Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I do not own Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse or any of the characters found within them. They all belong to Stephenie Meyer who I thank for letting me play with them for awhile. No copyright infringement is intended by this story. Please note that a majority of the spoken dialogue in this chapter comes from Chapter 22 of New Moon.
Author's Note: I am so sorry for the long delay between postings. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to finish this story. I really appreciate your interest in continuing to read Darkest Night.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN – MILES TO GO
Demetri walked us all of the way through the heavy wooden doors of the Volturi's reception area. The reception was still empty with the exception of Gianna who smiled broadly at Demetri from her desk as he led us through the double doors. When he turned to leave, Demetri looked directly at me and repeated Aro's warning, "Do not leave until dark." If I was going to get the three of us safely home, I knew I had no choice other than to comply with Aro's command, so I nodded our assent. When Demetri closed the door, I immediately steered Bella towards the farthest corner of the room. Demetri's thoughts had immediately returned to the "feast" taking place on the other side of the reception doors. Given the current focus of his thoughts and those of the castle's other occupants, I wanted Bella as far away from them as physically possible.
As soon as I was certain that Demetri could no longer hear us, I asked Bella if she was alright. Once the words left my mouth, I realized how stupid they must sound. Of course she was not alright. She had just witnessed the start of a horrific crime committed by the most despicable group of monsters. And, instead of having the ability to flee the castle and all of its occupants, she now was forced to spend hours waiting several yards away from the massacre with two similar creatures. If we ever made it back to Forks, she should rightfully tell me that she never wanted to see me again. Although it would tear me apart to never touch her again, I would do my best to comply as soon as she made the request. Although I knew that I was not strong enough to ever truly leave her alone again, if she asked, I would force myself to watch over her from afar.
Edward, stop berating yourself and do something. "You'd better make her sit before she falls," Alice said. "She's going to pieces."
Bella's arms and legs trembled violently and her chest shook every few seconds as she hiccupped loudly. I wrapped my arms more tightly around her small frame and lifted her over to one of the oversized black leather sofas littering this corner of the reception area. Of course the Volturi would not have uncomfortable furniture in their 'office.' "Shh, Bella, shh," I whispered as my fingers ghosted themselves up and down her arms. Suddenly, her eyes overflowed and tears began streaming down her face as loud sobs shook her entire frame.
"I think she's having hysterics. Maybe you should slap her," Alice suggested.
I glared at her as she shrugged her shoulders. It always seems to work on television. I shook my head at her and continued to focus on trying to calm Bella.
"It's all right, you're safe. It's all right, you're safe." I repeated over and over again. I pulled her up onto my lap and tucked the odious cloak around her as a blanket. As disgusting as it was, at least it would keep her warm. Her tears continued to flow down her face and soak through the cloak to my skin. If she was not in such pain, I would have relished the feel of finally having her back in my arms and kissed her senseless. But after seeing such horrors by others of my kind, I was not sure how she would react to having me touch her in anything other than a friendly manner. So, instead of following my heart, I restrained myself to rubbing her back and patting her hair to calm her.
"All those people," Bella finally whispered after what seemed like hours. Her sobs finally had quieted to soft whimpers, but this new mournful sound was almost worse than the sobbing. The pain she felt on behalf of the group of tourists was almost palpable. How could one person be so selfless and good? My monstrous nature stood in sharp contrast. Instead of feeling sorrow for the loss of so many innocent people, I had focused on my rage at the Volturi for exposing my dear girl to such horrors.
"I know," I whispered back. If only I could have run faster, she never would have witnessed the Volturi's macabre civility.
"It's so horrible." She whispered again.
"Yes, it is. I wish you hadn't had to see that." She rested her head against the skin of my chest, burning me with her extraordinary heat. She took several deep breaths and used the edge of the cloak to wipe her eyes. It took so much willpower to still my hands from taking the place of the cloak.
Gianna finally let her curiosity about the loud noises Bella had made overtake her and came over to check on us. "Is there anything I can get you?" She asked as she leaned over my shoulder to look at Bella. What on earth could have upset the child so much? Surely she knows that vampires need to feed on human blood. Haven't her friends told her anything? Shame on them if they haven't fully informed her about their world. What else could have caused her to react so violently?
"No," I answered not bothering to look at her. I hoped she could hear my annoyance over her interruption through the tone of my voice. Sensing my lack of patience, Alice made a quick shooing motion with her hands. Through Alice's thoughts, I could see Gianna nod quickly and smile at Bella before she, thankfully, left us alone again.
