Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Consequences ( Chapter 29 )

[ 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 fanfiction based on characters, settings and concepts from Twilight, its first 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.
There seems to be a certain misconception floating around, and I apologize if anyone was misled. I don't teach at Columbia University. I use a CU email address because I got a degree there. I teach at a community college.
It took me a while to decide whether this should be chapter twenty-nine or chapter thirty. Chapter thirty is a pretty long one, and it's mostly written.

"The guard was impassive and disciplined again; there were no individuals among them, just the whole." -Bella, Breaking Dawn
The pieces would probably end up in Caius's safehouse in Oklahoma, but Afton had said we were from Illinois. This place might not be Beijing, but they did have satellite TV and the curator had an unfortunate taste for American musical theater. We didn't want to seem like bumpkins. Afton had also said that we worked for a private collector from Chicago. We didn't want to seem too rich.
We didn't want to seem too poor either. Afton was dressed in a modestly expensive suit that Chelsea had tailored to fit him. I hovered behind, only a shade shabbier, and wished for the thousandth time that evening that I had been turned at twenty-seven instead of seventeen.
"Pardon my assistant," Afton told the curator in American-accented Mandarin. "He does not speak Chinese."
The curator, a Mr. Gao, nodded and smiled, thinking in passing how his second cousin, a boy who'd used to pinch Gao's arms and rub his head in the dirt, had grown up to become a minor magistrate in a small town and never stepped outside on a cloudy day without an aide to hold an umbrella over his head. Then he remembered how, a few months earlier, the American ambassador had caused a stir by carrying his own bag through the airport and ordering his own coffees from Starbucks. It pleased his ego to know that not all Americans were so humble that they put fatheads like his cousin in their place.
Two thousand years ago, the thickest, richest whorl in the eddying mist that we called human civilization was Rome, condensing and churning streams of throbbing humanity like the red spot storm on the planet named for its central god. Before that, it had been Alexandria. For a time, it had been London. But one thousand years ago, it had been Kaifeng, capital of the northern Song Dynasty.
Which meant, also, in this time long before the southern wars, that it had been fertile territory for any vampires willing to trade the freedom of China's immense wildlands for the convenience of a meal every night. In those days, Aro, Caius and Marcus had always had an agent or two in Kaifeng.
Gunpowder, historiography, agricultural and economic revolutions, and wars against the Jin and later the Mongols, but we were here for the Song's art, which Caius had long admired. The provincial capital, nearby Zhengzhou, had several newspapers with well-updated art sections. It turned out he wasn't above using the library teams to scout for which pieces had resurfaced.
Getting their legal owners to part with them, however, was another mess entirely.
If that bastard thinks this institution will part with any of those pieces for one yuan less, Mr. Gao thought from behind his professional smile, then this meeting is over.
I carefully leaned down just enough to set Afton's briefcase, which I'd been carrying, on the floor, making certain that the metal clasps clicked against the hardwood.
Nothing. Dammit.
Afton kept a straight face, but his thoughts were smirking:
I bet I can bring him down to five thousand on the sculpture.
That son of a bitch.
I didn't happen to know whether Afton had ever been American but he was certainly a willful, frothing idiot. He had forgotten the code again, again. I was supposed to put the briefcase on the floor if the curator wasn't bluffing, let the umbrella rustle if he'd go lower, that and a dozen other cues. That man knew that he worked in a smaller museum in a town whose population barely topped five million, and he was not willing to sell his institution's Song-era pieces for anything near what Afton was offering. In fact, he was thinking of having us thrown out so that the local paper could do a spot on the rich Americans trying to take advantage of a struggling guardian of the culture during hard times. And Afton, fool that he was, was still trying to get us home under budget. In all likelihood, he just hadn't been paying attention when Demetri had drilled the code into him. He didn't seem to think that Aro's new toy could be of any use to him in the course of his duties.
That made me furious. We were going to miss our chance. Caius wouldn't get his artwork and he would blame me for it. I wondered if it would be Jane or if he'd just let Felix rip one of my arms off again. I didn't like my punishments in any case, but the fact that I was going to get one that I hadn't earned fair made my blood boil. And that was ridiculous. Bella would have said that I hadn't earned any of them. For a crazy half-second, I wished she were here with us. For all that I scolded her for badmouthing our covenmates, I could really do with one of her rants right now. Instead, she'd been kept behind. This job didn't require raw newborn muscle, which was the only supernatural gift that she seemed to have, and Demetri couldn't be spared to remind me not to bolt. Keeping Bella in Volterra was Aro's way of making sure I came back.
I should have been doing all this myself. I was more than capable as a negotiator. I'd bought every one of Rosalie's cars and all of Emmett's since he'd been fleeced by that dealer in Iowa. My only problem was that I looked too young to be anyone important. Afton had been somewhere north of thirty when he'd been turned. He could make himself look anywhere between twenty-one and forty-five when he had to. I just didn't look the part of an art dealer. Afton had been managing the Volturi's East Asian art acquisitions for years. He'd built and rebuilt his reputation until he could simply choose a name, choose an accent, and go run Caius's errands.
And this one got us both run right out the door.
At least it was a nice night. The sun had gone down just before the two of us had shown up for our meeting with Gao. It had not been a long meeting. There was still some red-tinged light in the air near the west.
"Where were you on that one, witch-boy?" Afton scowled at me.
"Right behind you, telling you what you needed to know. It's hardly my fault if you ignore it." That wasn't how Caius would see it, but it felt good to say it while I could.
Afton rounded on me. I could see that this wasn't really about our mission. It never had been. This man had hated me ever since I'd threatened Chelsea all those months ago.
"Got all the answers, then?" said Afton. "What do you suggest we do now, smartass?"
I wanted to snap at him, but I knew he'd make me pay for it, "I suggest," I said carefully, "that we make the best of this, go home, and tell the next procurer to start at twice our initial offering."
"When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it."
It was rage. It was just rage. My knee-jerk reaction was always to point out that he had asked my opinion, for all that he hadn't meant it, but he already knew and didn't care.
"How'd it go, you two?" came a jovial voice from over my shoulder.
"Been having fun, I see," Afton said sourly. Rolfe smiled from beneath a pair of Gucci sunglasses with the tags still on them. At least they would look like Guccis to anyone who either wasn't a vampire or didn't follow fashion. Knockoffs were pretty popular in this part of China, mostly because they were all that most people could afford. Some of the factories in China made high-end consumer goods like smart phones and designer gear, but for the most part, the big-name items weren't sold here, at least not to most people.
Overall, China had done well, but a disproportionate amount of the wealth had gone to businesses and a small upper class. Savings accounts rarely beat inflation anywhere in the world, but in China, the government allowed banks to give middle- and working-class customers puny rates so that they could use the colossal difference to invest in business. Most people had no way to preserve their buying power other than purchasing real estate—and that got harder to do every year. The economy boomed and the ordinary citizenry watched their hard-earned savings shrink. Communism.
"I have, actually," said Rolfe. "I can't help but notice that your meeting ended early." Dammit but Afton's a bitch when he loses one, he thought. I felt a hint of relief. If this had happened before, then maybe Caius would go easy on me. Really makes me wish Demetri and Alec hadn't had to go off to Hungary.
"It seems our new friend's reputation has been exaggerated," Afton said.
Hm, the thought matched the expression on Rolfe's face. He was just muscle on this one. He was just muscle on most missions. He was far more interested in figuring out how my talent worked than about any little hunk of thousand-year-old clay. I wonder if the thought-reading doesn't work if the person's thinking in Chinese.
I raised an eyebrow but didn't answer. Rolfe kept thinking. Then I realized what he was thinking about.
Oh no, I thought, and I tried to shake my head. Rolfe was no fool. Or rather, he wasn't really the kind of fool that he pretended to be. He was smart enough to put a plan together and stupid enough to think that it would work.
"Afton," asked Rolfe, "do you want to go back to Caius empty-handed?"
"Of course not," Afton answered. "Where are you going with this?"
Rolfe looked straight at me, "Did you happen to find out where this museum acquired the pieces that Master Caius wants?" Rolfe's eyebrows were almost all the way up into his short, thick dark hair. How 'bout it? his expression seemed to say
If I lied, Aro would know. And he'd let Caius give me to Jane again.
"They got the sculptures from a private collection," I said.
"And does that private collection contain anything that Master Caius might want in place of his precious whatever it was?" asked Rolfe.
"Oh," said Afton, head tilting back as he figured out what Rolfe was suggesting. They both looked at me for my answer.
I closed my eyes. Yes, yes there had been a vase that had caught Gao's eye, but the owner hadn't wanted to give it up. "If he didn't sell to a museum then he won't sell to foreigners," I pointed out.
Rolfe smiled, an easygoing confident grin.
"Well I wasn't thinking we would buy it," he said pointedly.
It was a decent plan. I'd managed to pick the house's appearance, layout and general location out of Gao's brain before he'd kicked us out. It wasn't a set of blueprints and all the passwords to the security system, but it was a start. The place was somewhat ostentatious and in good repair. Whoever lived here was someone important.
"You're serious," Afton was saying.
"Serious about finding the place, getting the owner's name and at the very least returning to Volterra with some intel," answered Rolfe. They sounded like a goddamned heist movie cliché, but he meant it.
I could see the wheels turning in Afton's head. Too risky, he was thinking. Anyone rich enough to have a private collection of this quality will have it defended. A job like that would take weeks to plan. But then... He eyed me. No great loss if they screw it up.
I'd kept my eyes open in Volterra and in the field. Afton was strong and dutiful, but he was the cautious type. If he turned down Rolfe's suggestion in his capacity as team leader, I could probably find a way to twist things around so that his timidity was the reason we'd come back with nothing. If he hung back while Rolfe and I performed the real action, then he could claim that any mistakes were our fault.
"Tell me, Rolfe," said Afton, "your bright idea is that we go to a private residence and liberate one of its cultural treasures, then somehow get it past customs?"
"Sounds like fun," Rolfe answered. "And don't tell me you haven't gotten anything past border control. What was it, '82? '88?"
"Maybe we shouldn't be talking about this in the middle of the road," I suggested.
"'87," said Afton, ignoring me as he dryly remembered a small Van Gogh disguised inside a gutted Platinum Apple IIe. "That was more impressive than it sounds. It worked because I'd planned it out ahead of time."
"We weren't riding on a private plane then. Small airport. No x-rays." Rolfe was still smiling. Shit. Afton was actually coming around to it. Even worse, so was I.
Well, that was it. This was the kind of person I'd become. I'd once found it morally acceptable to commit murder so long as the people I killed were murderers themselves. Now, I was merely willing to commit theft so long as it kept Caius from letting Jane use my central nervous system as an ashtray. Carlisle would have understood. My human mother would have died of shame.
"All right, so let's say that customs isn't an issue," said Afton. "What specifically did you have in mind?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Rolfe, smiling. "Best to keep it simple."
I felt my face go blank as Rolfe's idea took shape. It might not work for the vase, I thought, running Gao's half-remembered catalog of the collection through my head, but there was a book, a treatise on poetry, that might be just the thing.
To my surprise, we managed to find the house.
The images in Gao's mind had not been clear. The man lived near Zhengzhou, the regional capital, and I'd gotten the name of the neighborhood—fortunately on the western side of the city, the side nearest Kaifeng; midnight or not, it was still urban traffic in China—but narrowing down the location had been another matter. Also, Gao had come to visit during the day, to see the owner's collection at its best. I had no idea what specific safeguards were placed on the house at night.
And it was a house, not an apartment or penthouse as I'd supposed. I tried to reach out, to hear the minds within, but there was nothing but pieces of dreams. The house's owner could be a CEO or a criminal, and I could not tell. We could be robbing the provincial governor's home, starting up major trouble, and I would never know.
"Can you see inside?" asked Rolfe. "Where's that book you mentioned?"
"Books can't actually think, Rolfe," I said dryly. "Nothing for me to hear."
Rolfe looked at me for a moment. "I meant could you see inside through the windows," he said.
"Sure," I answered.
"That's totally what I meant."
"Fine. No I can't."
Rolfe grimaced, clearly disappointed. "Anyone watching?" he asked. I could see he had the idea of jumping up onto the ledge to get a look.
"Not with their eyes, Rolfe, but there are these things called security cameras." And anyone watching the feed would take notice of two foreign men, one of them smack in the middle of "troublemaking kid" age, even if they weren't jumping two stories straight into the air to case a building that might be hiding several million dollars' worth of artifacts.
"Hmm," he said, folding his arms.
"We shouldn't be doing this," I said. "Afton was right. A job like this takes planning."
"Not if we just smash in and make it look like a robbery," said Rolfe. He shook his head. "Look, I know you want to get back to Volterra and see Bella, but I don't have a mate at all. I've probably gone without sex longer than you ever have in your life."
If I'd been drinking anything, I would have choked. I looked at Rolfe.
With a pretty-boy face like that he's probably been getting laid twice a week since he was fifteen, he thought.
"Rolfe!" I snapped.
"I didn't say anything," he said.
I shook my head. Rolfe's lecherous assumptions were the least of my worries. At least he wasn't going into visuals. Felix had lowered my tolerance to other men imagining my newborn in compromising situations, and I'd have hated to make it through this whole art procurement fiasco just to get tossed to Jane because I ripped one of my teammates' heads off.
But it seemed that someone was interested in visual thoughts this night. On the other side of the building, Afton was imagining Rolfe and me breaking through the security glass, moving too quickly to leave any meaningful images on the surveillance system. It wasn't a bad idea. Considering that I had a decent enough idea of where the book was, it might even work.
The image came again, more clearly.
And then again, pointed with irritation.
Rolfe started to speak, but I held up a hand and he fell quiet. How to put this?
"Afton is working out his plan," I whispered.
The truth of the matter was that Afton had already ordered me to act. The problem was that if the job failed, if my face were caught on camera or if I damaged Caius's artifacts, he could always claim, to anyone but Aro, that I'd grown impatient and acted on my own.
I was disobeying an order. Only Afton and I would know, at least until we got back to Volterra and gave our report to Aro, but I was disobeying it. I'd catch hell either way now. Here it came.
The streetlights flickered and a second later, Afton was hissing into my ear, his cloak swishing with the speed of his movements. "What the hell are you on about? Get up there."
"Through the glass?" I asked pointedly, catching Rolfe's smile out of the corner of my eye. He, at least, thought that Afton's plan sounded amusing.
Afton's eyes narrowed. He thought I was being petulant, like a child pretending that she doesn't know that her mother wants her to pick up her toys.
"I need to hear you say it out loud. Unless we've worked something out ahead of time," I explained, sounding far more defensive than I wanted to. "Sometimes when people are thinking about what they want to do, the idea hasn't reached its final form, and—"
Afton's punch to my mouth left me reeling. Obedience, not excuses.
"Well someone forgot to take his anti-bitch medication today," Rolfe said sardonically. I shook my head, wondering if Afton would take it as a joke or a challenge, but to my surprise, he chuckled. I frowned, before I realized that the bitch in Rolfe's remark could just as easily have been me.
I looked up at the burly vampire and he gave a half-grin. I gaped. By God, he was doing it on purpose. He had a whole list of two-sided comments that he kept ready just in case his teammates started sniping. No, he was not the same kind of fool that he pretended to be.
"Faces covered," said Afton, shaking his own hood down over his head. We'd gone to our meeting in the museum in ordinary Western suits—shipped in from a tailor shop in Chicago, just for the authenticity of it—but the cloaks served a double purpose here. Anyone wondering why we were dressed so strangely would merely assume we wanted to conceal our faces.
"Edward goes in first," Afton continued. "Search the display room, find anything that would please Master Caius—" Enough to keep all our hides intact, he thought "—and get out before anything can track you."
"And if we run into a Leningrad situation?" asked Rolfe. In his mind, I caught a few images. "Leningrad," it seemed, was code for "rottweiler the side of an overfed Shetland pony." It seemed that Felix had survived the excursion, but his pants had not. I managed to keep from more than smiling.
"Kick its teeth in and watch your ass," said Afton in no mood for jokes. "Now get on with it."
I focused my attention on the building, listening as hard as I could. Only one inhabitant, quietly dreaming. Damn. He'd wake easily. We'd have to be in and out before he could react. The display room was on the second floor with several wide windows to let in the light. The owner was successful, I'd seen in Gao's memory, and he liked to show off.
I ran toward the near wall, crossing the street in three quick strides, and leaped. The window shattered like the icy in top of a puddle. Rolfe was right behind me.
I knocked my head forward, making sure that the hood of my cloak covered anything important just as the lights flickered on full-blast, and the air around us erupted in mechanical shrieks. We had seconds.
"This one?" asked Rolfe. I turned to see him pointing to a sculpture of a woman, caged in glass. I shook my head, recognizing the period. Caius already had a full collection Manchu-era art. I cast my eyes around the room. The vase? No, it would crack when my feet hit the ground outside. A painting? Imported Japanese, Tokugawa period. A book...
I pointed. Moving with precision that I had not been able to master since Felix had broken my hand, Rolfe struck the glass enclosure precisely on the seam with his closed fist, separating one side from the rest without breaking it. He tucked the book under his cloak and we went out the way we'd come in. Afton turned beside us and we ran.
Afton had performed maneuvers like this before. He knew the standard procedures of police forces in dozens of countries, and he'd operated in this part of the world for many years. We crossed the street through the shadows between two buildings, then spun south and hugged the outlines of the streetlights, emerging far from where anyone would expect us to be. And we did not cease moving.
Afton was skilled, but even at three in the morning, even outside the city center, there were wakeful thoughts everywhere. "Other way!" I hissed in what I hoped was outside human register.
Earlier, on the way from Kaifeng, I'd told him that I could run in front if he liked, appear to take the lead while following the directions I read in his mind, but he'd declined, and by "declined" I meant that he'd knocked me upside the head. I'd managed to take that one a little better, without losing my balance. Rolfe had remarked internally that Felix had helped me develop quite a chin. Afton wasn't entirely wrong, though. He'd surmised, correctly, that if I ran in the lead, I could make my own decisions about where we would go, and they would both have to follow me. Of course, I meant nothing untoward by this. I only meant to guide us away from any wakeful tourists.
Or cops.
We stumbled out into the light just in time to see the police car screech to a halt in front of us, three strangely-dressed strangers, running, one of them with his arm hitched up, cloak draped over a bundle that they could not see. In the flash of their thoughts, I saw that the man we'd robbed was slightly higher up on the local food chain than I'd thought.
The driver had seen Afton's face, and his partner was reaching for the radio.
This time, Afton's orders were silent.
Kill them.
Rolfe hadn't needed to be told. His fist was through the windshield, shattering it like the blow of a jackhammer. In one movement, he avoided the angle of any on-board camera, grabbed the driver's partner by the throat and jerked him through the gaping cracked eggshell of his vehicle. Afton was already moving toward the driver himself, but I got there first, reaching through the open window to slam his head hard against the dashboard, trying to imagine where it would land if he'd front-ended the fire hydrant on the corner. I tried not to imagine how warm he was, or how young he looked.
The human's whole body quivered, and I felt his skull crunch slightly as it fractured but did not break. I could feel the flow of blood in his veins, could imagine it pooling at the injury site. Swelling. Inflammation. Infection. Cell death. I turned to Afton before he could react. "He'll have brain damage," I said quickly. "Even if he wakes, he won't remember any—"
I was expecting it this time, and I ducked the blow to my head, but Afton managed to grab hold of my arm.
"We," he snarled, punching me hard in the face with each word. "Do. Not. Have. Time!" I gave up dodging and just took it, took my punishment. I told myself it was worth it.
"I'll do it, Afton," said Rolfe. "Let him get the car."
Afton shook his head, but pointed at me and then at the police cruiser. He wanted to punish me, I saw, but he was weighing it all against the time we had. This night was getting worse by the second, and he did not want to end up detectable to the library crew.
I twisted free and moved, complying with Rolfe before Afton could tell him to go to hell. I tried to ignore the sound of Rolfe finishing the job that I'd left undone. This had to look like a car accident. This had to look like the first officer had died in the crash while the second had been thrown through the windshield. I reached through the cracked glass and disengaged the officer's seat belt and the parking break. I locked the gear shift into drive and darted behind the car, feeling Afton's weight beside me as we both shoved hard.
The car roared forward the last ten feet and broke the hydrant, water spraying up into the streetlight like some kind of festival fountain. I scanned the rear bumper, looking for handprints in the metal. We'd killed nomads for less carelessness than that.
"Come on," Afton grunted.
"Let me lead this time," I said.
Screw you, he thought.
We ran.
We did not stop until we reached the airfield outside of Kaifeng. We did not stop until the sun was nearly rising. We snuck into the hangar, where we would be safe from the light until we boarded our plane. Afton would use another identity here. Middle-class museum representatives tended to fly commercial, and we would be taking a private plane. Rolfe had had the foresight to stash our clothes—a wealthy British businessman and his assistants—nearby, but I expected a confrontation before we changed. Afton was angry but not so angry that he wanted to explain why he'd damaged two sets of my clothes when he could have kept it to one.
Afton glared at me, dark red eyes fierce. I swallowed hard. I hadn't meant to, but I did. In his eyes, I looked every inch the weakling that I felt myself to be.
Well I wasn't going to stay that way. I steeled myself and strode toward him. He was my commander, but I could be commanding too.
"This was preventable," I told him.
"How?" Afton hissed back.
"If you'd listened to me," I told him, "either time."
I heard a light chuckle and turned to see Rolfe shaking his head.
"Might as well say it out loud," he said. "You'll read it off me anyway," he said, one finger tracing his temple. He looked me in the eye. "I like you, Edward. I do, but you don't have any idea how this works."
I stared at him in confusion, my weight on one foot like a child.
You understand what I mean? asked Rolfe. In his thoughts, he replayed watching Demetri fail to teach Afton our non-verbal code.
"Why should I help the sanctimonious whelp look good? I don't need a damned freak to make a deal," Rolfe had said.
"He might be a sanctimonious whelp, but he can make himself useful," Demetri answered. "Now shut up and memorize this."
Rolfe had allowed himself a chuckle. When Afton looked up, he asked, "If the Cullen boy is a freak, then what's your Chelsea, a— Oh shit."
Rolfe eyed me clearly. It took Demetri and Heidi twenty minutes to break up that fight, for all that I got my digs in. You need to pay more attention around here. Demetri will put up with any sort of crap if it helps him catch his prey, but nobody messes with Chelsea without taking a hit from Afton for it, and you did a lot more than imply she was anything but a nightingale singing on a summer evening in Barcelona.
I could see my face in his eyes. To him, it seemed as thought a tiny fleck of my stupidity had fallen away. Afton treated me like an outside because I'd never failed to act like one. I'd thought I was taking the high road, when I was only making people like Afton and Heidi and Adrienne more and more angry.
I had to earn their respect. I'd known that for a long time, but up until tonight, I'd only thought of my own safety, and Bella's. Now I realized what else that would be worth.
Two policemen. Not criminals, not the types of men I'd once made my food. As far as I knew, they'd both been good men. If Afton had trusted me at the meeting, if Afton had let me take the lead during our getaway... Then they never would have seen us, and they would both be alive.
"You've given me something to think about," I said quietly, not taking my eyes off Rolfe.
Good, he thought back.
What I learned from re-watching Moonlight: It's not enough to just have vampires. We have to give them something to do. What I liked about Mick St. John was that he wasn't just a vampire. He was also an investigator. Edward is a vampire who pretends to be this or that ...until Aro gets him a job.
As for "Gao," I just picked a random Chinese surname and then made sure that it was at least reasonably common in northern China. I welcome any critiques and constructive criticism of the cultural, historical and scientific aspects of this story. (Psych majors especially welcome for the next chapter.)
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu