Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Reputation ( Chapter 43 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. This story is fanfiction based on characters, settings and concepts from Twilight, its first three sequels and the first half of Midnight Sun, all of which are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. No party other than the submitting author may alter this work in any way other than font size and other reasonable accommodations to formatting.

This author's note written right after I saw the fifth movie: (ahem) What the hell?! I think it was a good decision, though. WTF moment #1 had me shouting at the screen involuntarily, rather than on purpose like usual, and what followed was so well presented that I could forgive them for WTF moment #2. Yes, that sort of thing is usually a copout, but it was the cleanest possible way for them to do some impressive and surprising things while still remaining reasonably true to the book. If I'd have changed anything, it would have been to keep more of the funny parts ...and to glue parts I and II together. Unlike HPVII, this wasn't really two movies with a clean in-story division in between. It was one long movie that got chopped up.

So I realized where some of these flashback patterns were coming from... Don't worry. If Once upon a Time keeps doing what it's doing, I might stop watching it. No guarantees though. I made it all the way through the seventh season of X-Files. I've had this particular flashback ready for a while now, but I wasn't sure if I'd ever find a good place to fit it into the rest of the story.

And if you're reading this on Mediaminer, I apologize again for the lack of italics.


"If we can find enough friends to stand beside us. Maybe," –Edward, Breaking Dawn


Aro was not pleased when we brought Andrew back alive.

"I am sorry I failed you, masters," I recited my lines with my right hand clasped on my knee as I addressed the masters before the gathered coven, my midnight-gray cloak spread around me like the wings of some terrible bird at rest. To my left, Caroly stood over Andrew where he lay, still sprawling from Jane's tender mercies. "I would have liked little better than to present you with a traitor's ashes."

Aro allowed one eyebrow to rise. I suppose you would, he thought, with an unsettling image of Bella appearing in his mind. I managed to keep my face still. Aro hadn't taken Andrew's thoughts yet, but what would he make of the strange nomad who had ruined the newborn and had Bella's name on his lips when he'd done it?

And his weren't the only thoughts I had to worry about.

Coward. No one will follow the law if the Volturi run.

—just not right, a man of the guard on his back like some kind of—

Should have sent me with Jane like in the old days.

—killed him on the spot, like that runner in Caracas—

Must be the yellow-eye woman, then. She's a witch.

So much of what we did was theater, even in our own keep. And I knew how to work a crowd.

"I did not find evidence of true guilt, my brothers and sisters," I said. "He may only have been deceived. Alone, I could not prove his innocence."

Typical Edward, but we do need to be sure.

Could've killed him anyway, filthy punk.

Give him to the master.

Only way to do it.

The master will know, and then we'll put an end to him.

I allowed myself a breath as Bella's image ceased to appear in the flickering cloud of thoughts around me, superseded by images of Andrew yowling as he was torn apart. In this place, even approval felt like razor blades.

"My dear ones," Aro said, spreading his arms wide. "Truly this is a sad day for our family. To see one of our own brought to judgment. Never, never in three thousand years have I known a thing so wretched."

Andrew hauled himself halfway to a kneeling position. "Masters, I swear—"

Caius nodded quickly to Jane, and Andrew's remaining words were lost in a howl.

Aro gestured to me. "Rise, Edward," he said, placing a hand on my shoulder as I got to my feet. "You could have done nothing else."

You must touch him yourself, I thought clearly before he broke contact. The coven needs to see that you are not afraid. And we needed to wring Andrew's memory for every dreg of information about the man who'd approached him in Turkey, for all that I was dreading the conclusions to which my masters might jump.

Marcus's grayed-over eyes moved to Andrew, who was still gasping at Caroly's feet. This was new, I heard him thinking as he rose up from his usual torpor. Aro had touched criminals before, but it was customary to break their arms and legs first, and that usually took place after a confession. In the field, Alec usually rendered them helpless before Aro got within ten feet. For the master to lay hands on a powerful newborn who might well be a traitor, that was different. The members of the guard were protective of the masters, but, as Demetri's doubts had proven, they had limits.

Aro looked at Demetri. It was so brief that the tracker didn't notice, but I did. The past nineteen years had not restored his seamless faith in Aro's genius. He did his duty, but he believed in the mission of the Volturi rather than the man who led it.

"Felix. Rolfe," he said, and the two men moved like hulking bears to take Andrew by each arm. I heard dozens of feet shuffle as the master approached the prisoner.

"I swear, Master," Andrew breathed as Felix and Rolfe hauled him upright. "I swear I'm no spy. I'd never betray this coven."

Aro put a hand on his shoulder, like a huntsman comforting a skittish hound, and I watched as a short lifetime of blazing experience flared from one mind to another. "I believe you, my boy," Aro said with a soft smile.

Half the vampires in the room exhaled, in relief or disappointment, and I was bombarded with their reactions as the whole room flexed like a hand around the throat that it could not wring. In Volterra, the master's word wasn't only law; it was proof.

I felt my breath sink in my lungs as I realized what Aro had in mind. I searched the faces in the room, but I couldn't see Bella. She had to be here. And she had to stay still as a statue through what happened next.

"My dear ones," said Aro, "the scraps of our ancient enemies, the Romanians, have not only managed to produce newborn soldiers of their own, but they have used them against us proactively and deliberately. Do you agree that the events of Xi'an constitute an act of war?"

"Yes, master," I murmured along with the entire guard.

At my elbow, I heard Andrew swallow hard as he put two and two together. Poor thing. It might have been better if he hadn't figured it out. It would have saved him some moments of fear.

"And do you believe," Aro continued, "that young Andrew deserted his post in this time of war?"

"Yes, master," replied the crowd. Caius rose from his throne, drawing his firestarter from his robes.

"But he was sorely afraid," Aro said, as if in sympathy. "Who would not be after seeing our poor Stephen? Surely this is an excuse for his incontinence."

"No, master," said we all.

"P-p—" Andrew stuttered, though only I could hear Please. He closed his eyes as Caius walked down the stone steps to where he knelt quivering in the center of the room. You're going to die, Andy, I heard him say to himself. And you're only going to do it once, so don't spoil it with sniveling. Of all things, I wondered who had ever called him Andy.

"It's all right," he said to Felix and Rolfe. "It's all right. Let me stand up." But neither of them moved an inch. "I'll take it like a proper man," said Andrew, some of his anguish seeping back into his voice. "Only let me up!"

Going to burn!

Wish Heidi would move; I can't see.

Traitors die.

The firestarter cracked the air as Caius moved toward his servant-turned-victim. When Rolfe and Felix got clear, and there was a scream, that scream. I knew better than to look away, but I didn't have to watch long. The scraps of Andrew's loyalty had bought him a quick end.

"Such a sad day," Aro said to us, shaking his head. "But our duty always calls."

You are dismissed, he thought clearly, thoughts turning back to Andrew's stranger like a finger worrying a dangling thread. But we will talk later.

I followed the crowd into the hallway and confirmed what I'd suspected: Bella had not been present for the execution. I was so preoccupied with wondering that I didn't notice when Caroly appeared at my elbow.

Damn him, she was thinking, only half to me. I took her by the arm and guided us both out of earshot.

"Andrew?" I asked when we were safe, inviting her to vent.

"He was doing so well," she seethed. "He had an opportunity, and he didn't take it." He's wasted himself.

"Not everyone's like you, Caroly," I told her. "From newborn to storm gray in five years? To missions with Demetri and Alec and Jane? Your rise was unusual."

She snorted. "Every newborn wants to become permanent. Andrew showed mettle in Xi'an, and he could have stayed on if he'd only..." she flared her fingers in the air the way Bella did when she was angry. If he only hadn't run. Why are men such cowards, Edward?

"Not all of us are," I pointed out, affecting an insulted air.

She shook her head. But you and Demetri are different. You're... she didn't finish the thought. I knew what I was to her. I knew what Demetri was to both of us. Now, as I had some times before, I wondered why Caroly had never found a mate to her liking. Sometimes I'd see her look at a new face or hear an old name with something like hope, but it never lasted. If her standards were so high that the vampires of the guard couldn't meet them, then she probably never would choose anyone. It seemed sad.

"We probably shouldn't say any more," I murmured. Caroly nodded tightly. The knife's-edge etiquette of Volterra was usually second nature to Caroly. Except when she was around Bella or me. Two dreadful influences. Over the years, Caroly had even taken on some of Bella's accent, Arizona vowels and consonants sticking out what had once been soft, Swiss-German speech, like spiky plants growing upward through the earth.

"Where do you think Bella is?" she asked. "And was it me or did things seem weird when we got back?"

I nodded. "Something happened while we were gone." Bella had been much on the minds of our covenmates. Ordinarily she wouldn't have been so present unless she'd actually been present.

I let my attention spread out through the compound. We had a newborn on the lower levels, but his thoughts were irritatingly focused a spider crawling across the edge of his cell. If Bella was with him, she wasn't on his mind. I drifted upward, trying to organize the images of the various men and women fanning out through the rest of the compound. Finally one hazy image coalesced into my wife's face.

"She's with Sulpicia," I said.

"During an execution?" Caroly asked, confused. Events like this were usually mandatory, and it wasn't as if the wives needed round-the-clock nursing.

"Want me to go up and check on her?" asked Caroly. "You could piggyback my signal," she said, tapping the side of her head.

I touched her shoulder gratefully. I knew how much she hated spending time in the tower. If she set foot in Athenodora's sight, she'd probably be made to stay for hours.

"That's all right, Caroly," I said. "But I'll handle this one. You try to find out what we missed. Rolfe has probably been itching to tell us something."

"Edward, you know you're not allowed up there."

"I'm not going to the tower," I said, smiling. Bella had not told her everything.

It was like clockwork. I waited in the roof garden until one of the wives noticed I was there. Then Sulpicia sent Bella downstairs to tell me not to damage the rhododendrons. Considering that there had not been any rhododendrons in the garden since the late 1930s, this was easy to do. The first time it had happened had been several months after our wedding. I had entirely unintentionally prevented her from returning to her duties in favor of vigorous marital relations behind the roof access. The wives hadn't noticed. They hadn't noticed the second time either. There were worse anniversary traditions to have.

Eight minutes after closing the roof access, I heard soft footsteps behind me. It turned to see Bella with her face like a mask.

"Did they kill him?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered.

Bella closed her eyes. "Was he the spy?" she asked.

"No, but I think he may have seen something." I quickly related what little I'd learned about Andrew's stranger, but my lips stopped moving when I came to the part where Andrew thought he had said her name.

"Weird," Bella said thoughtfully. "Are you sure he did in on purpose? The man who talked to Andrew." Her face was smooth. She seemed a little worried, but nothing out of proportion with the atmosphere in the compound. I actually felt a little relieved. She'd never seen Andrew's stranger. I'd been wrong.

"Edward?" Bella prompted, and I realized that I'd never answered her.

"No," I said quickly, "no I'm not sure. I guess it could have been just some nomad but it all fits too neatly."

"This is a first," she said. "One of the Volturi a criminal."

"It's not a first," I answered. "But it's the first calm newborn, yes."

I looked her in the eye and I wondered. She'd been their teacher, every last one of them. It would be just like the guard to forget her dozens of loyal, brave pupils and blame her for producing one traitorous coward. Technically two, but everyone had forgotten Stephen by now.

"Master Marcus told me to mind the wives during Andrew's hearing," she said. I smiled. It was good to hear about Marcus interacting with anything in the world. Even after all this time, we were still something like favorites with him. The smooth bond that had developed between the pair of us soothed him. Sometimes he pictured it as a thick green vine, full of quiet life. Sometimes he saw it as a cloud of powdery red dust. I supposed we were something like a favorite television show, and he didn't want his other servants to cancel the female lead.

"What happened while we were gone?" I asked.

Bella breathed out cautiously. "Caius wanted ...replacements. From the staff."

My mind cleared. "Whom did he select?"

Her throat flexed. "He wanted me to pick them out."

"And what did you do?" I asked cautiously. My Bella had never been as tender-hearted as I'd once thought her to be, not even when she was human. That had been my own fantasy. She didn't see turning a human as killing him or her. She had a problem with sending her pupils to their first feasts, but there was nothing we could do about that.

"I tried to be objective. I asked whether he wanted grunts or specialists. And he asked if I kept my own files on them. I said no but that I'd talked to you about the interviews."

Vetting new employees was one of my duties. I sat in the back of the room while Felix asked the questions, and I raked their brains for the answers. In addition to security risks and general job skills— Volterra was not the place to pad one's résumé —I flagged the humans who were most likely to possess supernatural talents, mostly by checking for exaggerated personality traits. Carlisle had once speculated that I'd had an unusual sense of people as a human, but he'd have had no way of confirming this. Bella, though... I'd often wondered if her gift was why she hadn't been afraid of me, even when she'd been human. Deep down, she'd always known she was protected. So far, only one of my selections had turned out to have a gift—Marjane, with her intuitive sense of electrical objects.

I'd talked with Bella about every single human. Objectively, she'd have to teach the ones who were selected for "novitiate," as Caius called it, but that had just been a cover. I'd needed to get the information out of me. Those poor people.

"Caius said that he'd asked my opinion," Bella continued. I could picture it now, Caius's craggy face tilted to the side with something halfway to a leer. "I told him that since Andrew and Stephen had both been foot soldiers, we should turn Dobson and Vasili—you know, those two tall ones. Then he said 'No, I think Ichiro and Doreen.'" One accountant whose thoughts had reminded me of Charlie Swan's and an ex-police inspector with a record of locating caches of contraband that seemed too good to be entirely natural. Specialists.

It clicked in my head. "This wasn't a private summons, was it?" I asked.

She shook her head. "Caius gave me my orders in front of half the coven."

And the other half had known by the end of the day—Caius had staged the whole thing, a little scene demonstrating to the coven that he thought she couldn't be trusted.

So now they thought so too.

I ran my hand down the side of her arm. She caught my fingers and held them against her. "They're setting you up, my love," I said quietly.

She licked her lips and answered, "I know." But Marcus didn't want her dead; he'd protected her. If either Caius or Aro truly made up his mind, though, that would stop.

"Look, this is going to sound strange," I said carefully. She looked up, two eyes like cracked stone meeting mine. "But I need to hear you say something."

I thought I saw a shadow cross her face as I explained what I'd seen in Andrew's mind, what he'd heard, but she was shaking her head before I even finished the story.

"No," she said, "no, Andrew must have remembered it wrong."

"We can't remember things wrong, Bella."

She shook her head, "Yes we can."

"Bella, don't be silly."

"Andrew got it wrong," she said, stepping back. One fingernail found her teeth as she searched the empty walls. "I don't know this man," she said, turning back to me. "I mean, I've met a lot of blonde vampires over the years, but I don't know specifically who you're talking about. If it wasn't Carlos or Sven—" she said, naming two newborns who'd left us. "Or Jasper?"

"It wasn't," I told her. "It was no one I recognized."

"Someone who saw me in the field once?" she asked.

She was right. There were a million rational explanations. But then why did she look so nervous. She stopped pacing and sat down on the windowsill, shaking her head. "So what is it that you need to hear me say?" she asked.

I sat down beside her and took her hand. "That you had nothing to do with this," I said, and her lower lip moved, just barely. "You say it and that's the truth," I said. I had to know what I was looking for. A real spy or ...or some way to earn her clemency. "You say it and for me that's proof."

"I had nothing to do with Andrew leaving or the spy or any of it. I didn't want him to leave and I would have told him not to if he'd brought it up," she said without hesitation. I didn't see any lies in her face, only fear. Relief washed through me like a soft rain. "But that won't matter to Caius, will it?"

I placed a finger over her lips. She closed her eyes. She'd been so good about keeping treasonous thoughts inside. This was a meaningless ejaculation. Wordlessly, I pulled her against me, tucking my chin over her shoulder as I curved into the shape of the alcove.

She lifted my left hand to her face and kissed my fingers. We stayed like that, not moving, not thinking until I could hear Sulpicia wondering where she was.

I promised to meet her as soon as I could. I told her that I would have a plan by then. I lied.

It was a terrible thing to be without the protection of the coven. Bella and I had learned that early. The masters had inflicted a long penance on Bella and me in the weeks following our wedding. Even in the middle of it, I'd had to admire their sense of symmetry. They let the punishment fit the crime in every respect.

Even the memory of the frustration I'd felt in those days was like a blade under my ribs. I had waited years to be with Bella. Two years since our first meeting in Forks, but it had really been longer than that. I'd been waiting since before the world formed out of dust. And when we got back to Volterra and we were finally married... God but it wasn't fair. I'd been so good. I'd found her. I'd guided her through her turning, I'd kept my hands to myself during her human and newborn days, and I'd married her. Now I wanted what I'd waited for.

The hardest moments are the ones right before the end, and I never knew when the end would come. Those weeks at Aro's side had been beyond difficult.

You knew perfectly well that I would not approve. Aro could make his thoughts very strong. It was like being shoved.

Yes, Master Aro.

We do not encourage the retention of human customs that are irrelevant to our condition, was his topmost thought, but there were other ideas underneath. His true motives rippled under the surface like snakes beneath the water. He did not like that I imitated Carlisle and that the thought of my father's approval was always high in my mind. And then there was Bella. Aro was not nearly so free from human values as he wished. Deep down, he liked the idea that Sulpicia was purer and better than the other women here, even if it was only that they didn't qualify for some outdated human concept of womanly honor and she did.

I was gladder than ever that I'd gone through with it.

Salome is reading about a movement to reform the hukuo system, Master. The Chinese household registry was a matter of interest to him. At that time, its inability to accommodate workers from rural areas who moved to cities for work had created an urban underclass, almost like illegal immigrants within their own country. It fascinated him terribly and, years later, played a role in the western uprising.

Don't try to distract me. You did very wrong, Edward.

No I hadn't, and he couldn't change my mind.

You will find that I can.

Perhaps, Master, I'd admitted. After all, even stone could warp under pressure, given enough time. He'd done an excellent job of making each minute seem like an eternity.

It was three weeks before Bella and I were free at the same time. I was waiting at the base of the tower just as her shift with the wives was ending. She saw me and her eyes lit up. I couldn't help but be affected. She wanted this as much as I did, and the proof of it went straight to my head. I practically lifted her off her feet. I opened my mouth to ask her if the time was right and she kissed me before I could make a sound.

"I mean to keep our bargain, love," I'd murmured.

"You'd better," she'd said, and two words were more beautiful then ten sonnets by Donne.

The practice tunnel was damp and dirty, but it was as close to private as we were likely to get. After all these months, it wasn't hard to convince myself that the narrow, dusty space made me feel safe. All the other thoughts were high above us. Down here it was just her and me. This wasn't about Volterra; it was about us.

There was no feeling like it. Knowing that this wasn't like any of the other moments we'd stolen together, that my hands, then only on her waist, would soon touch her however I wished, that she'd leave here as a woman who'd given herself to me. I considered myself a gentleman, but I was still a man.

I tried to measure my breathing, keep things moving slowly. I didn't want to lose my head. I had plans. We weren't two teenagers coupling furtively in the back seat of a car; we were man and wife, and I was going to make this wonderful. I was going to draw on everything I'd ever overheard or read or seen in people's thoughts and make her so glad she was with me.

She broke our kiss long enough to unbutton my shirt. I knocked my cloak off my shoulders, making sure it fell open when it hit the floor behind us, and shrugged out of my sleeves. I practically shivered when I felt the cloth of her dress against my bare skin.

"Does it—"

"It unzips in the back," she breathed against my ear.

I planted a kiss on the side of her neck and reached behind her, feeling every vertebra beneath my hands as I slowly let the garment fall free. She stepped back, holding me at arms' length as she slipped it off her shoulders and let the cloth puddle by her feet. First the dress, then the cloak. Her skin seemed hypnotically vibrant, like new snow against the rich color of a matching bra and underwear set, embroidered at the edges and far more delicate than most women in the guard bothered with.

"Dark blue..." I murmured, just barely brushing one finger against the satin.

"I remembered that's your favorite," she said, eyes closing with a hint of a shudder.

"Did you wear that for today?" I asked, confused.

"Every day," she whispered, "just in case."

When had I gotten so lucky? "I love you."

"Then come here."

I took her in my arms and slowly ran my hands over her skin, loving the feel, loving the curve of her lips as they fell open, loving the weight of her hands and the feel of her eyes on me. It was new and strange, but I reminded myself that she could touch me in any way she liked; I was hers by every human and natural law. She smiled perfectly, and I knew she was thinking about that day in the woods even before she tucked a finger inside my belt. I felt my breath catch, but I didn't flinch ...not away, at least.

In good time, I thought firmly, and just imagining the moment itself was enough to drive me mad. First, I was going to make her feel like the most adored creature who'd ever existed. I'd kiss every inch of that beautiful skin and then I'd guide her down onto the cloak and—

"What is it?" she asked when I pulled away. "Edward, what's wrong?"

"He's ...calling," I told her.

"Fuck Aro. Don't go."

"Bella, I have to go."

"No, you have to stay here and—" she clamped her mouth shut, breath hissing out through her nose. "No, I get it. You gotta go." She leaned down and snatched her dress up off the floor like a woman grabbing an alley cat by the scruff of its neck.

"Bella, I'm—"

"Just go."

He was in the library, and he knew.

"Did I send for you at an inconvenient time, young Edward?" he asked graciously. One or two people looked up from their workstations.

"Of course not, Master," I answered, as I'd been meant to, and the others heard me, as they'd been meant to. We couldn't have the guard thinking that their beloved master would do something so petty as meddle in a mated couple's sex life.

I cannot have people disobeying me, Edward.

There was no order to disobey. I felt a surge of ingratitude. I'd left my wife and come when he'd called, hadn't I? It ought to have been impossible for anyone to want more.

We do not deal in technicalities in Volterra, Aro thought strictly, or in exuses. We are not some human legal system to succumb to loopholes. You knew I would disapprove of your human ceremony, and you performed it anyway. I do not punish you for your rebellious thoughts, but do not expect the same for your actions.

If it hadn't been a mental conversation, I'd have been able to keep from saying it, from admitting that he'd found a way to get to me. For how long?

The response was as smug as the smile that hid it. For as long as I please.

He'd kept me by him for another ten days.

The second time, I hadn't waited just outside the door where anyone could mention my whereabouts to the masters. I'd all but hid in an alcove near the art gallery, inconspicuous, invisible. When her shift ended I caught her eye and all but grabbed her. We were both off running. I hauled the cover off the entrance to the practice tunnel just in time to hear the sounds of Renata and Adal training below.

"This way," she'd whispered harshly, and a minute later we'd found ourselves in the utility closet on the third floor. Not what I'd hoped for for the consummation of our marriage, but we weren't the first couple to use this place, and everyone knew what a bolted door meant.

I wanted to take my time, but I knew I couldn't risk it. I let her shove my cloak off me, heard it flop down on top of an empty wash bucket. The metal rail shelves clunked as her shoulders fell against them. I kissed her neck before undoing the top buttons of her blouse. I caught a hint of blue and smiled against her skin. A little scuffed, but still hopeful, every day. Still my girl.

I was in such a rush that the last button flew off and zinged me in the eye. I saw her clamp down a giggle.

"You think this is funny, do you?" I asked quickly.

She nodded. "Why don't you make me laugh some more?" she suggested, leaning forward to show her skin against the blue.

Two could play at that game. "Oh I don't think you'll be laughing," I answered, fitting my hands against her hips and pulling her toward me. She reached up and let me taste the smile on her lips. No, she didn't think this was funny that we were hiding up here like mice scrounging for leftover minutes as we knocked cleanser off the shelves.

Then she slipped her hands under my shirt and I didn't give a damn where we were. It might as well have been the island where Esme and Carlisle spent their anniversaries. So what if it had to be a little quick? It wasn't as if we'd only get to do it once.

I put my arms around her and lifted her off her feet, and the feeling of her against me was like nothing in the world. My Bella.

And then...

Bella's arms went stiff as I stopped moving and gently set her down.

"No," she said, voice thick with disbelief.

"Bella, it's not as if I want him to—"

The growl building like a storm in the back of her throat was at once the most enticing and the most terrifying thing I'd ever heard. Her hands clenched and there was a squeal of abused metal and a thick, crunching sound of high-grade plastic as grayish liquid spattered the floor.

"Bella, the bleach!"

"Screw the fucking bleach!" she snarled like a dragon.

I felt a little wronged. It wasn't as if I didn't want to destroy anything right now. My master's craggy neck, for instance.

"You've ruined your skirt," I said quietly.

"Screw my skirt," she snapped, shaking bleach off her fingers. "Edward, if he keeps this up, I swear I'll—" She cut herself off. She seethed like a hot sidewalk in a sudden rain. "It's not your fault," she clipped. "We'll— I don't know what we'll do, but— You'd better go. I'll... I'll just clean this up."

I left the closet and breathed air that didn't smell of chlorine or of her. I checked my clothes from the top down, straightening where I could. I wouldn't look as if I'd just had my trousers pressed, but I'd be presentable. I heard the footsteps before I heard the thoughts.

"Good clean fun on the third floor?" Rolfe asked merrily with what under other circumstances I might have called a good-natured leer. "Spent some time there myself. Why I could tell you—"

"For the love of all that's holy, Rolfe. Shut. Up."

His face transformed and he blinked heavily. What was that for? Oh hell, he did something prissy and she threw him out on his ass.

"I didn't—" I snapped. I took a deep breath. Aro wouldn't want me to say that he'd called me just to interrupt my attempts to fulfill my long-delayed husbandly duties. That would cause him to lose face in front of the guard, and then he would actually be right to punish me. "I'm sorry Rolfe," I said in my most mannerly tone. "I misspoke. Perhaps I'll see you later."

What the hell? Rolfe wondered. That's the biggest twist I've seen anyone get into since Felix thought he was allergic to Heidi's hairspray.

I'd managed to regain most of my composure by the time I stalked into the library, but Aro saw everything the moment his hand hit my skin. He felt as clammy as a frog and as inexorable as a steel collar. His thoughts were like sandpaper against my mind. I threw myself into the work as hard as I could. Heidi was reading about economic conditions in Germany. Richard was on a fascinating piece about tissue regeneration. I absorbed it all, looking for any common thread. I imagined I was a cloud, a spirit with no body, just looking for information. It seemed to help.

Three hours later, there was a shift change. She walked in behind Salome. She'd managed to replace her skirt and sew the button back on her blouse, but there was just the tiniest hint of a tear near the edge of her sleeve. I remembered how she'd gotten it.

Enthusiastic, isn't she?

My thoughts snapped into a wordless hiss. It was all I could do to keep my body still and silent.

Come now, Edward. I always know everything sooner or later. It's nothing I haven't seen before.

I tried to immerse myself in the news bubbling up from the minds in front of me, but her scent, always pleasant to me, pulled me back into my skin like a dog's choke chain. I tried to banish the images in my head, but new ones took their place. It was like fighting mist, and I didn't want to win.

Oh go, Edward, Aro told me with a mental roll of his eyes. You're no use to me like this.

I stepped away from the master with the usual air of respect, even if it was a bit more forced than usual. On my way to the door, I moved to kiss Bella on the cheek or touch her arm or perform some gesture appropriate for a man of the coven and his mate, but her skin was like an electric shock against mine. Her eyes looked the way I felt. Soon, I wanted to promise, but I had no power to keep it.

The next day, Aro sent me to Kiev with Rolfe and Demetri. Things ...did not go well. Or they went too well, depending. The nomads we'd been sent to frighten wouldn't be skirting the law any more. They wouldn't be doing anything else either. Demetri had been furious. He hadn't struck me since my hazing, but he did that night. I remembered Rolfe's eyes on me, his thoughts wordless but solid, like the heavy steps of a bear walking toward some distant but familiar destination. On the way home, he pulled Demetri aside for a talk. I could barely focus on their conversation; I still had so much ...not anger but the two feelings were so like that it scarcely mattered.

In time it would burn down, I'd told myself. In time, I'd be able to carry my frustration. But what then? Deep down, I knew that Aro had to grow tired of toying with me eventually. Or Marcus would forgive me and speak to Aro. But this was Volterra. Time wasn't time here, not like in the real world.

The dates of the Kiev mission meant we would miss the feast back in the compound, so Rolfe and Demetri went for a discreet hunt in a suburb while I headed toward the scrubland nearby. No elk. No mountain lions. A few feral dogs, though. I didn't bother with my usual trick of breaking their necks, and I came back with my clothes a mess.

Aro saw everything in my memories when I made my report.

You should do your duty with more delicacy, Edward. Those men may have had information that we could have used.

I managed not to glare at him. I thought about it, and I made myself remember that even if I were frustrated beyond the endurance of any man, those nomads had not been the cause of it, and I managed not to glare. Out loud.

Do you understand now, Edward? he asked me.


Nothing here is yours. Not little Bella. Not your devotion. Not yourself. There was something that had been mine, something that he'd have let me keep, but I'd thrown it away. You can make no vow of any kind. When you speak a promise, you do not give your word. You give mine.

I didn't answer. There was no answer.

He regarded me coldly. I could have you made a cuckold. If I wished.

She wouldn't do it, I answered without hesitation.

I could order her.

She still wouldn't do it, I answered. But if Aro threatened me or even one of her students... Don't make me hate you, Aro, I'd told him. I don't yet. I truly should but I don't.

You'll forgive me once it's over, Edward. The weight of his mind on eighty years of memories made me remember what it was like to need air. It's in your nature. You forgive anyone but yourself.

Or anyone who harms her, I'd added.

Then why is this boy Tyler not a sweet memory of blood between your teeth? he'd asked.

Because he did not mean it. James is ash.

The weeks passed, and there were shadows under Bella's eyes that I couldn't believe were thirst. She stopped looking hopeful when she saw me. I knew it was my place to put it right and that I could not.

Things in Volterra tended to get tense in the days before a feast. There were more fights and more accidents of all kinds. If a feast was delayed, the wisest of the human staff called in sick. Members of the guard would see Bella and Jane and me, flush and sated with full-yellow eyes while theirs stayed black and hungry. Among pack animals, ranking beasts always ate first. My covenmates knew that something was backwards, and they responded with hostility.

Most of it happened before I got there. I'd only heard about it later, from Bella and Rolfe and the scoundrel's thoughts.

He'd have swaggered into the hallway near where Bella was guarding one of the newborns in the cell. I knew by the timing it must have been Philip but I always pictured Adal. He'd thrown the flower at her feet and it had hit the ground with a rustling smack, leaking perfume like yolk out of a broken eggshell.

Renata had been called away. He'd waited for Bella to be alone. I'd checked.

"It isn't spring," he'd said. "I waited extra long."

"That's one of Sulpicia's camellias, Byron," she'd answered. "Get out of here before she asks someone to take it out of your hide."

"Come on. I heard your mate can't get it up. You must be lonely."

"Get lost!"

Philip had started screaming when the fight began, but that wasn't unusual. Most people tended to ignore the noise from a newborn's cell. Rolfe was the only one who'd thought something was off.

I'd been in the library with Aro when I'd noticed the turmoil in Phillip's mind—Aro liked to keep an eye on Caius's project. I didn't leave him time to object. I'd pushed his arm off my shoulder and hit the door running.

Bella was a good fighter, but Byron was half again her size and had more experience. When Rolfe got there, Byron had a new bite mark on his left bicep and Bella in a necklock against the far wall. By the time I arrived not thirty seconds later, Rolfe had yanked him off her by one arm. Byron was pivoting to punch him in the temple but I cracked the bone of his free arm and helped Rolfe wrestle him to the ground. He was flat on his back with Rolfe's knee jammed in his solar plexus before he could draw a breath. I spared him half a snarl before going to Bella.

"Are you all right?" I'd murmured, just barely touching the side of her face.

"Yes," she'd said, pressing my palm against her cheek.

I nodded tightly, and then I rounded on him. "Did the master tell you to?" I'd hissed, forgetting that Rolfe was there.

Rolfe's head had snapped up. "What's that?"

The whole room seemed to flash and suddenly I'd been close enough to see the my reflection in Byron's demon-black eyes. "Did the master tell you to?"

"No!" Byron shouted. I dug into his thoughts as if I had claws, wishing beyond anything that I were Chelsea and could tear him apart, dig him up like the roots of a tree. His mind was tripping over itself with things he'd buried in swagger and never confessed to out loud. I swear I only meant to show her would have liked it if she'd let me wouldn't really oh God he can hear me oh God oh God. But I did not see my master there.

I looked up to see Bella stalking toward us, face like a statue of Juno in a rage. Behind her, the door to the hallway moved. Richard and Salome had heard the noise and come to see what had happened. I could hear more curious thoughts approaching, but most were more interested in Heidi and the feast. We had would have quite an audience in a moment. I forced myself to become calm, or at least appear so.

"I seem to recall that we talked about this, Byron," I said quietly.

What happened here? Richard was wondering. Salome's eyes narrowed and I saw her lips curl in anticipation.

He's out of his mind, thought Byron, and he twitched to the side, pressing the side of his head against the stones of the floor. It wasn't going to be his ear this time, but it wasn't up to me. "It wasn't like that!" Byron burst out as Bella knelt down next to me like the first distant clashes of a thunderstorm. "I barely laid a hand on her and she jumps me like I'm some kind of—" I hit him hard in the mouth with the side of my fist. He was telling the truth. He'd only touched her shoulder. But he'd meant to touch more. I suddenly craved Aro's insight. I needed to know how far Byron would have taken this. Because if he was only a scoundrel, then we could both live in Volterra. If he was only a scoundrel, then I could pass by him in the hallways and be content to think of him with contempt. If he was the other sort, then by God, I would kill him one day, and then they would kill me.

"I can do it for you, if you'd rather not touch him," I'd said.

"Or I can," Salome added darkly. From the corner of my eye, I'd noted two more faces join the small, growing crowd, just as eager to see some fun. I turned away.

I saw Bella's throat flex, but her face was dark and steady. "There's a feast today," she'd said. "Hold him still."

Philip didn't scream this time. Perhaps it was the quiet presence of so many other spectators, who never let their voices rise above a hiss. He just watched. Byron was another matter, twisting uselessly as Bella went to work. And God forgive me, but I was cruel, speaking soothing words, as if Byron were a tiny child with a wound to be stitched. Our gathering spectators drank it in like an Oscar-winning film, too tense and hungry to show him any sympathy. I wallowed in his helplessness like a pig in filth.

Like a little earthworm on the pavement.

Filthy wretch.

A man has rights, thought Felix. I resisted the urge to look up. Even a scrawny excuse for a man. To his mind, I might be a bit strange for letting Bella mete out the punishment, but it was one that Byron's deserved—for being defeated. Like Byron, he assumed that Bella would have enjoyed Byron's attentions if he'd gotten a little further along. I held in a snarl. Felix happened to like his women flirtatious and inviting, or else he'd have learned that he was wrong.

We let Byron up just as the compound began to murmur with the sound of Heidi returning. He had to choose between trying to fight us and leaving with his "property" still in our possesion. He chose the latter, leaving with Richard and the rest with his thoughts seething with hatred and humiliation. He considered telling the masters that he'd been attacked, that Bella was a mad slut, a frigid bitch who'd overreacted to nothing. After all, only Rolfe had seen otherwise, and Aro might not look into the matter personally.

Bella thanked Rolfe and then I did. Rolfe answered with some joke about how Bella would have had him on the ropes in a minute. God bless him. But his thoughts were far less oafish. What was that about the master sending him? he'd asked.

"Nothing." I told him. "I was just raving." Rolfe looked at me with narrowed eyes but didn't ask again. Something stinks about all this, I heard. You're lucky I'm hungry. Bella and I scarcely had time to hole up in the upper library when the feast started. I'd closed and covered the vents that morning, but something always snuck in.

God, but my veins had felt alive with it all. I was so angry. I was so angry... I shouldn't have spoken to him calmly when he deserved nothing but curses and shouts. I should have made him shamble upstairs like a gangrel beast on broken limbs. I should have taken his eyes. I should have killed him.

"I wasn't stronger than he was," Bella muttered to me from where she stood where the floor met the wall. "If I'd been on my own, I couldn't have stopped him."

"Neither am I. It doesn't matter," I said tersely, trying to block out the blur of violent, hungry, terrified thoughts that were bubbling up like lava from the first floor. The humans below us weren't strong enough to defend themselves either. The faint scent of blood wasn't helping. It didn't matter because she could train harder, become better at fighting and dodging and slipping another vampire's hold.

Down in the feasting hall, the strongest and most vocal humans—the fighters—were being picked off. Demetri had noticed Byron's alteration, but everyone else was busy.

I saw Bella run a hand through her hair, and her middle finger shook. I wondered how much of her calm had been an act. "Will..." Bella's voice was like a chipped stone. I looked up to see her lower lip trembling. "Will they punish us?"

And that was it. That was when I lost my head. At Byron. At Aro. At myself. At her. If she'd been human, I'd have called it an adrenaline crash. If she'd been human, I'd have crushed both her arms with the way I pulled her toward me just as Felix plunged his teeth into a large, terrified man who thought in Serbian.

"This was not your fault," I hissed, my forehead barely an inch from hers as Felix's human shuddered and died. If I said it hard enough, maybe the masters would believe it.

"But he only—"

"Shut up," I'd said, before stopping her mouth with mine as if it were life itself. I couldn't bear to hear excuses any more than the slashing thoughts thrumming at us through the stone. A man didn't have to be a serial rapist to deserve a beating. If I'd been thinking clearly, I'd have told her that she'd done nothing wrong, that I was proud of her for fighting well, that I was ashamed of myself for not having utterly, utterly torn him apart. But I wasn't thinking clearly. I hadn't been for weeks.

She should have slapped me. I deserved it. I deserved so much. But her fingers found my arms and squeezed until my skin cracked and she kissed me back with all the doomed madness of the screaming voices in my head.

It was all wrong. Not after what had just happened. Not with my heart full of anger and my mind full of blood. I told myself, in my tiny, far-off conscious voice, that Bella wouldn't want to trade one conqueror for another, that I should wait.

I didn't listen.

I had her shoulder blades pressed against the wall before I knew we'd moved. I left her lips and moved on to her neck as the hem of my cloak swayed with the motion and her soft gasp rippled across my skin like a shiver. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I'd had plans, but I couldn't even remember. It was as if my memories of other people's experiences weren't even the same kind of thing as what I wanted from her. Of course they weren't. Nothing in the world was the same kind of creature that she was.

I felt the light growl in my throat, natural as the world, smooth as her fingers on the back of my neck. I knew where I wanted her hands, so I reached out and put one there. Her breath caught a little as she felt it. Her fingers moved, but it wasn't quite right.

"Harder," I whispered against her temple. My own breath fairly stopped when she did as I'd said.
I didn't notice exactly when we'd gotten to the floor, half her cloak bunched up underneath us. I growled, letting the sound go through my chest, her chest, her hips, her heart. I watched breathlessly as she tossed her head back, stretching out her throat. I kissed it. She'd given me her throat, so I kissed it. Then I caught her trachea between my teeth and felt her go still underneath me. I growled again from deep inside me, every vibration saying that I was bigger than she was and older and more ruthless and that she'd better do as I wished. But when it was her hands that reached for my belt, I didn't mind. It was better. It was so much better when she was the one to set me free. Awkwardly, I hiked her skirt up above her waist in hasty, unbalanced pleats. She shifted underneath me, but never enough to affect my grip and score her skin.

I had to let go to take off my shirt. I didn't want it between us. I didn't want anything between us. At some point, I'd hiked up her skirt in hasty, unbalanced pleats. I put my hands back to her hips and split the edges of her undergarments, the coarse white fibers parting neatly between my fingers. Then I moved to kiss her again and gasped at the feeling of her teeth on the skin of my throat. She'd moved so fast... I tried to swallow but knew I could not.

She growled this time, and I closed my eyes as I felt the sound come into me. Submit, it said in her silken whisper. Succumb. You're mine. That and the pressure of her canines at my throat told me that I had better do exactly what she wanted.

Fortunately, I knew exactly what that was.

I held her, after. It was a long, slow drift among the breakers before I finally washed back to shore and I realized what I'd done.

"It wasn't supposed to be like that," I murmured, eyes fixed on the cracks in the ceiling. It was as if we'd been three people, her, me and Volterra, and this place had had its way with us. I wasn't sure how much time had passed but, far below us, the feast had only just ended.

She rolled onto her side with a rustle of half-discarded cloth. "Edward, I didn't mind," she said firmly, pressing a kiss to my shoulder. "I liked it. I like you. All of you."

All of me. Volterra was me now.

"How much trouble are we in?" she whispered.

I turned toward the empty ceiling as I predicted Aro's reaction. "Heaps."

"Is he calling you?" she asked.

"Not yet." I shook my head. "Byron's trying to explain himself." I smiled. He'd have had no luck hiding the fact that something had happened. Rolfe had a thing or two to say as well, and he must have been better at saying it, all things considered. I didn't know if Richard, Felix or Salome had given their review of our ...performance. It had not been a good feast for Byron, and now the master was displeased. Aro had intended to keep me by his side right up until Heidi arrived, then order me on an errand through the tunnels that would have lasted until the feast was over. Byron had created a situation that had allowed me to leave, facilitating my current ...predicament.

"Hey," Bella whispered, pulling my arm toward her with both hands. "If there was anything that wasn't perfect about that," she said, "then..." she looked me up and down, mostly down, a smile pressed shut against her lips.

"Then?" I asked. I still couldn't read her thoughts. I'd supposed... Well, it had been a silly theory. Sex didn't have as much to do with thoughts as people liked to suppose.

"Then practice makes perfect," she told me.

That was a bad idea. We shouldn't be compounding the problem when we needed to get up, get dressed and work on damage control. I opened my mouth to tell her just that, but it came out as, "We'd better keep quiet."

I couldn't blame what happened next on any distractions. It was less intense, calmer. This time, I remembered that she was my wife, and I treated her as she deserved.

Aro didn't call me until the feast was over. I walked into the audience chamber and he knew. He could see it in the vibrancy of my walk, in the measure of tension that had gone from my eyes. Caius was present, but he seemed more amused than anything else. At the time, I didn't immediately notice how many people were lingering. Usually, a few vampires cleaned up the blood and disposed of the drained bodies, but everyone not assigned such duties left to enjoy the brief flush of fullness elsewhere. I saw Byron scowling from Caius's elbow. At least I guessed it was meant as a scowl.

I paused in the center of the room and waited for one of my masters to speak. Caius looked from Aro to me and back. I reached into my pocket as I walked toward him and, without saying a word, poured a round dozen of Byron's front teeth into Caius's hands. Byron glared at me, but his sunken mouth made him look like an evil old man about to scold children off of his lawn. He'd expected the masters to order Bella to return them to him herself in front of the full guard. His mental image of my lady's public submission had a thick undercurrent of baser desires. I shot him a snarl and had the satisfaction of seeing him recoil, before he regained control of himself.

Aro looked at me with a quiet, strangely sullen, coldness. I breathed in to defend myself. Technically, I'd done nothing wrong. Fighting was not forbidden when there was no risk of detection. If he wished to punish me for finally enjoying the graces of my all-too-willing wife, then by God I'd take whatever he gave me and call it worth the cost.

Before I could speak, there was a guttural sound behind me, quickly stifled. I barely turned my head to see Chelsea of all people cover the mirthless chuckle that had come from her mouth. As I tried to make sense of the images in her head, Afton's set his hand firmly on her shoulder, and met my eyes.

I guess the whelp is all right after all.

I blinked, wondering why he'd seen fit to think so. I finally took a moment to look around the room. Byron had grabbed his missing from Caius's hand and was jabbing them back into his mouth without even a mirror, like a monkey gobbling sweets. The thoughts of the crowd—who'd assembled, I now realized, to watch this exchange—were as uncharitable as they'd ever been to see a powerful creature humiliated, but now they were heavily laced with contempt, and not all of it was coming from the women.

Wretched beast.

Always after the new girl. I wish I'd thought to get his teeth. I wish I'd kicked him harder.

A real man can get a woman to come back for more.

Should've been the hands. He's far too free with them.

I looked back to the masters, and Caius's eyes all but glittered underneath their layer of dust. As much as he disliked me, the sight of Byron jumping from human to human like a poisoned cricket, trying to scrabble and gnaw a decent cut without messing himself had been the most entertaining thing he'd seen in ages. I probably would have agreed with him if his victims hadn't been shrieking in my head at the time.

Marcus was hard to tell because he moved so little, but ...was he laughing?

I finally put the pieces together: Aro might be unhappy about the confrontation with Byron, but the coven thought that Bella and I had been too easy on him.

I turned back to Aro, still not certain what all this would mean.

"In the future, young Edward," my master said evenly, "you will allow Jane to handle the punishment of disobedient members of this coven."

"Yes, Master," I answered quietly.

I would not have sent him, you know, he thought to me.

I was halfway across the room, but he would read me later, reassemble the entire conversation from four sets of thoughts. Aro could be considered evil, in his way, but there were some things that even he held sacred. He could see clearly enough when a mirror was held up close.

I know.

After that, Aro had stopped interfering in my marriage. I found out later that it hadn't only been Byron and the disruption he'd caused. You've got to let him, Master. Demetri hadn't said it. He'd only considered saying it. However, one of the advantages of working for Aro was that he always knew everything eventually. He'll be calmer. The girl makes him easier. What does it matter if they spent fifteen minutes in a church? Marcus's opinion on the matter had been less articulate, more of a wordless, sullen version of, Don't ruin this for me, with strong implications that Aro already had.

However, Aro had no qualms about scheduling my duties as he pleased. Or maybe it was a parting shot. Bella and I had three more times together in the next week, but then he'd sent me on a trip to Australia with Demetri, Caroly and Adal that turned out to last three months. I'd married Bella as spring had been edging into summer, and the leaves were turning by the time I came home and saw her again. Philip had been out of the cell and Hanako into it.

In the years that had passed since, most of Demetri's predictions had come true. I shouldn't have been surprised. Bella had changed things for me in my old life. Why wouldn't she change things for me in Volterra as well? Bella had been afraid that I wanted to marry her because I'd decided to settle down. I hadn't meant to, but it still happened. For some reason, being married, really being married, made me less restless. The days when I could bear Volterra—or at least in which I didn't dream of escaping—grew more and more frequent until they became how I felt about my life.

Because Aro had been wrong. She was mine. I was hers. I could stand being Volterra's too so long as I knew that. And being Volterra's meant that I had friends, or something like them, and they would back me if I were truly in the right.

I didn't want to think of what would happen if Bella were under suspicion with both of us robbed of that protection.

There was an ominous click of stone on metal, echoing up to the empty ceiling. Aro was alone in the audience chamber, rolling Caius's firestarter over and over against the arm of his throne.

"You know why I've called you here, Edward," he said.

I nodded. "You want to talk about what you saw in Andrew's mind." To give me information that I hadn't been able to get on my own. So I could do my duty. So I could find the spy. So the Volturi would stay strong and keep the law for all time.

His red-gray eyes met mine. "Close enough. Who is the man Andrew saw, Edward?"

