Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Answers ( Chapter 53 )

[ 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.

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"...and how much more there seemed to be that we didn't know. This whole world that we really knew nothing about. It would be interesting to explore that world. Particularly with someone who could make me feel invisible and safe." —Bree Tanner, <i>The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner</i>




It took us three weeks to get to Ireland. We hardly spoke the whole way, not the way we should have.

After the boon, we'd run almost due south. Edward said it was to make it look as if we'd been making for the coast. Yes Aro had let us go and yes the whole guard had seen him do it, but that didn't mean he couldn't change his mind. He could be a real son of a bitch when he wanted something, and Edward had pissed him off. Maybe he wanted all the new Romanian recruits to think that the guard was so great and perfect that no one would ever ask to leave. He also had a thing about us going back to Carlisle, and no way were we passing up on that. The fastest way to the States would have been to take a boat across the Pacific—fastest for people with no money for plane tickets and no way of passing for human on a backscatter X-ray anyway. An hour before dawn, we'd turned sharply northwest. If Aro did decide to have someone bring us back, that someone would be looking in the wrong direction, hopefully for weeks.

I remembered the dark gray world going colorless with that gray not-light that comes before dawn. If I'd been thinking clearly, I'd have wondered why he bothered with the trick. After all, Demetri could have tracked us anywhere. I should have figured it out way before I did.

I'd thought they were just in the woods someplace, maybe met up with Corin and Caius. I'd thought Edward could zero in on them on like he always did. Oh Aro would never let her <i>leave</i> with us but we could have at least... I don't know, not told her where we were going, but <i>something</i>.

At the time, I'd thought the worst part was that we hadn't said goodbye. Well, not the <i>worst</i> part. The worst part was where Chelsea would make our girl forget she'd ever loved us. Survival and freedom both had a cost, and we'd paid it. We'd fucking <i>paid</i> it. Where the <i>hell</i> did the universe get off asking for more?

I thought he was like that because he <i>missed</i> it, because he was mad at me for forcing the issue on my terms. Three <i>goddamned</i> weeks.

<i>"Back in my first year, I thought we had to escape right then or they'd kill us both. I shut it down it as soon as I understood why the Volturi have to exist."

"I believe you."</i>

<i>"I know you feel manipulated, but I had to stop you from going back and there wasn't time to explain about Chelsea or any of it."

"I understand."</i>

<i>"I couldn't tell you any of this before because Aro would have found out."

"I know."</i>

We must have had that conversation eight times. It was like talking to a robot. It wasn't like I had no idea what he was going through; leaving Volterra had knocked me for a loop too. I kept looking over my shoulder for Aro and Jane and Chelsea in one direction and up at the next corner in the other.

Alice had have seen that we'd gotten away. Any day now, any <i>minute</i> now, Alice or Carlisle or Emmett would turn up with plane tickets and a "welcome back." I was ridiculous. Maybe they were behind that phone up ahead. Or that one. Or <i>that</i> one.

Of course, I didn't know how Edward would react. I'd taken it as a foregone conclusion that we were going home to the Cullens, wherever that meant, but just the sound of Alice's name had become his kryptonite. I didn't know what would happen if he actually <i>saw</i> her again, and I wasn't going to test it. Not now. Not while he was still... whatever he was.

Edward would force a smile in public, offer me his arm when he thought he was supposed to, but it was like those last days in Forks before he'd left me in the woods. He called me "my dear," "my love" like he was checking off a to-do list. I'd rather he'd yelled at me. Forced affection. Going through the motions. He was a fucking zombie.

I had no idea what to do with him. I'd read psychology books, Stockholm syndrome, stuff for my students, but that didn't mean I knew how to help. I'd never felt more cheated in my life. We were <i>finally</i> free and I wanted to be happy about it. I'd thought we'd be laughing and smiling and being excited for the future and having <i>so</i> much sex with <i>no one</i> watching or getting the telepathic dictator instant replay. And yes, I was mad. I'd waited twenty years for this, sacrificed for this, worked my ass off to keep us both in one piece, and he was acting like I'd shot his best friend.

I had a brainwave when we were crossing from France to England. I'd never been as good at faking human as he was; I'd hadn't lived as a human since I was one. He'd been coaching me on how to hold the rail, sway with the movement of the ferry. He said something like, "I know you know how to listen for criminals; here's how you listen for other vampires..." I forget. But then I saw him lean back from the rail, seeming perfectly human when I knew it had to be a hundred points of practiced, coordinated fakery, and it really hit me that <i>he actually didn't want to screw this up</i>. He was concentrating as hard as he could. He wasn't feeling it, but he was thinking it. He was like me during the first few months after he'd left Forks. Deep down, I hadn't <i>wanted</i> to ruin my whole life. I'd kept my grades up. I'd withdrawn from my friends but I hadn't picked fights with them. It still pissed them off—and it must have felt like staring down a mine shaft—but not so bad that they wouldn't take me back. He wasn't sabotaging himself. Depressed people sometimes do that—they sabotage themselves because they think they don't deserve good lives. Whatever was going on with him, he wasn't doing <i>that</i>.