My attention never left Bella, but Bella's eyes followed Gianna's movements until she disappeared around the corner. "Does she know what's going on here?" Bella whispered to me.
"Yes. She knows everything," I responded. From her thoughts, I could tell that Gianna was far more observant than many of the guard members believed. She was cognizant of the reasons why Heidi brought large "tour groups" to the castle every week or so. Despite the heavy oak doors separating the reception area from the rest of the castle and the generic orchestral music that flooded the room, she also could hear the screams emanating from the throne room. But, curiously, Gianna was not repulsed by the murders.
"Does she know they're going to kill her someday?" Bella asked.
"She knows it's a possibility. She's hoping they'll decide to keep her." I said. In fact, she buttered up Demetri and Felix as often as she could in the hope that one of them would select her as a potential mate.
"She wants to be one of them?" She asked, her face scrunching up in wonder.
I nodded. I desperately wanted to decipher the reasons behind her questions. Is it finally time for Bella to run away from me screaming?
"How can she want that?" Bella whispered. "How can she watch those people file through to that hideous room and want to be a part of that?" Her voice wavered as a shiver ran through her body.
I could not keep my emotions from playing across my features. Bella had just confirmed my worst fear – she finally believed that we are monsters. Cue the running and screaming. I understood that there was no way she could still love me after seeing our true nature.
"Oh, Edward," she cried out as the tears overflowed her eyes again.
"What's wrong," I asked. I stroked her hair gently in an effort to calm her down again, not wanting to force my cold touch on her unnecessarily. Of course, I already knew what was wrong. Bella was trying to come up with a way to tell Alice and me that she never wanted to see us again. She finally had reacted naturally to being in the presence of two vampires.
Then, she surprised me again. Instead of shying away from me, she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck and used all of her strength to pull herself as close to me as she could. Her movement shocked me after her despair just seconds earlier. She truly had no sense of self-preservation. "Is it really sick for me to be happy right now?" She asked.
I sighed in disbelief. If my heart still beat, it would have been pounding in my chest. I almost could feel the butterflies floating in my stomach. Almost. Maybe just maybe she could still want me. I knew that although I could have anything in the world, all I would ever want or need was her. I happily returned her embrace and whispered, "I know exactly what you mean."
I paused. Maybe it would be too much if I professed my undying love just yet. Instead, I blurted out, "but we have lots of reasons to be happy. For one, we're alive."
She agreed with me. "Yes, that's a good one."
"And together." I whispered softly, allowing myself the slightest hope that she would agree. She nodded, but did not respond any further.
"And, with any luck we'll still be alive tomorrow." I continued, feeling the need to keep her talking.
"Hopefully." She said with a slight catch in her voice. I bit back a sigh of frustration as I tried to decipher the meaning behind her unease. Did she think I would not get her out of here?
"The outlook is quite good." Alice interjected. "I'll see Jasper in less than twenty-four hours." And he is not going to let me go for days. Let's just say he has a lot of tension to work off.
Ugh. Even after our harrowing experience, she still felt the need to inundate me with visions of her sex life. "Not helping," I whispered softly to her outside of the range of Bella's hearing.
Bella stared at me. It was almost as if she was trying to memorize my features, like she was seeing me for the last time. I groaned audibly. I still had little skill in deciphering her cryptic mind. Was she trying to come up with a way to let me down easily? I had to think positively. Well, as positively as my personality allowed me to think. At least I could touch her as much as I wanted for the next few hours under the guise of comforting her. My fingers traced her face lightly, lingering on the dark circles underneath her eyes. "You look so tired." I whispered.
"And you look thirsty." She responded, mirroring my movements. Even in the cold waiting room, the lightest touch from her fingers felt like a flame kissing across my skin.
"It's nothing." And it truly was. Even after such a long time away from each other, the scent of her blood had no effect on me. I did not even notice the slight burn in my throat until she said something. Even then, it did not change my assurance. Instead, I just savored her essence – it was the proof that we were still alive.
"Are you sure?" She asked. "I could sit with Alice." As she spoke, she leaned away from me and began sliding her legs down to the floor.
I scooped up her legs and pulled her tightly to my chest again. "Don't be ridiculous." I said. "I've never been in better control of that side of my nature than right now." There was no way I would let her escape my arms.
I could not take my eyes off of Bella's face. Even my perfect memory did not do her justice. Although her eyes reflected the sadness of our circumstances, the deep chocolate color drew me in. Between her eyes and her luscious lips, I could not look away.
Alright, that's enough lover boy. We need to talk. I'm so happy that you two are finally together again, but we need to figure out how we are going to get out of here and back home as quickly as possible. I'd like to be ready to leave the minute the sun goes down.
"Alright, Alice. Have you seen anything yet? Can you see if we will actually be able to leave Volterra today? I am still skeptical that Caius will just let us walk out of here." I spoke quickly and softly in the hope that Bella would not overhear me. Her eyelids fluttered slightly as she tried to fight her exhaustion. It did not look like she had heard me.
"I can see the three of us walking through the Florence airport. I think that's a good sign that we will be allowed to leave. We just need to pick up our bags and find a car. I don't think we should steal a car within the castle walls, though. I can't see exactly what will happen, but there is a chance we will get caught. I don't see the pretty yellow Porsche anymore, so it looks like I may need to find a different car once we can leave the castle." Alice said.
"You should run ahead and get the bags and a car while I walk Bella out through the main square. Just in case someone changes their mind about letting us go, they would not dare attack us in front of all of the local revelers."
"I agree. By the way, what was all that talk about singers?" Alice asked.
"La tua cantate?" Bella looked up at me as I said this. Clearly, she was wondering the same thing.
"Yes, that." Alice responded. I know how it is translated, but why would Aro say that about Bella? I don't think any of us have ever heard her sing. With all her clumsiness, I can't think she would have a great singing voice.
Actually, I think she has the voice of an angel, but I shrugged in response to Alice's question. The phrase really meant nothing. "They have a name for someone who smells the way Bella does to me. They call her my singer – because her blood sings for me." I responded.
Alice laughed loudly. What a bunch of superstitious ninnies.
Alice continued to run through different possible flight combinations to get us home as quickly as possible. Once we had agreed upon a plan, I focused on placing soft kisses on all of Bella's exposed skin, save her lips. I knew that I could not handle the rejection if she decided not to kiss me back. Her heart pounded each time my lips touched her skin, but she did not react in any other way. What could be running through her head right now? I nearly asked the question, but I was too afraid to hear her response.
"Alice," I whispered, "tell me again about Jacob Black. Did she really have no problem spending time with that mutt? Do you think that anything happened between them?"
Edward, all I can tell you is what I witnessed. I can't see the werewolves at all. It's like they block my visions completely. Bella did seem very close to him, but . . .
Our conversation was interrupted as Alec approached the door. I wonder if they listened to the master and stayed in the lobby. What a shame it would be to have to track them down for failing to follow directions. He giggled in his head, before opening the door. Oh hell, I can smell the girl from here. I guess they can go now.
"You're free to leave now. We ask that you don't linger in the city." Alec said. His eyes glowed like a stoplight, signaling his recent feast.
As if. Alice thought, echoing my own thoughts. If he thought we would even consider remaining in the city a second longer than necessary, he was a bigger idiot than I thought he was. "That won't be a problem." I said.
Alec smiled sickeningly at Bella as he turned and glided back through the doors into the ancient castle.
"Follow the right hallway around the corner to the first set of elevators," Gianna said. "The lobby is two floors down and exits to the street. Goodbye now." Her cheerful tone seemed more appropriate for a women's clothing shop or a restaurant instead of the Volturi stronghold.
Alice's thoughts echoed my own and she glared coldly at Gianna as we turned the corner into the hallway. Each step closer to fresh air felt like it lifted some of the weight off of my chest.
I heard the commotion outside even before we exited the castle. When we entered the square, Bella gasped at the spectacle before us.
In contrast, I found the celebration as ridiculous as the ancient traditions followed by the monsters in the castle. Many of the partygoers now sported black satin cloaks and plastic fangs and lunged at each other with their fake teeth reflecting the light. "Ridiculous," I muttered. Luckily, given the revelers' garb, no one gave my unusual outfit a second look. In fact, several people lifted their glasses to toast me as we walked past them.
Alice darted through the shadows to pick up the bags she stashed for she and Bella at the far edge of the square. Meet you outside the front gates. Keep your fingers crossed that the Porsche is still there.
Bella and I continued walking slowly around the fountain in the center of the square. I kept my arms on her shoulders to guide her away from the marble ledge bordering the large fountain and to dodge the men and women that staggered drunkenly throughout the square.
Bella suddenly looked up and cried out, "Where's Alice?" I could hear the panic behind her words.
I lightly stroked her hair. "She went to retrieve your bags from where she stashed them this morning."
"She's stealing a car too, isn't she?" Bella asked.
"Not till we're outside." I responded grinning at Alice's enthusiasm for crime. She thought nothing about dropping thousands of dollars on clothing whenever she desired, but the thought of paying to rent a car did not even cross her mind tonight. She did not even consider it a possibility.
I wrapped my arms more tightly around Bella's waist as we continued walking. She seemed likely to fall over from exhaustion. Plus, I certainly did not mind keeping her in my arms for a little longer.
When we finally reached the city wall, I saw Alice waiting for us in a nondescript dark sedan. I quickly slid into the backseat, pulling Bella halfway into my lap. Alice took off as I quickly fastened our seat belts.
"I'm sorry, there wasn't much to choose from." Alice said wistfully. I really hoped I could find something a little sexier.
"It's fine, Alice. They can't all be 911 Turbos." I joked.
She sighed loudly. "I may have to acquire one of those legally. It was fabulous." You should have seen how it cornered, Edward. It felt like it was on rails.
I chuckled. "I'll get you one for Christmas." I promised. That was the very least I could do for her after everything she had done for Bella and me. Really, I owed her far more than a car but if that would make her happy I would glad buy her any car she wanted.
"Yellow." Alice insisted. I chuckled quietly and nodded, catching her eye in the rearview mirror.
I continued holding tightly onto Bella even though she did no longer needed me to support her. "You can sleep now, Bella. It's over." I whispered softly.
"I don't want to sleep. I'm not tired." She retorted, even though it was quite clear that she was struggling to remain conscious.
I kissed underneath her ear and whispered again, "Try."
She shook her head, but did not make any other response.
I sighed. "You're still just as stubborn."
She remained true to her word and kept her eyes open for the entire ride to Florence, even though I caught her head falling backwards and her eyes shutting every few minutes.
After dropping Bella, me and the bags at the entrance to the airport, Alice drove the dark sedan to the farthest end of the airport to avoid any interest by the police and met us at the ticket counter only moments later. The bright lights of the airport seemed to wake Bella up. It probably did not hurt that she also had the opportunity to change her clothes and freshen up. The cloak caused people to stare, so Alice took advantage of the mall located in the public area of the airport and purchased a new shirt, sweater and slacks for me to wear on the long flight home. As I quickly changed into my new clothing in the men's restroom, Alice kept her hand at the door for me to hand her the odious cloak. As soon as I removed it, she grabbed it and raced out the door to the alleyway adjacent to the airport to throw it on a pile of trash. That's just where it belongs. How could those creeps think I would ever even consider wearing something like this?
Our quick flight to Rome passed uneventfully. Due to Alice's quick thinking and her gift, we only had a 20-minute layover before boarding our flight to Atlanta. Prior to takeoff, Bella requested a Coke from the flight attendant. Her innocent smile did not fool me. I knew what she was doing – she had never tolerated caffeine very well. The only reason she ever drank it was to force herself to stay awake when she was tired. "Bella," I warned.
"I don't want to sleep," she said, frowning slightly. "If I close my eyes now, I'll see things I don't want to see. I'll have nightmares."
I could not fault her reasoning. Still, in her current state of exhaustion, the Coke could cause her heart to race at a dangerous rate. As I opened my mouth to say something further, Alice stopped me. In between whispering to Jasper on her cell phone, Alice took the time to admonish me with her thoughts. Edward, just leave her alone. She has been through so much. If she wants to stay awake, let her. You lost your right to control her actions when you left.
I sighed softly in response and turned my attention back to Bella. She kept glancing at my face and opening her mouth as if she had something to say, but never said a word. For my part, I just kept my arms wrapped around her and softly stroked her face. Every now and then, I kissed her when I thought she was drifting off. I did not want her to think I was forcing myself on her by kissing her lips. I needed to wait until we could discuss where we stood and if she could ever forgive me. So instead, I kissed everywhere else I could reach – her hair, her forehead, her eyelids, her wrists and the palms of her hands.
True to her word, Bella did not sleep at all on the flight to Atlanta or the flight to Seattle. Each time her eyelids began drooping, she requested another soda. By the time we started our descent into Seattle, she was trembling from the combination of caffeine and exhaustion flowing through her body. I waited patiently for her to say whatever was on her mind, but instead she remained quiet.
As we taxied toward the gate, Alice tried to get my attention. Edward, they are all here waiting for us. All of them. So, please behave yourself. While she is not my favorite person right now either, Rose didn't mean for all of this to happen.
I growled quietly in response, grabbed Bella's bag and began heading for the jet way. "Here we go," I whispered to no one in particular.