Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Memory ( Chapter 35 )

[ 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.

So I read The Hunger Games and just recently saw the movie (not quite up to the hype but still pretty darn good). A lot of people compare it to Twilight but they're two very different kinds of stories with very different goals. HG is superior to the Twibooks in almost all technical respects, especially pacing. Its major structural flaw is that HG has a bit of a half-assed ending and the Twibooks resolve. Note the words "technical" and "structural." As art, HG is more in harmony with itself than Twi, but it doesn't have the undefinable vibe that keeps us coming back to Bella and her buds. In HG, the love story is an appendage to the main plot because that is what works for it. Two notes to parents, though: 1) This is not a children's book. 2) Both book and movie will still be good when your ten-year-old turns thirteen.

If Twilight is chocolate cake, then Hunger Games is pizza. They were never meant to satisfy the same cravings.


"He's rotten for you," –Charlie, New Moon


"Your report, Edward," commanded Aro. Caius sat impassively in the throne to his right. Marcus was on their left, looking slightly less bored than usual.

"Jane trapped Corin outside the art gallery this morning, Masters," I reported. They'd been alone. No one to help him. Aro and Marcus had covered for Jane after the last feast—fights were not unusual, after all—but the fact of the matter was that one of the guard had used her gift to harm others, and that was not lost on anyone in the compound. Even our humans were thinking about it. Guiseppe and Davide had engaged in eight minutes of whispered speculation in a bar after work. Aro had learned of it in my thoughts. An example was planned.

Jane had spent three days in the lower levels, assigned to dull tasks. During that time, she had had no direct contact with anyone but Alec, and it seemed as though she might have grown better, but then this morning...

It was a small meeting. I had been allowed the dignity of a single-knee genuflection as I spoke. Aro could have taken my report from my thoughts—and fully intended to do so. This was for the benefit of those listening. Demetri, Felix, Alec and Chelsea watched from the edges of the room. A council of the inner circle, minus its cornerstone. They stood behind me, though, rather than between me and their beloved master. If I was still a captive beast, my fangs had long since been pulled.

"Did she injure him?" asked Caius, though he already knew the answer.

"Yes, Master Caius." While he'd been down, she'd ripped open his shirt and tried to flay his back open to the spine. It had taken Adrienne and me hours of work to put him back together. Rolfe had hovered behind us until we were through. Then he and Adrienne had left together. She'd looked like a sparrow that had found the last tall oak in a stormy world. He'd smiled like a smug, smug fool.

"What was the provocation?" asked Aro. Again, he already knew the answer.

"None, Master." Corin hadn't even looked at her. She'd gone from zero to sixty.

Alec was a revelation today. His thoughts had never been so eerily bland as his sister's, but today they were tumbling over each other like hot tears. Something about that brought about a pang inside me. Something about that made me want to help.

"And what have you heard Edward?" asked Aro. "What does your gift tell you?"

Demetri's thoughts tightened, like water crystalizing into glass-clear ice. My gift still intrigued him; it had since our first mission together.

"Jane's thoughts—" I hesitated, keenly aware of her brother, listening to my every word. "Before the current troubles, Jane's thoughts were ...unusual," I said carefully.

"Speak plainly," ordered Caius.

"Stunted," I said. "Her mind was colorless and simple, like a plant kept out of the light." More like a goblin summoned by a magician. She'd thought only of serving her master and of humiliating her victims.

"And that has changed?" asked Aro. Was it my imagination or did his clouded eyes look past me, to one of the vampires waiting over my shoulder? Chelsea seemed to think he was looking at her, thready, anxious thoughts twisting like twine into fear of his displeasure.

"Yes, Masters, it has," I said. "If anything, she's more—" more human "...more normal."

Caius gave me a hard stare—a feat considering his limited vision.

Behind me, I heard Demetri's cloak rustle as he shifted his position. He'd felt a change in the scent of Jane's mental essence over these past weeks, though he couldn't hear specific thoughts the way I could. He was eager to hear his suspicions confirmed.

"Jane's mind is scattered," I said. "She has lost her focus, but what thoughts she has are ...vibrant," I said for lack of a better word. I felt my brow crease.

"Edward," Aro prompted.

"It reminds me of something, Masters," I said, feeling genuinely apologetic. "I can't tell what it is, but this change in her reminds me of something I read or heard, long ago."

Aro's eyes narrowed. Something he made himself forget? he asked himself. For some reason, he found that interesting, blindingly interesting, but I sensed somehow that it did not have anything directly to do with Jane. Strange.

"Do you suppose, Edward," said Caius, leaning forward on his throne, "that Jane's actions are the result of overstimulation?"

"That may be," I offered. "Things that never irritated her before are striking her now as if they were new—she often thinks of being overcrowded. Her thoughts rail against the noise of the city."

Caius and Aro exchanged a look. My wife did suggest sending her away for a time. To someplace quiet, Aro thought. She usually turns out to know best in these matters. In his mind, Sulpicia's desiccated image was superimposed with flowing blond hair, supple limbs and a demure smile. Memory could be a wonderful thing.

But then... Aro imagined Jane in a house far out in the country. But if he sent her with guards, she might attack them. If he sent her without guards, she might run off, become absorbed into another coven, become vulnerable to Aro's enemies.

"Jane has done us many services over the years," Aro said carefully.

And made many enemies, I finished for him. Yes, there were those who would wish Jane harm for her own sake. Once word of her location got out—and it would—she would be targeted.

"Her safety is paramount," Aro finished. Behind me, I could hear Alec's mind twist in relief, grateful for the way his master reciprocated his sister's devotion. It was unnerving. At least it wasn't completely based on fiction; I wasn't Jasper, but Aro really did seem concerned about Jane. His thoughts were crackling with flamelike images of her in harm, surrounded by distressed words, memories of her years of constant, houndlike reliability projected across them like a hopeful wish.

My master's eyes fell on me, hard as stones behind their gray sheen.

He could have done more, Aro thought harshly, remembering a thousand such hypothetical puzzles I'd solved with Carlisle. Is it that he's never had a live subject before? he wondered. Or is it that he did not give the matter his full concentration?

Jane hadn't been my only occupation these past few weeks. It had been some time since Aro had touched my thoughts, but being back in Bella's good opinion had its share of distractions.

"Perhaps you should try to be more focused, Edward," said Aro. "Perhaps—"

Marcus shifted in his seat and laid a fingertip on Aro's arm just as he very vividly imagined smacking him in the back of the head. I jumped. Aro stopped talking. I'd never seen anyone cut Aro off before.

What was that? Aro asked me just as Marcus was thinking, NO, Brother.

I managed to tuck away a smile. I wasn't the only one who was pleased that Bella had given me another chance. Marcus wanted to see the intense thrumming of our bond again, and I had no objection.

"I will be diligent, Masters," I promised, hopefully preventing a scene. "I know my duty."

I'll bet he does, Caius thought, adding a raised eyebrow that would've made Rolfe proud. I managed not to roll my eyes. Now was not the time. Only a few people had, like Rolfe and Demetri, figured out that Bella and I had ever been an act. Caius seemed to be under the impression that she'd become my mate in every sense of the term. To correct him would have been to suggest that it could possibly have been his business.

"Edward," Aro raised his voice just a bit. I snapped back to attention.

"Why not a temporary removal, Masters?" I asked. Aro's eyes twitched. He didn't understand what I meant. How to say it while allowing everyone to save face?

That is all you have for me? Aro thought darkly. I resisted the urge to cringe. I had disappointed him, and he did not like to be disappointed. Sending Jane away would put her and the Volturi's reputation in danger. Allowing her to stay here would be little better.

But Jane left the compound all the time—or she had—for missions. "Give her a mission, Masters," I said. "Something simple, something where we could send guards with her for her protection."

Caius seemed appreciative of the idea. "Perhaps a more matter than tending newborns would clear her mind," he said.

"It would allow her an outlet for some of her energy," Aro supplied.

And there would be fewer distractions for those who have the charge of her, Aro thought sharply. I could see Chelsea, shamefaced, reflected in his mind.

I blinked. Aro did not often let me see his thoughts of Chelsea. He hid them from me. He must actually have been worried about Jane to let something slip like this.

"I will consult the library staff," Caius said. "Something in Italy, even if it is only a minor matter."

Aro was nodding in agreement. "Edward, you will meet me there this evening." To help him sort through the Italian news and to give him the unabridged version of my report.

"Yes, sir," I said. I hesitated, "Masters, there is more."

Caius raised an eyebrow. Aro's expression did not change, but there was a bright sliver of hope, quickly extinguished. If it were an answer, he would have given it already, he thought to himself. It cannot be good news.

It isn't, I thought to myself. But it is what you brought me here to tell you.

"You must punish her, Masters," I said. I was suddenly acutely aware of the four minds behind me. Felix was annoyed that I presumed to tell the masters what to do. Alec was protective of his sister but resigned. Demetri, as always, was interested.

"This would calm her mind?" Caius asked scathingly.

I met Aro's eyes. "I told you once," I said, "that so long as I served you, you would never mistake the crowd." I could feel Demetri's ice-clear eyes on the back of my head, thoughts wordless and perceptive. "The rest of the coven needs to see her punished."

Aro's eyes snapped onto mine. Edward, do you mean to say that the guard begins to doubt our leadership?

I nodded. Some of the guard had viewed Jane's banishment to the lower levels as a punishment, but none of them thought it fitting treatment for a member of the coven who'd attacked her covenmates unprovoked. No one had yet questioned Aro's decision out loud, but it was coming.

Aro seemed to sit back in his chair. He stared at me for a long moment.

Say no more of this for now.

I nodded again, a tiny, hair's-breadth motion. Aro would want more details, a complete and nuanced cataloguing of the problem and proposed solution. I would give it to him later, alone.

Felix thought the master's silence was odd but he was used to the masters behaving strangely. Alec was too worried about Jane's condition to notice. Demetri, razor-sharp Demetri, he had figured out exactly what was happening.

Behind me, Chelsea was still mentally gnawing her lips. I almost felt pity. Surely Chelsea was already doing everything she could, tightening Jane's bond to the rest of the coven, cutting out anything that could interfere with...

My gaze fell to the old bloodstains on the tiles.

"Edward?" asked Demetri. In his thoughts, I could see the change in my posture. Aro held up his hand and Demetri fell silent.


It was like a whirlpool. Every clue was spinning in my mind, rising up so that I could see all the way to the shells on the ocean floor. I met Aro's eyes.

"I know what Jane reminds me of," I said carefully.

Alec's young face turned my way, suspicion and hope knotting his thoughts. I did my best to roll my shoulders so that I would look apologetic from his angle.

Aro was staring at me expectantly. "Well?" said Caius.

"Like a lobotomy patient, but in reverse," I told them.

Felix smacked his two fists together and looked toward Caius for permission. I didn't move an inch. He'd break a few of my fingers, and then it would be over.

Caius looked at Aro, then back to Felix, raising his chin in a silent instruction to wait. Felix lowered his fists, thoughts burning down to a low bubbling.

"A lobotomy is a human medical procedure in which some of the connections within the brain are severed," I said, Aro was nodding impatiently, but Marcus and Demetri both paid attention. "It was common in the early twentieth century. Doctors would perform this procedure on institutionalized mental patients." Carlisle had witnessed the procedure once at a medical school in France. He hadn't been sure what to make of it. "It changed their behavior dramatically and got blown out of proportion, gained a reputation as a miracle procedure, but all it really did was make troublesome inmantes easier to manage. It made them seem calmer from the outside, but it grossly impaired their ability to think. Eventually, lobotomy was reserved only for incurably violent cases."

I could feel Alec staring at me with eyes like barbed wire. Aro's face was grayer than usual, an angry stormcloud. "Surely, Edward," he said, mouth twisting in what I was surprised to see was genuine disgust, "you are not suggesting that we subject Jane to such mutilation."

"No!" I insisted, lifting one hand from its place beside my knee as a flash of terror moved through me. "I meant no such thing, I swear it!" Once he touched my thoughts, he'd believe me, and I would be safe.

Aro eyed me suspiciously but nodded for me to continue.

"Before, she was steady and placid," I explained, "but always a little..." I searched for a diplomatic way to put it.

"Yes, we heard you describe her," said Caius.

Accurately, Demetri noted to himself.

"And now she's unstable but much more alive," I continued. "It's as if someone undid a lobotomy."

Felix shook his head. "Jane's taken a hit or two, but she's never been injured in that way," he volunteered. Not like you have, whelp, he thought with a few merry images of my skull cracking like an egg.

Alec nodded. "My sister has become ill, not grown better."

"Alec, what was Jane like as a child?" I asked, turning my head to look him in the eye.

He seemed taken aback, "Why would I know?" he said.

"I thought you were her brother," I said. They did have some physical resemblance, but I realized now that that didn't necessarily mean that they were biologically related. They might have been siblings the way I was with—I twitched—Emmett.

"I am," he answered, "but we remember nothing of those times."

What was that? Demetri wondered, thinking of my brief spasm. He's spent a lot of time around Jane, he mused coldly. Perhaps this was some sickness among gifted vampires. If Jane went, and then I went, then he would not be far behind. The prospect did not seem to frighten so much as displease him.

"Lobotomy," Alec scoffed, but it was halfhearted.

Demetri stared hard into the empty space in front of him. Something about what I'd said had stirred his thoughts, and he didn't know what to do with them yet. You had better stay away from Alec, he thought in my direction. Give him time to calm down.

"And does this parallel alter your recommendation in any way, Edward?" asked Marcus.

"Yes," I said confidently. I'd been planning to say it anyway, but there would never be a better time. "We should send for my father," I told the masters.

Aro's thoughts lashed with the implications of my suggestion. Calling for help meant admitting publicly that there was a problem. Calling Carlisle for help meant owing a favor to a man he'd wronged. Aro didn't often let his ego get in the way of his goals, but that didn't mean he didn't have one.

"Apart from yourselves, he knows more about our kind than anyone alive," I said. I had no idea if it was literally true, but he was certainly the most knowledgeable person who'd be willing to help the Volturi with a weak spot and trustworthy enough not to speak of it once he'd left. "If rumors would be a problem, then it wouldn't have to be an official request," I said. "You could even do what you did the last time."

I felt Demetri's eyes flick from Aro's scowl to the back of my head and back. Last time? Oh I'd be paying for that one. Aro had made it clear to me that Demetri and Alec were welcome to any secrets I might have dredged up about Jane, but it seemed that weren't entirely in the know with respect to what had happened with Carlisle early this past summer.

"You could invite Carlisle for a social visit," I offered. "No one but the two of you would have to know what you really wanted to discuss."

But the guard would know, Aro meant the words for me this time. I do not bring fools into the fold. They would know if Carlisle's involvement resolved the trouble with Jane. They would expect me to be grateful. Worse, some of them might be grateful, and that might make them reluctant if the Cullen coven were ever to come in conflict with the Volturi.

From a Cullen perspective, it was a no-lose scenario. But Aro was my master now.

"You could always say I figured it out. Or that you did." I offered. "I'm sure we could come up with something reasonably convincing."

Behind me, Demetri was shaking his head. "The masters cannot start lying to the guard, Edward," he said to me. "We must be able to trust them. Even if no one truly figured it out, we would all sense that something was wrong. It would do harm."

I was glad that my face was turned away. I wasn't nearly good enough to hide my emotions. I only hoped that Chelsea was doing the same.

"Have you nothing else to say to us, Edward?" asked Marcus.

I watched him carefully. I had been expecting the question, but I hadn't been expecting it from him. I would like to see Carlisle again. He ran off so quickly last time... Marcus's thoughts trialed away. He was up to something, though. He was up to something and he was very rusty at it.

I shook my head. "No, Masters," I answered. "I await your decision, as in all things."

"My dear ones, you may go," Aro said, nodding to Demetri, Felix and me. "We wish to speak with Chelsea a while longer." Wait nearby, Edward, he instructed. He planned to call for me, I saw, but he wanted to be sure of something first.

Behind me, Chelsea's thoughts twisted like a dishcloth, the mental equivalent of wriging her hands. I rose and left with the others, not looking at her. I couldn't see what Aro wanted to talk to her about, but I could guess that they wanted Chelsea to start using her gift on Jane. I managed not to shudder and thanked any God that might exist that I'd caught her when she'd tried to do that to me. I loved Carlisle, Esme, Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper as much as I ever had, and I didn't want to think about what I might have become if Volterra had managed to take that away from me.

Alec muttered something to Demetri as the four of us left the audience chamber. I saw the hatchet-faced man shake his head as they walked away. As ordered, I lingered outside.

She was waiting for me.

"How'd it go?" she asked, a touch of emotion in her voice, as she moved toward me like a rippling shadow.

I smiled. "Concerned about Jane?" I asked playfully. Of course she was concerned about Jane. Bella was always concerned about dangerous creatures who didn't deserve her good opinion.

"Concerned about you," she said with just touch of playfulness shaking on top of her nerves, "all alone in that room with Felix."

"Alec, Demetri and Chelsea were there too," I said. "And the masters."

"That's worse, not better," she told me.

"Things aren't as bad as they were, Bella," I said. "They don't think of me entirely as an outsider any more. I could swear that Alec was almost grateful."

"Grateful? What for?"

"From his perspective, his sister is ill and I'm helping to make her well," I told her. She looked confused, so I added, "He loves her."

Bella seemed to accept this at face value. Sometimes, I thought she preferred thinking of our fellow Volturi as caricature villains. I only hoped she didn't do anything foolish before she came around and saw that most of them had their redeeming qualities. Renata seemed to have won her over, and maybe Rolfe. She was certainly protective enough of Caroly and Marcell.

"Do you know what they're going to do?" she asked me. "Will they let him come?"

I licked my lips and gave her the Cliffs notes version of my meeting with the masters. She already knew most of the things I'd told them. In Volterra, a man was not expected to keep secrets from his mate unless so ordered, and I had not been ordered.

"What?" she asked. "What's wrong."

"It's—" I realized that I was breathing hard. I made myself stop. I could do this. I could do this. I loved her enough to do this. I could get the words out.

"Edward?" her hands were on either side of my face. Did she have to feel that good?

I gritted my teeth. I'd botched this last time, but at least I'd learned from the mistake. No lies. No tricks this time. "If Carlisle comes, I want you to leave with him," I blurted.

"No," she said.

"Bella... You're nearing your year mark, and Aro's starting to figure out that he has other ways of controlling me—"

"No." The word left her in a feral hiss that traveled through the air, her hands, the rocks of the earth all the way to my bones.

"This place is rotten for you, Bella," I said. "I can make it here, barely, but I don't think you can. Aro will only indulge you so much longer."

"Only if you come with me," she said.

"That's not how it works."

She put her hands on my arms, and my purpose seemed clearer than ever. She had to go to Carlisle where she would be safe. "Edward I am not going anywhere without you, " she said. "I'm not leaving you here by yourself."

"I won't be by myself," I said lamely. "I'm practically one of the coven now. They'll look out for me."

"They can't have you," she snarled, and for a second, she looked like the newborn that she truly was, violent and unpredictable Then her neck snapped back, as if she'd said something she hadn't meant to. "They can't have you," she repeated, closer to calm. She wasn't being rational.

I shook free of her grip, put one hand to the side of her face. I didn't want her to stay, not with my head, for all that the rest of me had other opinions. "They do have me, Bella," I said firmly. I did not often speak of my bondage, but the seriousness of the situation merited it. "And they have you too—for the moment. I won't be any less a prisoner if you stay here with me."

Bella looked away, but I didn't let her go.

"I don't want to be without you," I admitted. "I don't. But if it's one of us getting away or nothing, then I want you to get away."

She tossed her head, moving away from my hand. "Carlisle might not come anyway," she said. "No need to argue about it when it might be nothing."

I let my hand fall. We really should have been planning for her year mark. If the two of us put her heads together, we could come up with a convincing scenario of some kind, a way for the masters to let her go without seeming weak. I knew my own limits, though. I didn't want her to go away where I wouldn't see her for centuries. I knew I wasn't strong enough to help her get away unless she was willing to work with me. I'd done it once and it had nearly killed me.

And... I'd been exaggerating a little. Aro might be losing patience with Bella's willfulness, but the guard wasn't. She was growing on them. Her refusal to leave me had got her respect. I was still the cultish newcomer, but she was the cultish newcomer's faithful mate who did her duty in the field and was unafraid of the newborns at home. In what passed for vampire culture, she was all that was good and admirable.

I frowned at the network of tiny braids holding her hair in place. "Did you do that?" I asked, hoping that my disapproval didn't show. The wives were permitted their period hairstyles, but the rest of us were encouraged to blend in with the human population of Volterra, cloaks aside.

"Um, Renata and Caroly got a little bored," she said.

Renata had a reputation as Athenodora's hairdresser. She must have been talented indeed; I only had secondhand images of the wives, and they didn't have much hair to work with. The ordered nest on Bella's head was probably what that style was supposed to look like. "Are you sure it's safe?" I asked. I didn't like the thought of clawlike newborn fingers that close to Bella's throat and neck.

"She seems all right," Bella answered, eyes casting downward toward her hands. I knew what she meant. Caroly was doing better than Marcell these days. It was still too soon to tell whether her human talents would blossom into a gift, but Renata and Bella were taking her on short, supervised walks around the compound and busying her mind with repetive tasks. I smiled, remembering Emmett and Rosalie as newborns. We might be able to start Caroly on library shifts soon.

"Things are falling apart here," I breathed.

"Is that so bad?" she asked. I must have looked shocked, because she hurried on, "I mean we have Marcell and Caroly now. What does it matter if a few people go? We can replace them. Besides, you said that once Caius has his calm newborns, he won't mind letting the rest of the guard go."

I'd been joking of course, but there was something to it. "Caius might not," I admitted. But Aro loved his collection, his gifted servants. He might let common fighters like Richard and Adrienne leave without much regret, but he'd feel the loss of Chelsea or Demetri—or even Rolfe at this point.

"But wouldn't it be enough for them to save face?" she asked. "The ones who want to leave aren't like us. They joined because they wanted to."

I didn't correct her. We hadn't wanted to. That was no secret.

"If Aro told them to say that they were leaving only because they'd done their jobs forever and were glad to hand them over to the Volturi's new and improved recipe?" Bella prompted. "Wouldn't they do it?"

I paused. She had a point. They would say it if their beloved master asked them to. I didn't dare say it out loud, but if Chelsea worked skillfully enough, they might even be made to think it.

I smiled sadly. It was all a pipe dream, at least until Aro chose a candidate for the next experiment. I had no idea what had made Bella so calm. It could have been anything from her essential kindness to the fact that she'd used to faint at the sight of blood.

She touched the side of my face with her hand. "Don't look so sad," she said. "It will happen."

I closed my eyes for a moment, "Eternity is a long time," I admitted. Aro might let us go, but it would not be soon. We would not be able to go back to Forks, her parents or my family as if we'd never left.

When I opened my eyes again, she was smiling. I did too. I couldn't help it. Deep down, I was glad that she didn't want to leave me—glowing, ecstatic, gratified and thrilled that she did not want to leave me. I felt that the two of us were more in synch with each day that passed. One day I would know her so well that I would not care that I couldn't read her thoughts.

I looked toward the audience chamber doors before they opened, echoing hollowly as they did. Chelsea stood there, alone. Her smooth face trembled as she met my eyes, suggesting the mottled skin of a woman who'd been weeping. I looked behind her, where Aro sat like a granite obelisk, ominous as a god with a thunderbolt in hand.

"They want you," Bella breathed.

I nodded.

Chelsea seemed relieved not to have to speak to me. I headed past her into the audience chamber and she disappeared. Bella would wait for me. She always waited for me.

I walked steadily toward the center of the room. As I dropped to one knee, I wondered what the three of them had done to Chelsea that had upset her so much. I wasn't used to feeling sorry for the wretched woman. I found it a little unnerving, like picking up a left-handed pair of scissors with my right.

"How may I serve you, Masters?" I asked.

Silence followed. Caius looked from Marcus to Aro and back. This is a bad idea, he thought to himself. We don't need a psychic to tell us when one of our own has failed. I felt a sharp, heavy chill between my shoulder blades. What were they going to do to me? Jane was not available, but that didn't mean they couldn't give me absolute hell.

The hard line of Aro's mouth wavered. I'd never seen indecision on him before. After months of serving a man of seemingly unfailing self-control, seeing weakness in him bothered me. A strong Aro had become part of my foundation.

It is a miracle he doesn't already know, Aro finally decided to himself. No matter if he finds out sooner rather than later.

"Find out what, Master?" I asked cautiously.

Aro's fingers flexed on the arms of his chair as his gaze turned to the left.

"Look into Chelsea," he told me at last.

"Chelsea," I repeated. I felt my body lighten as I put it together. I wasn't the one who'd failed them—Chelsea was. Then I gained enough clarity to wonder what else might be going on.

Aro liked me to stay away from Chelsea; he had ever since that first confrontation in the library. Frankly, that was one wish I had no trouble respecting. I loathed the repulsive maggot of a woman.

"Chelsea has ...helped Jane in the past," he admitted, thoughts flickering with cobwebbed images of Chelsea touching the warped strings of Jane's attachments.

"And you wish me to supervise as she does so again?" I asked. That made no sense. Aro could simply convey his wishes to Chelsea himself.

"I want you to find out why it no longer works," Aro told me.

Lobotomy in reverse. The words went through my mind like rivers of ice. Jane wasn't just a stunted seedling. She'd been cut back.

"Jane was always like this," I realized out loud. "She was always unstable." They'd had Chelsea do her work on her and she had, going far deeper than she'd dared with anyone else in the guard. But Jane had been sent out into the world to do the masters' will... No, no they could still have done it, either by sending Chelsea with her or by making sure she did not stay away too long.

"Yes," Aro said.

Alec was able to manage on his own but Jane never could, he thought to me. I don't know if she was too young, or...

"Without Chelsea," Marcus began, "Jane would never have become a force for good in this world. She may have even been a wildling, to be hunted and killed by our own guard."

"Does she know?" I asked, still incredulous. I couldn't imagine someone taking that much damage to their mind and not noticing.

"Jane?" asked Marcus. I nodded.

"We have never told her," said Aro. She does not need to know. And it is not for you to judge, Edward, he thought sternly, but there was something furtive about him, something he was trying to conceal from me.

I nodded again. My duty. "What would I be looking for, Masters?" I asked. It was unlikely that they knew, but I had to be thorough. I didn't want to be the one who'd failed the next time I stood before them.

"Anything in Jane or Chelsea that might have caused this," spat Caius, looking away pensively. I nodded again. It wasn't for me to judge what they did to Jane. This wasn't the mindset of the modern age that I'd learned at Carlisle's elbow, where a patient's wishes were paramount. To these men, Jane was theirs, not a slave, but theirs, and, in their way, they were acting for her benefit.

Aro even looked upset, gray as granite. I watched him as he looked at me carefully, almost as if he were afraid of what I'd see. Again, there were memories of Jane, memories of Chelsea—

And of me.

I must have given some sign, let my eyes widen or my posture change.
Aro tried to hide it, but it was too late. I saw it flickering like a fish in the upper waters of his mind and I saw it clear enough to count every scale before it darted into the dark, out of view.

My whole body turned to stone. The world suddenly seemed glassy. It was still there, but I couldn't see it any more. I only saw myself in Aro's secondhand view, standing in the library, in the field, the the corridor, lean and proud and arrogant and completely oblivious to Chelsea's hand in the most intimate part of my being. The satisfaction in her thoughts was like a leech sucking at my heart—but at the time, I hadn't felt a thing.

I opened my mouth and drew in stale air. Not me. Not me.

I wasn't a fool. I wasn't one of these thoughtless fighters. I was gifted. I was intelligent. I'd caught her in the goddamned act. This couldn't happen to me.

I looked straight into Aro's eyes. The film over his irises couldn't block my meaning from him; he didn't miss a thing.

"How long has Chelsea been at me?" I demanded, halfway to a shout. They could punish me if they wished. All they had was Felix, anyway.

Aro had ordered Chelsea to try again, and again, and again, and again. He'd coached her to avoid thinking my name or of my face, anything that would draw my attention. Instead, she'd pictured me as a collection of wires, a knotted, Gordian puzzle to tug and rearrange. It had worked. I'd been completely fooled. I'd had no idea.

Had she been the cause of my epiphany in Zhengzhou? No, Chelsea had not been with us then, and her gift required even a shorter range than mine did, but...

"Calm yourself, Edward," he was saying, raising both hands.

"Chelsea has been in my mind," I accused. "You sent her there. And..." I reexamined the memory I'd seen in Aro's thoughts. Quiet orders, and Chelsea's nod of obedience. "Something to do with Bella. By God, Aro, did you order Chelsea to damage my tie to Bella?" I demanded. In that moment, I knew that if I'd learned that any part of the hell I'd put my lady through could be laid at Aro's feet, I'd have left no two stones sitting atop each other in this compound.

"You forget your place, Edward!" seethed Caius. "You may not speak to us that way."

"He has had a shock, Brother," Aro told him, but his eyes were still on me. "He will remember himself in a moment. As to your question, young Edward," Aro said, stepping toward me with only a little of his usual indulgence. "I ordered nothing of the kind. Why would I?" His movements were slow and deliberate. "I knew you would notice eventually, young Edward," he said, though I could clearly hear him thinking that flattering my intellect would mollify me. "But I must admit, I rather thought it would be Chelsea who let a thought slip. I must be growing careless in my old age."

He was doing no such thing and we both knew it.

"My dear boy, of course Chelsea has been helping you along. How else do you think you can manage to live in one place with so many other vampires? How do you think any of us can?"

"I've lived with other vampires for over eighty years!" I said.

"And I'm sure that has kept your covenmate Jasper very busy," he answered.

"That is not true," I said. "We can live together because we are a family; because we love each other."

"And you cannot pretend that you feel remotely the same way about the rest of the guard, your recent commitment to their well-being notwithstanding," Aro pointed out. "Look at it this way, Edward," he said, lacing his fingers together. "You were in pain. You clearly did not feel at ease with your new circumstances. I had Chelsea give you some medicine to dull the edge of it. Only instead of pills or infusions..." He spread his hands in a mock-innocent shrug.

I pressed one hand to my mouth. What the hell had happened to me? What had I done, thinking it was my own idea? Bella's face rose in my mind, smiling and hopeful as she met my eyes between kisses. I felt sick.

"I must say, you gave our dear Chelsea a good bit of trouble," Aro went on. "I had told her to err on the side of caution, but it seemed as though every time she turned her head, there you were again, all your bad habits regrown like weeds. She's never met such a stubborn mind. It's as if her gift slips off you." I could see the metaphor in his mind. I would stay for a while, but then I'd be back as I was.

And now Jane was the same way.

"You're contagious, child," Aro said darkly. "Find me a cure for your disease before my dear Jane succumbs."

"I haven't done anything to Jane, I swear."

"I know." That is why you are still alive.

"It might have nothing to do with me."

"True," he said. "Then find me another answer. As for your bond with little Bella, though," Aro said, "I wouldn't dream of telling Chelsea to damage it." He laughed, "Marcus would probably punch me in the stomach if I did." Behind him, Marcus nodded affirmatively. "No, no, since your first day here, I have been telling her to strengthen your connection to her. I'm quite afraid that none of your domestic troubles can be laid at Chelsea's door."

I looked up. "What?" I asked.

"I told Chelsea to help you repair your affection for your mate," he said.

Marcus was shaking his head. He should have just left them alone, he thought. Marcus hadn't wanted the two of us to develop just another vampire pair bond, which was all Chelsea knew. It didn't work anyway.

"Of course," said Aro, "Chelsea didn't quite understand how Bella could already be your mate when she was clearly still human upon her arrival, and I believe she harbored some rather unflattering opinions of the pair of you. Fortunately, she's an obedient girl. But, as always," he held up his hands in a shruglike gesture, "nothing she did seemed to stick."

I focused on his thoughts so hard I was sure he must have felt it. He stared back at me, bland as ever.

Eventually, I looked away. If Aro was lying to me, he was hiding it better than anyone who'd ever lived.

Memory. Memory might save me. Chelsea hadn't been with me in Forks. If I ever felt the same way about her that I had in Forks...

I opened my eyes to find that Aro had stepped toward me, reaching out as if to put a hand on my shoulder. Without meaning to, without thinking, I stepped back. He raised an eyebrow and I stepped back again. Then three more times until finally I turned and fled the room.

"We should not tolerate that, Brother," I heard Caius mutter before the door swung shut. "Forget Jane's illness; send for her anyway. The wounds will teach him if the pain does not."

"Peace, Brother," said Aro. "We had to tell him. Truly, this went as well as any of us could have expected."

I closed my eyes, leaning back against the closed timbers. I breathed in and out through my mouth.

Nothing Chelsea did to me had stayed, they'd said. But she'd been doing it to me all the time. How many decisions had I made while under her influence?

There was a set of smooth fingers touching my face, soft, cool breath against my neck. I didn't jump. I didn't even twitch. She didn't feel like a stranger to me any more.

I opened my eyes to see Bella's pale gold looking back at me, alive with concern.

"What did they do now?" she asked solemnly.

I looked away. What was growing between us was still so delicate, like a butterfly. I didn't want to touch it and spoil it before it could fly.


I shook my head.

"Edward, what did they say to you?"

"I don't know," I told her. It was the truth. Chelsea had used her gift on me but she hadn't? Chelsea had tried to tie me to Bella but it hadn't worked and then it had? I met her eyes again as I grew calmer. I did want her, no matter how I'd gotten that way.

"Yes you do," she murmured, as if she were trying to coax a robin out of a birdhouse. "Just tell me what they said." She was right. I could not keep secrets from her, not if I was ever going to get the future I wanted. She'd been rather vehement about watching my back just a few moments earlier. I might as well let her try.

We didn't talk about it there. By then, the sun had gone down, and we went upstairs to Sulpicia's garden. I'd started to speak, but she'd pulled me down onto the dusty floor of the roof, sitting beside me as I gave her my tale. It helped, the telling. I wanted it out of me. I wanted it all out of me.

"I can't stand the thought of her in my head," I said, staring up at the stars. The cityglow wasn't too bad tonight, and Orion was visible above us. I'd thought myself strong. I'd thought that I could see any attacker coming. "I don't know what disturbs me more, that it happened or that I didn't feel a thing."

Bella stroked my hair. God I loved it when she did that. "It's going to be all right," she said. "Chelsea can't get you."

I closed my eyes. I liked that she wanted to comfort me, but empty words could only do so much. But I still had my manners. "Thank you for saying that," I said.

Bella looked at me strangely, as if she'd expected her words to be more comfort than they were. I mentally chastised myself. She was only trying to make me feel better. I should have acted more grateful.

"It's going to be all right," she said. "I know it is."

I shook my head. "Bella, we can do our best to cope with Volterra, but Aro will tell Chelsea to try again. From what I can tell, she thinks of me as a challenge, her own personal Matter Horn to climb." I exhaled through my nose. "And if she ever does figure out how to get to me, she'll do more than just turn me into the perfect little soldier." In her way, Chelsea was every bit as brutal as Felix. They both liked to take people apart. Chelsea would put me back together as a crippled, limping thing. "She'll do to me what she did to Jane."

"She won't," Bella said, leaning her chin on my shoulder.

I gave a little laugh. She could be calm. She could be calm and confident. She couldn't be touched in this way. I was glad of it, but that didn't mean I couldn't be jealous.

Bella leaned back, looking at me from the side. "You don't believe me," she said.

"I'm trying to be realistic," I said. "It's kind of you to try to make me feel better, but we need to face facts. How could you know that Chelsea won't ever get to me?"

She stopped, as if she'd walked down a hallway only to find a dead end blocking her way.

"I just," she said.

I picked up her closed fist and kissed it. "I hope you're right," I said. There was nothing else to say.

We stayed like that a long time, until I could barely remember her presence beside me, only the knot of dread in my belly.


So... this one's a bit disjointed. Mostly transitional stuff. But if this were Lois and Clark, this is where they'd have broken up again! Actual vampiring coming up.

drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu