A/N I have to thank the awesome Newssodark for letting me borrow her vision of the characters Aro and Carlisle for her challenge. She writes the crazy good story Underneath .net/s/5560222/1/ . In her universe, it was Aro that rescued Carlisle from his self-induced starvation when Carlisle could not accept his vampire nature. This is the tale of that rescue.
Aro was in Normandy when he nearly passed the inanimate corpse. That's what he took it for, anyway. It was not at all uncommon to find a body or even groups of bodies dumped unburied in the forests. The Black Death had all the humans fearful and cowering in their villages, and Aro had heard that it was again sweeping through Spain.
He and Jane, Alec and Gustav were returning from Ireland, where they had been investigating a swarm of newborns. Conor Maguire had seen his lands forcibly co-opted by the English and wanted to fight them by raising an army of vampires to throw the English lords from the Irish territories. Ultimately, they'd had to destroy the whole coven. Nationalism, Aro thought, shaking his head. Such a waste of energy. It didn't matter who was 'in charge'; in another hundred years, they would be gone anyway. The young ones were always so fierce and passionate; it took centuries to become accustomed to the long view.
Aro had sent the others on ahead of him. He preferred to travel alone on occasion; there was so little chance for solitude in the confines of Volterra. So it was that he was passing through the French countryside, enjoying the mature forests. It was late autumn and the leaves had fallen, leaving the trees stark and barren, their bare limbs reaching like fingers toward the dark, heavy sky. The brown leaves crunched under his feet, releasing their thick woodsy scent, unsoftened yet by the few flakes of snow drifting down.
He almost dismissed the body. But as he passed it, he caught a whiff of a vampire scent, and curious, turned around to see. The leaves had drifted against the body and it was face down, only a hand and part of the back showing. He nudged the body gently with the toe of his boot, but there was no response. He contemplated the pile for a while, but finally his curiosity got the best of him so he rolled the body over with his foot.
It was a young male, blond and dressed in merchant's clothing, emaciated beyond all belief. There were circles around his closed eyes like smudges of ashes, and his cheeks were sunken and hollow. He was pale, almost to the point of translucency, and painfully thin. The clothes he was wearing hung off him; they'd obviously fit when he'd been feeding, but now he was so lank and thin, he swam inside them.
Aro crouched down and touched the young vampire's face, brushing his blond locks gently to the side, but the vampire was truly starved into a vegetative state. His mind was blank, and Aro could get nothing from it. But even in such a state of starvation, the planes of the comatose face were startling in their purity and intensity. Aro had seen every vampire in this world, with the exception of the newest, but this one was unknown to him. There was an ethereal quality about this young male, as if Aro had stumbled upon a seraphim fallen from the heavens. "Who are you?" Aro murmured to himself, and some tone in his voice must have roused the sleeping vampire. The closed eyes opened briefly, revealing pitch black pools, before rolling back into the head.
Aro ran a finger down the sharp lines of the vampire's face. He checked around the ground briefly, but there were no clues as to who this might be or where he had come from. It was then the breeze slightly stirred the leaves still huddled against the body, revealing the vampire's other hand. There was a glint of metal in it, and Aro stepped over the body to gently pry open the semi-concealed hand. Inside was a silver crucifix attached to a broken chain.
Hmmm. A vampire with a crucifix. How unusual. Usually, the Chosen, as Aro called the vampire collective, eschewed all symbols of theism as they embraced their nature. That settled Aro's mind, then. Aro loved a mystery and delighted in the various manifestations of both humans and vampires. He was fascinated by the constantly changing permutations as he watched mankind evolve and develop. With the certainty born of thousands of years experience, Aro felt this young vampire was unknowingly at a cusp of some new development, some new direction for the failing moralism of the Middle Ages. It was worth seeing this through, he determined.
As gently as a mother picking up a sleeping child, he brought the young one to his chest. The young one's head lolled against Aro's chest as he started walking toward home, and Aro could barely take his eyes off of him. Involuntarily, he felt a sudden pang of tenderness toward the barely felt burden in his arms. There was some quality, some ethereal, indefinable air of mysticism and purity that Aro had only seen once or twice in his very long years, and each time it had taken his breath away. This one was special. Aro could feel it in his bones.
"The girl is still alive," Felix, the Captain of his Guard, informed him.
"Really?" Aro answered. "There's been nothing, no movement at all?" How unusual. Even the most comatose, most starved vampires would rouse enough at the smell of blood to feed. They'd placed a wounded girl in the young vampire's locked room, but she was still walking around, humming and crying to herself, studiously avoiding the bed where the sleeping vampire lay.
Felix unlocked the heavy iron door to the stone chamber, and Aro stepped in. It was barely illuminated with a single sconce and the girl flung herself at Aro's feet, crying and praying in one of the little-spoken Slavic tongues.
"Please, remove her," Aro said to Felix, waiting until Felix had taken the hysterical girl from the room. He stepped over to the pallet on which the mysterious vampire lay, studying the figure. There was just the faintest change in the pallor of the face, and as Aro bent over the figure, he caught the faintest whiff of decay. There at the edge of the bed, mostly hidden by the covers, was the body of a rat. Aro picked it up by the tail, grimacing in distaste. There was a large wound in the animal's neck.
Aro tossed the carcass into the corner and sat down on the bed. "Such an enigma," he whispered, resting a hand on the still one's thigh. "Who are you?" he asked again. He pursed his lips thinking.
On his way out, he brushed by Sergio, one of the lower Guards, and paused. "Get a live sheep from the marketplace," Aro ordered. "Place it in there with him tonight."
Sergio looked at him incredulously. "A sheep?"
Aro nodded. "Freshly shorn," he insisted, "and marked with its own blood."
"Yes, Master," Sergio said, bowing his head, but confusion written all over his face. "As you wish."
Aro headed down the hall, smiling. It was good to keep the underlings guessing.
Several hours later, Felix found Aro in his chambers. "Our mystery guest has roused," the Captain announced.
"He took the sheep?" Aro asked.
Felix nodded. "It was...disturbing," the giant said, and then gave a barely perceptible shake of revulsion.
Aro almost laughed out loud at the huge man. "Is he awake?"
"Barely, "Felix answered. "You may want to wait..." Aro had already vanished.
"Good day," Aro said to the figure, lying prone on the pallet. He approached the bed tentatively, and sat down on the edge of it. Already, the young blonde was looking better, his cheeks were less hollow, the circles around his eyes less pronounced. Slowly, his eyes opened, and Aro almost gasped. His eyes were tinged with topaz, instead of the usual vampire ruby. It made him look feral, like the wolves of northern Italy or the tigers of India. "I am Aro," he said gently, bowing his head slightly. "A leader of the Volturi. You are a guest in our home."
The vampire opened his mouth, but was too weak to do more than moan. His eyes were so incredibly sad and wise, in ways that Aro couldn't even guess. Something very tender, yet piercingly bittersweet was battering against the walls of cynicism and watchfulness that Aro had built around himself after centuries of ruling. Like the blade of a dagger that slips through the weak chink of an iron breastplate, this young vampire was reaching Aro in ways he hadn't even begun to suspect were still open in him. Aro reached for the young one's hand, his ancient papery skin looking almost rough against the fine porcelain of the young one.
Their hands clasped together, Aro raised them to his heart, looking into the golden eyes of his guest, as he started flipping through the memories. The young one's mind was extraordinary, pristine and clear; there was incredible focus and an overwhelming sense of humility and desire to be of service. "Carlisle is your name," Aro murmured, and the prone vampire's eyes widened in surprise and acknowledgement. "You've never drunk from humans," Aro said softly, astonished almost beyond speech. In three thousand years, he'd never met a vampire who had so completely denied his own nature.
Carlisle moaned again, trying to say something that would not come, but Aro understood. "Don't worry, my friend," Aro said, stroking Carlisle's hair back from his forehead. "We will not force you to transgress your self-defined limits." Aro could see that Carlisle would rather starve than kill another human being. He was barely able to justify the killing of animals for his needs.
Carlisle sighed and closed his eyes again. Aro held his hand a bit longer, trying to gather more information, but Carlisle's consciousness was fading in and out, and it was like trying to read by a flickering flame. Reluctantly, Aro withdrew from Carlisle's mind; it was so clean and clear, he had to fight the desire to linger. A mind as beautiful as his face, Aro thought. It was the face of an ascetic, with all the petty, extraneous humanity scoured away. It made Aro remember the earliest Christians he'd encountered. Although he'd never met the Christ, he'd run into His sect not long after He'd been delivered from the world, and he had seen the way His followers burned in a white heat of purity and passion for the memory of the man. It was the same kind of intense belief in the spiritual that consumed men, that made them renounce material goods and take oaths of poverty; it burned away the petty and mundane in their lives until they were almost walking chalices of pure spirituality. Aro remembered the olive groves and walled cities of the area. He considered it so strange that three of the world's Great Religions had been born in those desolate hills. Aro shook his head, sighing. Zealots. They would destroy the world as each tried to prove that theirs was the one true God.
But this one, this young vampire under Aro's care, he burned with the discipline of asceticism, yes, but it was a discipline he demanded only of himself. Carlisle avoided killing, not only because it was against his moral code to do so, but because his compassion stretched infinitely towards others.
Compassion. In a vampire. Aro snorted with humor. He could barely wait to introduce Carlisle to the rest of the Volturi. It would be very interesting, indeed.
"He took another sheep last night, yes?" Aro asked Sergio.
Sergio nodded. "Yes, Master, but just the one."
Aro frowned, unhappy with the rate of recovery of his young charge. They stood in the corridor outside Carlisle's room, who was still amazingly weak. Carlisle continued to insist on feeding only on animals, and Aro was becoming concerned that the animal blood was not strong enough to fight the months and years of deprivation to which Carlisle had subjected himself.
Aro made his mind up then. "Leave us," he ordered. "I would be alone with him."
Sergio bowed and spun on his heel, but Aro could sense his puzzlement as he walked away. Let them wonder.
Aro entered the chamber and softly shut the iron door behind him. Carlisle lay on the bed, propped by pillows and dressed in the Volturi wools and silks that had been provided. He'd been bathed, and smelt faintly of the aromatic oils that most of the Guard used. However, the dark semi-circles were prominent under his eyes and his cheeks were still hollow.
"Buon giorno," Carlisle rasped, his voice betraying how weak he still was.
Something inside Aro broke open and melted when he saw Carlisle struggling to fight the weakness that had laid him low. It ran through Aro's veins with a hot intensity he hadn't felt in centuries, awakening emotions and feelings that had lain dormant for far too long. With the blond hair curling around his face, Carlisle looked radiantly angelic. Aro's glimpse into Carlisle's mind had only confirmed his thoughts that here, at last, was a soul that was worthy of immortality, of walking the earth forever. "Buon giorno, il mio amico. Dobbiamo usare l'italiano?" Aro asked. "Or would you prefer English?"
"English, please," Carlisle said softly. "It is my native tongue."
"Yes, I know. I have the gift of telepathy."
Carlisle's eyebrows rose in surprise. "You can read minds?"
Aro came to sit at the edge of the bed. "Yes." He reached for Carlisle's hand who slowly surrendered it to him. He traced a finger down Carlisle's palm, who closed it reflexively. "With just a touch."
"And what do you see in men's hearts?" Carlisle whispered.
"I see the longing men have to belong to something greater than themselves. I see their need for their brothers and their wives."
"Those are good things, yes?"
"Yes," Aro agreed, gently setting Carlisle's hand back on the bedspread. He rose and walked over to a window deep-set inside of the stone wall. "Unfortunately, there is also greed and anger, hatred and pride."
"Does it hurt you?"
Aro turned, surprised. He was becoming used to the feeling around Carlisle. How delightfully unpredictable this young one was. "Hurt me? No." Aro shrugged, coming back to Carlisle's bedside. "Disappoint me? Sometimes." Aro gently took Carlisle's face in one hand. "But you," Aro said, gently turning Carlisle's face toward him with his fingertips, "you carry none of that. You have a wide open and generous heart."
Carlisle's face was as vulnerable and trusting as a child's, and Aro almost gasped with the sudden rush of feeling. Carlisle's golden hair, his golden eyes, the unbroken smoothness of his skin, they were all creating rushes of need and desire that Aro hadn't felt in millennia. He fought the desire to bend down to kiss Carlisle's full lips, to sweep him into his arms, to crush him to his chest. He knew that if he did, Carlisle would assent to it, to anything that Aro asked of him.
But Aro would not ask. He wanted to let this young one stay untainted, untarnished by Aro's own secret cynicism and weariness. Instead, he released Carlisle's face and sat down next to him. "I wish to see you healed," Aro said. "The blood of animals is not enough to give you the strength you need."
For the first time, Aro saw fear in Carlisle's eyes. "I will not drink from humans," he said, shaking his head.
"Sh-h-h, young one," Aro soothed. "I would not ask it of you. Instead, I offer myself. You cannot hurt me, you cannot take more than I willingly give you."
"What…?" Carlisle asked, not understanding.
Aro climbed into the bed next to Carlisle, and pulled the slight vampire's back to him until they were spooned together. Aro brushed the hair back from Carlisle's ear, whispering into it. "Take the venom that will heal you," Aro murmured. He grimaced as he bit into his own wrist, opening a wound there. Wrapping his arms around Carlisle, he held the wrist up to Carlisle's mouth.
Carlisle looked over his shoulder at Aro's face, unsure. Aro nodded, more certain than ever that this one was worthy of such a gift.
Carlisle brought the wrist to his mouth, tentatively licking at the venom that dripped from the wound. Aro stifled a gasp as he felt Carlisle delicately tongue him, the feel of it like a brush from a rose petal against the sensitive skin of his inner wrist. Just the merest touch, it was intensely erotic and Aro swallowed against the rush of desire it caused. It was more intimate than sex, this giving of fluids.
Carlisle groaned at the exquisite taste. It soothed the constant burning in his throat and pulled at something deep inside him that leapt forward eagerly for the satisfaction the venom promised. He grabbed Aro's wrist with surprising strength, sucking eagerly on it. It was incredible, it was nectar, it was liquid pleasure flowing down his throat. No fiercely hungry child suckling at his mother's breast fed with more need, more desire.
Carlisle moaned around the wrist, his mouth filling again and again with the taste of joy, of ecstasy. It seemed like the liquid spread instantly throughout his body, sending tingles of pleasure down to his toes and fingers, right to the roots of his hair. It was so intense; the world disappeared and now Carlisle's whole universe was the wrist, his lips suctioned to it and the incredible fluid passing down his throat, filling him with a heady, spinning euphoria. Slowly, the flow of liquid lessened as Aro's body began its natural healing process, and Carlisle almost sobbed when it stopped.
Carlisle lowered Aro's arm from his mouth, but held onto it fiercely, cradling it to his chest. He moaned wordlessly, trying to convey the deep satisfaction he was feeling amid the waves of rapture that still coursed through his body.
Aro felt closer to crying than he had in millennia. This strangely moral, beautiful, slight young man had found a way past of all Aro's defenses and made a home for himself in Aro's old, still heart. Perhaps miracles occurred, even among the Chosen. "Quiet, cucciolo mio," Aro murmured. "Be still and let the venom do its work." He clasped Carlisle gently closer and the two vampires lay on the bed, their legs tangled together like lovers, breathing gently as one.
A/N Thanks Staci, for letting me play.