Chapter 20 - Friends

- I need love, for only love is true.


The chill of two hands sliding under her shirt to caress the warm skin of her waist and ribcage disrupted Bella's slumber. She knew most women would probably be turned off by the sensation of such cold skin against theirs, but Bella knew who was attached to those hands, the most handsome man she had ever dreamed of. Her sparkling Prince. She had been conditioned to respond with arousal to his frosty touch...

"Edward," Bella hummed softly, still surfacing from her sleep.

"You belong to me now," a deep voice responded, as cold breath and iced lips grazed her neck.

The sound echoing through Bella's ears was all wrong, and her stomach clenched. Her eyes flew open in terror. A pair of devil-red eyes and blinding white teeth glimmered down at her.

"I'm going to enjoy every bit of you…and tell Edward every detail," Felix growled. "You were mine to destroy last time you were here, but Edward took that from me. I owe him one. It's only fair."

This time Bella did fight back. She clawed at Felix's face, but he only laughed harder.

"Don't resist. I can make this most pleasurable, I assure you," Felix's voice grew huskier as he pinned both her wrists over her head with just one of his large hands. He lowered his body over Bella's, limiting her ability to resist.

"No, no..." Bella squeezed her eyes shut as Felix's lips and tongue assaulted her mouth and neck. His free hand tore at her clothing.

Not like this, please, not like this...Bella prayed. How she wished she had vampire strength or use of this "shield" Aro spoke of to protect herself from the impending violation of her body. But she was too weak, too human...she cursed the feeble existence Edward had left her in.

Bella felt Felix's arousal pressing between her legs, and quickly attempted to disconnect her mind from her body. He would not have all of her!

The weight of his body on hers threatened to suffocate her, but with every ounce of oxygen she had left in her lungs, she gave out one more defiant scream...

The force of the scream left her gasping and sputtering. Unexpectedly, the weight was gone, and she sprang upright to look around her while clutching her body and clothing. Everything was intact. Untouched. Untainted.

"It wasn't real," she shook with relief.

It had been a nightmare...at least partially. She was still in her Volturi prison cell, albeit, her cell had been lavishly decorated. Ancient tapestries of unimaginable value hung over the rugged stone walls, and rugs of animal fur covered the floors. Oil lamps high above her head gave the "room" a soft glow. Her captors had even thought enough of her human needs to furnish it with a large wood four-poster bed, complete with heavy maroon and yellow paisley-print privacy curtains.

To assure herself that Felix's presence had been a dream, Bella scrutinized her surroundings. As her eyes wondered to the sitting area comprised of two high-back parlor chairs and a small tea table, she again gasped – one of the chairs was occupied.

Its occupant was covered in a dark cloak with the hood drawn up; shadows hid the face nestled within it.

Bella scooted backwards across the satin-sheeted bed. Her feet hit the floor, and she continued to move away until her back came in contact with one of the rough cell walls. Her only comfort coming from the fact that the being in the chair was too slight to be the hulky six-foot, seven-inch Felix.

"Who's there?" Bella croaked, still trembling from her violent nightmare.

The being raised his hands slowly and removed his hood.

"Did I awaken you?" Marcus asked with what Bella interpreted as mild concern…or curiosity…in his voice.

"No," she replied, keeping herself pressed against the wall.

"Come, sit." Marcus patted the chair next to him.

"I'd rather not."

"Very well," Marcus said. "I did not find what I was searching for. I will leave you."

He rose, but Bella called out, "Wait!"

Marcus lowered himself back into the chair.

"What...what are you looking for?" Bella asked, not sure if or why she cared, but it appeared Marcus was not there to harm her if he was so willing to leave at her request.

"I was searching for a feeling, I suppose. Something I experienced when you and Edward were here together. I did enjoy your visit."

"My first visit was much like this one – unplanned."

"You are such a brave girl. You amuse me." Marcus's lips twitched at the corners.

"Glad I could entertain you," Bella muttered under her breath. "You're Marcus? Edward told me you could...feel connections between individuals."

"Yes, that is my gift...or more often than not, curse."

Bella sensed Marcus was different from his fellow royal sidekicks. His behavior definitely roused her curiosity, and with Aro's disturbing words were still rattling around in Bella's head, this may be a chance to get the truth: were she and Edward mates or was Aro correct in his statement their relationship was a pathetic human/vampire misunderstanding?

"You said you sensed something between Edward and me. What was it?" she asked tentatively.

"Something I had long, long ago."

"Tell me, please. What was it you felt?" Bella realized she had left the "safety" of her wall and had drifted closer to Marcus in search of the truth.

His eyes appeared to soften at her approach, but his expression didn't change.

"Many, many years ago, I met a beautiful creature. A woman of pure light and joy. That was her vampire gift. She possessed an aura of happiness which could reach out and envelop anyone within her presence; people flocked to her because of it. They wanted to be near her and stay under her umbrella of rapture and bask in the radiant positivity of her gift.

In all honesty, I was no different." Marcus's eyes grew distant for a brief moment before they refocused intensely on Bella. "But do you know what really made her so special?" Marcus asked.

Bella shook her head.

"She didn't abuse that gift. Aro made use of it, no doubt, to quickly amass a loyal following; however, she never took any of the eager suitors into her heart. She knew that others were drawn to her not because of who she was inside, but because of her gift. How lonely that must have been for her.

"I saw that she kept her heart to herself, only giving and receiving affection from her brother, Aro."

Bella swallowed. This story held information she had not learned of from Edward. She inched cautiously to the chair next to Marcus, and eased herself into it.

"Did Aro care about his sister?" Bella inquired softly. Although Marcus's story-telling voice was monotonous, it also seemed to have a calming, almost hypnotizing, effect on her.

"Oh, yes. He did. I also found I had become jealous of his relationship with her."

Disconcerted with the story's current theme of jealousy, Bella interrupted, "What does this have to do with Edward and me? You said you were here to 'feel' something."

Marcus paid her question no mind, and continued telling his tale to his captive audience of one.

"I soon found Didyme frequently watching me. Her actions puzzled and concerned me, so I asked her why she did such a thing. Her answer was surprising and flattering. She said she was taken by ethic of fairness. She thought that although I was quite the formidable fighter, I let logic rule my actions. We spent time together from then on, discussing the arts, the Volturi's growing recognition as the vampire ruling family, and we planned a future utopia for vampire-kind."

Marcus sighed and paused. Bella subconsciously buried her teeth into her lower lip anxious to catch every word falling from his cold yet sentimental lips. She could tell the story was about to take a twist.

"Ever so slowly and simply, we fell in love. There was no purpose to it. It did not serve either of us. It just…was. However, the future we had envisioned together was not at all compatible with the future Aro had planned. Didyme grew unhappy, stifled. And like a flower unable to find a reason to flourish, she began to wither. Oh, not many saw this, but I did, because I knew her in here," Marcus said, touching where his heart once had beaten. "We decided to leave. She had been sheltered by Aro all her existence, and had not seen much of the world. We were going to explore it together, preach the law that could unite all vampires, and just...live.

"Aro had granted our leave, but before we departed...she was destroyed." Bella felt her brow creasing. She had never seen sadness displayed in the burning-ember eyes of a vampire who drank human blood. Actually, she would have thought it impossible had she not witnessed it for herself. "I was destroyed," he whispered to himself.

Bella was at a loss for words and objective thought. Experiencing love for Edward had made her empathetic to those who had loved and lost. She wanted to reach out and extend her condolences to Marcus, yet, he was one of the reasons she was being held captive and threatened. It was a strange, conflicted, silent moment...

"Who did that to her?"

"The Romanian Coven planned a surprise attack on her and Aro. They saw our increasing coven as a potential threat, and I believe sought to kill off the Volturi, one by one if necessary. Ultimately, I learned Aro was correct. He always preached that either you take power, or others will take it from you. It was a valuable lesson to learn."

The recalled memories appeared to be making Marcus agitated. His brow furrowed and his hands clenched into fists on the arms of the chair. Bella tried hurriedly to get the answer to her question, "And Edward and me...?"

But it was too late.

"Yes, well, I have lingered too long. Burdened you with my lengthy tale of woe. We will have much time to discuss this further on another day. I will take my leave now so you can rest. Sleep well, Isabella."

Marcus rose and floated through the open cell door. It closed behind him almost as silently as he had exited.

Again, Bella was left alone to ponder another puzzle.

In the hours before sleep took her once again, but after she exhausted her mind debating the reason for Marcus's visit and the truthfulness of Aro's argument, she began to ponder time. Marcus had commented they would have "much time" to discuss his story.

Since meeting Edward, Bella had felt time stalked her, always threatening to overtake her, make her an unsuitable object for Edward's desire. Yet, if she were transformed, she would rule over an eternity of time. This was the choice Aro obviously wanted for her. Not because he wanted to grant her a wish, no, she was not so naive as to believe that, but because of her latent, powerful talent as a shield. He wanted to use her.

Marcus's story did, however, give Bella a clue to Aro's methods: Take power, or have it taken from you.

In Aro's unique view of her, she was powerful. He took her.

Against her wishes.

Edward viewed her always needing protection. She wanted to be powerful like him, but he refused.

Against her wishes.

Take power, or have it taken from you.

Take or be taken.

Bella's eyes felt heavy and she slumped back in the chair. How much of the truth had passed over Aro's lips? How much was she willing to believe? Would Edward come for her as he always promised? And even if he did, what chance did she have at leaving this place human and with Edward? She shook her head wearily. No, that happened once, it was clear the Volturi did not give second chances. They had a reputation to uphold.

If Edward wasn't coming, then she would have to fend for herself.

Whatever her destiny, she decided one thing for sure: she wanted to be the one in control of it. Power meant control,but to have power, she needed to have full use of her gift – and for that, she needed to be a vampire. The only question left: was she willing to sacrifice her human life to the Volturi in order to possess the power she needed to save herself?

(*~*)

"Edward? Please, Edward, it's Esme. Please look at me." Esme held Edward's face in her hands as she knelt before him and searched his eyes for awareness. "I loved her too, dear. I'm so sorry this happened."

Esme sat on the floor, frustrated. It had been forty-six hours since Edward went catatonic according to Alice's calculations, and no one had been able to crack through his protective shell.

Once Carlisle and Esme had arrived at Bella and Edward's home in New Hampshire, Alice and Jasper remained long enough to give them a briefing before they departed on a flight bound for Seattle. There they would meet up with Rose and Emmett before making contact with the members of the pack.

Carlisle cautioned them about approaching the Quileutes on their land, and what consequences could be realized if any Cullen broke the treaty. Jasper had acknowledged Carlisle's concerns, and assured him it would be handled delicately – at least as long as they were innocent. If Jacob and his pack were involved in Bella's death, the treaty would be null and void.

A look and a nod of agreement were exchanged between Jasper and Carlisle.

After Alice and Jasper's departure, Esme and Carlisle attempted for hours to reach Edward, to bring him back from the place he had retreated to deep within his mind. But they may as well have been dealing with a corpse. Edward was dead to this world.

Emotionally exhausted, they finally took a break. Esme smoothed her hands over Edward's hollowed eyes to close them. Their emptiness spoke volumes on the potential years of joy and love that had been abruptly and unfairly lost.

Reluctantly, she pulled out her phone and began texting.

"What are you doing?" Carlisle asked.

"I'm letting the rest of the family know what happened. Once Alice meets with Charlie, we will have to start arranging a funeral service," Esme sighed. "We'll need all the support we can get to heal from this tragedy."

Carlisle knew she meant Carmen, Eleazar, Tanya, Kate and her newfound mate, Garrett. Unfortunately, he also knew Irina would not be among the informed. She had chosen to leave the Denali Coven shortly after Bella and Edward's wedding. Irina was unable to reconcile with the family after Laurent's death. She saw the events from a different perspective.

Carlisle's heart ached for his son. How long Edward had been withdrawn into himself, surrounded by loving couples, yet still hoping to find his own match. Carlisle was not as surprised as he should have been when Edward's perfect match came in the form of a human. A human with a mind unreachable to him. That glitch in her mind had always puzzled Carlisle. Esme had speculated Bella's silent mind presented an irresistible challenge to Edward in that he actually had to get to know someone to understand what she was thinking.

She was also Edward's singer. Forbidden fruit was always more tempting. Yet, what were the chances that Edward would find in Bella his greatest obstacle and his greatest desire? Coincidence? Fate?

Carlisle shook his head. Pondering all this didn't matter anymore. Bella was gone. Edward walled off from reality...

"How long can he last this way?" Esme's voice was a lifeline.

"Indefinitely."

"Won't he starve to death?"

"Starving won't destroy him. The venom that lubricates his joints will slowly be reabsorbed into his tissues, and he may have difficulty moving after some time. But he will not...die," Carlisle added the last word hesitantly.

"We need to get him home! Surrounded by family. We'll take him with us in the rental car," Esme insisted. Carlisle could hear the defiance in her voice. She was betting against Alice's prophesy.

"I understand your desire to protect him, Esme, but Alice was very clear. If we remove him from this house, it will not end well for any of us." Alice had shared the horrific fine points of her vision with Carlisle, but informed him she would not reveal all the details to any other family member. It would just be too much mental anguish for everyone on top of what had happened to Bella and Edward. "I don't want to leave him either. I suggest we stay here with him. Jasper, Alice, Emmett, and Rose will live in our new home without us."

Esme frowned. This was not how she envisioned her "family."

"Carlisle, how can we function as a family, or as a coven for that matter, when we are scattered? I don't think our children will remain together without a clear leader. We'll lose everything we have worked so hard and lovingly to create."

Esme was correct. Carlisle knew that despite the achievements they had made by engaging in "vegetarianism", they were still ruled by vampire nature. Their four children would need to reorganize as a new coven, or split from each other. Carlisle bristled at the thought of a new leader among them. He was not willing to relinquish control of his coven.

"It's only a temporary solution," Carlisle sighed, trying to put Esme's fears to rest while he sought an answer. Even if he did renounce his coven to remain in Edward's home with his wife, it certainly wasn't a suitable long-term solution for Edward. He just couldn't spend eternity in this half-life condition, and Esme and Carlisle couldn't spend that eternity longing for him to return to them.

Esme's phone chimed. She read the text, and her fingers flew over the keys in response.

"Carmen said they send their condolences, and they are ready to lend any support we need."

Carlisle ran his hands over his face in frustration. He glanced over at Edward, stone still, a world away. Just when their family had seemed complete and happy, it all was blown to hell.

Jasper's words began to gnaw at him: "Carlisle, I think this was a murder, not an accident."

At first, Carlisle had pushed Jasper's conspiracy theory aside, believing that in his grief, the military-trained man sought solace in the world of violence he was familiar with. But now, with ample time to just sit and think, Carlisle couldn't help but consider the possibility Jasper might be correct.

Esme watched as her husband's face went from pained to sour.

"You don't think someone did this to Bella and Edward, do you?" she asked, attempting to interpret Carlisle's expression as the rising sun cast shadows across his face.

"I don't think so...I don't know," Carlisle stammered. "I can't see Jacob having murder in his heart. I spent a lot of time with him while he recovered from the newborn attack. Of course, he made me swear to doctor-patient confidentiality before he confided in me, but his heart is good – misguided in its youthfulness, but good. And I don't think any members of the pack would risk violating a treaty that has lasted for generations over Jacob's first heartbreak."

"If not Jacob, then who? James, Victoria, Laurent are all dead. Irina is bitter over Laurent's death; do you think she would seek revenge against Bella and Edward?" she asked in a tone that revealed disbelief in her own theory.

Carlisle shook his head. "I've known Irina for a long time, she is very outspoken and strong-willed, but she doesn't condone violence. Besides, I would think with the Denali's having such a close relationship with us, Alice would have seen something or Edward would have heard something in Irina's thoughts at the wedding."

Carlisle rose from his chair and began to pace the same floor Edward had worn thin just hours before.

"Carlisle, if someone did do this, they had to know it would be a crushing blow to our family. Who could possibly hate us so vehemently? Who could be so powerfully motivated?"

"And get past Alice's sight," Carlisle added. "I guess that's what led Jasper to the Quileutes."

Carlisle felt like he was chasing his tail. "Unless..."

"Unless what?"

"Unless someone else knows how to play with the loopholes in Alice's sight."

Esme rose to join her husband. "Victoria did. Could she have passed that secret on to someone? I didn't think she and James had any other alliances."

Carlisle bit his lip. He had a confession to make. "After the battle with the newborns, Edward told me he read the thoughts of the young newborn we tried to grant asylum. The girl believed the Volturi were involved in the strike against us."

"You never shared this with me? Why?"

"I didn't believe it. The Volturi are the enforcers of the law. They came to maintain order, and destroy the army and their creator. Besides, the newborns knew no truth other than what was fed to them by Victoria. How easy would it have been for Riley or Victoria to put in their heads that the Volturi were involved in the attack against our coven? They plant that information into Edward's mind, and the resulting war between us and the Volturi reduces this coven to ashes. Victoria wins. Quite a clever back up plan, I must say."

"But now?" Esme asked, trying to follow where Carlisle's thinking was taking him.

"But now I'm wondering... If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Maybe that girl was correct. If anyone has the ability to strike with the precision of a cobra, and yet slither away with complete immunity, it's Aro."

"How could they kill our Bella! Just because she was still human? They knew what the future held! They saw Alice's vision!" Esme was tripping over her words, furious and skeptical of the possible cruel harshness of the Volturi.

"No, I think it's more than eliminating one human in on a dangerous secret. Like you said, this is a blow to the family - to my coven. The largest coven known aside from the Volturi. Maybe Aro was feeling threatened?"

"Carlisle, what have you ever done to demonstrate any threat to the Volturi? You have been law-abiding since day one."

"Maybe I'm taking too big of a leap. We don't even know if Bella's death involved foul play." Carlisle sighed and began again to pace. "It's just not my nature to accept not having the answers."

Carlisle paused to look over at Edward's unmoving form. "At the very least, we should be on alert. If our coven indeed becomes splintered, I can't rule out an attack. Divided, we are vulnerable."


A/N: Oh my Carlisle, so clever... and even quotes Sherlock Holmes. His speculation is close to the mark...

Thank you for reading. I have enjoyed your comments/reviews very much - and your speculations - they make me smile (or don a sinister all-knowing grin!).

Sorry about the lack of update last week - RL happens and messes with your best intentions at times.

Many thanks to Ashling92, who keeps me on track and prevents me from making a major fool of myself (as I wanted to give credit for Carlisle's quote to Mr. Spock instead of Mr. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle *face palm*). And thank you to the wonderfully creative mind of RowanMoon, who has helped me straighten some of the curves in my convoluted mind so this story doesn't give readers carsickness.

See you next week with more intrigue and action!