Edward Cullen's knuckles rapped against the wooden door of apartment 3B, the hollow sound filling the hallway. Save for the three people waiting outside the aforementioned apartment, the narrow, carpeted space was empty. Outside, rain showered down in the streets, the grey-opaque clouds blocking out any chance of sunshine. Seconds ticked by.
Sighing impatiently, he stared at the ceiling while his companions talked of trivial things. It was a typical day: Commands to give, reports to receive, illegal activities to operate, threats to silence, and partnerships to form. Today he was meeting with one of his father's most trusted of Capo's: Charles Swan.
With a click the door swung open.
"Edward," Charles greeted, with a bow of his head. "Eleazar, Stefano. Please, come in."
He opened the door wider for the small party, and after everyone was inside, shut and locked it. He followed them through hallway plastered with various pictures and into the living room. There, he offered the trio his best seats while he fetched them some wine.
Edward was the first to sit down. Bored out of his mind, he leaned back in the emerald armchair and curled his fingers, counting each row of embroidered thread he felt in the armrests of his seat. Meanwhile, Eleazar walked around the spacious room, examining the various knickknacks and pictures with interest as Stefano twirled his hat, mindlessly following him.
"Charles, who are these young ladies in the photographs?" asked Eleazar, peering interestedly at the several snapshots hanging near the entrance of the hallway. Meanwhile, Stefano sat down on the couch nearest Edward.
"Hmm? My wife and daughter," the Italian answered from the kitchen, somewhat gruffly. An outsider would think of this brusque response as ill-fitting, given the innocence of the question and peaceful atmosphere. If so, then it would have been obvious of the outsiders ignorance to the old ways, tainted so by the unrestrained liberations of America.
America. Edward scoffed to himself. The land of the free. Where anything was possible.
There was no denying it; his outlook on life had become the same texture and taste as a cantankerous, jaded old man's. And it only worsened as the months passed. In silence, he brooded over the strings that controlled his life, his fate, even his country. And what he saw was not promising.
In his life, he saw firsthand how the strings manipulated things so he would have no chance at a happily ever after, despite his wealth and position in the Family, for as much money was a useful tool, it could not buy him trust, from or towards the opposite sex. Money could not buy a lady's genuine understanding, patience, or sincerity.
In this country, he saw the strings held by the powerful men born into old money, American aristocracy. He watched with mild fascination as those strings ignored the plight of his people, and how that negligence had led to the corrosion of honor and free fall into crime.
He looked to the kitchen, where the tinkling of glasses leaving a cupboard could be heard.
Although, there are exceptions. he mused to himself. After all, Charles retained his honor when he first arrived here, and look where it got him…
As he thought this, the hardened Italian re-entered the room, four glasses and a bottle of wine on a tray in hand. He placed the tray carefully on the coffee table before them and began to pour a generous measure for each. He was oblivious to Edward studying him, like an amoeba underneath a microscope.
"He saved my ass when I was a kid you know," Emmett told him as they drove past their old neighborhood.
"How?" He thought back to the rough, weathered man talking to their father at his office two weeks ago. Frankly, he was at loss as to how Charles was even capable of walking around without a crew.
"It was at that bakery on Tenth Street. Some idiot held it up one day and lucky me, I ended up being his hostage," Emmett said, chuckling at Edward's stunned expression.
"So what happened?"
"So I have gun pointed to my head, and the guy demands the cashier that he give him all his money or I'd be worm chow." He pauses as he turns the wheel, a faraway look on his face as I slowly digest the information. But then he smiles.
"Then, out of a nowhere, Charles comes up, and without even a warning, grabs the gun, and uses it to clock the thief in the face. He pulls me out of harm's way, someone gets Dad and a couple of soldiers, and all the while Charles is cool as an iceberg."
Deep in thought, he was barely aware of Stefano handing him his glass, or of Eleazar joining them. When Charles at last took his seat in the second armchair, Edward shook himself out of his daydreams and re-focused his mind at the matter at hand. He looked again to Charles. With a slight tilting of his glass towards Edward in respect, Charles sipped his wine, and again Edward was mildly impressed. Charles was a Capo, older, old enough to be his father, with nearly as much experience to boot, and yet he was the one toasting respect to him.
It was just the way things worked. he supposed.
He sighed silently to himself, staring morosely at the dark red drink in his hand. This must have been the first time months he had felt anything other than boredom, and it was because of a fleeting fascination with a subordinate's life. Even to him that fact sounded pathetic. For the past year his life had become…stagnant. Nothing held appeal to him anymore, not his books, not his piano. Days blurred together in an endless stream of business arrangements and handshakes. There was no change.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?" Charles asked, back erect as he sat in the worn arm made eye contact with Eleazar and Stefano before answering.
"As you know Charles, Don Aro has become quite…hostile towards my father's business of late."Attentive as always, Charles leaned in closer. The mood in the atmosphere changed, brittle as a dead man's finger nails. Coldness slowly crept into Charles already solemn face, subtle, nearly as invisible as winter's first fog. It was times like this that Edward fully appreciated his father's judgment. One thing was certain; Charles, despite his age, would be more than fit for this job they had planned for him.
"And with James away in Venice, my father feels that an attack upon him is imminent," he continued. He sipped his wine casually, appreciating its sweet fragrance. Placing the glass on the table, he chose his words carefully.
"My father has always had a great respect for you. Countless times you have assisted him expertly and without error. It's why he had you in mind the instant James took off to track down this Victoria."
He leaned in closer. His eyes flickered to the portraits behind the Italian briefly before continuing.
"He knows you enjoy your solitude, the anonymity that you have garnished lately despite your status. But he now asks of you this favor, and I think you know what it is." He watched Charles, trying to gauge his response to his words.
Charles scrutinized the youngest Cullen boy carefully, face impassive and wooden. Seconds turned into minutes as he stroked his chin. If they were asking this of him two years ago, he would have said yes without a seconds thought.
But times had changed. It wasn't just himself he had to worry about anymore.
With this in mind, he finally asked, "I'm sure Carlisle is still as generous as ever?"
Edward nodded, eyes briefly going back to the photographs behind the Italian. Charles may have been a man of few words, but he loved his family, and he would do whatever it took to support and protect them, no matter how far away they were.
So, naturally, Edward read between the lines.
"Very much so, yes. Actually, he's requesting that you move into one of the houses on our mall for the duration of the job.
Charles eyes widened. "…It is that serious?"
"We're afraid so," Eleazar said.
Setting his glass on the table, Charles began badgering the Consigliere for more information, forgoing English in favor of Italian. As the minutes passed and Charles' indignation grew, Edward's melancholy returned.
Without asking, knowing the three were now too far engrossed in their conversation to notice, Edward rose from his seat and instead opted to examine the pictures on the wall, as Eleazar had. Each picture told a story, a snippet of an event in the Italian's life that held some sort of sentimental meaning; a day on the beach, dinner with friends…
Finally, he paused on a frayed black and white photograph carefully framed near the hallways entrance. Posing in front of a charming villa was Charles, when he was still a young man. His dark brown hair waved carelessly in the wind, but he didn't seem to notice. His left arm was wrapped around a petite young woman in a purple dress, shoulder length hair also waving from the wind. Both had twin expressions of adoration and love aimed at the small bundle the woman cradled in her arms.
So this is Renee. And that must be their child. Edward thought to himself. This must have been taken not long before he left for the states. He looked again to the bundle in Renee's arms, and to Renee herself.
Amidst his detached musings, Edward heard the metallic click of the front door as it was opened from the outside. His back stiffened, mind and body taut with concentration as he tried to listen. Smoothly, he casually reached into his holster, unlocking the safety on his pistol, edging closer towards the mouth of the hallway. As he listened, he heard all he needed to know; the muffled sound of shoes walking on carpet, the adjusting of a bag, a tired sigh, even the soft whish of fingers combing through hair.
As he prepared to step into the hallway, hand encasing the gun holster on his hip, he breathed through his nose deeply and silently. The rush of adrenalin was refreshing. It electrified his mind back to life. He almost wished that this moment would never end, but alas, he knew this would not be. It would play out the same as always: with violence and grim satisfaction. With a silent sigh, he stepped into the hallway to meet his foe.
"So then the arrangements are set," Stefano said, rising from his chair to stretch his rickety limbs. The two other men got up as well.
"Indeed," Eleazar replied. Charles nodded, still solemn as ever. Eleazar placed a reassuring hand on the seasoned Italians shoulder. As he did this, he wondered where the youngest Cullen boy had gone. Vaguely he recalled Edward getting up, but he had been too engrossed in outlining Charles temporary job to call him back, or pay attention to his wanderings.
"This job is a great honor, but I must inquire; will my daughter be safe? I do not want her dragged into this conflict with Don Aro," Charles said, saying the Cullen's arch-rivals name with undisguised contempt.
Stefano's brow arched in surprise. "Your daughter? I thought she was still in Sicily?"
Charles shook his head. "I brought her here after her mother passed."
"But that was over a year ago!"
He shrugged. "She enjoys her privacy, as do I. Our lives are not fodder for the gossips. She's a good girl." He turned back to Eleazar, who had already known of the Italian's situation.
"How soon will we have to move in?"
"The week after next, but any time beforehand is preferable," Eleazar replied absentmindedly. He had finally noticed Edward's silhouette in the hallway. The boy's stillness was alarming.
In the hallway, Edward was rooted to the spot. What he saw paralyzed his limbs and quite effectively, his normal thought process; stricken, as if, by a bolt of lightning. His hands dropped and dangled helplessly at his sides, pistol and all thoughts pertaining to using it forgotten, jaw slack and partially open. For what, or rather, who, that was in front of him was not a lone assassin, coming to make his bones, not a burglar, but a woman, a young woman to be exact.
She had yet to notice him. She was leaning against the hard wooden door, eyes closed tight from exhaustion, arms wrapped around a school textbook, which she hugged tightly against her chest.
She was lovely. An imbecile would know that.
A heart-shaped face. High cheek bones that complimented a small, cute, narrow nose. Pale pink plump lips that were set in a calm smile, the kind that graced a woman's face when no one was looking. A smile not born of pretenses or for show. He noted that her bottom lip was slightly bigger than her top, but it only added to her allure.
There was no other way to describe it; she looked…angelic.
It probably wasn't proper of him to do it, but the shock to his brain seemed to have also temporarily impaired his restraint. His eyes raked over her form hungrily. She was dressed in a school uniform; white, button-down long-sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up just below the elbow, grey skirt that stopped above her knees, and a navy blue wool stockings that matched the tie at the base of her beautiful neck. Below, shiny black dress shoes, slightly high-heeled, encased her dainty feet.
As his eyes traveled up her form, they caught the mahogany tresses of her waist-length hair, slightly curled at the ends. He took long whiff of the air between them; floral. With a hint of some sort of fruit. Strawberry perhaps? Swallowing hard, he imagined running his hands through her strands, then cradling the back of her head as he buried his nose at the crook of her neck, sucking gently on the soft, sensitive skin. An involuntary twitch of pleasure ran through him as he imagined what sounds she would make.
A startled gasp brought his attention back to her face, and he nearly had a heart attack. Wide, chocolate-brown doe-eyes, impossibly deep and full of knowledge, met his green, her delectable lips parted, as if to speak. Unthinkingly, he took another step closer to her, eager to hear her voice. Not once did he look away, and neither did she.
"So be it then," Charles agreed, holding his hand out first to Stefano, then Eleazar. He shook both with confidence and friendship, which they returned heartily. Charles eyes flicked to the clock hanging above the kitchen, and his eyes widened in shock.
"Something wrong, old friend?" Eleazar asked, concerned.
"..My daughter isn't back yet. It's unusual for her to be this late. Highly unusual." He needn't say more, as the Consigliere and Capo understood instantly the Italian's worry. If something were to happen to his daughter…
His worry was needless, however.
"I'm already home, papa," a young, feminine voice called out from the hallway. A wave of relief swept over the Italian's face. Immediately, Charles, with a brief 'excuse me', brushed passed his companions, meeting his daughter at the hallways entrance. Relieved, he embraced her, unaware of Edward silently passing by them to join his associates, who proceeded to pointedly stare at their young superior with question and curiosity. Edward ignored them, his eyes still trained on the girl.
"How long have you been here?" he asked Isabella, after releasing her.
"Just a couple of minutes. It was long day," she answered, cheeks still flushed in a gentle rosy hue.
"Ehh," Charles grunted in response. He turned back to Eleazar.
"…Would this weekend be soon enough for us to move in?" he asked.
"This weekend would be fine. Carlisle will be delighted," Eleazar answered. He turned his attention to the lovely girl before them, who was staring bemusedly at her father's guests.
"And this must be Isabella," he said with kindness. She smiled politely at him and walked forward. "A pleasure, I'm sure," he murmured, as he took her hand and kissed it with polite chasteness.
Beside him, Stefano mimicked Eleazar's actions, planting a quick peck to her delicate hand after him. She took it all in stride, a small smile playing on her lips as her father wrapped his arm around her shoulder in a subtly protective manner. But when Edward stepped forward to kiss her hand, her blush returned, and she went weak at her knees. Thankfully no one had noticed.
No one, except Edward.
A primal urge was ripping its way to the surface of his normally logical psyche, making his extremities go numb and his heartbeat accelerate until all he could distinguish in the suddenly hot, cramped room was the thick, rhythmic pounding of blood in his ears.