A/N: Okay guys, fresh start? I'm delving back into this with a clean slate. I really, really am going to make time to update this story. Believe me, I have the plot worked out, scenes have been written but I just need to get my head straight and do this. Exams are in two weeks for me and after that, I am devoting everything to this story. I really want to finish it and we've still got a ways to go! Please bear with me guys. Thank you to everyone who kindly PM'ed me, urging me to finish! Your words mean everything to me.
So as a peace offering, here's this chapter. I'm pretty sure it's the longest one yet. Love you all dearly. Enjoy!
P.S. This story is still primarily a romance. A lot of plot stuff going on here but I promise, the C/B of it all is coming. I like to take my time with these things!
I'm always in this twilight."
- Cosmic Love by Florence and the Machine
The tiny silver teaspoon shook in my hand as I idly stirred my tea. The metal struck against the porcelain cup again, vocalizing my nerves, and I attempted a few steadying breaths, hoping the shaking in my hands would subside.
I could hear Nicholas and Carlisle murmuring in the sitting room. We'd relocated back inside the suite from the balcony and I'd momentarily excused myself, telling Carlisle I'd wanted to make some tea to warm up.
There was some truth there, I pondered, slowly stirring my tea. My body was most certainly cold and shivery, though it had less to do with the chilly Paris air and more to do with our current predicament. The spoon struck the cup once more as my hand shook; another small ding sang out.
"Are you alright, Bella?"
I turned suddenly to face my visitor, forgetting the teacup in my hand and spilling the beverage over the white kitchen tiles. Carlisle watched me worriedly.
"I- yes." I ran a flustered hand through my hair and bent down to retrieve my remarkably unscathed tea cup. Carlisle's hand shot out before I could reach it and gripped the cup. Slowly, I straightened up to meet his eyes.
He'd worked fast; Carlisle was already boiling more water on the stove, a wash cloth in hand. He wrung out my fallen tea from the sodden rag over the sink and looked at me concernedly. "Are you sure about that?"
"Yes, Carlisle. Yeah. I'm.. good. I'm fine."
My shaky voice had clearly not convinced either of us.
"You've been making tea for fifteen minutes," He chuckled, pouring the hot water over a new tea bag. "I was worried you'd forgotten how to use the stove."
I attempted a small laugh. "Yeah. Um… yeah." I chuckled awkwardly.
He looked up and placed a fresh cup of tea in my clammy hands. I revelled in the warmth of the liquid and let the heat seep up through my hands and into my core. Carlisle kissed me on my forehead.
"Nicholas is waiting for you so he can start," Carlisle reminded me gently.
I nodded stiffly, slowly following him back into the sitting room. Carlisle looked back at me and smiled, warmth radiating in his eyes as he gazed down at me.
"Hey," He touched my cheek. "We're figuring this out. It'll be fine. Nicholas will help us, Bella."
I tried to forget what Nicholas had just said out on the balcony and about Carlisle being unable to do anything about the situation. The sincerity and sheer determination in his eyes was so genuine, I couldn't even place the thought of failure in my mind.
"I know," I said, mustering up my courage. "Everything's going to be fine."
He smiled and turned his back to me again. The smile tugged down on my lips, wanting to settle back into a determined frown but I forced the docile hopefulness I'd been projecting for Carlisle.
Nicholas was waiting, as patiently as ever, as we took our original seats on the loveseat couch. I sidled up to Carlisle and braced my body against his arm. The feeling of safeness returned and I visibly relaxed.
"Whenever you'd like, Nicholas," Carlisle gestured, "We're all ears."
Nicholas nodded slowly and stood, pacing the carpet slowly.
"It happened in 1931. The midst of the Great Depression…" His voice took on a faintly reminiscent tone. "I'd been turned three years prior by an older vampire named Tobias. He'd found me working one night on my family's farm. We were Southerners… Had a beautiful place down in Texas." Nicholas smiled faintly.
"He'd meant to kill me, I think. I remember his eyes had been so black. He'd looked at me and said: 'You're the one.' Then, he'd pounced. I didn't even know what was happening to me. I kept yelling out and screaming for help but I'd been working the fields late that night and I was alone. My family wouldn't have had a clue." Nicholas didn't seem bothered by this violent memory. He was speaking slowly but almost as if he was detached from the tale, as if it were some other person in the story.
"He'd turned me. I never did get a straight answer from him as to why he'd stopped feeding and let me transition into the Change… My best guess even now is loneliness. Tobias told me later that he'd been alone for two centuries."
Carlisle was looking past Nicholas blankly. There was a sad detachment playing on his face. It looked as if he was reminiscing on his own time alone, before he'd changed Edward…
"Tobias left me in a nearby ditch until the Change subsided and then came to collect me. He'd helped me with my hunting and all the trials of my new life and I, in turn, gave him good companionship. We were an odd pair; Tobias was so different than I, he was refined where I was simple. Had a taste for finer things, he did. Tobias even liked to hunt 'nobler' blood… The rich, the whites. I was fine with anyone as long as they had blood in them."
Nicholas chuckled somewhat darkly and I observed him closely, noticing the nostalgic tone in his voice as he thought of his former companion.
"My talent had made itself known almost immediately after the Change. It was a peculiar thing. At first I hadn't even realized what I could do, until Tobias had let on to my gift and told me it wasn't the norm." Nicholas heaved a sigh. "Compulsion. I could will people to do things. Humans, vampires and I even suspected animals, though I can't say I tried too hard with them."
"You could control minds?" I inquired.
"Yes.. And no." He replied wearily, "It was not so much about actually controlling a person's thoughts and processes, more about forcing them to believe they wanted to do what I asked of them. It came quite naturally. My power manifested itself through speech mostly. I felt as if I was simply convincing someone to do something I wanted. I'd always been persuasive even as a human, but I soon began to feel the control that came with it. I must admit, it answered many questions about how I'd convinced Tobias into our crazier schemes in my first year."
"Did you learn to harness the power? Use it at will?" Carlisle leaned forwards, genuinely interested.
"Eventually, yes." Nicholas answered patiently, "Tobias had helped me quite a fair amount, to be honest. He was my guinea pig."
Nicholas chuckled hollowly. His eyes glazed over and he took a pause in his speech, as if steadying himself. I could nearly feel his tension in the air around us; he was getting closer to the apex of his tale.
"Tobias was a friend. A good friend." Nicholas said firmly. It almost sounded like he was trying to convince himself. "But he was an opportunist. Always looking for ways to help himself; make his existence easier.
"He figured that my talent had manifested itself from tendencies in my human life. I'd agreed, like I said, I knew I'd even been convincing and influential before the Change…But Tobias was thinking differently. He'd had his theories about the manifestation of vampire superpowers in general, as it were." Nicholas' gaze was far away now, his features settling into harder angles. "Tobias thought that powers manifested in a person in their human life and therefore, that person's blood line carried the trait."
"What you mean to say," Carlisle interjected, his analytical tendencies preceding his courtesy, "Tobias believed that a person with a latent trait in their human life, was likely to have other family members with the same dormant power?"
"Yes. And no." Nicholas supplied patiently, "He believed that families with one latent trait were likely to yield more traits in immortal life, but he didn't filter it down to one specific power. Me having the power of Compulsion did not necessarily mean others in my family would too; just that they were more likely to yield any enhanced abilities at all in comparison to, say, a talent less vampire's human family."
"Hm," Carlisle sat back thoughtfully, his face taking on a pensive expression. "Interesting."
The conversation trailed off as both men wondered on the musings of Nicholas' former mentor. As odd and interesting as the theory was, now was no time to ponder it. A nagging feeling like the filtering of an hourglass was weighing on me and I knew Alice had little time. I cleared my throat.
"Nicholas," I prodded, "You were saying?"
"Ah yes," He snapped his back up and Carlisle broke out of his stupor. "Yes, I was saying… Well, Tobias was convinced of his contrived theory and decided to act on it. He wanted to Change all of my family, one by one. And he wanted me to do it."
A small, mortified gasp escaped my lips. "What?"
Nicholas nodded mutely. "He was positive the others would yield powers as useful, or more useful, than mine and was determined to create a powerful coven of his own. He wanted us at his discretion, his disposal, and I was too blind to see it. Tobias fed me many convincing explanations and soon, I'd agreed. The first 'experiment' was to be my younger brother, Walter."
I held back a mortified whimper.
"We watched my family's farm for a week, trying to find the best way to get Walter alone. Turned out, he had taken over my duties in the fields and often worked late, until it got dark out. My father was usually close by, after my disappearance I assume, but we waited until the one night he left early and Walter was alone. All we'd need was five minutes, and the job would be done."
Carlisle was still and attentive at my side, searching Nicholas' face with wide eyes. I knew he understood all too well the conflicting emotions before spurring a Change. The boy before us had taken on a rigid, agitated posture. His features were contorted in distress as he considered the night he changed his brother.
"When I'd come out of the shadows and called his name, he began to cry. He told me how he thought I was dead. I remember he'd gripped my waist and sobbed into my shoulder. I could not bring myself to comfort him or touch him. The moment I submitted to that touch, I knew my resolve would break and I'd lunge for his throat. Tobias had guided me to starve before this kill. He said I'd enjoy it much more that way."
Nicholas was gripping the edge of the couch so hard I saw small tears forming in the fabric. Aside from this and his tense posture, he looked oddly collected. But at this close proximity, I could see the storm raging in his maroon eyes and it was frightening.
"Walter asked me why I felt and looked so different. I told him that I was better now, stronger. That he would be that way soon too. Tobias emerged from the shadows then, and touched my shoulder. I knew it was time. I looked my brother firmly in the eye and mustering all my powers, Compelled him not to scream or run, and to cooperate. His face had taken on the dazed look that accompanied Compulsion and without a thought, I lunged for his throat. But I'd overestimated myself. And things went terribly, horribly wrong."
I knew where this story was going from the turmoil unveiling in Nicholas' face. If he had been human, I was positive his throat would be closing with oncoming tears and his eyes filling all the same, but his perfect, velvet voice soldiered on and the grief remained raging inside him. My own eyes began to sting in what I could only assume was empathy.
"Walter was dead at my hands before Tobias even had the chance to stop me. He was ravaged. His blood stained my entire front. I remember lifting my pale, bloodstained hand in the moonlight and watching the blood drip to the ground…" His voice began to shake, "Then the bloodlust subsided and I looked down at the stiff, destroyed body at my feet. My younger brother…"
Nicholas buried his face in his hands and scraped his fingernails roughly down the sides. If his flesh had been human, the sheer force behind the action would have ripped the skin clean off his face, but the trail Nicholas' fingers left behind was unmaimed and the skin maintained a pearly opalescence. For the first time since he began to relay his story, his vulnerability was a spectacle for us to share with him.
I exchanged a sad glance with Carlisle and he reached out tentatively, placing a steadying hand on the boy's knee.
"Nicholas," He said softly, the gentle tone of his voice that I so admired ringing out in the tension, "It wasn't your fault. You were still a young vampire. Tobias was wrong to have forced you to change anyone, let alone your brother."
"It was, it was my fault. Don't you see?" Nicholas glared up from between his fingers, "I killed my brother. I fed from my own flesh and blood. Regardless of any circumstance, it can't be forgiven."
Carlisle's back straightened perceptibly beside me and he leaned forward, prying Nicholas' hands from his face. The calm but authoritative set to his features reminded me of how he looked standing before his family. Before my eyes, he shifted into that strong coven leader who'd dealt with the many taxing and painful experiences his family had gone through. But now, instead of the other Cullens, that powerful gaze was trained on Nicholas.
"Nicholas," He said firmly, "A young vampire's mind is so altered in that first year that the person beneath the monster ceases to exist. The basic human parts of your rationality and functioning are almost completely blocked out. It takes time to learn to curb your bloodlust in favor of rationality, it takes time to learn the basic morals of right and wrong when faced with your weakness. Walter appealed to your nature because he was food, not family."
Nicholas made a distressed sort of noise and tried to rebury his face in his hands again. Carlisle halted him in the action with a steady but firm grip.
"It's true, Nicholas, and it is nothing to feel remorse over. You were not yourself that first year and killing Walter was not something the human part of you could understand or control, if it tried. Your vampire rationality was all too straightforward and consuming."
But you could control yourself, a small voice nudged in the back of my brain, You didn't kill anyone your first year. Or any year after that, in fact.
Carlisle was a special case, I reminded myself proudly, countering that tiny voice. He was never just any vampire. Since he'd been changed, he'd held strong and fast to his human compassion and allowed that to commandeer him through his newborn year, instead of the all-consuming bloodlust.
Perhaps that kind of enhanced ability was better than any blatant "superpower" a vampire could develop. I certainly thought so.
Nicholas still looked unsure and overwhelmingly guilty but he seemed to draw strength from Carlisle's words. He nodded once firmly and ploughed on.
"That… that night changed me." He said, swallowing unnecessarily and picking at the loose threads of the couch fabric. "The moment I'd looked down at my brother's d- dead body… I was changed. Something inside me shifted and I couldn't explain what it was that caused my whole existence to shift. Tobias buried the body and helped me clean up in a nearby lake. As I bathed, he stole clothes from an adjacent house and we moved on from that town to the next. We didn't talk about the incident for many weeks.
"It wasn't until one night, when we were prowling dark, lonely alleys in the dead of night, that he brought it up… kind of. Tobias mentioned that he hadn't seen the use of my power lately and confessed he was worried about the lack of practice. I hadn't been killing with the same relish, he'd said." Nicholas paused, mulling over his former situation dejectedly. "I knew myself that I was different since that night and guessed it'd only be a matter of time before he'd realize as well. I told him that the tell-tale pull of the power was gone from inside me and he seemed shocked. Talents didn't just disappear."
I watched the sad detachment playing on Nicholas' face with worry. In my mind's eye, I saw Alice, small and scared, the same look playing on her features. I gulped down a heavy sense of guilt.
Nicholas, determined to finish the story, continued. "We tested it on many people. Tobias brought me a new victim night after night, and by the time we established my power's inexorable absence, I was exhausted from trying. There was something wrong with me, I knew. I had never encountered another vampire with powers, but I was certain by the way Tobias was treating this, that this was not something that had ever happened before. I began to feel not only like the monster since my brother's death, but a useless and incapable monster. I could do nothing right."
Carlisle opened his mouth to refute the proclamation, but Nicholas' hands went up, silently begging Carlisle to let him finish.
"We established the loss of my powers without words and tried to move on in the same way we always had. But my sadness was weighing on Tobias and soon, we parted ways. He bid me goodbye in a small, Texas town and I remained behind for a few more weeks, hoping foolishly he might come back. He didn't.
"I decided to leave the state. Everything in Texas reminded me of the lost mentor, power and brother I'd once had. I began to run. I ran for days, stopping only to feed, until I reached the shoreline. Then I swam. The first border I reached was Portugal. Then Spain. Finally, I ran straight into France. It was only when I stopped to feed that I met the Sauvages. They showed me the proper way to hunt, to live, to survive. I've been with them ever since."
He looked up expectedly, waiting for a response from either of us with the ending of his story. Carlisle didn't speak up as I assumed he would so I seized the chance to ask Nicholas about something that had been nagging at me.
"I don't really understand," I piped up quietly. Nicholas' gaze turned to me expectantly. "What exactly made you lose your powers? Was it something to do with feeding on… on your brother? From your own flesh and blood?"
I regretted having to phrase it that way, but Nicholas didn't flinch and I took it as a good sign.
"Not in the way I think you mean. But yes." He ran a hand through his short, dark hair and sighed, delving back into his history. "Feeding from your family's blood doesn't render talents useless. That's what I thought, until I met the Sauvages and learned their stories. Other gifted vampires have fed from family, not intentionally of course, and their gifts are intact. So I began to question why I alone lost my power. I had to consider what made my circumstances different from theirs. I cannot say whether there is a concrete answer, but others have helped me develop this theory.
"I believe the great emotional upheaval of losing my brother was a key element. The fact that I was the one who took his life stretched it beyond… 'normal' grief. I was the one at fault and that itself played on my already heightened emotions. The grief went from difficult to simply unbearable. And I brought that upon myself. Secondly, the use of my power in the act. Compelling Walter and having that power in use as I killed him made my grief turn in on itself and target the power in its participation. That, I think is why my power disappeared. It was brought upon myself by my own grief."
"Grief?" Carlisle questioned unsurely, speaking up again. "That eliminated your powers?"
"Not just grief, Sir." Nicholas supplied ruefully, "A twisted, all-consuming and unbearable form of grief, where my blaming myself caused the emotion to turn in on my powers. My mental fragility allowed the weakness to target the strongest part of me. And it destroyed it."
Grief. Whatever Alice had seen in her visions of me was horrible and striking enough to cause her the same grief Nicholas experienced when he killed his brother. Whatever she saw had made her emotions turn on her powers until they existed no more. A odd chill settled over me at the thought and I was suddenly more afraid than ever.
What had those visions been of? The anxiety was eating away at me.
Carlisle sensed my unease and draped a strong arm over my shoulders, reeling me in close.
"I see." He said, after a moment. "But I don't know how true that could be of Alice. Or any other vampire who has experienced this. We deal with grief all the time. Humans, vampires… myself included. When my son Edward dealt with a great… heartbreak, his grief was something akin to yours. But his power has remained intact."
Carlisle's mention of the year the Cullens left Forks served only to make my unease greater. I felt a tension headache beginning behind my eyelids and winced at the sudden, painful pressure.
"And then there's Marcus of course, of the Volturi," He continued, rubbing my shoulder. He'd noticed my discomfort. "Obviously he hasn't been the same since Didyme's death but his power remains intact as well."
Nicholas was nodding, having followed Carlisle's train of thought and was seemingly prepared with an answer.
"But there's a difference." He countered, "Their powers were asunder from the grief; disconnected from the incidents. Where Edward and Marcus are concerned, the grief surely affected their emotions, their state of living, but did not touch their power because the events were unconnected to them. Whereas Alice and I… well, the power is far too entwined with the circumstances to be left alone. My power was pivotal to the actual incident while Alice's is pivotal to the viewing of it. In a way… it's the same thing."
Carlisle fell silent. I could tell he didn't want to accept Alice's fate, but with Nicholas' words, the situation was becoming less and less favourable.
"So, what can we do?" I asked, without conviction, "How do we fix this?"
Nicholas' face took on a sad, understanding expression. "Bella, if I knew, I wouldn't be sitting before you, telling you this story."
I knew that, of course. But it seemed somehow wrong not to at least ask. Beside me, Carlisle sighed dejectedly.
A soft chiming filled the room as the silence wore on and Nicholas stood, pulling out a cell phone from his pocket.
"Excuse me, please." He glanced at the screen briefly. "It's Solenne, I'll only be a moment."
Carlisle stood as well, my tea cup in hand, and murmured a response. I watched the two men leave the room, Nicholas out to the back balcony and Carlisle back to kitchen. I lifted myself off the couch and followed the latter out of the room.
Carlisle was standing at the sink, fingers gripping the edge of the counter, head bowed. He looked wrecked.
I walked forwards and lightly touched the small of his back with my fingertips. The stiffness in his muscles softened minutely at the touch and taking it as an assurance, I carefully wrapped my arms around his torso, burying my face in his back. A cool hand engulfed one of mine and we stood silently for a moment, gathering strength from the other.
Carlisle's hand gripped mine harder. "Stop, Bella."
"No matter what you say," I mumbled petulantly into his shirt, "That vision was of me. Something I'm going to do will cause Alice and the others, and most likely you, a great deal of grief. And I'm sorry. I'm so much more trouble than I'm worth."
Carlisle untangled himself from my grasp and turned to face me. He placed two, strong hands on my shoulders, keeping me planted. Keeping me sane.
"You have an awful perception of what you're worth," He said softly, the harsh lines of tension in his face dropping.
"I don't think so," I leaned into his chest and he let his arms envelop me. "It's all so lucid to me. You and the family's sacrifices for me are too much, Carlisle."
I decided to abstain from telling him that those sacrifices weighed on my shoulders like Atlas and the Earth. The last thing I wanted from him right now was pity.
"We do it because we love you," He said vehemently, chin resting atop my head. "We are a family. We make sacrifices for each other. You are a part of that family, Bella, one way or the other."
I had to squeeze my eyes shut to stop them from filling. "Carlisle…"
He shushed me gently and stroked my hair. "Look at me."
I raised my head obediently and met his steady, warm gaze. The golden irises pierced mine with a comforting familiarity. He steeled himself for something.
"I… I know this is bad timing. But with all this happening, I don't know when I will get a chance to tell you this properly."
I nodded, watching Carlisle lick his lips intently.
"Bella, you know I care about you. A great, great deal." He smiled softly, the action just barely pulling at the corners of this mouth. My stomach flipped in anticipation of his next words. "And I… I understand that our circumstances aren't ideal. What with Esme and Edward…"
If my stomach hadn't been turning before, it was definitely turning now. My tongue felt glued to the roof of my mouth and I nodded again dumbly.
"I just need to know that what's happening here, between us," He said, the words speeding up and almost blurring together, "Is as strong and real for you as it is for me."
I gazed at the beautiful, sincere and vulnerable man before me with awe. Never could I have imagined Carlisle Cullen saying these very potent words to me, and never could I have imagined wanting him to say them to me as much as I did right now. The need for him was turning inside me so fast and hard, I was almost nauseous. I was burning with the feelings that had no words.
Carlisle was watching me steadily, searching desperately for some affirmation in my face.
"Bella." He said lowly, his voice dropping a silky octave. The deeper tone sent a shiver through me. "Please. Tell me you feel this. Tell me you're here with me."
I pressed myself closer into him, wanting and needing to feel the indescribable aura of the man before me. His back pressed against the counter edge and his hands splayed against the small of my back; I fought to suppress another shudder.
"I'm here," I whispered, "I'm here with you, Carlisle."
There was a perceptible widening of his eyes and the golden orbs threatened to swallow me whole. He licked his lips.
I knew what he wanted.
He wanted to breach that fine line we'd been dancing dangerously close to for the past few weeks and he wanted me to initiate it. I had a burning feeling he'd already breached that line in his mind, and was just anticipating for me to join him there.
His lips shone wetly in the kitchen light.
I tilted my chin upwards; we were at close enough proximity that all he'd have to do was duck down and allow me the pressure against my lips that I craved.
I felt his breath even closer to my face now and I silently urged him forwards. Our toes were precariously close to breaching that line…
His eyes went flat, the intense burning dissipating under my gaze. I regretted the abrupt loss of it and touched his jaw lightly, willing the fading moment to be drawn out again. Carlisle sighed softly and without breaking our stare, answered Nicholas' call.
"We're in the kitchen."
The footsteps were audible enough to hear his approach, and as our guest entered the kitchen, Carlisle shifted our position, tucking me under his arm. I couldn't break my gaze from his lips, still shining enticingly in the light.
We'd been so close.
"There's a problem."
With a great deal of effort, I looked away and in the direction of Nicholas' voice. The cell phone was still clutched in his fingers but there was a business-like authority in his stance; the vulnerable boy from the couch was long gone.
"What kind of problem?" Carlisle questioned warily, trepidation colouring his words.
"The Sebastian kind."
My attention was at full peak now, ears pricking up at the familiar name.
"He's back?" I asked, my voice unwavering. I was not afraid of him anymore, simply cautious of the lithe boy's intentions. "What happened?"
"Solenne wouldn't tell me much over the phone," He supplied, already leading us out of the kitchen, "But she said it's imperative we get there quickly."
He tone was reason enough for Carlisle to get moving.
"Come on, Bella," He said, pulling my hand along, "We can finish this another time."
There was a burning glint in his eyes that solidified the promise and I felt my cheeks heat, knowing Nicholas would have heard. Hastily, I allowed myself to be pulled along, awaiting the next time we'd be alone with a fluttering nervousness, whenever that was. I squeezed his hand in answer.
Nicholas lead us out the door and into the grim foray that awaited us.
A discordant cacophony welcomed us at the Sauvage mansion.
Yells and jeers reverberated through the air around us and Nicholas, with his keen hearing, gestured towards the back woods behind the building. Carlisle and I followed in the boy's path as he shot off into the darkness posthaste.
We approached an enormous fire, flickering menacingly upon the faces of the vampires surrounding it. Four were standing with purpose in the middle of the loose ring of others, inches from the licking flames. One was Anneliese.
An acrid stench permeated the air.
"How could you do this! One of our own!"
A dark skinned man was squaring off with Anneliese, two other men flanking him. The rage in his face was extraordinary.
"It was necessary." She replied through clenched teeth, as if she'd repeated it too many times already and was fighting to keep her patience. "You know what's he done-"
"Regardless!" The man screamed, "He was Sauvage! He was one of us!"
The crowd yelled jarringly in assent of the man's words and the two cronies flanking him were almost snarling with anger. The only two vampires, aside from Anneliese, watching silently and without comment were Solenne and Nicholas, the latter simply looking confused.
I caught Solenne's eye over the flames and she did not supply me with her usual grin. Instead, she looked at me meaningfully, then flashed her eyes towards the fire, and back at me again. I followed her flickering gaze and saw the curling, thick trails of smoke disappearing into the sky that I hadn't noticed at first. Suddenly, it made sense.
Sebastian? I mouthed. Solenne nodded once and glued her gaze back to the ongoing argument as the yelling only seemed to crescendo.
"Carlisle," I whispered, tugging at his sleeve, "It's Sebastian, they-"
"I know," He replied as quietly, eyes glinting in reflection of the flames. I couldn't read him. He seemed both pained and relieved.
"Then you clearly don't understand what being Sauvage means!"
It was Solenne's voice this time. She was standing before Anneliese protectively, crouched as if ready to protect her from attack. I noticed the dark man's similar crouch and could only guess that he'd already lunged at the coven leader in the time I'd looked away.
"If you believe he was worth saving then you are not Sauvage!" Her voice pierced the air and the others went quiet. I had never imagined Solenne could yell like this, at anyone. "He disregarded our rules, he hunted humans as sport!"
I felt the knowing sting of eyes piercing me. Clearly, news of my attack had been duly received among the others.
"Sebastian was filth of the worst kind. A common vampire. He wasn't worthy of the coven's name." Solenne's eyes blazed in the orange light. "We gave him time and opportunity again and again to change his ways, but he refused! His own stubbornness brought about his end, not Anneliese!"
The crowd was quiet and my heart pumped loudly in my ears. I waited for someone to attack, to say something.
Anneliese broke the deafening silence.
"Sebastian's end is not the most worrisome thing, either. He is still dangerous even in death."
"What do you mean?" Nicholas asked, stepping forward. His eyes flashed to fire. I was suddenly reminded that Sebastian had been his friend.
"Before he attacked and we were forced to kill him, he said something." Solenne supplied hurriedly, retelling the part of the events he'd missed, "Something about another vampire he'd befriended. He said he wanted us to help her. All of us."
"Help with what? Who was she?" Nicholas asked, relaying the questions in my own head.
Solenne exchanged a worried glance with Anneliese and oddly, settled her gaze on me. "She wanted Bella."
The eyes of the circle were trained on me again but I didn't care. Carlisle stiffened. I gulped down a sudden wave of nausea. "W-what? Who was she, Solenne?"
"I don't know," She said regretfully, "We didn't even ask because we refused to help him straight away. He got so angry that he attacked us. And well.." Her eyes moved towards the fire, "We were forced to retaliate."
A rush of gratitude filled through me because of Solenne's protective gesture, but the questions were eating at me much more potently and the feeling passed quickly.
"You have no idea who she was?" I asked again. Carlisle was worryingly silent. I tried to run through a list of people I'd met in Paris so far, determining if I'd inadvertently made any enemies other than Sebastian…
"No, I'm sorry, Bella." Solenne said, sadly. "But I do think I may have seen a glimpse of her. Just fleetingly. There."
She pointed to a dark spot between the trees.
"What did she look like?"
Anneliese answered me this time. "She had eyes like ours, so she wasn't a Cullen or another human, for sure. And her hair. It was… bright. Like fire."
My stomach was knotting now, and the urge to vomit overpowered my every sense. I think I'd started to sway but Carlisle's hand steadied me. I turned to look at him; the same fear I felt was emanating from his eyes.
"Carlisle, she's here. That's why…" I gulped, starting to sweat, "That's why Edward and the others couldn't find her. She was here. She was using Sebastian to… to hunt me."
There was no reassurance in his face as he grimly voiced the name unfurling in my head.
And by the way, how cool is this new Image Manager thing on FF?