Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Alibi ( Chapter 33 )
[ 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.
This one's a titch shorter than my recent usual, but I felt that the last chapter needed a quick wrap-up. I'm also regretting not writing chapter thirty from Bella's perspective. I feel that a lot of the information given in this chapter would have been more natural if presented there. But hey, if anyone can tolerate sub-optimal pacing, it's Twifans.
"He took a deep breath and stared, unseeingly, at the ground for a long moment. His mouth twisted the tiniest bit. When he finally looked up, his eyes were different, harder-like the liquid gold had frozen solid." -Bella, New Moon
He had to do this now. He had to do this just when I'd figured out how to manage. It didn't help that I couldn't tell for sure what he was talking about. From what I could piece together, Edward was trying to say that his brain had broken down at some point, and it had taken a while for the right custom part to get shipped to the shop.
But that was logical me. While logical me was filing papers and computing possibilities, emotional me was doing jumping jacks on a trampoline while shooting flare guns at anyone telling her not to get her hopes up. I felt like I was a swimming pool that had been drained all winter, and someone was finally filling me up.
"So this was about my soul?" I asked again.
"I thought it was," he said.
I licked my lips. "I want to understand what you're saying, Edward," I said.
"I'm saying I want you to take me back," he told me. His eyes were like two liquid pools, impossibly clear, as if he wanted me to see all the way down into him. I could hardly tell what I saw there.
"I know you don't believe me," he said, "not yet. But I would dearly love any chance to convince you. Bella I want you to take me back."
Now I recognized it. Months ago, I'd learned that Edward was the one person on this planet who could hurt me more than anyone else. It looked like he'd figured out that it cut both ways. He was afraid of me like I was afraid of him.
And he knew that I could tell him to go to hell. After what he'd put me through, it was nice to know that I could if I wanted to, but there was a good chance he'd actually strap on some asbestos hiking boots and do it.
My stupid lower lip was shaking. I pushed my hand down on top of it but it wouldn't stop. "Why now?" I asked. "What changed your mind?"
"I guess I always knew, a little," he said. "When you started to act like yourself again..." He shook his head. "You weren't worrying about your midterms or taking care of Charlie, but everything you've done in Volterra, you've done the way Bella Swan would. I should have known long ago." He closed his eyes. "Master Marcus talked some sense into me."
It was like icewater straight to the pit of my stomach.
Marcus, one of the ones who could move people's emotions. And Edward had called him "Master" without flinching. Oh God...
"How have I upset you?" Edward was asking intently, like a waiter who'd just dropped a dozen glasses. "Bella please don't make me try to figure it out myself again."
I eyed him carefully. I had to make sure.
I leaned over and gently placed my hand on his wrist. Touching him helped me.
I hadn't been doing it as much, not since he'd almost figured me out that day in the woods. Because if Edward knew—or even if he just picked up on enough clues—then Aro would know, and then they'd make me do it all the time, to people like Alec and Felix and Jane. I hated doing it to Jane. Worse, they'd make me stop doing it to Edward, and then Chelsea would get him.
It was still hard to do on purpose, but I could manage when I wasn't too distracted. And with Edward, it was always worth it. I imagined that I was stretching the last layer of my skin. I imagined I was putting my arms around him. I imagined holding his head in my lap and stroking his hair like I had that day with Gianna.
When it worked, it was like a door swinging open, and I could see him in my mind, all the bright, blazing life of him. Edward might think he'd been defeated by this place, but he never would be. He couldn't be. Not if he still felt like this every time. Every time I did it I made myself remember that he wasn't mine, but he felt like he was. I tried not to think about doing this with other people.
At first I'd thought I was crazy, the way I'd seen Alice and then Edward and Oleg, but after a few times I'd had to accept that I wasn't. I did have a power. I hadn't realized that it did anything except make sparkly pictures in my head until that day Edward had turned Marcell. Even then I hadn't been sure. I still wasn't sure. Edward had said that he could still hear Demetri's thoughts while he was mine, so whatever it was that I did couldn't have been blocking his gift, but it did something, and whatever that something was, I had no plans to stop.
One minute he'd been telling me what a harmless little darling Chelsea was, and the next minute he'd been back to normal. That was what I knew. That was all I needed to know. I still wasn't sure the whole thing wasn't my imagination, but it happened almost every time I made myself see Edward. Ever since then, I'd been ripping out that bitch's evil little stitchwork every chance I got.
I would have loved to have asked Edward about it. I would have loved to tell him that I was special the way he was special and let him help me understand things the way he was letting me help him, but I just couldn't. Not until the plan was done and we were away from here.
I worried, though. I wondered whether that the back-and-forth of it might do Edward some harm, like a piece of metal that's bent along the same seam until it breaks, but it could never be as bad as what Chelsea would do to him if Aro made me stop.
Edward was smiling. He looked a lot calmer than he had a moment earlier. As a matter of fact, he looked as happy as the day I'd first told him I loved him. I must have missed something. Didn't matter. "Say it again," I whispered intently. "Please don't ask, but I need to hear you say it again."
Edward leaned toward me, "I adore you," he breathed into the air between us. "I always have, even when I was too much of a fool to realize it."
I didn't look away. I stayed. I stayed locked in those eyes. My stupid lower lip moved again. "This really is you talking, isn't it?" I managed to say. I squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn't look. I loved what I was seeing but I just couldn't look.
"Yes," he said, though he must have been confused. I felt him put his free hand on my upper arm and squeeze. Damn but it felt good to have him do that and know it wasn't because we had an audience. "I mean every word," he said. "And I promise..."
The words dissolved as his lips touched mine.
For a second, I couldn't think at all; there was too much to feel. He was barely touching me, but there was so much meaning in it, in the rustle of his clothes, the scent of his skin, and especially that flare in his being that perfectly matched the funny ache in my chest where my heart still wanted to pound. His hand left my shoulder and grazed the back of my head. There was just something about a kiss. It was more than just affection, it was approval, acceptance, trust, and closeness. Edward could always make me feel like he wanted me.
That was why I'd been so mad at him, I realized between caresses. He'd given me all these things—or pretended to give them—and then he'd said that it was only an act. When he pulled away long enough to whisper my name against my cheek, I managed to wonder when the hell he'd gotten all the way from begging my forgiveness to this. It occurred to me that I ought to, I don't know, slap him or something.
Edward lifted our clasped hands until the backs of my knuckles were pressed against his chest.
That was it, I realized. That was why he thought he got to kiss me. That was why he'd acted so weird in the woods. Holding hands was somewhere around the Victorian equivalent of third base. Every time I'd de-washed Edward's brain, he'd thought I was coming on to him.
In all fairness, he wasn't that off. If I'd had the slightest idea of how to put moves on him, I'd have been doing it double time since April. It was funny how life balanced itself out.
I lifted my free hand and just barely traced the line of his jaw. He released my mouth long enough to lean his forehead against mine.
"You may hit me again if you wish," he said quietly.
Smug son of a bitch.
"Edward Cullen, don't you dare tempt me."
"So how did it go?" whispered Renata. I wasn't sure why she bothered. The petrified hags could hear us anyway.
"It went okay," I said. God, if I could still blush, I'd have been purple to my ears. From the way Renata was grinning, though, it was showing on my face in other ways.
Old Bitch Two muttered something in Etrusca-speak.
"There is no need to draw assumptions, Athenodora," Old Bitch One answered in English. "They are all this way now."
Athenodora answered, and I picked up the words for "underskirt" and "slut." That was the weird thing that Italian and Chinese both had in common. There was the classroom version, and then there was what people actually spoke. Chinese was so different from city to city that it was almost like a dozen different languages. Italian was the same way, but the effect was less intense. I'd learned Italian pretty well—studying with Edward—but I was still limited to a word here and a word there when it came to the wives. Fortunately, with us modern girls, they tended to use the same ones over and over.
Sometimes I wanted to shout in their faces that I was an honest-to-goddamned virgin. But sooner or later I'd have to stop shouting it and that I'd rather that these calcified zombie queens not know exactly when that was.
Mm... But if that wasn't getting ahead of myself...
I figured that I really ought to have made him suffer a little more. He'd shown that he was willing to grovel, and he certainly deserved it. Stupid son of a gun didn't know what he'd put me through, making me pretend to be his girlfriend just so that I wouldn't look at anyone else until he pulled his head out of his you-know-what. There was a part of me that felt like I really owed it to Sadie Hawkins or somebody not to just let him come crawling back the first chance I got.
But before I'd left, Edward had given me a lopsided smile. His real smile. And he'd looked so damned happy.
Okay, so it was also to keep these freaks from jumping at me the way Byron had. Okay, so it was also to let us hang out together without people immediately thinking we were plotting to blow up the building. I got it. There was overprotective and then there was just protective. So what if it had also been about Edward going crazy jealous whenever someone else looked my way? Besides, who was I to talk? I'd told Edward to his face that I'd snuck out into the woods that day just to see him.
Screw it, I thought. Screw whether or not girls in general should do what I was doing. I wasn't anyone's role model. Screw what was right for anyone who wasn't Edward and me. He was Edward, and I was Bella, and that was the only point of any of this. That was what I'd been working for all these months.
I wanted Edward and I wanted my freedom. I hadn't figured that I'd get Edward first, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to take him. I'd figured I'd get us out of here and then I'd finally be able to tell him what I'd been working on this whole time. Even if that hadn't been enough to make him love me, at the absolute worst, he'd have felt grateful. I could work with grateful.
Thank God I'd had wives duty next and not library duty. No way would I have been able to concentrate on the price of sheep feed in western Ohio. Up in the tower, though, that was when I wanted to be distracted.
Some days we were lucky. Some days all we had to do was clean the place. Sometimes Athenodora asked Renata to dress her hair for her, which Renata seemed to know how to do. It took a while, but it didn't seem that bad. Then we got to stand at either side of the doorway in case they needed anything. Those days, I could just zone out, go still and become part of the furniture.
"Bring me the bowl."
Renata's eyes met mine for just a split second. She didn't have to say anything. We both knew it was my turn.
I walked calmly to the corner of the room and picked up a basin and ewer. I let my face become a stone angel, bland with just a hint of a smile, just like I'd seen on Jane my first day here. I set the basin on a short table beside Sulpicia's easel and poured Old Bitch Two a tall glass of water from the ewer, which I then returned to its place.
Fuck fuck fuck but I was never going to sit still for a million years or do vampire crack or whatever the hell it was that had turned these girls into Rocky and Bitchwinkle.
Edward and I had gone through an anatomy textbook a few months back, and I'd figured out some of what was going on with the wives. At some point, their eyes had scummed over and turned gray, probably because their eyelids were so rough that they added new scratches to their corneas with every blink. Oops. At some point, they'd lost the ability to move quickly over long distances, maybe because of petrification to their ligaments. Rats. I'd helped both of them change clothes more times than I cared to remember, and, at some point, their skin had become cracked and fissured so that they barely looked human in some very unattractive places. Oh well.
The cilia, the little hair cells that lifted dust and dirt out of our throats and lungs like a tiny bucket brigade? At some point, they'd all gone brittle and broken off like stucco.
Athenodora lifted the glass to her lips and pulled it straight through to her lungs. I wondered if Caius was glad she'd lost that gag reflex. She held still, eyes half-closed, and I pictured the water filtering down through the branching, rootlike pockets all the way to her alveoli. Then she leaned forward and heaved it all back into the basin. Some days she couldn't get it all out. Some days she needed help. At least I was practiced in case I ever had to take care of a kid with cystic fibrosis.
Some of it splashed over and got my sleeve wet. I didn't step back. That was rude.
Athenodora picked up the glass again. Wait too long and the dust builds up, Renata had told me. Sulpicia had waited too long once, and her voice had failed her, little puffs of dust clogging her nose as she tried to speak.
I had to admit, I'd done some slacking the first time I'd been told to clean this place. Now, I made sure it was spotless. Heck, I'd been begging to change the damned air filters. A speck of dust floating in the air today was one I might have to scrape off Sulpicia's epiglottis tomorrow.
Athenodora snapped something at me as I carried the bowl downstairs to dispose of its contents. Damn but I hoped Plan J worked soon. Otherwise, I was going wring this woman's craggy neck and get executed.
I elbowed open the door to the upstairs bathroom. The mirror that I'd broken had been replaced months ago, but I still avoided looking at it. According to Renata, Marcus had designed this room for the wives' use, so that they could take care of their bodily functions in private, with plumbing, like normal people. Only Sulpicia hadn't wanted to leave the tower, and where Old Bitch One didn't go, Old Bitch Two didn't go. I turned on the water in the shower and tried not to think about the chunks of gray muck disappearing down the drain. I tried to pretend that the bowl had only been full of bean dip that Charlie had left in the fridge too long, or motor oil from Jake's garage. I missed them both so much it was like an aching wisdom tooth. All in good time.
I shut off the water and hurried back upstairs. I didn't want to leave Renata alone with them too long. Bad things happened when I took my eye off the ball, and there was a big difference between collateral damage and Renata getting slapped to death because I'd felt like taking a break before heading back into the cobwebby lion's den.
"What do you think of the matter with Jane?" asked Sulpicia. Fantastic. They were talking to each other like we weren't here again. That meant they weren't asking us to do gross stuff for them.
"Is she the little harlot with the dark hair and the skirt hitched up to her knees?" asked Athenodora.
"No," answered Sulpicia. "That is Bella, the one who helped with your ablutions just now."
"Shameless thing. She comes here with the smell of her man still on her." My eyebrow shot up. Really? I found Edward's personal scent quite pleasant, but if showering before heading up here would make Athenodora shut her yap, I could always ask him to make out with me again after I got off tower duty. Mm... kissing...
"Jane is the one who came with her brother," said Sulpicia.
Athenodora's eyes swung left and right. Perhaps she was trying to remember what Jane looked like. Perhaps she was stumped by the fact that, despite being a raving psychopath, Jane was impossible to mistake for a slut.
Sometimes I didn't know why Sulpicia bothered. Old Bitch Two was usually at least halfway to out of it. And she never tried to talk to us outside of giving orders. Did she ever get to talk to anyone?
Aro came to visit, I remembered. Whatever else I could say about Aro, he could carry on a conversation. But that meant that Sulpicia's husband was the only person she could really interact with... That couldn't be healthy.
I managed not to smile. Edward had wanted me to have my own friends, both here and back in Forks. He'd encouraged me to trust Renata. Of course, that was also about making inroads so that the other Volturi wouldn't want to kill us just for kicks...
"My lord says that Jane attacked the newborn again today," said Sulpicia. "The male one. The lawyer."
I'd already gone still by the door, but I could swear I felt my knees shaking. Poor Marcell.
The day Edward had gotten back from China, I'd gone to see Marcell as soon as I could. Over the past weeks, Renata and I had been trying to keep him calm. We'd even gotten him to talk to us a few times, but the day Jane had gone after him, he'd kept his body curled toward the wall. He usually looked up when Renata and I walked in. He usually acted like he recognized us. He hadn't said a word that day or moved so much as an eyelash. The day after that had been the same. He still wasn't back to normal, or at least, ravening vampire newborn normal.
It brought it home more than Edward's lectures ever had: I was in a very dangerous place, surrounded by dangerous people, and if I put one toe out of line, someone was going to get hurt.
This time it had been Marcell. I'd figured it would be Heidi again, or maybe that snob Adrienne. Up until then, Jane had only gone after other women—and I'd entertained a fantasy or two about her and Chelsea knocking each other's fangs out—and Felix had only had a piece of it after getting in the way.
I hated it here. Marcell hadn't done anything. He hadn't done anything and Jane just got to go in and mess him up like that. Edward was terrified of making one false move, I wasn't allowed to cover my wrists when I carted sludge for the wives, and Jane didn't get so much as a talking-to for turning one of the new guys catatonic. I would have thought that Caius or Aro or the other one would have at least called her to the floor on it.
I didn't like blaming myself for shit that other people did. That was more Edward's thing. But I felt terrible about what had happened to Marcell. Jane had broken him open like an egg, but I was trying to make one hell of an omelette. Besides, if I looked too guilty, someone might figure it out.
Edward was always nagging me to be more careful and it drove me crazy that I couldn't tell him how careful I really was. I had my rules: at least three plausible reasons for everything I did. I'd arranged to be out of Volterra when Jane blew her fuse. Everyone would think I'd just snuck out to go see Edward in the woods. If they didn't believe that, then I was just being a stir-crazy newborn vampire craving some fresh air. If they didn't believe that, then I was seeing how long it took Demetri to notice I was gone. Layers to everything. Always a backup plan.
As much as Chelsea's gift made my skin crawl, wiping out her influence on someone like Jane was like replacing an axe murderer's psych meds with blue M&Ms. I shuddered. I didn't like using my gift on Jane. It was like taking something slimy and poisonous and tucking it inside my shirt to keep it warm, a baby leech, a giant hornworm with teeth.
At least it was working. Jane was raising hell and knocking out the damnable unity of this place. If Adrienne left, then other people would leave. Soon this guard would leak like a sieve, and, if we were lucky, no one would care if Edward and I left too.
Of course, that was just one scenario. Plan J had thousands of possible outcomes, and those were only the ones I'd thought of. It was also possible that Aro would pull Edward tighter to him than ever. It was also possible that we'd both get killed when this place came down around us, but it was better than doing nothing.
Edward and I had read history books, making up for the college courses that hadn't taken when I hadn't become a freshman this fall. Back in 1700s South America, a man would buy a young slave and apprentice him to a craftsman. The young slave would live with his teacher, do his job, and learn his trade. Then the owner and the slave would go to court and set a price. Then, over the course of fifteen years, the slave would slowly work and save and, by the time he was in his thirties or forties, he would pay back the speculator and earn his freedom. Of course, by then he wasn't a little nobody any more. By then, he was valuable, trained, and expensive. The speculators got more than their money's worth.
It kept the slave obedient. It kept him from running away. He knew he didn't have to.
If Aro hadn't wanted me to cause trouble, he could have done that. I could wait fifteen years to get out of here, but I couldn't wait fifteen years to not get out of here.
Athenodora dipped back into her own dialect, and I missed most of her response. It sounded like a question.
"Yes, and Adrienne as well," answered Sulpicia. "She is talking of leaving."
"Adrienne?" said Old Bitch Two. Huh. What had gotten her in the wives' good graces? "Not in this house. Jane must go."
"I am hesitant, my dear. You know how my lord adores her."
I managed not to show anything on my face—I hoped. I'd seen Aro with his favorite "dear one." I couldn't help but contrast it with Edward's fervent I adore you earlier in the stairwell.
"She must go. To the house in Firenze if nowhere else."
"That house is gone, Athenodora, long since."
"She must go."
That was something I hadn't considered. If they sent Jane away before she self-destructed—I was picturing Eliza from Sense and Sensibility going into confinement in the country—then that might diffuse the whole Plan J situation. Aro wouldn't be happy, but he wouldn't have chunks of his guard falling off left and right. Hm.
I'd always though that Old Bitch One called the shots, but... I made mental notes of questions to ask Renata once we were free to talk. Did Athenodora make the decisions, in her addled, perfectly centered way, only to have Sulpicia put them together so they didn't sound like cat lady babble? Could be. Could be. Maybe as far as Volterran housekeeping was concerned, the wives were one unit, and Sulpicia just happened to be its voice.
How much influence did the wives actually have in Volterra? They didn't seem to affect much from up here, but that didn't mean they were completely useless. Caius and Aro didn't usually require the presence of servants when they came up here for private time—thank God—and who said that they didn't have an influence on the top decisions? It was worth learning more about.
After all, if Plan J fell apart, I was going to need another one.
He was waiting for me when we came back down. Aro hadn't wanted him. Renata gave me a knowing smile—the same one she'd been giving me for six months; showed how much she knew—and left for the lower levels. I didn't remember what it was that she did at this time of day. I also didn't care.
Edward didn't say anything, just kept staring right into my eyes from the landing, only a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
I narrowed my eyes a little. So smug. Maybe I should have made him grovel a little more. He looked away for a moment, then held out his hand.
We usually walked arm in arm, like a couple in the background of a Sherlock Holmes drawing. I could tell that this was something different. I took the remaining two steps down to the landing and took his offered right hand with my left. We walked away from the tower with his upper arm just barely brushing my shoulder. He hesitantly laced his fingers in between mine.
I suddenly remembered Alice and Jasper in our hazy drive from Forks to Arizona. Although I was sure Alice had been in the back seat with me, I somehow pictured their hands twining over the gear shift with a practiced, eyeless ease. I'd only ever seen old couples do that, the ones who'd been together since they'd been young.
So that's what you want, Edward Cullen, I thought. I could picture it, the two of us, somewhere far away, marked on the inside by all the same years of the same life. I licked my lips. Will you still love me when I'm old and craggy? Too soon to say it. Too soon to say any of it. But he'd been right about one thing: we had 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 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