Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ The Rules ( Chapter 40 )

[ 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.

Not much action in this one—depending on how one defines "action"—but it should answer a few questions. I am technically still taking constructive criticism on all chapters, but I would especially appreciate it on this one. Specifically, I want to make sure that the flashbacks aren't too confusing.

Again, technical difficulties and please pardon the lack of italics.


"I'm not that girl," –Bella, Eclipse


"A spy?"

Caius's eyes narrowed at Demetri. No one moved, not even to draw a breath.

From across the echoing space, Jane eyed me sharply. *He can't mean it.* She fixed me with her red-spear gaze. *Haven't you explained it to him?*

I closed my eyes.

Getting Stephen's body onto the train had been a bit of an issue, but after that, our journey home proceeded without incident. Even in these uncertain times, people still needed to ship freight overland, which meant cargo cars.

Stephen's cloud-gray cloak lay spread out on the tiles before the dais, Stephen himself was laid out in disjointed order before his three masters.

Aro had left his throne and was picking his way through the seven pieces of Stephen's limbs, neck and torso like a child marking out a space for hopscotch. "You're certain you didn't just miss it, my dear ones?" he asked. As always, the indulgence in his voice was a mask. Leaving even the fingernail of a dead vampire behind and unburned was a lapse beyond all forgiveness.

"They scream, master," I said out loud, feeling all eyes turn toward me. My team, my masters, Alec and Jane all witnessed me take responsibility. If it had been possible for me to be wrong, I might have worried. "The thoughts, they don't stop until we're burned. If Stephen's head had been anywhere nearby, I would have heard it."

"The Romanian must have taken it with him," Demetri finished. *Interrogation. Ransom. Intimidation.* He cycled through the possibilities with the perfect, heavy clicking of a well-maintained revolver.

"And you believe that we must have a spy?" Aro prompted.

*Can't,* Jane thought simply. *Not with Master. No spies. Tell him.*

She was right. A spy in Volterra? The idea was ...foolish didn't cover it. Aside from myself, there was Chelsea, Aro, even Caroly, Rolfe, and Heidi were good at sensing people and spotting liars.

Of course, a well-trained spy would have been able to hide his intentions from me. Avoiding Aro's touch would be another matter. It was possible to bury memories where Aro wouldn't necessarily notice them—I forgot how I knew that—but Aro's mind was always attracted to anything to do with the Romanians. A spy might not realize that, I mused. It might be possible for someone to go for months without being detected.

"Could be someone who used to be guard, Masters," Rolfe pointed out. "One of our old newborns, maybe."

I kept my face impassive. Chelsea did a wonderful job on every newborn we dismissed. Of course, it was possible that her work didn't last.

"They had a strategy built around Edward and me," Demetri reminded him. "That means they had recent intel."

"Or they watched Master Caius's MO for a while and found a pattern," countered Rolfe. "Our library teams do the same thing all the time."

Caroly shook her head, "It must be someone very foolish, or someone who hates us very much."

*What's left of the Romanian coven would qualify on both counts,* Demetri thought darkly. *But it would be someone new, someone we wouldn't recognize.* The face on the rooftop had been unfamiliar to him. I watched him work through each scenario with quick, sure movements. Stefan and Vladimir had lost most of their original followers during their war with the masters. The people they attracted now tended to be rebels, unpredictable, the brightest and most erratic dregs of our society. Someone like that would stand out in the clockwork discipline of Volterra.

"Or it could be someone who doesn't know he's doing it," I said. "Maybe one of the newborns is leaking information without realizing," I said, ignoring the dirty look from Andrew.

There was a light scraping sound. I saw Andrew move as if to pick Stephen's undulating left foot off the floor and put it back on the cloak, but I motioned for him to be still.

"They had to know that the moment we suspected, Aro would touch everyone in the compound, even the staff."

I was halfway through nodding my agreement when a thought slithered into me like a slimy caterpillar toward Sulpicia's roses:

*There's one person Master Aro can't check.*

I was across the room before anyone could breathe. "My Bella is no traitor!" I snarled.

Rolfe held up both hands, "I didn't say it!" he told me. *She never did want to be here and she's always mouthing off.*

"That's nothing!" I found that I was in a fighting stance with my arms spread out.

*She could be a spy if she wanted.* Rolfe was still thinking. In that heavy moment, I thought that if I struck him hard enough, I could kill the thought, like swatting a fly.

"Edward, return to your place," clipped Aro. "Rolfe meant no insult to your mate. As to the nature of her gift; it is true."

*Don't call her my—* I cut off the thought before I said it out loud. I nodded and backed away from Rolfe, "I am sorry, Masters. I am sorry, Rolfe."

*Don't be sorry. Just keep your nutjob temper in the box,* thought Rolfe. I gave what I hoped was an apologetic nod.

"Masters," came a calm voice. Caroly pushed back her hood. Chunks of her straw-colored hair had wisped out of her ponytail, forming a messy halo around half of her face. "Masters, Bella couldn't have leaked our secrets to the Romanians." She nodded toward me. "They knew that Edward was on this mission. She wouldn't have put him in danger." *Or me,* she added mentally.

"That is true," Aro said out loud. Underneath, however, was that same frustration, that same desire to break open the shield on my Bella's mind and pull out all her secrets. This time, it had practical value.

*Unless Bella isn't really his mate,* Rolfe thought.

"Not all women are Adrienne," I hissed quietly.

Rolfe shot me a look like daggers. All this time later, the way that woman had discarded his affections still wounded him.

"I'm sorry, Brother," I said. "I shouldn't have brought it up." Especially not here.

This was what our enemies wanted, discord among the guard. Most of the time, Rolfe and Bella got along well. He enjoyed teasing her—usually in the form of speculation about our sex life—and she played along with his fool façade, a willing straight man to his jester's act.

Rolfe stared straight ahead and said nothing. *She was my best girl.*

*She wasn't worthy of you, Rolfe.* I bit back the words. He didn't want to hear it. He never did.

I wondered if Rolfe had felt the true change for Adrienne. I hoped not, but I never had asked.

The formation of a vampire pair bond wasn't exactly voluntary. It was not in our nature to change the way humans did. We could learn things, but while humans could gradually become milder or wiser or bitterer over the slow course of years, we could not. We didn't warp or bend like wood; we cracked like stone. Alterations to our underlying personalities only came under the hammer of overwhelming feeling.

I knew it firsthand. Something essential had changed inside me that night in Forks when I'd heard her say my name in her sleep. I'd loved Bella before and I'd continued to love her after, but that had been my point of no return. That was when my love for her had become a permanent part of my identity.

But you could try to do it on purpose if you wanted. You just had to ...arrange the conditions. For me, the trigger had been Bella saying my name. For my old brother Emmett, it had been a kiss under a maple tree. Most vampires who decided that they wanted a pair bond stimulated one more ...physically. Sex could bring on intense emotions, and Adrienne's limited modesty would have been no barrier to securing Rolfe as her protector.

It didn't happen every time, of course. I'd heard that it wasn't hard to master the art of moderate-emotion sex, which was fine so long as both parties knew what it was. That wasn't always the case. It had pleased James to toy with Victoria in that way. He'd cared for her about as much as a rider cared for a useful mount, but her thoughts toward him had seemed sincere.

It had been a long time since I'd thought of Victoria. There had been that rash of killings in and around Seattle during my first year in Volterra. Caius had sent Alec and Randall to investigate—I hadn't been considered trustworthy enough to send back to the States—but things had seemed to quiet down on their own. If Sam Uley and his wolves had had anything to do with it, they'd left no trace. I wondered if Victoria had survived the end of whatever her plans had been or if she'd turned to smoke along with her followers.

But Rolfe wasn't suggesting that I wasn't really Bella's. He was suggesting that Bella wasn't really mine, which was almost equally ridiculous. Except that, Bella *hadn't* changed, not as a vampire. She'd been turned already loving me. I took in a breath. Rolfe. Andrew. Caroly. Demetri. Jane. Alec. All my masters but Marcus. That was the part that the coven would have trouble understanding—that a human could truly love me. But she did.

My moment in the spotlight of Aro's anger had brought me clarity, all those years ago, when I'd thought I was about to die. The thought of leaving her, or of lingering in some crippled form, no use to her ever had thrown the whole universe into relief.

Adal's turning had gone well. He'd woken up not quite as calm as Bella had been, but close enough to be clear that something was working. The multi-year project of working out the details had allowed me to repair my relationship with Master Aro somewhat. The fact that Jane had started to get better practically the same hour as her first meal of animal blood had undoubtedly helped.

The cause of her illness had never been found. Aro still wondered about it occasionally, lining up clues and symptoms in the perfect abacus of his mind. But the coven was satisfied. My body was spared. I had succeeded in one of my impossible tasks. And Bella had told me she loved me.

I'd finally figured out what person I wanted to be. If I couldn't be Carlisle's loyal son, then I'd be the man I saw in Bella's eyes, the person I felt like when she was in my arms. I'd remembered what Carlisle had told me. I had my father's blessing, and Bella's eyes held nothing but "yes." I'd wanted her, and she'd been within my reach. There seemed to be no more or less to it than that.

But it had been more complicated. Of course it had been more complicated. It was Volterra.

In the compound, it could take days to get a moment alone, especially with my unpredictable schedule and her with Adal and Caroly to train. I'd caught up with her coming down from the tower after sunset one day. I could still feel the fibers of her sleeve through my fingers.

"I want to talk to you," I'd whispered into her ear.

"Roof garden," she'd murmured back.

I should have known when I'd felt her smile against my skin. "Talk" was a common euphemism in Volterra. The minute the door to the roof access closed behind us, Bella's hands had been on me, pulling me down for a kiss. I couldn't say that I didn't respond enthusiastically. For some reason I'd kept thinking that my news could keep a minute and another minute.

The next thing I'd known, my lips were on her neck and she'd been making that sound I liked, the high-pitched "don't stop quite yet, Edward" sound as her hands slipped under my cloak to rub my back.

I'd planned to be eloquent. I'd gone over the words over and over in my head. Only now my mind was such a muddle that I couldn't find where I'd put anything.

"You love me?" The words had slurred against her cheek.

"Yes," she'd whispered.

"That's never going to change," I'd continued as I'd kissed her neck.

"Never," the word slipped into me like a night breeze.

"I'm what you want," I'd said.


I'd cupped her face in both hands and kissed her, brushing her hair aside so that I could see her eyes. "Marry me," I'd said.

"What?" She'd pulled back, both hands on my shoulders, gaping as if I'd just dumped cold water on her.

"Isabella Swan, I want you to marry me," I'd said, somehow wondering if she hadn't heard me properly. "We should be married."

She looked as if I'd started speaking Russian—this had been before she'd learned it—and I'd felt some of my certainty drain away. This wasn't the reaction I'd been expecting. Was it because I didn't have a ring and hadn't gone down on one knee? No, that couldn't be it. I hadn't phrased it as a question either, but that was easy enough to fix.

"Will you do it, Bella?" I'd said. "Will you marry me?"

"Edward, we don't need to get *married*."

It had been very confusing. Everything about the way she'd acted toward me suggested that she wanted to be with me physically, that she loved me, and that she didn't want to leave me—she could have walked free from Volterra if she'd been willing to leave me—and as far as I'd understood in those days, all those things together added up to "married."

"Is this because your parents got divorced early?" I'd asked. Her eyes had flashed as her mouth opened. "I'm sorry," I'd said quickly. "What happened between Charlie and Renee isn't my business."

"No, it's not that," she'd said, but whatever it was had put something hollow behind her eyes. Something about this upset her. I'd just offered her my vow, *myself*, and the prospect *upset* her.

Fear of commitment of all things? That made no sense. She hadn't shown the remotest interest in any of the other men in Volterra, and—

*In* Volterra. There was someone who wasn't in Volterra. She'd even told me that she loved him. Well he couldn't have her.

That or something just as wicked must have shown on my face.

"Edward?" she'd asked. "Edward, I don't mean to— I mean I'm glad you asked, and—"

"No you're not," I said.

"Then what are you thinking?" she asked cautiously.

*Something very unbecoming,* I'd thought. She'd be willing to sleep with me but not make me any promises? I'd meet her needs until she got back to Forks? *That might not be it,* I told myself. That stupid wolf boy had gotten me in trouble with Bella before, and he hadn't even been present. I wouldn't mess things up over him again, not if I could help it.

Bella licked her lips. "Look, Edward, you're right: I love you and you love me," she'd told me. "Do we really need a piece of paper saying so?"

"Marriage isn't a of paper," I'd answered. "It's a promise that we make to each other and to our community."

"But our community already thinks we're married," she'd said.

"No, the community thinks we're mates. That's not the same thing."

"Some societies say that living together is marriage," she'd told me.

"That's lovely," I'd answered, regretting finding her that anthropology book. "We're not from one of them."

"Yes we are," she'd said. "We're vampires."

I shook my head. If she'd really thought that we were already married, she wouldn't care about whether we had a ceremony or not. "That's not it," I said. "Look, I don't want to argue this on logical grounds. This isn't a commercial transaction."

"In some cultures it was," she added glibly.

"Bella, could you please not joke about this?" I asked. "I don't want to know about marriage customs among the Trobriand islanders. I want to know why you don't want to marry me."

"Because it's embarrassing!" she'd answered. "I'm not that girl, Edward. The one who drops out of high school and gets married like some small-town hick who got knocked up by her boyfriend! Do you know what people would think? People don't just get married at nineteen! Not smart people, not responsible, mature people. I'm not that girl."

I looked away. She wasn't that girl. Not any more.

"Bella, you're a vampire now. None of those reasons to postpone marriage apply to you," I told her. "And none of the people who would criticize you for marrying young are ...ever likely to find out about it." Or see either of us again.

"I don't like that either," she'd said.

"Neither do I." It was the truth.

"Look, if what you told me is true, then we're always going to be like this," she'd said with hand on my arm. "I can't fall out of love with you. I'm going to love you forever," and the words had felt good.

"But you didn't have a choice about that," I'd pointed out. "My love for you was like a storm," I'd told her, "I couldn't have stopped it if I'd wanted."

"What's so bad about that?"

"Well you can fall in love with someone without meaning to, but you can't marry them without meaning to. I want you to *decide* that you love me."

"But I do!"

"That's good," I'd said. "Say it just like that."


"I'm greedy, Bella," I'd said. "I want that vampire part of you. I do. But I want more," I'd put my hands around her waist and pulled her toward me. "I want your heart," I'd murmured, brushing her hair away from her ear, "I want your mind, all the way down to its roots," I said, brushing my fingers down her neck. "And I want your reason," I'd whispered. "I want the rational, surface part of your mind, because *that's* the part that calls the shots."

I'd said the next part like a prayer into the empty sky. "Tell the world that you've chosen me, even if no one but us is listening."

That had gotten to her. That had meant something, and I could see it in her eyes.

"Edward... I need to think."

I'd released her. "That's fair," I'd said. It wasn't good. In fact this whole exchange had been crushingly disappointing, but it was certainly fair, albeit in a way that felt completely unfair. "We should talk more after you think."

So I'd have to convince her. Well I could work with that. Now that Adalfieri had woken up calm and Jane was on the mend, I'd finally had time.

Aro was still watching Caroly, weighing her words, wondering if Bella might have been our spy after all. From behind him, Caius turned his eyes toward the third throne. Marcus gave an affirmative shrug.

*The girl is right. She wouldn't risk him. He's too precious to her,* he thought, with a small, distant smile. My bond with Bella was one of his few joys. Although it had never regained the same blazing intensity that had stirred him out of his torpor all those years ago, there was a certain quiet sheen to it, a rare vibrancy that soothed him. Aro might be frustrated, but Caius was willing to take Marcus at his word—Bella would not betray us.

"Preposterous as it is, it's easy enough to verify," Master Marcus said simply. *Bring all of the guard in, one by one. Don't tell them why, and touch them, Brother.* He didn't even bother to say it out loud. Why waste the effort when Aro would read it off him anyway? At times, it pained me to see it.

Aro returned to his throne, lightly grasping Marcus's hand as he did so. I saw him nod once. "The four of you are to say nothing of Demetri's hypothesis to the rest of the guard," he told us. "Jane, Alec, begin with the evening library shift, and have everyone come to us, one at a time. Do not say why." I watched him form a cover story in his mind as he looked down at Stephen's quivering remains. Another unprecedented event. He would ask each member of the coven what they thought, whether they believed Stephen's body should be preserved or euthanized. For many, it would be an emotional moment. There would be opportunities to touch the guard unobtrusively.

"That includes little Bella," Aro concluded. "She will come in with the rest of her shift, not before and not after." To conceal the reason for the consults, I saw. But he would touch her again. He would try to read her. He would solve the riddle of her mind one day. "You may go."

*Yes, Caroly's reasoning is sound,* he thought, *but so is Rolfe’s. Little Bella has never been content here. She may be our culprit.* Aro imagined Bella's face, the day she'd been brought into this room, shivering in my arms like a perfect little piece of leverage against Carlisle's rebel son. She'd been her own big bag of trouble ever since. *If she is our culprit, young Edward won't be best pleased if she must pay the price for her crimes.* I watched as he considered this, considered losing me to listlessness, execution or desertion, any of the things that might be expected of me if my masters put an end to my Bella.

Aro met my eyes this time, fully aware that I was reading him.

*Oh well,* he thought.

*It will not happen, Master,* I thought firmly. He'd read it off me when he read it off me. *It will not happen because it is not her.*

Demetri bowed and we all followed suit. I saw Rolfe look over his shoulder at me as we made for the door. "You know I didn't mean it like that," Rolfe muttered as they closed behind us. "It's only that someone with her powers could trick the masters. That's all I meant."

"Of course," I answered tightly, but that wouldn't stop Aro from suspecting her, would it? "But you have to admit that the prospect is ridiculous. My Bella is loyal," and it sounded too insistent even to me. "Everyone knows that."

Caroly grasped my shoulder and gave half a smile, the one that Bella said looked like mine. "She's loyal to you, Edward. That's all that people really know."

"She's not the one," I said. "She's not that person." Bella didn't like living in Volterra but endanger the whole world by bringing it down? Never.

"Oh, I know," said Rolfe, holding up both hands.

"She's not that stupid," I repeated.

"'Course she isn't. Master Aro will find the real one and that'll be the end."

"Stop talking," Demetri said simply. "This mission is ended but I have one last instruction for you," he said. "Do as the masters ordered. Do not speak of Master Aro's plan until it is done. You are all ordered to act normally. Do what you usually do after a mission."

Caroly smiled brightly. She usually met up with Renata, who deplored the condition of her hair and spent a good twenty minutes putting it right. Rolfe gave me a good-natured leer. *Do what you usually do, right? Or who you usually do, in milk-boy's case.*

I rolled my eyes. He was trying to crack jokes to cut the tension. He should have chosen a different topic.

*At least one of us is getting his gun holstered,* he thought.

"Rolfe," I said sternly.

"Oh come on. Let me be a little vicarious. She's been your mate for twenty years. It's not some secret that you two get naked."

"I have asked you repeatedly not to call her that," I said dully. "At the very least, it sounds strange when we're in the field."

"We're not in the field," Rolfe told me, setting his booted feet heavily on the stone. "Look Edward, I know you're a pretentious son of a bitch, and I'm cool with it, really. You don't want the same things that normal people want. You'd rather suck down pig guts than proper food." *You want to pretend that you're still like them.* "You like to use the human names for things. I get it," he said, putting his hands on his hips, "but do not ask me to join in. She's your mate and that's what I'll call her."

"You're still mad that I had Demetri stand up for me, aren't you?" I asked.

"No I am not," he said. "I don't care about your stupid fake human ceremony." *Just because he and Demetri are Caius's new wonder twins. Freaking gifted folks sticking together and all.*

I put my hand on his arm. "That's not it. I wanted you to be there," I said, "but who knew when you were getting back from Nambia, and there aren't many opportunities to have a ceremony without leaving a paper trail—"

"Yeah, Demetri told me that human judge nearly peed his robes, and you had to roofie him after. I'm shocked Caius let you get away with it." *I never get to wear my tux.*

"It was a priest, and he was under the impression that Bella and I were an eloping Belgian couple," I corrected. "No one's dry cleaning bill went up." Well, my clothes had suffered a few ground-in dust stains after Bella had realized that I'd told the priest she was pregnant, but that was neither here nor there. There were alliances that had had less auspicious beginnings than the groom lying to a man of the cloth and the bride knocking the groom down a gully. Probably.

*I know what else didn't go up,* he thought sullenly.

"Rolfe!" I snapped. Damn why did I have to live down something that shouldn't have been anyone's business but Bella's and mine?

"I didn't say it!" he said.

"No," I said. "No you didn't, Rolfe. I appreciate that."

*And I appreciate you not ripping into me again. Anger management, Edward!*

It was my turn to roll my eyes. Life with Bella had been a lesson in tolerating frustration from the very beginning.

For several days after my first proposal, I hadn't asked Bella to meet me alone. I hadn't wanted to pressure her. Or rather, I'd decided not to pressure her. I'd absolutely wanted to. There was also my pride to consider. I didn't want anyone to know I'd been rejected.

Of course, what I wanted did not mean much when it came to Master Aro.

*She's right, you know,* Aro had told me during a lull in the early morning library shift. *Every man in Volterra respects the pair bond, and she is your acknowledged mate. None will offend your honor or hers. Marriage ceremonies are a human practice meant to identify the fathers of children and determine the inheritance of property after death. We have no need of it.*

I'd been determined to ignore him, to throw my thoughts into a news feature on fishing off the coast of France, but I couldn't help observing, *But you are married, Master.*

*Those were different times,* he clipped back. But I could see fragmented images in his mind of a proud and haughty virgin quite determined to be sure of her suitor before fulfilling his desires. *My Sulpicia is a woman of old-fashioned discipline and consummate virtue,* he'd added defensively.

*I do not doubt it, sir,* I'd answered. From what Bella had said about her time in the Tower, the wives were very particular about that aspect of their lives, and of their servants' lives.

*Do not think about the Tower,* he'd told me.

*Yes sir.* And he'd finally let me get back to work.

As much as I disliked Aro's interest in my love life, the experience had helped me figure out a few things. One of the purposes of marriage was to declare to the world that two people were no longer available. Everyone in Volterra did already know, or thought that they knew. And I'd realized that Bella wasn't the only one who needed to come up with a real explanation. Not everyone had spent years with Emmett and Rosalie, who lived half their lives with the world thinking they were carrying on a borderline incestuous foster-on-foster liaison.

That didn't change my goals, however. I knew that I wanted Bella's hand and her vow. I also knew that Bella was unlikely to be swayed by the idea of having me as her protector—first off, she knew I'd protect her no matter what, second, she'd done a reasonably decent job of protecting herself those past few months, and third, she just wasn't that mercenary. As for the role and title of a respectable married woman, she'd made it quite clear that she was perfectly content to live in sin with me as my illicit paramour. I snorted. She deserved so much better.

For the first time in months, I'd consciously cursed myself for getting us stuck in Volterra. If she'd still been human, I just could have waited five or six years until Bella had satisfied herself that she'd become an adult. I'd closed my eyes and tried to picture Bella at twenty-five, then gave up. It would never happen, and there was no sense whimpering about it.

A day later, wed been in the upper library, practicing advanced German. I could still remember watching her hands move as I sat beside her, watching her fingers trace images in the air. She could be so gentle. She could be *so* gentle. She deserved someone who'd treat her that way. She deserved someone who'd make her first time as perfect as she was.

"What are you staring at, Edward?" she'd asked.

I'd actually jumped. "It's—it's nothing," I'd said.

"Nothing?" she'd asked playfully.

I'd tucked a dark curl behind her ear and she'd caught my hand, pressing it against her temple. "Is that enough studying for one day?"

"Maybe," I'd murmured, leaning in to meet her kiss. Why not? We didn't need to be engaged to kiss. A moment later, one of her hands crept toward my knee and gently squeezed. I gave a little gasp and pressed my own hand down on top of hers.

"You know..." she'd said, in a tone that echoed words practiced over and over, "I still want to. I know I'm not crazy about ...the idea of getting married, but I have no doubts that I want to be with you."

