A/N: Thanks to all who donated to the Foxy Fics fundraiser! Without further ado, here's the story in full (including what was teased in CH1).
I cannot tell the future. I have no visions of events to come. I am not special in any way.
O o O o O o O o O o O o O
I've been locked in this luxurious, plush cell for the better part of a day with one assignment: a successful prediction.
Huddled in the corner of the padded window seat, I shiver — not from cold, but from fear and confusion. The seat is spacious; I could easily sleep here if it were possible, but the windows are blacked out by heavy, external shutters. My only views are the brocade wallpaper and decadent furnishings of the room.
A successful prediction, my child, he'd said. That is all I require of you. If you have this gift of foresight as your father has promised me, you will live another day, as will your father.
Etched forever into my nightmares, that face is. Gaunt and hollow-cheeked, the man called Aro had stroked my cheek with a long, skeletal finger, leaving the chill of death in its wake.
I tremble again, the dread almost overwhelming, wishing for something of comfort. I glance around the room again, revisiting the ornate red settee, the king-sized, four-poster bed, piled high with ornamental pillows and a thick golden-colored duvet. Oil lamps on the side tables had been lit, casting an eerily romantic glow about the room. I want to crawl out of my skin.
Hatred for my father and his weak constitution, a drunken gambler with little to offer up as collateral but his daughter — his curseof a daughter, was all I had to focus on. When my mother was killed in a freak car accident, not only was he left a widower, but also a tiny three-year-old girl to raise — a girl who had "predicted" her mother's demise with a crayon drawing. And what kind of consolation is that? None at all, I discovered.
I became used to watching him sway with his bourbon, stumble on whiskey, collapse under vodka. I was never a joy to him, only a burden, a reminder. I tried to cheer him, to make him happy, but all he wanted was ...
Quiet. Stay quiet, child, he always told me. I think he feared I would foretell something else, another tragedy. So, I rarely spoke.
When his bevvy of liquid friends brought him low enough, he began to gamble away our savings, little by little. Still, I never argued.
Days from my eighteenth birthday, my freedom, two men arrived on our door to collect a debt. As we had nothing — my wages from a miserable catering job barely covering our utilities, my father cracked, offering anything he could, save his life.
"My daughter!" he'd shouted desperately. "She can tell the future! Surely, Aro could use her!"
Staring at him, horrified, frozen in shock, I heard no other words exchanged. The liquid detachment my father displayed, his lips and fingers twitching, should not have been surprising; I'd seen that nightly since I could remember. This, however, was a new low. I would never have believed, despite my years of invisibility, that he would surrender me so willingly.
Thick, cold hands had clasped around my arms and taken me — or rather, my false ability — as payment.
Trying to stop my mind from cycling through the hours before, I swipe blindly at my face and the tears spidering down my cheeks. Unfolding from my perch, I walk to each of the lamps and extinguish its flame with a harsh puff of air. I crawl into the bed, shoving half the mound of pillows away, vaguely registering the soft avalanche of those hitting the floor. My body curls into itself as I allow myself to cry, no idea what I will do when Aro or his men come calling, asking for prophecy.
"I beg you, don't cry, ma'am," a smooth voice unfurls somewhere in the darkness.
I sit up with a start, blindly searching the seeming abyss before me. I hadn't heard anything after the pillows dropped, so how anyone could have gotten in without my notice is unnerving.
"Who ...? Who are you?" I stammered, hoping the opaque black would dissolve at least to shadows. My body, however, begins to relax, and my tears are easily forgotten.
To my left, the lamp was re-lit, its soft light seeping slowly into the room, but my visitor has not yet been revealed.
"Hello?" I call out again, my eyes painfully trying to adjust.
Finally, a figure is carved from the darkness before me, cast in the lamp's orange glow. The man is tall and slim, leaning casually against the wall behind him, but directly in front of me. I twist quickly to light the other lamp, my shaking hands nearly knocking it over in my haste.
Once I have a second source to light my way, I ask again, this time with a sure voice, "Who are you? How did you get in here?"
The man pushes off the wall, stalking forward with purpose. I see for the first time his face, his beautiful face. Haphazard, shaggy blonde curls frame an impish smile that hangs crooked from his lips, drawing my eyes like bees to honey. As I examine the features of his face, I note that his alabaster skin appears flawless, yet I doubt that would change under the harsh scrutiny of the midday sun — perhaps only magnify its perfection.