"I don't know," I said, a little surprised. I stepped closer, stretching out one hand for Aro to take, "You know I've never seen him, Master."

"But something about him was familiar to you," he pointed out, not touching my arm.

I stopped. He was right. Something about the way the man had spoken. He and Andrew had conversed in English, but something had seemed unusually settled about the man's voice. "I'm not sure, Master. Perhaps that is his gift. It would explain why he was able to plant those suggestions in Andrew's mind."

Aro shook his head. "I've seen many altered minds, Edward. If suggestions were planted, it was by mundane means."

Aro he'd Andrew's conversation with the stranger in the forefront of his mind for me to see, and it was far clearer than the scraps that I'd been able to collect on my own:

"These western rebels will defeat Beijing. They have spirit. The side with the most spirit usually wins."

"That's not what Teacher Bella always says," Andrew had told his stranger. "She says the patient fighter usually wins." He used that phrase a lot within the compound. He'd forgotten that the other man would not know what he meant.

"Teacher Bella was not talking about wars; she was talking about individual combat."

I set my teeth together. It wasn't conclusive, not nearly, but the stranger gave out the impression that he knew who Bella was, at least. And that he'd have some insight into her opinion.

There were plenty of explanations. Bella may have developed a reputation, as Jane and Demetri had, as I had.

Not unless her former students are far more vocal than we have come to expect, said Aro in response to my unworded thought. Demetri, Jane and yourself are well known because you are feared. And what was Bella? A teacher of newborns. Useful, yes. She'd probably been indirectly responsible for the deaths of many of our enemies, but the drill sergeant did not inspire fear the way soldiers did.

How does he know your mate?

"I don't know that he does."

"You don't know," Aro repeated calmly. "Is that what you will say when it is Bella facing the fire, that you don't know that he knows her?"

"Master, there is no call for her to face the fire," I said, only barely managing to keep my voice calm. You've always hated her, I thought uncharitably. It wasn't Bella's fault that her mind would not submit to Aro's power. I would have thought that a man over three thousand could accept that he could not always have his way.

But Aro hadn't decided. Not yet. Executing Bella, even if she was not the real spy, would give the Volturi the appearance of effectiveness. It would buy time to find the real culprit. But Aro had not fully set upon doing it. That was why he was speaking to me alone rather than with Caius, Marcus and the full guard as witnesses.

"You do me wrong, young Edward," Aro said with only a touch of coldness in his words. "While little Bella and I do not share the wonderful rapport that I enjoy with so many of my dear ones, I certainly do not wish her harm, not if she is innocent. She does not always do her duty cheerfully, but no one could fault her obedience. Or, until recently, her results."

Bella was a means to an end for him and always had been. She was his, though, like I was his, and he wouldn't hurt her. Not if I found him a better way. Any better way.

Would I throw some other member of the coven in front of the maglev if it meant Bella would not be harmed? Well there was no question about that, not to my mind. The only problem was that none of them would make a more plausible patsy than she would, even if I could make some reasonably convincing case. No, my only true hope was to find the real spy.

You see, young Edward, Aro thought clearly, you are not so different from myself.

I looked up, not trusting myself to speak. But my master was merciful. He dismissed me.

For a moment I only sat still outside the closed doors of the audience chamber. I allowed myself to think about slumping down against the pillars and leaning my head against the carved stone, to express the weakness that I felt in my heart.

I'd been an idealist once, long ago, when I'd been Carlisle's son. I couldn't put my finger on exactly when I'd gotten so pragmatic. Or was it only that my current life gave me fewer pretty excuses with which to decorate my actions?

Of all things, I blamed Andrew. If he had not run away, then I could have stayed in Volterra and might well have had the matter well in hand by now.

Without the coven behind me, whom could I trust? Bella? With my soul, but the guard would suspect anything she did, now that Caius was undermining her. Renata? I could trust her to act like the placid drone that Chelsea had made of her. Rolfe? Perhaps. Demetri? If I could convince him. Aro, Caius and Marcus could be trusted to be themselves.

I felt the edge of a storm-gray cloak brush my ankle. I looked up to see a cloaked figure pass by me, allowing me to read her meaning in every measured step she took. I followed her at a discreet distance until we found a place to talk in one of the alcoves.

The coven is turning on Bella, Caroly thought intently. I gave half a smile. She'd spent the hours since our return from France productively, it seemed. The haunted look on her face stopped it. Bella had been a respected member of the guard for all of Caroly's recollected life. She'd never really expected that to change. But she could see for herself that patterns of loyalty within the compound had twisted like cables, leaving Bella alone at the center of some great web. For her, it was like the world ending. What now?

"Aro charged me with finding the real spy," I murmured. "Once I do, she will be exonerated."

Aro's touched everyone in the coven. There isn't a spy.

"Then it's someone who can hide things from him."

That isn't possible.

"Yes it is," I answered certainly.


My mouth opened but no sound came out. "It just is," I answered. I rubbed one hand across my forehead, which suddenly hurt like the dickens. "It's all about forgetting."

"But we can't forget," Caroly said.

"Yes we can," I answered, closing my eyes against the glaring lights in my brain. I'd have sworn that vampires couldn't get migraines.

She sat down next to me, looking up at me with soulful red eyes. "If you're right," she said, "then the spy might not even know that he's a spy," she said. "We got cornered in Xi'an by the Manchurian Candidate."

It was closer to the original Total Recall, but yes.

Caroly licked her lips. "Well then the first thing we've got to do is figure out who could have known about these missions," she said. "You can't tell the Romanians things that you don't know."

I smiled, closing my eyes.

"We?" I asked, almost playfully. My girl.

She narrowed her eyes cuffed me hard on the shoulder. You know perfectly well, "we." So what do we do?

I raised an eyebrow, but, like most of the women in my life, she was right.

"We set a trap."



WTF moment #1 was what happens to Carlisle. Think about it. If Twilight were a regular vampire story, one of the many differences would be that Carlisle would be the protagonist, most of the action would involve his voyage of self-discovery, and Bella and Edward would be the starcrossed-lovers B or C plot. Carlisle is the one who figured out they could live without preying on humans. Carlisle has had the storied life in which he had adventures as a solitary nomad. His life as a coven leader is only the most recent chapter, starting with his decision to turn Edward. From the Volturi perspective (canon Volturi, not my own take), Carlisle is the one who posed a threat.

In the context of the movie, all of Edward and Bella's plans for their future were almost entirely dependent on Carlisle. Life as they know it is not possible without him. That is why it was so amazing.

As for WTF moment #2... Well, it was the last movie, and The Dark Knight Rises showed that the last movie can kill off and destroy any part of the canon (Bruce Wayne gives up on Wayne enterprises and on the city his family helped build? Come on!). But at least The Hobbit rocked my world. If Andy Serkis doesn't win best supporting actor... Even if the rest of the darn thing had been crud covered in a layer of nougat and then more crud, it still would have averaged out to fantastic because of the Gollum scenes.

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