Betrayal is a precarious business.
Oh, there are people who can be safely betrayed. Those people will only feel hurt and sorrow if they one day find out, but will not take any steps to avenge the injustice. No real danger for the traitor exists.
But then there are those who will not let themselves be deceived. People who will not waste their time on sorrow.
The pianist was one of those people.
Now that he had learned of the treachery, he did not feel grief. It was white-hot rage that coursed through his veins and poisoned his morality. The rage was like a blazing mist that hung over his eyes. But though it distorted his view, it did not falsify his reasoning. Instead of hanging down his head or exploding from the anger, the professor used the energy for thinking, for calculating, and for planning.
He did not believe in karma; no, karma was only a shoddy principle that had arrived from the east along with all the other colorful ideas and interpretations of life. But the pianist did believe in justice.
Offence and retribution—that was his philosophy.
The poor dears would not know what hit them.
Gerasymenko straightened out the last wrinkles that had formed on his flawless black suit before entering the house again. His guests were already waiting for him, all with quizzical expressions on their weary faces. Edward's questioning eyes held an inquiry of their own and something small the professor recognized as hope.
But unlike they'd been expecting, the professor did not renounce his loyalty to the Romanians. He merely excused himself for being away for so long and sat down, grabbing an old-looking but nevertheless unmarked novel from the coffee table.
The guests exchanged baffled looks that somehow bordered on despair.
Why did he not say anything? Why did he not react?
I'd been so sure the professor would say something. We'd all been absolutely positive that the tables had turned, and that we'd finally won the professor to our side. But instead he'd not even mentioned the betrayal, let alone what he was going to do about it.
What was I supposed to think anymore? It felt as though I was constantly juggling two different emotions in my hands: despair and hope. While one was in my hand the other was in the air, and then they would switch positions, and I would struggle to catch the falling ball…
Suddenly my ears picked up a car engine that was nearing the house at great speed. The wheels were grinding the stony road deafeningly.
Edward reacted by standing up and walking to the window, obviously in deep thought. His elbow rested against the white wall while his hand rubbed his temple, his lips pressed into a thin line.
Gerasymenko observed him cynically, as if he had committed a terrible crime by leaving his seat without excusing himself.
Finally Edward turned around slowly and spoke.
"Professor," he began, "we are on your side. You need merely to tell us what you want and we will do it."
Gerasymenko raised his eyebrows. "I know what lengths you would go for your daughter," he said, "but it is not loyalty I seek. It is revenge."
And in a sudden movement that made both me and Alice jump from our seat, Edward charged forward and banged his fist onto the coffee table, splintering its surface badly.
"We aren't being ridiculous!" he roared, obviously not concerned about the car that was still coming towards the house. "You are the child here! Your eternal talk of honor and respect isn't the talk of an experienced professor, but that of a malicious child! Only a fool would not accept our help if he really wanted to reach his goal!"
"Watch your tongue," Gerasymenko spat out. I looked at both men disbelievingly – what kindergarten was this?
"What's going on, Edward?" I asked, worried that he might have ruined all our chances by screaming at the professor.
Edward's answer was hard and cold. "He doesn't want to let us help him. He thinks it too humiliating to work with a group of children."
My jaw dropped open, and Alice exclaimed: "Children?"
"That's what I thought," Edward added with a sneer. "I don't quite see how you can count us as children."
The professor stood up swiftly, walked to the front door and turned back to us again, a finger pressed against his lips.
"I will tell you why you are children. There are two enemy vampires coming towards this house at this very moment, and you are shouting out things that could get all of us killed! Be silent, please, children, and let the adults handle this."
I barked out a humorless laugh, still staring at Gerasymenko with wide eyes. Alice was shaking her head in disbelief, and Edward was glaring at his teacher with more venom than I'd ever thought he could muster.
But just as I was about to attack Gerasymenko with words of my own, Edward spoke again, this time more calmly.
"I'll do it," he said shortly, leaving the rest of us without a clue as to what he was referring to.
The professor's eyes lit up as he took in his pupil's appearance. A sneer appeared on his thin lips.
"You honestly think you can succeed?" He nearly laughed, but Edward continued to glare at him solemnly, causing Gerasymenko's expression to sober up again. "Very well, if you insist."
"What is it?" I asked for the second time that minute, angry that Edward was leaving me out of something that clearly involved saving my child. I walked over to my husband and forced him to turn his eyes on me. "What are you going to do?"
Edward's stone hard eyes softened a little when they focused on me, but I could still distinguish frosty determination in them that made my dead heart jump.
"The professor believes that I am not capable of playing his most difficult opus on the piano. I will prove him wrong."
I couldn't believe my ears.
"Music?" I screeched, painfully aware of the car that had just halted outside on the front lawn. "Our daughter is in captivity, and all you can think about is music?"
I crunched my hands into fists, once again feeling the overwhelming urge to break something. This time Edward's head seemed to call to me as the right target.
Footsteps were on the front porch, nearing the door with exaggerated slowness.
Edward snatched my hands from his shoulder and rested them in his palms. His eyes displayed even more vivaciousness as he tenderly lowered his head to my level. His whisper was barely audible.
"If I can prove to Gerasymenko that I can play that stupid song," he murmured into my ear, "he will not find any other reason to not help us defeat the Romanians."
And before I had any time to react, Edward was on the other side of the room, standing beside the grand piano that seemed to glisten in the meek light.
At the same time the front door opened.
"Good evening, my dear friends," a most abominably familiar voice pronounced. "How nice to see you are all still here."
"Vladimir, Stefan," the professor said. I was shocked by how genuine his tone sounded. "I see you have returned. Why did you not give us any warning? I would have prepared for your arrival."
In a movement that seemed rude even to my eyes, Vladimir set a hand on his ally's shoulder and patted the spot, smiling so atrociously that it was almost a leer.
"We didn't want you to prepare for anything, my friend. We wanted to… well, catch you off-guard."
The professor didn't even flinch, but answered: "Your distrust insults me."
"Oh, it was just a routine check," Stefan said, sounding almost like a police officer in a prime-time police procedural.
The two vampires stepped into the room completely and eyed us perkily. We glared back with intensity.
A spiteful smile was back on the professor's face when he followed after the Romanians, and he turned his eyes to Edward without even trying to hide his amusement.
"Edward here was just about to perform for us." His voice matched his expression perfectly. "He will play one of my own works of art. 'Piano Concerto #2 in C flat Opus Number 23' is, if I may boast, the most challenging composition ever written."
A smile so malicious that it ignited a spark of true fear in me spread across the pianist's face.
"Edward believes that he can master it. Well, I wish you good luck, Mr. Cullen."
I glanced nervously at my husband who, despite the stone hard determination, was looking a little nervous. He sat himself on the black stool that stood in front of the grand piano and slowly lifted the lid. A set of perfect black and white keys came into view. Edward stretched his fingers out before letting his hand glide over the ivories.
The harmony of a flawless scale filled the tight air of the living room. I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers.
The song started leisurely. Edward had no difficulty playing the simple chords and scales, and gradually I started to relax. I tried to listen to the melody, wanting to distinguish the famed excellence of it, but found no pleasing air to it. To my ears the song sounded just like someone had randomly picked out one note after the other and had arranged them in an arbitrary manner.
To my great irritation, the two Romanians didn't seem even slightly interested in the concerto and started talking again after a few minutes. I tried to hold myself back from smacking them – after all, the song didn't hold the same weight for them as it did for us.
"Our preparations are almost done. Have you contacted the rest of your family yet? Well, what a shame… You will have to do that soon, of course…"
"A plane is waiting for us at the airport – do you have any specific whishes as to your dinner? Oh, silly me, of course not…"
Meanwhile the concerto had picked up pace, and I started getting more and more worried with each new complicated-sounding figure. The music itself was starting to sound truly awful; was this what classical music really was? I'd remembered Chopin sounding very different.
"I will have to hunt before we leave… It's a long journey to Europe…" Gerasymenko was talking to his guests, again not betraying any of his anger. But there was something in his voice, something faintly aloof, that suggested that he was concentrating on something much different than the conversation.
The pace of the concerto picked up a notch once more, and I almost winced at the sound of the strange and knotty musical patterns. I glanced at Edward; he was sitting straight-backed and rigid, his fingers gliding over the keys with unbelievable speed and agility. His eyes were glued on the piano.
At some point I realized that I wouldn't be able to tell if he got one note wrong. How could I, when they all sounded wrong to me? I wondered if he would stop if he made a mistake, or if he'd continue, hoping that the professor wouldn't notice. What if he'd already made a mistake, and was now only trying to cover it up?
But as imperfect as the music sounded, it seemed perfect enough for me. Besides, Gerasymenko hadn't reacted in any way so far; surely that was a good thing?
Now the music was too loud and fast for me to hear anything but my own thoughts. The notes danced in the air, twisting and turning and flipping over, and the more solemn lower notes vibrated through the room with the sound waves, shaking the floorboards and stirring the air. I made my first accomplishment of the day by finally finding an actual pattern in the song – it sped up first, slowed down again, and then sped up again…
And as abruptly as a mood swing, the concerto ended. The final three notes hung in the air like cobwebs.
I was too scared to even breathe.
But as the three notes still trembled in the now still air of the room, I glanced at Edward and found the haughtiest expression I'd ever seen on his face. His fingers were still on the keys, pressing them down elegantly. I dared to hope, yet again, that maybe we did have a chance…
And as my eyes shifted to Gerasymenko, a relief so overpowering filled me that a smile spread across my lips. There was no mistaking the humiliation there on his face.
He stood up and began to applaud the new pianist.
A/N: I'm so sorry about the long wait (yet again). I hope you haven't forgotten the story! The next chapter will be up sooner than later, all right? :)