When I reach his eyes, I gasp. They are crimson, the eyes of a devil — sinful, wicked, beguiling, seductive ... jaded. The lack of fear I feel in response, coupled with the diminishing distance between us, only serves to confuse me further. My curiosity, however, is left untouched.
"I'm here to comfort you," he tells me, his face barely feet away now. I look down to see I have crawled forward toward the end of the bed. He sits on the trunk placed flush at the foot of it. "I can help you."
My brow furrows, stitching together in the center, and tears begin to pool in my lower lids. "I don't know how you could," I sigh, shaking my head. "I haven't the slightest hope."
"Aro wants a prophecy," he says simply. "You'll give him one."
"But I'm not—" I begin to argue, but his hand touches my cheek, his cool thumb sweeping gently across my lips. My eyes instinctively close, and I am, at once, calm.
"You don't have to be, sweet girl." His voice dips, its tenor soothing and low. He's grinning; I can hear it. Something tugs at the corners of my mouth, though I don't understand how it is that I should smile. "A vision foretold to me, I can pass to you ..."
The cadence of his voice rolls over my skin and I lean into his hand like a cat, unable to stop myself. "Tell me."
His hand disappears, leaving my skin wanting and bereft, though not for heat. My eyes snap open as though waking from a dream; the unease returns.
"There is a price for my assistance, Miss Alice," he informs me.
"You know my name?"
His yesstretches his lips into a lopsided curve, but he offers no explanation. I can't find it in myself to argue. "What could I give you? I have nothing."
Brilliant white teeth split his mouth. "A kiss."
My heart trips at the word, but I can't help a small laugh — it sounds so absurd. "Just a kiss?"
"A kiss is never justa kiss," he contests, almost gravely, his eyes capturing me. "To some, it is worth more than gold."
I consider him for a moment, drowning in his beauty and drinking him in. I am intoxicated, wondering when I fell asleep and into this strange place. I feel unafraid, confident, though disoriented and muddled. The rhythm in my chest has begun to thump heavily, increasing it's intensity and fever, my breaths soon matching pace.
"If that were true, I would be rich, as I've not spent a single one," I murmur, for fear that speaking louder would expend more oxygen than I can afford.
"Then surely you have one to spare."
I don't know why, exactly, but I wanthim to kiss me. I am a little stunned that I would have voiced my assent had not my body already jumped ahead, leaning forward in agreement with his offer. As if I have no choice, my eyes flutter closed, and I wait for him.
I want to see his face as he descends upon me, but I can't open my eyes. I'm a little afraid of what I might see, but part of me just wants to feel it. Having lived without the feel of another's lips on mine my entire life, I have little idea what to expect.
His palm whispers across my cheek as he takes my face in hand, a now-familiar action that I know I could never forget — nor do I want to. Every cell in my body ignites, skin pulling and throwing toward him, somehow mesmerized and seduced. His breath is absent, disappointing my longing to feel it across my face just before he claims his kiss. That is soon forgotten when lips touch mine.
My mind flies, spinning and blurring, overwhelmed with sensation. Softly at first, he soon presses more firmly, the full weight of his mouth taking, just taking. His mouth opens to devour me, an icy tongue tracing the flesh of my lips, but not entering. I shiver and moan, the sound swallowed, taken.
Skin beneath his hand is alight, flushing with heat and want, and it takes all conscious thought to try to remember where I am. Suddenly, I feel lust course through me in a vicious wave, and I push myself into him. My hands grasp his shoulders, my chest crushed against his. I feel thrown into the kiss with everything in my being, but that is when he falls away.
"That is more than I should collect, ma'am," he says quietly, a twist to his lips as I frown. I see his tongue dart out to the lower corner, and watch the garnet rings of his irises shrink.
I blink rapidly, feeling as though a light has gone out, my vision obscured or challenged somehow; I struggle to focus. I don't know what to say, my mind is disconnected and lost.
"The answer you'll give him tomorrow is this, and only this: 'two days.'" His cryptic instructions remind me of our bargain, but leave me cold. Before I can thank him, or simply question him further, I find the room again empty.
Loneliness, fear, and ache return two-fold, my body twice as exhausted as before. I succumb to sleep beneath a tear-stained face.
O o O o O o O o O o O o O
What feels like minutes later, I'm roused by the rough hands of my captors tugging me from the bed like a ragdoll. Surreality is now my norm, though my equilibrium has thoroughly shifted. My head dances with red eyes, teeth, and lips, but none of it connects or makes any sense at present. All I can be sure of is that I haven't been here very long, and I'm not exactly welcome.
"Child," the skeleton spoke, Aro's oily voice sliding over my skin with surprising ease. Too easily. "To save your own life, and the life of your father, I require a foretelling."
I snap my gaze to his face, noting the similar red of his eyes to those in my dreams.
"What can I foretell, sir? The future is vast and words are failing." Internally, I wonder how I've managed such a thought, given the heaviness in my limbs, my mind.
His responding smile is enigmatic, subtle, but the question is sharp and clear. "When will he die?"
His eyes are haunting, chilling my spine from the center. My bones seem to shudder as if freezing, my eyes glaze over as I cannot blink, I cannot move. "Two days," I tell him, and my voice feels not my own.
"We shall see," he replies, no change in demeanor.
As soon as the words fall past my ears, I am whisked away, back to my gilded cage. A large tray has been placed on the settee, displaying a meal enough for two people. Until the savory smells reach me, I'd forgotten to be hungry. Sitting next to it, I pick at it, slowly piecing out each bite. Despite the hollow feeling in my stomach, I have doubts whether it is truly hunger that plagues me.
I notice for the first time a fluffy, white robe draped almost artfully across the bed next to a thick, cotton towel. Spinning quickly, I see a door opposite the bed that I'd thought was a closet. It is pushed inward, revealing a sparse but spacious bathroom. Leaving the food, I traipse lightly into the cold room; it seems to be carved exclusively from Italian marble. I slip my eyes around the room; it is spotless, and all white, save the ribbons of silver and black snaking through the polished stone.
I feel dirty, if just by comparison.
Without thinking, I twist the lever on the bath and watch the water swirling around the drain. I pull up the stop to let the massive basin fill. A short ledge above me displays what I imagine to be ridiculously-expensive, imported bath soaps and other accoutrements. I grab a random jar and toss the lavender-scented salts under the tap.
The raggedy shirt-dress I'm wearing drops almost silently at my feet, followed by my underthings. Stepping into the bath, my skin stings, lashed by the too-hot water, but I ignore it and slowly sit. I want to burn. I don't want to feel anything else right now.
Tears fall without fanfare, rats abandoning a sinking ship. I smile wanly, thinking the rising water is merely lament, collecting itself to drown me.
"Didn't I ask you not to cry, Miss Alice?"
With its surrounding echo, his voice cradles me, canceling the scald of the water and filling the emptiness. The previous night rushes back to me and I gasp at the force of it. I lift my head from its rest, snapping to one side to see its source in the doorway. The lights within the suite paint more details on his form, and I see worn boots hiding beneath the legs of his jeans. His hair is a honey-blonde, warmer and darker than the dim candlelight had allowed me to see. He leans against the frame, his eyes aimed back into the bedroom.
"Why are you here?" The question just came out. I didn't know what else to say. I twist, leaning forward on my dripping arms along the side of the tub.
"Aro isn't done with you yet, girl," he says, as though it should be obvious. "He'll ask you for another prediction tomorrow."
"How do you know?" My heart beats harder, but not faster. I think I can hear it bouncing off the stone.
He smirks, turning his face minutely toward me. I see his eyes dart below my face and back. I'm surprised to find that I'm not self-conscious, and that shocks me. I've never been naked in front of anyone after the age of four. I'd never felt the desire to be an exhibitionist or necessarily uncomfortable in my body, but also never sexual, feminine. Right now, I felt ... different. Both of those attributes flushed my skin, radiating my aura. I felt real. I felt ... different. The thought is fleeting, but I wonder if I aroused him. He kissed me like I imagined a lover would, wanting and hungry, but that didn't necessitate a real connection. Did it?
Blinking slowly, ushering away my newly-discovered yet naive power, I forgo an answer to my question, for another. "What will this assistance cost me?"
