"What is going on?"
Charlie was unable to focus on Iris's voice, too caught up trying to catch her breath. She had been feeling wonky for weeks now, but this was new. Fainting during dance class was not a pleasant experience.
"I don't know," Charlie finally said. She lifted her head.
"I think you should go get checked out by a doctor," Iris suggested, concern plain in her voice. "You're burning up."
Leah had to help Charlie climb up the few steps that lead to the door, but gave up on towing her around as soon as the door was shut. Before Charlie could even realise what had happened, she was in Leah's arms, bridal style.
"Where are we off to?" Leah asked.
Heidi paused in her steps, cocking her head as she thought for a moment. "I believe the library will do for this particular occasion."
They made their way through the short hall of the ancient building, their footfalls echoing loudly on the cobblestones. Heidi stopped in front of a reception with a very human-looking receptionist.
"Gianna," she said, leaning across the desk. "Be a dear and go fetch us some ice packs, will you?"
Gianna nodded and disappeared through the door behind the reception, returning not much later with a bunch of ice packs wrapped in tea towels. Heidi took them from her with a sweet smile and placed them in Charlie's arms, whose eyes lit up. Charlie wrapped her arms tightly around herself to keep the ice packs close to her body.
"…what the fuck?" Leah said, brows raising. She adjusted her grip on Charlie and looked up at Heidi, who was looking good-naturedly at Charlie. Said human was now completely entranced with her new treasures.
"It appears that Charlie is going through quite the withdrawal," Heidi explained, waving Gianna goodbye before continuing to lead them through the halls and into an elevator. "Her body runs at a higher temperature than that of a normal human and is simultaneously reaching out to the cold to regain a natural balance in temperature."
Heidi nodded, pushing a button to close the door. "Once mates connect, their lives depend on their bond, on each other. For vampires, whose bodies are frozen in time, that tends to be in an emotional sense, but if you throw a human into the mix, the results are somewhat different." A pensive look crossed her face. "Kind of like drugs. The concept of dependency, I mean."
"I am on drugs," Charlie said absentmindedly, playing with her ice packs.
Leah sighed, shifting Charlie's weight in her arms. "Yes we know." She turned to Heid. "You've seen it before?"
"A handful of times," Heidi said as she took her smartphone out of the pocket of her jeans. She typed a short message and put it away again. "Never quite this severe. At least, not without the human dying. How long has she been like this?"
"I'm not really sure?" Leah said, trying to remember when it all started. "She was said to be terminal about a month ago, and it's just been becoming worse and worse throughout these past few weeks."
"And she thought to come here? That's impressive. Courageous too, seeking out vampires. Did she learn of us through her mate?"
Leah shrugged. "I think so. I didn't know of your existence until a week ago."
The elevator dinged open and they stepped out, into a dim hallway.
"Rose didn't tell me," Charlie mumbled, tuning into the conversation. "Well she did but she also didn't. Carlisle told me the dudes were Italian and Vol-Vol-something. And then I thought I'd go find you because you surely know where I can find my Roooose. Or you can kill me, but I'll die either way according to the doctor – another doctor, not Carlisle."
Heidi froze. "We will never kill a mate. Not ever."
Heidi turned towards them, face serious. "Mates are sacred amongst our kind. Harming another vampire's mate deliberately will earn you death penalty. Even more so if said mate is still a vulnerable human. We value our bonds."
"Cool," Charlie commented offhandedly.
Heidi frowned. "Wait, you mentioned Carlisle?"
The elevator dinged open and they stepped out into a hall with a few sparse windows that let a bit of light in. Heidi lead them towards the end of the hallway, heels clicking against the paved floor.
"Yup," Charlie said, nodding. "Stitched me right up when I smashed my head into a table because of Rose. Even my dad always said 'Dr Cullen is a nice man' and I agree, he is very nice."
The doctor looked way too serious for her liking.
This wasn't going to be good news.
She was right.
"There is no cure?" she asked, emotionless. She was in shock.
"The problem is, we don't know what is causing your organs to fail," the doctor patiently explained. "We have tried to find a way to stop it, but whatever is eating away at your health is progressing fast. It looks like your body is reaching out for something it does not have. At this point, all we can do is to try and make you as comfortable as possible."
Charlie froze. Reaching out. Her body was reaching out. Things started to fall into place, and she was suddenly very grateful for the gut feeling she had had that had told her to leave her family out of the loop.
She had one last chance at life, and she knew who she needed.
Now the question was, how would she find her?
"Carlisle Cullen. Well, this certainly makes things even more interesting," Heidi commented. She stopped in front of a massive door and pushed it open to reveal a massive hall with an uncountable amount of books.
Leah whistled, and even Charlie stopped paying attention to her ice packs to gape at the massive book cases. Then she started poking Leah. "Lee-lee we need to take a picture to send to Bella. She'll go mental."
"You can't," Leah snorted. "Or have you forgotten that you're supposed to be in a luxurious resort in the US? What do you think will happen when they realise you are in Italy?"
"Resorts can have libraries," Charlie protested, but she did not push the subject further.
"If you go right to the end of this bookcase and turn left, you'll see a sitting area," Heidi said, pointing them in the right direction. "I will go get someone who will help you to get back to your mate. Sooner, rather than later, preferably."
Leah nodded her thanks and carried Charlie over to where Heidi had said a sitting area would be. It turned out to be a quite cosy corner with a leather couch and a couple of arm chairs. Charlie was plopped down onto the couch, ice packs and all, and Leah stretched her back before seating herself in the nearest chair.
"Hey Leah," Charlie called.
Leah sighed. "Yes?"
"Do you think she was serious about the not killing me thing?"
Leah shrugged. "She seemed to be. And they're vampires, why would she pretend not to kill you and take you all the way to the library, when she could have just as easily killed us as soon as we stepped through the door?"
"What about your super powers?"
"Are you one of them yet?" Charlie asked, holding her phone to her ear.
"What are you talking about?"
"The wolves, of course. You were ill last week, talked about a fever, and then disappeared off the earth for a few days. I came to the conclusion you must have shifted."
"…you know about that?"
"Of course I do! My dad is best friends with Billy Black. And I dated a vampire for a little less than a year."
"…I am just going to ignore that last bit for now. No one here expected a girl to shift, so I'm surprised you of all people came to the right conclusion."
"Ah well, I have a knack for that sort of thing. Anyway. Lee? I think I have a bit of a problem."
"Please do tell."
"Will you meet me at Sully's tonight?"
"There is a reason the others live in a pack," Leah said with a roll of her eyes. She leaned back in her chair. "Most of what we- they do, is teamwork. We are in a castle with hundreds of vampires who could easily call for backup. I'm no challenge to them."
"I beg to differ," an airy voice said.
Charlie jumped, but Leah had apparently heard him coming and simply turned her head. In front of the bookcase stood a man - or boy? - who could not have been much older than either of them; his dark hair long and eyes a bright red. His smile, which was supposedly meant to be welcoming, was a tad creepy and had Charlie contorting her face.
A shiver ran up her spine, and she uncomfortably shifted on her spot. Now she was starting to understand the pull and push of the simultaneous attraction and repulsion as a result of interaction with a vampire. Although she could remember Rose talking about it, she had simply brushed it off. She had certainly not experienced this level of discomfort any time she had been around the Cullens.
With a long breath she tried to let the feelings go, and instead focussed on the here and now. Her eyes tracked him as he took a step forward, a vague feeling of recognition bubbling up inside her mind. Where did she know him from?
"Welcome to Palazzo dei Priori, humble home of the Volturi," he said, floundering over to a chair of his own and sitting down. "It has been a while since we've had actual visitors. Heidi has briefed me, but please, do tell me your names."
"I'm Leah," Leah said, keeping a close eye on the dude. "And this is Charlie."
"Ah, so I see! It is a pleasure to-"
"Hey!" Charlie exclaimed, her eyes widening. "I know you!"
Leah groaned, but the man's excitement seemed to grow and he replied back with much the same vigour. "You do? Please do tell, dear."
"You" - Charlie pointed at him - "are one of the dudes on Dr Cullen's painting!"
"Ah, Carlisle still owns that piece of art? How marvellous," the man wondered. "My name is Aro, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am very interested in the" – he paused briefly, an unreadable glint appearing in his eyes – "story of how you got caught up in our world. However, I do understand you are not here to socialise, and as it happens, I will not be running out of time anytime soon." He grinned, baring his teeth.
Charlie flinched, but managed to gather her bearings and push herself into an upright position on the sofa. "I'm looking for Rose, Rosalie Hale, but I can't find her! She said they would be moving to Europe, but it's impossible for me to find her, since we agreed to be safe and make sure she did not leave any traces behind."
"Is that so," Aro said. "That simply won't do. Well, as it happens, we have a great tracker amongst our ranks who was around when Carlisle resided with us. He should be able to find your dear mate. For a price, but we can discuss the details later."
Although she tried to contain herself, Charlie could not help but start crying at the relief that washed over her with those simple words. Aro observed this situation with his beady eyes, seeming way too interesting in this phenomenon.
That shook him out of it. "Right!" Aro said, clapping his hands as he finally looked away. "I will call for Demetri and have him depart immediately. In the meantime, you are more than welcome to stay in a hotel nearby. At our expense, of course." He held out a hand for Charlie to shake.
Something about the gesture raised suspicion and she looked at his hand in question. "What will happen if I take it?"
"I will see all your thoughts, from the past and the present," Aro answered without hesitation.
Charlie took his hand, shaking it for a second before letting go.
"How interesting!" Aro marvelled. "Your mind is an interesting place, young one."
"Excuse her, she's on drugs," Leah said. "Now, where do we find this hotel?"
"You look awful."
"Thanks," Charlie mumbled, throwing Leah a sharp look. "That makes me feel so much better."
"They take off the edge, but never all the pain," Charlie explained, moving with the line as they got closer and closer to boarding the plane. Leah was carrying both their backpacks, on her own insistence, when Charlie's muscles had failed her once again.
"Tell me about it."
As it turned out, the hotel Aro was talking about was less than a hundred meters away from the plaza. At least, that is what Gianna – the receptionist – told them as she led them back outside. Charlie was leaning heavily on Leah, who had given up on trying to get her to walk by herself when Charlie nearly fell down the three steps that led up to the door of the Palazzo. They had not seen Aro since he disappeared, off to find his tracker. Leah still seemed sceptical, but Charlie was too tired to think about much. Too tired to think about anything but Rose, that is.
She had been trying to avert her thoughts away from her girlfriend – ex-girlfriend, she reminded herself – for this past year and a half, and she had become quite good at it. However, now that the prospect of seeing Rose again was becoming a reality on her horizon, the walls that she had put up were slowly crumbling down. Memories and thoughts came rushing back to her, and with them came mixed feelings. Bittersweet feelings.
Happy thoughts were accompanied by the knowledge that she had made the decision not to stay with Rose. Deep down she knew it had been the logical choice to make at the time, but that did not take away the fear of rejection that bubbled up at the thought.
Fear, that when she and Rose met again, Rose would not want to have anything to do with her anymore. Fear that Rose might have found happiness with someone else, as selfish as that might sound.
By the time they arrived at the hotel, Charlie's heart was racing from both exhaustion and anticipation. The fact that she did not know how long the tracker would take to return with any of the Cullens did not help her to stay calm at all.
Leah had to help her into the elevator and up to their room once Gianna had gotten all of the administration settled with the receptionist. Once the door of their room was closed, Leah unceremoniously dumped Charlie on the bed. The latter watched as Leah rummaged through the backpack she had brought with them from the car and took out the box where Charlie held all the dosages of her pills and their accompanying times.
"Hm?" Charlie asked. "Oh, yeah. Blue."
A bottle of water hit the sheets right next to her head, making her jump. Leah walked over to her and held out a hand with a few pills. "Here."
Charlie took them without a word and swallowed them down with a sip of water.
"Thank you. For everything."
A/N: ...so yeah, uploading fast did not quite work out lmao. My dumb ass had completely forgotten that I was going to participate in NaNo this year (google it if you wanna know what it is) and after all the writing I did there for OG projects, I did not have a lot of spare time to edit my fanfic stuff! Now that that's over, I took some time out of my day to edit this part for youuuu, so I hope you (at least somewhat) enjoy it. Again, all of it has been written, it just needs some extensive editing before I can post it, so hopefully I can *actually* upload fast this time haha
Thanks to those of you who left me a review! If you have some time after reading this part, I'd love to hear your thoughts. And thanks to everyone who favorited/followed :D
Again, this is a fun guilty pleasure/side-project for me to turn to when I'm not motivated to work on my other stuff, and I had fun writing it!
Have a lovely day,