Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Rational ( Chapter 32 )

[ 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.

"You don't believe me, do you?" -Edward, New Moon

I wanted her back. I wanted her as she was. If I got my old Bella in the bargain, so much the better, but she was no longer the reason behind my actions. If my human Bella was dead, then she was dead. I had mourned her, as Master Marcus had put it, and I was free to start over. If the human and vampire Bellas were the same, then I had made us both wait long enough. I knew what I wanted. I had made my decision.

But it proved easier to decide than to do.

"She doesn't want to talk to you, Edward," Renata said to me, blocking the doorway to the stairwell. It was just my luck that Bella would help that girl grow a spine and then I'd be the first person she'd test it on.

"Well then will you tell her that I want to talk to her?" I asked.

Renata shrugged. I heard footsteps on the upper walkway, out of sight. "Bella!" I called up.

"I said she doesn't want to talk to you," said Renata. "Now go away. You know you're not allowed in the tower."

There was no help for it. I turned and went back the way I'd come. Bellowing up at her like some drunken Romeo wouldn't help, and it would probably disturb Sulpicia. Aro would want me soon, and he would read our entire conversation in my thoughts, including the parts about Jacob Black and his friends. I didn't need any memories of me disrespecting his wife mixed in with that.

By now, I knew the compound well. I slipped down the stairs toward the lower levels easily. As always, I kept half an ear out on the thoughts of the vampires in the floors above and below me. After so long, it had become no more annoying than the babble of any of the high school cafeterias I'd been compelled to occupy over the years. Male and female voices playing for power, lust, position and alliegiance within their social groups. If there was one thing that I did not mind about being Volturi, it was that as long as I was here I would not be compelled to reenroll in high school.

At the corner, I noticed Adrienne. She thought Bella and I had had a lover's spat. She'd picked out a white blouse that she thought set off her skin and had placed her hands just so against the doorframe, fixing her face into an affected caricature of sympathy just in case I looked her way.

Months of dodging that putrid harpy made the idea of kicking her down the stairs far too appealing, but my deeply ingrained manners insisted that I greet her with at least a polite nod. In the end, my trapezius muscles spasmed slightly as I passed her by.

What was that? Adrienne wondered confusion as I walked away. Did she hit him in the neck? Those thoughts gave way to speculation about how my trousers set off my physique as I walked away. I resolved to wear my Volturi cloak inside the compound thereafter.

Aro did not call me, so I was waiting outside the entrance to the library during shift change.

"Bella," I said as she brushed past me towards the door.and sat down in her place beside Randall. I followed her. No one stopped me. By now, I was known as one of Aro's preferred library escorts. They probably assumed that he would show up at any moment. "Bella, I have some things to say," I told her as she adjusted her skirt and pulled the copy of her first newspaper in front of her.

"Bella, we must speak privately," I said. "Let's step away for a moment." I saw her eyebrow twitch, but otherwise, she completely ignored me.

The hell does he want?

Stupid jerk knows better than to come in here and start yapping.

Sounds far more interesting than the Cinncinnati Herald. Do tell, you sexy man.

As always, hers were the only thoughts that I couldn't hear. She made them clear to me, though, flipping the page of the Amish Times so that it came within a hair of my face.

I forced my fists to unclench. Oh she was good. She'd learned how to manipulate the situation. I had a million things to say, and I couldn't breathe a one of them in the middle of the evening shift.

"Bella, I'm sorry," I murmured. She kept her eyes on the page, expression just a little haughty. "We do need to discuss this."

Sweet-talk your way back into your girl's knickers on your own time, thought Randall. I had to give him credit. He wasn't planning on saying it that way out loud, but he was breathing in to tell me to leave. In a way, this fight was a good thing. Randall hadn't thought of me as a person with normal problems since I'd gotten here. A male vampire getting over a lover's quarrel with his mate, that was something he could understand. It wasn't a full turnaround, but it was a start.

I stood up before he could speak. Just for good measure, I made eye contact, keeping an apologetic look on my face.

Randall's eyebrows shot up. I hadn't thought he'd be that surprised, but I must have been more abrasive than I'd thought these first few months. I hadn't changed anything today. This was only the first layer of groundwork, but I would win him over. I had time.

I moved through the hallways without any real purpose. Unlike most of the Volturi, I did not have a regular schedule. My duties were to come when Aro called me and to go where Caius sent me. Marcus had been relatively undemanding. Even so, it was rare that I had a moment to myself. When I did, I usually spent it with Bella, studying or passing the time. This was probably the first hour that I'd spent entirely at loose ends.

I considered going downstairs to look for Caroly. I'd seen Marcell once or twice since he'd been turned, but I'd only viewed Caroly through the minds of others. Aro had said that he didn't want me influencing my newborns—he'd have preferred it if I hadn't even considered them mine—but he hadn't expressly forbidden me to see them.

It occurred to me, somewhat belatedly, that I could listen to Caroly's thoughts and try to determine if they were the same as those I'd seen before, the day she'd been turned, that flash of sincerity and regret. I found that I only token interest in doing so. Whatever doubts I might still have, they weren't so keen that the need to assuage them could drive me.

I would go see, Caroly, then, but largely because I had nothing better to do until I figured out how to get Bella to stand still for three minutes.