Rotating the rest of his body toward me, he steps just inside the room. I stare in his eyes, waiting. The red irises from my dream gleam back at me, a thinner ring around its black center.
"A taste," he rasps, his throat closing around the words.
My eyes fly wide like snapped window shades; my mind immediately runs along an obscene path, led by the infectious kiss I remember. I stammer, "I don't ... I ... What do you ... A taste of ... of w-what?"
He tips his head to one side, his eyebrow lifting as if to offset the balance. He smirks, apparently amused that I am flustered. "Life."
Walking past the tub and behind me, I hear a low squeak from his boots against the floor. His hands settle on my bare shoulders, his cool, dry touch contrasting my drenched, fevered skin. The drumming in my chest is no longer even-paced, it is jagged and rushed, providing a dischordant soundtrack to the odd stillness and comfort he brings with him.
"Your life," he repeats, amending. His voice is both greedy and repentant, tripping in me a wilder fire. My breathing catches, my body thrums with an energy I ...
"I don't understand," I admit, leaning my head back to lip of the tub.
"I can't explain," he denies me, but if I read his tone correctly, it is tinged with regret. "But it is my price."
I expect an inundation of anxiety, a rush of worry and panic, but there is none. I suck in a breath, pulling it deep into my lungs, tasting the steam from the water, from me, waiting for terror to unleash itself. All that comes is "Yes."
I wonder if I am under influence, if the food I consumed was laced with a toxin to free me of any constraint, but I don't feel removed. I shake the battle away. "Take it."
"Shh ..." His hushes skitter over my skin like tiny beads of light, soothing my burning skin as it sinks through me, my mind and body again becoming drunk with him.
My knees drop to one side, drooping in relaxation as his palm slides up to cup my chin. His lips tickle along my shoulder to my neck, placing a reverent kiss there, like a bow of deference. Though even, my pulse pounds against the walls of its cage, leaving me to wonder if it is trying to escape.
"Shh ..." again, and I am sure that I must be hypnotized, half-asleep, dreaming.
Until I feel his teeth.
The cut of skin is soft and easy with his cold lips surrounding, lulling the temper of the sting. His lips and tongue act as a balm, relieving and settling the heat and pain. I'm soon quite mollified, relaxed and hush-drunk again, his thumb brushing across my lips so softly, it feels sensual. An ember sparks in my belly, splitting and catching. It builds, pushing out and up, electrifying my muscles and stretching my bones. A vibration rattles around my lungs and seeps into my throat, a low moan breaking through my lips as my eyes close. It's somewhat carnal, and I don't have the wherewithal to analyze or make sense of it as I focus on the feel of his mouth fasten around the bite.
Though the concept of time was left on my arrival to this place, as my lifeflows over his lips, down his throat, I feel like it never existed. There is no pain, just need, just hunger. I am impossibly free.
When he slows, stops, the tip of his tongue slides across the wound and his lips press against it, as if to seal it. I hum. Lifting his mouth to my ear, he quietly relinquishes his promise. "He will ask, simply, 'How?' Your answer is 'By your hand.'"
His lips, his touch, his body ... gone before my eyes can open.
O o O o O o O o O o O o O
I don't know what time it is when I am dragged from the swaddle of pillows on the bed, but I'm groggy and weak. I'd choked down the cold remainder of food I'd left on the tray, but quickly fell into bed, almost immediately unconscious, under a heavy weight of rampant, formidable emotion.
Held upright almost entirely by the power of others, I wearily blink at the sunken, white face glaring at me. "How?" he barks, ice crystallizing the air with his surly tone. I haven't the energy to understand his agitation, nor fixate on a reason why it would be so unreservedly directed at me, so I let it storm past me, unaffected.
My knees buckle and my head droops. I feel as though an influx of oxygen is breathed for me when his long, skinny fingers lift my chin, rather painfully. My vision blurs to the point of blindness.
"By your hand," I tell him, nearly wheezing.
I can almost feel his ire in the air like static, but my skin is somewhat hypersensitive at the moment, nerve-endings seem exposed.
"I hope so," he hisses, and I'm not sure whether he meant for me to hear, or if he cared either way. Once again, I am immediately extricated from his presence, just as before.
Back in the room that is beginning to feel less like a prison, and more like my only safe place, I stand in the middle of the floor, barefoot and bewildered. I cannot make sense of the way my body seems to betray me, reacting with such foreign, uncontrollable sensations ... both when I am asked for the future, and in the presence of him. The one I know cannot be human, but who I believe is not the devil his looks belie.
Crawling atop the expanse of the mattress once again, I position myself in the center, criss-crossing my legs. I'm so tired, but I'm determined to untangle the mess in my mind. Sifting through the rubble of the last couple of days, I come up with nothing other than the fear that my life is over. I don't know who it is that will supposedly die by Aro's hand, nor do I know what will happen to me when the prediction comes true, or is proven false.
"Your time is up tomorrow."
I don't know how long I've been sitting here, eyes unfocused, lost in my own personal labyrinth without a compass, but his voice cuts through like a beacon. I blink hard and find he stands directly in my line of sight.
Hesitating before responding, I breathe in his face, his eyes — full and sparkling vermilion, even in the dimness. I look for a tell, a clue about this man, this ... vampire. He doesn't smile, nor frown; his face is somewhat blank. He's hiding.
"I'm aware," I say, curtly. I notice a tiny surprise register with the jump of an eyebrow.
"This doesn't concern you?" he asks, a mixture of amusement and condescension falling off of him like dust.
I consider the question, feeling out my body to my fingertips and toes. My heart is calm, my body still, but heavy, and weak. "No," I answer, honestly. "I have nowhere to go, no one to go to. Why should it matter to me?"
As my eyes haven't left his face, I'm fascinated to watch it fall, a sadness permeating his expression.
"Do you want for nothing, sweet Alice?"
My own façade cracks, anger seeping through the fault lines as my face tightens in a scowl. "I am not sweet. You do not know me," I snap, frustrated by this line of questioning. "Why are you here, anyway? Whyhave you helped me? What else will you take from me?"
As the words tumble out, so does the emotion, my volume rising and sharpening. My walls are thin, eroded by exhaustion and likely, dehydration, and it takes little to bring tears to my eyes. Bitterly, I palm my cheeks to erase the cascading evidence.
My eyes widen as he crawls over the trunk, onto the bed, toward me. "I will only take what you are willing to give," he insists softly, maintaining rigid eye contact.
The attention scatters a network of tiny tremors across my skin, an infinite web of buzzing heat. I fall back on my elbows. I trip again, this time swirling in the infinite red of his eyes, the pain of my grievances and stress falling away like a shell shattered. I want him to touch me, but I don't quite understand it. I wrench myself from the fog he seems to bring with him, overriding my every thought and fear.
"How do you do this to me?" I whimper, my fatigue draining away the last of my defenses. He hovers above me, my every cell possessed by his energy. My fingers twitch, my lips tingle — he is so close, but I can't move. I admit to myself that I'm afraid to reach out.
For the first time, he frowns, but avoids my request. "If I told you now... you wouldn't believe me."
I close my eyes, crestfallen. My voice grates my throat as I ask, "What more do you want of me?"
Finally, I release a breath, my sigh filling the room as his palm graces my cheek once more, his thumb tracing heavenly orbits around my lips. My eyes open to see a smirk rock his lips to one side, his head tilting with it. "A promise."
My knitted brow spurs him to speak further. "Aro will not ask you for a prophecy tomorrow," he begins, his whisper sensual and sweet, but I see his eyes darken, "but rather for a choice."
"How do you know this?" I croak, my vocal cords dry and worn.
His grin spreads. "I am only one of many here, and we all have our talents," he replies, purposefully remaining vague. "When he asks, Iask that you refuse to answer."
I want to twist away from his touch, if only to show my frustration, but my body betrays me, and I push instead of pull. "Why are you ... for me? I ... I have so many questions ..." I breathe, my last effort fading, my eyelids falling. "Your ... name ..."
Ceasing to struggle, my eyes slip shut, but before I lose consciousness, I feel the his lips sweep across my cheek, the corner of my parted mouth. There is a low whir of words, but they're fast and do not reach my ears. I slip into dreams strangely unfettered and untroubled.
O o O o O o O o O o O o O
When I wake, the shutters are open, light streaming through the windows, warming the room so thoroughly, I immediately throw off the duvet. How I got beneath it, I have only a vague inkling that he put me there. I shake my head, loathe to try and analyze it.
I stare at the door, expecting the rough hands and silent muscle to enter at any moment, delivering me to my fate. After a full minute, I'm almost satisfied that I have time to get a drink of water, and possibly brush my teeth. When I reenter the bedroom, I see the food tray is restocked with fruit, ripe and succulent. Settling next to it, I pull my feet up and lean back against the wall, lazily feasting on the tangy citrus.
As the tart juice wraps around my tastebuds, I think about the dream that came to me just moments before I woke.
My mother, holding me in her lap, laughs as she tickles my sides. The sun is bright, and I keep grabbing for the handful of marbles hiding in her pocket.
"Momma, stones! Gimme red ones!" I squeal, giggling as I squirm within her grip.
"These are special, baby," she says. "Magic stones!"
I gape at her in awe, my lips the perfect "O." "Can I do spells?"
She smiles, shaking her head. "No, my darling, but they will remind you of who you are — what power you have."
I frown, disappointed. "Not magic, momma. Just pretty. Gimme!"
"Sweet girl," she coos, almost to herself, holding my face in one hand as she gazes at me lovingly. Reaching in her pocket, she pulls out three reddish marbles. She rolls them around in her hand before sliding them into the grooves of her fingers, curling them under. "These are jasper stones."
"Oooh, I like these! My favorite!" I bounce in her lap, grabbing at them.
"Jasper heals. Jasper strengthens, protects." Her voice is hard, and my eyes go wide, snapping them to her face, but it is dark, the sun gone. She is gone. I am alone. Empty-handed.
"Jasper," I whisper, so quietly I barely feel the word escape my throat. "My ..."
My world had easily been upended by a charming devil, and I didn't know what to make of it. As the morning wore on, I began to feel empty, a strange ache at the center of my being. I feel like something's missing, part of me, even.
Jumping to my feet, I hurry into the bathroom and stand in front of the mirror. I look for differences, for any subtle nuance to indicate what unsettles me. I imagine him behind me, my devil, and his smile, his eyes. The mirror reflects my fantasy and I watch as his arms encircle me, his lips at my temple, my cheek, my neck. My reflection turns, kissing him fully, and I feel a pull in my gut, the ache intensifying, throbbing.
Holding a hand against my belly, I look to myself in the silver glass. She turns, parting from his lips to face me, and I see ...
My eyes are blood red.
O o O o O o O o O o O o O
Having nothing to leave behind, I walk to my door with nothing, not even my shoes. Wrapping my fingers around the handle, I stop to take a deep breath before testing its give. It turns silently, smoothly, and I am immediately sure this escape was assisted.
For the first time in my life, I have motivation and drive; I have purpose. I have power. I saw more in that mirror than just my eyes, I saw my future.
Despite my surety, however, a little panic has infiltrated my bones and unnerves me. I wish my heart slow, but it races, a rabbit's quick pace. This day turns my fate, and another's with it. I need calm.
Internally, I chuckle, remembering the specter in the looking glass and the feeling of faerie tale. I recollect his soft touch, soothing my skin and mind, even giving me serenity from a portrayal reversed. The cadence in my chest abates little by little, simply from the memory, and for the first time in years, I grin widely.
Finally pulling back on the door, the long, cold hallway stretches out before me. It is empty, and I see that my room is the end of the hall, far from the center atrium, whose light filters down toward me. As I walk, my bare feet chill, sapping my conviction with each step. The cold bleeds up my calves and crystallizes in my knees, and I nearly stop in my tracks. But my soul speaks a reminder, melting the hesitance.
My heart, my soul.
Reinvigorated with a kind of strength I'd never had before, the cold pales, and my feet move quicker. At the end of the hall, I stop, carefully searching the circular room, up to the domed, glass ceiling. Hard and empty, the space issues a challenge. I know instinctively that these men have senses beyond my own, but ... I feel certain. Before another thought can cross my mind, I am halfway through the rounded walls, heading toward the familiar double doors, heavy and brass.
Lifting my arms, I lay my hands on the handles, curling my fingers around the metal. Without allowing myself the delay, I pull one side to peek into the great room. Black eyes meet mine.
"Good day, child." The sycophantic tenor halts my breath, and my muscles seize. "Docome in. We've waited for you with each of your hopeful little steps all the way through the rotunda."
My expectations nosedive as his icy digits cage my wrists and pull my effortlessly through the sliver of entryway.
"She is precious,is she not?" He gesticulates to the room like a true master of ceremonies, ostentatious and proud. I cannot look around the room, my eyes now bleary. I feel rather than hear their agreement, as if anyone would contradict him.
"Come, tiny one," he orders with a sick sort of glee in his tone. "Let us see if you're worth your price."
I'm mildly surprised by the choler that flares in me, my jaw clenches as my eyes pinch shut, trying to clear. Moments old, my trust in myself is unfamiliar, but welcome, and quickly unnecessary: I feel a wash of tranquility cooling my temper. Taken aback, my eyes fly open, my head turning automatically, and I find my Jasper, watching me intently. My heartbeat catches.
My love, my life.
"Don't be afraid," Aro instructs, loudly. "It will be quick ..."
I barely hear him, my attention kept elsewhere. Trading me into the hands of a familiar guard, so tall and broad, I think of him as a small mountain with feet. He clamps his fist around my bicep, as if I'd try to run.
"He dies today, you told me." Aro's voice is patronizing, and I'm suddenly concerned. "By myhand."
Bringing my eyes back to Aro, I nod, confirming his statements without emotional decoration.
"Well, funnily enough, you might just be right."
In the flash of an eye, he's gone and reappeared, my curly-headed pilgrim's neck within his grip. Jasper doesn't seem surprised, and I realize with a shudder he knew all along. Cold engulfs me, my confidence gone.
"However," Aro continues, "what I want from you now, is not any kind of divination, but a decision. I want you to choose ..."
I attempt to steel myself, trying to find comfort by remembering what I saw ... what I will see.
"... who dies? You? Or does he?" I hear a snort somewhere behind me; Aro amends his question, simpering smugly. "Well, ... his truedeath, anyway."
"Wha —" I swallow, nearly choking on my words. My throat is dry, paralyzed with the knowledge that my onewas the subject of my stolen predictions. I glare at Aro, pushing with everything I have to continue. I stop and start, but I finally manage my question. "What ... has he done ... to warrant his life?"
A trill of laughter peals from the gaunt man's throat, ricocheting back and forth around us. "Delightful! Just ... delightful." The last few syllables drop into a deep, incensed growl. "And what, pray, makes you think you're worthy of that information?"
Pushing Jasper behind him, guards taking him in hand, Aro roughly grasps my chin in one hand. Though I'm startled, all I can focus on is the man behind him.
"Do you think I don't know about your private visits?" he hisses at me, but jerks his chin toward Jasper in accusation of treason. "The moment my fingers wrapped around his neck, I saw everything. His every word, gaze, luring you in, tempting you ... to the point of pure corruption."
Jasper grinds his teeth, furious and pulling against his bonds before his shoulders. I struggle against Aro's unyielding grasp uselessly, but my resentment of his appraisal shook and twisted within my muscles, stronger than my restraint. I hated myself even more for wondering if he was right.
"Now, I can see ..." He pauses, reading. "... interesting."
Releasing me, he turns to face Jasper, who won't drop my stare. I roll my jaw around a bit, whimpering slightly at the ache and certain bruising. Did he see the doubt in my eyes?My stomach plummets along with my gaze, seemingly reaching no bottom. I look up again, and he's fixedly watching the floor.
Please look up again, please! I ... Oh, God, I don't ...That awful pang throbs in my chest, my stomach gone hollow. I saw my eyes in that mirror, just like his. Together.
Suddenly, I feel incredibly foolish to have had any hesitation. Everything is beautifully clear.
"She thinks she's—"
"Me." I interrupt, and he snaps around, his bloodthirsty eyes wide. "I choose me."
"Ali—" Jasper starts gruffly, but I stop him with a sharp look. He probably wants to remind me that I promised not to choose, but I tersely shake my head once. I try not to smile, but my lips twitch the tiniest bit. Everything I feel, know ... I swear to him with my eyes. My skin, my body, my soul wants to hear his voice, and let its honeyed notes roll over me, but I know I might be lost. The lips that took, I see them curl at one corner, his bright, wide eyes tracking me as understanding dawns. I want him to take again ... take more.
"Let's not pretend," I begin, my newfound confidence revived and puffing my chest, "that I ever really hada choice. You always planned to kill me, you never believed in my ability."
"Perhaps," the skeletal man acknowledges. He shifts, a disconcerting smugness setting his lips. "So what do you suggest? Dispose of pretense? Forgo any preamble? I suppose you're right. Any last requests?"
"Jasper has to do it," I demand through gritted teeth. I look at Jasper and see his eyes widen, his lips parting in barely discernible surprise.
Aro's eyes narrow. "You know his name?" he asks slowly, nonplussed. I feel him scanning me, examining my body language, my expression. Brusquely, he asserts, "He never disclosed his name, I'd have seen it."
Something about this pleased Jasper because he smiles at me. It's quick, but I caught it. Aro is vacillating; we've gotten beneath his rimy exterior, his infallibility in question, and Jasper knows it as well as I do.
"I sawit," I reply, a little too pleased with myself. "The predictions I gave you before may have been false, but my ability is quite true."
I imagine the mirror before me and nearly chuckle. Mirror, mirror, on the wall ...
As if bidden by the echo of the children's rhyme in my head, my sight is clouded with a new imagery. Sliding in front of my love and my hate, I see rising flames, plumes of black and grey smoke, and ...
"What do you see now, child?" Aro asks, breaking me from my foresight. His voice is strangely unsure, yet masked with menace. He is angry and impatient. Instead of waiting for an answer, he wraps his bony fingers around my wrist, tight enough to break. I cry out in pain, but it doesn't matter; Aro doesn't hear me.
"T-that ... that's not possible," he practically whispers, unclasping his grip. He backs away from me minutely, puzzling me. "You ... y-you've fabricated that vision."
Cradling my hand into my chest, I'm not sure it's broken, but it's painful. "That," I snap, the notes of physical distress seeping through my word, "is what is not possible."
Stilling instantly, his face transforms to a hideous wrath, and I am sure he will lunge for my throat. A vicious growl ricochets off the marble, drawing my attention to to Jasper. I realize with a bit of awe that it was him.
My heart slams against its cage once, just once, before the moving forms before my eyes blur in a fit of virulent activity. I find myself backing away, the turbulent haze of violence throwing off gusts of umbrage, strange and horrific sounds — and I feel too close to the fray. I don't get very far.
Since I visually cannot keep track of what's happening, I barely register my foot catching on the edge of a rug. With a slap of vertigo, my equilibrium is upended while I twist and fall. Before I can crash, a searing pain grips me, radiating from my shoulder. It tears, pulls, burns.
I'm screaming, but it sounds so quiet. All my energy has centered on feeling the pain.
Abruptly, my back collides with the floor, and my body contorts as I shift to my side, writhing. Gasping and clutching my shoulder with a nearly broken hand, I fight to focus my eyes. I pull back a palm full of blood. My blood. My shoulder feels branded, blistering with unbearable heat.
Despite all this, my mind cannot deviate from him.
Blinking hard, I strain to see. I mustsee how it all ends in a tempestuous blaze. I'll never quite understand how it happens, but the world seems to slow, shapes of men coming into focus. Easily, I pinpoint Jasper, his hands grasping Aro by one arm. Aro pulls back and stomps a foot, driving it deep into the marble beneath him. As I see this, I'm sure I'm hallucinating, my bodily agony triggering delirium.
My eyelids fall closed, and I squirm behind them, the momentary interruption in sight as maddening as the pain. As the shade lifts, Jasper and Aro commit to the ultimate tug of war. Jasper shifts his balance quickly — too quick for me to notice — and clutches Aro below the chin.
With a thunderous rupture, the vampire comes apart, a skeletal monolith cracking in two.
Time rushes forward as though on a bullet train, Jasper and others obscuring my sight again with their speed. I am unable to track them any longer, my pain overwhelming me. Before I am lost, and it finally engulfs me wholly, I am sure I see a spark. An ember. The glow and flicker of an aggressively ascending fire.
O o O o O o O o O o O o O
As I had chosen, I did die that day. Jasper did take my life — the life I never wanted, and gave me forever. The forever I was meant to have. My love, my life, my mate.
I tease him sometimes, insisting that my drunk of a father was right:
I can tell the future. I have visions of many things to come. I am ... a devil.