Going through the motions still meant he was moving. This would ride out.

Or maybe I was kidding myself and imagining that I understood how he was feeling was just <i>my</i> way of not blowing this for us. Whatever. If it was a delusion it was a useful one.

Ireland had had a rough few years, so the location suited my mood. Weeks earlier, while we'd all been busy preparing for the fight with the Romanians, the United States had come out for the rebels in China. There was probably some under-the-table deal regarding forgiving some of its debts. News out of Russia kept changing. The European Union was still dithering. The United Nations had been wheezing along ever since President Bush had ignored its decision not to invade Iraq earlier in the century. At the time, it'd reminded me of when the League of Nations told Japan to stop invading northern China before World War II, but it was looking like World War III was on its way no matter what.

If anyone was likely to stay the hell out of the land war in Asia, it was Ireland. They'd done it in World War II. It was no big center of manufacturing, so there wasn't much of a deal with selling supplies to both sides. Its brief time in the light as the Celtic Tiger stage had worn off. There was still a pretty big technology service industry, but Finland and Switzerland had caught up, giving it sharper competition. Early in the twenty-first century, if someone called for tech support anywhere in Europe, the person on the other end of the line was in Ireland. Now you had your choice of accents.

But that didn't mean that there was nothing left of the economy. Maglev engines had one serious flaw: They didn't work so well over water, what with the needing a heavy metal framework underneath. Shipping as in actual on-ships movement of cargo from place to place still used old-fashioned petroleum engines slapped on old-fashioned cargo ships.

Back in the day, the biggest shipping companies had registered their worst, most fuel-guzzling behemoths out of Panama, where there were next to no environmental regulations. It was easy to stay up to code when the code was tailor-made for you by the government. Panama had recently undergone a bit of a renaissance with respect to its own natural resources, and they' had a referendum to end the practice. Now, the place to be if you owned shipping containers was Ireland. Tourism and technology could only take an economy so far. There were citizens to employ and bills to pay.

But you wouldn't know it to look at this place. The Burren was two hundred and fifty square miles of what midwestern Americans would call mountains and what other people would call hills. There were piles of craggy karst rocks everywhere, piled up against each other like on some alien world on the Twilight Zone. I'd seen something similar in Mongolia once, but this far west it was as big as it got. It was one of the closest things Ireland had to a real middle of nowhere. On this island, there were farmland and pastures but almost always someone living or working nearby. An eerie menagerie of plants fought for living space in the wide cracks between the rocks.

As for Edward and me, matters were simpler. Our first order of business was to prevent recapture. The second...

It had been three and a half weeks since the guard had left Volterra.

Three and a half weeks since we'd eaten.

And I'd never hunted before in my life.

"You're sure no one's around?" I asked tensely. My voice was almost back to normal, but I couldn't shout. "We passed a bunch of cairns a while back. Hikers make cairns."

Edward's lip twitched, the closest he got to a smile these days. "When I was here with Carlisle, years ago," he said, "I learned that the locals don't like the cairns. They say they spoil the natural line of the landscape. Tourists from the U.S. and Canada would make them." His voice was mechanical, like he was thinking about something else. He closed his eyes for a second, not much of a gesture for us, but it was what he did instead of shaking himself. I could practically hear him think. <i>Right. Hunting.</i> "There's no one around."

Food had stopped being a thing for me during my first year. I thought of feeding like medicine, something unpleasant that I had to do to stay alive, like a diabetic giving herself insulin injections. Pigs tasted like crud, even though Edward had repeatedly assured me they were better than anything else. The only time feeding seemed like it had any kick to it at all was when it involved humans, and nothing could make that worth it. I had enough ghosts circling my head.

"So how does this work?" I asked.

He drew the corners of his mouth upward almost as if he were pushing with his fingers. It was a skeleton of that lopsided smile he'd worn in Forks, but with his eyes like pitch he only looked angry.

"I'm not used to being the student, Edward. Spill."

"What do you hear?" he asked me.

Pretty much everything. I hadn't done nearly as much field work as the rest of the guard, but I knew how to size up an area. There were no trains, no people, no cars for at least a mile. If there were any other vampires around, they wouldn't make themselves known by ear.

"The air across the rocks?" I answered, not sure what he was getting at.

