Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: I'm officially the worst. But you don't want me to ramble. I just kept changing the plot, but I think I'm finally happy with this. We're getting close to the end.
Thank you for sticking with me. You're awesome. I don't deserve it.
Chapter 29: Starfish
"He really thought he'd killed you, you know."
My eyes snapped open and from my periphery I could see a small figure, her white limbs draped delicately over the edge of a chaise lounge chair and her hands pressed neatly together on her lap.
I narrowed my eyes at her before turning back towards the ceiling. It was amazing how quickly their not being able to kill me had eviscerated my fear. Even when the vampire seated in the chair was a stranger, all I felt was disdain.
"Not afraid, Cassandra?" I heard a rustle as her legs shifted over the edge of the chair and then a light padding of feet. Her fingers, ice cold, pressed suddenly into the skin at my wrist sending my heart racing. "Ah." She said her voice all saccharine and condescension. "I knew you were only pretending."
I ripped my wrist away from her, furious. "Get out."
She just laughed a light tinkering sound that reminded uncomfortably of Alice. "Retract your claws, kitten." She took my hand again, her grip as tight as iron as she soothed my knuckles. "If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead."
"Funny, somehow I don't believe you." I gritted my teeth together at the ice of her grip. "Maybe it's because you keep not being able to kill me."
"Maybe." She said, allowed, her eyes wide and innocent as she watched me. And then her lips spread, red as her irises to reveal pristine teeth that seemed to glimmer. "Maybe we just aren't trying." She said, pressing her lips to my wrist before dropping it unceremoniously.
"What do you want?" I asked, pulling myself away, and sitting up, guarded.
She looked at me in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said. Why are you here?"
She shook her head, her eyes twinkling in amusement. "You don't know?"
"If I did," I said, gritting my teeth. "I wouldn't be asking. I thought you guys were supposed to be smart."
She just smiled, slithering closer until she was inches from my face. There was a strange sweet smell to her, like honey and lemon, sugary and tart. "You've changed everything, Cassandra." The way she said my name, it was like she savored every letter in her mouth, letting her tongue squeeze them dry before she let them fall from her lips. "You've given us a way back."
I swallowed, my eyes glued to her, my breath shallow. "I don't—"
Then her lips were against mine, tasting, sucking, ignoring my mumbled protests and then suddenly she was gone, against the far wall pressing herself away from me as if her life depended on it.
My fingers went up to my bruised lips. "What…"
But she just slammed her head back into the wall, her hands gripping the stone with all her might. "Siren." She accused.
"I never thought I'd say this," I began, trying to get feeling back into my numbed lips. She was cold. "But I'm actually glad you want me for my body and not what's on the inside."
"Stop talking." She snapped, her shoulders wrinkling about her neck. A crack appeared in the plaster behind her.
Taking pity on her wide eyes, and making an executive decision that she was not classified as dangerous, I slipped back to the bed. "Who are you?"
She watched me cautiously. "Why?"
"I like to know who I kiss. Makes me feel less cheap."
Her lips quirked. "I'm whoever you want me to be."
"Oh, you've played this game before." I smirked, before reaching for my neck to undo the binding. She obviously wasn't allowed to drink from me. Maybe tempting her would be the way to get what I wanted. "But I'm not interested. Who are you?"
"Stop!" She cried, panicked. "I—I will not drink from you."
"Then tell me who you are."
She just shook her head.
"Then tell me why you are here at least."
"Aro believes you need protection." She flicked her eyes to the door. But she forced them back to my face. "It appears he was right."
I smiled tightly. "Well, you didn't kill me."
"No." She said, her voice strangely kind. "I did not. I do not wish to kill you."
"No." I agreed. "You just want to sexually harass me."
"No." She apparently didn't find me funny. "I want to help you."
I tilted my head at this new twist. "Really?"
She grinned, her hand pulling something curved and shining from her pocket. "Really."
"You're looking well, Cassandra." Aro said softly.
I snorted. "Maybe you should get your eyes checked."
"Now, now," he cautioned, wrapping his fingers around the vine of a long-stemmed wine glass. "There's no need for that."
"I know what you're here for." I stuck out my hand. "Just do it already."