The way was simple, and I'd traced it in Renata's mind many times. Something nagged at the edges of my awareness, like a chill or tightness in the air. By the time I reached the first level below ground, I realized what it was: The thoughts around me had grown sharper. People were thinking less about the past and future. They were in the moment.

A fight was brewing.

That itself was not so rare an occurrence. Within reason, members of the guard were encouraged to practice fighting, and many of the walls had been reinforced and soundproofed for that purpose—Rolfe and Felix tended to draw quite the enthusiastic crowd when they got going—but there was something else to this, a bite, an electric undercurrent. Something was wrong.

Sure enough, by the time my hand touched the door to the next stairwell, there was a shriek and the heavy sound of clashing limbs. Someone yelled, "Sister!" and I heard footsteps running toward the incident.

Before Zhengzhou, I would have headed the other way and found some of my own business to mind. My status as the outsider meant that I could easily become the target of any aggression in the room. This time, though... I breathed in and out. I should care. The Volturi were my coven now. If it had been Jasper and Rosalie, I would have cared. So I was going to act like I cared.

I hurried down the hall, trying not to make too much noise—I still had that much concern for my own skin.

There was a heavy crack that I recognized as the sound of a vampire hitting stone, followed by choked screaming. I ducked my head around a corner to find Heidi curled up in the fetal position, feet pattering on the floor as her hands folded into claws in front of her chest. Alec was standing between her and a clearly livid Jane, while Adrienne had flattened herself against a decorative column in the far wall, praying to become invisible. Rolfe, I noticed, was standing in front of her, trying not to think about the last time he'd tried to get between Jane and Heidi.

"Sister, she did not mean it, I'm sure of it!" Alec said with a hint of panic, his voice even higher than usual.

"Stay out of this, Alec!" hissed Jane. Alec was more agitated than I'd ever seen him, limbs half-bent in a combat crouch, blinking back the hair that had fallen into his eyes. Jane was practically twitching. Tension seemed to ripple down from her shoulders to her talonlike fingers. Venom was dripping grotesquely from her teeth to the floor of her open mouth and I doubt she knew it.

Heidi's feet were pushing against the floor as she writhed, inching away from Jane as she pressed one hand to the side of her face, which was screwed up like a newborn child's. Shit. Jane had probably done some damage this time.

"Don't try to get away from me. I am going to rip your eyes out you giant hag—"

"Jane!" Alec actually looked alarmed.

No one had noticed me yet. I could still leave. I breathed in and out. If I sounded the least agitated, this wouldn't work. I thought back to the time that Esme and someone else had tried to make brownies. Before they'd left the kitchen reeking of burnt sugar, I'd watched them spread dollops of thick brown batter into a pan. Heavy. Slow. Sweet.

"Rolfe?" I called out, as calmly as I could manage. I'd overdone it. I sounded as if I'd been sedated, but that hardly mattered. "Rolfe would you come over here? I need your help with something."

Everyone but Heidi turned and stared at me. I fought the urge to look at Jane. Her mind was like a swarm of crows. The sound of a gunshot had tossed them into the air for now, but they'd settle down again, only not necessarily on the same carcass.

"I need your help with something, Rolfe," I repeated. "Would you come with me, please?" I paused. "Bring Adrienne, too."

Has he lost his fucking mind? Rolfe wondered. But he noticed that Heidi's screams had given way to desperate panting.

"All right, then," he said. "Sure." He groped behind him and took Adrienne by the hand. He walked as if the floor were covered in broken glass, moving throught the exact middle of the hallway, so that the hem of his cloak brushed against Alec's legs, temporarily blocking Jane's view of her prey.

As they moved, I watched Heidi realize that Jane had been distracted. Not a second had passed before she was back on her feet and running away like a scalded cat. Jane turned but too late, there was nothing left of Heidi but the swinging of the stairwell door. I watched a snarl build in her throat as she moved to follow.

"There you are, Jane," I said, praying that the tremor would stay out of my voice. "Master Caius said that he wanted you upstairs," I told her. "I believe he's talking to Corin in the library." The last time I'd lied to Jane about her duties, my punishment had been public torture. Caius might let this one slide—if word of the fight got to him before Jane did, if he could pretend that I had indeed been following orders.

"Duty first, sister," Alec said tensely. "We can deal with Heidi later." He looked at me. Whatever else Alec was, he was frightened. Jane was his other self, and he saw her recent instability like a man who'd woken up and found half his body rotted away. Something about that moved me.

Thank you, he thought. I nodded, just barely.

I didn't move an inch as Alec led Jane away throught the far door.

It closed behind them and Adrienne collapsed against Rolfe's chest, shoulders hitching as she wept without tears. Rolfe gaped for a moment, then cautiously laid one of his meaty hands against the back of her head, patting awkwardly.

"What happened?" I murmured, amazed. Jane had never lost control like this, never. "What did Heidi do?"

"Nothing!" Adrienne wailed into Rolfe's neck.

"It can't have been nothing," I said, trying to make sense of the mirror shards that made up Rolfe's memories of the event. Adrienne's thoughts were no use.

"Nothing bad," Rolfe amended, as he mentally called me a fucking nitpicker.

"Heidi and I were talking about the gaps in the cleaning roster, and Heidi said it was 'our little problem,'" supplied Adrienne. She leaned back from Rolfe, pressing the back of her hand uselessly against her eyes and nose.

"Jane thought it was a slur on her size and recent behavior," I finished. Adrienne nodded.

