Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight :)
A/N: Thank you so much for your reviews! They always make my day. I split this chapter into two because otherwise it would have turned out to be insanely long. I'll post the other half in a couple of days. Have a nice day, and I hope you enjoy!
"The ultimate mystery is one's own self."
- Sammy Davis Jr. -
"She was impressed by us."
Edward's voice was pensive. He was standing by the glass doors of the living room, staring outside into the garden, his eyes trained on the spot where Veronique had been standing a while ago. We had gathered inside soon after she had left, some of us still too keyed up to sit down. Eleazar and Jasper were pacing around the room, and both of them stopped at Edward's words.
"Impressed?" Rosalie's voice was disbelieving. "She seemed utterly arrogant to me."
Edward shook his head. "She tried to come off that way, but the truth is that she wasn't prepared for what was awaiting her here. I had expected that Aro would have filled her in about what kind of coven she was going to meet, but apparently not. She was surprised how... well, civilized and peaceful we were."
"I take it you were able to get a better sense of her thoughts this time?" Carlisle asked. He was standing next to the couch where I was seated, the tips of his fingers brushing against my shoulder every now and then. He had been touching me almost constantly ever since Veronique had left, seeming like he wasn't even aware of doing it. I wondered if he had been more worried about her visit than he had let on.
Edward frowned. "I keep having a feeling like she was still trying to hide something, but her thoughts kept slipping. All in all, she wasn't that withdrawn and overstrung compared to her behaviour when she was taking me to Italy. It could be that she's just very a private person – but then again, she has to be able to tolerate Aro. The word privacy doesn't even exist around him, after all."
"What is it that she's hiding, then?" Esme asked. She was sitting on one of the couches next to Miguel, holding his hand. Alice was sitting on the floor at her feet. I saw her give Edward a look I couldn't quite decipher.
"And what did you mean when you said to her that a peaceful life is something she's familiar with?" she asked.
"She got very riled up about it," Jasper added, also curious. "I almost thought she'd go for your throat. Why did your words upset her so much?"
Edward stared outside into the garden for a moment more before turning to us with a reflective frown. He hesitated. "It was a memory that made me say it."
"A memory?" Carlisle asked.
"Her memory. Veronique's," Edward explained. He paused, crossing his arms over his chest. "As soon as she walked from the woods and saw us, she was impressed by what she saw, like I said a moment ago. But there was something else as well. I believe that when she saw us, she was reminded of the coven she belonged to before joining the Volturi. She misses that life and her old coven – that much was obvious. I kept seeing flickers in her mind, moments of the life she used to live, but she kept pushing those thoughts away."
"Because she didn't want you to see them?" Esme asked.
"Probably. But I don't think that's the only reason." Edward turned to Jasper. "I wanted to ask you about it. Every now and then, did you get the feeling like she was – "
"Grieving," Jasper finished for him, nodding. "She suppressed the emotion quickly, though. But I sensed a lot of pain in her."
I remembered the flicker of sorrow in Veronique's eyes when Carlisle had said the word 'family'. I'd thought that I'd only imagined it, but apparently I hadn't.
"Did she leave her old coven to join the Volturi?" Carlisle asked.
"Maybe." Edward didn't sound confident, though. He frowned down at the floor for a moment before looking up again. "The brief memories flashing through her mind... they were chaotic, full of mayhem. And I kept hearing the word 'brother'. I don't think she left the coven willingly. I'm not entirely sure the coven exists anymore – it's possible it was destroyed, judging from what I saw from her memories. I think..." He sighed and frowned, apparently replaying Veronique's thoughts in his mind. "I think there was a battle."
"Internal violence," Jasper suggested. "Even a coven of three vampires – or at least a functional coven – is a rare sight. Especially if the leadership is unclear."
"It's possible," Edward agreed quietly, his voice uncertain.
I knew that the Cullen family and the Denalis were rather unique when it came to this. Carlisle had once told me that forming family-like bonds had been possible for them partly because their existence wasn't based on competing for human blood and territories. He had said that a coven doesn't have to be very large to become unstable; the competitive drive for human blood was so strong. He had said that only a deep, meaningful relationship or the bond between mates was strong enough to survive it.
"But it doesn't match," Alice murmured, frowning confusedly. "A moment ago you implied that she used to live a peaceful life before joining the Volturi. Why would that peace suddenly end in internal violence? And why did you keep hearing the word 'brother'?"
Edward shrugged, shaking his head. "Something unexpected could have happened. I can't even tell how large her old coven was. If it was larger than average, it doesn't take much to unsettle it. I think Jasper can vouch for that, given his past." Jasper gave a dry laugh. Edward began to rub his chin in a very human-like manner. "That's one of the reasons why Veronique was so impressed by us. She was involuntarily comparing us to the Volturi – their coven is obviously the largest one she's ever seen, and it surprised her that there are so many of us here, and yet we can lead such a civilized existence without strict leadershrip. She was also perplexed that all of us are abstaining from human blood and doing so willingly, despite the fact that there is a much simpler and more pleasant solution. And then, of course, she couldn't exactly ignore the fact that some of us are gifted. She has never met anyone like Alice before. All that made her feel wrong-footed. The thought of a coven with so many gifted vampires living so... ordinarily, without an aim to gain power... it unsettled her. The Volturi are obviously the only other talented coven she's seen, and they are all about maintaining power and gaining more of it. She actually kept picturing some of us joining the guard. She knows that Aro would give a lot to get some of us to join them."
An involutary hiss almost made its way out of my mouth, but I was able to stop the sound. Something in my emotions – and in my face – must have shifted, though, because Jasper gave me a look, and so did Edward.
"That's part of her M.O." Edward told me, his tone placating. "It's what she does, after all. She travels around the world and searches for potential humans and gifted vampires who might interest Aro. Like Eleazar once did."
"Are you defending her?" Emmett asked, incredulous. "And what's with the sudden obsession about her past? What does it matter who she is and where she came from, or what happened to her old coven? Why are you so intrigued by her?"
"Intrigued is a rather strong word," Edward answered, shooting him an annoyed look. "I'm just curious, that's all. There's something about her that doesn't match. There's something that makes her different from the rest of the guard. I don't know what it is, and I don't know why, but... " He trailed off, shrugging.
"Okay. But what does it matter?" Emmett asked, slower this time, as if Edward was a bit slow-witted.
"Nothing, I suppose."
"That's right. She came, she saw, she left, and soon she'll be back in Italy. Aro will read her mind and he'll be pleased to find out that Afton didn't kill Bella and she's now a vampire and possibly a shield. He'll drool after her for a couple of centuries until he comes across something more interesting. No offense kid," he added, giving me a grin. I rolled my eyes. "And we – we will live happily ever after. Case closed. Right?" He didn't wait for anyone's answer, and reached out for the remote and flicked on the flat screen, leaving it on mute.
"About Bella's shield," Eleazar said, directing his words at Edward. "What did Veronique think of her?"
"I think her ability to identify gifted vampires might be a bit more thorough than yours. She was reading all of us like the names of our abilities were written on our foreheads. She was having trouble getting a read on Bella, though, just like you struggle with it whenever you try. It puzzled her at first, obviously, but she seemed to draw the same conclusion as you did – that Bella has to possess a mental shield of some kind. Something about her reminded her of Afton and Renata."
Eleazar nodded. "Aro will be intrested to hear that."
His words made me think about what Veronique had said to Carlisle and me before she had left – that we'd be welcome to visit the Volturi any time we wished. It vexed me a bit that it didn't seem to be enough for Aro that he would get a confirmation about my change. He had to see me with his own eyes. His curiosity towards talented individuals wasn't just plain, healthy curiosity – it was an obsession, just like Alice had once said.
Even though my opinion of the Volturi had always been a bit biased, and I had always seen them as villains, I was able to admit that their status in the vampire world was important. I knew the law of secrecy had to be maintained by someone to keep our world hidden from humans. But still, I had this feeling like the Volturi expected everyone to be somehow answerable to them in all things just because of their royal, superior status. I hated the very idea of it.
Wasn't it enough that we lived in peace with humans? Wasn't it enough that we kept our true nature concealed from them? Hell, since us and the Denalis lived off of animal blood only, we attracted less attention than most vampires. It seemed a bit unreasobale to be constantly under the Volturi's microscope. And just because I was gifted – or just because Edward was gifted, or Alice, or Jasper, or someone else – it shouldn't mean that Aro could call us up whenever he liked for more thorough study and inspection. It made me feel like he saw talented vampires as trophies instead of individual, feeling beings.
Maybe that's why Aro's cordial invitation to come and visit them in Volterra didn't feel like an invitation at all. It felt like an order. It made some deep, unspoken restlessness storm inside me.
I wondered if I was getting ahead of myself, letting my imagination get the better of me. I was still new to all this, after all. I studied the faces around the room, knowing that they had lived for decades and centuries in this world, under the few laws the Volturi had been enforcing for thousands of years. Had they been this restless at the beginning of this existence as well? Was this uneasiness within me something that would fade away in time?
I hoped so.
I kind of envied Emmett at the moment. He had propped his feet up against the coffee table, his eyes on the TV screen. He looked utterly relaxed – he might have been a bit disappointed when it had become clear that Veronique's visit wouldn't bring any drama or action to his boring day, but apparently, he had already moved on.
That seemed to be the case with the others as well, more or less. Rosalie slapped Emmett's feet off the coffee table – there was mud at the bottom of his shoes – and then she disappeared upstairs together with Esme and Alice. Miguel had risen from the couch and he was standing between Eleazar and Jasper. The three of them were now having a quiet conversation with each other. Carlisle squeezed my shoulder gently and pressed a soft kiss on my temple before joining them.
There was only one person in the room who seemed to share my quiet pensiveness. Hours later, as the first rays of rising sun eventually broke through the darkness, Edward was still staring outside into the garden, his golden eyes on the spot where Veronique had stood.
The obscure restlessness that haunted me after Veronique's visit faded away little by little as the days passed on. I talked to Carlisle about it, wanting to know if I was the only one suffering from that strange unrest. He admitted that he'd hoped that a visit from the Volturi would sate Aro's curiosity when it came to me, but he told me that he'd also known to expect that Aro might not leave it there. Carlisle didn't find the idea of visiting the Volturi exactly pleasant, but he had accepted that it was something we might have to do to keep Aro satisfied. Now that Veronique could confirm that I was gifted, I knew it might not be a matter of if Aro wanted to offer me a place in the guard, but it was a matter of when.
I idly wondered what would happen if we just ignored Aro's request to visit Volterra. How many years would it take until he began to wonder why I didn't arrive? Ten years? Twenty? A hundred? Alice had once said the Volturi counted years the way humans counted days. Would he eventually send someone to retrieve me? Or would he come here himself?
Carlisle thought that a visit to Italy somewhere in the future was the simplest way to resolve the situation. Since he seemed to relate to the matter so calmly and rationally, I felt my own nerves starting to settle eventually as well.
"It will take a long time, though, before we can even consider going there," he reminded me. "This first year as a vampire will be the worst for you. After that, you will slowly learn to overcome the bloodlust. Perfecting one's self-control may take a long time – it takes years for some vampires to be near humans without killing them. Aro won't be expecting us to visit Volterra anytime soon. He's extremely patient when he needs to be."
I nodded, his reassurances making some of the weight leave my chest. That weight had seemed to have been piling over me ever since Veronique's visit.
"A part of me just wants to get it over with as soon as possible, I guess," I murmured. "I don't like the idea of Aro strolling around in his castle and wondering how I would look like in one of their grey cloaks. I don't want him to get ahead on himself and go daydreaming that joining them is an option I might actually consider."
Carlisle chuckled softly. "Aro can be persuasive, and he can be extremely obstinate, but he's not completely unreasonable. He allowed Eleazar to leave when he found Carmen, after all."
I nodded, giving him a smile. "I can't wait to meet Carmen again. I remember her from Esme's and Miguel's wedding, but my human memories are a bit hazy."
Carmen, Tanya and Kate would be arriving here tomorrow – Carmen missed her husband, and since Eleazar had decided to stay in Ithaca for a while, the Cullens had asked that the Denalis visit us since it was challenging for us to travel there safely there because of me. Irina and Laurent wouldn't be coming this time – they were traveling around the world, and apparently they didn't know when they were heading back. They had promised to try to visit us in a couple of weeks, though.
I wasn't exactly sure why Eleazar wanted to stay in Ithaca. I knew it was better to have as many people around when there was a newborn to be taught, but so far I had proven to be calmer than any of the others. I had a feeling that it was my undeveloped gift that kept him here. For some reason, he seemed intrigued by it, and maybe he wanted to get a better sense of it before he could make himself leave. I didn't mind – I liked him, and I could see that he was a very close and good friend to Carlisle. I'd noticed that they could easily immerse themselves in a conversation for hours.
There had been something about my recent words that made Carlisle smile now. He was watching me with a strange light in his eyes. "How obscure are they?" he asked. "Your human memories?"
I shrugged. "There are some things I remember more clearly. I wouldn't say that I've forgotten anything, but the memories... it's kind of like I'm looking at them through a foggy window."
Carlisle was still smiling, that strange glimmer never leaving his eyes. Suddenly he bent down to sweep me into his arms. A startled, surprised laugh left my lips as the floor disappeared from under me.
"Do you remember this?" he asked quietly as he began to carry me around, pressing his mouth to mine. We were currently in his study, and he easily worked the door open with his elbow, carrying me to our room on the other side of the wall. His lips were on mine all the while as he carried me, but when he eventually set me down on my feet close to the bed, he broke away from my lips.
Of course I knew that he was referring to my last night as a human. I remembered how he had carried me to my bedroom, and I remembered my heartbeat pounding in my ears and the coolness of his skin, and how my body had trembled from his touch.
Feigning forgetfulness, I pursed my lips in a pondering manner. "I'm not sure. What is it that you want me to remember again?"
Carlisle shook his head. "Bella, Bella... so inattentive. We can't have that." He claimed my lips again, his hands taking my waist. He began to back me up until the back of my legs hit the bed, and I toppled backwards, taking him with me. A breathless sigh left my chest as his mouth abandoned mine and moved to the hollow of my throat instead.
"Do you remember now?" he murmured against my skin.
I was struggling to form words to answer him. "Uh... I think I'm starting to, though you might have to keep going, just in case so that I remember every detail. I wouldn't want to miss any, you know."
"That would be terrible," he agreed with a low voice.
A litany of curses and profanities sounded from two floors down. "I'm moving out," Emmett grumbled. There was a beat of silence before Ewdard's quiet voice could be heard.
"I might have to come with you," he said. I tried to interpret his tone. During the past couple of weeks, he had begun to come around when it came to Carlisle and me. At least he wasn't avoiding us, but once or twice he had looked like he had to reign in his expression when he had seen Carlisle kiss me, and one time he had come to the living room when I was curled up in his lap. Those intimate gestures had seemed to get easier for Edward to handle, though, and there was one time when he had actually laughed out loud when Emmett had given me a bawdy remark about something.
"We still have a house in Rochester, right?" Emmett continued the conversation, sounding hopeful.
I heard how Edward's hair scraped his collars as he shook his head. "No. Esme sold it a few years ago."
"I suppose we just have to suck it up." Now Edward sounded dryly amused, and I felt myself relax. But even though he had come a long way when it came to my relationship with Carlisle, privacy was still something I found myself craving during intimate moments like this. I had kind of accepted that there was no privacy in this house, but there were some boundaries I couldn't cross. At least not yet. Maybe it woud be different after a century or two.
Carlisle had seemed to reach the same conclusion. He had stopped assaulting my neck with his lips, but he didn't pull back. His body was still pinning me to the bed, and his hand was now cupping my face, the tips of his fingers drawing patterns on my skin.
I reached out for his other hand, turning it to look at the watch around his wrist. I frowned at what I saw, and I pursed my lips in a sulking manner.
He smiled at my expression. "Are you having second thoughts?"
I shook my head, my mouth melting into a smile. "No. I want you to go. I'll miss you, though."
"It'll only be a couple of hours."
"I know." I sighed inwardly at the thought. Even a minute without him seemed suddenly hard, but I set my jaw in a determined manner. I wanted this for him – it was about time he went back to the work he loved so much.
A few days back, Alice had hinted that there was an opening for a doctor at one of the local hospitals. During the past months, Carlisle hadn't been working because of our situation, but now that the mystery behind Alice's vision was solved and I was finally a vampire, there was no reason to worry about me anymore. It was also a plus factor that the visit from the Volturi was over with and we no longer had to worry about them dropping by to see if we had kept our end of the deal.
Despite all these things, getting Carlisle to apply for the position hadn't been simple. He had said that he'd been planning on staying home at least until my first year as a vampire was over. I had told him that he was free to do as he wished and I wouldn't bully him into applying for that job. But I had also pointed out that there were enough people - or vampires - around to watch over me and accompany me to hunting trips while he was away. After that, I hadn't mentioned anything about it for a couple of days, wanting him to mull it over and come to the decision himself. Eventually he had consented, once more asking if I was sure about it. I had been.
"But if even a single nurse tries to come on to you, I'm going to need you to resign," I had told him, half-serious. He had laughed, and then he had been close to rolling his eyes as Emmett had stated that even all the male doctors and nurses would be divorcing their wives by the time Carlisle's first day at the hospital would be over.
After a second glance at his watch, Carlisle pulled back from me with a sigh and stood. He straightened his clothes, and I almost went to help him but caught myself just in time. It was more likely that I'd rip them right off of him by accident. I had begun to get a feel for my strength little by little and I no longer broke absolutely everything I touched. It was progress, at least.
Sitting up on the bed, I watched him as he went to the closet and pulled out a pale blue tie that matched the color of his shirt. Before he had the chance to slip it on, I stood up from the bed and went to him, taking the tie from him. Smiling, I rose to my tiptoes and draped it around his neck, focusing hard on using as little strength as possible as I deftly tied the knot and straightened it. I had to blink at the sight of him – he looked exactly like the first time I had seen him in the emergency room all those years ago. It was slightly bewildering.
"Nervous?" I asked him with a teasing grin. "It's your first day at a new hospital, after all."
Carlisle chuckled. "I wouldn't say nervous – I've done this thousands of times. But I am expectant, perhaps." He flashed me another dazzling smile, and I suddenly hoped that those smiles were reserved only for me. I certainly hoped that he wouldn't be smiling at the nurses like that...
"Would Alice or Rosalie happen to have a lipstick lying around?" I asked in a forcedly casual tone. "Or Esme?"
Carlisle frowned, thrown about my question. "I cannot say. Why?"
I raised my eyebrows, inching closer to him. "Well, you know... I was considering leaving a stain here," I dragged the tip of my forefinger along his collar before touching the line of his jaw, "and a smudge there..." My finger traveled to the hollow of his throat. "And also here..." Then I touched his lips. "But not there. That might be weird."
His chest shook with laughter. Then he leaned in to capture my lips in a searing kiss. "One might think that you are staking your claim, wanting to leave lipstick stains all over my clothes and skin," he murmured against my mouth.
"Are you complaining?"
"Heavens, no. But your action is rather unnecessary. You already know that I belong to you, and only you."
I smiled. "But the nurses at the hospital don't."
After placing a soft kiss on my cheek, he pulled back. "That error must be rectified somehow."
Frowning confusedly at his words, I watched him moving about the room and gathering his coat and black briefcase. I followed him downstairs as he prepared to leave, and as we passed the living room on our way to the door, I gave Emmett the finger when I noticed that he was making annoying kissy faces at me. Jasper chortled, and when Rosalie reached out to slap Emmett on the back of his head, Edward began to laugh quietly as well.
I stood on the porch and watched Carlisle climb into his black Mercedes, raising my hand to wave goodbye. I realized that this would be the first time in weeks that we'd separated for several hours. Carlisle gave me a warm smile before driving away. It made me sigh.
I was quite sure, though, that the memory of his smile would sustain me for the rest of the day.