His fingers froze for a second before they took up their path up and down the stem of his glass. "So eager to please." He observed, watching me carefully. "Why the change of heart?"
"Fight, don't fight, no matter what I do, it's always going to end the same way." My wrist fell despondently to the table. "So I'd rather just get it over with."
He smiled, before shaking his head. "As…chivalrous as that offer was, not today."
That was different. My eyes flicked to the plate he had placed in front of me and my stomach growled.
Aro laughed revealing teeth that were so very white. "Eat, Cassandra. No one will harm you today."
So this was Stockholm's syndrome then, I thought, uncomfortably comforted by him as I drew the plate towards me. I stabbed a piece of rigatoni fiercely. The pesto cream sauce was perfectly seasoned and tempered. It was delicious.
"We had the chef prepare it for you—I thought marinara would be insensitive." Aro commented.
I looked up at him in surprise. And then glared as I realized what I was doing. "That's nice, but it doesn't quite make up for sucking out my blood."
He exhaled wearily and the under his breath, almost unconsciously said. "I could not stop if I wanted to now."
That struck a chord. What had she said? The little vampire who had kissed me as it was the closest to tasting me that she would get. You've changed everything. You've given us a way back.
I looked back at Aro who was staring distantly out the window, his eyes red and glazed. His long fingers were pressed thoughtfully to his lips.
He looked just the same as always. Long, carefully combed out black hair, so dark and coiffed it looked like it was drawn with charcoal. His face with pale and marble-like, sharp cheekbones and teeth that put dentists to shame. His body was the same, lean, long, and filling his black Armani suit to perfection. Hey, I might be in captivity but damn it if that wasn't a nice blazer.
Speaking of, my vampire godmother had been irritatingly vague when she said she'd wanted to help. In fact, she'd only said four words.
Look at his neck.
So I did. It was long, and pale, unmarred and uninterrupted—no, wait, there, just beneath his jaw line there was a blood vessel, it was faint but just there, where his jugular was I could see it.
I felt a sudden surge of anger and possessiveness. That was my blood that ran through his veins all the way back to his heart.
And then I felt my breath escape me as I realized what she'd meant.
You've given us a way back.
A way back to humanity. The blood vessel was pumping blood to his heart. He was becoming human again. I was turning him human again.
And suddenly everything Alice had done made sense. She'd known this would happen. She'd known, I would be the resolution they had all sort to their immortality. But no one would ever know unless I was bitten. It could not be the Cullens. They would lose their livelihood as the wolves would never allow a transgression.
It had be someone who no one would blink twice at—someone with a bad track record of biting at whim so her reasoning would stay hidden.
"Alice fucking Cullen." I mumbled under my breath, shaking my head in incredulity. "You fucking psychopath."
Aro flipped his gaze to me, his brow raised politely. "Would you care to share your thoughts?" He extended his hand.
Alice had whispered to me about his gift in our long hours in the prison cell. He could comprehend your entire consciousness in a second. She had said. He would know you, know every thought, every suspicion, every whim, every dark fantasy that crossed your mind in that moment. You could not hide once he had you. And it was death to refuse him.
I slapped my hand into his knowing I had know other option and stared him dead in the eyes. "Go nuts." I said.
And he did.
Granted it was the quiet, restrained sort of nuts but I saw the way his shoulders seized up and his eyes hardened the minute he saw I knew.
His fingers slithered out of mine before folding them delicately over into a fist, pressing harder and harder and watching, ravenous until the vessels in my wrist stood out. I baited myself, my heart sinking into my stomach.
So much for a day pass.
"You would be mistaken, to think I need you." Aro whispered as his long, icy fingers traced my wrist. "To think you could barter your freedom." And then he looked up, his smile just as gentle as when he'd come in. But his eyes, they were burning. "I have everything you love. Everyone. You have nothing to that I cannot take from you."
My throat suddenly felt dry, the pasta threatening to make a reappearance, and the world swaying. "You—"
"You really thought you could manipulate me." He laughed mirthlessly. "Humans really are so very stupid." And with each word he bent my wrist backwards further and further until I was sure he was going to snap it. I bit my lip fiercely to keep from crying out, water flooding out of my eyes.
"Then why do you want to be one of us?" I ground out, my voice harsh and wavering.
The pressure disappeared as his eyes widened. And then suddenly he was standing, furious, his teeth gleaming and white. "Your neck."
No, not again. His teeth piercing my neck had been painful enough but now, to cut through the bruises that shadowed the skin was a terrifying thought that sent my heart pounding. I shook my head, trying to think, but all I could think was that I was alone and there was nothing I could do to stop him.
He waited. "Your neck."
He wasn't taking, I realized faintly. He was waiting for me to offer myself, like I'd done before.
I stuck out my wrist, hating myself for giving in but there was no other alternative. "Please." I begged, "I can't—just please, not there. My wrist-it's the same."
But he just towered over me, his grin maniacal. "Your neck, Cassandra." His hand slammed me back into the wall, my head snapping back with the force of the movement. But he was relentless. "Your neck."
He would kill Seth, and Alice and Ana and it would be my fault. So with a deep breath and my eyelids slamming shut and my fingers running along the wall for anything, something to grip onto, I let my head loll to the side and let go as his teeth pierced my torn, bruised flesh, sending fiery arcs of pain across my vision.
I could hear screaming faintly above the pounding of my heart and it vaguely occurred to me that it was me but all I see was blaring white and all I could feel was the ruthless bite of him against the mutilated skin and it was enough to send my knees buckling and my head reeling.
And then suddenly it was lessening. The suction of his lips pulling blood from my body grew weaker and weaker despite his fierce grip on my arms. Aro cried out, frustrated before gnashing his teeth against my neck again with enough belligerence to milk me of all my resolve to stay strong. I was sobbing, uncontrollably, my chest slamming up and down and shaking hard enough to send my teeth rattling.
He slammed himself against my neck again but I felt him seize as the blood touched his lips, his body convulsing, and his throat gurgling in protest. And then he was backing away, his eyes aflame and his chest heaving and heaving as he fell to his knees, retching. He gurgled uncertainly, the blood, my blood dripping from his mouth, down his chin. His back was curved upwards, all feline defiance and claws extended as his body rejected the blood he craved.
He was transforming. No-he was transformed.
Before he could make the connection his blood addled mind could make, I stumbled forward towards him. He was weak, this was the only chance I was ever going to get. The ceramic plate I'd been served dinner on still sat steaming on the table.
I grabbed for it blindly, my eyes on Aro watching as he spat blood onto the Persian rug, his fingers clawing at the carpet as his stomach seized again. With a desperate lunge, I slammed it over his head.
My knees buckled with the blow but I managed to catch myself on the bed post, fighting to stay awake despite the darkness that threatened. He was out—cold.
But there was no way of knowing if the transition to human was permanent or if he would regain his immortality and with it his health. I could run, I could run away from him now.
I could be free.
But how far would I get—weak, disoriented, bleeding from my jugular in a castle full of vampires?
I swallowed hard. It wouldn't work.
My eyes flicked desperately towards the door. It would be so easy to run. But as terrified as I was, it was far safer in here than it was out there.
So I reached for the knife that she had given me, hating that she'd been right, that this was the only way.
I pulled him over, drawing back warily when I saw his eyes open, unfocused. He was dizzy, concussed—conscious. The chill of the metal against his throat drew his attention to my face and his eyes went wide with recognition.
I didn't think. I didn't strategize. I just slammed that motherfucker down into his neck.
The shower of blood that shot out of him sent me scrambling backwards and watching in horror as he lurched up, his hands scrabbling at his neck but slipping over the blood soaked knife and gasping fiercely.
And I watched for what it seemed like forever until his grappling hands grew weaker and weaker and the swipes didn't quite make it to his neck and then just shy of his chest and then barely off the floor and then finally he was only twitching and then he was still.
I'd been sitting on my bed, fighting the urge to sleep and debating whether or not the table pressed against the bathroom would be enough to keep Aro incase he pulled some crazy immortal crap and came back to life when the knock rang out.
It was soft and precise and in three distinct rhythms.
I knew that knock.
My hand shook as it reached for the doorknob again and I watched it frustrated. I swallowed hard, narrowing my eyes. Stop it. Focus. I ordered, but my body was starting to shut down after so much trauma. I felt my vision flare.
The metal was icy to the touch and it reinvigorated me enough to let me grip the polished metal knob. The solidity of it was reassuring and I took a breath, anchoring myself before I took a deep breath and opened it.
Alice Cullen was looking up at me, the picture of sheepish, her lips between her teeth and her eyes dark with worry. "Cassie." She breathed in relief. "Forgive—"
But I just pulled her into me, burying my head in her neck. "You're the worst damn friend in the whole fucking world, Alice Cullen."
The sound she let out was half sob-half shriek but it was followed but an almost painful tightening of her arms around me.
"I had to." She mumbled into my shoulder. "I had to Cassie—I'm so sorry but don't you see—I had to."
"I don't." I said, loosening my grip and pulling back. "But I don't care right now because I'm so fucking glad to see someone who doesn't want to drink my blood."
At that her eyes flicked involuntarily to my neck.
"Or not." I mumbled.
She snapped her eyes to mine. "You are entirely ridiculous, Cassandra Kennedy." She said before pulling me onto her steady shoulders and leading me inside. "You should sit." She instructed, before braiding my hair deftly behind me. Her small white fingers soothed the frizzed and knotted strands into place. There was no hint of the deadly strength I knew lay in her marble hands. She framed my face and let her forehead rest against mine. "You listen to me, Cassandra Kennedy," she whispered, her wide black eyes so close I could see every fleck of brown in her pupils. "I am going to save you."
And then she seized, her shoulders shirking upwards and her pupils dilating. She was having a vision. And I was as close as I was ever going to get to seeing it myself.
The breath that escaped her was flush with relief and her lips, still dainty and pink and perfect after a week of captivity curved into a smile. "I am going to save you." She said again.
I smiled, touching her nose with the tip of mine. "Yeah—about that—I think I killed Aro."
She nodded. "I saw—this morning—I didn't know if I could believe it until I saw you."
"How are you even here?" I asked, remembering she'd been chained the last time I saw her.
"I escaped, they'd all gone, disappeared. It must have been his death." She sank wearily onto the bed next to me. "There is a vampire under Aro's service-Chelsea-she keeps them loyal, binds the Voluturi to him and only him."
I scoffed, bitter. "Like imprinting?"
She nodded. "Something of that nature. But Aro was her keeper and without him, she is no longer required to keep his masses together. When that bond was broken, they all fled." Her lip quirked, sadly. "They were prisoners too."
"And murderers." I reminded her. "And now they're free."
She nodded, softly. "Yeah."
"We don't know how long they'll be gone." I stood. "We should leave."
Her eyes were watching me guarded. It was almost like she was studying me. "We should." She echoed, finally before standing. "Come—Seth and—Seth shouldn't be far."
My heart contracted powerfully at his name. Seth. "Let's go."
The immense underground tunnels that lay beneath the city would have been impossible to navigate without Alice and her sixth sense. She led me blind, her eyes shut against the world, turning deftly right—then left—then right again—then left—no right, she was sure it was right because suddenly she couldn't see anything anymore.
I lagged behind her, using her firm shoulders as a balancing post and the wall as a guide as the light vanished. It grew startlingly cold, the air tinged with the winter that lurked in subterranean tunnels. It was silent save for our—well my footsteps dragging against the concrete. Alice made no sound as she moved, only the whispers that tumbled from her lips as she pulled us down hallway after hallway.
My chest was heaving with the effort it took to keep moving and soon Alice was carrying me effortlessly against her side, my feet curled up so they didn't drag on the floor and my head tiredly pressed against her.
She only broke her murmurings once, to whisper, "I am going to save you," sending my lips curving against the porcelain skin of her neck before she resumed her navigation.
And then suddenly, she was running, sprinting her eyes snapping open and her grip on me tightening. "I've got him—Cassie, I can smell him! I never thought I'd be glad to smell a wolf—it's awful but I am."
And I laughed with her, as we turned our final corner and there, waiting for us behind iron bars thick around as my wrist was Seth, crumpled against them, his head pressed between his knees, his shoulders high and and drawn about his ears.
She, hovering nervously above him, saw us first, giving out a soft cry which jerked Seth's head upwards and his beautiful eyes, red-rimmed and sorrowful met us.
"Cassie?" His voice was deep and questioning and nervous and scared and incredulous and disbelieving and hopeful all at once.
"She's fine." Alice informed him. "Or she will be."
She slipped me gently to the floor, helping me lean against the wall before she flashed over to the padlock on the cage. "I don't suppose you have a key?" She asked, wryly, tilting her head.
Seth shook his head but his gaze was fixed on me, his hands clenching and unclenching.
I let my head tilt the side. I'm fine. I mouthed.
But he just shook his head again, his eyes drinking me in hungrily and desperately.
Alice cut him off before he could say anything. "Seth?" She said, picked up the lock.
"Way ahead of you." He replied, grabbing the chain as wide around as my leg that wound around the door. "Ready?"
"Ready." She said, softly and then with an ear-splintering shriek they pulled it apart and he was free.
I swore he was inside the cell one moment and then he was on his knees before me, his hands on mind, engulfing them in incredible heat.
"Cassie, I—" He began, but I cut him off before he could start apologizing.
"I know, I know. You're weak at the knees from my heroic, selfless epic save before and you don't know how to thank me for saving your imprint." Shivering violently, I let myself sink against him, almost whimpering at the sudden shock of heat. "Well, you're in luck. I'm cold, Clearwater. Think you can manage that?"
His body was tight with shock at the sudden contact but then it melted into familiarity as he picked me up easily, curving me into him so that as much of me as possible was in his heat. And God, was he warm. It was like I'd been dipped in hot water, every inch of me was in shock, my nerves burning. His hands sent shocks of heat through my overcooled skin into my very center, rubbing and soothing and feeling and convincing him that I was here. That I wasn't dead.
"I've got you, Kennedy." He whispered, before pressing a searing kiss to my head, and then another, and then another. "But you're still an idiot. And if you ever do anything that reckless again, I'll kill you."
"Somebody's late to the party." I quipped, grinning against his neck. "Haven't you heard? You can't. I'm like a fucking starfish, yo."
His eyebrow quirked.
I sighed. I was so misunderstood. "I regenerate."
He let out a sound that was half sob-half laugh as his head dipped down so our foreheads could press together. I could see the brown of his eyes even through the darkness. They were luminous. "You are ass-backwards, drool-down-your-chin, fucking crazy Cassie." He mumbled.
"Oh shut up. You love me." Or you did. Shut up, Cassie, stop being so damn angst ridden. He loved you—you loved him, it happened, it's over, move on. It's not like—
"Yeah. I really do." His voice was gravely as he responded, and I tried my best to keep my heart from flipping at his response.
He didn't mean it that way.
"Seth?" Alice called, a satisfied smirk on her face.
He turned to face her, pressing my head down against his neck with gentle fingers. "Yeah?"
"There's a way out—it's not far."
"I've got it." He replied, confident. "What about you?"
She looked at me, her lip quirking slightly. "I have someone to save."
"Alice? I'm already…"
But she was gone before I could finish.
"…safe." I whispered lamely, watching the place where she had stood with a sinking feeling in my chest.
"She's not coming back, is she?"
Seth's grip tightened and I felt him swallow, his Adam's apple bobbing against my cheek. "No," whispered quietly, "I don't think she is."
I don't remember much of leaving, only that we did. There was darkness and Seth and Ana following us, her eyes strange and disbelieving as she watched us.
It was like she was trying to puzzle something out.
There was a car waiting for us-well a limo to be precise with tinted windows and a chauffeur and everything. He smiled distantly before opening the door and announcing that our tickets were waiting for us in the back.
And as we had guessed, there were only three.
I hadn't wanted to leave. I wanted to wait, to watch for her, to see if somehow it was a mistake, that she needed us to save her. But as the sun dipped below the horizon, and darkness started to fall over the city, I knew we could not wait much longer.
It would not be safe once the rest of the guard could return to claim their home. We had to go.
And so with a desperate backward glance to the castle, I stepped into the limo, and watched as it grew smaller and smaller, the little figure I sought never reappearing.
Ana was asleep the minute her head touched the pillow in first class. Seth just sat, his figure tense and his fingers pressed thoughtfully against his lips.
"Where was she going?" I asked, for the thousandth time. "I was safe, there was no one there. There was no reason for her to stay behind."
He shook his head. "I don't know, Cassie." He sounded tired. "Maybe she wasn't talking about you. Maybe they had someone else."
"It can't be." I shook my head. "That's all she kept saying, all the way to get you, that she was going to save me. She was talking about me. I just don't understand why." My shoulders sank in resignation. "I was already safe."
He ran his fingers through his hair, grimacing at the texture. "Maybe she'll be waiting for us when we get back."
"Yeah." The hope that alighted died before it could catch spark. "Maybe." I glanced over at Ana. "She was pretty quiet. Is she okay?"
Seth tilted his head, curiously. "What?"
"Ana-your imprint." I reminded him.
He blinked at me, distracted. "Yeah-yeah she's fine." But his voice was strange. The look on his face-it was the same one on hers as she'd walked behind us. Puzzled, unsure.
"Seth? You okay?"
"Yeah." He said, absently. "You should sleep. I'll wake you when we land."
The pilot came over the intercom, announcing our imminent departure for New York. The engines hummed to life and I could feel them vibrating through me.
"Miss Kennedy?" A hand gently rocked my shoulder. "Miss Kennedy?"
I blinked awake blearily. It was an air host, his grin toothy and far too alert. "There was a note left for you."
"A note?" My brain was so foggy, I couldn't think. "Who-"
"I did not think it was proper to read it, Miss Kennedy." He handed it over. The paper was expensive and there in swirling letters was a name that sent my heart racing.
"Is everything all right?" He inquired, concerned as I sat there, shocked, frozen in place.
"Ye-yes. Fine." I managed, my fingers starting to tremble. "Thank you."
He nodded, his eyes still worried. I waited until he walked away. Ana and Seth were fast asleep.
It was addressed to me, only to me. And I was going to honor that. So I didn't wake them.
With a deep breath I slipped my fingers carefully along the edges and teased them open, refusing to let the paper tear. And then, it was open and I pulled out a single sheet of paper with beautiful cursive written in fountain pen.
I began to read.
This is a difficult letter for me to write. But I will put you at ease. You're reading this means that all has gone according to plan. I apologize for keeping you in the dark from the beginning but I had my reasons. Still, you deserve the truth, and well, selfishly, I want you to hear it so perhaps you will not think so lowly of me as you most assuredly do.
Seth was never meant to imprint-none of the wolves were but my family's presence triggered a shift in their future. They would need to procreate, to increase their numbers to maintain our increased presence, to keep La Push safe. And so in this way, what happened to you was my fault.
So I started to find a way to change it. But imprinting is so strong, it cannot be diluted by distance or time. In fact that only seems to aggravate it.
You never met him, but my brother Edward has the ability to connect with the minds of others. Like Aro but infinitely stronger. He does not require touch. He told me of the bond, how it was not love, but something far stronger, it was duty. It was the sense of self. It was identity. Without the imprint, they were nothing.
I'd heard of another who could create bonds like that. A vampire hidden deep within the Volturi Guard who bound hundreds to Aro, who imbued them with an all-consuming sense of loyalty, who broke all other lasting attachments. She was the one that came to you, that gave you the knife. And I was the one that sent her.
She wanted freedom more than any of them, to stop stripping it away from others. What had been power in her youth had become a prison with age and she was desperate. And so I offered her a solution.
I'd seen what you would do. I'd seen what you could do. And I knew that if Aro was tempted he would drink from you, and he would not be able to stop and if he became human, then he could be killed.
So I bargained his head for our freedom, for Seth's freedom from the imprint and she agreed. The price was just higher than I'd thought it would be.
It is why I cannot not be there to tell you all of this in person.
All you need to know is that I am safe, and that I will not be harmed. You are not responsible for me.
I'd known this was a possibility all along.
That first night in the dungeon, I told you that I had Jasper and that we protected each other. And I was not lying. He was here, waiting for me. Together, we will find our way back and luckily we have forever to do it.
If I do not see you again, I wish you well. I am thankful to have known you.
Your friend, always,