Story teaser: Necessity never made a good bargain, and it is necessity that forces Bella to make an ugly bargain with Aro. The repercussions from this agreement are ones that she cannot possibly foresee, but with which she must learn to contend. New Moon AU. HEA.
Author's note for 2020-07-03: This story is rated 'M' for several reasons and is accurately labelled for angst.
Trigger warnings: I loathe posting trigger warnings, as they feel like massive plot-spoilers. However, if I *were* to include such warnings, this story would require several. So, if you're concerned, feel free to PM me and I can provide you with specifics.
Gratitude: I owe many thanks to ladylibre and mariescullen for pre-reading this fic and being such amazing cheerleaders when I wasn't sure the premise worked.
Beta work: The first two chapters of this story have not been beta'd, but the remainder have been by the incredible chayasara.
"Necessity never made a good bargain"
- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac
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Volterra, Italy - March, 2006
Aro's words were icy, for all the empathy they pretended to convey, and Bella shuddered as she heard them. "It pains me to pronounce it, but you have broken the law, Edward, and I am obliged to grant your initial request, and for your mate as well." In his seat, Aro sighed. "Demetri?"
Beside her, Edward didn't gasp so much as become utterly rigid. Everything seemed to slow down so that Bella felt like she was watching the air move into Edward's lungs.
In an instant, Edward was across the throne room, Demetri's hands at his arms, flexing and yanking in a way that Bella understood too well. She remembered enough of the ballet studio and James' end to recognize their fatal significance.
"No, no, no! Not him! Kill me instead! Kill me!"
Demetri's hands ignored her, continuing to pull and twist. They only stopped when Aro's hand rose, his palm flat in the air. This silenced all sound and movement in the room, Bella's included.
Aro regarded Bella, his eyes subtly narrowed. Even with this tiny gesture, she understood his attention to be most profound. "Not that your life is yours to offer, my dear. Edward forfeited that the minute he told you what we are, but I find your offer to be . . . noble. Are you really willing to give up your life in place of his?"
"Bella, don't!" Edward said.
They were going to kill Edward, and her throat constricted to produce the one, definitive syllable that would prevent this fate: "Yes!"
She watched Aro's head tilt, graceful and yet mechanical. "Are you certain?"
"Bella—" But Demetri put his hand over Edward's mouth. His eyes, however, continued to shriek at her, widening and panicked.
"Yes." There was a quaver to her voice now. Edward wasn't dead, she told herself. He couldn't die, not when she'd just found him again. She tried not to think what he would be living for.
"You must understand that I'm not asking you to die for him, Bella. I'm asking for your life in exchange for his."
It would not be a quick end for her, then. "I understand, yes." Her voice shook as she said it. She could barely grasp it, but if it meant he lived—
"Let him go, Demetri."
Edward was at her side, his hands on her shoulders, "Bella—"
"Jane," Aro said, waving a hand towards Bella and Edward.
They both tensed, Bella expecting Edward's suffering and Edward's body clearly bracing for it, but Jane surprised them both by snatching at Bella's throat.
Bella watched Edward freeze, as Aro spoke.
"Your mate, as you like to call her, has bought you a rather precious gift, Edward. I would hope that you would appreciate its cost and understand your new place as a result of this bargain. I would prefer not to have to use Jane or your . . . mate," he chuckled over the word, "to keep you disciplined."
Taking a first slow step backwards, Edward looked at Bella, swallowing, his black eyes full of some dark feeling she was afraid to name. He took eight more slow and backward steps towards the dais, taking his place beside Aro's chair, where Aro reached out and took his hand.
Jane released Bella, and Edward stared, eyes narrowed with a hatred that made Bella quail. What had she done?
Aro exhaled loudly, his fingers clawed around Edward's. "Marvellous. Just marvellous!"
Alice, who had been released by one of the other interminably grey-clad Volturi guard, now approached Bella, placing a cold hand over hers. "I will make my farewells, Aro, if you'll permit me to say goodbye to my family." She looked at Bella and Edward.
"You may. Of course, unless you wish to join us . . ." Aro waved his hand around, the gesture suggesting multiple possibilities.
Alice's voice was even and most carefully polite. "Thank you, but no. I must return to my other family members. They will need to be appraised of these new developments."
Aro paused before answering, disappointment flickering over his face. "I'm sorry to hear you won't remain. You will always have a place with us, Alice, should you choose to return. You and your most intriguing spouse."
Alice's hand gripped Bella's even tighter. "Of course. Your offer is very generous, thank you." Alice's voice seemed so calm in contrast to what Bella was feeling.
She wasn't going home. She was staying here. But she was staying here with Edward, wasn't she? They were both alive, weren't they?
"What should I do with the girl?" Jane asked, her tongue teasing the corner of her lip.
"Put her in storage for now."
Bella swallowed. Storage. That couldn't possibly be good.
Alice's hand gripped tighter.
One of the guard murmured something in Italian to Aro.
"Yes, we are all ready for Heidi's arrival, aren't we," he said softly. "Say your farewells here, Edward. And then you can join us for supper." He smirked in Edward's direction.
Bella watched Edward look to Alice, who gave him a short nod.
It was at this point that Demetri approached Aro, placing his hand in his master's free one. Aro's giggle was girlishly high. "Ah, well! Isabella, you are fetching in so many ways, it seems." He turned his attention back to Demetri, his voice all business. "You may have a period of time to experiment to such ends, so long as the outcome remains the same."
Bella didn't know what he was talking about, and she wasn't given time in the space to contemplate the unsettling response. Alice was tugging her out of the audience room, Bella stumbling over the iron grate set into the floor as she tried to catch a last glance of Edward. His violent stare seemed to follow her and Alice from the room.
Aro's hand held Edward's, and as Bella looked between Edward's gaze and those two linked hands, her stomach twisted and sunk. What had she done?
"Hurry," Alice whispered to Bella, her grip hurrying her from the chamber.
As Alice dragged her along the stone corridor, a competing murmur of voices grew to a more clearly audible babble. Led by a striking female vampire in a vibrant red dress, the oddest assortment of people traipsed in the opposite direction in which Bella and Alice travelled.
It was only then that she realized Demetri and Jane had come with her and Alice.
"Save me something good, Heidi," Demetri called to the woman.
"Of course," Heidi purred at him, winking.
Bella was not fast enough on her feet to miss the first terrified screams that echoed down the hall from the audience chamber.
An airy, "Oh," escaped her, and then another one, these matched by the lurching steps she took, trying to escape the auditory nightmare that was brewing behind her.
"This way," Demetri said, pointing to the left. The screams and shrieks were muted slightly by the distance, but still loud enough that Bella couldn't pretend they were something else.
"They're—" Bella whispered.
"Yes." Alice's voice was terse. She looked like she was trying not to breathe. They kept walking, the hallways shifting from ancient stone to filigreed wallpaper and then subdued panelling. Their destination was a small waiting room, its couches and frosted glass ones suited to a respectable modern office building. Several dark panelled doors stood to the sides, any business they obscured hushed by the plush carpet beneath their feet.
Bella thought all the things she couldn't bring herself to say. Her breathing became more rapid, shallow breaths becoming shallower, her chest too small to hold all the air it needed. What had she done? Edward was in there. Those people—
"Bella, keep it together," Alice said. Her hands were iron vices on Bella's arms.
The words registered, but only as sounds. Bella's breathing increased. The sounds of distress seemed to be growing louder.
Alice leaned in closer, her words a cool whisper in Bella's ear. "I really need you to stop making those noises, okay?"
Alice remained close, smoothing Bella's hair from the crown of her head down to her neck. "We are all alive, and considering what I saw happening, we are very, very lucky to be so."
Bella was not feeling lucky at the moment. She didn't think the people she'd seen walk into that room were lucky—what had she done?
Alice sighed, then brought her eyes to meet Bella's. They were even more golden for all the ruby ones she'd seen in the last hour.
"I need you to remember who you are, Bella. And more importantly, I need you to remember who we are. We are your family. Though it may seem that we might be gone, we never have, nor will we ever abandon you."
Never abandon her?
Bella wanted to scream at Alice. They had completely abandoned her. And if they hadn't—
"You may wait upstairs," a deep voice boomed. When Bella looked up, a vampire's red eyes were pointed at Alice. Jane seemed to have disappeared.
Bella watched Alice stand and remove her scarf and sweater, draping them over Bella's shoulders. It was then that Bella realized she was shivering, whether from shock or cold, she couldn't tell.
"Remember," Alice said, and then turned to follow the pointed finger of the vampire—Demetri, Bella realized—towards the elevator at the end of the hall. He didn't follow Alice, though, staring instead at Bella.
The tall, blonde vampire took a step closer, leaving only an arm's breadth between them. "Are you well?" His words were soft.
"I'm fine," Bella said. She felt like she was going to dissolve at the slightest provocation, but the deadly creature in front of her was one she had no desire to provoke with a less than pleasing answer.
"Gianna?" Demetri called, still not looking away from Bella.
The woman's voice was a low purr. Bella realized she'd heard her speak before, but had been so distraught as to make her voice nothing more than background noise. The sounds were more distinct now.
"This is Isabella. She will be staying here for some time."
"You wish me to put her into storage?" she asked, obviously incredulous.
"No." He didn't looked at her, still staring at Bella. "Please ensure she is comfortable. She will be living here now."
Bella stared at him as he spoke. More words were beginning to filter into her consciousness, but mostly it was the visual that captured her attention. There was a tiny streak of blood that ran from the corner of his mouth to the edge of his jaw. Blood. Human blood.
Her breathing became rapid again, and then the woman's—Gianna's—voice called her name. "Isabella?"
"Yes," she breathed.
"Come with me, please," Gianna said tersely. Her English was accented and impatient. When Bella didn't stand, Gianna snapped at her. "Quickly. I have work to do before sunset."
"I will see you soon," Demetri said to Bella. Then he turned to Gianna. "Be polite." His words were a warning.
"Yes, sir," Gianna said, voice suddenly a little wobbly.
Bella stood up slowly, watching Demetri turn and walk away. Her mind was still wrapping itself around the bargain she had made. Edward was alive. That was what she had come here to accomplish, and that was what she had done. The cost was immaterial.
Of course, that had been easier to say when she thought they'd simply kill her. What they planned to do with her, she had no idea, and as she followed Gianna, her mind provided no heartening possibilities, the several likely futures all as dark as the windowless hallway down which she trod.
DISCLAIMER: S. Meyer owns Twilight. No copyright infringement intended.