My mouth must have fallen open, but probably not for the reason she'd thought.

"Any time you want," she'd promised in a low voice. "Whatever you want."

I'd looked away then, smiling. She'd probably completely misinterpreted it, poor thing. I'd just had an epiphany. I looked into her eager amber eyes and realized that *I had something she wanted.* It wasn't the kindest way to get a girl to say yes, but if she she'd rejected me and, to my mind, that meant I was allowed to make her squirm a little.

"Nothing we could do together would be bad," she told me eagerly. "I love you and you love me—forever."

"I know it," I'd said, lifting her hand to my lips. I breathed in and said simply: "Marry me first."

"What?" she'd asked.

"If you want me to have sex with you, you have to marry me first," I'd said plainly. "It's hardly an unusual condition."

"Yes, but..." I'd watched the wheels clicking in her head. I couldn't hear her, but I still knew what she was thinking: *Yes, but isn't it the girl who insists on marriage before sex? Yes, but aren't you supposed to take whatever I offer you and still beg for more like the insatiable caveman that you are?* Well two could play at that game. Thank you, feminism. I was asserting my equal rights.

I'd kissed the corner of her mouth, gentle as a whisper. "Marry me," I murmured again as her eyes slid closed. I hadn't fought fair against her wolf boy, and I wasn't planning on starting now. "Look, if being married embarrasses you, then I won't go around calling you my fiancé," I'd said. "I won't make a big deal of it. We can have as quiet a ceremony as you want, so long as it's real. But if you want to do more than we've been doing, then yes, you have to marry me first."

Bella'd leaned back, looking at me through narrowed eyes. "Let's say I say yes," she'd said. "Would we really need to wait? Wouldn't it be enough to be ...engaged?" she let her fingers flex on my hip, and she felt very engaging indeed.

I breathed out, trying—and probably failing—to keep my expression smooth. It shouldn't have made any difference, being engaged or not, but it did. "And if I said yes," I told her, "and did what you wanted, what would prevent you from going back on your word?"

"Um..." she looked away sheepishly. Yup, didn't need to read her mind to know that had been her plan.

"Oh?" I asked. "You have us be one of those couples who stays engaged and puts the real thing off indefinitely?"

"As far as I'm concerned, we are the real thing," she countered. "Besides, what if we get married and then you get cold feet?" she asked. I'd wondered if she understood the expression "cold feet" properly. How could I get cold feet after we were married? "After all, you've gone your whole life without." Without what? "Maybe," she said cautiously, "you're just not... a very sexual person. Shouldn't we make sure before we walk down the aisle?"

Her words had stopped me like stones. I couldn't have been more upset if she'd punched me. It was the conventional wisdom of the twenty-first century. Have sex first and make sure you're "compatible." Except many couples did live together first, only to end up falling out of synch after a couple of years anyway. That kind of change was part of being human.

Well I wasn't human. I wasn't happy either. I'd gotten used to Bella doubting my sincerity—it was my own fault, after all—but I found that I did not like her doubting other parts of me either.

Bella had gulped. "Um, I—I only mean that you're from a time when sex was seen as dirty and maybe you wouldn't be so conflicted if we just—"

I'd dropped her hand and pinned her against the far wall before either of us could draw breath. Ignoring her startled shout, I'd cupped her face in my hands and kissed her. Hard. After a surprised squeak, she kissed me back, settling her arms around my neck. I'd shivered at the feeling and let my thoughts drift into what she'd said about engagement being enough, about what I'd do with my betrothal privileges. One of my hands slipped down to the small of her back, where I gently guided her toward me until her belly was pressed against me through our clothes.

I'd allowed myself a shock of pleasure at her little gasp. "Can you feel that?" I'd asked, pressing her to me until there could be no uncertainty about what I meant.

She'd met my eyes, and—ruthless minx—she'd wet her lips.

"You see?" I'd asked, trying not to breathe too hard. "I am not conflicted about fulfilling my side of the bargain. I am in no way reluctant to give you what you want." I met her eyes, amber just starting to darken with thirst. I knew the feeling. "Far from it."

I leaned in until she could feel my breath against her ear, "Therefore..." I began with what had to have been my most evil smirk ever.

"Edward—" she'd said, fingers tensing on my shoulders.

" first."

She looked at me sideways. "Me first what?"

"You heard me." Oh, I had her where I wanted her—relatively speaking; I wanted her at the altar—and she knew it. "You. First."

Her mouth hung open. One of her eyelids twitched. I'd have to remember that: When my lady's eyelids twitched, it meant she was mad enough to spit alley cats. It had proven true over the years.

"Don't feel too bad, Bella," I'd said. "We'll be married for a long time. I'm sure you'll outsmart me a time or two. The wife usually does." I'd tapped the side of my head. "Years of overhearing."

"You— You—" I remembered thinking that if she could blush, she'd be absolutely purple. I should have felt guilty, but I didn't. After all, she'd insulted my manhood a few minutes previously. She breathed in, as heavily as a moose snorting out the cold. "So that's it? You're just deciding on your own that we should be married, and that's that?"

