moved to the evening shift and wondered idly who'd taken Gianna's place on mornings.
Caius and Aro were waiting for us in the audience chamber. I could see Alec and a few of the others on hand, but there was no need for the full guard to gather. These things happened all the time. There was only one part of our mission that had not been routine.
Demetri bowed gracefully and recited the words he'd deftly assembled in his mind on the journey back. Aro could have taken it all directly from his thoughts, but Caius had no such luxuries. I saw Aro's eyes flicker at Demetri's first mention of the witness Benjamin. This must have happened before, I realized. I had hardly been alone in supposing that Aro would want to meet our talented young friend.
"And Edward invited this young man to visit Volterra?" Aro asked.
"Yes, Master," answered Demetri.
Aro pretended to consider this for a moment. In reality, he was wondering how quickly he could make up an excuse to touch my skin and see Benjamin's secondhand thoughts for himself. "And what was your impression of him?"
This was it, I noticed. The pressure of Bella's hand on my arm stayed at the back of my consciousness, but watching Demetri's mind at work was simply too enticing. That was how they kept Demetri in line. His pride was his work, and Aro had just consulted his professional opinion.
"Young, Master," answered Demetri.
Aro paused, seeming to consider this. But he wasn't thinking about Benjamin. His eyes fell on me. I tried not to let anything show on my face. He'd know soon enough anyway.
I disengaged Bella's hand from my arm and walked toward him. There were a few confused thoughts in the crowd—not all of the Volturi were comfortable with my tendency to approach their beloved master—but I had no reason not to obey. The more the guard saw me responding to unvoiced orders, the less they'd question me for doing so.
Aro's hand found my shoulder. He was making less of a show of it these days. I held still, watching his reaction to the memories of our trip, both my own and the ones I'd picked up secondhand from Benjamin.
You handled that well enough, young Edward, he thought. I had to admit, I was surprised. After all, I'd all but warned Benjamin not to accept the invitation.
And now he will come when he is willing and not before, Aro thought back. For now, he seems to mind the law well enough. But these were only his surface thoughts. The undercurrent was deeper, darker... Aro was too canny to allow me to see anything that he did not want me to see—normally. But now his mind was drawing in around my memories of Benjamin like a child sucking on a cherry...
Good, I thought, with more bitterness than I would have admitted to out loud. Let Benjamin draw his fire. Let Benjamin be the object of his tireless attention.
Aro released my shoulder almost carelessly, eyes lost in their own film. If he'd seen my shattered fantasy of a plan, he gave no sign of it. The whole thing couldn't have taken ten seconds. I backed away from the throne, mindful of the swish of my cloak behind me. The Volturi dignity had to be maintained, after all, even in the confines of our own keep.
Bella had picked up some of it herself, I noticed. Her face seemed blank, as if she were far away, but when I came near, she put her hand on top of my wrist in an almost possessive gesture.
My eyes jerked up as Adrienne rather vividly pictured herself pulling Bella's hair out. Once I realized what had happened, I allowed myself a quiet smirk. Benjamin might have doubted that Bella and I were together, but Adrienne did not.
"Well played," I whispered into the hood of her cloak as we left the hall and passed out of earshot.
She looked up at me. "You noticed that?" she asked, surprised.
"Of course," I said, "but try to remember that it's about keeping you safe. It would hardly serve if you got your eyes scratched out for your trouble."
She frowned. "What are you talking about?" she asked.
"Adrienne," I pointed out, confused. Then my mind cleared. "So it wasn't her? You made someone else jealous?" I had to admit, it was surprising. I was used to bored high school girls drooling over my good looks, but I hardly stood out among the guard.
"Edward, I don't—" She closed her eyes. "I want to ask you something," she said.
I was still confused, but what could I do. "All right," I said. "Ask away."
"I thought it was a Volterra thing, but it's really a vampire thing, isn't it? All the acting."
"What do you mean?" I asked, turning to face her in the hallway.
"Emmett and Rosalie were the perfect high school power couple," she explained. "She was the goddess in the supermodel makeup and he was the musclehead jock. They were everything except actually a cheerleader and a quarterback."
I laughed again. "Emmett wasn't doing that much acting, I'm afraid. He was always the musclehead jock. It's only that they didn't have a word for it until the sixties or so." She didn't laugh back. I hadn't really expected her to. "But yes, it's a vampire thing," I said. "We would be pretending no matter where we were, no matter with whom we lived."
She laughed a bit at that, only a sound in the back of her throat, and not a happy one.
"So how can you tell what's real and what's made up?" she asked me at last. She shook her head. "I take it back. I know how you can tell," she said, gesturing to my right temple.
"Actually, that doesn't always work," I said. "Even when people tell flat-out lies, their thoughts don't always give them away. Think about an actor getting into character," I suggested. "If people's thoughts are even loosely along the lines of the roles they've taken on, I wouldn't necessarily know that anything was wrong. And after a while, they'd start to believe in it themselves. I suppose that what people do becomes part of what they are, whether they mean it or not."
This didn't seem to please her. "So if you and I stay here long enough, we'll become real Volturi."
"There are worse things to become," I said without hesitation.
Her hand on my wrist clamped down hard. "Ow!" I said. "What was that for?"
"Say it again," she told me, a funny intent look in her eyes.
"Say what again?"
"What you just said just now."
"That there are worse things than being one of the Volturi?" I asked. She sobered. "It's true, Bella. There are." She looked away. But she hadn't taken her hand off my wrist, so perhaps she wasn't as mad at me as all that. "There is violence here, but it is not meaningless violence."
"Tell that to Felix."
"All right, some of it is meaningless violence, but not the bulk of it. Not what we had to do."
"Not what we had to—" She ran a hand over her eyes. "Edward, how the hell can you think that—"
There was a sound, filtered through layers of rock, steel and drywall, but it was unmistakably a howl. Bella stiffened as if it had sent a chill up her spine. I wasn't quite as at ease as I'd have liked to appear myself.
"What's that?" she asked.
"Marcell," I said simply, trying to rewrite my plans for the evening in my head. The tunnel that we used for combat practice was further down and not exactly soundproof. The echoes down there would be hell itself. The sun was almost down, though. I would take her to the roof, then, the one with Sulpicia's garden on it. It would be harder for us to hear him with a few more floors in between. To the humans outside, he'd barely be the settling of the city.
"Is he hungry?" she asked.
I shot her a look. Even she had to know that that wasn't a cry of hunger or frustration. Then I reproached myself. She was only hoping that it was no more than hunger. "He may have been," I said. "Maybe he attacked one of his keepers. Maybe he asked for food too many times. I don't know. But that's Jane's doing."
"They need to break him of his bloodlust, and they can't just wait for him to learn to control it," I explained. "So there's Jane."
Irritated. Why was I so irritated? I looked Bella up and down. It wasn't her, per se, but it happened when she was near. There didn't seem to be a thing wrong with her, but for some reason, when she wasn't around, my disquiet did not weigh on me so. Some days I even forgot how disturbing I found Jane. I'd seen mentally retarded adults and children, heard their underdeveloped thoughts, but Jane's malformed little goblin of a mind made my skin crawl.
"Wait, so Jane is torturing Marcell? Right now?"
"She's using her gift on him if that's what you mean," I said. Torturing probably wasn't the right word. Jane's actions did have a purpose, after all. "Bella, if you want to get away from—"
She was gone. I knew I was fast, but my eyes could barely track her leaving.
Damn was all I had time to think before hurrying after her.
She was fast, but her speed came from her strength, and we were in tight, twisting corridors. I was on her heels in seconds. Even so, I didn't catch up with her until we were halfway down the stairs to the cell where she'd been kept back in March. She hesitated and I managed to get my arms around her.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Let me go!"
"I didn't exactly mean that as a rhetorical question, Bella," I said. I'd restrained her bodily before, but always when she'd at least partially wanted me to. Any second, she'd figure out that she could throw me halfway down the highway to Florence and wouldn't even need to find a window to toss me out of.
"I'm going to go help!"
"How?" I demanded. "There isn't anything you can do, Bella. If you stop Jane, Marcell will attack you."
"You don't know that," she said simply, and then she shoved me into the railing and ran away.
"Yes, Bella, I do," I muttered into the air and then hurried after her.
I caught up with her just outside the cells. Marcell, it seemed, hadn't wanted to go back in.
"Get away from him," Jane was ordering in the placid tones of someone who knew she must be obeyed. She'd momentarily forgotten that Bella was immune to her principal means of ensuring obedience.
"Bella, you should do as she says," I added quickly. Marcell's thoughts barely merited the word. All I could pick up were disjointed words and images, most of them related to the aching thirst in the back of his throat—and what he wanted to do to anyone in his way.
I couldn't help it. I looked at Jane.
What does he expect me to do? Jane's reaction to my staring was bitter and languid, like bile flowing through a tube.
"I expect you to do your duty," I hissed back, "as Master Aro told you." But Bella caught my attention before Jane could reply.
"Easy there," she was saying in a soft, low voice like cool water flowing over mossy stones. I'd forgotten how lovely her voice could sound. I saw Marcell lift his head, still staring at the dusty wall in front of him, but his neck had turned, as if he were a spaniel cocking an ear toward that friendly voice. "It's going to be all right," I heard her say, and even I wanted to believe it.
Marcell turned his eyes first and then his head, neck and upper body shifted toward her. He was looking at her now, eyes glowing like live coals in his broad, stony face. This was the first chance I'd had to see him since his turning. His neat lawyer's hair was snarled and dusty, and his plain, rounded body now seemed burly and compact with power. His face was completely empty, a mask. I saw Bella smile. "It's all right," she said again, sweet and soft, "I'm not going to let her—"
There was a snarl and a shout and a snapping sound as the gray shape that was Marcell threw itself through the scanty feet of air and drove Bella behind him into the far wall, bringing up one hand for an instinctive strike to her throat.
I didn't know if it was that Marcell was more heavily built than my Bella or that his human blood just wasn't as potent, but I was across the room with both hands at his neck before I'd even thought to lift my feet. I hadn't been able to catch Bella when she wanted to outrun me, but this man's movements were no obstacle. I snaked my arms around his shoulders, breaking his leverage. A thick, feral snarl ripped through both our bodies as my teeth clashed against the moving metal of his throat.
I tried to keep my head but the only thought that came through clear was that I could not let go, must not let go until I'd broached his windpipe and left him gasping and helpless.
But I did not need to. Underneath me, Marcell's body doubled over and dropped. I stepped back, watching him clutch at nothing, feet beating in agony against the floor tiles as he let out an unholy screech.
Jane broke eye contact long enough to glare at me. This is your damned fault, she managed to think, seeing the deep scrapes on the newborn's throat. Most of Jane's mind was busy with images of Aro's displeasure. I had just damaged her master's new toy. He'd have a scar before he was a week old. And from my venom, no less.
"Get her out of here," she said simply, not dignifying Bella with a look. For once, Jane and I were of the same mind. I grabbed Bella by the elbow and pulled her back toward the stairwell.
I breathed in and out. Bella had just gotten in the way of Jane's orders. If Aro decided to punish her, it wouldn't be pretty. And since he couldn't just sic Jane on her, he might be tempted to get creative. I closed my eyes and hoped that he would simply attribute her actions to feelings of kindness toward her fellow newborn.
And then I followed my own warning. If I could make myself believe that that was why she did it ...maybe Aro would too. It unnerved me, the thought of bending my own mind. But then...
I'd said I'd protect her. I'd said I'd protect her no matter what it took, and I'd failed her too many times.
It was true, anyway. She'd been trying to help Marcell. She'd even said so. She didn't like Jane, but she just didn't understand. She hadn't really gotten in the way, hadn't hurt Jane or Marcell, not even after he'd attacked her. I'd done that. I'd done it myself.
By the time I pulled her through the door out onto the roof, I was sure that there was no other way to see it.
Then I realized that Bella had been too quiet. I cursed myself. I should have checked sooner.
"What..." she trailed off, a little breathlessly. Damn. "What..."
"I told you," I said, eyes adjusting to the purple shadows angling down on us. "He's normal." And she wasn't. She never had been. "Now let me see."
"Let me see," I said as softly as I could, trying to pull her arm away from her neck, but she kept raising her hands to push mine away. "Let me see," I repeated, more firmly this time, finally catching both her hands in my own. She allowed me to pull them down and out of the way. I transferred both her hands to one of mine and ran two fingers down each side of Bella's throat. She seemed to shiver a little but was otherwise unharmed.
"You protected your neck." I couldn't help the note of pride in my voice. She'd remembered our lessons.
She met my eyes then and her lips spread into a wavering grin. Her shoulders shook and I realized that she wasn't hyperventilating.
"Laugh all you want," I said simply, letting my hand slip to her shoulder. "It just means your throat's still in one piece."
She laughed out loud then, a sickly, shivering chuckle. "Oh Edward..."
I watched her carefully. She was still a newborn herself, after all. She'd managed far better than I'd expected on the mission, but there was no telling what she'd do if something really set her off.
Bella slid down the wall until she was sitting on the floor of the roof, looking out. The pale evening light and the glow from the few taller buildings gleamed like mother-of-pearl against her skin. I looked over my shoulder to see Sulpicia's garden stretching out behind us, artful in the limited space. Whether it was presence of mind or just experience, Aro's wife had chosen all night-blooming flowers. I recognized one set of tight white blooms and smiled.
"You've been up here before?" I asked.
She nodded. "Renata and I came out here." She cast me a meaningful eye. "Sulpicia prefers all-natural fertilizers."
I didn't quite know what to say to that. "Beauty has its price, I suppose."
"Yes," she said quietly. "I suppose."
"That scent," I said. "That's Allium neapolitanum."
"That scent is three kinds of cow poop," she told me, resting her head on her folded arms. "I swear that stuff was blended like something out of Starbucks."
"I mean the flower," I insisted. "You might know it by its common name, 'Star-of-Bethlehem,'" I added, "or 'Naples Garlic.'"
She lifted her head and looked at me. "Really?"
A smile cracked her lips. "Who knew the old bitch had a sense of humor?"
"Careful," I said.
"Stop it," I said again, crouching down in front of her. "What good will it do for you to be immune to Aro's power if he can condemn you out of your own mouth?"
She was going to roll her eyes. I could see it.
"You've got to break yourself of this habit, Bella. You're from a time and place where people make jokes about the principal of the school and the president of the country and no one bats an eye. If there's any real bile behind it, it's interpreted as a harmless way for malcontents to blow off some steam." I shifted my hands to either side of her neck, cupping her face. "Well here and now, it could get us killed." She tried to look away. "Sooner or later, you'd say something too serious for people to ignore, and action would be taken, officially or otherwise."
"That's my problem," she said sullenly.
"Bella!" I snapped. I didn't know what bothered me more, the idea that she'd be so cavalier with her life or that she seemed to think I wouldn't care. "Do you remember what Demetri said to Eric?" I asked.
"I remember everything."
"Good," I said, letting go of her neck. "Then remember that they'd kill me too." If she didn't care about herself, perhaps she'd care about that.
She regarded me for a moment. "And if I end up fooling myself?" she asked. "If I end up like your actors in character and believe my own lies?"
"You'll be alive to believe them," I said without hesitation.
She was quiet for a moment. The light had gone dim while we'd been talking. Evening was giving way to night. I could see her as clearly as ever, but some of the color was leeching away, the rich brown of her hair fading into dark gray.
"I always thought that being a survivor meant you had to be strong," she said. "Uncompromising. Renee always called herself a survivor. Mom never had to survive anything like this, though." She shook her head and something about it pained me. "Being a survivor doesn't mean sticking to your principles, does it? It means giving them up."
"Not all of them," I said quietly. "But you're right. You have to give things up."
"The ones that get in the way."
"Name-calling isn't a principle, though," I pointed out. "It's pride." I regarded her for a moment, still and beautiful as a statue in the dim. "You have other things to be proud of, Bella."
She didn't shrug but she didn't look at me either. "So what are we going to do about Marcell?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well we're not just leaving him down there."
I sobered. "Aro has ordered me not to interfere."
"He didn't order me," she answered.
"He will if he thinks it's crossed your mind to act," I said. "Besides, what would you do for him? You hardly showed yourself to be a competent newborn-wrangler just now."
"Maybe I would be if I had the right backup," she said. "Someone to get him to stay still long enough for me to reach him."
I shook my head. "Bella, I might be a good enough fighter, but I'm hardly—"
"I meant Renata."
I blinked. That ...was actually a good idea. Renata's gift would allow her to manage a newborn unharmed. Now that it had come to mind, I was starting to wonder why Aro hadn't made Renata Marcell's nursemaid in the first place.
"Aro might permit it," I said skeptically, "but he might decide that you and Renata are better off where you are. Caius thinks you're doing decently on the reading crew. Besides, what Aro wants is to turn more newborns like yourself. Figuring out how to raise the ones he has into civilized, well-adjusted vampires isn't likely to supplant that in his interest."
"But he wouldn't complain if we found out how to do it, right?" she asked hopefully.
I ran my fingers through my hair. "Bella, why do you even care about Marcell? He just tried to rip your head off."
"So did Jasper," she said.
"And look where that got us."
She was quiet for a moment. I found myself wondering what she was thinking really wondering. The fact that her face seemed so much more expressive to me now only made my curiosity more intense.
"I'm still not used to thinking of it that way," she said.
"Thinking of what?" I asked.
"All this," she said. "When Jasper attacked me, you decided to leave," she said, "and something possessed you to lie about why." She closed her eyes and seemed to laugh but didn't. "And it wasn't even just the two of us who got hurt."
I smiled, but only halfway. Carlisle, Esme, my human Bella's parents... Yes, many people had been hurt by my foolishness.
"But I didn't know that until a while ago, okay?" she said. "I'm still used to thinking that you left because you wanted to."
"I didn't," I said.
"Well a lot of the time it still feels like you did." The words started soft and then hardened to a point. So that's what all this was about.
"I'm sorry about the other night," I said. I should have said it days earlier. I'd been taught to apologize when I'd done wrong, and I'd neglected that particular duty.
"You don't really mean it," she said.
"Yes I do," I insisted. "I mean it. I'm sorry."
"Not all the way down you're not. You didn't say anything that you don't still think is true."
The evening traffic hummed by in the streets beneath us, headlights reflecting off the walls of the building.
"I want to mean it all the way down," I said at last.
She licked her lips and turned toward the open access door. "Then I forgive you," she said tersely. The message was loud and clear: Her forgiveness went as deep as she thought my apology did.
Well I would mean it all the way down. I'd act sorry and I'd think sorry, and eventually that's what I'd become. If deep was what I wanted, I would learn to dig.
"Bella—" I said, catching the edge of the door just as it swung shut behind her.
"Don't worry," she said, and she managed to sound tired. "I'm not going anywhere without you."
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