"Isabella…" someone breathes, the ache in their velvet voice like liquid heat melting her bones. She hears it like it has been whispered to every single little cell in her body, like it has been branded beneath her skin, like someone has her heart in a chokehold, like the air is being held captive in her lungs. "Finalmente ti vedo…"
There is a desperate, beautiful feeling of oneness. She doesn't know where she ends and he begins; they're bodiless, merged spirits completely entwined, indistinguishable. They hover there in that moment of forever, straining in and out of existence together. She forgets, for a moment, that she once was Bella—that he was once someone else, that they have lived a whole lifetime and more without feeling so whole. Then—like being drenched in acid, like lava in her veins, a thousand poison darts to the skin—he is abruptly ripped from her, leaving a gaping wound within, and as they're pulled away she feels herself wrenching out an aching, heartbroken scream.
She opens her eyes to all-consuming hunger.
There's noise, all around her—too loud, too harsh, too biting—pounding against her eardrums, overwhelming and deafening. She feels like her body has been stretched taller, her legs strong and long, her arms and body light like she could float away in the wind. The strangest thing, she finds, is that she feels strong, not in her too-thin, willowy way. She feels like the earth could shatter from the brush of her toes; she feels like a mere whisper from her breath could call forward a tornado. Her teeth feel like the strongest part of her—like she could rinse her mouth with sugar for the rest of her life and still feel this strange, steely firmness.
Her hands are clamping around something, hands, she thinks, and she's holding on like they're the only thing tethering her to the earth. There's white-noise in one ear, and she groans, letting go to hold her head. Her vision is fading in and out—blankets, a book, marble tile, hands and millennium—blurry and disorienting.
Then she hears it.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE—" someone screams.
"— ARO, CAN YOU HEAR—"
"—I DIDN'T, PLEASE—"
She blinks, once, twice. She'd been reading a moment ago, on her bed, swathed in blankets. She can see marble floors, black and white and gold, tiled and clean. She can see it like it's up close, like she's wearing telescopes for glasses. She can see the imprints left of shoes, can see the grip of patterns that could maybe match a set from her closet. She blinks and her eyes can't seem to decide on if the floor is far away or close. Her sight had never been so capable.
It didn't distract her from the gnawing, gut-wrenching discomfort within her—her whole body trembles like she's suffering from withdrawals and she feels like she has whiplash—but even so, her mind pulls at her attention. There's something wrong, she thinks. Something's missing. A sound, a feeling, as she breathes; she thinks that something should be happening.
A pulse, she realises. She has no pulse. There's no heartbeat in her ears, and her breathing never leaves her chest, never enters her bloodstream. Her eyes shoot open—she doesn't even remember closing them—terror clouding her mind.
The first thing her eyes are drawn to is black hair—right in front of her, at arm's length, brushing against the collar of a suit—shiny and thick, and then the skin; so pale it's translucent, the shade of hair and skin not unlike seeing the moon amongst a starless night. Her eyes followed from the tips of his shoulder-length hair, then up to his lips, moving rapidly, muffled, then to his eyes. Red, not dark red, but a bright cranberry red. Familiar, she thinks. Vampire.
Sound bursts into being.
It's chaos—ear-splitting madness. Her eyes force themselves shut, cowering away. A woman is screaming like someone is rearranging her insides, shrill and echoing. There's growling, and voices, all sharp and demanding. Their words are drifting in and out, like her ears don't know what to focus on, but she picks out words that seem to be repeated—master, Jane, Aro, kill her, don't kill her, wait, don't yet—
"Please—!" a woman sobs wretchedly. "I swear, I felt it work when he asked me to, it's not an attack—"
"Jane, Alec, silence her."
"No," Bella moans, her pounding head in her too-long hands. "No...no. This—this can't—"
—she wants to go back—back to that oneness, to that disembodied state—to him—
"That's enough," someone says, sounding very close to her, and then everything is suddenly quiet. Pin-drop silence. Bella breathes in and out, again and again, and tries not to panic, tries not to think about her body not having a beating heart, tries not to think of the oxygen never entering her bloodstream, tries not to think about being outnumbered and surrounded by red-eyed vampires.
She tries not to ache as though something has been stolen from her.
"Jane," the voice says again, utterly smooth and calm. "do not kill her just yet."
"Are you mad, Marcus?" a man growls out, his voice shaking with rage like he is holding back the force of a typhoon. "She attacked Aro."
"Caius, it's not what you think. Look at him. Watch Aro."
Bella licks her lips. She feels far away, not quite in her body, like a ghost fading in and out of existence, like a helium balloon with a broken string—and she tries to ground herself, focusing on the physical. There's something like saliva gathered in her mouth, but it's thicker and it's consistency feels more like a strange, silky glue. A hand squeezes her shoulder.
She blinks her eyes open again. The same man is still in front of her, the one with the shoulder length hair. He doesn't look any older than nineteen. She focuses on his handsome face again, at the red eyes, the straight nose, the high cheekbones. His eyes run over her face like he is searching for something.
"No cloudiness in his eyes at touch," the man—the vampire—says, not really speaking to her, but at her, his expression clinical. His voice is very musical, much like all vampires sounded like, but it confused Bella that he sounded so smooth, deep and aged for how young his frozen face looked. "And a bond has appeared. Towards himself. It worked, just not as she said."
"Marcus, you can't possibly mean…"
Marcus stares intensely into her eyes, his mouth tight. She feels a dozen fiery eyes scorching her back. Bella's lips tremble. "This is not Aro."
Wrong. You're wrong, some empty part of her thinks—incoherently, illogically—even though she knew it to be true.
She opens her mouth to ask something—who are you, who is Aro, how did I get here, please get me out of here—a million questions, anything. But she says instead: "I can't...I can't hear it—my heartbeat—why…" something choked escapes her, but she can't even find the will to be embarrassed. Her mind is whirling, terror and thirst warring in her throat. She's having trouble focusing on everything as a whole—like she has tunnel vision—and it's making her panic despite her best efforts to stay calm.
"A human," the angry voice from before—Caius—says. Her head snaps towards him. He's the most unusual. More albino-looking and otherworldly than anyone she's seen. Tall and pale and nearly translucent, the blood rage of his red eyes burning wrathfully, the shiny, snowy hair that nearly blended into his skin brushing the tips of his shoulders. He looks older, mid-thirties maybe, still as handsome as any vampire ever is. Them—Marcus, Caius—together in the same room, looking the way they did, tugged at something familiar in her frenzied mind. "—in Aro's body? His mate?"
Mate? Aro's mate? No… They thought she was—that they were—
"Calm," the hand on her shoulder squeezes tighter, steadying her. Her eyes shoot back to Marcus. She's shaking, she realises. Quivering like a mouse cornered. "You're safe here, in his body as you are. Nobody will harm Aro even to harm you."
His voice grounds her. He's the only soothing thing in this cold, echoing room of indifferent marble. She feels herself straighten, breathes slow and deep.
"How am I here?" she says, then startles. Her voice isn't her own, she thinks in horror. It's male, rich and low, a beautiful tone in her ears. It's unreasonable that hearing it is already soothing something within her like a cold balm. She's heard it before, she realises— Isabella, it had called out to her, and then said something in velvety, warm Italian. Aro, they'd said—it must've been him. "What's—what's going on? Where..."
"You're in Italy, my dear." Marcus says kindly. "Volterra, to be exact."
"Italy? No...Oh—Volterra… Volturi," she whispers, oblivious to the sudden stillness that filled the room. They'd looked familiar, she thinks, her mind flashing back to the Cullen house, to that painting…
Fear clawed up her throat. Carlisle had said that it had been painted 300 years ago. Two of the figures from it stand here, not looking like they'd aged a single second since—still regal, still with that dominating presence that she'd sensed even through the painting. One was missing, though, the one that had stood in the front, and she knew with dread that she was the reason why.
"How do you know that name?" Caius demanded thunderously. She jumped, her head whipping to him—to his narrowed eyes, his threatening demeanor—then back at Marcus, the tall way he stood, the calm curiosity to his face. She felt herself drift closer to him, seeking stability, not very assured even with his promise of safety.
"I...I met vampires before," she said, throat closing up. "They were—friends. They had a painting of you."
She'd tried to be vague, hoping that the Cullens, that Edward, wouldn't end up getting involved—but she'd said something wrong, because recognition lit in his eyes like crimson fire.
"Carlisle!" Caius exclaimed with a dark grin, eagerly leaning forwards from his place on his throne. "None else have the privilege of us in painting. The Cullens have broken the law, then?"
Bella's eyes went wide. "Wait—please, don't punish them," she nearly begged, panic flaring in her hollow chest as the smile started to drop from his face. "They didn't tell me, I figured it out on my own, I swear. We went to the same school, things just didn't add up—"
Caius cut her off, tone steely. "No human is allowed to wander off and live with knowledge of us, told or not. They either have the privilege of being turned or—" he bared his teeth at her, his voice a hiss. "Killed."
Marcus stiffened next to her. "Caius!" he said sharply. "Think of Aro."
There was a sullen silence. Bella held her needless breath. Caius' lips twisted unhappily. He looked at her, ran his eyes over her—Aro's—face, his expression twitching. "Tell us your name, girl." he ordered finally.
"Bella Swan," she said with relief, relaxing a little. "I mean—Isabella Swan."
He eyed her like he was checking for a lie. She had no heartbeat, she remembered—not in this body, anyway. She had no tells. Her stomach fell flat at the missed opportunity. She could've lied, could've assured Charlie's safety somehow, or the Cullens' but... she didn't think…
"Demetri, Felix," Caius said, turning to the group of vampires lining near the doors. She hadn't even realised they were there—they were so silent and still. They all wore dark robes, hoods darkening their faces. "Gather any information you're able to find on Isabella Swan. Tell Gianna to send an urgent missive to summon the Cullens." She tensed, mind whirring, dread turning her stomach. Demetri and Felix—still cloaked—gave a low reverent bow, then turned and vanished. She turned to Marcus, hoping he'd call them back and stop this, but her protest died in her throat at the surprised, approving look in his eyes as he watched Caius. There'd be no help on that front. The thought of seeing Edward again after his cold betrayal made her feel sick, but there was no stopping it now. The decision has already been made. Even if she did anything to stop it, Alice would likely still have a vision.
Caius' eyes roamed the remaining vampires. "Jane, Alec," he said. Two of them stepped forwards, one of them dragging a terrified, shaking woman on the ground uncaringly, a dark mist floating around her body, her mouth gaping open, her eyes blank. Bella felt the shock and uneasiness on her face, not having noticed her silent, miserable form before. Jane and Alec themselves looked young, and they were obviously identical twins, with pretty dark hair, blood red eyes, paper-white skin. The girl, Jane, had her silky brown hair a little longer than Alec's, just past her ears, and poutier lips. That's where their differences seemed to start and end. "—unrestrain her senses and bring the wretch here. She will tell us what has happened."
Alec nodded, an arm clenching tightly on the woman's shoulder, throwing her limp form to the center of the room. The fog dissolved into the air, and her body slumped forwards. She gave a huge rattling gasp, a dry sob escaping her throat, her murky red eyes flashing around the room madly. Her plump mouth opened and panicked, desperate words spewed out. "Please, I didn't mean to, I don't understand what happened—"
"Silence!" Caius barked. She froze, her eyes wide, a squeak escaping her mouth in fear. Bella felt uncomfortable watching—she knew this woman was the cause of this mess, but she didn't look like a bad person. She was meek and scared, and Bella doubted she'd be so evil. "You know exactly what you've done, don't you? He asked for you to summon his mate. Instead, they've switched bodies. How?"
"Yes—but—I-I don't know how!" she cried, shrinking back. "This has never happened before!"
Caius' face twisted in a snarl.
"Master, may I?" Jane stepped forwards menacingly, glaring at the woman.
"Jane," Marcus interrupted, his eyes cutting towards Bella meaningfully.
It was just her name, no warning tone, but Jane's expression eased into something blank, stepping back dutifully. Bella glanced between them, red flags flashing through her mind.
"Please…" the woman begged. "I'll do anything, please—!"
Caius leaned forwards menacingly, and she went silent immediately. The look in his eyes could've cut steel, could've lasered through an iceberg. He held the kind of tension in his body that just screamed threat—even sitting down, he held an expression you'd expect to see before being thrown from a cliff. "You were invited here as a guest, but you'll find that our goodwill ended the moment you endangered one of our own, unintentional or not. You will change the both of them back, and they will remain unharmed after you do so," he said in a low, throaty whisper. "—or I shall see you in millions of pieces, scattered into the wind. We will not even burn you—you'll live a cursed existence, unable to reform, in constant agony for the rest of eternity. Is that understood?"
Bella hadn't even known such a thing were possible; it sounded horrifying, easily worse than death. The woman shook so hard that Bella thought she would have cracked and fallen apart like glass. Dry, sobbing whimpers tore from her chest, and she was nodding her head so fast that it unbalanced her. She wanted to reassure her, but terror had lodged itself in her throat—she wasn't sure she could bear the idea of Caius snapping at her after such a display. Not when she knew of the cruelness he was capable of now.
"Is that wise?" she heard Marcus say. "Isabella will be lost to us if they're switched back."
"We have her name," Caius replied. "We will find her. If she changes them back now, Aro will be here protected again and able to decide the best course of action for himself. We need his gift to find the truth from the scheduled lawbreakers tomorrow. If it's not used and if he doesn't act like himself, some will start to get suspicious—and his safety is our most urgent priority, mate or not."
Marcus nodded slowly. "They have anonymity, for now—to the rest of the world Aro has no mate. No one has any reason to suspect otherwise but those in this room, so she will not be in danger just yet," he murmured, his eyes thoughtful. "Once Aro is back, we will send for Isabella, and they will meet in their own bodies."
Dread and relief warred within her. She'd be back in her own body soon, but not for long—because she'll be ripped away from her human life and brought back here, and who knows what will happen then?
"Now, Eileen," Marcus addressed the woman for the first time. "If you would so please," he tilted his head towards Bella imploringly, smiling stiffly. She was sure there was a warning in there somewhere, but she was more focused towards steeling herself as Eileen was helped to her feet, drifting closer.
She held out her hands wordlessly, and with a hesitant look to Marcus, Bella took them. She watched as Eileen clenched her eyes shut, humming under her breath, and waited. The seconds ticked by, but in this vampire body, it seemed to last forever. Was it supposed to be so slow? she wondered.
The hands holding hers began to shake. Bella watched with growing dread as Eileen's face started to crumple in horror, eyes flashing open, lips holding a slight tremble.
"It's...it's not working…" she whimpered shakily.
"You switched them permanently?" Caius growled, his voice full of wrath. He's clutching his throne, and both Eileen and Bella flinch back as cracks form beneath his tight-knuckled hand.
"No!" she shrieks, her widened, frightened eyes locking on Bella accusingly. "No—she's blocking me!" She looked like she was seconds away from lunging at her; Bella stepped back, wrenching her hands away just as Marcus stepped in front of her with a hard, protective stare.
"What?" Caius spits, rising from his throne. He's tall and broad-shouldered, more intimidating standing up than sitting down, like the height doubles the oppressive presence that hangs around him. "Impossible."
"No," Bella blurts out, her chest filling with that crawling ant, jittery kind of panic. She hadn't thought that her power would follow her into this body. Would that mean that Aro had his own gift in her body, if he had one? Hopefully Charlie would be okay… "She's right—this has happened before… I don't know how to stop it—I'm sorry..."
"Don't be," Marcus assured her quickly. "Aro wanted this—" then he smirks at her. "—wanted you."
If she were herself she'd be blushing down to the neck in mortification, even though she's sure that even with this pallid face her awkwardness is clear. For a moment she was almost thankful for being in this cold, bloodless body to spare herself further embarrassment. A hollow part of her ached, though—thinking of someone wanting her reminded her of Edward's cold, cruel abandonment. Who would want her, a human pet tossed away by the Cullens, if not for a meal?
A sharp sting touched her eyes but there were no tears, no glassy blur—it angered her irrationally; not being able to cry. She looks away from Marcus, clenching her teeth.
"You say this has happened before?" Caius cut in, his eyes locked on hers. "Explain."
"... Edward couldn't read my mind, either," she answered, trying not to let her voice waver under his probing stare. "I couldn't feel it—I didn't even know until he told me that he couldn't. I thought this would work, since it's already worked before..."
"She's gifted? A shield, perhaps..." Caius murmurs, something bemused bleeding into his sharp voice. He levelled her with a stare that was almost approving, but still rather icy. "He'll be pleased about that."
"No doubt," Marcus agreed. They shared a mysterious glance, eyes flickering. He sighed. "However… I do wonder what to do about this predicament we're in now. Aro is human," he said meaningfully. "Unprotected and human. We need to bring him back."
"Yes," Caius said. "Except that doesn't solve the problem at all. Even once he's brought here, she cannot change them back, and Aro in a human girl's body—it's a premise for disaster. Imagine the consequences, Marcus," he rubbed at his brow in an agitated manner. The action was so very human that it looked strange on him, wrong somehow, like a cat holding a pencil.
"But wait… if it doesn't work on me, then…" Bella licked her lips, her eyes widening. After all, how had they gotten into this situation in the first place? Through Aro! "M-Maybe if she uses her power on him while he's in my body—!"
The kings stilled. Caius' face blanked. "You may be… right," he said slowly. Bella looked at him in disbelief—he didn't seem the type to be agreeable, she thought. He scowled at her then, like he knew what she was thinking, and she flinched back.
He turned to Marcus in determination, his voice brisk. "We'll send someone to bring him home, and once he's here, the wretch will use her power on him and switch them back." Marcus nodded in agreement. Caius faced the guard. "Jane—call Demetri and Felix and inform them of their new orders—to bring Isabella Swan's body to Volterra. Alec, take Eileen back to her room and guard her until Aro is back."
"Yes, Master Caius," they chorused, then Jane kissed Alec on both cheeks and headed to the door. Alec and Eileen disappeared in a blur.
Bella stiffened in realisation. "Wait… but—my dad," she said hurriedly, with a touch of desperation. "What about my dad? They...they won't hurt him, right? He's chief of police—he'd look for me, if I just disappeared—"
"All will be well, Isabella," Marcus interrupts smoothly. "I have no doubt that Aro, if awake and aware, will know to protect those you hold dear—he'll find a believable excuse. You'll be very important to him, after all. Felix and Demetri, too, have enough brains to realise this, even if they can appear dim at times," he murmured the last part with a hint of amusement.
Bella had a feeling that he only added the last part to ease her nerves, and to her slight aggravation, it had worked; her shoulders relaxed, tension easing out of her back. She nodded, biting at her lip, brows furrowed. "How long do you think they'll be, then?"
"No longer than twenty-six hours, I'm sure," Marcus said. "We have a private jet after all. Though, I suppose you'd like a tour in the meantime? Time is slow—we vampires do not sleep." he explained.
She nodded, dreading the wait already, anticipation bubbling at her insides. She waited for him to order someone to show her around, but Marcus then offered her his arm, which surprised her a little—but then she thought of how worried he, and even Caius, had seemed about Aro through their actions, and it made sense that he'd want to help her.
He led her out the doors, past the guards, a calm sort of silence resting between them. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought that he looked a little bemused, which made her realise that they probably looked a little odd; Marcus, Volturi leader, leading around Aro, another Volturi leader, like a princess on his arm. A bewildered giggle fought it's way up her dry, aching throat. If she'd still had her clumsiness then they'd have been even more a spectacle for sure.
This body still feels strange, still a little like being in a fever dream. She's out of her depth, she knows, surrounded by vampires, in the body of one herself; and she thinks she'd be dead if it weren't for Aro's connection to her.
Bella glanced back in the room at the thrones—all empty, Caius having disappeared somewhere—her eyes lingering on the middle one, the only one that was placed forwards. Aro's throne. Out of the three, he seemed to be the unofficial leader. She imagined him sitting there, looking at her, the way he'd looked in the painting; all glossy black hair, milky crimson eyes, mysterious smile and kingly, unattainable beauty. Regal in a way that Edward never could've countered.
If she'd been human, she thinks that her breath would have left her.
As she walked along besides Marcus, uneasiness curling in her stomach, she wondered to herself what kind of man—what kind of vampire—that Aro was.
And what he'd be to her.
For those wondering about Bella seeming oblivious to the vampires throwing the word 'mate' around: she's in denial—cause she knows what it means and is scared—so she tries not to think about it at all, since that would be wayyy too overwhelming for her to process in her state.
The title came from my research halfway through writing this fic. I was hoping to find some inspiration by searching body-swapping, and on Wikipedia there was a list with every adaptation that included it. I clicked one I found pretty intriguing, and 'the very thought of you' (by the Ray Noble Orchestra) was in the soundtrack of the movie. For some reason I was drawn to it, and searched up the lyrics and listened as well. I thought the lyrics would be quite fitting for Aro and Bella. Cute detail, anyway.