He put his hands on my shoulders. I tried to act like I didn't notice. His hands felt weird, heavy, but he was touching me voluntarily again. I wasn't going to knock it. Going through the motions was still moving. "And what do you smell?"

<i>Well you, mostly, you son of a bitch,</i> I thought irritably. <i>Now get with the program. I'm hungry.</i> Lilac, honey and sun notes now that the smell of cloak cloth was finally wearing off. About twenty different kinds of plants. Because of the pockets of different temperatures created by the rocks, this place had a weird mix of high-latitude, high-altitude and Mediterranean flora, absolutely none of them found in Sulpicia's roof garden. I allowed myself a smirk. Who'd known the last time I'd been in Volterra would be the <i>actual</i> last time I was in Volterra? Renata had left handwritten instructions for the human staff before we'd left for India but I was pretty sure she'd forgotten that none of them could read cursive. I hoped the old bitch hadn't gouged anyone's eyes out for the wilt on the asphodel.

The breeze gusted from over the rocks to the west, giving the scent of stone and water and... underneath...

It was rich and tangy but somehow offensive, like cream with vinegar poured in. If I hadn't been so thirsty... Without speaking, I raised my arm from the shoulder and pointed.

"Go," he said.

"Go and ...just go?"

"Just go."

I took a step back and then another, and then I turned and I...

I <i>ran</i>. I mean... with no mission, no criminal to attack. I just ran. The sounds got louder. Chewing mouths with grinding teeth. And heartbeats. Sweet, wet heartbeats.

I darted over the rise to see what I'd later figure out were feral goats. My momentum lasted long enough for me to get within arm's length, but then I hesitated. I wasn't some new-turned novice just out of the cage. How <i>did</i> this work? How'd you keep it clean? Where'd you put your hands? How'd you—

And now they'd run off. Great.

"Oh no you don't. You're lunch," I muttered, hauling myself off toward one gray buck with twisted horns. I grabbed both and it squirmed like a champion. "Hold still!" I snapped. "I can do this all day!"

I heard a muffled, snuffling sound behind me, and suddenly two shining hands were on the creature's neck, snapping its cervical vertebrae while leaving his heart beating.

"I had it you know, Edward," I said, hands on my hips. "I'm not a child, you don't have to—"

He raised one eyebrow like he was Spock and McCoy had just said something extra emotional. <i>Oh. You thought that was for you?</i> The next thing I knew, he had his teeth at the creature's jugular. I could feel its body shudder from the drain.

I was about to turn and try to catch one of the other ones when he reached up and put a hand on my shoulder, pulling my head down toward the cut. Half a second later, he was out of the way, and I was following the blood. Sour, gritty, reassuringly inhuman blood. I could feel all the rough edges melt off my irritation.

Later, I'd remember that I was actually growling as I fed, fingers arching in the wiry hairs on its neck. It gave a final little shudder as I got the last of it. I pulled back, licking my lips. My clothes were a little rumpled but not nearly as bad as my first time in the feeding chamber, and I hadn't gotten any blood on them. Good thing, too. It wasn't as if we could head to the basement and requisition more clothes. I took a deep breath and turned to Edward.

"That was my kill," I said.

"You scared off all the others," he told me.

"You could have run after them."

"Feral animals are different from pigs," Bella, he said. They panic less and fight more. I wanted to do this with you. For a long time," he said, looking past me up the hill as I caught up and realized what he'd slipped into the lesson. If there was a clearer I'm-not-ready-to-talk-about-it, I didn't know what it was. Finally, he broke the silence.

"Still hungry?"

"Hell yes."

We chased the scattered herd. I settled for nanny goats the next two times, feeling close enough to satisfied after just the three (two and a half thanks to my goat thief). I managed to watch from the corner of my eye as Edward took down a large buck in its prime with smoothly curving horns. He was graceful. I was standing on a rocky outcrop in the middle of nowhere sucking on goats like I was a chupa-fucking-cabra and Edward managed to make it look dignified. Damn it, he made it look sexy. He was right in front of me, and I shouldn't have to feel ten miles away.

"Do we bury the bodies?" I asked.

He shook his head. "In what?" He gestured to the barren landscape.

"Are there any predators out here who'd eat them?" I asked. Hey, I grew up in the recycling era. Waste not. Some habits are hard to slip.

"No, but there are scavengers," he said. He looked up, as if checking for vultures. His breath seemed to leave him slow. He looked at me and then at what was left of the goat. "I wanted... This was supposed to be fun."

I didn't answer.

"I had plans for teaching you to hunt. I never knew when we'd be out at the same time when it was safe and we were hungry enough for it to be worth killing something. I had plans for forests, for the desert, for..." he shrugged. "It had to be done," he said, nodding to himself.

"Thanks?" I offered. Then, "It's not like we'll only get to do this once."

He gave a tight smile, small as sour wine but a relief in that it was probably genuine. "I feel like I'm missing it even though I'm right here."

"It's not just you." I stepped closer, putting a hand on his wrist. "It won't always feel that way," I said. I was pretty sure of that, at least.

Something flickered behind his eyes, like the tiny creak in the ceiling before the whole thing falls down. His lower lip twitched. I should have shut up. I should have just let him work it all out at his own pace, but it was like that tiny trail of blood. I was hungry and he'd shown me just a little of what I needed to fill me. He didn't want to talk about it but I <i>needed</i> to.

"Leaving Volterra was a big deal for me too. I didn't like it there, not the way you did, but there are things about it that I'm going to miss." Caroly. My students. The end.

Edward turned away, covering the bottom of his face with one hand.

"I'm sorry I ...blackmailed you, I guess, and I'm sorry you had to leave Caroly and Demetri but I'm not sorry we got out," I said. "We could <i>not</i> stay in Volterra another twenty years. Sooner or later one of us would have screwed up or Chelsea would have pulled you too hard or I'd—"

"<i>Bella</i>," he snapped, suddenly right in front of me. I hadn't seen him move that fast outside of combat in ...ever. The look on his face was so awful, his eyes a deep gold that somehow frightened me more than black and circles under his eyes that couldn't have come from the thirst, "do you..." he trailed off and at first I thought he was still angry, but then I saw the muscles moving in his throat. "Do you..." he tried again, his voice failing.

I let my hands sink to my sides. I'd been wrong about something, and I didn't know what or how badly.

"Do you think," he said, each pair of words like a stepping stone, "that I'm upset," he breathed, "because I miss Volterra?"

I nodded. How many times had he gone on about the futility of life pretending to be human, how bored he'd been, how wasted everyone's talents were? It was sour grapes, his way of making the best of it, but that didn't mean he didn't like that sense of purpose that he kept harping on, helping the vampire community, saving humans as a side effect. Hell, he probably even missed Aro. To survive in Volterra, Edward had had to get used to Aro and even like him. I'd had to do all the hating myself.

But if that wasn't it, then what?

He sat down on one of the outcrops, staring straight at the horizon. I sat down next to him, close enough to touch.

In a voice quiet enough to border on imagination, he said, "Demetri won't walk."

My vampire brain could help me learn calculus and find perfect and imperfect rhymes in four languages, but it crapped out on me then. I actually asked, "Walk where?"

The look Edward gave me was so miserable that I was sure he must be angry with me.

Props to Marjane in communications, but the flow of information in the guard was never wifi; it was <i>rumors</i>. We were a bunch of bored immortals, half of whom had been turned before the age of twenty-five. We never shut up, not even when a battle was still going on. I'd heard something about Rolfe being our traitor. Something about Alec blowing up a rear gate. Something about Edward fighting off Romanians and carrying Demetri out.

"They said you went into the fortress and got him."

"I did," he murmured.

<i>Carrying</i> him. I hadn't processed it until now.

"Oh fuck," I said, pulling my arms around him. He didn't move away.

"He couldn't speak out loud either," he breathed into my shoulder. "But when I heard his thoughts, I—"

"You made all the difference."

I felt him nod.

"Oh shit," I breathed, running my hand over his hair. "Oh shit. I get it now. I'm so sorry. I get it now."

Demetri had been one of our best. He'd had a legendary career with Felix long before he'd teamed up with Edward and Caroly. He'd also been one of Aro's favorites. If he couldn't fight for himself, it would be blood in the water. Those ghouls would suck on his new weakness like hard candy. He'd never get as much food as he wanted. He'd never get to go outside or work in the field. And that was if Aro decided not to burn him as a security risk like poor Stephen. Probably not. Demetri was the jewel of Aro's collection, vicious, loyal, gifted. He'd even been part of a matched set ...right up until Edward took off.

Demetri had probably just had the worst three weeks of his life. He'd had to adjust to new injuries in the middle of a coven full of jealous vultures, half the new guys were the same people who'd crippled him in the first place, and his best friend had just ditched him.

Edward didn't miss being Aro's willing slave; he felt guilty about not saving Demetri hard enough. He was my Edward. My stupid, stupid Edward.

"He has Caroly," I breathed, starting to rock to one side. "He has Felix." His arms settled around me. "He has Renata. He has Marjane." I went through the names, everyone who even might be in Demetri's camp.

"You didn't abandon him," I said, curling my fingers at his neck. "Look at my face. You got him part of the way. The others will carry him now. You didn't leave him behind until he was safe." Ish.

"I'm not who I thought I was," he told me.

"Maybe not," I said, "but you're someone good."

I held him like that for a while, slowly feeling the blood work its way through my body. My strength was coming back Maybe his was too. Maybe the blood had given him the focus he needed.

"We really couldn't stay," I whispered, squeezing his hand, "and if you'd stayed for this we never would have gotten out."

"I know," he said, and it finally sounded like a real answer.




I let her hold me. It almost felt good to let myself feel bad. This was the first time I'd been this physically close to anyone since handing Demetri off to Caroly. I tried to remind myself that we could stay like this as long as we wanted, but I kept listening, still expecting Aro or Jane to call me away.

The truth was that I did miss Volterra. When Aro had handed me my first cloak, I felt like I'd been fitted for chains. But after twenty years, it was my identity, my connection to Demetri and Caroly and Marcus—and yes, <i>Aro</i>. I'd earned it and every fiber of the respect it represented.

I should have been happy to be away from the masters. I should have been sorry that I'd lost everything. I should have been afraid of being recaptured. I should have been ashamed that I hadn't spent my boon less selfishly. I should have been angry, at Chelsea and Aro or even Bella. She'd used my love for her like a dog's leash. But then, Bella had manipulated me for thirty seconds, and they'd been playing me like a marionette for twenty years.

Instead, I felt exactly like a man who'd abandoned his best friend. It wasn't that Bella was wrong; she was right. We really couldn't have stayed in Volterra another twenty years, not if she really did have crimes against her and if I wasn't really immune to Chelsea. And Aro wouldn't have let me take a two-week rain check on a boon; it didn't work like that. Rewards this big were now or never.

I'd been this way after Bella was first turned, and I knew my own mind now. I hoped I hadn't screwed things up too much. Because if <i>I</i> felt cheated that I couldn't enjoy her first hunting lesson, what must it be like for her? So I'd hold out my arm, I'd take her hand, I'd make my face take on a smile, and I'd hope that she'd ride it out with me until my heart caught up with my head.

She was running her fingers down my back, strong and whole. One day, I wouldn't wonder if Demetri could still use his hands. One day, I'd put this on a shelf in my memory with all the other things I'd done wrong and I'd get on with my life. But not now.

I liked it here, the Burren. It was empty this time of year, no people to fill the air with their thoughts and their complications. Bella didn't add to the noise inside me, and I loved her for it. She ran her hand through my hair (I'd stopped using gel sometime in the early 2020s). She nodded toward the path behind us. We had a boat to catch. I offered her my arm and she took it.

We stepped away from the stones as if we really were two tourists out for a walk.

Halfway back to the road, I stopped short, fingers tightening on her skin, not certain if I understood what I was hearing.

She knew my field cues as well as anyone apart from Caroly or Demetri. Enemy.

She let go of my arm and took two steps away from me, just enough space so that we wouldn't get in each other's way if we had to skirmish. I lowered my shoulders some. Other vampires didn't necessarily mean a fight. If anything, other they'd be less likely to behave territorially against us than against normal vampires. Vegetarians didn't draw on their food supply. That didn't mean we could be careless.

"Go easy," I whispered. She nodded and took the lead, the least threatening vampire going first.

My heart muscle ached as if it wanted to pound. This was my first non-Volturi encounter with strange vampires since... Since... Brazil. South America when I'd gone on my cowardly adventure to chase after Victoria. It seemed so long ago now. I was looking at it from the other side of so many things, a war, Aro, Chelsea, my marriage to Bella, my career with Demetri and Caroly. I had to shake twenty years of habits if I was going to make this work without a gray cloak, Aro's authority and Demetri by my side.

We headed down the hillside

I could hear their thoughts but I couldn't see them. In their own way, these people were tourists too, not resident in Ireland, not true nomads. A male and a female. That was entirely ordinary. Mated pairs tended to travel together. Covens as big as three were rare—except in my life.

There was a large boulder off to our left. It would have cast an inviting shadow on a sunny day. There was some question as to why vampires would be out here, during the day or at any other time. It wasn't the season for trekkers. Even if it were, this wasn't the sort of wilderness where disappearances could be chalked up to exposure or mischance. As Bella had pointed out, there wasn't even anyplace to hide a body. The two sets of thoughts were quiet, noticing things like the weather and plants. The male was a little bored. He wanted to go back to Dublin. He'd promised his mate that they would see Paris before any bombs fell, but he wasn't really looking forward to it.

Deliberately, I broke stride to dislodge a pebble with my toe. It clacked obligingly against the rocks.

The two minds sprang to life. <i>No heartbeat! No heartbeat!</i> thought the female, correctly deducing that other vampires were near. She seemed a bit slow on the idea that I wouldn't have made a noise if I'd wanted to attack her. Sounded like she'd been through a lot. I grimaced. Jasper's old friends Peter and Charlotte were a bit like that. They'd been turned unexpectedly, like many vampires were, but then they'd spent their first year amid violence and death, with makers who didn't have their best interests at heart. They were always more careful and more jumpy than people who'd been turned under normal circumstances. The male seemed a bit more like Jasper to my mind. He was already assessing the threat, but his thoughts were slow and deliberate.

"The big one's gifted, but I can't tell what he does yet," I murmured, stepping up behind Bella. She smiled and put her hand on my wrist. I'd learned that she didn't actually need to touch me to use her power, but I supposed this was her way of letting me know that I was shielded. So I could object, perhaps. When I'd first found out she'd been covering for me all this time, I'd actually been a little annoyed, but I wasn't going to tell her to stop. In all likelihood, this encounter would be peaceful, but there was no sense leaving good protection on the table.

The man lumbered to his feet, stretching out as if he were a human who'd gone stiff from sitting. The light coming through the thick clouds made him look a little like a rock himself. A little taller and he'd seem like the giant from the beanstalk tale. I held back a smile. He was showing off his heavy fists and powerful shoulders without actually making a threatening move. Not the subtlest I'd ever seen but he certainly got the point across. A small, lithe figure with thick dark hair crept out beside him. She'd been turned young. The male had probably had no more than nineteen human years, but the girl was definitely a <i>girl</i>, maybe fifteen. Not young enough to touch the law against turning children—Jane had been even younger—but it had to be an inconvenience. On a good day, I could pass for a person in his early twenties, but this girl never would.

The woman's eyes were dark, but right now that seemed to suggest more fear than thirst to me. She moved from my face to Bella's and her posture went completely stiff. This was no untrained child. She was old enough to have a few close calls flickering like shards of glass in the back of her mind.

"We—we were in the shade the whole time!" said the girl, holding up her hands. "Didn't budge an inch, not an inch! I swear! We would never!"

Bella laughed. It wasn't genuine but that wasn't the point. Since prehistory, laughing had meant that there was no harm, no danger. Most humans—and anything that used to be human—instinctively took a laugh as a sign that a fight was not imminent.

The girl looked over her shoulder at the male, who hadn't said anything. It seemed as though she was the talker of this pair, though she didn't step forward. She always seemed to stand a little behind him. Given the relative difference in their sizes, who wouldn't?

"We were out here too, you realize," said Bella, making her voice sound extra musical. She gestured to the sky. "It's a safe day. Even if it weren't, there's no one out here to see us."

The girl still looked frightened. <i>But I thought they were...</i> her eyes trailed from Bella to me and back. <i>Gold eyes. In Europe, only Volturi have those. Is it not them?</i>

"You... You're not?"

Bella leaned forward, taking on the posture of an interested listener. "Not what?" she asked. "Not Volturi?"

The girl nodded carefully. "He's Edward," she said, pointing at me. "And you're not Caroly, so you're Bella the tamer."

Bella looked at me as if the girl had made a good joke. I smiled back. The stranger hadn't made a pleasant comment, not even close, but it was best not to give any sign that could be misinterpreted. This girl was strung like a wire, and her mate was hanging on her every cue. She might look like a timid little thing, but one wrong move, and they'd both attack.

<i>He can hear what I'm thinking; he can hear what I'm thinking! That means he'll know!</i> The girl fought down panic. I tried not to roll my eyes. It was one of the side effects of becoming famous. People saw me and then they couldn't help thinking about any minor infraction they'd made or even childish naughtiness from their human days. One man had had a vivid flashback of a time he'd cheated on his mate. I'd been able to snap that out in the middle of the fight and set the two enemies to fighting each other. It had given Caroly the flanking space she'd needed to grab the male and twist off his head.

...but the girl's thoughts turned to the sky, to the gray rocks around her, becoming focused. It was almost as if she'd practiced this. Her mind was agitated, but she willed herself to forget everything and focus on the moment. She could always remember again later, she told herself. Her mental flexibility was amazing. My head hurt just watching her.

...was this how Rolfe had done it? In a way, I missed him too. I wondered if Aro had bothered to send anyone to collect his head.

"We're former Volturi," I said. "If you two are breaking the law, then we are obliged to report you to the proper authorities, as all vampires are, but as my mate has told you, we have seen no crimes and have no quarrel."

The man turned his head for the first time, "No cloaks," he said. The girl's breathing seemed to get a bit steadier. It seemed like he wasn't the only one reading cues. I calculated the odds. I was probably faster than he was. From this position, there were three different ways I could take him down before he could reach Bella or me.

Bella took two steps to an inviting rock and sat down. "So what brings the two of you here? I can tell from your speech that you're not from the continent."

I was still watching the girl's thoughts, curious as to how she knew so much about us. Word had filtered out that Volturi occasionally had gold eyes (I wasn't sure if the community at large knew that it was the result of a punishment) but why would she have jumped from "one of the Volturi" to "Edward of the Volturi"? It wasn't as if I'd ever been photographed. And she had identified me first and Bella from there.

"The war," the man said. Not much of one for words, him.

"We want to see Europe before things get bad there," said the girl. "London, Paris, the art museums in Spain and Vienna, all the big cities." Except the ones in Italy, I noted. They would steer clear of there like the plague. I could see her planning this trip, pale fingers moving against the full-color pages of an art book. "Who knows what could happen if the Union goes to war?"

Bella smiled. She truly had grown adept at dealing with other vampire women. After Adrienne and Heidi, this one was easy pickings. A few words from her and this girl was speaking eagerly, the fingers of her small hands tracing the occasional idea in the air.

"We haven't been far from home much," she said. "We were both turned pretty young. He finished high school but I didn't," she nodded toward her mate.

I noticed that she didn't give a name. I imagined something hulking and Scandinavian, like Buliwyf or Hrothgar from that Antonio Banderas movie that Emmett had liked so much. The man looked like a jotun.

"It was the same with me," Bella said with Adrienne's old manners, like a society lady inviting the new debutante to her table. Soon they were talking about statues and touring the great cities as if they were at a cotillion planning a coming-out party. Bella had picked up a surprising amount of information during her years maintaining Caius's collection, but of course she knew more about preserving and caring for valuable art than about its history. I'd run several acquisition missions and probably knew a bit myself, but Bella was on a roll. The longer we spoke to this couple, the less likely that this would end in violence. I made eye contact with the male and gave him my best Bored Afton upnod. <i>Let the women have their talk. Want to carry on about football?</i> but he wasn't having it.

"So how do you like seeing the world?" Bella asked.

"Not what I thought, but that's the point, isn't it?" said the girl. <i>And there's this THING...</i> she stopped herself before describing the pair bond, figuring that Bella must already know. She'd been a street child as a human, so she'd taken it as a foregone conclusion that her protector would want sexual favors. The man was no angel. He wasn't even the kind of boy I'd been. He'd suspected that her offers weren't entirely of her own volition but he'd accepted her favors gladly. After all, this hadn't been an arrangement of convenience for <i>him</i>. He was big and strong and gifted and didn't really need what amounted to a kid sister running around, for all that her ministrations were far from sisterly.

Oxytocin. Estrogen. Testosterone. We no longer had blood that flowed but there was something in us that responded to the sense of another person. Intense emotions could trigger the change. For many of our kind, sex, feeding and fighting were the only times that things got that intense. One day she'd looked at him as if she were seeing him for the first time, and she would not leave him ever.

Even now, she was drawing confidence from his nearness. If she'd been alone, she would have run away long ago. For now, Bella was putting her at ease. For his part, he'd rather have stayed Stateside. But Paris was where she wanted to be and he wanted to be where she was.

"Vampires in Europe seem to be different from the ones back home. The territories are tighter. We're always having to stop and explain ourselves. In the U.S., 'just passing through' is usually enough."

Bella nodded, giving no hint that she hadn't been closer to U.S. soil than Colombia in more than twenty years. "In North America, most nomads roam. People like to be in motion. Europe has its traditions. I imagine the first of our kind to come to the new world felt very free."

The girl frowned. "That's what's so odd," she said. "Wouldn't there have been vampires crossing the ice bridge?" The male remembered a day at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. It had been more fun than the art museum. "There are vampires in Europe, Asia, and Africa going so far back that we don't know where our kind first started, but back where <i>I'm</i> from—" She stopped short. I saw a flash of something. Faces. Fear.

Bella was smiling. "Some places are more hospitable to our kind than others."

My family had lived all over North America, and there was only one place that I knew of where vampires couldn't linger. I started to wonder just what this girl had experienced to make her so frightened of things that only looked human.

"So tell me," Bella said, smoothly changing the subject, "what brings the two of you <i>here</i>? You look like you haven't eaten in a while, and there's not much in the way of humans."

"Decided to cross last night," said the jotun. "Safer to wait out the day than to risk it." There was a touch of resentment, if ex-Volturi got daylight privileges. He assumed that my former covenmates would go easy on us if they caught us out here. Nothing of the kind. It was only that my gift made me confident that I could avoid any human witnesses.

"Prudent," I said.

"You know," said Bella, "if you're hungry, there are a bunch of goats up here. They don't taste like much but they're edible."

"Huh?" the girl asked. The man looked confused too. I knew the feeling. Many vampires had no idea that feeding on animals was possible, and it wasn't a conclusion that many came to on their own. They just didn't smell like food the way humans did.

Bella pointed to her eyes, "There's only one side effect that I know of," she lied smoothly. Or she didn't agree with Carlisle's theory about animal blood helping us keep calm. "But it takes months of a human-free diet to do that," she said. "Every vampire should try ungulate at least once. If nothing else, it will make you appreciate other food sources more."

The girl smiled, as if she'd made a good joke. "I think we can hold out until we get back to Dublin," she said. "We should be able to find enough food there to tide us over on our trip to—" The male nudged her in the arm and she stopped. "So how about you?" she asked. "You say you <i>used</i> to be Volturi?"

"Our master has released us from his service," I volunteered. It was technically the truth. "We wish to return to private life."

<i>You didn't run away?</i> she thought before her discipline reasserted itself. I caught images of a basement packed with pale, violent faces, of a vampire with dark hair and a rakish smile, <i>very</i> different from her current mate, and a flash of the jotun with new-bright eyes, telling her they had to get out. A face. I knew that face, didn't I? Why did it irritate me so?

I tried not to react. They'd been part of a large group of newborns, not turned in keeping with the law. That meant both their lives were forfeit if anyone reported them. No wonder the girl was so on edge. No wonder she didn't want me picking secrets from her thoughts.

There was that face again, male and stretched out in a snarl. The girl remembered ducking behind any large object, a couch, a rock, this man who'd later be her mate. Dark hair. Latino. Where had I seen him before?

There was suddenly a strong breeze from over the hill, bringing the faint scent of the north Atlantic.

The ocean. The strait. Hsinchu City. That nomad that had given Demetri and Caroly and me such trouble. This girl had known him. I focused on the memory. Bright eyes. They'd been newborns together.

"Well we shouldn't keep you," said Bella. "The sun should be going down soon."

If I'd still been Volturi, I could have ordered her to give me the information I wanted. If I'd still had Caroly and Demetri with me, I could have neutralized her giant of a mate and interrogated her without leaving a mark. As it was...

I laid my hand on Bella's arm, tensing carefully so she'd know I had something to tell her. She smiled at the girl as if we were neighbors trading pleasantries after Church and we started away.

At the first obstacle we passed, a dip in the earth as we continued downhill, Bella pulled me aside. I nodded tightly and leaned against the stone, closing my eyes and listening hard. Voices didn't travel well over this distance, but thoughts did.

"That was <i>them</i>, you know. That was <i>her</i>." For some reason, Bella seemed to ...not exactly frighten the girl, but seeing her had been disturbing, like a bad memory. Maybe she'd run afoul of her in the field somewhere ...but it had sounded like these two hadn't spent much time outside the States, and Bella hadn't been allowed to go there.

<i>"It doesn't matter now,"</i> said the male.

The girl was actually pacing. As I'd suspected, her control was less complete now that she thought we'd left.

<i>"Not our business any more,"</i> said the male, <i>"whatever his problem was."</i> The male's thoughts were slower but steadier. A face rose in his memory. Powerful, angry...

Bella gave a tiny little gasp but stopped before the sound could carry; my whole body had tensed up. I felt like I'd been given an electric shock. She gripped my arm tightly, mouthing, "What is it? What is it?"

<i>"What if he comes back?"</i> the girl was babbling. <i>"What if he's looking for them and—"</i>

<i>"Then we'll kick his butt; we're allowed. Or we'll walk away. It's not our fight,"</i> the male was saying, a hand on each of her shoulders. She got like this sometimes, he remembered. Even after all this time, she still felt sorry for the others. <i>"It never was our fight. They tried to use us, but we got away."</i>

I locked eyes with Bella. "They know him. They <i>know</i> him."


The face in the girl's memory was blond and sharp. The voice had what I <i>finally</i> recognized as a Northwestern accent. I'd just needed to hear it in context.

It was the same face I'd seen outside Anwar. The same face I'd seen in Rolfe memory.

"Andrew's nomad, the one who set us up in India," I told her. "He was their maker."

Bella leaned toward me, eyes going wide. "He ...did you get a name?"

I nodded.

<i>"Let's just go, Bree,"</i> the male was saying. <i>"The sun's down. We could be in London by tomorrow."</i>





So this one was tough. I wrote it from Edward's perspective twice and Bella's once and ended up dividing it into two chunks. My original plan was for Edward to have been dealing with his (partially displaced) anger at Bella for manipulating him, but it became clear that any annoyance he'd feel at having been fooled for that long would have been completely eclipsed by the Demetri matter.

I hope you all have a good time with that special someone, and even if you don't, remember that tomorrow is a new day ...a day during which all that candy is going to be half-price.

drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu