a/n: This travesty is unbetaed, perverse and completely ill-advised. And, I don't own Twilight. Which you'll no doubt realize is a good thing after you see what I did with these poor, innocent characters.
"Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments."
-Frederick the Great
Honestly, it should have been strange, standing there so many months later. But I knew that this, or something like this, was coming, so standing in front of those three black thrones in that marble hall felt inevitable. So inevitable that I wasn't nearly as nervous as I should have been. This was a relief since the twenty or so immortals in the room could hear my heartbeat and might decide to eat me anyway, without letting me talk to them.
"Isabella." My name rolled off Aro's tongue the same way it had in my memory. I thought I'd imagined the fluidity, the care he invested in my name.
He may have also been wearing the same suit as the last time I stood before him. The blackness of it cast his pale face with it's classical features into sharp relief. I couldn't tear my eyes away from him.
Still, I bowed my head deferentially to the three vampire kings. A formal curtsey seemed like too much, but a wave or simple "Hello" seemed like too little. Like I said, I had thought this moment out pretty exhaustively in the last few months. I knew I only had this one tiny thing, this one tiny chance.
Alec, Jane, Demitri and Felix flanked me, the way they had before, but they had given me more space this time. I was less of a flight risk than Alice and Edward had been, I assumed.
"It's a pleasure to see you again," Aro's soft voice and cheerful grin were just as disconcerting as they had been before, especially as he glided closer to me, his hands outstretched.
"Forgive me," he said, smiling with theatrical chagrin. "I simply must try again." He reached his hands out to me, waiting for me to place my hand in his. I complied with a tremor.
His cold, steel hands slipped over mine, one on the bottom, one sliding over the top. He closed his eyes, an almost dreamy smile gliding onto his lips. Then his red eyes popped open with a childlike, delighted smile.
"Remarkable." He relinquished my hand and took a step back. Then, glancing around the room to make sure the attention of the room was on him, he spoke again.
"I wish I could say I was surprised to see you unchanged, Isabella. Young Edward is quite stubborn, is he not?"
I nodded and tried to make my face as apologetic as possible, although Aro had to know that I had little control over my transformation.
"Unfortunately, we do have laws and, especially sad for you, the Cullens have violated them." Aro gave a deep, dramatic sigh and gave me a regretful look.
"But, since you show such potential, and the circumstances are clearly out of your control, I would like to extend to you a choice." Aro was doing his best to convince both the crowd and me that he was showing mercy. I anticipated, had hoped for, what I knew was coming next.
"I will leave the decision up to you, my dear Isabella. Instead of being killed, you may be changed and join us here in Volterra. I believe you would make an excellent addition to our guard and we would be thrilled to have you stay."
This choice, obviously not the choice I dreamed of when I fell in love with Edward Cullen, was my last, best option. I had lost the option of living a normal life the second I whispered "vampire" to Edward in that clearing in the forest. My choices had narrowed down to immortality or death the moment I appeared here in Volterra this past spring. Changing and joining the Volturi, if the opportunity presented itself, had become my only alternative to death when I split up with Edward upon our return to Forks and refused to have anything to do with the family that had left me to wither when he left me in the woods.
"Thank you," I nodded solemnly, the way I had practiced, to each of the three leaders. "It would be a pleasure to join you."
I wondered how many rooms they had that had modern plumbing. I couldn't imagine that they had many human guests, so the fact that this bedroom they had shuffled me to was so well equipped surprised me. Then I wondered how I had the presence of mind to think of plumbing when I would be transformed into a vampire and consigned to a life among these strangers any moment now. It was like looking at myself from the outside. I collapsed on the couch in weary overwhelm.
Almost immediately there was a light knock and the door opened. Because I guess you didn't have to wait to be invited in here.
Aro entered. I rose but he gestured for me to sit back down. He took a seat in an armchair a few feet from me. He looked as regal as he had sitting in his throne. He folded his hands in his lap and regarded me with an almost thoughtful look for a moment before speaking.
"I wonder if you would indulge me for a moment, Isabella. I have a matter I wish to discuss with you before we arrange for your transformation."
"Of course, Sir." I sat up, attempting to match his posture. Although part of a triumvirate, Aro was clearly the most influential of the brothers. He was also the most…approachable. I needed to please him to continue to survive, in some form or another.
Aro gave another theatrical sigh like he had given in the marble room and regarded me with a look that felt almost as though we were commiserating.
"It's the matter of the Cullens, I'm afraid." He looked at me with an exaggerated affect of sadness. "There is still the issue of their violation of the rules, especially your Edward." I had known that this may happen and, although I tried not to blame my former friends, I hadn't exactly exonerated them either. I may have cut them out of my life but I still didn't want them hurt. Unfortunately, I feared that I had less than no power in this situation and the fact that I had saved my own life, such as it was, was a minor miracle.
"I'm afraid that even if you desire some sort of vengeance…it is a high price to pay for an innocent romance gone astray. But, there must be a consequence for their failing to follow my directive." I had no idea what Aro was going to do to them and I looked at him with concern.
"I don't want anything to happen to them. I didn't allow them to come near me, they couldn't have changed me without violating my wishes."
"I understand Isabella, but I'm afraid there is still the issue of their non-compliance." He said the word with a wince. He got up and walked gracefully to the window and, after pausing, turned around and spoke. "I have a…compromise to offer you. Something that would allow the Cullens to remain unharmed." I nodded to him to continue.
"I'm afraid it's a bit unorthodox which is why I wanted to speak to you privately." Aro glided away from the window to a spot behind the armchair. His affect had gone from dramatic to arid formality.
"I will agree to let the Cullens remain unharmed, although the penalty for their actions should rightfully be their destruction, if you will agree to be my mistress."
It was the last thing that I expected out of the mouth of this polite, somewhat flamboyant man. I stared at him in shock.
"I know this comes as a surprise and it must seem like terrible manners on my part." His voice was kind and gentle again and he sat back down in the armchair facing me.
"I apologize for the crudeness of my request but you must let me explain." I nodded stiffly and he continued.
"I have been alive for three thousand years and, to be frank, I have never been able to enjoy the feel of a woman's skin without hearing every thought she ever had. What you offer, quite simply, Isabella is a completely unique experience that I never thought I would be able to have."
He got up again, seemingly nervous, and paced over to the window again.
"I understand that as a young woman of your upbringing and time in history, you would generally expect to have an emotional relationship with someone before engaging in relations with them. I can only respond by saying that this expectation is a product of your time, a social construct, if you will, and not one that has always been the prevailing attitude." He smiled at me, his sly charm reappearing. "I believe that it would be a pleasurable relationship for you as well. At least, I would do my best to make it so."
Aro got up and moved back over to where I sat, speechless at his proposition.
"You have questions and concerns." His voice was soft and concerned again.
"I…but you're married." I blurted it out. Then I couldn't believe myself that his marital status was my first concern.
"Yes," he said patiently. "I am married. My wife will not attempt to harm you in any way, I assure you." He waited for my next question.
"Will you wait until I am changed?"
"I understand your concern as I clearly lack the…discipline that your former paramour had. I would like to attempt to be intimate before you are changed. I simply can't imagine passing up the opportunity." His look when he said this was so lascivious, so lustful, I actually found myself shivering in..what? Was I responding to him in kind? I realized that I was not…repulsed by the thought of being with him. Far from it. This surprised me.
"Of course, it is a dangerous undertaking and I will make every attempt at control. If I fail and you are injured, I will change you then."
"For how long? How long would we…" my voice trailed off.
Aro folded his hands pedantically. "I think a period of five years would be a sufficient commitment at the outset, renegotiable at that point." His face was so polite and calm again I wondered if I imagined the lust that had overtaken it moments before.
"I will say," he added. "The Volturi are as political an institution as any and it would serve you well to have an important ally. But, of course, that will be up to you."
I took a deep breath before I asked to most confrontational question I had for this powerful vampire who could have chosen to just snap my neck for my lack of respect.
"I don't mean to be impertinent," I said cautiously. "But I don't understand how the Cullens will be…dealt with if I agree to…" I was reluctant to mention it but I didn't see how the Volturi could let them get away with not following an order. There had been at least thirty vampires in the room when Aro told Alice and Edward that they had to either change me or kill me.
"That's simple, my dear child." Aro's voice had dropped back down to a hypnotic whisper. "I will invite Edward here to see how I am taking what was his."
I was so shocked I gasped.
"I understand that it will be…embarrassing for you, but understand me, Isabella." Aro drew closer to me and I was too mesmerized by him to even look away. "I make the effort to be civil and polite for the sake of maintaining the peace. But I am not a gentleman; I am a three thousand year-old vampire. If I have to remind the Cullens and the rest of the immortal community this by taking possession of you in the oldest way known to man, I will."
And then, as suddenly as it began, his growling declaration ended and his face was, as before, serene and smiling.
"The alternative, my dear, is inviting them all here and tearing them limb from limb. The choice is yours." His voice was light and airy and he leaned back and folded his hands on his lap again. I could have convinced myself that I imagined it all but for the thud of my heart and the heat in my throat and chest.
I had no choice at that point, for a variety of reasons. "I will take the deal." I hardly recognized my own voice. Aro didn't look surprised.
"I'm so glad," he said, almost primly. "I think I'll leave you to rest and recuperate a bit from your long flight." His words reminded me that I had woken up in Forks some twenty hours before and gotten ready for high school. Now I was in Italy about to lose my virginity to a three thousand year-old monster that I wanted more desperately in this moment than I could recall ever desiring my eternally seventeen year-old boyfriend.
"Shall I come back tomorrow evening at this time?" he suggested. I nodded mutely.
He got up as if to leave but instead he stood in front of me gesturing for me to stand up. I rose shakily and took his proffered hand.
"Isabella, may I kiss you?" He was again wearing the voice and mannerisms of a Victorian gentleman.
"Yes," I said.
He leaned down very slowly, very tentatively, his hand touching my cheek. His lips met mine, feeling a thousand times colder than Edward's ever had. The pressure increased ever so slightly and I shifted, unable to stop myself, so that the angle changed. Just as a miniscule gasp escaped my lips he pulled back, that sly smile on his face again.
"Until tomorrow, Isabella," his voice was a whisper now. All I could do was stare as he flitted from the room as quietly and as gracefully as he'd come. I collapsed back onto the couch and placed my hand on my overheated forehead.
a/n: I think it's going to be three chapters. Maybe four. Please stop me.