Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Forgiven ( Chapter 37 )

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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.

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"I wondered if I was a monster. Not the kind that he thought he was, but the real kind. The kind that hurt people. The kind that had no limits when it came to what they wanted." –Bella, Eclipse


It was a long trip back to Volterra. We couldn't keep our prisoner terrified forever, and Corin turned out to be more averse to the idea of disassembling him than I had thought. Fortunately, none of us needed to sleep. We avoided human roads and forms of transit at all hours. When we reached Italy, Corin had Demetri phone the compound, speaking carefully and in code, to request a car. We spent some tense hours on the outskirts of a small town until Felix and Rolfe showed up in a nondescript sedan with heavily tinted windows and a human driver.

Felix took custody of Janus with all the gentleness I'd come to expect from him. He relayed the order that our prisoner and Chelsea were to come with them back to Volterra, and the remaining six of us were to make our way back as usual. This worried me. Chelsea hadn't exactly been doing a wonderful job of keeping Jane in line, but I didn't want to do this without her either. Still, I could do nothing but wonder. Objections were outside my job description.

Bella hardly spoke the whole way.

Despite Demetri and Corin's best efforts, we found ourselves waiting out the day in the Riserva. I didn't mind. I had good memories of the place. But I doubted I would get any more that day.

"Is Bella still sad?" Caroly whispered to me, the innocence of the question grotesque against her ghoulish memory of our mission. "Does she feel sorry for the little boy?"

I nodded tightly.

Caroly sat down beside me, a dozen questions rising in her thoughts. I chose one and answered it.

"You've done well, Caroly," I said.

"Thank you," she said. I tried so hard echoing in her mind. Renata would be proud, she thought. She'd have things to tell Renata. Caroly smiled. Renata did love to gossip, and for once, Caroly would be what she talked about. It would be like giving Renata a present.

On one level, it was good that Caroly wanted my approval. On the other, Aro would not be pleased. The syringe turning killed much of the intimacy of the act. I'd been grateful for that at the time, but Caroly wasn't stupid. She knew I was her maker, and she wanted a connection.

There must be no converts, I remembered. Aro tolerated Bella and me—for now. There was no telling how he'd react if I tried to convince other Volturi to give up our traditional food source.

"My—" I stopped before I called Carlisle "father." "My own maker has excellent control in the presence of blood," I said. "He can even work as a doctor."

Caroly frowned. She pictured Adrienne and me reattaching Richard's finger. Renata had told her about all Jane's misadventures. She wondered if there had been any blood, if the injuries we'd inflicted on Janus and his coven had been atypical.

I shook my head. "With humans," I said. "His patients are mostly humans."

She looked away. "How does that work?" she asked.

He uses his centuries to do good. He is kind—very kind. He showed me what all of us could become if we cultivated ourselves.

"They complain that his hands are cold," I said.

She smiled. I'd made a joke. Her maker had made her smile.

Aro wouldn't like it, but it looked like it wasn't up to him.

Right now Caroly was wondering what going back would feel like. Would anyone be there to greet them when they did? She hadn't been out of her cell enough to know.

"No," I told her, allowing myself half a smile. "We're too cool for that. We just come home with no fuss."

Caroly looked at me, blinking. As far as she could remember, I'd never responded to her thoughts in conversation before, and she was not used to it. She'd have to get used to being around gifted members of the guard. It was starting to seem as though her gift, if she had one, was be subtle, like Corin's. There might never be a way to tell for sure unless Eleazar came to visit, and I doubted he would.

I heard a twig snap off to the right. Corin looked up as well, displeased. I wanted to tell Bella to stop pacing, but I wasn't sure if speaking to her would set her off again. Snapping a twig was better than weeping.

Bella hadn't seemed to react to what I'd told her outside the house. I couldn't help watching her, wondering what she was thinking. It was selfish of me. We'd just witnessed the death of a terrorized woman and a kidnapped boy, not to mention the possible opening throes of the downfall of our world. Of course she was more preoccupied with those things than with the fact that I'd said I loved her. She was Bella. She always put herself last.

A rather selfish part of me reminded me that she didn't always put me last. I figured I could let that poor boy and woman have her attention. It wasn't as if they would have anyone else's. Their bodies would probably never be found. I felt a pang. At least my family knew where I was.

As we returned to Volterra, in the back of my mind, I felt something nagging at me, something that I'd once wanted. It took me halfway to the compound to remember quite what it was. Then I memorized the shadow-path that we were taking into the city. The possibility that Bella and I would be able to use it to escape was so remote as to be laughable, but it might be useful in the discharging of my duties one day.

I could feel Bella beside me, her shoulder barely brushing my arm as we walked through reception. I wondered if she thought it was subtle. It wasn't; Demetri and Corin had both noticed her doing it. I hadn't said anything. I didn't want her to stop.

I nodded to the human receptionist at the desk and headed down the hall to wait. Even if Aro had already read and disposed of Janus, he and Caius would want a debriefing from Corin with all of his team present. I pushed my mind forward into the compound, frowning.

What is it? asked Demetri.

"There should be more people in the feasting hall," I said. An official report of Romanian activity was a serious matter, fit for the whole coven to hear. I tried to hear if Janus had been executed yet, but I could not.

Demetri looked straight ahead for a moment. Something else must be going on, then, he thought. Not Janus's execution, he was sure. Whether they'd done it right away or waited for us, it would have been in the feasting hall, as usual.

There were a few shifting images, a shard of a word here and there. "Something happened," I said. "Something wrong." But it had been hours ago, at least. No one was thinking of it, not directly.

I felt Bella's fingers tighten on my arm. Absently, I put my free hand on top of hers.

There was a gentle tap of a woman's shoes on the floor. I looked up to see that Renata had come to collect Caroly. It seemed that the masters were fine with sending newborns into combat but still a bit squeamish about being in their presence personally.

Oh... the newborn was disappointed. She'd wanted to make her first report with the rest of us, just like a real member of the guard.

"Real members of the guard do as the masters say," I told her.

She ducked her head. "You're right," she said.

"There will be other missions," I told her, and God help me but she looked pleased as she crossed the room toward Renata, like an A student who'd just won the science fair.

From the corner of my eye, I saw her turn her head to the side, like a squirrel trying to figure out a new bird feeder. That's not quite right, thought Caroly. Something was off. Something about Renata.

I looked myself. It was the smile. Too wide. Almost forced, except with an odd blankness behind it. I flicked my eyes toward Bella. She'd seen it too.

Renata's thoughts were not revealing. She had come to return Caroly to her cell. It was a strange feeling. Caroly wasn't mine, not the way I was Carlisle's, but I was proud of her. I'd helped make her, and she'd done well. Any missions she completed, any humans she saved, I'd be part of that. It was foolish, I supposed. Bella and Renata had had far more to do with Caroly's success on this mission than I had, but I couldn't help feeling the way I did.

Caroly and Renata were nattering at each other like a pair of geese amiably nibbling mites from each other's necks. Renata ushered Caroly away with one hand across her back, confident that she could get the newborn to return to her cell. Strange. She was usually at least a little afraid.

I caught a flash of something in Demetri's mind as he figured it out and just as quickly decided to hide it from me. Something unpleasant. Something about cleaning up someone else's mess. I had a funny feeling that that someone was me. Demetri met my eyes and then looked away, but as Caroly caught his eye, he couldn't help remembering.

I actually turned around mid-stride.

"Marcell?" I asked.

Demetri stopped walking. With one foot in front of the other, he slowly nodded his light brown head. Then he kept moving.

"What is it?" Bella asked. I shook my head. I wasn't sure that I knew. It had come out of nowhere. "Did something happen to Marcell?" she asked.

Caroly looked over at us and then back to Renata. She didn't like that Bella was upset, but the idea of Marcell in harm did not seem to trouble her. I turned back to Bella, wide amber eyes. "Bella, I think Marcell's been—"

"Marcell was not useful," Renata said, as if describing the menu for a picnic.

Bella was across the room before I could breathe, gripping Renata hard on the arm.

"Ow!" Renata cried. "Bella, let go!"

"I'm sorry," Bella said, taking a step away. "I'm worried about our boy is all. You remember that? You like to call him our boy."

Renata frowned, as if she couldn't remember. She could see Marcell's face in her head, but it didn't seem to have any meaning for her any more. There were other memories too. Renata could recall pressing her forehead against both folded arms as her shoulders shook hard. She could remember Master Caius telling someone to shut that racket up. Then Chelsea had come up behind her, and...

I felt strangely calm, far calmer than I'd expected to.

Demetri had paused, watching us over his shoulder. Corin was paying attention as well. The masters aren't ready for us yet, Demetri thought clearly. Do what you have to do and then come back.

Thank you. He couldn't hear me, but that did not matter.

"Bella," I said quietly, touching the upper part of her sleeve with one hand. "Bella, come away."

She nodded dumbly, still looking at Renata.

She looked a little vacant-eyed, Renata. Even Caroly had noticed. I felt a surge of something that I could only call affection. Renata hadn't given up her connection to Marcell lightly. Chelsea had had to dig it out, and she'd probably done some damage in the process. Renata, weak and timid little Renata, had fought for it, and she hadn't even known anything was happening. She was a good person. Or she had been. We'd have to see.

"They killed him, didn't they?" Bella whispered as we ducked into the hallway. I checked, as I'd checked a hundred times, for thoughts within earshot. Nothing. We were safe as long as we kept it low.

"Yes," I said.

"And Chelsea did something to Renata."

"She cut her tie to him, yes."

"Damn that—" Bella stopped herself. She breathed in and out through her nose. "I can't even say it, can I?" she asked.

"It probably wouldn't be a good idea," I answered.

Bella shook his head. "Should I even ask why they did it?"

"He wasn't going to get better," I answered. "That's what Demetri thinks, anyway. Every human they bring here on feeding days is a risk, and newborns eat more than most. He wasn't worth the investment, so Caius had him liquidated. And..."

I leaned back.

Oh no...

"What is it?" Bella asked. "I'm going to freak right the heck out in about a minute, so I've got to hear it all now."

"Bella I think I might have..." I closed my eyes. "When Jane was watching over Marcell, she kept talking about him. I remember thinking that something about him might have especially irritated her." I met her eyes. "It was only in passing, Bella. I didn't really think he was causing her illness."

Her face cleared. "You think Aro got the idea from you." She touched the side of my face. "Edward, this isn't your fault. I swear to you it isn't." But I could see the pain on her face, and I knew she was lying.

"You didn't mean for this to happen," she said. "You were just trying to find out what was wrong with Jane." She seemed to flinch as she said it. "This is on Caius and Aro; they're the ones who decided to do it."

"Bella," I said with my eyes pressed shut, "Bella, you know that isn't true."

I felt her hands go still, as if she'd truly turned to stone.

"Bella, I was careless, and that's my fault. Even if I didn't entirely know what I was doing, even if someone else performed the act, I did play some role in it. I deserve some of the guilt."

She let go of my hands. I watched her arms drift back to her sides.

"I don't mean that no one else is to blame," I said. She'd said that I shouldn't torture myself over this, and she was right. I would, but she was still right. "There's Caius, who gave the order," I listed. This was dangerous, but it looked like it needed to be done. "There's Felix, who carried it out. There's Alec, who anesthetized Marcell beforehand," though that might have been a mercy.

I shook my head. "And there's Jane's illness, but there's no telling what's causing that." I put my hands on her shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. She blinked as she looked away, as if she were remembering tears. "I'm not at the top of my list of things at fault for Marcell's death, but of all the things on it, it's the only one I can control. What could I have done differently? That's what I think about."

She didn't say anything, eyes focused somewhere around the collar of my shirt.

"Look at you," I said softly. "You blame yourself too, don't you?" She looked up at me, almost frightened, but I smiled as gently as I could. "You're a good person," I said. "You're wondering about a thousand things that you did or didn't do that might have made a difference. And why not? That's what good people do."

In Demetri's thoughts, I heard the doors begin to open.

"They need us," I whispered. "We can't make them wait."

She nodded. At least she couldn't cry for real. At least her eyes and skin wouldn't turn red, showing what she felt. Her face could be as impassible as her mind if she'd let it.

Bella and I made it through the door before it shut. It was just as well. Aside from Caroly, we were the lowest ranking members of our team. Under typical circumstances, all we'd have to do would be to stand behind Corin while he told the masters what had happened, but what with the Romanian involvement and Chelsea's and my special assignment regarding Jane, I expected that one or both of us would have cause to speak.

The air was still sweet with smoke, that kind of smoke. It seemed we'd missed the show. But had Janus or Marcell been the star?

When we'd first gotten home—before I'd learned about Marcell—I'd been curious about what had been done with Jonas, and what impression his revelations had made. I was sure that Aro would have learned more from him than I had about his connections with the Romanians. There would be more missions to come, in Croatia and in other places.

If this had been a true medieval castle, everyone would have been busy readying horses and scrubbing the rust from weapons and equipment. Today, increased hostilities meant collecting information. We needed no armor. We carried our weapons on our skin.

The air inside the audience chamber seemed electrified as Corin approached the thrones and bent the knee, with a current running from Caius to Aro to Jane to the center of the room.

Aro's eyes lingered on Jane, taking in her hands, restless as spiders, her hair sticking out like straw, and the undertow of emotions behind her eyes. He'd had Chelsea's memories, I saw, but he'd held out hope. Without moving, he looked at me. Well? he asked, not waiting for Corin to speak first.

Beside him, Alec's thoughts were wordless but on the same vein. I looked to Jane to show that I'd understood their question. Then I just barely shook my head.

Aro's jaw moved, suggesting the teeth inside his mouth. My hand tightened on Bella's arm. I'd failed him. I hadn't just been part of a failed mission, I had failed him. I wasn't Jasper, but I knew anger when I heard thoughts jabbing against each other like knives.

"Well, my dear ones," he said, voice flickering with cheerfulness like a silk scarf tied around an axe, "I send you out to deal with a small band of impudent nomads and you make me a gift of a traitor."

"It was our pleasure, Masters," said Corin, rising to take Aro's offered hand.

I watched as Aro absorbed our journey. He would do so again, from me, from Demetri, from Chelsea. I'd inadvertently taught him the value of multiple perspectives.

Aro retreated to his throne as Corin continued the story of our mission out loud for the benefit of Ciaus and Marcus and tradition. I noticed Caius's eyes lingering on Jane.

She is not better, he thought. He'd never really believed that getting her out of the house would help much. And the boy has learned nothing or he would not look so frightened. I tried not to react visibly. I had learned nothing. I was frightened.

I was still watching Aro when Caius raised his voice.

"And Bella—" I felt her start at her name. "—what of Caroly?"

She looked at Corin and then at me, then back at Caius. I should have expected this. I should have warned her. She'd been Caroly's keeper, and they wanted a report.

"Caroly ...did well," she said. I squeezed her hand, hard enough to hurt. "Caroly did well, masters," she corrected herself before Caius's thoughts could darken further. "She followed orders, and she stayed disciplined, and she did not let our prisoner get away," she said lamely.

Marcus folded his hands in his lap and watched her expectantly. They wanted more.

Bella licked her lips. "Caroly kept control of herself even though that cabin was full of blood," she said, exaggerating only slightly. "She ran down one of the criminals—one of the traitors—by herself and disabled him. She—" Bella looked left and right. "—she discharged her duty without flinching."

Odd. I was pleased, of course, but it wasn't like Bella to take formal matters so seriously. She'd never concealed her contempt for our masters so well. It was as if—

Caius smiled slightly. Good. I'll tell Felix not to dispatch the female. We may as well keep her on as Adrienne's replacement.

I felt a chill run through my bones as I realized where Bella's enthusiasm had come from.

"What a shame," said Caius, rising to his feet, fingers idly playing around his firelighter. I swallowed. Janus's execution must have been a sight to see if he'd taken it out of storage. The cursed thing was difficult to recharge and maintain. "What a shame that war may be coming between us and our ancient enemies, and we have no newborn army to oppose them," he said looking pointedly at me at the last minute.

He hadn't asked me a question, so I said nothing.

Corin finished his report, and Aro called me forward. He put his hand on my arm, lightly, absorbing every thought and detail of our journey. Behind me, I could hear Chelsea running through different things to say—how she'd tried, how she'd never tired in her attempts to bring Jane to heel. But she knew what we were in for, her and me.

What could I possibly tell them? That this wasn't my fault? Aro already knew that, or knew enough to draw that conclusion on his own if he were of a mind to. We both knew he wasn't. I had nothing to give them but excuses.

Marcus would be no help. He enjoyed the dynamic between Bella and me, but I had a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't enjoy it any less if I suffered grievous bodily harm at his brother's hands.

Failure was a punishable offense in Volterra. Unfortunately, the primary mode of punishment was Jane. The best available substitute would probably be some form of public humiliation, possibly involving a beating by Felix in front of—

I cursed myself for not avoiding the thought. Now I was giving Aro ideas.

If you had been so diligent in your care of Jane, you might have had no cause to fear my ideas, Aro thought toward me. He was still in denial.

Mind yourself, Edward, he thought warningly.

It's true. It was.

Aro warned me again, without words this time.

It was ...exactly as you said, I thought, trying to drive my mind in a less dangerous direction. Chelsea seemed to latch on to Jane's mind but it wouldn't take. I wished I hadn't thought so, but I did: It was not Chelsea's fault. I pictured the evil harridan behind me, wringing her hands for fear of punishment. I would like to think that I would have admitted it, even though it was true. I would like to think that I would not have kept silent and watched her burn beside me, solely because I hated her. But then, women I hated had not been doing so well lately.

Aro's thoughts were like steel, lashing at me in the quiet of my mind. You resent the rest of the guard. You fail to produce calm newborns for me. You fail to discover the source of Jane's illness. You prevent me from acquiring— here his thoughts grew strange, as if I could no longer hear them, but this only seemed to make him angrier. I could see myself in his perception, a shiny, delightful toy that had cost so much and turned out to be ugly and useless. Worse, I was spreading onto all the rest of his collection: Adrienne was gone, and Jane was broken.

What am I to do with you, Edward?

Let me go, I thought. I'd never have said it out loud, but it was always on my mind, and I couldn't filter it out. Aro was in no mood to forgive me for my ingratitude. If you don't want me, then just let me go. I wanted so badly to see Esme and Emmett and Carlisle—

Aro moved faster than could have been possible, the instant he thought of it, his hands were around my throat, clenching hard enough to grind bone. "Master!" Jane called out, taking a step toward us. Master, do you want me to hurt him? she thought with a dark eagerness that drove down like the blow of a hammer how unstable she'd become. Her thoughts flowed through me into Aro and he began to snarl. But he relaxed his grip, letting his hand shift back to my shoulder as I staggered but couldn't manage to rise from my knees.

Demetri's thought flared, but only for a second as Corin wondered What was that for? From his perspective, I'd done my job without complaint.

Corin and Demetri and even Alec were wondering what had just happened. Demetri was wondering if the master had lost his mind. He would have to do some damage control. He would have to explain once I was gone, and it would help if he did so rationally. A formal punishment.

Is that all you can do, Edward? Aro thought down at me, thoughts no less dark for being calm. Is that truly the only thing of any worth you have for me? He'd had hopes, I saw. He'd had such high hopes. I'd been meant to bind the present to his will. I'd been meant to be at his left hand.

"My dear ones, how regrettable that the affairs of the world have taken such a turn," he said. "Chelsea, do go and fetch Felix, Heidi and Afton. We have things to discuss with them. Demetri, Corin, you may remain." His clouded eyes fell on Jane, who started muttering angrily at the dust motes under her breath. I watched his throat flex as he swallowed. "Jane is dismissed."

They were going to discuss strategies, I saw. Demetri and Corin acted as strategists, the others as enforcers. "And Chelsea," said Aro. "Do return in perhaps an hour. I have matters to discuss with you and Edward."

Chelsea swallowed hard, her face like ash. She knew what was coming. She knew it as well as I did.

Aro was watching Alec lead Jane out of the room by her elbow, but his thoughts were on me, and unmistakable in their anger.

Get out of my sight.

He had the satisfaction of watching me stumble as I turned away. I had never known him to be this angry, not even when—I grabbed the sides of my head. Not even when—

I felt a set of fingers close on my arm and pull me toward the door. I had gone mad. Demetri was right; it was a disease of the gifted. Jane had got it and I had caught it from her and now I had to be led away.

Bella seemed calmer as the door closed behind us, but perhaps it was only because I was so very far from calm. I must have seemed like a thrumming Tesla coil. I barely knew where I was putting my feet, but she guided me to the upper library. It was blessedly empty.

"That ...could have gone worse," she said at last.

I shot her a look. It must have been horrible because she turned away.

"I'm sorry," I said. "You're only trying to help." I touched my throat. At least my voice still worked. "If he could have, he'd have set Jane on me then and there. Now he's going to come up with something." Aro was still rational enough to think that a strategy session had to take precedence over showing the coven what happened to a vampire who failed in his duty. Jane had got the coven's blood up. If he told them that my task had been to cure her, they might even forgive him for not punishing her. And they would relish whatever Aro did to me. Aro knew all my deepest fears—wiping out the Cullen family on trumped up charges, harming Bella, forcing me to bring in humans for the feasts—but he also had a great deal of imagination. Whatever he did would be something that I had not thought of.

"One does not fail the masters, Bella," I said. "He's not going to be kind."

"Is this because Jane is sick?" she asked, voice full of fear.

I shook my head. "That's not why. It's that he told me to do something and I could not do it." I closed my eyes. "And I thought about Carlisle." This situation was a perfect storm of Aro's weaknesses, Jane, jealousy, the Romanians. "Aro can't stand it, Bella. It's like he's gone mad."

"Will he kill you for it?" she asked tightly.

"He'll make an example," I said. It would be a show, something to be remembered for years. If I lived, I'd live as a reminder.

Bella stopped me, pulling on my arm so hard that I stumbled, "Does that mean he won't kill you?" she demanded.

I opened my mouth to lie. Just tell her, I said. She needed to know. But my lower lip shook and I couldn't make the words come out.

I shouldn't have been sad about it. It was what I'd come to Italy for in the first place, after all. I should have been sad that she'd lost her humanity and freedom. I should have been sad that my family was in danger. I shouldn't have been sad that I was going to die and that it would hurt. If I'd been my old self, I wouldn't have. Carlisle's son wouldn't have cared, but Volterra had finally made a coward of me.

Her arms were around my waist and her lips pressed against my shoulder. I held her the way she was holding me, and I felt tall and strong—and the fact that she'd chosen me finally made sense. I buried my face in her hair and breathed in.

When I'm gone, Bella, run away. Demetri could not find her. Run away, but don't go home. To Carlisle and Esme. Demetri could find them. Only I couldn't say it out loud. It was treason.

This would be my punishment, I realized. This was what made my life bearable; he would take it away from me. Aro wouldn't kill me, but he would cost me both arms or my tongue or part of my brain. He'd fix me so that I could never do this or feel this way ever again.

"I love you," I said, just in case I never got to say it again.

"I know," she said.

I ran my fingers over her hair—I might not have fingers tomorrow.

She leaned forward and kissed me. I kissed her back. I might not have lips tomorrow. She closed the space between us and slipped her arms around my neck, graceful as a swan. Her scent filled my mind, pushing everything else away.

Aro was going to punish me, but all his actions had a certain elegance. I doubted he would be so crude as to cost me any other part belonging to a man, but... I shook my head. I couldn't possibly be entertaining the thought of—

"Edward," she whispered against my cheek like a plea, like a prayer. Had she undone the top buttons of her dress or had I? It didn't matter. She was the one guiding my hands. God had never made anything that felt this good. Nothing real could possibly make those sounds in the back of her throat, sounds saying that she liked my hands and my skin and my heart.

Carlisle had been right. He was always right. He'd told me that just because we didn't have a ceremony didn't mean we couldn't be man and wife. Carlisle had said it, I thought between kisses, so perhaps that made it all right.

I decided then. I'd do what I should have done that golden day in the Riserva—give her what she wanted for as long as she wanted it. I'd kiss her until she couldn't breathe and then I'd take my chance. Who knew when we'd get another one? Just the thought of her smooth legs wrapping around me as I was enough to make me forget what was coming for me.

"Tell me again," she murmured.

"I love you," I said.

"No matter what I did?" she said, voice breaking on the last word.

I pulled back, staring at her. My hands went to her shoulders. "What could you have done?" I asked.

I wouldn't have believed it. She looked worse than she had that day in the cell, when she'd confessed to her first murder. Her bottom lip shook. "Something awful," she breathed.

I shook my head. "Bella, you'd never hurt anyone, not unless they make you."

She looked away. "And that's why you love me? Because I don't hurt anyone?"

"Of course," I said, smiling with the certainty of it. "You have a beautiful—" the was in the air before I realized I'd said it, before I realized I knew it "—soul." I almost felt like laughing. I'd gone mad. I'd gone wonderfully, transcendently mad, and I could finally see the real truth. I could never have believed it of myself, not ever. How could she be Bella without her soul? Yet here she was.

She licked her lips, "But I would, Edward. I would hurt so many people if it got us out of here." The words tumbled out of her like hot acid, scalding the air. But they could not scald me.

"You're lying," I said, still smiling. I could tell.

"I'm not," she said.

"You are," I said seriously, gently squeezing her shoulders. "You're a good person. You don't have it in you. Lots of people think they can do bad things until they're actually faced with the consequences. Then they turn back." There were plenty of wicked people in the world, but how many high school boys had I known who'd sworn that they'd beat a rival to death or make their girlfriends give in? At the sight of real blood or the thought of making her cry, their fantasies evaporated like mist.

She closed her eyes and her hands started to shake. "What if Aro found out what really made Jane sick? Then he'd let you off?"

I grabbed her hands with both of mine, holding her still. There was no hope of a revelation at this point. If neither Aro nor Chelsea nor myself could figure it out, then no one else in Volterra had a chance. But if someone did? "There's no way to tell, Bella. Maybe."

She tugged free and cupped my face in her hands. "Edward, you know him better than I do, as well as anyone. I need you to concentrate. Would he forgive you if he found out what was really wrong with Jane?"

I frowned, wondering where this was coming from. Did she know something? Did she know someone who knew something? "If he had someone else to blame for Jane's illness," I said carefully, feeling out the melody one plucked string at a time, "or—Aro's fickle, if he even had something else to focus on—then he would still punish me, but it would be ordinary." It would be like what Caius did to Afton when we came back from China without the artwork he'd wanted. "Something that wouldn't put me out of commission. I'd get a chance to go on other missions, redeem myself."

She licked her lips, looking away for a minute. "I love you too, you know that, right? You really know it?"

I covered her left hand in one of mine. "I do," I said. It was a good day for truths.

"Everything will be okay," she told me.

I closed my eyes. Even through all this, it felt good to feel her against my skin. "How can you know?"

"Because I need it to be," she said.

I smiled. "Nor that is not the lark, whose notes do beat the vaulty heaven so high above our heads," I told her, watching to see if she remembered. Another day, another world, sitting on Charlie's couch and watching shadows on a screen. That and a thousand other missed opportunities. "I have more care to stay than will to go." Come, death, and welcome. "Juliet wills it so."

"How is it, my soul?" I said, bringing her hand up to my lips and kissing her knuckles until she gave me a sad smile.

You can do better than that, Bella, I thought, kissing each finger in turn. This could be our only time together, and I wanted her smiling. She bit her lips and the corners of her mouth turned up, so I kissed all the way to her wrist, over the smooth skin, over the scar from—

I drew back again, blinking at her wrist.

"Edward?" she asked, fingers moving to cup the back of my neck. "What is it?"

I ran the pad of my thumb across the scar, as I remembered what the master had said about Bella.

Aro had been wrong.

Caius had been wrong.

I had been wrong.

"For her," Marcus had believed, "it was not so great of a change."

"Edward?" she asked.

I didn't answer, but I had an answer. I finally had an answer.

"I know why you kept your mind after you were turned," I said, turning her wrist so that she could see the smooth, crescent-shaped mark where James had bitten her on that horrible night in Phoenix. He'd burned, but she'd been the one to rise from the ashes. It had been so slight that no one had noticed, not even the wolves, but it had happened. It had to have happened.

"It was because you'd done it before," I said.


The hallways dissolved in front of us, and we were hurrying down the stairs before I even realized I'd moved. By the time I turned around, I noticed that she'd had the presence of mind to put her clothes in order. I should have felt embarrassed. I really should have, but the possibility that I might escape Aro's wrath left room for nothing else.

"Do you really think that could be it?" she asked.

I nodded. I was sure. Of course, I had to be more persuasive than I'd ever been in my life if I was to avoid whatever Aro had planned for me. "It all fits," I said. "It's not that you knew what you were getting into—both Marcell and Caroly knew almost as much as you did. We can't copy your attitude; we can't copy the fact that you're my singer. This is all that's left." I rubbed her wrist again. "You always said your scar felt cold. Does it feel cold now?"

She shook her head. No, she wouldn't have felt hot or cold, not since the turning.

My mind raced. This would only save me if it pleased the masters, and there was no way that any vampire in the city but me would have the control to suck out someone's blood safely, even if the blood was tainted with another vampire's venom. I'd come closer to killing Bella on that day than I ever wanted to think about. There was always Carlisle, but even if Aro could be persuaded to ask him for a favor, he probably wouldn't agree to participate in an experiment like this one.

"What will happen?" she asked me. I was still holding her wrist in that awkward position. I would have been dragging her if she hadn't kept up. "Edward, this isn't what Aro wanted. He wanted you to find out what was wrong with Jane—"

"This will help," I said, not looking up. "Part of the problem with Jane is that it has made the Volturi look weak. If we're the only ones with calm newborns—" I laughed. "Then we're not weak."

"Is it enough?" Bella asked, eyes like yellow flames. "Will it save you?"

"It'll certainly save Charlie and Renee," I said. Aro would have no need of them if he could get what he wanted more easily.

"Will it save you?" she demanded.

"Bella, I do not know. It might." I breathed in and out. "Now come with me. We have to play this right."

I pulled her along behind me and put my mind back to the task. It could be a mechanical apparatus of some kind, something that could draw out the envenomed blood... I closed my eyes, sketching heavily in my mind. Yes... It would be possible to build something using existing medical equipment. It would be expensive, but it might work.

Yes, there were so many variables, a real experimental process to optimize. Aro would love it. I polished and packaged the idea, sprinkling it with glittering questions. When Aro read this in my thoughts, he would love it.

"Sir!" The receptionist rose to her feet as we barged past. "Do not go in there!"

The doors to the audience hall gave way to us with a groan, and I moved into the audience chamber, Bella's boots pattering against the ground as she kept my pace.

We caused a bit of a stir.

What...? Heidi couldn't understand why we were here.

Is he out of his mind? thought Demetri.

I actually smiled at him. By heaven, yes, I replied.

Aro was literally too angry to form words, but I had no time or chances for doubt.

"Edward," Caius barked. "You were not summoned! We must plan for the safety of the coven!"

"I apologize, Master Caius," I said, pointedly avoiding Aro's sight. The man was a hair's breadth from tearing me apart himself. "My news may be relevant to that."

My words hung in the air. I had to allow Aro to grow calm. This would only work if he were calm enough to understand how important it was.

Carefully, I took Bella by the wrist and led her forward.

"I know why she is calm, Masters, I said." Another moment for that to sink in. "And it is something we can replicate."

Bella looked at me, then, following my lead with the insight of an angel, stepped forward to show Caius her scar.

I could feel Aro's mind changing, like a storm that had ceased for only a moment. I explained quickly.

Without a word, Aro thrust his arm forward, as if to beat the truth from me. I took his hand willingly, looking him in the eye as he read my entire hypothesis—and what I'd been doing when I figured it out, but there was no help for that.

He let go of my hand slowly, eying me with profound distrust.

Well then, he said. If this were a stunt to save his own skin, he would not have brought the girl. His eyes narrowed. Or perhaps he would have. He truly fears me. It seems that Carlisle's boy does his best work under threat.

He met my eyes and thought deliberately this time. Remember that, Edward Cullen. His eyes turned to Bella. And remember, she will share your punishment.

I nodded tightly. I would remember. I promised I would.

"Begin immediately," he said. "Choose any of the human staff. It does not matter."

I turned quickly, giving a tight bow, and pulled Bella along behind me. As we left, I could hear Caius saying, "This may change our strategy, if it is successful."

"It will be successful, Brother," I heard Aro answer. "But only if—" and I lost the rest.

The receptionist got another shock as we banged back into her lobby. That woman was no Gianna.

"Where are we going?" asked Bella.

"Requisitions," I said. "There's a medical supply shop off the square but it won't have everything I need." My mind raced. I could figure out what equipment might work, but how to put it all together? Ordinarily, we'd conceal these purchases, but how to do it quickly? Have different members of the staff accept home delivery of different components? No, mail order would take time, and some of these machines were hospital-quality. Theft, perhaps? From the hospital? No, it would have to be from another city, trucked in tonight. How many other members of the guard could I commandeer for the job? I knew my way around a hospital well enough. I should probably go myself. I swallowed, realizing that I'd be leading my first team.

"Is he going to let you off?" Bella asked intently. "Is it enough?"

"Maybe. It has to work," I answered. "At the absolute least, it'll give him time to cool down." In this moment, I couldn't be burdened with trying to predict Aro's moves. I needed everything I had for serving his will.

"Would it help if he also punished Jane?" Bella interrupted.

"It would help," I admitted, "but he'll never agree to harm her."

"What if he didn't have to?"

I stopped, looking her in the eye.

She gave a little smile. "I have an idea," she said.


I worked as fast as I could. The tricky part was building an aspirator that could work through an existing wound. Then I realized that if I combined the needles from Caroly's turning with the right kind of aspirator, I could both administer and remove venom with a single wound. There were a thousand variables—source of the vampire venom, duration of exposure, the patient's heart rate at the time of exposure, and the length of time between exposure and true turning. Then there was the fact that Bella must have been exposed to at least some of my own venom back in Phoenix. Had that sensitized her to my venom in particular, or would any vampire have done? All of those could be worked out in time.

Which, for once, we did not have.

Today was phase one, trial one. And I did not expect that I would have a chance to conduct a trial two. I'd pulled a random human from accounting. I was to inject him with venom, which I would then draw out mechanically. Then we would wait three weeks—Bella had waited a year, but Aro had no time for that—and inject him again, this time to the heart, like I had with Caroly.

It would have made more sense to do this privately. The human—Adalgiso, Adalfieri, I would learn his name if he lived—would remain human for the next three weeks, leaving the compound during the day, gossiping with his friends, logging on to the Internet from his apartment. At the very least, we could expect that by the week's end, every human in the compound would know that becoming a vampire hurt like hell. Then there was the possibility of complications. What if he collapsed—or worse, turned—in the middle of a grocery store?

Our test subject was waiting in reception. Aro had a small announcement before we began.

"Jane will be banned from all feasts!" his voice sailed over the dozens of hooded heads. A rippled whisper ran through the crowd around us as I gripped Bella's hand.

How is she going to eat?

If that gets her private meals, perhaps I should lay into a few of the guard myself.

"Because she attacked one of her own coven for the sake of gluttony," Aro continued, "she will subsist on animal blood until we decide that she is forgiven."

There was another murmur through the crowd. There were no words in it, just a murmuring hiss of mockery and smugness. Some of them even thought that the "we" meant that forgiving Jane would be a collective decision. Jane, twitching like a marionette in the center of the room, gave out a tiny screech. The thought of harming, Aro, however, did not cross her mind. Unbalanced or not, he was her center.

Animal blood? That softens the brains. It'll only make her worse.


I wonder if her eyes will turn to pus like the other two.

Little witch has to eat pigs? Heidi's lip curled in a smile, which she quickly wiped clean. A million creative taunts, and she would never have the courage to use them.

It wasn't a perfect solution. Marcus believed that animal blood made us less aggressive, so it might take the edge off Jane's condition. Jane and the other vampires here certainly seemed to think it sounded humiliating, and Aro had the luxury of knowing that it could not do his darling girl any lasting harm. Better, the masters now had a method of punishment that was not dependent on only one member of the guard.

I turned my eyes to the right, where I could just see Bella's face beneath her hood. She'd been given a darker shade of gray, probably by Sulpicia, probably because of her success with Caroly.

There was the possibility, though, of vampires coming to associate yellow eyes with criminality, like a branded face, but even that was closer to normalization than the current state of affairs. Who knew? It was remotely possible that the whole world would start to see feeding on animals as an option for their everyday lives. In Korea, a dish called kongbap had caught on as health food, but it had started out as prison food.

Jane's mind was still a maze of pieces locking together like industrial parts: disappointment, anger, humiliation all slamming toward her from different directions. It was enough to break a man. The crowd licked it all up like a cat at the cream.

As predicted. As promised. I'd given Aro a way to control the crowd.

I met his eyes through the low susurrus of the coven's reaction. Well? I asked him.

We shall see, young Edward, he thought back, and that was better than two hands around my throat any day of the week.

From across the room, Chelsea looked right at me. In her thoughts, I could feel the death grip that she had on Afton's hand. Thank you, she thought quickly. I ducked my head, just barely.

We brought the human in. I'd argued for the need for a chair, but it had been declined. No one sat in the presence of the masters, not in the feasting hall. Instead, he settled into a kneeling position and held out his arm for me. Volunteer Adal couldn't have been much past twenty. He had dark eyes and a determined set to his jaw. As I carefully injected venom into a peripheral vein, his only thoughts were that my hands felt cold.

I'd considered a thousand different factors that might put an end to me. A bite didn't target a working blood vessel this way. There would be no exposure to the venom of a second vampire. The venom wasn't mine—Aro hadn't wanted any more little Carolys coming to idolize me.

Bella stood behind me, counting out the time in her head. Neither of us could remember exactly how long it had been, so she remembered where it had hurt. Never past her elbow, she'd said. Never all the way to her heart.

Adal began to pant and groan. More than one member of the coven thought of it as barking sounds. Bella had coached him well, and he used his free hand to indicate the progression of pain down his limbs. I activated the aspirator and drew the venom back out, blood and all. I waited until his breathing steadied, the way hers had steadied, the lines of pain going smooth on her forehead and the hammerbeat of her heart evening out, long ago.

The human was sent back to his work, not that I expected him to get anything done with that much blood loss. I would check on him later.

A few of the guard had a passing interest in whether or not my experiment would work, but far more of them were still worried about Jane, piecing out the punishment in their minds.

Finally, we were dismissed. I took Bella by the arm as we left, hoping that I'd be able to breathe for the first time since we returned to Volterra.

"It was a good idea, you know," I murmured. "Telling Aro put Jane on animal blood." Not that the master had been grateful. Marcus had appreciated the elegance of it, though.

"Not that I'm looking forward to having her eat with us," Bella said, "but you said that it makes vampires less aggressive. Maybe that's what she needs."

"At least it gives Aro a way to punish her," I said. And that would give me time to complete my mission and find a real cure. Then Aro would spare me.

Bella shook her head, "No, this will make her better." She was confident, but there was something sad behind it. "I'm sure she'll get better now."

"Juliet wills it so," I said playfully.

"You bet your ass I do."

I was betting more than that, actually. She opened her mouth to say something else, but I held up a hand as someone came up behind us.

"Do you think it will work?" Demetri asked me as the crowd dispersed around us.

"I do," I told him. "If not with this human, then we will try again with different combinations of venom, different lengths of exposure. We will make this work."

His thoughts were dark with memories of the last Romanian encounters. A newborn army might help beat them back, or better still, prevent them from making a move in the first place. "I hope you're right, Brother," he answered.

I turned toward him. "You've never—"

He frowned. Never what? I realized with a start that he hadn't realized that he'd said it. Bella, damn her, was holding in a laugh.

"Never mind," I said.

Strange man, thought Demetri, but reasonable enough. If animal blood does make them mad, at least it's a useful madness. Jane may get better after all.

"What are we on today?" Bella asked me, "Now that we're back on."

"German subjunctive," I told her. I had neglected our studies in the upper library in favor of keeping Aro from killing me. She'd kindly put aside her books to help.

Brother... I remembered in Demetri's voice. It was just something that members of the guard called each other, the way they called Caius "master." But still...

Perhaps I was no longer an outsider here. Perhaps, one day, it would not be so easy for Aro to condemn me. Not if I would be missed.

"Edward, what do you do when you want two things... and you think you can only have one of them?" Bella asked me all of a sudden.

"False paradox," I murmured. I wanted to go home, but I also wanted to keep our world safe. I wanted to be with my family and I wanted to protect them. "Don't assume that you can't have both. It only means that you haven't found out how to do it yet." I looked her in the eye and smiled. "Time is our ally, Bella. You can figure out any problem if you have enough time. Today is proof of that."

Her hand crept out and found my own. "And we're going to be here a long time," she said.

I nodded slowly. It was true.

I looked at Bella. She was watching me a quiet amber gaze, like the last pure sunlight before the day ended. "They'll want you for this," I said, nodding toward the feasting hall, the newborns, the future. "You and Renata. You've shown that you're good at training the new ones." I let that hang in the air. She couldn't leave when her year was up. They wouldn't let her.

"It's like I told you," she said, with something like a smile. "I'm not going anywhere without you."

I couldn't help but smile back. The world was tightening like a noose around us and, for this minute at least, I didn't care, not if she'd finally forgiven me. I clasped her hand in both of mine and brought it up to my lips.

"I know."



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