Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Gratitude ( Chapter 31 )

[ 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.
I can't get over how much I liked Underworld: Awakening. Don't get me wrong, I like Twilight, but Underworld completely stole my brain. Years ago, I saw the first one starting on TV and said "Isn't that the movie that had all the White Wolf fans in a knot? I guess I'll watch the beginning." My jaw hit the floor from scene one and I was glued to it as the sun went down over my shoulder. I'm glad that you guys like IKMD and I'm enjoying the way I get to explore a wider scope, but In Sheep's Clothing is hands down the best fan story I've ever written.
This chapter was going to be a lot longer, but Camilla10's and others' repeated requests for recaps have convinced me that shorter intervals between chapters might be a good thing, and this one happened to have a good, clean place to make the cut.

"But I don't count that as a kiss, Jacob. I think of it more as an assault." -Bella, Eclipse

Damn. And things had actually been going well.

The first few days since my return from China had been less chaotic than I'd feared. Aro had reacted blandly to my mental account of our misadventure. The deaths of two police officers were of little note to him. He was far more interested in my Rolfe-induced epiphany.

Dare I to hope, young Edward, that your attitude toward your duty may have changed for the better? he had thought. No, don't answer out loud. Caius and I had more direct means of getting you to behave. I will be pleased if we do not have to use them.

It was disturbing, but he was right. Jane and Felix and the constant threats against my and Bella's safety had kept me in line, but I hadn't been giving the Volturi cause my all. The chance to preserve innocent lives, to not have their blood on my hands or my conscience... That was worth a great deal to me.

One could even call it a blending of my friend Carlisle's purpose my own, Aro had mused. I'd up, meeting his sly, coaxing grin. And who better to accomplish it than you, young Edward?

I'd looked away. I'd had to, or he would have seen it on my face.

Aro was right and I knew it.

A vampire living among the Volturi, truly becoming one of them, but doing so in keeping with my father's ideals? It would be a challenge, and a worthy one. It would be enough to fill a life. In the process, Aro would receive almost exactly what he'd wanted from me since he'd first forced me to join the guard—a dedicated and obedient servant of the Volturi cause.

Marcus had watched and said nothing, as always. I found myself paying little attention to my quietest master. He had always posed the least threat.

Today, Aro had required my attention in the library, absorbing my own thoughts of our mission at his leisure while he pretended to watch the others read. Bella and Renata had gone to see Marcell every day. The story of Jane's overzealousness in our absence had instilled in Bella an almost feral dedication to Marcell and Caroly. I doubt she realized it, but it was getting her noticed. She was also beginning to get on Jane's nerves, but she probably didn't realize that either.

As it turned out, Felix hadn't been the one who'd overreacted the day of my return from China. Jane had completely lost her patience. Jane's thoughts were more irritated than I remembered, but that might be from he very real whispers that she perceived falling silent as she came near. When Bella had gone to see Marcell, she hadn't even needed Renata's help. The newborn had been curled up on his side, unmoving, and had not responded when she'd spoken to him. Bella's voice had been strangely hollow as she'd described it to me. For some reason, what Jane had done to Marcell seemed to haunt her. I'd told her that she just had to accept that these things were normal here, but she'd only looked away.

What I didn't tell her was that the whole thing made me want to wring Jane's neck like a chicken. Just because Bella could be a fool with her kind heart didn't mean I didn't want to turn the people who abused it into lawn mulch. Back in Forks, Bella had forgiven Tyler for nearly killing her with his van, but I'd spent two weeks straight reminding myself not to divest him of both arms.

Master Aro had forgiven me for my fantasies. He understood how I was trying to control them.

According to Bella and Renata, Caroly had spent the past two weeks climbing the walls in one of the holding cells. Under other circumstances, Aro might have been interested, but the speed of her change was easy to explain, overshadowed by his other goals and, from a strategic standpoint at least, not particularly useful. I'd expected him to order me to turn another human any day now, but he hadn't. I was still waiting for that shoe to drop, but while I was waiting, something else had hit the floor, and hard.

I dropped down the stairs from the library toward the ground floor, taking the steps two at a time. There was no reason to rush, not really, but I didn't want to let this lie. Bella would be waiting for me in the practice tunnel by now, and I had news. Life in Volterra had become almost livable over these past few weeks, like a heavy weight that becomes easier to carry. I'd come to think that, in time, Bella and I would grow used to everything that we did not like about this place.

But then this. I'd have to tell her, and there was no sense putting it off. There wasn't anything we could do about it, but it was better that she heard it from me. Even if Aro didn't decide to make things common knowledge, she would find out eventually.

I was halfway to the tunnel before I realized that the fight was already going on. I dropped my pretense and ran full-speed toward the entrance.

I wondered who had attacked her or—worse—if she'd been the one to start the altercation. My mouth went dry. That would mean danger and punishment. But by the time I reached the hatchway, the tenor of the sounds had already changed:

"Now turn your arm the other way."

"I don't know..."

"Just try it."

"Wait. No, wait! I'm not ready!"

"Too bad! Here I come."

It took me a moment to realize what was happening. A few minutes earlier, Aro had needed to leave the library and he'd left me to my own devices. I'd gone looking for Bella. I'd walked toward the lower levels to see if she was with Marcell or Caroly, but I'd only heard Jane down there. Not having the least desire to speak with her, I'd turned elsewhere.

Bella was only hard to find when she was alone. I leaned back against the wall, closed my eyes and listened, letting my attention drift upward. Felix and Demetri were talking about Budapest. Rolfe was helping Heidi plan her next fishing trip. Randall was walking down an empty hallway, not thinking about much in particular. I let my attention drift upward. The library was full of readers. Someone was viewing a film in the third-floor lounge. Marcus was watching human traffic on the sidewalk, four or five floors beneath him. Above that was the tower. The masters did not like me to think about the tower.

I realized that I'd done the same thing on my first day here. It was like looking out a window covered in frost with the wind whipping the trees. It was strange to think of that day now, from a calm place. I could hardly believe that panicked, angry boy was me.

When I finally found Renata's voice, it wasn't where I'd expected it to be. Bella was with her, as I'd thought, but the background and the lighting were all wrong. I shook my head, wondering what was going on and hurried down the hallway before anything stupid happened.

The tunnel entrance cover was leaning against the wall, not simply placed to the side, where Bella and I usually left it. This was neater, almost apologetic. Had coming here been Renata's idea?

There was a scuffling sound below, thick and heavy. For some reason, I wasn't concerned.

"See?" I heard Bella saying. "That was better, wasn't it?"

I hesitated at the entranceway, wondering if I should say anything.

"I didn't know it worked like that." Renata's voice was quiet, even for her.

"I thought you'd been with the Volturi for a long time," said Bella.

"I guess I have," she answered.

"So how come you never learned how to fight? You're going to need to know for when we start giving Marcell his lessons."

Renata shrugged without meeting Bella's eyes, shoulders pulled in toward her neck like a child with a sunburn.

"Even I'm learning how to fight, and it's just Edward teaching me."

"Oh thanks," I called down sardonically. I dropped down into the tunnel, as always. Bella and Renata looked toward the rush of air. Renata was smiling. The timid little mouse was smiling as if she were actually enjoying something. It was unnerving.

"I only mean that you haven't been a fighter the way Demetri and Rolfe are," Bella told me.

I raised an eyebrow. I was not going to play mollified.

"Well it was nice of you to show me," Renata said.

"Any time," Bella told her. "I mean it. I could stand to practice with more than one person. Not that you aren't great—" She said, quickly reaching over to touch my arm.

"You're very welcome," I told her.
I was suddenly glad that it was only Renata in here with us. Her constant fearfulness could become annoying, but at least she was sincere.

I shouldn't have been surprised that Bella was trying to teach Renata a thing or two. She'd been as attentive to our combat lessons as she had been to her Italian and chemistry and sociology books. Over the past several months, I'd seen Bella grow more and more independent. By now, she could control her thirst almost as well as my brother Jasper, and she was still making progress. I was more worried about her anger, that constant, resentful wilfullness that discordantly reminded me of how determined she was to ignore the more perilous aspects of our situation. Or perhaps it was only that I was more likely to meet anger than thirst when I told her my news.

"Anything interesting happen upstairs?" she asked with a smile. In the corner of my eye, I saw Renata's posture change. She did like to gossip.

I paused. I was sure she noticed. "Nothing worth mentioning," I said, though her eyes narrowed when I did. I remembered that she'd told me once that she could tell when I was lying. If that was true, then she'd probably figure out that I was only waiting until we could speak privately. "Caius is thinking about sending Randall to Japan after China, perhaps with Afton as his assistant." The truth was that Aro had finally shared his predictions with his brothers. Caius wanted to begin gathering anything that the felt merited preservation and moving it to safe places far from Aro's predicted front. Considering that the predicted front covered most of the planet, this would be a somewhat countereffective exercise. As far as I was concerned, it was a harmless way to keep him occupied.

"Oh," said Renata. "How long do you think he'll be gone?" Chelsea is impossible when Afton isn't around, she thought, remembering sniping and fights. "Chelsea gets so ...sad when he's away."

What Chelsea got was exactly like a frustrated teenager. Renata supposed that she actually missed her square-jawed partner, but she'd also overheared Adrienne speculating about the size of his equipment. I couldn't deny that they were an enthusiastic pair. It was impossible to avoid in a coven this size.

"I'm afraid the masters didn't say," I told her. "There were other matters at hand. Jane and Heidi had another fight today."

"Really?" Renata asked. Then she clamped both hands over her mouth, as if trying to push the word back in. I could suddenly see why Bella had brought her down here. Anything that would make that woman more assertive was a service to vampire society.

"It was near the end of my time in the library," I said, "not long after the two of you went to take over her duties with Caroly."

Renata exchanged a glance with Bella. "Maybe that's what that funny sound was," Bella offered.

I winced. If it had sounded anything like a petite psychopath trying to rip a larger vampire's arms, eyes and hair out, then yes, it probably had been.

Rolfe had been present at the altercation, and the images that had surfaced in his mind as he'd reported it to Aro were skewed toward Heidi's womanly charms, but it had been easy enough to tell what had happened. This was the third time in the past week that Jane had gone after Heidi. In her defense, it hadn't been entirely unprovoked, at least not this time.

Jane had been coming up from the lower levels. Rolfe remembered that she's already looked irritated with something. Then Heidi had made a crack about babies with colic. Jane had gone after her like a tornado with her hands and feet and jaws. A full forty seconds had passed before she'd brought her gift to bear. It had taken him and Randall together to pull them apart, and she'd given Rolfe a few moments doubled up in pain for his trouble.

The most disturbing part was what I hadn't seen in Rolfe's memory. He'd stood back and watched Jane and Heidi fight for almost full minute before realizing that he should intervene—and he'd done it by tackling Heidi. The idea that he could lay a finger on Jane hadn't even occurred to him.

Aro hadn't been happy when he'd heard about it. He'd wondered if there was something about Heidi in particular that was making Jane so irritated. He'd dismissed me, in fact, so that he could attend to the matter personally.

I could see why he wasn't ignoring the situation. If this kept up, Jane might do serious damage, and Heidi was too important to risk. She worked by putting her prey at ease, getting them to trust her. Her gift was subtle, though. She couldn't make people do things that they were dead set against. And the fact was that a fisherman with a scar on her face or a missing limb would have a harder time bringing in supper than one who was beautiful, unmarked and whole.

"Has Jane always been sensitive about her age?" I asked. I knew Alec was, but what held for one twin did not always hold for the other.

Renata nodded tightly. "I'm not surprised you didn't know," she said. "No one's made fun of her in a long time."

That made sense. Jane's weakness was common knowledge, but people hardly ever thought about it because no one was stupid enough to provoke her. On one hand, I almost admired Heidi's spirit, but baiting someone like Jane was like throwing sticks at a tiger. People that foolhardy usually deserved what they got.

"Anyway, I'd better go," Renata said. "Sulpicia usually wants me this time of day."

Bella winced. Did she have to be like that? None of the women liked serving the wives, but it was part of how life worked here.

Renata left through the tunnel opening and Bella walked up to me and reached for my hand. She'd been making lots of excuses to touch me lately. She always watched me very carefully when she did it, as if she expected me to change my mind about it not bothering me. There was something almost like fear flickering behind her eyes like a deer moving between the trees. It was as though she were looking for something and wasn't sure she'd be happy when she found it.

"Do you understand it, Edward?" she asked. I'd been about to tell her my best guess about Heidi when she continued: "She didn't know how to fight. Why wouldn't she know how to fight?"

I supposed it made sense that she'd be more interested in Renata than in Jane and Heidi. She didn't like either of them. She probably didn't care about the underlying mystery of it all so long as they both got good and damaged.

"Some vampires rely on other gifts, Bella," I said. "You didn't learn how to build fires and make chimneys draw as a child, but you made it through seventeen winters without freezing to death."

Bella gave the low, snorting type of sound that I'd come to think of as her American laugh, a little cynical but grounded and real. "We didn't have much of what you'd call winter in Arizona."

"Really?" I asked. "I heard that it can go down to all of four degrees centigrade. Best be careful or else you might need to put on long sleeves."

"Don't mess with me, Chicago boy." But there was a strange smile on her face.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I was thinking about Renee," she said. "She was a teacher, I think I told you." I nodded at her sad smile. She shrugged. "Well I guess we know what I would've been when I grew up."
But she hadn't grown up. She never would. I could see it, though. Bella at forty, a therapist or social worker, probably in Olympia. For some reason, I didn't think she'd have gone back to Phoenix. No, Bella the girl had loved sprawling cities, but Bella the woman worked with rural ills. Cities would only stifle her. Cities would only wall her in.
"I'm being serious, though," she said. "Renata wouldn't be afraid all the time if she knew how to fight. Why wouldn't Aro know that?"

"I don't know," I said honestly. "Her gift being what it is, I certainly can't think of any circumstances under which the Volturi would need Renata to be able to fight the way the rest of us do. Perhaps Aro thinks that so long as she can still perform her duties, Renata's fears are her own business."

"He wasn't like that with our own business," she pointed out.

"The two of us drew his special attention."

"Lucky us," she said sullenly. I opened my mouth to correct her, but then thought better of it. She was right, after all. "So what weren't you telling me before?"

Damn me but she really could tell. "It's what I wasn't telling Renata," I said.

"Fair enough," she told me. "Is it Renee and Charlie?" she asked.

"No," I told her, feeling a rush down my spine at the relief that flashed across her face. "There's been issue," I said lamely.

"An issue," she repeated. "Edward, if I have to pull your tongue out of your head to find out what's going—"

"In Washington," I blurted, and her eyes narrowed.

"Like in Congress?"

"No, our Washington," I told her. "Near Seattle. Bella, I think it's Victoria."

Her eyes went wide. I had so wanted to be able to say this delicately. I had wanted to come up with the perfect words, but there was no help for it.

There had been reports, disappearances and murders. Students, runaways, low-pay workers and probably more of Seattle's homeless than anyone had noticed. I hadn't seen them before today. This was the first time that Aro had called for me during the Pacific shift.

And then, like with the fight, there was what we hadn't seen. Or rather, where we hadn't seen it.

"But you could have said this in front of Renata," she breathed.

"I know," I said. "But I couldn't have said the rest."

She looked back at me, and, God help me, I actually closed my eyes. I let my attention drift upward, through the building.

"Anyone listening?" she asked, and I could hear the hint of smugness in her voice.

"Do let me know how you learned to read my thoughts, Bella," I answered without opening my eyes. "Though Emmett would say it serves me right to be on the receiving end for once."

She gave a little snort.

"There isn't a problem near Forks. There's a problem everywhere else. The vampires there are acting up, killing more often than they should. I feels almost like a newborn army, except it doesn't look like their commander is keeping a tight enough rein on them."

She seemed to process this for a moment, but not a long one. I knew how fast her mind could work. She'd already internalized the part about Victoria and an army. By now, she was on to the rest. By now, she'd figured out what'd I'd figured out in the library, with Aro's damned hand on my shoulder the whole time.

"Jake and his friends?" she whispered.

I nodded.

Mysterious deaths throughout northwestern Washington, everywhere that wasn't guarded by a pack of shape-changing werewolves. The damned dogs had finally made themselves useful.

"What do you think is going to happen?" she asked, her voice quiet. "To the people we care about?"

The dim light made her pale skin gleam like a pearl. "Probably nothing. Your father and friends are safe. My family is a whole continent away. The masters couldn't blame them for the disappearances if they tried."

She closed her eyes and breathed in and out. I saw her hand open and close as if she were remembering how to clasp something. It made me wish I could see inside her mind. Was it the handle of her father's door? The keys to her old truck?

"I've heard the wives talk about them. They made them sound like the boogeyman, like the sort of thing that—" she bit her lip "that people like Volterrans would have nightmares about."

"They are," I said. "They nearly ripped Nueva España open to the sky before the makers learned to keep a leash on them. It's a miracle the humans didn't figure out—" I stopped as her brow creased.

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

"Newborn armies," I answered. If vampires had a boogeyman, that was it. That or immortal children.

"I mean werewolves." She said. I blinked, realizing where we'd gotten lost. Long ago, Athenodora and Didyme had met one of the Children of the Moon in Thrace. Caius had spent centuries hunting them to extinction, and I supposed that the wives still told the stories. It had probably been the one about the Black Forest, where there had been a small outbreak in the early fifteen-hundreds.

"Bella, the Children of the Moon aren't the same thing as the wolves from La Push."

She frowned. "Are you sure? I mean, I couldn't picture someone like Jake doing all those things, but I figured the story just got garbled into anti-werewolf propaganda."

I suddenly had a mental image of Jacob Black's face on a recruitment poster. Vampire-Hunting Wolfpack Wants You! I managed to hold in the laugh. It was ridiculous, but that round-faced Quileute boy had always annoyed me, probably because of his unrequited little schoolboy crush on Bella. Come to think of it, it made sense that the most irritating of the young La Push residents would become capable of tearing me apart. It certainly matched the rest of the luck I'd had this year.

"I'm sure," I said. "The Children of the Moon tend to occur alone, and they think like beasts. From what I understand, the La Push wolves have always worked in packs and showed human intelligence." I could recall now that I'd heard Eli Uley's mind when he'd been in his wolf form. It had sounded the same.

She seemed to process this. Then something else moved down her body like a ripple, like she'd found a spider on her shoulder. "Aro knows!" she hissed in a loud whisper. One of her hands tapped the side of her head. "You—you told him when he sucks out your mind every day!" She moved toward me, and I could almost have sworn her hands were shaking. "He knows about the alliance, and he knows about—"

"Yes, Aro knows as much about the Quileutes as I do and he has since spring," I said as calmly as I could, "which means he knows that they haven't revealed our secret, and that they have a few secrets of their own." Technically, Carlisle and Esme hadn't broken the law by admitting to what the Quileutes had figured out on their own, but they'd walked very close to the line. "However, as far as I can tell, he hasn't shared any of this with Caius."

"Why not?" Bella asked suspiciously.

"Because Caius is not always a rational man," I said delicately. As far as I could tell, there were no other vampires within earshot, but that could change at any time.

I'd expected her to glower at me. I'd expected her to point out in her so very pointed way that I'd always told her not to say anything bad about the masters. But her eyes were wide with what I knew was fear. "What do you mean?" she asked.

There was what I ought to say, and then there was the truth. I ought to have said that Aro was kind and wise, so that she would come to think that being trapped into service wasn't so bad so long as one served a man of vision. Those things were even true, almost. But sheltering was only a temporary solution. She needed to know in case they didn't let her go once her strength was gone.

"Caius wasted years of his life hunting the Children of the Moon," I told her quietly. "Years of his life and far too many of the guard for Aro's peace of mind. It was his obsession; it still is. Aro doesn't want Caius to become distracted again. That's all."

"So, if Caius heard about Jake and the others, he'd think they were Children of the Moon?" Bella asked carefully. "But Aro would try to get him to see that they weren't?"

"Probably," I answered. That was actually a pretty good prediction. She was getting better at this. The great strategy in Volterra was keeping the masters happy, and the masters did not all think the same way.

"But if he couldn't, he would let Caius go after them?" she finished.

And that was a good prediction too. "Yes," I said simply, "but he would try to see that it did not come to that. If anything, Aro is intrigued."

Bella eyed me darkly. "What kind of intrigued?"

"He toyed with the idea of 'acquiring a sample,'" I said carefully. The idea of immortal or near-immortal creatures who could walk unnoticed in daylight and outrun the fastest newborn had pleased Aro, but he hadn't bothered to work through the complexities. "He's decided agaist it for now."

"For now?"

"Bella, Aro has a million ideas a day. He only acts on a few of them."

"But he might send someone to Forks just to go after Jake and Seth and everyone?"

"He might do a lot of things, Bella. He's more likely to send someone to the area to flush out those newborns."

"Edward, we can't let this happen," Bella was saying. "By now, Andrea and Ben will be at college—their school is in Seattle. And what if Paul or somebody goes after Caius's newborn-flushing team?" She shook her head and started to moved toward the entrance.

I knew it couldn't make any difference, but I took her by both arms and stopped her. Sit back down. I thought. She stared me in the eye, annoyed and more than that. She knew what I was going to say. She knew she wouldn't like it. She knew I would be right.

"There isn't anything we can do, Bella," I said firmly. "I told you because I wanted you to hear it from me instead of Adrienne or Felix."

"I wouldn't do anything bad," Bella said. "Just send a letter or something. It wouldn't be like with my parents; Jake already knows."

"Bella, they'll never let you, and if you do it on your own, they might kill you."

"I'm surprised you're not more worried about this, Edward. Aren't you and the Quileutes friends?"

"We had an agreement Bella, that's all. We stumbled upon each other's secrets and agreed to keep out of each others' way. That doesn't make us friends." It wasn't the nicest thing to say, but there it was. There was a part of me, a small one, that was even tempted to wish that Aro would eliminate the Quileutes. They knew our secret. That made them a threat. But the rest of me knew that they were innocent people and the fact that they'd gotten a little leverage over my family and were willing to use it was understandable. But I wouldn't say that I liked them. Carlisle did, but Carlisle liked everyone, even me. "It's not worth putting yourself at risk over. Besides," I said, remembering the sour stink of werewolf. "I'm fairly sure the dogs can take care of themselves when it comes to vampires."

"Don't call him that," she snapped.

"What?" I was a bit confused. I'd expected that hearing that the Quileutes were safe would make her feel better, not worse.

"'Dog,'" she repeated. "I never want to hear you call Jacob or any of his friends by that name. They're proud of what they are."

I started at that. I knew perfectly well what the young Quileutes called my family and me—in their minds and out loud. It was childish, but I felt that I should be allowed to call them something back. Dogs were nicer than leeches, at least. Dogs had spines.

But what if Bella hadn't allowed Jacob to call me names either? The idea of a fierce, lonely Bella Swan scolding a Quileute boy for saying a word against me gave me an odd sense of warmth. Then I suddenly pictured Bella hitting that insufferable Sam Uley on the head with a rolled-up newspaper. I held in the smirk. It wouldn't do me any good just now.

"I can't just leave it like this," she was saying, "after all Jake has done for me—"

I blinked, letting go of her arms.

"—after all they've all done for me. Couldn't we at least send them a warning? To stay out of the Volturi's way, maybe, away from weirdos in cloaks. Caius can hardly get mad at us for trying to make less trouble for him." She shook her head and started to pace back and forth.

I reminded myself that I should care more that she was thinking about breaking her silence, putting us both at risk, but it didn't take. Her words knotted in my stomach like a long, wet cloth. Her words and the shadows of agonized gratitude that I could see behind her eyes. Those images, those strange, secondhand images of Bella with a young Quileute boy, were starting to come together. And I did not like the picture they painted.

"It wouldn't even have to be a letter," she said, pacing past me, fingers waving apologetically in the air. "No, Jake doesn't really do email... You know, maybe the old-fashioned way is better. You can burn a letter once you're done, but I heard somewhere that email stays out there forever. That's it, then. I'll just tell him to burn the letter. That should be safe enough." She stopped on her heel and looked at me. "Do you think we could ask Aro's permission for me to send a letter telling them that the Volturi are there to kill other vampires and that they need to stay out of the way—It should be me; Jake will do it if it comes from me." I felt like I'd been punched in the solar plexus, but she just kept talking. "Aro will say yes if you ask him right. What do you think, Edward?"

Her eyes were wide, still animated but less confused now. She looked like she was waiting for something.

"Edward, are you all right?"

I nodded dumbly, All he's done for you? echoing mutely in my mind. I'd known that Bella had spent time with werewolves—and it was important not to think about how I knew—but I'd pictured motorcycles and cliff diving and stupid, risky, teenaged behavior with the Quileute boys as Bad Influences One through Eight. It wasn't as bad as getting a nice girl mixed up with the Volturi, but it was hardly the Four-H Club. Had it been worse than that?

Bella took her eyes off me and leaned back, staring at the nothing between her and the ceiling. She looked like she was sick. If it had still been possible, I would have thought she was ill. I'd seen that look on Esme's face the time that Jasper and Emmett had been three days late coming back from a hunt.

The pieces snapped together like magnetic blocks. I could see that boy, that round-faced boy, minus his baby fat and with the musculature of a young shapechanger. His innocent, shy interest in Bella wouldn't have stayed that way, not when he had a man's build and a wolf's arrogance.

Wolf. In my day, that word had had a double meaning.

"...even after they saved me from Laurant, we'd spend hours in his garage, just killing time." She'd been explaining, and I'd been lost in my own thoughts ...which were now joined by images of teenagers in garages, in the backs of cars. There was no helping it. "The way they band together, Edward. You should see it. It's beautiful."

She was describing a friendship, I told myself. Just a friendship. But if she'd kissed that boy, would she have told me? No. And there would have been a kiss, at his instigation if not at hers.

"How well did you know Jacob Black?" I asked.

I knew it had been a mistake the instant the words were out of me. Bella leaned back, looking me in the eye as if she hadn't seen me before. "What do you— Edward, are you jealous?"

"No," I answered immediately. The nerve of her to even ask. "But I want to know why you were spending so much time with Billy Black's son."

She put her hands on her hips. "So what if I was?" she asked.

"What if you were?" I asked, taking a step toward her. "What if you were spending time with a werewolf, a young werewolf?" I demanded. I could hear the energy humming in my tone, and somewhere I knew that I was out of line, but I didn't care. I was angry. Here I was, never presuming on my lady's virtue—the day I'd turned Marcell didn't count; I'd had a goddamned skull fracture—and some backwoods wolf boy had stolen a kiss? More than a kiss? "Do you have any idea how unpredictable they are? You think you were bad, during your first days? Little Jacob could've pulled that house down around your ears before he even knew he was doing it."

"Jacob wouldn't hurt me," she said.

I held up one finger. "He's a teenaged boy." I held up another. "He's a werewolf. Destruction is in his nature."

"You didn't mind when it was you," she hissed back.

"I left when it was me," I answered. "I gave enough of a damn about you to not want to see you hurt."

"No," she answered. "You didn't stick around long enough to see."

It was like being hit in the face with a whip. It stung. I kept moving. "Yes, I left, and I didn't put either of us through that just so you could throw yourself into the jaws of the nearest supernatural monster with a pulse."

There was something inside me, something I hadn't felt in ages. This wasn't frustration or sorrow or resignation sludging its way through my being. I was mad. I was truly, factually, boiling-over angry, and I didn't entirely understand why.

"You never could let me make my own decisions; it was my risk to take!"

"Only if you didn't care how people would feel if you died!"

"Maybe I—" Bella's mouth snapped shut, locking in the last word. "You're hardly one to talk about that!"

The words were like a slap. "If I was wrong to do it, then how could you have been right?"

"Because Jacob was my friend!" she said. "You left and it was like my whole life fell down a hole. I went through the motions. I went to school like a zombie. I blew off all my other friends, and Jacob was the only one who put up with my bullshit long enough for me to climb out. No, that's not right," she said. "I didn't climb out. He pulled me out, and I didn't know he was doing it until it was done."

"I'm sorry I left you like that," I said quietly

"This isn't about you," she snapped. "The way he lived his life made me remember why the world was worth dealing with. You have no idea what that's like."

"Yes I do," I shot back.

"Oh come on. How could you have any idea?"

I opened my mouth. Because you did it for me.

It was there in the front of my mind, materialized out of nothing. And now that it was, I didn't know why it hadn't been there before.

I hadn't realized it before, but it was true. She'd done it for me. Once, long ago in Forks and again here in Volterra. I remembered the mid-twentieth century as one long, bright day. I'd been newly forgiven by Carlisle and Esme. I had a brother I adored, and a... But it hadn't been enough. The decades had passed and it had all slowly gone dark and pointless. And then I'd met her, and I'd been happy. I'd been so resplendently, selfishly happy that I'd been able to ignore the danger that she was in just by being near me. And then I'd left her.

Then I'd come to Volterra.

I didn't believe that Jacob had pulled Bella out of her state. No person could do that for another. Bella hadn't done it for me, not exactly. But she'd given me something to look up at through the ice. She'd given me something to climb toward, to work toward. Yes, my newborn was a responsibility, but she was one that I'd actually wanted.

"Well?" Bella demanded, hands on her hips, and I realized that I hadn't said a word.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"Yeah? Do you know what you're sorry about or do you just figure you should say you're sorry?"

That was a fair assessment of what was going on, but that didn't mean that it didn't count. "Well, I—"

"Right." Bella turned on her heel and headed for the hatchway. I stifled a curse and followed her.

"Bella, I really am!" I called upward as her silhouette momentarily blocked the opening. I jumped, feeling the familiar roughness of the sides of the opening against my palms as I vaulted the rest of the way through.

"Edward," Bella said, rolling the hatch cover into place, "the bottom line is that Jacob and his friends did something very good for me, something that they didn't have to do. And they did something good for you and Carlisle and everyone too, even if you don't feel too happy about it."

I nodded, trying to figure out where she was going with this.

"So I really think they deserve for you to at least try to help them. Right now, that means convincing Aro to let me tell them to stay out of Volturi business. Do you understand why I want that, Edward?"

"I think so," I said. "But that's not the point." The point was that she'd just cavalierly thrown her whole, marked, red-hooded life down the wolf's throat and that it was a miracle she'd made it out uneaten. "The point is—" I held up a hand. I could hear a set of quick, dark thoughts and a footsteps ahead of us, near the corner.

"What is it?" Bella asked, seeming to gauge that we weren't talking about her self-destructive taste in "friends" any more.

"Try not to look surprised," I murmured as quietly as possible.

Bella opened her mouth to ask me something, but there wasn't time to say. I took two steps toward her and gently pressed my mouth against hers just as our interloper walked into view. I cupped the near side of Bella's face to hide any expression she might be making, and the other vampire—Adrienne, I could tell now—saw only a gesture of tenderness, which was exactly what I had wanted her to see.

I pulled back and shot Adrienne a glare. "Do you mind?"

Adrienne's thoughts quickly rearranged themselves in exactly the order I'd predicted. She hadn't caught the newborn having an uncouth screaming match in the hallways again; she'd stumbled across a mated pair attempting to have a private moment.

I could've hoped for a more benign witness, but she'd serve. Any blame for Bella being late to her shift to serve the wives would be deflected onto me, and it had the added bonus that Adrienne would surely gossip about us, which would discourage Byron and any other admirers.

Far from apologizing for breaking the etiquette, Adrienne gave a disdainful sniff and walked off. Yellow-eyed fool prefers skinny sticks to women... Her thoughts toward Bella were even less complimentary.

My breathing had gotten quick, even though this ruse was simple. Perhaps months in Volterra had agitated my nerves.

"All right," I said as Adrienne's footsteps retreated. "I think she's gone. You were saying about your friends from La Push?"

"Wait, you're just going to—" Bella shook her head. "What about—" She breathed in and out, holding up both hands. "So that was about appearances," she said.

"Of course," I answered.

"Is anyone within earshot now?" she asked.

I checked. Adrienne was technically close enough to overhear what we were saying but too absorbed in her own thoughts to pay any attention. "Not for any practical purpose," I answered.

"Good," she said.

There was a sound between a crack and a crunch and I found myself blinking up at the ceiling, my cloak hissing against the floor as I slid across it on the flat of my back.

"Edward, you—" Bella was saying, her hands screwed into throbbing fists at her sides. "What the hell<./i> made you think—" Her fingers flared in the shadows.

"Bella," I said, levering myself up on my elbows, "we need to maintain the illusion that—"

"Bull-fucking-shit!" her voice echoed off the walls like a ricochet. "Nobody here gives a dead rat whether I'm your girlfriend, your vampire love slave or screwing the janitor!"

"There's no need to be—"

"It's like you're some alien who only knows how to communicate through being an asshole!"

I took a mental step back. No, that was too generous. I'd been shoved. The result was the same, though. I collected my thoughts and my dignity before speaking again. "You're offended that I kissed you without your permission," I said, "in which case I apologize."

"I am not offended that you kissed me without permission," she hissed. "Don't you try to dress this up as you breaking some Victorian prime directive."

I wasn't sure what I'd meant to say. All I knew was that my voice came out much smaller than I'd intended.

"Then what did I do?" I asked.

"What did you—?!" Bella took two steps toward me and then stopped.

"You know what, Edward? I always thought it was stupid when girls wouldn't tell guys what they did. 'How's he going to know if you don't tell him?' I'd think." She looked at me with eyes like blazing embers. "Well now I get it. Now I understand. Thank you, Edward, for helping me learn why Mellissa Ginsberg from tenth grade wasn't just being a bubble-headed supertramp. Thank you.

"I don't want to tell you because I don't want to admit out loud that you could possibly be that dumb or that selfish. I don't want to think that you're that dumb. It seems like the whole universe would implode if anyone were that dumb. I don't want to tell you because I don't want to think that I picked a moron."

"Bella," I said, pushing myself up on my elbows. "Could you do me a favor and not run off before I understand what I—"

She was already gone, just a swish in the air where her cloak had been.

I didn't even stand up. There wasn't much point, I figured as I let my head hit the tiling. She'd just keep running. She was headed upstairs, where no humans were to be found at this time of day. At least we wouldn't have a replay of the day I'd tried to turn Gianna.

"Another fight?"

I hadn't heard him approach. I'd been focused on other things. I'd been focused on her.

Well I wasn't any kind of focused any more. I could practically feel my bones shaking. "No, Master Marcus," I said, feeling the throb in my voice. "I wouldn't call it a fight. I wouldn't call it a fight at all."

I got up, pretending that I didn't need to dust myself off. The expression in his face was the quiet kind of amused, his thoughts moving with the muted click of a knitting needles during the making of some complex weave. For once, I didn't goddamned care.

"She's—" I pushed my lips together.

"She's what?" asked Marcus.

"Ungrateful," I hissed. "I am trying so hard," I said. "I am trying so hard to keep us both alive, and she undermines it for pride!"

Marcus raised an eyebrow but said nothing, seemingly waiting for the rest. Well I had more. I had a lot more.

"I sacrificed everything to keep her safe," I said fingers stabbing at the air. "I uprooted my family. I lost my home. I lost her love. I lost my own piece of mind."

"You lost your freedom."

I looked up at him. "Yes," I said, though I hadn't thought of it at first. I'd joined the Volturi to protect her. Yes, I'd lost my freedom. It had been my decision, but what choice had I really had?

"For her?" Marcus asked.

His thoughts were a cloud to me. He was still too difficult to discern, perhaps from his years of living with Aro.

I looked down the hall where she had gone and then back at my circumspect master. "Who else would we be talking about?" I asked, confused.

Marcus smiled at that, a small, intense expression. "Who indeed?" he asked.

I shook my head, as if trying to knock the dust from my hair. It didn't make sense. Why didn't his question make sense?

Marcus chuckled. "So this is what it takes to give you impetus. The men of Volterra were no threat, but this boy she loves—"

"She doesn't love him," I snapped.

He raised an eyebrow again. Marcus could see the connections between people, but his gift had a range, as mine did. He couldn't say for sure that my Bella didn't love Jacob because he had not seen the two of them together. But I could. A stupid, simple country boy, nowhere near her equal. Why would she love him? But I felt sicker inside the more I thought of it.

"You've been healing, young Edward, but you can't make her wait for you forever. Not even our kind can wait forever." If I'd been paying attention, I'd have noticed the sadness in his eyes, but I didn't understand. I still didn't understand.

Freedom, hope, plans for a future, Marcus thought to me, you lost them all in the same hour. It's a rare man who comes away from that unchanged, and you were never as rare as you thought you were.

The rest came to me from my own mind, from my own memories of Carlisle's years treating life and death.

I've seen the play of love in humans as well, you know, he thought. It comes in waves, with them. Sometimes it can be interrupted. Sometimes it even looks as though it's gone. At those times, the is human usually feeling either some great sadness or not much of anything, as though their lives have turned to pitch. They have a word for it now, he prompted.

"I was depressed?" I asked.

You tell me.

I remembered watching Aro in the library the first two times. I remembered what I'd thought about it. But I couldn't remember what I'd felt about it. Was it because I hadn't felt anything?

I thought of my first weeks in Volterra, feeling like I was watching the world through clear ice, feeling like I was a tiny, vulnerable creature, and that I had to keep hidden.

You've been healing, Edward, Marcus observed. I've been able to see that. But sometimes I wonder what you used as a crutch. What did you convince yourself to believe in order to manage one day and then the next? There was something else behind his thoughts, something I couldn't hear.

What did it matter what Marcus thought of all this? Bella and I were an amusement to him, a distraction from his meaningless existence. He'd felt that way ever sicne he'd seen the bond between the two of us on our first day in Volterra. I remembered, bitterly now, the warmth that had flared inside me when I'd realized what Marcus had been thinking about. I'd never been able to hear Bella's thoughts, but in Marcus's mind I'd seen the proof that she'd loved me as I had loved her.

I didn't often think about that day; my memories of it were strange, blurred in places, parts of them torn up like a bulldozer ripping into the earth, but I could see her clearly, hear her heart pounding like a captive bird as I held her close, see her skin shining like diamonds...

I shook my head. No, Bella had been human that day. She'd still had the flush of blood in her skin. My memory was playing tricks on me.

And then I realized that I'd been picturing a leering Jacob Black beside a marble-skinned woman with dark amber eyes.

I felt sick, sicker than the day I'd spoken to Carlisle. Edward, I heard him say in my memory, that's very wrong.

Marcus was still watching me. Whatever had turned him into a quiet creature, he had never changed back.

"May I ask you a question?" I said. If he said yes, I would owe him, and that could be dangerous. But if he could truly answer me, I would repay him, if not gladly, then at least with gratitude.

"Ask," he said.

"Do we become different people when we are turned?" I said. He eyed me carefully. "Is the Bella who walks beside me now the same person as the girl I brought before you? Or is she some new being, born of Bella's body and my venom?"

Brother warned me that he might ask about this. The thought was not meant for me, but I heard it. I could also tell that Aro had told him not to answer.

...but Marcus, unlike myself, was not Aro's slave.

"Is that what this has been about?" he asked carefully. "You think she is not the same woman to whom you found yourself bound?"

"I don't know," I told him.

Not so, he thought. Aro is like this, saying "no" when he really means "I know but I am waiting for proof." Stubbornness.

Marcus wondered for a moment if he should answer. But then I am stubborn myself. If Aro wants me to respect his wishes, then he must go to the trouble of sharing them with me. I suppose this answer is what Aro wants him to earn ...I suppose it does not matter.

"I cannot see people's inner selves, as my brother does," he told me. "If I had to explain my own gift, I would say that I see what moves in the space between." Like the light that travels through the ether, making the planets visible to each other, that was how he'd thought of it, years ago, when he'd still had the heart for poetry. "In truth, I cannot answer your question the way you have posed it to me."

I nodded, looking down at my hands. No way to tell, not for sure. I would have to live with it.

"But that is not the real problem, is it?" Marcus asked me

I looked up. "I don't know what you mean."

"Yes you do," he said. When did you truly begin to doubt her identity?

"When she died."

No, Edward, it was after that.

When he didn't sound bored, he could almost sound kind. This, more than anything, was what confused me.

"This is a thought puzzle to you, isn't it?" asked Marcus. This child is so like Aro. A pity that my brother cannot think of his "dear ones" as sons. This boy could have made him a fine one. "You poke and prod at our existence to see how it works. But does it make you angry? Does it fill you with sorrow, as you are filled now?"

No... No it never had.

"I am not asking about your thoughts, Edward. I am asking when you began to feel doubt. And it was not when your Bella's heart ceased to beat. It was well after that."

How could it have been after that? When she'd become a vampire, that was when she'd lost her soul. That was the problem. I went over those three days in my head. They'd been agony, waiting at Aro's side, wondering where she was and what the other vampires were doing to her.

Marcus was silent, watching the thoughts play out on my face.

And then I'd seen her in her cell and I'd...

...I'd held her in my arms and... ...and she'd felt perfect, I remembered. She'd felt the same. Even her scent had not seemed alien to me, even though in truth it was. My palm touched stone. When had I braced my weight against the wall?

The room should have been spinning.

The earth should have opened to swallow me up.

Marcus was right. It had been after that. I'd spent months learning to bend so that I would not break, but I was already broken. I'd broken before I'd been here four days.

"Innocence is like a living thing, young one," he said. "When it dies, it must be mourned. But do not wear ash so long that it runs into your eyes and blinds you."

I closed my eyes, tensing my fingers against the wall as I felt my body shake. The pieces were all falling into place. Bella was good, and killing humans was bad. I'd been unable to process a Bella who could kill an innocent human. But it had happened.

Could I have been that small? Could I have fallen apart just because the world was too complicated?

There was more; there were more things that could have kept my thoughts on that path. I'd known that Aro might let Bella go once her year was up. But deep down I must have realized that I never could have done it again, given my Bella away, not even for her own good. But I also couldn't pass up the chance to get her away from here or find her a better protector.

So she couldn't be Bella.

I shook my head. It made no sense. It made no sense for my mind to be that malleable. The idea that I could warp my own thoughts, tie them into knots like a hagfish and not even know I was doing it...

But I'd seen too many people's thoughts, human and vampire. It wasn't impossible. And it explained too much.

My eyes must have slid shut at some point. "I've ruined things, haven't I," I said into the air.

You are a fool, but not for the reasons my brother thinks, nor any of the reasons you think. "The things I see," said Marcus, "are never only about one person."

I looked up, confused.

Marcus gave a small, heavy shake of his head, as if he were amazed at my slowness.

"She still loves you," he spelled out.

I was almost sure he wasn't lying. But how could he not be?

"She might even be fool enough to take you back," he said, turning back the way he'd come. "It is the nature of our kind to choose one thing and keep to it."

"Bella was not our kind when she loved me," I said.

"Well-suited for it, though, wasn't she?" he said without looking back.

That is what preserved her mind, no matter what Caius thinks, Marcus mused as he walked away. For her, it was not so great of a change.

My head was throbbing as if my heart could still pound. So there it was. Carlisle had told me, but I hadn't been ready to hear it. Now Marcus. Even if they were both wrong and the vampire Bella really was a new person, I'd loved her too, as she was. I had for months. I'd even come close to realizing it before now.

I hadn't completely accepted the idea. Acknowledging that I'd been in the dark didn't I could immediately see. I still had doubts, and maybe I always would, but that didn't mean I couldn't act. I breathed in and out, steeling myself. I made a decision.
Psych majors? Have at it.
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