That sobered me up. "Of course not," I said.

"Well that's what you're doing," she said. "Edward, you can't put me in this position. I need you more than I ever needed oxygen."

*But that's what being married is.* I'd managed to bite that one back. She didn't think so; she'd made that clear. There was no sense going around in circles. "I feel the same way."

Her eyes narrowed. She stepped toward me until we were nearly touching. She could have brushed against me only by taking a breath.

"You can't convince me to change my mind," I said quickly.

"Oh Edward," she said, swaying deliciously as she walked toward me. "I can tell when you're lying, remember?"

I couldn't say that I hadn't liked anything about the next few weeks. We circled around each other like chess players learning their master moves, only instead of pawns and rooks... She'd call me over, or I'd call her, but I was always the one under pressure. I had to stop at the right time, every time. I had to make her want me so badly that she couldn't stand it.

In that time, I'd learned that she liked it when I bit down just barely on the edges of her ears. I'd learned that I liked it when she kissed my chest just between where the second and third buttons of my shirt would be. I'd learned what she was like when she was frustrated beyond belief. I'd learned that she gave as good as she got and didn't give up. I'd learned that if I didn't marry her soon, I would *die*.

I never realized how close to the fire I'd come. I still didn't know. I didn't want to.

Insight could come from such strange places.

"You shouldn't play around with your girl like that," Rolfe had told me one day.

I'd actually gaped at him. "How did—"

"Bella ranted to Renata and Renata told me," he'd answered.

"You shouldn't pay attention to what Renata says," I'd told him. "She's been funny ever since—Ever since Marcell died," I'd corrected myself quickly.

"What are you talking about? She's cheerful as a daisy. Anyway, if Renata knows, then count on the whole coven to know eventually."

"Wonderful," I'd muttered. "I'll have to talk to Bella about keeping our private matters private."

"Sounds like a great way to get your head bitten off if you ask me," said Rolfe. "You keep messing her around, someone else is going to offer to ease her pain."

The look I'd given him must have shot daggers.

"What-what not *me!*" he'd protested, holding up both hands. "You've read my mind. You know I like 'em with more meat on their bones! I'm just saying that if you keep revving her up like that—" *not to mention yourself you prissy son of a bitch; you have been hell and a half to work with* "—then something bad is going to happen. Maybe she won't cheat on you but she might rip out someone's pancreas."

"She can stop this any time she wants," I'd said.

"Yeah," said Rolfe, "by giving in to you—not even to you. To some set of rules that you picked out because you felt like it," he'd said. "What if that's what she doesn't want to do? Maybe she'll give you what you want if you take the risk of trusting her first." His voice had dropped then, almost out of human hearing, "Look, I know you didn't ...want to be here. I know you feel like you can't control anything that counts, but passing it on to Bella isn't fair."

"You don't know what you're talking about," I'd said, shaking my head.

"Of course I don't," said Rolfe in a perfectly calm, perfectly infuriating tone.

The nerve of him, I'd thought. And to think I'd once considered his sense of people to be a gift. Accusing me of manipulating and Bella when I'd been nothing but perfectly clear.



Oh God.

No wonder she didn't want to marry me, I'd realized. I was an idiot.

Volterra being Volterra, it was another two days before our schedules met again, and I'd been jumpy as a cat the whole time. Caius had been considering sending me with Demetri to hunt a criminal in Ukraine, and missions like that could take months. I didn't want to leave with this unsettled.

I'd been waiting for her at the landing beneath the tower. She gave me the same sizing-up, I-can-beat-you-and-you'll-like-it look that had been sending shivers down my spine for the past three weeks. Renata had actually rolled her eyes before scurrying off.

Bella had walked toward, me placing a hand on my forearm, opening her mouth as she breathed in to speak whatever seductive or attempted-seductive words she'd put together this time.

"I give up," I'd said.

"Give up what?"

I rolled my eyes and ducked the pun. "I mean our little battle of wills. You win. I give up."

"'You win'?" she asked, one hand suddenly jutting out from her hip.

"Okay, so it's not the most romantic thing to say. And not just 'you win.' 'You win and I'm sorry.'"

She'd stared at me with narrowed eyes, as if expecting a trick. I'd supposed that I'd deserved that..

I'd taken her hand from my arm and kissed the backs of her fingers, "'You win' means whenever you want, whatever you want," I'd said, echoing her words.

"What if I'm mad at you and I don't want at all?" she'd asked.

"Then I wait," I'd answered. "No more games. Engaged is enough. You tell me you'll marry me, and I'll take you at your word."

"What if I don't want to get married period?"

I took a breath. I'd been ready for this. "That's a lot to ask me to accept," I'd said. "This means a great deal to me."

"Why, Edward?" she'd asked. "It's just a ceremony. I was raised to shudder at the thought of marriage," she'd said.

"Well I wasn't," I'd answered. "It didn't work for Charlie and Renee, but Carlisle and Esme, Emmett and Rose, even my human parents, they made it look like that was how the world was supposed to be, like it was natural. It's..." I met her eyes. "You say you're not that girl, but I was always that boy."

"What do you mean?"

I wasn't sure myself, but I kept talking, "I mean that if I hadn't been so caught up in the idea of being a soldier and—" I shook my head. "No, even then. If I'd met you back then, there is no doubt in my mind of how I would have proceeded. I would have stopped at nothing to secure your hand."

Bella had grown quiet. Her eyes were on me and seemed far away at the same time, as if I had grown deep.

"You're talking about your human days," she said at last.

"Yes." I wasn't sure where she was going with this, but the concrete wall she'd been the past three weeks finally looked like it had a crack. "Human, ten years later, fifty years later. It would have been the same."

"So this isn't about Volterra?" she asked baldly.

My eyebrows shot up. "Volterra?" I'd asked. "Where does Volterra come into it?" Did she think Marcus had ordered me to ask? My duty was my duty, but I did have limits.

"'A promise we make to our community'?" she echoed. "Edward, people get married when they want to settle down. After they've completed their educations and started their careers and ...decided where they want to live."

*Renée's words,* I'd realized. It had sounded like her, and it matched both her disastrously short-lived marriage to Charlie and her more successful union with Phil.

It was like a weight lifting. Understanding more about Bella always was. This one shouldn't have been as much of a milestone. It was all Bella could do to keep from screaming that she didn't like Volterra. Of course she didn't want it in her marriage bed.

"So... this might be less about you settling into Volterra and more about being the same person you were before Volterra?" she asked.

I felt as if I were caught between two magnets. A thousand strident words about how much I loved her slammed against my now-acute reflex about not saying anything criminal out loud.

*Volterra can go hang.* Treason.

*I love you more than any good this place could do.* Still treason.

*I don't want to settle here.* Less troublesome, but still a weapon in the hand of anyone who overheard.

I licked my lips, choosing carefully, and wishing to heaven that she were my only audience. "I want to live where you are."

"Even if that's not—"

"Careful," I said, one finger touching her lips, lighter than a moth. I pulled my hand away slowly. "Like you said to me," I'd told her, "I'm not going anywhere without you."

She'd stared at me a long time, fingers slowly growing tight on my arms, eyes an impossible gold.

"Then yes," she'd said.

She'd suffered to let me pick her up and spin her in the air. She'd suffered through three months until I could put the IDs together. She'd suffered through a ten-minute ceremony led by a sympathetic but very drunk Luxembourger priest. She'd suffered through eighteen and a half years of making me so damned happy that I could sometimes forget everything we'd lost.

"Edward!" came a familiar voice. I snapped out of my reminiscing.

"Well speak of the devil," said Rolfe. "Hi Bella."

"Hello Rolfe," she said, still looking at me. I gave her a quick peck on the cheek, our usual preliminary reunion celebration. She already knew something was wrong, and she wanted to draw me away so that I could give her the uncensored version. I guessed most married couples got like this, in time.

"Look, it's probably going to be fine."

"Thank you, Rolfe," I said.

"I'll just—" he waved toward anywhere else.

"That would be good," I clipped.

I took Bella by the arm, and we fit together with practiced ease. "Upper library?"

She shook her head. "Renata's in there with Darien. Art gallery should be empty."

I nodded, trying to look happy. There was nothing remotely unusual about a mated couple finding a private corner after a long separation. In fact, it was what we usually did after most missions.

My human parents had been right about one thing. The harder something was to get, the more I valued it. And Bella had been harder than I'd thought.

"What is it?" she'd asked, voice like the swishing whisper of a snake fleeing into the underbrush.

Aro had ordered me to be silent, and he expected me to obey, but I'd made other vows in my time. I watched her hair sway across the back of her cloak as we slipped up the stairs. She was a mystery to me; that was what I liked about her, but this time, it meant that I couldn't tell Aro what I'd seen in her thoughts and prove that she was above suspicion.

Somewhere, deep down, I didn't want to reach beneath her shield and hear her thoughts. This was odd to me, because I could remember wanting to, back in Forks. I could remember it so acutely...

It might be nothing. Aro might find the spy in an hour and he might be ashes by tonight, but if they didn't find the culprit, or worse, if there was no culprit, then the slashing rumors of this place would gather like a whirlwind around some easy target.

She wasn't that girl. But I was the only one who knew it.

"You're in danger, my love," I'd told her, closing the door behind us. "We all are."


I swear, that had to have been how the "I'm more willing than you are" scene in Eclipse was supposed to go before the censors got to it. Yes, Eddie's being more than a bit manipulative and unilateral. It's to the credit of the entire fandom that most of us make Edward and Bella both a little more mentally healthy, but I do have to keep him a little in character, and canon Edward gets what he wants by, to put a good light on it, taking charge.

Portions of the dialogue from this chapter were lifted from Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, though the circumstances were somewhat different.

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