I know, I know. It's been an inexcusably long time since I last posted a chapter for this story. As a result, I have no good excuses. All I can do is ask for forgiveness!

In the last chapter (posted long, long ago), Carlisle arrived home from Brazil and immediately called a family meeting hear why everything went haywire in his absence. They all learned that Edward is able to read some of Alice's thoughts, but not those of the others, and vice-versa. After some discussion of how to handle Royce King II, the telepathic woman with him, and their possible connection to the murders of several female empathic Altairian Guard cadets, Carlisle handed them all special cell phones with their names coded in. Bella and Edward were added as "school" and "travel agent." Carlisle then told Edward he met with his friend Eleazar, a former Volturi operative who Aro allowed to leave. The chapter ended with just a splash of "citrus" between Edward and Bella before Edward left for Volnostia.

Many thanks to my wonderful validation beta, nowforruin, who at this point I sincerely hope still remembers me.

The characters here are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended.


CHAPTER 12: Pimpernel

Edward taxied his plane into hangar, got out and grabbed his bag from the stow. He glanced at his watch. As he'd surmised, the strong tailwind got him into Volnostia in eight hours instead of the usual eight and a half. It was now 12:30pm, giving him just enough time to meet with Felix. He sighed regretfully. He really didn't want to be back here.

Suddenly he stiffened, sensing the presence of someone else nearby. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. It wasn't an empath, and it certainly wasn't welcome.

"Edward, so nice of you to show up."

"Demetri." Edward turned to face the sneering black-haired Volnostian. "Come to meet me at the airport? Very considerate of you. I'm afraid that I won't require a ride, as my car is here."

"Not any more, Lieutenant-General Kubilin. It has been returned to Headquarters. So it appears that you will be requiring my services after all."

"I see, Lieutenant-General Flessas. Let's go, then." Edward had never liked the tall, olive-skinned Demetri. There was something about this arrogant man with the heavy-browed eyes that he didn't trust. The shoulder-length hair typically wasn't permitted in the Volturi Guard, but somehow Demetri weaseled Felix into allowing him to keep it, probably as a reward for his tracking skills.

They walked rapidly to the waiting car, their regulation black boots barely making a sound on the wet pavement. Edward had three clear goals to accomplish before he could return to the U.S., and to Bella. First, he needed to determine if Royce King was hired by the Volturi and, if he was, to make sure that he, Edward, would be the one to recruit Isabella Swan, not King. Second, he had to update Felix on Carlisle's visit to Brazil. He would do that as soon as he arrived at the base, if his half-brother was available and he could shake the annoying man next to him. Finally, he and Alec had a plan to put into action. This last caused him the most concern, given that they had already lost an operative. That, and the fact that he needed to hide his emerging empathic abilities, such as they were.

"I gather that the lovely Miss Swan will soon be joining us?"

Edward did his best to hide his annoyance. Honestly, how is that half the female Volturi population found this man's voice attractive? True, the faint Greek accent was interesting, but the false silky tone grated on his nerves. Then again, he wasn't a woman. He wondered idly if Bella would like it. Surely not. She had better taste than that.

"You will keep your thoughts and questions on that matter to yourself, Flessas."

Demetri's lips twisted into a sneer, but he otherwise made no comment as they got into the car. Edward was thankful that the trip to Volturi Headquarters was accomplished in silence. After dropping his bag in his room, he made his way to Felix's office. Felix sat behind his desk, and after saluting him, Edward sat down in the uncomfortable chair in front of the larger man, leaning back and casually crossing his ankles.

"Ah, Edward, you've returned at last. I heard that you came across Isabella Swan the other night, and was beginning to worry that you weren't coming home."

Edward didn't miss the veiled threat in his half-brother's tone. He knew Felix suspected that his double-agent act with Jasper was more than just an act, hence the use of Demetri's stealthy tracking skills. Time to tread very carefully.

"Actually, that's one of the items I wished to discuss with you."

Felix raised a sardonic eyebrow, giving him the look of a square-jawed, olive-complexioned satyr. "You move faster than I thought, dear brother," he grinned.

Edward merely smiled and shrugged. "I saw the opportunity, and decided to take it. She is convinced that I am in love with her, and has become…attached…to me."

"Oh? I don't blame you for wanting to enjoy her. She's quite attractive. I presume you have a plan."

The smile broadened into a grin. "Of course. She and her skills would make a fine addition to the Volturi, don't you think? I should be able to convince her to come willingly within the month. That is, if…" He hesitated.

"If what?"

Edward frowned. "There appears to be a member of the Altairian Elite Guard who is actively pursuing gifted cadets. His activities are becoming distracting to my recruitment of the Swan woman."

A flash of recognition passed through Felix's dark eyes, quickly extinguished. "Interesting. I'll have someone investigate and remove this…distraction." So he does know about Royce King, surmised Edward. This will be entertaining.

Edward inclined his head. "Thank you."

"So what other news?"

The younger man shrugged again. "Unfortunately, not much. Carlisle's visit with Eleazar appears to be just that, a friendly reunion." Edward didn't want to endanger Eleazar more than necessary. "On the other hand, Jasper seems to be getting closer to the motivations of the distraction I mentioned earlier. He suspects Volturi involvement."

Felix rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Yes," he said slowly, "we'll definitely need to handle this distraction. Anything else?"

"Yes, actually. While you're doing me favors, I'd appreciate it if you call off your hound. He's rather annoying, and I wouldn't want Jasper to catch fleas."

Felix crossed his arms, threw back his head and laughed. "Definitely not fond of Demetri, eh? Truthfully, I find him somewhat abrasive myself. However, he remains a good tracking hound if I throw him the occasional treat. Meaty bones of the female variety seem to be his favorite."

Edward rolled his eyes. "I imagine there are plenty of women willing to offer him their bones."

"You should talk," mocked his half-brother. "I overheard two women the other day discussing how they wanted to run their hands through your 'crazy sex hair'. To bad for them that the Kubilins have hearts of black stone."

Speak for yourself, dear brother, Edward retorted silently. The thought must have inadvertently shown on his face, because Felix was suddenly studying him intently.

"Perhaps Isabella Swan would be willing to offer the hound her bones too. Right now you are the knight in shining armor. Should she change her mind about you, Demetri could become her new knight. He seems to find her attractive."

Edward maintained a calm expression, but couldn't prevent the angry flash in his eyes. "We'll see. I don't foresee needing reinforcements."

Damn, he realized suddenly, I've fallen straight into his trap. Felix had no intention of involving Demetri, he was merely testing the response. In spite of his sadistic tendencies, Felix wasn't a bad brother. He'd always protected Edward when they were children, and he and Felix supported each other after their parents died and they were sent to the Volturi.

"I've never known you to be so possessive of a mission, brother. Or of a woman. Are you sure that black stone heart of yours isn't softening? We can't afford that, you know."

"Don't worry, Felix. It's as hard as ever." Why on earth did his brother choose this particular time to be unusually perceptive? Thankfully, Edward was a good liar. He had to be. It was also time to change the topic.

"Speaking of hard, how is Jane these days?"

Felix frowned. "What rumours have you been listening to?"

"Those from the same mill as the ones you've been hearing about me." Edward grimaced crookedly. With Demetri around, very little was secret.

His brother cursed under his breath. "Figures. Don't believe everything that you hear."

Edward cocked a sardonic eyebrow, but said nothing.

"I'm heading out to supervise the transfer of the next labor camp group." Felix was standing up, putting on his hat and coat, and heading out the office door. He glanced at Edward. "Want to come?"

Edward shrugged. "Sure." In truth, he was glad that his half-brother asked. It would give him a chance to glean some important details for Alec.

Twenty minutes later they were talking to the major-general in charge of this particular group of prisoners. These were "enemies of the people," each incarcerated for some nebulous crime. In spite of the bitter cold, they were clad only in light prison garb, their wrists immobilized behind them by steel bands as they were shoved toward the waiting trailers by the Volturi guards. They all looked almost inhuman, their faces hollow and empty. It didn't take an empath to figure out that the primary mood here was despair, with a tincture of apathy. Essentially, once they entered these prison walls, they ceased to exist. In most cases, their friends and families didn't know where they were. To them, their loved ones simply "disappeared," although it was generally understood that the Volturi had taken them. This was how Aro maintained his political hold in Volnostia. If anyone dared to interfere or oppose him, they too mysteriously vanished.

Was it only two years ago that he had actively supported this? Yes, almost two years to the day. That fateful day when he had to make a snap decision that changed his life.

- o Two years earlier… o-

It was very late one night, and he was walking outside the base, returning to his quarters. Suddenly the alarms sounded. An escape. Edward was running toward the prison, rounded a corner and barreled into a man and young boy. He recognized the boy immediately. He was the ten-year-old son of two empaths executed the previous week for treason. The child had seen his parents die, had angrily refused enrollment as a Volturi Guard cadet, and was scheduled to share his parents' fate in three days. Edward also knew the uniformed man – his close friend, Alec.

The boy raised terrified green eyes to Edward's, his bronze hair stuffed awkwardly under a black cap in an attempt to conceal it. Edward saw a flash of himself soon after he was orphaned, also at the mercy of the Volturi. However, unlike himself, this boy stood up for what he believed, even if it would cost him his life.

He then looked at Alec, who was regarding him unflinchingly, his jaw clenched. What was Jane's twin brother doing with this boy? Surely he wasn't…Edward listened to the alert messages buzzing in his right ear.

"The prisoner is a ten-year-old boy with red hair. Kill on sight. Repeat, kill on sight."

"Please, Edward," whispered his friend. "Spare him."

Edward nodded brusquely, pointing in the direction of some derelict buildings. "Go there." He then took off in the opposite direction, toward the prison, unstrapping his pistol as he went. Noticing two guards running toward those same derelict buildings, the only thing he could think of was how to stop them. He needed a diversion. Without a second thought, he fired the weapon toward a distant clump of trees.

"That way!" he barked to the guards, already running toward the trees. As expected, they followed him. By the time morning arrived, the boy had still not been recaptured.

Thinking about the situation later, Edward was astounded by his own actions. Up until that moment, he had always been unquestioningly loyal to the Volturi. The murder of an innocent child, however, he couldn't sanction.

The next day, Alec tracked down Edward in his quarters. His expression was grim.

"Did the package you shipped arrive at its destination?" Edward inquired casually, glancing up from some paperwork.

Alec nodded. "I just came by to make sure that I'm the only one to pay the shipping charge." His voice was steady, determined.

Edward eyed the smaller, dark-haired young man standing rigidly before him. Like his sadistic twin sister Jane, Alec was exceptionally young to have advanced so far in the Volturi hierarchy. Both the twins were experts in martial arts and the use of pressure points for pain compliance. Alec, however, also used his knowledge to take away pain. As their friendship developed, Edward grew to understand Alec's oddly compassionate nature.

"There is a cost, Alec," Edward informed him softly, "And you will pay it to me." He saw his friend tense even more. "I want you to allow me to assist in the shipping process."

- o Back to the present time… o-

He considered how much had been accomplished over the past two years. Alec introduced him to his partner, who was furious, immediately declaring that Lieutenant-General Edward Masen-Kubilin was planning to trap them. Truthfully, if he had been in the partner's shoes he would have reacted the same way. It took almost a year, and six rescues, before the man fully trusted him. While the majority of the prisoners were truly criminals, the "escapees" were all innocent victims of Felix's, Aro's, or Caius' insecurity and malice. Each operation was very carefully planned, the target's family members and sometimes close friends spirited away to safety beforehand.

Lately, however, more things started going wrong. Alec's partner was found shot to death a few months ago, and they lost another operative last night when he was caught escaping with a well-known physicist. Somehow, information was leaking out to the Volturi, and now he and Alec had to be especially careful.

The lost operative was unknown to Edward until after the Volturi boasted of finding and killing the "traitor." Each operative knew only a small number of others, thus forming a web. Edward had no idea of the size of the entire network. No one did.

Edward's outward appearance gave no indication of the thoughts going through his mind. Felix glanced over at his half-brother as they watched the prisoners.

"Bored, Edward?" he mocked.

"They all start to look the same, don't they? A constant stream of pale bodies in orange uniforms." Like cattle being led to slaughter, he mentally added.

Felix hummed noncommittally. "It demonstrates to Aro that we are productive, cleansing his empire. The most interesting prisoners, however, remain here."

Giving the impression of absently scanning the inmates, Edward inquired, "Oh?" He was, in fact, surprised to find his and Alec's current target absent from the labor camp group. He was supposed to be among them – a young university student framed by the Volturi for criminal activity against the state, accused of promoting capitalist propaganda.

Edward pretended to be only vaguely interested in what his brother was telling him, but instead he wanted to know if the student was one of the "most interesting prisoners," and why. Although Felix mentioned several characters, the student was not one of them. I don't like this, he thought grimly. Something is wrong.

Anxious to return to his quarters and contact Alec, Edward repressed a sigh of relief when the last of the pale gray bodies was herded into the trailers and began their journey to the labor camp. After both he and Felix spoke with the officer in charge, he made his excuses and left. He was so preoccupied with rapidly revising plans that he missed Felix's speculative expression.

It was almost dark when Edward was finally able to find Alec.

"I don't like it either," the younger man muttered, flipping up his coat collar against the biting wind. They ducked into an alleyway so they could talk. "It's as if they're expecting that someone will break out the kid."

Edward trudged beside him, wishing he could stuff his gloved hands into the pockets of his Volturi-issue coat. Damn, it was cold tonight. "A trap, you think?"

Alec raised his eyes from the filthy, icy ground to look thoughtfully at his friend. "Maybe. We don't have a choice, though. From what I'm hearing, Caius intends to make an example of him. Public execution and all that. We can delay a day or so, but that's it."

"Shit." Edward scowled. "It'll be perfect for them. They set him up as our next project, knowing that whoever is behind the jailbreaks will want to rescue the boy. Then, in their minds, they can capture at least one of us, and still have their display." He paused as Alec agreed. We may need help with this one. Are any of our people stationed around him this week?"

Alec frowned. "None that I know of. I can go there tonight and check, though."

"No, I'll go. It'll look as if I'm performing an inspection."

"Does your watch still work?"

Edward inconspicuously pressed a small button on the side of his wristwatch, smiling at the small vibration it made against his wrist. He glanced at its face and spotted the tiny red flower that appeared in the corner. Bella would laugh, he thought.

"What are you grinning about?" Alec teased. "You just went off somewhere."

Edward's smile dropped. "It works," he responded curtly.

"But you said 'Bella'." Clearly he was speaking his thoughts out loud, and his friend wasn't letting this go. He sighed.

"Fine. She likes literature, and I thought she'd be amused by our logo."

Edward expected Alec to be puzzled, but instead he quipped, "They seek him here, they seek him there, those Volturi seek him everywhere…"

At Edward's answering grin, he commented, "The thought of her makes you smile. What's going on?"

Edward was forming a response when he suddenly had a sense of foreboding. What the heck? Unaware that his friend was looking at him oddly, he focused on the sensation. Before he met Bella, he would have dismissed it, but now he wondered if his latent empathic abilities were kicking in. He'd asked her how she was able to "read" other people, and now he followed her words. Exhale, clear your mind, and let the emotion flow in. As he concentrated, he could feel the sensation getting stronger. It was more than foreboding…it was malice. Intense malice, approaching from somewhere behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, seeing no one, but effectively breaking the connection as well.

In the mean time, Alec clearly understood that something was wrong. Both men started walking faster, anxious to reach the end of the alley.

"I don't know," Edward eventually responded to Alec's question. "I just hope Lauren doesn't find out."

His companion caught on quickly. "I wouldn't want to be there if she does. Remember what happened when she found you having coffee with Jessica? You'd better find Lauren a gift now, just in case."

When they reached the street, Edward nodded in the direction he wanted Alec to take, while he went the other way and hid in a jewelry shop doorway. He watched Alec stroll down the street a short distance, put a cigarette between his lips, and partially duck into a storefront porch to light it. The sensation of malice intensified, and soon Edward spotted a man wearing a long gray Volturi issue coat emerge cautiously from the alley. He sighted Alec in the doorway and retreated back into the shadows. Edward recognized the black hair peeking below the gray wool hat.

Demetri.

Edward seethed. That man was really starting to get on his nerves. He also realized that he now needed to tread very carefully around him. Edward had never detected anyone's emotions, other than Bella's, so strongly before. Was it because his talent continued to evolve, or because Demetri was starting to become unhinged? Damn, he wished he could talk to Bella about this.

"Lieutenant-General Flessas," Edward greeted him, stepping onto the sidewalk. He hid his grin when Demetri jumped slightly. "Fancy meeting you here. Are you also looking for something to appease one of your lovers?" He saw Alex roll his eyes behind Demetri.

"No."

"Well, in that case, why don't you join us for dinner?" Alec's eyes widened, but he didn't say anything. As Edward expected, Demetri refused, stating that he had more important things to do.

"Thank God," breathed Alec when Demetri was out of earshot. "I was afraid he'd take you up on your offer."

"And you would have found an excuse to abandon me?" Edward teased.

"Absolutely!"

Alec pulled another cigarette out and pretended to offer it to Edward. He grimaced.

"Alec, there is no way I'm going to start smoking now. Nice try." Then he murmured, "All clear?"

His friend nodded, putting the cleverly-designed scanner back in his cigarette pack. "No Demetri bugs. So, are you going to tell me how you knew he was there?"

They began walking down the street toward a café. Edward wasn't ready to discuss his emerging abilities yet. Aside from the danger such knowledge could bring to Alec, he hesitated to admit that he, by Volnostian society's standards, was a freak. Even the small percentage of the population that actually believed in extrasensory perception regarded sensitives as "second class" empaths. To top it off, empathic gifts weren't considered as valuable as telepathy and telekinesis. He merely shrugged at his friend's question.

"I don't know. Just a bad feeling, I guess. His hatred for us is practically tangible."

Alec's ombre eyes narrowed. "It's true that he's jealous that we both advanced so quickly in the Volturi. You present a significant hurdle to his promotion."

"He also suspects that we are up to something," added Edward.

"Mmm. This is the second time you've done that."

Edward quirked an eyebrow at his closest friend. "Really? What did I do?"

"Had a 'feeling'." He made air quotes around the word. "Not to mention falling in love with an empath." Seeing Edward's incredulous look, Alec made an exasperated sound.

"Oh, give me a break, man! First you practically tackle me through the phone line when I say that I could handle her if you can't, and today you are mooning over what makes her laugh. A kumquat has enough brains to figure it out."

"It's that obvious?"

"Let's just hope that Felix and Demetri have fewer brains than a kumquat."

They strolled in silence, Edward scowling about Demetri and Alec untangling this newest Edward mystery.

"Hmmm…" Alec was muttering to himself. "So, you met her, what, a few days ago? You're already in love with her, and you're either trying to get her here, or you're making ti seem that way to protect her. Knowing you, if you didn't know if she loved you, then you'd be miserable, which you're not…"

Edward was only half paying attention to his friend's mumblings. It wasn't until Alec stopped dead in his tracks that he glanced at him.

"What is it, Alec?"

The younger man's eyes were wide. He shook his head. "I don't know how I managed to be so slow. You're in love with an empath, she probably loves you, you're getting these 'feelings' about someone being nearby…" He hesitated.

Damn, he's figured it out. "Just say it, Alec," growled Edward.

His eyes met Edward's unflinchingly. "You're an empath."

Edward sighed. "A sensitive, actually. It seems that some of our activities here have made me more…compassionate, so it's emerging." He couldn't let his friend know that he was a double agent for Jasper. "I can only read Bella and, just now, Demetri, probably because he is so driven by his hatred that I picked it up."

He allowed Alec to digest this information, uncharacteristically nervous about how he'd take it. After a couple of minutes studying the pavement as they walked, the younger man smiled wryly.

"OK, good to know."

Edward grinned, relieved. "So, ready to come up with a new plan to send our next package?"

Unfortunately, whenever they sighted a window to rescue their target, the window abruptly closed. Both men understood that Caius was deliberately baiting whoever was behind the jailbreaks. However, allowing him to execute the boy was not an option.

Edward began to grow impatient. He wanted to get back to Bella. It was the middle of his fourth day in Volnostia when they finally devised a plan that seemed foolproof. The primary officer guarding the boy that night was one of theirs. He and Alec were making their way back to the barracks, clarifying details, when Edward suddenly felt his inner jacket pocket vibrate. Uh-oh, Carlisle's cell phone.

"Alec, I need to check on something and get back to you."

"What?"

Walking away quickly, Edward rounded the corner and checked the text message. It was from "the mall." Alice.

School student diverted overseas currently in hands of authorities. Travel agent needed immediately.

He deleted the message and took off running.