"Wait, can't you tell?" asked Rolfe, pointing to his right temple, "You know..."

I shook my head. "Only what people are thinking right then. It's not like what the master does." I closed my eyes and listened, "Right now, Jane is considering punching Alec in the jaw."

Adrienne made a little noise, and I realized what it was that I had said. The twins had always been a matched set, the perfect pair. I didn't like being in the same room with either of them, let alone both at once, but Adrienne recalled the two of them finishing each other's sentences, mirroring each other's movements without looking. The idea that one of them would harm the other was, to Adrienne, impossible.

"I thought she'd go for me next!" Adrienne wailed. It was unnerving to see her vulnerabe. I'd never seen her show this much sincere emotion before. "She's a witch!"

"Careful!" said Rolfe.

"She is!" she went on. "I wouldn't say it for nothing, Rolfe, you know I wouldn't, but what else do you call that?" she pointed one shaking finger the way Jane and Alec had gone. "First Felix, then Heidi twice! And she got her in the face! She'll have a scar. How are we going to eat if Heidi can't work?"

Vampire scars were not necessarily visible to human eyes, but those were all real problems. Felix was the guard's chief muscle, and Heidi was its chief procurer. Jane should have known better than to risk harming either of them.

"Well we could always eat pigs like Edward here," Rolfe joked, giving me a heavy slap beween the shoulder blades. "Little Bella tells me they're not that bad."

Adrienne covered her face in both hands and cried harder. Rolfe looked at me. I said the wrong thing, didn't I? I gave him a helpless look. Recent events had shown that I wasn't much better with women than he was. At least she hadn't slugged him yet.

"Has Jane ever acted like this before?" I asked out loud.

Rolfe shook his head. "No. She was always kind of—" scary bitch pixie keep out of her way "—but she never..." he trailed off, remembering. His thoughts matched what I'd seen for myself: Jane liked her work, but she did what she was ordered to do. In the extremely rare event that someone very new or very foolish deliberately provoked her, she kept her responses swift and focused. Jane had never lost her calm in this way until around the time that Rolfe and I had returned from China. Even her previous attack on Heidi had been provoked by a real insult, not an imagined one.

Vampires didn't change. We weren't supposed to change. That was probably why Adrienne was so frightened. The thought of a deranged vampire who could taser people with her mind and would do so completely at random wasn't exactly soothing to me either.

"Master Caius has to send her away," Adrienne muttered. "She can't stay here if she's going to keep doing this."

"I'm sure that Master Caius will remind her of her station," I said with more certainty than I felt. "And Master Aro knows more about our kind than anyone. He will know what to do."

"If Jane goes, Alec will go with her," said Rolfe.

"Neither of them are going anywhere," I answered. "They're too precious to the masters."

"Then I will go," said Adrienne. "Guard or no guard, I won't stay here for that little goblin to snap at my heels."

"Adrienne," Rolfe said quickly, "there's no need to— I mean I don't—"

"Unless someone gives me a reason to say," Adrienne said with false caution, looking at me sideways as she quite deliberately let one of her dark curls fall across her elegant features.

Rolfe looked from Adrienne to me and back, eyes narrowing. It was just my luck that the only vampire here who was close to friendly with me was figuring out that the girl he had a crush on was far friendlier than I'd like.

Back in high school after all. Damn it.

"I'm sure you have many reasons to stay, Adrienne," I said as stiffly as I could muster. "Your duty first of all."

Her face crumpled. "You really are a fool," she breathed, turning on her heel and hurrying away, careful that her cloak would flare behind her just so.

I opened my eyes to find Rolfe staring at me speculatively.

"Are you and her—"

"No," I insisted.

"Because I thought you and Bella were—"

"We are."

"Because I kind of thought that you knew I—"

"I do," I told him, putting my hand on his arm. "Bella's just a little mad at me right now is all," I explained.

Oh, just a little? he thought archly. But then he shook his head. "If that's your biggest problem," he said, looking at the scuff marks that Heidi had left on the floor. He did not finish speaking.

Jane's irrationality could not preoccupy me for long. Instead of going to see Caroly, I paced back in forth in the hallway, watching Caius's thoughts. I would have gone to him if he'd sent for me, but he did not. The rest of the guard was avoiding this place, at least for now, and that gave me room to think.

I devised a new strategy: Because Bella had made it clear that I wasn't going to get away with a straight apology, I would bring her a present. Anthropologically speaking, gifts were usually a sign of power, giver over recipient, but I'd always felt that these sorts of offerings fell more along the lines of sacrifices made to placate angry spirits. Most men bought flowers or jewelry when they wanted to get back into a lady's good graces. Emmett had corralled Rosalie a wild boar once. I remembered a ball player who'd been accused of assaulting a mistress; his wife had sat beside him at the trial wearing an eight-karat purple diamond. Things wouldn't be so simple for me. Bella's time working for Sulpicia had made her sick of flowers, all my heirloom jewelry was in a lockbox in Emmett's closet, she didn't have a favorite food, and I hadn't so much as breathed at a piano in a year. But I could still give her the perfect present. After all, she'd said she wanted one.

Damn, but I wished this would only cost me two months' salary...

When I arrived in the audience chamber, Aro was with Demetri and Felix. I could see images of a recent return to Budapest in Demetri's thoughts, but those dissipated as I approached. I could see myself in Demetri's mind, better than a mirror. Gray cloak, serious expression. The image of the Volturi guard. Perfect.

I considered going down on one knee, but I figured that would probably be pushing things.

"Young Edward," said Aro.

"Master, I wish to ask a favor."

Aro's eyebrow shot up. Even Demetri looked intrigued. That's not like him, came his bell-clear hunter's thoughts.

"More of a suggestion, really," I modified, but I couldn't erase the impact of the word "favor." I didn't want to. I'd chosen it quite deliberately.

Aro could have read the whole plan in my mind, of course, but that would have been too easy. This way his first impression of the plan would be the version I'd prepared for him. And then there was the fact that I'd put myself in his power by asking him for something in front of witnesses, and he knew it.

"As you know, I lived in Washington for many years, not far from the site of the recent irregularities. I believe there is a problem that may be avoided with careful planning."

Aro stretched forth his hand, as if to put his weight on my shoulder. I complied. "I must say I am surprised to hear you come forward, young Edward," he said as his gift made contact with my memories.

She was right you know, Aro thought wryly.

Which time, Master Aro? I asked.

I am fairly confident it was all of them, he answered.

Well, Master? Do we have your permission?

Aro's thoughts were calculating, as always. You'll want to say it out loud, I suggested. Demetri and Felix will know you've granted my request. They have seen your generosity, and they will punish any ingratitude on my part. He saw the words I was suggesting in my mind. I saw his eyes narrow, just a hair. If anything, he was displeased that I hadn't shown this kind of subtlety before. Well I was all in now.

There is something that I want from you in return, young Edward.

Yes, sir, I answered.

His thoughts filled with Jane, lingering over my images of the fight with Heidi and her other recent outbursts. It had disrupted her duties. I could see in his thoughts that it had affected the rest of the coven more than I had known. People spoke in whispers whenever she was near, always looking over their shoulders. Twice, Caius had planned to send for her and then changed his mind. Aro wondered what he would do when a mission arose and he wished to send her into the field. If I hadn't known better, I would almost have thought that Aro was concerned.

Not almost, young Edward. Jane is my dear follower, and she has done a great deal of good for all our kind. I am concerned for her welfare and for that of the coven. He had already run through a hundred possible consequences of continued fights, and they were largely worse than I had anticipated. Jane would have to be exiled or executed, which would have any number of effects on Alec. To the vampire public, Jane was Aro's most feared agent; there would have to be a cover story for why she no longer appeared to defend the peace and punish the careless. If Jane were not quieted or eliminated, then there would be defections, especially among the proud and talented. Demetri, Aro suspected, probably Adrienne and Chelsea as well. Would the relative security that we'd known continue if the Volturi lost half their strength? Would there be consequences for the human population if it did not?

Yes, sir, I promised.

Can you do as I have asked?

I will listen to her thoughts, Master, I said. I will watch her when you cannot, and I will try to predict any conflicts. Something strange moved in Aro's mind when I thought the word "predict," but it passed quickly.

Aro's mind left no room for ambiguity. He wanted more than just a recording of Jane's thoughts in real time. He wanted a vampire with intellect sufficient to the task. He'd witnessed me finding patterns in the library. He'd seen my memories of helping Carlisle at his work, knew every conversation we'd had about the nature of the vampire mind. He wanted a detective.

"You have my permission," he said out loud, "to contact your former allies in Washington. Warn them that I will be sending men soon. Tell them to stay out of our way, so that we may avoid confronting the innocent along with the guilty."

"Thank you, Master," I said. And then I left. Behind me, Demetri believed what I had wanted to believe: that my "allies" were vampires, nomads who regularly passed through Cullen territory perhaps. No hint of wolves would reach Caius's ears.

I didn't like owing Aro favors. I didn't like having to acknowledge that he'd been kind when he could have been cruel. I didn't like having a task to perform for him when I would so much rather spend my energy on my own problems.

As I walked away, I remembered something that had passed through my thoughts during my first days in Volterra: Aro had kept Bella around because he thought that she was the only way to keep me motivated.

Innocent lives... he thought, and a chill ran down my spine as he thought it. This could be made to work.

I spent more time thinking about those early days. Many of my memories were hard to visualize, and I saw myself as if I'd been watching from the outside. Becoming trapped here, being forced to turn Bella, not being allowed to remain with her through her change—I couldn't believe Aro had been angry enough with me to not let me see her once—and I kept trying to remember what I'd thought and how I'd felt. Had there been longing? Had there been guilt? Had I been sure of her identity then?

It was of little use to me. There was something blank about those days. But it did pass the time until the goddamned door to the art gallery opened.

"I know you're in here," I called.

Renata appeared in the doorway, blocking my view. Over her shoulder, I could see the door at the end of the gallery swing back and forth where someone had passed through it. Renata watched me, arms awkwardly folded, as if she didn't know how to look aggressive but was giving it a fair shake.

"Will you tell her it's about the Washington situation?" I asked.

"She said you'd say that," said Renata, picking up the brush that she had been using to clean one of Caius's paintings. Titian maybe. If being a vampire didn't work out for her, she had a bright future in art restoration.

Renata shrugged, convincingly this time.

"Look, we've got to take care of that problem soon," I said, "before Aro changes his mind." I couldn't help angling my words toward the far hallway. No way she didn't hear that. If I was going to do my groveling in front of a thousand-year-old despot with designs on my psyche rather than at the feet of the lady in question, then dammit but she was going to find out about it.

The more practical problem was that the letter had to come from her but everyone had to think that it came from me. Bella hadn't been one of our kind back in Forks, so there was no legal way for her to have had contact with any vampiric Cullen allies. I couldn't write the letter myself, I couldn't shout across the gallery that she needed to pick up a pen, and things might go very badly for little Jacob Black and his friends if we waited too long.

"That's not important," Renata snapped. Or at least she came closer to snapping than she ever had in her life. "Now ...get lost!" she shouted cautiously, though the effect was marred by the delighted smile. No one had ever told her how much fun it was to yell at people.

I didn't want to go back downstairs, but I could hear Renata planning on making her first-ever scene. I didn't know what Bella had done to the poor girl, but she almost seemed to be looking forward to it. Still, I had other business to attend to until another opportunity arose. Unpleasant business, but I had promised. I did not need this. I did not need Bella avoiding me, I did not need a pack of slobbering were-teens to take care of, I did not need a rampaging death pixie who had suddenly become my specific problem, and I did not need Renata cutting her teeth on the remaining scraps of my patience.

On the way downstairs, I found that my concerns about being overheard had been justified. Adrienne was waiting for me again—pretending not to be, of course.

I made the mistake of looking her way without a scowl, and she smiled hopefully, thoughts full of bonding over the terrible ordeal that we'd both been through.

"Edward, I cannot thank you enough your earlier gallantry," she breathed at me. "If there's any way I can repay—"

"Give it up. It's never going to happen," I said as I shoved past her.

She had the good grace to look insulted. I turned around.

"You know, you should give Rolfe another look," I said. "Those rumors about Afton? Not a thing on Rolfe."

Her face turned speculative. Really?

No way in hell, but I was in no mood to help her out on that one.

If I hadn't been so distracted, I would have waited until she was in motion, or in a crowd. I would have watched her thoughts from outside the room, from another floor. When cornering a stubborn, dangerous creature, it is best to either give it an escape route or a dozen other targets, but I was too eager to discharge my obligation to Aro.

Marcell's place of confinement was slightly more hospitable than the one that had held Bella. Bars sunk deep into the steel separated him from the hallway. I noted that he'd been moved here after his mishap the day I'd returned from China. I wondered if that was because he was maturing or because the masters did not trust Jane with him as they had before. Probably the former. Marcell and Caroly were entirely expendable in Aro's eyes.

Jane turned her glassy red eyes toward me as I approached, "What are you doing here?" she snapped.

"I'm waiting for Bella," I lied in as neutral a tone as I could. Jane shook her head quickly, as if trying to knock a spider out of her hair. It was actually an excellent excuse for me to be here, and Jane seemed to believe me. Due to the crowded conditions and strict work schedules, vampires could linger in almost any part of the compound for their partners. It was considered polite to pretend they weren't there, and I was hoping years of conditioning would help her to ignore me while I hovered. Jane wasn't looking at me at least. So far so good.

My mental contortions must have been working. I had not spent much time around Jane recently, but I realized that her mind wasn't nearly as stunted or disturbing as I'd used to think. Her thoughts were bitter but animated, much closer to what I thought of as normal. Her face and movements were less dull—she was practically telegraphing "LEAVE ME ALONE [STOP]" with every breath and gesture, but that was still less unnerving than her usual focused blandness. She was still an executioner's mask, but all the threads hanging loose made her seem less menacing.

"Bella doesn't want to see you," rasped a voice from inside the cell.

"No one was talking to you!" bellowed Jane, slamming her hand against the bars. "What do you know? Shut up!"

"Jane!" I called out. She rounded on me and I instantly stepped back, "Jane," I said, in a gentle tone this time, like when Emmett and I had been watching a zoo show about trying to get a lion cub to eat. "Jane he didn't do anything wrong."

"You don't have to be here with him all day," she snapped. "You don't have him constantly at you. You don't do anything! Everyone hates you, even the master!"

What in God's name... I blinked. That might be it. Jane had started lashing out at other members of the coven shortly after she'd been assigned newborn duty. Something about Marcell might be setting her off. She was as irrational as if she'd been at her wit's end for weeks.

I looked through the bars. Marcell didn't look that infuriating. But, as Jane had said, I wasn't the one who had charge of him. Perhaps the matter merited investigation.

"I can watch him now if you want," I said. I had planned to spend at least an hour watching Jane, but this was getting out of hand too quickly.

"Do you think I can't do my work?" she snarled.

"I do," I said, "but maybe you deserve a break."

"Don't patronize me, you pus-eyed worm."

"Fine," I said, spreading my hands at mid-level. I could speak with my body language too. Speaking with my mouth only made her angry. I pulled out every trick I knew and some I'd copied off Rolfe: I relaxed my posture. I strayed nearer the edge of the hallway, well away from the exit.

I turned my attention to Marcell. He was on the far end of his holding cell, never looking directly at Jane but listening with all his attention. If he remembered the wound I'd given him, he wasn't thinking of it now. I was now nearly certain that her attack on him the previous week had not been merited. She was clearly not in complete control of herself.

From what I'd seen, all of Jane's thoughts were genuine. They rose up out of her boiling kettle of a mind the same way everyone else's did. I wondered what Jasper would have made of it.

I watched the newborn, waiting for him to look at me. He didn't. He was perfectly still, keeping his face to the wall. He'd learned that much, at least. Jane's thoughts wandered away from Marcell and me and back to Heidi. Jane was still itching to get back at Heidi for the insult she'd paid her. I noted disturbedly that many of the fantasies were taking rather specific shape. Pulling her hair out, breaking her teeth... I couldn't tell if Jane was actually planning to do it yet, but it wasn't a good sign. Members of the guard attacking each other in our own compound? Aro had been right; Adrienne wasn't the only one who'd want to quit, to say nothing of what it would do to the Volturi's reputation if word got out.

Marcell had mentioned Bella to me. Had Bella and Renata talked about me while they were watching over him? His thoughts were full of Jane, but there were flashes of other faces in gray cloaks. He was waiting for them to show up. He spent most of his days hoping to see their faces come through the entranceway, if only because it meant Jane was leaving. Other than that, though, his thoughts were typical of what I'd expect from a newborn, flickering from hunger to fear to anger and back. His desire for the comfort that Bella and Renata provided was one more animal instinct among the others, but it was there.

I couldn't blame him for thinking about Jane. She was as impossible to ignore as a machine gun, radiating agitation, menacing just by being herself. Only now, she was a machine gun with a faulty trigger, firing off without warning.

So far, the trick seemed to be just not to irritate her, but in a building full of dozens of vampires, that would be impossible. Marcell and I seemed to be doing all right as the time dragged on, but we were both standing completely still, in nonthreatening postures, making no noise.

Jane was hardly static, thoughts jumping to Heidi and to Alec, even to me a time or two, but she didn't seem to be connecting the me from the hallway to the me standing behind her by the pillar. In her mind I seemed tall and imposing. If I'd addressed her directly, I probably would have been the one doubled up on the floor instead of Heidi.

There were footsteps in the stairwell behind us. "You're late," Jane seethed as the door slid open and Renata and Bella walked toward us.

But we weren't supposed to be here until— Renata closed her mouth before she could say it out loud. She knew that Jane didn't need to get her facts straight. She was Jane.

Bella took one look at me and turned on her heel to leave. I registered a faint whining sound from Marcell as she moved away. "Bella, I need to talk to you," I called out.

"Shut up!" snarled Jane, and I heard the clang of her hand on the bars again.

Strictly speaking, I should have stayed with Jane, but I would have many opportunities to be around her, and Bella had been dodging me. Aro might chide me for it, but I was pretty sure Marcus would tell him to leave me alone.

Bella took the stairs four at a time, but I was faster. I got to the stairwell door first and put my hand on it before she did. What I was doing was extremely rude, I knew. My human mother was probably turning over in her grave, but I had tried being polite first.

"Edward, let me go," Bella said, looking right past me at the door.

"You're not even going to look at me?" I asked. She made eye contact. "We need to talk," I said.

"Did you get Aro's permission?" she asked.

"We'll get to that."

"Did you get Aro's permission?" she repeated.

"Bella, what I want to say is—" I lost my last word as Marcell let out a loud scream, followed quickly by Renata.

"Shit," Bella swore, darting past me back down the stairs. I had to admit similar sentiment, but I was more concerned with what Bella might do to Jane. The little demon's reputation wasn't so damaged that the masters would side with Bella over her.

I trained my hearing on the hallway outside Marcell's chamber.

"If you think he's so wonderful—here!" followed by a scrape of metal.

And Renata was shrieking in terror, "Put it back! Put it back!"

Shit, I thought. Marcell had been happy to see the calm, smiling Renata, but a shrill, screaming Renata was like newborn catnip laced with speed. By the time I got back into view, Jane was screeching as Marcell launched himself straight at her midsection. It seemed the ex-lawyer hadn't lost his acting ability—or it might just have been newborn unpredictablility—but letting Marcell out of confinement hadn't been Jane's most rational idea.

"Renata!" I called out. "Come over here and shield Jane!" but she was practically jabbering in terror in the corner of the room. Not even as much sense as Adrienne, I admitted bitterly. She'd at least been quiet.

I jumped at Marcell and grabbed his left arm from behind, but he'd already knocked Jane onto her back and was still tearing at her with his free hand. Bella darted in beside me and for a moment we wrestled him together, like two children handling a python.

"Jane, if you would be so kind as to go upstairs and request that Rolfe and Felix come and join us?" I asked, a bit throatily. I wasn't sure if she registered my request and I didn't find myself caring much. I turned to Bella. "Now will you listen to me?" I asked, doubling over temporarily as Marcell got his feet underneath him and kicked me hard in the stomach.

"Edward, this isn't exactly the best time," she answered.

"I'm jealous of Jacob Black," I choked out, standing up just in time to duck under Marcell's arm as he took a wild swing at my head, "but I don't think you should blame me for it. Now the way I acted about it might be another matter..."

"Whatever," she told me. "Renata, a little help?" she called over her shoulder. I turned and looked to see if Renata was in any better shape, but Marcell took advantage of this to wrench his right arm free of Bella's grip and swipe hard at her neck.

I turned with a loud snarl and held Marcell's arms behind his head. Damn but it was hard to get a good angle... Renata came hurrying toward us. "I yelled at you because I was jealous," I managed to say before Marcell twisted hard enough to make my skin rasp like an aluminum sheet. I let go with a gasp.

I risked turning my eyes back to Bella. "I kissed you because I was jealous." Marcell braced his feet against the far wall and leaped toward me. I stepped back and let him fly between us, crashing into the support columns hard enough to make the stonework rain down dust.

"You're right; I was an ass," I said, sweeping Marcell's legs out from under him and ducking to the side as he flailed at the hem of my cloak. "And I promise that I will give my all to see that it does not happen again.

"But I'm going to be jealous of any man who's had your favor, even if it was only a smile," I said. "And that part you're going to have to get used to."

"If it troubles you, I can try to keep it to myself, but there it is," I said. I looked over my shoulder to where Renata seemed to have distracted Marcell into running at her. I blinked hard. Bella had been right; it did make a person dizzy. I looked back toward Bella, who was watching me with quiet eyes. "I won't be so damned irrational about it next time. But there it is," I said again, taking another step toward her. "I'm going to be jealous of you because, out of everything in this world, you're what I like best."

Bella looked at me for what seemed like a long moment. Then Marcell made a throaty gasp and she slipped to the side. I kicked the cell gate open as she and Renata all but lifted the newborn off his feet to drag him back inside. Marcell snarled and ran toward the door, but I already had my shoulder to the grate and felt the lock click shut just as Bella and Renata slipped back out into the hallway.

Edward? came Renata's thoughts. They were almost startling. This was the first time she'd tried to speak to me directly through my gift before. I can manage him, Edward. You two go. I watched her make eye contact with Bella and give a nod.

"I got permission, by the way," I said. "Write the letter, but give it to me to send. It must look as though it came from me."

"You won't look at what I write?" she asked.

I turned to look at her, blinking at the concern in her dark amber eyes. What would she write to Jacob Black that she wouldn't want me to see? I felt my mouth set. I had a rival for her affections, and one who wasn't doing too badly despite being an ocean and two continents away. "If you ask me not to," I said, "then I will not read what you write, but there must be no reply. It would be too dangerous for him and for us." That had I had no intention of fighting fair. Let dog boy have his love note. He couldn't have her. "And nothing treasonous," I added. "Just in case he doesn't destroy the letter. There are no statutes of limitations here. Aro could kill us a hundred years from now for one wrong word today."

"Thank you," Bella said quietly, eyes full of something that I didn't want to understand. Gratitude. Relief. Affection, and I doubted it was for me.

I didn't like it, but it was only one little note. Anything short of a profession of eternal devotion and a plea that he wait for her to be free... No, I could beat that. Jacob Black wasn't going to win this one.

"I know this was difficult for you," Bella was saying, "but they saved me. Laurant was going to kill me. I owe them this."

I nodded tightly. I would tell myself that was the only reason she wanted this. I would tell myself that honor demanded that I repay the men who'd helped my lady when I could not. It was kind of her to let me think that was the only reason she wanted this.

"But that's not why I was mad at you," she said.

I looked up. Of all the people who's thoughts I couldn't read, it would be the girl I fell in love with.

"It's because that was why you kissed me," she said. She shook her head, corners of her mouth going tight. The tension from dealing with Marcell probably didn't help, but I could tell she'd been holding this in for a while. "You'll go through this whole charade about making it look like we're together, but no, no you won't so much as lay a finger on me without flinching, but I mention Jacob, I mention the guy I completely screwed over because I was still so hung up on you that I couldn't see straight—" I managed to stifle the smile before she saw it. "—and you go to town." She shook her head. "My friends' lives are at stake, my parents' lives are at stake, and I care more about what stupid shit you're going to pull next." I could empathize with that last. With my blindness and her constant rebellion, what a pair we made.

"Did you love him?" I asked.

"Still do." She gave a stunted laugh. "I practically pureed his heart into rebound chili, but I do."

It was like watching a crystal crack deep inside. Something appears to be clear and all one piece and then suddenly it has layers and corners and changes in between until you worry your mind may lose itself just trying to figure them all out. Bella was more complicated than I'd realized, and it was starting to look like she always had been.

I watched her close her eyes as she sat down on the stair. She looked like she wanted to be ten thousand miles away. "I thought it would go away, when I saw you again or when I got turned, but it didn't. It's exactly the same."

Of course it was. A vampire's personality became set when she was turned. She would always love Jacob, and I would always love her. But she hadn't said that she didn't love me too.

"I'm sorry to have taken you away from him." I meant it. Almost.

"You didn't take me away from anywhere. It was my decision."

She'd saved me. She'd left her Jacob and she'd come to Italy to save me. That by itself didn't mean that she would have taken me back, but it was starting to look like my original plan hadn't entirely worked.

"You had to kiss me because of the worst thing I've ever done," she said.

"I'm sorry," I said.

She looked at me carefully. "You mean it this time," she said.

"It helps if I know why I'm saying it," I answered.

I sat down, not touching her, not close enough to touch her, and I waited.

"So this whole pretending thing," she said. "What was that, me in a holding pattern? Keep me out of circulation until you got your head on straight?"

"No," I insisted. "It was about your safety and mine. It was so we could spend time together without anyone asking why. It was—"

"It was so the other men here would think I was with you," she said. "You said it was so they wouldn't trouble me."

I didn't have much to say after that. "Did you want them to?" I asked at last, remembering how upset she'd been about Byron.

"No," she said. She licked her lips. "But pretending to be together bothered me a lot and I don't like that you had a reason for it that you didn't tell me about."

"I didn't know I had it."

"Edward," Bella said, fingers reaching out into the air in front of her, "I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say here. Does that mean you want to do this being mates thing for real?"

I looked away.

"There!" she said. "That's what I'm talking about. You say you want me one minute, but the next you act like you can't stand me."

"I can't stand the word," I snapped, finally meeting her eyes as she went silent. "A mate is what a dog has, Bella. It's what a rat has. You shouldn't be so eager to pin that label to your chest. Esme's not Carlisle's mate." I acted like the concept was repulsive because it was.

"I didn't know you felt like that," she said quietly.

"I would have told you."

"I didn't know I had to ask," she said. "It looked like... Like with the way you acted, you were already giving me an answer."

I ran one hand over my eyes and forehead, "Bella," I said, "it's been a strange couple of months."

She laughed then, a real laugh. I thought it would stop, but she just kept laughing. She touched her right eye with the back of her hand, as if she'd shed a tear. We couldn't cry, so she laughed. "That's for damned sure," she said as her voice stopped hitching. "Damn."

I might have laughed too, but after what we'd just seen with Jane, unpredictable behavior didn't seem as refreshing as it once had.

"So if I want to know why you're doing something, I get to ask?" she said.

"Ask away," I offered.

She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, looking at me speculatively. "What's the rest of the reason?" she asked.

"The rest of the reason for what?" I asked cautiously.

"Edward," she warned.

I breathed out, slowly. For this, I needed fresh air. "I don't like that you've killed people," I said. It seemed it was a good day for understatements.

"You've killed," she said.

"I know."

"You've even done it on purpose, when no one was making you."

"I know."

She leaned back, watching me. I felt the words sink out of the air and settle down beside us. Yes, I was a hypocrite if feelings had to be rational. They didn't. I'd liked her more when she was better than I was. I had never wanted to bring her down to my level.

"That's not all, is there?" she asked.

I felt my head tilt back. "No," I admitted.

She didn't say anything. I felt half a smile twitch across my lips. She wasn't going to make this easy for me, was she?

I'd asked Aro. I'd asked Carlisle. I'd asked Marcus. I'd spent weeks asking myself.

"Are you the same?" I said, feeling the words in my nose, my throat, the pit of my stomach. "From before you were turned, Bella, are you the same?"

Her face cleared. "This is about souls, isn't it?" she asked. "Like that day in the woods—this is about my soul?"

She stared at the wall for a long moment, "My God," she said. "Edward, do you..." She shook her head. "I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to do this." She looked at me. "Edward, when I think about it, I'm not even sure what a soul is."

"It's not meant to be logical," I said. She probably thought it was religious nonsense.

"Edward, if the soul's the part of me that can feel guilt, then yes, it's always been here. It feels the same." I felt her fingertips on my chin, and I looked up at her. "If it's that part of you that made you not just kill me in Biology the day we met... Are you going to tell me it's gone? The person who could've just left Renata to deal with Marcell and Jane by herself? You don't even like her. You could have just let her get shredded."

I closed my eyes, remembering the feel of tears.

If she was Bella Swan, then I was Edward Masen.

It had ...comforted me to think that boy had followed his parents and friends, that he was still with them, wherever they'd gone. It wasn't a betrayal if I forgot the details, took a new name, called Carlisle my father. If I wasn't Edward Masen, then I was free and he was where neither Aro nor any of the terrible things I'd done could touch him.

I felt the whole image, almost real enough to touch, dissolve like a cloud. It was inside me. It always had been. I wasn't free. My soul wasn't safe in heaven; it was still right here, tied to Volterra along with the rest of me.

I looked up at the sound of cloth moving against smooth skin. Bella met my eyes as she carefully leaned closer, as if there were still any chance she'd slip. She smiled. A sad smile.

My soul was trapped in Aro's service.

So was hers.

"I don't understand, Edward. I don't understand how something like that could make you act this way. You really thought I wasn't me?"

I nodded tightly, not looking at her. She didn't understand. The fact that she didn't understand meant that she probably had a better grasp on all of this than I did.

"I missed you too, you know," she said, her voice turning hot. "Did you know that you look different? You have a tiny mark, just there," she said, touching my right temple. "I guess you had chicken pox as a child." It had been a fight with Jasper, just practice taken too far. Esme had been petrified.

"And your jaw is just a little longer on your right side than on your left," she said. "There's more. I could sit here all night and tell you all the things about you that I couldn't see before. But I do miss looking at you, the way I used to, and seeing how perfect you were." She turned to the side, fingers clenching on the edge of the stair. "And I miss the way you used to act."


"And none of that means that you don't have a soul," she seethed. "None of it means that you aren't right here with me, right now, that you haven't had my back for six months straight."

More like eight but it's nice that she noticed, I thought, but I kept it to myself. I doubted that sarcasm would be appreciated.

"You asked me what I wanted?" I said carefully, opening my eyes, "I want to re-earn your trust."

She was quiet. "That could take a while."

"It's all right," I said. "We have time."
I'm starting to regret posting chapter thirty from Edward's perspective. I'd thought that the Bella version spilled the beans too soon, but it seems that things aren't as obvious as I'd thought they were. I know this chapter cuts off a bit awkwardly, but that is because I'm planning on finishing this conversation from Bella's perspective.
I just rechecked BD and found that one of the nomads is named Randall. Please assume that the Randall I've mentioned so far in IKMD is another vampire who happens to have the same name.
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu