To Cathi: *scribbles on chapter* okay...

=D


Thank you, Livie79 and Niko0921. You're beyond words.


XXII

The Rose Hourglass

I would've stayed under the warm water forever if permitted. I would've become lost in time under the stream, hoping to soothe the pounding in my skull and the dull ache ringing through my muscles. In the short amount of time I'd been allowed, neither were swayed. The adrenaline had set me on edge, the night had taken its toll on me, and I was sure I'd never forget the scent of death, or the way Jake died, but I couldn't think about that. Not then, not while searching for some reprieve from the darkness.

I pulled my fingers through the tangled ends of wet hair with a towel wrapped tightly around my torso. The thin layer of fabric did nothing to conceal against the cool air in the shower room or the hall.

"You'll stay in his room until he returns," Jasper said, unlocking the door and pushing it open. Nothing inside had changed since the last time I saw it. The lamps next to his bed illuminated the piano, and the bookcases on the wall, the large armoire next to the bathroom, which had been overcome with shadow. The door and desk were almost ignored by the light. Jasper followed me in, but stopped just within the door's reach."You'll find your clothes on the bed. Hang your towel on the rack in the bathroom when you're finished."

"Where is he?" I asked, turning to the door.

"Attending to business still." He ducked his head into the hall, checking both directions before approaching me, though he didn't come closer than arm's length, but I could still feel him through the air, his electricity reaching out when he couldn't. "Remember what I told you. Keep his eyes trained on what's before him. Don't allow them to wander. I fear what will become of this house if you're unable to keep his attention. After this we're not to speak. Ever. Do you understand what I've told you?"

I nodded and he spun once again, heading for the door.

"Jasper?"

His eyes found me, his hand resting on the handle, and at the sight of him a warmth began to creep into my chest, but I couldn't tell if it came from inside me or if it'd been given. I rubbed the goosebumps forming on my arms. "How?" I couldn't believe I even asked. "How do I keep his attention?"

"Seduce him."

Those words together seemed strange and caused my pulse to quicken. Did he even know what he asked of me? "You expect me to sleep with him?"

"No."

I released my breath. Relief.

"But I expect you to do whatever's necessary," he said.

He closed the door and turned the locks. Alone. Actually alone. I didn't waste a minute drying off and pulling the gown over my head in case Edward was on his way. Even though he said he would never be interested in my body, it didn't ease my mind knowing he could just walk in.

I ignored flicking on the light in the bathroom, knowing exactly where the towel would go; I remembered the location from when Edward dropped me in the tub. That was the night he nearly killed me.

I stepped from the tile to the hardwood. Alone in Edward's room. The sole of my foot became wet and when I looked down I realized I'd dripped water everywhere. He didn't like wet floors. I hurried back into the dark to retrieve the towel, dropping to my knees once at the wood again to wipe up any drops I saw. Confrontation had to be few and far between if I were to take Jasper's advice.

When I finished I hung the wet fabric back in it's spot like it'd never happened then stood in the center of everything, my fingers hanging onto the bed post. I was afraid to touch anything else, afraid as soon as I reached for something he'd walk through the doors and catch me, the way a doctor would catch someone touching their sharp medical tools as they entered the room.

"How are you okay with this?" I whispered to myself, as though I could reason away the lack of wanting to run or escape. "I mean really?" How was I not taking advantage of the opportunity?

A few feet away was the possibility of freedom, shielded by it's heavy mass of curtains to make someone forget about the outside world. I pushed them aside, wanting to see the way the midnight-blue sky looked behind the shaded pines, rolling up and down the hills in the distance. In place of what I expected, pitch black pressed against the glass, a seemingly endless void on the other side of the wall. For once I was thankful for the separation because it didn't feel real. Not even the moon and stars penetrated such a darkness. Did the world still exist, or had we been swallowed by time and earth? Were we alone in the world?

I leaned against the wall, allowing my fingertips to feather-touch the pane of ink.

"Not thinking of escaping are you?"

I tensed at the question, the voice, the sudden appearance of something except for silence. Edward was there, at the doorway, carrying a large stack of beige folders in one of his arms and shutting the door with the other. He twisted the lock and shoved the key into his pocket.

"There's no point," I said, straightening, allowing my hand to lax. "You'd come after me."

"And they say old dogs can't learn new tricks." He dropped the folders onto the desk, and they toppled over, falling into steps until they settled. "Finally realize the impossible nature of freedom? What made you think you could escape anyway by taking that key? You had to have known they would've found out sooner or later."

I shook my head, twirling my fingers, a simple distraction from having to look at him. "I don't regret what I did, but if I had the chance I'd do it differently. I would've used the key the same night."

"What stopped you?"

"I don't know." I told myself to wait, act normal, that I had plenty of time until my... scent... went away. Then, I wondered how I could leave the other girls. How could I leave them to die?

"I do," he said. "Fear."

"No. I wasn't afraid." I thought about it for a moment. I'd never saw it as fear, though I had a million excuses to why I hadn't tried to leave. Maybe I was afraid. Afraid of leaving the girls, afraid of being caught, afraid of what would happen once I ran from those stone walls. Life would never be the same.

"Even now." He stood in front of me, our bodies parallel with the window, with each other. "You're scared."

My legs trembled, and I couldn't hide it. I was always afraid, even if I pretended not to be. "Afraid of pain, maybe," I said, because I was never shy about that confession.

He looked at my forehead, reaching and running his thumb across the tender wound. At first, the cool of his finger didn't bother me so much, but when his rough skin dragged against mine, disturbing the wound, I hissed and tilted my head under his reach. "It's fine."

I didn't expect him to retract his hand, or care he hurt me at all, but he lowered his arm to his side. "He didn't bite you, that's good. A bite from him would've been more painful than anything I could give you."

He. Royce. "Why was he different anyway? He was nothing like you. He smelled."

He glanced into the void on the other side of the glass. "Royce King had already died when he was turned."

My brow pulled down, a curiosity beginning to stem and Edward saw this and continued. "His human body died, and during his decay a desperate newborn vampire drank from him, hoping to find blood. He was unaware the venom would eventually reanimate the corpse. Royce King was undead, in the truest sense of the word. More of a zombie than a vampire."

My thoughts shivered back to Royce and the way he smelled and looked. The reason behind the make-up and cologne was to mask the fact he had been a decaying piece of meat. Truly dead. His cold hands had touched me. My stomach flipped and ached at the memory of being pinned to the bed. I couldn't find the words. I wrapped my arms around my torso.

"And because of it," Edward said, "he spent his life in the shadows."

"But won't he come back? I mean, can he? The venom brought him to life once, won't it do it again?"

"The lowest part of the house is a furnace for cremation, the final place for a treacherous vampire or anyone stupid enough to warrant a death sentence. The venom can't survive the heat."

"Well, that's good," I said, almost smiling.

"Even if he were somehow able to miraculously survive decapitation and flames, he would have to come through me to get to you." He gave me an almost-grin, then tugged on a stand of hair hanging in my face with a gentleness I would've never expected from him. It seemed almost playful.

He stepped into the bathroom, flicking on the light and pulling the shirt over his head without shutting the door. The sink water started then stopped a moment later. After a second, the light blinked off and he stepped out, shirtless and reaching for his armoire. His bare torso was white against the black pants, his lean muscles flexing stiffly as he moved. He chose a gray t-shirt and slipped it over his head.

"And," he said, seeming hesitant as he slow-stepped to his desk, "you were right about Jacob. He had many women."

"I wouldn't lie about that," I said, still standing at the window. His death surfaced, but I quickly shut off the memory. I didn't want to think about that, but there was one thing I'd forgotten about. "Jessica and Angela." I turned to Edward again. He stood at his desk, flipping through the folders with a single index finger, picking at his lip with the other hand. "Did Jake tell you what happened to them?"

"He told me everything." He closed the folder, facing me, but then turned to the door right before a knock penetrated the quiet space.

Demetri ducked his head to his collarbone, holding up a white box in front of him when the door was opened. Edward took the box, watching him for only moment before he closed the door and walked the box to his desk, opening the lid along the way. He pulled several items out and placed them on top of the folders: a white and chrome machine with a long, white cord and three bags of blood.

This piqued my curiosity further, and I stepped toward him, vying for a closer look at what he was doing.

B. SWAN had been printed in very neat handwriting on the front bag, and then I understood.

"My blood." I paused next to Edward.

"All you gave to Aro," he said with an absent quality to his words. "He didn't get a chance to sell it before his untimely death."

His untimely death. I almost laughed. As if Edward was torn up about Aro's demise, whether by his hand or not because he had no intention of selling it either.

Edward would drink every last drop, but as long as he wasn't coming near me I didn't care if he drank my donated blood from the bag. I had more important concerns.

"What about Jessica and Angela?" I asked.

He sort-of chuckled and bent over to plug the bread basket-looking machine into the wall socket beside his desk. He set a bag of my blood on the chrome-looking plate and twisted the button below it, waking the round orange light on the opposite side of the machine. "They're fine. He did his job, but he didn't touch them otherwise, lucky for them."

I smiled. Jake hadn't touched them, at least in a way Edward thought was lucky. I would find out sooner or later what Jake's job entailed. I would make sure of it.

I followed Edward to his piano. The wooden bench groaned beneath his weight as he sat. He brought the instrument to life with a flutter of his fingers, but didn't play anything afterward. He turned his head, those dark-red eyes capturing and never releasing. "Is there something you need, Little Swan?"

I shook my head. "No."

He showed his teeth with a small grin. "Then why follow me as though you're lost?"

"I was just curious when I'd be going back to my room. I don't know how much longer I can keep my eyes open."

His grin fell, then he turned his attention back to the keys in front of him. They rang out once more under his fingertips. "Your room is here now, or was it not explained to you?"

I felt the blood, the heat, drain from my face. I wanted to tell him no. I wanted to explain how I didn't want to stay with him, how I knew he would attack me in the middle of the night, but nothing came from my parted lips. It caught in my throat and strangled me.

He rose from the bench, stepping past me to his bed where he pulled the sheets back, flipping the pillows out of place. He settled them at the headboard then gestured. "If you're tired then sleep."

That bed. I didn't want to sleep in that bed. "But, it's yours."

"And I don't use it."

"Is your coffin more comfortable?"

Edward huffed a small laugh. "I don't sleep. I haven't for awhile now." He invited me to slip underneath the fluffy covers again, and while the idea of a pillow sounded comforting enough to want to accept his offer I didn't budge. "Afraid?" he asked, his grin forming once more, the pointed edges of his teeth bumping his bottom lip.

"I don't trust you," I said.

"I saved your life, and you don't trust me?"

"You saved me for your own desires, not mine. I don't trust anything that wants to eat me."

"I have no interest in you tonight, Bella, nor any other night as long as there are bags which contain your blood." His attention left me and dropped the comforter and sheets for the machine, striding past me to touch the bag on the plate. He turned the dial on the machine, but not enough to turn the light off and I knew then what it was. A warmer.

He lifted the bag, seizing the tube on top between his lips and pulled my blood into his mouth. He did this for several seconds, and I watched as the bag became less and less full. He drained it half-way until he lowered it back to the plate.

Blood stained his bottom lip and clung to his teeth, painting the white as he took in a hard breath like he had been underwater too long. His tongue swiped the remaining blood from his lip. "Yours is worth waiting for," he said. "And I see the thoughts in your eyes." He came toward me. My pulse quickened and my breaths became erratic as his hand touched my cheek. "Feel them in your chest." He placed a palm on my sternum and his eyes held me still. "But my intention isn't to kill you."

"You tried before," I said. "That night..."

"A mistake," he shook his head, "A mistake I won't make again." Edward's fingertips fluttered across my forehead, pushing the small amount of hair from my face. "It's why I left. I had to train my thirst. I want you to live, Bella. When I heard Aro had sold you to Royce I came because I knew what would happen to you."

I stepped back from him, and he didn't stop me as I found my way behind the piano to put distance between us.

"They don't know how special your blood is. I do."

My blood. "What am I to you?" I asked, feeling a swell of emotion run rampant through my nerves. "Your pet?"

"A donor."

No. "A donor is willing."

"My queen, then. Higher than any of those above your species anywhere in the world."

My queen? His. I wasn't a possession! I wasn't something he could control or dictate. I didn't belong to his world! "I don't want to be a queen, least of all yours!" I screamed at him, and I knew it was the wrong tone to take. His eyes widened, his shoulders squared and his lip pulled back in a snarl. I failed to do what Jasper said.

He ripped the lamp from the nightstand behind him then and threw it against the door! I tensed, wanting to shield myself. I'd gone too far.

"What more could you possibly want?!" he roared, the monster forming in his voice.

My mouth opened, but my words were cold. I just wanted to go home, but instead of telling him what he'd heard a thousand times before I said, "Nothing!"

I wasn't even sure what I meant by it. Did I not want any more favors, or did I simply wish to perish?

His eyes were erratic and searching, not able to land or focus. He tore to his desk, taking the bag of blood in his grasp once more then pulled from the tube. He drained more of my blood from the bag. And the more he depleted the less time I had. My life was safe as long as the red remained inside. I had to keep his attention on me, not on his thirst. Screaming at him wouldn't wouldn't 'seduce him', but how could I get along with someone I hated?

I swallowed the lump of fear that had gathered in my throat. I pulled on the edge of the gown at my thighs, running the hard material between my thumbs and index fingers. The bed was turned down, the white sheets folded over the cover and tempted me, but it was a bogus welcome.

"You've given me a second chance," I said with a lower, less-aggressive tone. The floor was cool beneath my feet, the comforter soft under my palm as I stroked the material, my gaze never leaving him. "But, how do I know you won't break your promise? How do I know you won't kill me?"

"If I wanted to kill you, I would've done so by now. Right this instant perhaps, or five minutes ago." The breathlessness in his voice, the heaviness of his eyes. It showed his exhilaration, tiredness or relief. I couldn't tell which one. His expressions were always difficult to understand when he didn't show action, and part of me wanted to believe his words. If he told the truth then I could feel some spark of release from tension and fear, but I could never fully trust him, a vampire.

"You must know how hard it is for me," I said. "After all, you killed my father. You killed Emmett and Aro, and God knows who else to get to me." That was, of course, speculation.

"You've resolved your own worry," he said, stripping the warmer of light and blood to stuff the bag in the small, black refrigerator next to his desk. He abandoned that space, and made for mine, stopping at the piano inches from me. "I've betrayed my master, my coven, the laws of this world. It's unnatural, all of it. Everything I've known to be right has been compromised because of you. It would be... pointless to kill you now." He sat on his bench, bending his knees under the keys, but not touching them, though he stared as if wanting to, but forbidden.

"Do you see?" he asked, breaking his long contact with the instrument. His red eyes were so much brighter than before, almost dancing in the small glow from the only surviving lamp behind me, and I felt myself shift under them, under the height I was sure he felt in that moment. A drug-induced high. "Do you see why they can't have you?"

"Yes," I said. And maybe I did understand because I nodded. "I see."