Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Stephenie Meyer created it all.
A/N: I have to admit to you that I am suffering from writing ennui. Thanks to Twiloversue for talking me off the proverbial cliff. I was ready to give up this week and ease out of the Twi world. Thanks for encouraging me to carry on madam!
This was my entry into The Canon Tour competition for the Pre-Twilight round. Thanks to all that went over and read the stories. There were 28 in all, and some very, very good entries. I am much honored that Brother came in third place!
Banner for Brother (compliments of IzPerplexing) can be found at:
The crowds of humans moved through the streets, dressed as gods and goddesses, pirates, sultans and slaves. The anonymity of their costumes lent them boldness to act in ways they'd never consider during the normal course of the day. Wealthy citizens mixed with the poor in teeming masses, the only way to distinguish between them the richness of their costumes, the sumptuous silk versus coarse linens. Ribaldry was the expected norm, and I knew that as the day gave way to night, it would only get worse. Orgies were common and actually encouraged, all degrees of modesty thrown to the wind. My vampiric senses disallowed succor from the mating of humans, the smell of them as they copulated, the groans of their pleasure as they enjoyed the desires of their bodies. To say I grew aroused would be an understatement. I'd been alone long before being turned to this life, and the enhanced body I now had delighted in all the excesses. Excesses I worked hard to control.
I wondered what they'd think of themselves on the morrow. For eight days, the excesses of human desires ruled, only to be forgotten for Ash Wednesday. As if the yin to the yang, Roman citizens would abide by all rules of godliness until Easter, when more modest and reverential celebrations occurred. But for now, the anonymity of the costumes they'd donned meant that they'd release all inhibitions and enjoy the day. Who was I to speak, for wasn't I also utilizing the celebration for my own whims, my own desires? To see the city in the sunshine was a rare treat. The wide piazzas were normally covered in shadows for me, the flowers' vibrant colors dulled by either the rain or the dusk of twilight when I didn't need to be afraid that my skin would reveal my secret. The monk's cloak I'd donned covered my hands and feet, and the cowl was pulled over my head and face. So, although I didn't participate in the coupling that would occur in the streets, my pleasure at being able to act in a wonderfully human way would provide me almost as much pleasure.
I'd been in Rome less than six months and was pursuing further instruction in medicine. The Hippocratic Oath had burgeoned from this land of higher studies, and I was learning much from the physicians to whom I'd offered my services as an apprentice, as was the norm of the day. Today, though, I had no obligations and had determined to enjoy the rare chance to roam in the dying sunshine. It would be dark soon, and as such, I needed to ponder my return to my tiny dwelling, desiring to not be on the streets when the other vampires of Rome would appear. The Roman Carnival drew a horde of foreign visitors, attracting a bevy of hungry immortals. I'd had altercations with my kind before, and thankfully I'd been able to extricate myself from those incidents without aggression. I confounded them, I knew. Usually, one look at the color of my eyes stopped all conversation.
Turning down an alleyway, I ran into a group of prostitutes. Avoiding the hungry hands that eagerly tugged at my cloak and the statements about their willingness to mate with me for free once they saw my looks, I made my way down the dirty cobblestones. Rome, as most large cities throughout the world, had a thin veneer of polish that barely hid the filth that littered the streets. It was my opinion, shared by other physicians, that the lack of sanitation and cleanliness within the city was a breeding ground for the pestilence that carried the diseases that decimated the human population on a regular basis. For me, and my kind, it mattered not what disease rampaged, but it was a horror to experience the odors that emanated from the refuse. I smelt a decaying body not far from me, along with the telltale smell of the vampire that had dispatched the soul to his/her afterworld. It was a bare trace, indicating that the immortal was long gone from this area. Unfortunately, I wasn't far from my lodgings, and the presence of one so close made me nervous.
Turning left onto the next street, I heard the mélange of languages being spoken around me. I'd perfected my Italian after many hours of study, but didn't need it here. English men and women were a norm here, my countrymen having invaded Italy in droves over the last few years. Catching hints of Turkish, Spanish, and Chinese and a host of other languages in the crowds, I fell in behind a group of revelers. One of the major theatres lay between here and my home, and that was their likely destination. Moving at a human pace behind them, I watched in some curiosity as they interacted. I missed companionship, the day-to-day interaction of someone to converse with or to share moments of humor; and therefore, enjoyed their humanity vicariously.
We'd traversed several blocks before I saw the trouble ahead. It was a group of vampires, clearly taking advantage of the cover of the buildings around us to survey the humans that celebrated in ignorance just outside the theatre I'd been considering. It pained me to think of the lives that would be extinguished to feed their thirst and I was suddenly grateful that I'd fed the night before, fleeing into the countryside to dine on several deer. While my thirst might not threaten me in this instance, my presence did. I saw the three ahead of me tense as my scent wafted down the street to them. One was the biggest vampire I'd ever seen. The other two stood closely together, as if they were a couple. It wouldn't do any good to flee, as I'd most likely be followed. Fear was a symbol of weakness, and if there was one thing you didn't want to do, it was to show another immortal that you were fearful.
Allowing my hands to hang easily at my side, I slowed my pace as I walked up to them. The group I'd been following continued on, unaware of the deadly predators they'd just passed. The large one moved to stand between me and the others, the long cloak he wore flaring out with the quick graceful movement.
"Peace," I said softly, holding my hands out, palm facing him, in a sign of welcome.
He glared at me as if I'd never spoken.
"My name is Carlisle," I said again, looking around him to the two others.
The large male surveyed me, looking for anything that would indicate subterfuge. I stood still as he did so. The other two had stepped closer to us and the woman gasped and then spoke when she caught a glimpse of me. "What is wrong with your eyes?"
"That is a long story, but nothing to be concerned about."
"I think our Masters will be concerned about it," the larger vampire finally spoke.
"Masters?" I asked, curious as to why any vampire would recognize someone in such a formal manner.
"The Volturi," he answered.
I cocked my head in confusion and the other man spoke.
"The leaders of our world, the ones who ensure that our rules are followed. Your sire didn't inform you of this?"
My sire? I could only assume they meant the vampire that'd created me with his bite. My confusion must've been more apparent than I thought, because they shifted subtly.
"I believe that you should wait with us," the larger one said definitively. "They'll be through at the theatre momentarily, and you can return to our lodgings with us so that they can question you," he stated, and I knew that I hadn't been issued an invitation, but an order. He motioned with his arm toward the shade being produced by building cover, and I stepped where he'd indicated.
Within a few minutes a large group of theatre goers exited the building across the street, and a larger contingent of vampires moved toward us.
"You've picked up a stray?" A particularly beautiful female said toward the large vampire. She was statuesque, with long mahogany hair, and even longer legs. She wore a dress worthy of a countess, and I noticed that the cloak she wore was just as luxurious. She was breathtaking, and it took every effort for me to tear my eyes from her.
"Yes, inform the Masters of the situation. We'll follow you back to the house." His words helped me to recover my concentration.
"This way," the man said, indicating with his hand that I should follow the group.
"Your name?" I asked politely, startling him.
"How proper you are," he rumbled, but then shrugged his shoulders in disdain. "Felix," he offered.
I was amazed to realize that the group of thirteen vampires were moving toward Trastevere, one of the more prestigious neighborhoods. We soon left the human revelers behind, and I was able to focus fully on the individuals ahead of me. Five figures were at the focal point, surrounded by the others, who orbited them like planets around the sun. My assumption would be that these were the Masters they'd referred to. I could tell little about their appearances as they too were covered from head to foot in black robes, and I heard the woman whisper about my presence, but couldn't see any change in their demeanor.
We moved into a beautifully appointed home, and within just seconds, I was surrounded by several vampires, as if I was under arrest. The five figures moved to stand before the fireplace, and two of them helped the smaller ones divest themselves of their robes. The covers fell to reveal two light headed females and then the other three to reveal two black haired males and one that had hair so pale that it looked white. I was rendered speechless. They were glorious, and at the same time terrifying. Ancient…that was the only word I could formulate to explain the difference between them and the others. The tallest of the three, one of the black haired men, turned to me, and I was stunned at the intelligence that radiated from him. If queried, I would've delineated him as the leader of the group and was suddenly very desirous of spending time with him, as I fancied the knowledge he held and could impart to me. My fantasies exploded as I saw long discourses about politics, religion, and possibly even medicine.
He wore all black - his coat, waistcoat, and knee breeches blending together, but I clearly saw the luxurious silk glimmering. To add to the starkness of his dress, his stockings and shoes were also fashioned of the same unrelenting color. He was striking, the whiteness of his skin and the blood red color of his eyes and lips in high contrast.
"Remove your cloak," he ordered me, speaking of the costume I'd donned to participate in the Carnival.
Trained from a small child to honor royalty, I bowed respectfully before doing just that. The gasps that sounded out when I pulled the concealing material from around me echoed throughout the room and the leader blurred to me, earning a growl from the guards beside me. Thankfully, in preparation for my possible attendance at an event, I'd worn my best attire, burnished gold silk dominating the color scheme of my formal clothing. I realized how odd I must seem to those in the room, so in contrast to their muted apparel.
"Your name?" he snarled out, but there was something in his face that seemed victorious…almost as if he'd recognized me.
"Carlisle Cullen," I said quickly, wanting to look around at the others to see why they'd reacted in such a manner, but somehow sensing that I shouldn't take my eyes off the man in front of me to peruse the group.
"When were you created?" the man demanded.
"In the year of our Lord, 1663. I was twenty-three," I answered, and heard the snickers around me, wondering about their source.
He narrowed his ruby eyes at me and then moved his hand out in formal greeting. "Aro of the Volturi." His accent was mesmerizing, but I couldn't shake the visual that ran through my head of the snake charmer and the cobra. I wondered which one of us was which.
Unwilling to appear unfriendly, I grasped his hand in a handshake, marveling at the feel of his papery skin against mine. I noticed the bodies shift around us as our hands remained together. Just a moment before it would've seemed awkward, he removed his hand from mine slowly.
"Amazing!" he said with a great degree of glee, almost looking maniacal in his humor. Without turning, he said to those around us. "Dear ones, meet Carlisle Cullen, son of an Anglican pastor, bitten by his sire and then left to his own devices. He remained secreted while he burned and emerged to run from the humans around him. He's forsaken our traditional diet."
While I remained frozen in shock, the white headed one approached us in agitation. "What is your meaning, Aro? We have a strange vampire within our midst and you've the audacity to humor us with your acerbic and misplaced wit?"
Aro smiled at the other man's venom, and I was unclear as to whether I felt comfortable with the satisfaction and greed I saw flicker across his features. "He doesn't feed upon humans, Caius. Instead, he partakes of animal blood."
My gasp joined the others around me. How could he know these things about me?
"Even more intriguing is the fact that he maintains this restraint while he studies medicine, including bloodletting and surgery."
The room went still again, and I saw all eyes freeze upon me, knowing what that announcement probably meant to them. It'd been an incredible struggle, through which I'd persisted, in order to gain some control over my blood lust. I'd just been effectively labeled an oddity among a group of oddities. The other man, who'd remained stoic as if he was disengaged from the world around him, finally moved, coming over to brush his hand against the leader's arm.
"Thank you, Marcus. However, I'd already deduced that for myself," Aro murmured in a pleased tone, having never taken his eyes off me.
"We are the Volturi. As I indicated, I'm Aro. My mate Sulpicia…" he indicated the taller of the two women "…my brothers, Marcus and Caius, and Caius' mate, Athenodora." The smaller of the two women nodded at me graciously. As with the beautiful burgundy haired woman, they were both dressed in the highest of fashions, robe à la française. Unlike the three men who all espoused a black theme, Sulpicia's gown was of the palest peach, while Athenodora's was blue.
"Mate?" I asked the first thing that came to my mind. My question caused Aro to laugh fully this time.
"Carlisle Cullen, you will come with us back to Volterra. You were left unknowledgeable about your world, and that is a state I fully intend to rectify." Before I could contest the demand, he said quickly, "Felix, Demetri, allow me to tell you where his lodgings are located. He has only a few items to bring back, but they are all precious to him. Don't leave anything, and return quickly so that we can make our way home."
With those words, my tenure in Italy to learn from the masters of medical knowledge became the time that I'd learn about vampires and the Masters of the immortal world.
Volterra rose before us, a majestic city on the hill. We could see the light beginning to press against the darkness at the horizon as we neared the castle.
Carrying my father's cross across my back, I ignored the derision of the vampires around me. I'd gone back to my village several years after my change to find that my father had passed away. Clearly remembering the time he'd spent creating the cross, I'd given in to my longing to have something that'd belonged to him, before visiting the simple grave that housed both my mother and him. After saying prayers for them and me, I rose to leave, never looking back. After all the efforts over the years I'd exerted to keep it, I refused to leave it in Rome, and since we would be traveling at night, I'd seen no need to. Stepping through the doorway of the ostentatious gothic structure in front of me, I thought back to earlier in the night before we left.
Amazingly Aro gave a brief nod of acceptance and respect to the wooden cross before looking at my other possessions and sneering. "Unacceptable," he said when he realized the things I'd cherished were books.
"I have finances," I'd refuted his most likely thoughts. I'd only needed one bag of clothing to accomplish my human deception, but much more to have distractions from the unbearable loneliness.
"I'm aware of your financial situation, Carlisle. I plan to disabuse you of your need to live like a monk," was his sarcastic retort.
But of course, he'd know about my finances, desires, life, and all my other sundry secrets, thanks to his little secret. I was still astounded about what I'd learned from him about him and his brothers…their control over our world, their self-imposed duties, and the presence of gifts in some vampires. Little had I known just what I'd given up when I'd offered my hand to Aro. Caius had hissed at his brother when, as we awaited the return of his men with my belongings, he began to explain the intricacies of life in Volterra.
With venom, Aro had rounded on his brother and hissed, "I know his mind better than you, Caius. I believe I'm fully capable of assessing his capacity to fit into the Guard. I'm aware that he isn't gifted in our more traditional sense, but anyone that can live surrounded by human blood and resist has more to recommend him than a talent.
And so, it was with a tenuous understanding of my place in this new world that I walked through the doors of the castle. I heard others within the structure and wondered at their number. It was then I considered that possibly I'd been unwise to follow them. In full honesty, though, it wasn't as if I'd been allowed another option. Aro's invitation had been but a barely concealed threat to insure my compliance.
"Felix, would you ensure that Brother Carlisle's items are taken to the room across from mine?" Aro murmured softly before stepping to my side.
His term for me… I could sense equal parts affection and sarcasm in his voice. He was including me in his inner sanctum of "family," while at the same time mocking my beliefs. For Marcus and Caius, he would use the affectionate "brother," but for me, he utilized a term that scorned much of the things I held sacred. From the sight of Caius' pursed lips, it was clear that he wasn't pleased with Aro's apparent tolerance of me. He stepped in front of Aro and glared at him silently, but it was then that I saw his fingertips to the leader's arm…and I knew that he was communicating silently with Aro, throwing what I assumed were loquacious insults. The other man, Marcus, began to move slowly down the hallway like a wraith in the night away from the two warring brothers, and I felt concern for him. He seemed so melancholy, and the healer in me was puzzled at the enigma. Knowing that the others were preoccupied with their leaders, I moved behind him and called out. "Marcus?"
He froze in midstep, and I watched as he slowly lowered his foot to the tiled floor to turn toward me. For all the emotion in his face, it was if I was speaking to Michelangelo's David.
"Can I help you?"
I saw the faint quirk to his lips before he slowly shook his head in a negative manner and then turned to disappear into the shadowed hallway. Felix and Demetri swept past me in that moment, following the solemn figure. They were loaded down with my bags, and I marveled to see that Demetri carried the cross I'd leaned against the wall. Deductive reason would lead me to believe that perhaps my newly acquired accommodations would be their destination. What had Aro meant about a room near his? Was it a storage area in which I might place the things I cherished? I'd certainly want to see to the caretaking of my meager belongings, but I couldn't help as my eyes followed the dark-robed figure gliding like a ghost away from me.
What could've produced the level of despair that I sensed in him? Was he ill? Were we even capable of sickness? Nothing, in the years I'd tried to destroy myself, had led me to believe there was a weapon forged that could be used to bring us harm, or as far as I was aware, a disease that could cause the body I possessed to sicken. My ignorance of my existence was never more apparent than as I pondered the life of the mute ancient one. I could only esteem to gather knowledge and grow wiser.
Scientia potentia est. Knowledge is power. Thomas Hobbes' words rushed through my mind.
Turning back to the man who'd secured my presence with thinly veiled threats, I found him and his white headed brother observing me closely. Without taking his eyes off me, Aro said in a sanctimonious voice, "Need I present any further evidence, Caius?"
The acerbic brother refrained from speaking.
I was in utter awe. The castle contained no less than ten massive libraries full of tomes. Aro had actually chuckled when my reluctance to leave this nirvana became apparent. My hands itched to peruse them, and I could imagine spending hundreds of years buried within the rooms, breathing the ink and paper infused air as I pored over the knowledge contained within. As if the volumes weren't enough, adorning the walls were paintings from the masters of watercolors, oils, and charcoal. Ornate furniture was highlighted by thick wool rugs over highly polished Italian marble tiles. I could still smell the scent of the artisans on their splendid artifacts, and drops of sweat from the newer ones. It was a visual and intellectual paradise for a humble pastor's son. We'd lived on the brink of destitution, my father and me…reliant on the alms of his parishioners. I'd wanted to achieve a trade; he'd wanted me to follow in his footsteps. I'd not regretted the simple life we'd been given, but I'd worried about our future, and I'd longed for those things that would never be in my grasp…a veritable sin. Now, I had it all splayed before me….a repast of debauchery…filled with the darkest of angels.
Wondering about the looks I received, I followed the Volturi King throughout the halls. Later, I was to find that Aro's interest in me was unfathomable to those in his domain, an uncommon occurrence. I met many of the others…Chelsea and Afton, the couple of my initial encounter, Renata – a woman that followed Aro everywhere, countless other "minor" guard members, and then one man that also intrigued me greatly. A Spaniard, Eleazar, whose gift was to identify other's gifts. He seemed puzzled with me, but I saw his negative shake of head toward Aro. I wanted to chuckle, but could care less that I was found lacking in the otherworldly matter. His verbal answer of "However…" was interrupted by Aro's dismissive wave of the hand. Fascinated when Eleazar's refrained from further verbal repartee, I wondered if I'd been too bold, asking the questions I did.
"Aro, may I be brash enough to ask another question?" I ventured as he walked me toward a part of the castle we hadn't visited. The evening was waning, and I was anxious to get to the library I'd picked out to occupy when I wasn't needed.
"Certainly, young one," he murmured softly.
"I believe I've been impudent. I've assumed a liberty that perhaps I shouldn't."
He turned to me in a quizzical manner.
"The others…they only speak to you when you ask for input. I've been brazen in the questions I've been asking. Have I been too forward?"
His unexpected laughter echoed throughout the short hallway we'd turned onto, and I saw the guard member at the end startle. He couldn't stop the astounded look on his face as he glanced to the leader.
"Carlisle, what a delight you are." I noticed he didn't answer my question.
A door down the way opened to reveal his "mate"… his wife in fact. I'd learned that not all immortals felt the need to subscribe to the human ritual of marriage, but Aro and Caius had. She glanced to him in surprise, and the smile that spread across her face when she saw him still chuckling was glorious. Bowing my head to her in respect, I heard her soft laughter in recognition of my action. She moved gracefully to join us.
Aro placed a reverential kiss to the top of her head and linked their arms. Proceeding down the way, we came to a door just across the hall from the one she'd exited, and Aro held his hand out. He was indicating that I should proceed before him, and I wondered as to the purpose of our next stop. My confusion, when I viewed the luxuriously appointed bedroom, was clear. It had a massive bed located to the far wall, piled high in soft silks and pillows. A grouping of chairs centered around the mantle of the large fireplace, while a door on the opposite wall remained closed. Turning in puzzlement to find that the couple had followed me into the room, it was then that I spied my father's cross and my few bags against the wall closest to the door.
"I hope you find your room pleasing, but if there is anything further I can supply for your comfort, I plead that you don't delay in informing me. Aro selected several volumes that you expressed interest in when you toured the libraries. Felix had them brought here for you," Sulpicia said, nodding to the stack that I'd just spied on a low table.
It was incomprehensible…the space…the grandeur. The room itself was larger than the small house my father and I'd shared, and the appointments far more lavish than anything I'd ever dreamt of. "I don't understand…" I finally forced out.
"This is your room, Carlisle," she said with a small smile. She seemed to enjoy that I was astounded. I didn't sense she did it in a spiteful way, but in delight, as one that'd grown accustomed to excess, and enjoyed seeing it anew through someone who hadn't.
"But I don't need this… space…a bed? What am I supposed to do with that?"
Aro broke out in laughter again, and I could tell from his wife's face that it was indeed a rare event. I could've surmised that from the reaction of the others we'd encountered over the day. She grinned again at him, catching his eye.
"Sorry, my dear. It's just so refreshing," he snickered out.
"For you, I imagine so," she retorted with very little venom in her voice.
"Carlisle, we'll work on educating…" he said the word in an odd way "… you on the uses for the bed, but for now, we'll leave you in peace. I imagine the last 24 hours have been eventful and you might possibly need some time for reflection. So for now, we'll bid you good night." They stepped to the door, intent on leaving. I felt as if I was floundering from the turn in my fortunes, thrown amidst the waves of a violently churning sea. His parting word didn't settle the storm.
"Welcome to Volterra, Carlisle Cullen. You cannot imagine how pleased I am that you're here."
A knock came at the door, and I rose to answer it, placing the novel I was reading on the table. I'd been engrossed in Miguel de Cervantes Saaverdra's Don Quixote. Aro had delivered a copy to me, celebrating the anniversary of my arrival in Volterra. His ever present sarcasm was never more apparent that in the choice of the gift. A book about a would-be hero, an honorable man, who started out on a chivalrous campaign…only to fall to ruin along the way, forswearing all chivalrous truths. His message and intent was clear. Aro had designs on corrupting me…in many ways. It was a subtle and not so subtle reminder.
I'd been here ten years this day. Ten years of the most incredible opportunities to experience the world around me…to indulge in the arts and the sciences and bathe in the riches of the Volturi. So much had changed about me since the day I'd walked into the castle with little more than the clothes on my back. As I stood and smoothed the fine silk of my outfit, pressing out the creases, I realized just how much had changed… and as I saw the cross hanging beside the door, how much hadn't.
Opening the portal, I couldn't help the grin that crossed my face when I saw who stood there. "Marcus, please come in."
He nodded solemnly and moved to enter the room.
We'd formed a unique relationship, the quiet leader and I. It'd taken me only one night to recognize the importance of a bed in a vampire's world, and the source of Aro's humor - my naiveté. If I'd thought that being around humans as they copulated was agonizing, hearing the mating habits of feral vampires, whether married or not, was excruciating. The library across the castle, far away from the bedrooms of iniquity, quickly became my sanctuary when it became too much. It'd only taken a few nights into my stay before I'd found that Marcus also utilized similar avoidance techniques. It was only a few more days before I'd learned why. We'd become an unlikely pair, the mourning man and the untried "Brother." Aro encouraged our friendship, but even with his maneuverings, it'd taken me time to break through Marcus' frozen defenses.
Even now, he rarely spoke to me, but I also acknowledged that most would've considered him verbose around me in comparison to his normal demeanor. I often wondered what he'd been like before his mate had been destroyed.
"Have you come to read?" I asked him when he came to a stop before the seats we usually occupied.
"No," he said softly, as if his voice had atrophied from the lack of utilization. Bringing his right hand out from the folds of his cloak, he held up a fabric-wrapped package. It was simply tied with a ribbon. "For you, Carlisle."
I was curious as to why he would've chosen a present for me, but shied away from hurting him by refusing the gift, so I gently took the package from him. Unwrapping it, I uncovered a plain wooden frame and within it a portrait of London. London as it'd been before The Great Fire of 1666. It was done in sepia tones displaying slanted roofs and spires as well as the River Thames. It was masterfully created, but I didn't recognize the signature.
"It's exquisite, Marcus," I said quickly, turning the frame at an angle so that I could assess the painting again, discerning the fine lines of the brushstrokes.
"The artist, his name was Waggoner."
I didn't want to know why he utilized the past tense. Whether it was just from recollection, or a more sinister reason…for now it was enough to admire the man's handiwork. I was humbled by his thoughtfulness.
"I thought you'd value it. I know your feelings for your home and all that you lost," he said simply.
"It's an astonishing gift, one I am extremely proud of. I will cherish it always," I swore.
His only answer was a small smile. "Our presence has been requested downstairs."
I nodded, then took the painting and leaned it up against the wall, knowing where I wanted it to hang so that I could view it easily. Having foregone any other paintings during the time I'd been here…other than my father's and now my prized possession – the cross, Marcus' gift would be only the second work of art to grace my walls.
"Marcus," I called out as he started to walk through the door. When he turned, I continued. "Thank you."
His lips quirked in acknowledgment.
We quickly made our way toward the throne room. Hearing the din of the multitude of voices long before we neared the room, I looked down to check my attire. Appearances and perception are often our strongest weapons, Carlisle. His words echoed through my mind. How many times had I actually seen those words come to fruition? The placement of their thrones, their courtly robes and attire, even the placement of the Guard members…it was all done for effect. Aro, Marcus, and Caius sat on the dais, surrounded by a bevy of figures in dark grey, standing out in an almost demonic way in the all black the trio preferred.
Seeing Eleazar standing to the side of the raised dais, I made my way to him. The Castilian vampire murmured a quick welcome, but I could tell that his interest was held by the group before him. He was watching a female within the group. I assessed his attentiveness and didn't find the normal desire of a male for a female, so I could only surmise that he'd determined her to be a talent. The group visiting had come to complain of harassment at the hands of the Volturi leader's mortal enemies, the Romanians…Stefan and Vladimir. The men responsible for Didyme's death. Glancing to Marcus, I saw the tell-tale slant to his eyes, the darkening of the red to black.
The group argued furiously for an hour, attempting to incite Aro to initiate a war between the two groups. I monitored the three leaders, watching the subtle signs of their individualism and emotions. Caius often mocked me, calling me ludicrous names when he caught me observing. "Are you a voyeur, Brother? Do you need to watch to determine the true nature of who you are?
Never knowing how he would react, Caius was the personification of Chaos for me. At times, Caius appeared to almost accept my presence here; at others, he prided himself in making me as uncomfortable as possible. I was enjoying a brief respite from caustic Caius at the present. For now, he was ignoring me. Feeling the brush of fabric against my skin, I turned to see one of the female guard members coming to rest to the other side of me. She was a beauty, and Aro had swiftly discerned my initial interest. He'd ensured that she was constantly in my presence during my early years here. I was certain that he'd hoped I'd avail myself of her charms, divesting myself of my "revered innocence." Little did he know that I sensed the wounded spirit within her, her hesitancy to trust. Talented I may not be, but observant I was. I hoped that one day she would find her mate, but I wasn't that person.
When the meeting ended, I could sense the discord. The air was heavy with anger and unresolved conflict. The leader of the group had mistakenly placed his belief in his ability to lure the Volturi to his side. It was apparent that he was disappointed, and somehow the disquiet in the room made me feel uneasy. Within the group, the tall vampire had brought with him several other males and a few females. I could see one woman in particular, a petite raven haired beauty, watching him with apprehensive eyes. The female that Eleazar had been watching remained at her side. We both started forward when the man began to raise his voice at them in fury, directing them vacate the castle. When they didn't move quickly enough, he became enraged. Without a thought, I flew to his side and stayed his hand when he raised it back to strike the smaller woman.
I had little experience with physical altercations, but I knew enough to suspect that my touching him would result in a brawl. Having crossed all laws of proper etiquette by touching him, I was fully cognizant of the fact, but I wasn't going to allow unwarranted violence to a female in front of me. He turned to me snarling, ready to attack, his feral nature evident in the venom dripping from his lips. Tensing, readying myself for the brawl, I saw his gaze move past me at something over my shoulder, and he backed away. Felix, I realized. I could smell him. The large vampire didn't particularly like or dislike me; however, he inexplicably accorded me a similar respect as he did the Volturi leaders and their wives. I accredited his behavior with Aro's intentional maneuverings, placing me in close proximity to them at all times…added to the fact that I occupied a room in their private quarters. If my choice of diet, color of eyes, and spiritual leanings didn't label me as a oddity…Aro had enhanced that perception by treating me in ways that denoted I was above the level of the Guard, but something just less than one of the Kings.
A favored one…
The women shifted uncomfortably behind the man, uncertain as to what was expected of them and what I'd do.
"Unjustified violence is not welcome in these halls," I said simply.
I'd long lost the argument that violence itself shouldn't be welcome. Considering what I knew happened to unsuspecting humans and rogue vampires here, I knew that the discourse between Aro and I would continue regarding this matter. It was the pall over my existence with them…that and Aro's insistence that my choice of diet was unnatural. He continued in his efforts in corrupting my morals, and I continued to resist. Aro arrived at my side before the offended vampire could respond. I saw Eleazar brush his hand against Aro's arm and the leader's eyes focus on the taller woman. Ah…so Eleazar had determined she would be useful. Waiting anxiously to see what Aro would say, I realized I was feeling unexpectedly protective toward the women.
"You're welcome to remain with us, if you so desire," he said softly, but with great resolve. The male vampire would've been a lunatic to challenge him.
The male turned to assess their faces and then hissed in fury before turning to leave them standing amidst us. The others in his group had taken advantage of the altercation to slip away. Aro didn't even postpone his actions long enough for the vampire to exit the room, holding his hand out in welcome to the two nervous vampiresses.
"Aro of the Volturi," he said quickly.
"Corin," the one which drew Eleazar's interest answered.
"Asa," the smaller one offered.
"Heidi..." Aro breathed out "…secure accommodations for them." With those words, they were swept into the ranks of the Guard, their fates sealed.
He turned to me then with an inquisitive smile upon his lips. "Care to explain?"
"Don't prescribe any intrinsic meaning to my actions, brother. I was simply unwilling to be witness to what would've occurred."
His "humph" didn't sound as if he was convinced of my words, but unexpectedly he didn't just steal my thoughts. Seeing Demetri and Felix leave, I knew they'd follow the disgruntled vampire and the remnants of his group. I followed Marcus, Aro, and Caius…only a slight step behind them, knowing that my presence would be required for the discussion that would occur regarding the information acquired from the discontented coven.
"Aro, we must act offensively against them," Caius swore. He was pacing the floor in a blur, his agitation making him drop all pretenses of regality. "They were involved in the fight that killed Didyme; they were in allegiance with the Children of the Moon during the altercation where I was almost destroyed. One day, we'll rue that we've allowed them to live. They'll sooner or later be complicit in a fight where we suffer significant losses."
Aro looked to Marcus, assessing his pain, and I wasn't surprised to see his normally complacent face twisted in rage and agony. "I don't have to guess your thoughts, do I, brother?"
Marcus barely focused on his fellow leader, his face contorted with his thoughts. I was quite certain Caius had intentionally mentioned Didyme in order to gain Marcus' support in his quest.
They'd been in discussion for several hours, examining every nuance and possibility of the new information, while I'd remained ensconced in a corner chair, attempting to stay as inconspicuous as possible, hoping to avoid being included in the discourse. I found their reasoning enthralling…to follow the vast depths of their knowledge and mind took my every effort, and it was if I could feel my mind expanding just by the privilege of being in their presence. While I didn't agree to everything, I could most certainly understand their thoughts.
"What is your input, Carlisle?" Aro asked, directing my attention to him.
I looked to Marcus' tortured eyes, then Caius' disdain, and finally Aro's assessing gaze. "You know my desire to stay neutral in discussion of warfare."
Aro shrugged as if my words were as significant as mere flakes of snow, dissolving on the thawing ground. "You've heard all the information Carlisle. You're a neutral party. I am asking you to give your assessment of the situation." He voice was thinly veiled steel, abiding no disobedience.
Our previous encounters had been leading to this…the opportunity when he'd force my hand and require me to take a side. Struggling to remain aloof, while at the same time assess the situation fairly, I thought of a quote I'd once read and spoke, "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self."
His eyes flared violently, anger at what he determined to be my deflection infusing his face. "Aristotle? You quote a philosopher when I ask you for tactical input."
I smiled, and my behavior confounded him. He sputtered in indignation, and I hurried into the conversation to soothe his ruffled emotions.
"Aro, in abiding by your dictates and responding to your question, you're asking for me to put aside my own desires, which is what I was referring to. You know that I abhor violence, but in this case, you may be hard pressed to avoid it. However, having leveled that concern, I saw little to justify your intervention, other than what has occurred in the past. In effect, the information you must've obtained from the women should determine your next step, not the longstanding feud or the emotions it invokes between you. What did their thoughts tell you? Did what they'd witnessed or the information they were privy to lead you to believe that overt action is necessary? Perhaps it's all a ruse to lure you in. Subterfuge would be the wisest modus operandi against the Volturi."
I'd startled them, I knew. Even Caius' perpetually sour expression had calmed, and it was if I could see his brain analyzing my words from every angle to assess their worth. "But what do I know about these things? My only experience comes from listening to and observing you. My only benefit here is that I am as you put it…'a neutral party.'"
Aro grinned slyly, and I realized I'd supplied him with exactly what he'd been seeking…my cooperation and the first foothold into engaging me in their executive discourse. It was with a sinking feeling that, under Aro's shrewd gaze and calls to stop, I left the study we'd occupied and began to make my way back to my room. Now that he'd located the chink in my armor, it was apparent he'd continue to attempt to widen it, reaching below to grab my very being and tear it from myself.
Moving swiftly down the hall, intent upon reaching my room, my hope for calm was shattered when I opened the door and saw what awaited me… Asa, the black haired vampire, within my domain. I wasn't territorial, caring less that she would be here, but it was unnerving. She spun toward the door as I entered, a nervous look about her as well.
"I'm sorry, I planned to await you in the hallway, however the one that brought me here, Afton… he said it would be fine for me to wait inside. I didn't touch anything," she murmured anxiously, and I realized that she probably had remained where she'd come to rest.
Of course, it would've been Afton… he was unbearably loyal to Aro, and he knew that our leader would do anything to entice me… anything. I stopped just inside the door, and I realized it was to avoid the temptation…a first. Smiling at her softly, I hoped to make her feel more comfortable, but my plan backfired as I saw her eyes darken considerably. The smell of her arousal wafted across the room, and the breath I took made it sink deeply into my lungs, saturating me with enticement. I unconsciously took a step forward, as did she. Shaking my head to clear my mind, I realized I hadn't introduced myself. My exposure to an intriguing vampiress was all it'd taken to make me forget the courtly decorum that'd been inbred in me. Perhaps Aro and I weren't as far apart as I thought.
"My name is Carlisle," I replied simply, actually incapable of much more.
"Oh, I know your name," she said, but the smile that crossed her face was the epitome of seduction. In a moment of clarity, I realized it wasn't artifice. She didn't know that she was beautiful. "I made sure to find out all about you," she informed me. I watched her lips form the words hungrily.
"How may I help you?" I attempted to say, but it came out as a croak.
She smiled seductively. "They are exactly correct about you, are they not?"
"I'm not sure I understand your meaning." I moved further into the room, and didn't even realize what I'd done until I heard the door click behind me. Her eyes jerked quickly toward the sound, and I wasn't amiss in noticing that her smile broadened just slightly. I think I was more shocked than her.
"Do you know the name by which they call you?"
Humor washed through me, and I chuckled then, knowing that I'd been called many names since being here, and that Aro was most likely the culprit. So, I was uncertain as to which one she would've overheard.
The short burst of laughter that tore out of me was grounding, temporarily distracting me from her charms. "I'm certainly not a sorcerer!" I barked out in more humor than I should.
"That certainly isn't what the women around here claim." She looked embarrassed by the slip, and I put my fingers to my nose, pinching it for distraction. "A vampire on the side of goodness," she murmured breathily, causing me to look at her again. "That is what they mean…"
I hadn't heard that one, and somehow I wondered if my mentor was the one embellishing on the things he taunted me with. If he had, it wouldn't have been in a positive connotation. I could imagine the words ripping from his lips in that pretentious tone he adopted whenever something displeased him.
"I certainly do not deserve such credence."
"Certainly…" she left off in a clearly disbelieving tone. She smiled again, and I felt the lust race across my skin. "I have absolutely no proof to the contrary, of course." She was referring to my interference in what would've occurred.
Recognition of her purpose here raced through my mind, giving me hope that I wouldn't embarrass myself. "No one deserves to be accosted. I do, however, owe you my apology for interfering, and thereby separating you from your coven."
"Do you believe that is the only reason I came to your quarters, Carlisle?" she said and then began to move toward me.
I was transfixed as she crossed the floor. Up close, she was even more perfect than I'd realized, and I wondered idly what was in her that intrigued me, when no other female had for the years of my other-worldly existence. Deep burgundy eyes tilted in an exotic way and looked up at me from behind a waterfall of thick black hair. Her skin had a dusky hue, which I'd assume would've been mocha in color, like the richness of coffee heavily laden with cream, before her change. A graceful nose tapered to incredibly full lips.
Her eyes widened as I surveyed her, and I was certain she saw my nostrils flare as I picked up on her spicy scent. "You're as beautiful as an angel, Carlisle. Your eyes…they are startlingly magnificent."
Transfixed by the seductress before me, I didn't move when she raised her hand to stroke it along my jaw line, feathering her fingers across my skin. Passion welled up in me; lust, really. I knew not this woman, there was no courtship or bonding time, but I wanted to possess her at the most elemental of levels…to take succor from her and the feelings that a simple touch of her fingers to my skin produced. A low rumbling burgeoned from deep within my chest, and I closed my eyes to relish the feel of another's hands on me.
She stepped close to me, bringing our bodies into contact, and it was all I could do to keep from throwing her to the floor and allowing the beast within me to take over. She sensed my struggle.
"Carlisle, do you have a lover…someone with whom you're attached?"
"NO!" I snarled out, awash with the feelings overwhelming me. "No one."
How true that statement was. Although I'd been here a decade, it still felt at times that I was alone. Oh, I knew that Aro wanted me to join them…forever. But in order to do that, I might quite possibly be required to sell my soul literally to the devil. I didn't know if it had actually survived this whole process, but I was hoping that I'd be given a measure of consideration for attempting to do the right things.
When I found the wherewithal to look at her, my hungry face was reflected back in the black of her eyes. Taking matters into her own hands, Asa rose on the tips of her toes and pressed her lips to mine. Whether the whimper was mine or hers, I was uncertain. But suddenly, my arms were wrapped around her, pulling her closer, so that no space remained between us, our aroused bodies wrapped around one another.
Lips met and pressed while hands roamed. My innocence, at least visually, had ended years ago…in a castle filled with hedonistic beings, nothing was sacred. But when she broke away from me to tear loose her gown, I attempted to stop her. She was clever however, and although my hands reached to stop the destruction, they instead met silky smooth skin at the curve of her waist. For once in my existence, I felt something vital within me snap, and need greater than anything I'd known seized me, tearing my rules, my morals, my beliefs away from deep in the core of me, tossing them to the wind.
"Come," she whispered, grabbing my hand to lead me to the bed.
The sense of physical satiation was overwhelming. Her slender leg was thrown over mine, my fingers skimming the skin above her knee softly. She drew random patterns across my chest. It was soothing, even if deep within me, I was already questioning how I could've allowed it to go this far.
"Don't question this, please," she petitioned. "I've never felt so cared for." She rose on her elbows to look down into my face, her eyes once again burgundy. "I'm not asking for forever." We both chuckled at the irony of what she'd just said. "If what I've seen is true in our world, you're not my mate, and I'm not yours. But for now, can we not just be… lovers? Perhaps in time, we'll find our other halves, but for now, we can care for one another."
I tried to keep the unrest from my gaze, but she caught it. Pain sliced across her features as she assumed I was about to disregard her petition. She moved to rise, but I wasn't willing just yet to let her go. Uncertain as to what it all meant, I knew that at least for this moment, the last hour had been one of the most blissful experiences in my immortal life. My sinful nature arose, and I stayed her retreat by taking her upper arms in my hands gently. I needed to make her understand somehow.
"I'm sorry…" she stiffened believing the worst "…I'm just a little…disoriented. Pardon my less than gentlemanly behavior in making you feel unwanted." I said this while slowly pulling her down to me, my lips nuzzling the soft skin at her neck. She purred against me, the vibrations sending fire racing along my skin as I worshipped the delicate arch of her throat. She gasped as she brushed against me and then moved to straddle me bringing everything into delicious alignment.
My hands had just gently cupped her breasts when all hell broke loose. The door slammed open, and Aro strode into the room, his eyes searching for me. "Carlisle, how dare you leave me with the others when I demanded that you stay!"
I saw the recognition in his face when he caught the scent of our lovemaking and turned transfixed to the bed. Having thrown the sheet around Asa, I hid her behind me covering her nakedness. A strange and curious look came over his face. It was part fascination, part glee, and horrifyingly, part covetous. Suddenly, a few missing pieces fell into place. Aro wanted me. Even with my rigid strictures…some of which had fallen this day…I'd heard the talk and rumors of the truly hedonistic behavior that ruled this castle. I'd witnessed the orgies in Rome. I'd been a fool, but he was one as well, if he thought I'd travel that path with him.
Narrowing my eyes at him, I warned him to remain silent. Knowing he wouldn't retreat from my room, the least I could do was insure that she was away from the bedlam that was about to occur. I turned, aware that I was probably giving Aro more of a view of me than was proprietary. Somehow, I also knew that he would use the moment to avail himself.
Her eyes were wide in embarrassment. "You've been assigned a room?"
She nodded softly.
"Will you go there and remain until I come for you?"
My words made her eyes widen even more but she nodded again. Leaving her the comforter, I rose, wrapping the sheet around my hips, walking to where my clothes hung in the large armoire against the wall. Her dress resided on my floor in shredded pieces; so therefore, I gave her my robe. As soon as she was seen in it, the word would spread like wildfire. There was little to be done now…
Holding the coverlet for her privacy, I allowed her to shrug the robe on, and she immediately scampered from the room, giving the silent, calculating Aro ample berth. As soon as the door closed, I hissed at him. "HOW dare you!"
He smirked. "I've never had to knock before Carlisle. This is an interesting development."
"Turn around so that I might dress," I ordered him, and I saw him raise his eyebrow at me. Whether it was from the tone of my voice, or whether it was because he had no plans to do as I'd commanded, I didn't know. It infuriated me. "Or perhaps not, since in effect, you want the opportunity to see me." I dropped the cover and strode bare arse to the wardrobe again for my pants. Hearing his hiss, I knew that I'd won this skirmish.
Turning to the now black-eyed Aro, I wanted to scream, but in effect, what had really happened? My pride and long held beliefs had taken a hit, but nothing else had changed or would change. Holding my hands up palms out, I begged for his forgiveness at my tone. His demeanor shifted subtly, his muscles and rigid stance relaxing as he capitulated to my silent plea.
"Carlisle…I apologize for barging in here as if I had the right. This is your private domain. Who you bring here is your own volition." He was sincere, I realized.
Moving to where I stood close to him, I captured his eyes. "Good. Because, although my situation may have changed slightly tonight…some things haven't or won't. You're mated, I'm not." It was as close as I was going to get to confronting him.
Sadness, anger, remorse, challenge, hopelessness…I wasn't sure what darkened his eyes. He turned his head slightly sideways to assess me.
"We'll call stalemate for now…" was his only comment in regards to my declaration. "We'll talk more in the morning, Brother, for you've some sins to atone for." He chuckled as he walked out of the door, but it was a mirthless sound. I'd awaken the beast both in myself and him. There would be hell to pay.
Asa remained with me as my friend and lover for just over five years. It was, however, ill-fated from the beginning. Although I loved her, I didn't love her romantically, and neither did she me. The physical relationship between us began to leave me discontent… hollow, and she deserved more than I could ever give her. I watched her leave Volterra from the castle ramparts…my last vision of her a broad smile and a thrown kiss, the sunlight glancing off the blue black of her hair. Raising my hand in farewell, I silently wished her God-speed on her journey. We'd parted amicably; her need had grown to find that special someone, as had mine. My hope was that she would find her mate, and that someday, many years in the future, we would cross paths again.
She couldn't stay in Volterra. Aro hated her…hated that she had some degree of my affection, and I'd made him swear that he wouldn't harm her, or have her followed. Aro was a jealous monarch, determined to mold me into the individual he wanted me to be. He saw any distraction from his purpose as something to obliterate. It was a dilemma, the joy I found in his presence, in the challenging conversations and opportunities – and the stress over his true designs.
My room was morbidly silent when I walked back into it, and it was then that I noticed something leaning against the wall. Another painting, I realized. Had Marcus once again purchased me a gift? He would know my sorrow at losing her. He wanted Aro happy and me happy, but he never blatantly challenged me about my choices. He struggled with the allegiance to us both. I smiled, believing that he would want to cheer me in some way and pulled the cloth that covered it off, only to gasp at what I saw and smelt…Asa's smell and handiwork. It was the meadow in the forest that we'd found, when she'd gone to watch me hunt for the first time, it was done in fall colors and in the distance was a craggy peak. The picture was a masterpiece, clearly expressing the sadness of our parting through the muted colors, along with capturing the wonderful memories we'd made there through the idyllic setting. I wondered about the craggy peak, knowing that no such outfacing appeared in the distance of our paradise, but then I remembered the horror she'd expressed when I told her of my attempted suicides…about jumping from extreme heights in an attempt to relieve the pain. "You will never give up, Carlisle Cullen… never! Do you understand me? You'll find her; I just know that it'll happen for you." The crag was there to remind me of her words and demand.
And so, another piece of art went on my wall, to remind me of who I was…and who I'd become.
The terrified deer raced away from me. I could hear her heart pumping, the adrenaline of her overheated body filling the air with sweet perfume and me with hunger. Lunging, I caught her around the neck, snapping it before sending my teeth into her warm flesh.
"This is ridiculous and absolutely repulsive to see him place his lips to an animal's throat," Caius called out to his brothers from just behind me. "Aro, just order him to cease and desist and let's have this argument finally settled. I grow weary of it."
I'd brought them to witness the thrill of the hunt, hoping that the smell of the blood might be appealing to them. Hearing Caius' disdain, I knew that my quest had been in vain. The arguments about my feeding were escalating and becoming heated. The journey back didn't bring any relief as even Marcus refused to support me. Aro fumed at my side, intent on destroying my "preoccupation with the abhorrent."
I was grateful when we arrived home and even more so when I found a missive from Asa waiting. It had the smell of a foreign vampire on it, and I realized that we must have visitors. Aro had noted that they were bringing back some of his "experiments" from a castle hidden far in the mountains of Austria.
She'd been gone five years. The letters came sporadically, but I was always thrilled when they did arrive. It was impossible not to chuckle at what Asa described along her journeys, the adventures and new vampires she'd met. I missed her, but knew that what we'd done was for the best. While she was traveling the world, I remained in Volterra, still soaking up the available knowledge like a sponge. Her absence, though, had made my non-mated state almost unbearable. It would seem that many of the others wanted to step into her place. Ironically, my reluctance was seen as a challenge.
Tearing it open, I sat on the chair to read. She'd found him…her mate! I couldn't help the breadth of the smile that crossed my face as I read her elaborate script. Her words told me everything and gave me hope. I'd grown disillusioned as of late, knowing that although I'd enjoyed the relationship with her physically, that it'd been emotionally painful for me. Having settled for what we'd had, I knew that I'd never be able to do it again. I'd cared greatly for her, and if I couldn't make it work with that level of connection, I wouldn't try again until I found my mate. Questions ran rampant through my mind as I considered "her," and I wondered if I'd know instantly as Asa had.
A knock on the door roused me from my thoughts, and I nodded to the new guard member upon hearing the request he'd been sent with. I was fearful that I was going to be taken to task…they were becoming merciless in their demands that I conform. Eleazar had been my only source of comfort, speaking to me about my choices and reaffirming my belief that I should be able to follow the dictates of my heart, and I often wondered if sometime in the future he might join me in my lifestyle. Coming to a dead stop when I stepped into the throne room, I saw how truly dire my situation was. Facing me were the two most beautiful children in the world. Knowing that I was about to die to get them out of here, I froze unwilling to witness their deaths. My anger turned to disbelief as the girl shifted and a stray beam illuminated her face. I actually lowered myself to my knees, afraid I'd fall. Before me stood two beautifully brilliant and deadly vampires…wrapped up in prepubescent bodies.
"Carlisle, why do Spinoza and Locke argue for the equality of all men? Do humans not follow the dictate of individualism?" Catherine's voice carried across the courtyard, from where she sat regally, a book held in her hand.
We'd been arguing philosophy. It was difficult at times for me to juxtapose the intellectual discourse that emanated from her with the visual of a nine year old body. She was dressed in the finest of fabrics. In the mode of the day, her dress was as ornate as any of the other "adult" vampires, and therefore, as was the fashion of the day, she looked like a miniature adult.
"No, unfortunately humans aren't quite as enlightened as vampires. They still struggle with classism and racism. I fear that we'll see another war soon, one nation attempting to force their opinions on others."
"Why do you protect them, then? Aren't they little more than savages?" Sebastian repeated the words I knew he'd heard spoken by Aro and Caius. He would've sounded pompous had I not known he was truly attempting to understand.
"Are we not just more highly evolved savages?" I countered.
Sebastian grinned brightly. "More highly evolved and efficient savages."
I shuddered at the visual of the two of them returning from hunting, human blood and gore smeared across the fine fabrics of their clothes. Sebastian and Catherine were merciless in their feeding, killing more humans than necessary in their rampages. They experienced difficulty controlling their behaviors, and I feared for them, knowing that Aro was beginning to lose his clinical interest…the thrill of the novelty wearing off. I'd thrown myself into their education the day I was introduced to them, in hopes of helping the matter, but I was losing the fight.
Immortal children, Carlisle. They were changed by unnamed and now destroyed vampires who longed for family.
It was apparent then why he'd brought them out of seclusion and to Volterra, it was to prove a point to me…allowing me to see the disastrous results of other vampires' "longings."
Felix appeared at the door to the courtyard, and both children rose to go to him. Catherine came to me first and placed the book back into my hands. Kissing my forehead, she skipped across the way toward the hulking vampire. She turned just before she went through the door and giggled, blowing a kiss back to me; much like Asa had the day she left. Sebastian was more sedate, moving to stand by me and bowing slightly.
"When we return, I'd very much like to revisit Voltaire's latest treatise and this religious freedom you espouse, Carlisle."
I saw Felix's dark red eyes glitter at the formality of the children toward me. For the past five years, I'd invested my efforts into them, hoping to tame the uncontrollable behaviors that often brought them into question. Caius, Marcus, and Aro were in a quandary as to how to handle the two immortal children. Would they remain here, or be sent back to Austria? It was the question of the day. Their need for constant supervision made them a liability, but for that I had an answer, a plan to offer my services.
"Certainly, when you return," I answered Sebastian, drawing a small smile from him.
Several of the Guard would be taking them to Ireland for a hunting trip. The Great Famine was a perfect cover for human feeding, and I also knew that Aro wanted to make contact with a new coven that'd formed there…making his presence known to them. As manipulative as Aro was, I still considered him my dearest friend and longed for him to return to the days of our original meeting, when there was no underlying tension of his need to change and possess me. It was with that reckoning that I went to search him out.
Sulpicia answered my knock on the door, and her surprise at finding me there made me realize just how much distance I'd inadvertently placed between us. The quirk of her lips when I bowed formally to her and took her hand to place a kiss to her knuckles made me feel infinitely better.
"It's about time, Carlisle. He is a beast when the two of you harbor discontent with each other. Go gently, please. You've the power to destroy him." She said this simply, but I knew that she was serious. Sulpicia could be a powerful adversary if Aro, her mate, was threatened. He was her first and foremost priority.
"I am sorry, Sulpicia. You know I dislike our arguments. I just wish…" she cut off my words by placing her fingertips against my lips.
"Go make nice with him," she indicated, waving her hand to indicate I should enter. In an effort to give us privacy, she left, closing the door behind me.
I could hear him stirring in the room they utilized as a private library, just off their sitting room. He would've heard every word we'd spoken, so I knew he awaited me. His baleful glare as I stepped into the room didn't promise me an easy confrontation. Moving to within feet of him, I held out my hand in petition. It was so much easier for him to just read my thoughts. He could determine my finer thoughts and fears, my affection for him, and my sorrow at the rift between us so much clearer than words could ever convey. He turned away, astounding me. He'd never refused the chance to invade my mind. I'd hurt him, I realized.
"Aro, have I done irreversible damage?" I asked softly, stepping even closer to him.
"Go away, Carlisle. I do not have the patience for your sanctimonious behavior today."
Gasping at the acidity in his voice, fear blossomed through me. I hadn't designed to destroy his affection for me; I'd only wanted the freedom to follow the dictates of my heart. Knowing that I was flirting with possible execution, I grasped his arm unsolicited. He growled at my touch, but then bowed his head, his black hair sliding across his shoulder and hiding his face at the movement.
"Why do you fight me so?" he sobbed out. "I can give you everything you desire, everything you don't even know you desire. Yet, at every turn you fight me. I know the love you feel for me but cannot admit; can it not be expanded to include my world…the world I'd lay at your feet? You came here carrying that cross on your back like a yoke, and you've never removed it, even if the damned thing now resides only on your wall. It's a burden you place upon yourself unnecessarily." He turned then, but I noticed that he didn't move so far as to remove my hand off him. We were equal in height and size, so he gazed deeply into my eyes. His were black in his grief and sorrow. "All I've ever wanted was just a small piece of you and your affections, yet you refuse and place everything that you can between us. I've watched you sort through your feelings about sex, and yes, I admit that I hoped your dalliance would open your eyes to the pleasure you could find with me. I've watched you with the two little ones and how you allow them to have a part of you that you keep from me. What do I need to do Carlisle, to get you to submit to our world?"
"Why must I submit? Why can't you accept me as I am?" I cried out just as harshly. "Why must I indulge in the slaughter of humans in order for you to feel that I am honoring you? Don't I accomplish that every day in the support I've given you? At your request, I've sat in judgment at trial and stood witness to the resulting executions. I've withstood Caius' derision, and I've represented you during meetings with emissaries. I'd die for you or Sulpicia. What more do you want!"
"You, Carlisle, I want you. I want you to want to abide by my desires. I want you to lose that control and be a vampire."
I stepped back then, breaking our contact and he groaned at my action. "What you want, Aro, is to dominate me. If I should do what you ask, I would no longer be the man you desire. I'd lose who I am, and in the end, you would become discontented with me. You haven't thought through what you request, and I daresay that you don't want to."
He paused, and I could see him struggle. Grief tore through me…I'd destroyed us. There was only one thing to do.
"I'll pack my bags; I'm sorry that I've become such a disappointment to you," I murmured quietly, my chest aching with the realization that my time with him had come to an end.
Aro transformed in front of me, a crazed expression taking hold. "NO! You can't leave!" he screamed. "Carlisle, NO! Give me time; give me the opportunity to understand this between us. I don't want to lose you!" He clawed at my arm then, as if attempting to sink his fingers into me for an unbreakable hold.
His maniacal expression concerned me. I'd never seen him this way. He was a crazed man.
"I don't want to leave, Aro. I've learned to adapt to the lifestyle you and the others live. You don't hear me complain. I only espouse my way of living to you when you ask, having grown to understand that my arguments will only fall on deaf ears. I'm willing to allow you to live your life in the manner you choose; all I ask is that I receive the same consideration. Please, why must this be such an issue between us? Can't you accept me the way I am? Am I not enough?"
"Of course," he hissed out. "Of course, just please promise me that you won't leave. I've never considered it in exactly the manner you've just stated. There is a degree of merit in what you've presented." His chest heaved in agitation, even as I offered my promise with a nod. "I must apologize, Carlisle that I initially refused your offering of your hand. Thank you for being so willing to offer access to your every thought. I know your loyalty and the sincerity in the things you've stated…" he seemed embarrassed almost "…it's just nice to hear it in such an uninhibited manner." He smoothed his hands against my arm. "I don't want you to leave, Brother. Your place is with the Volturi."
He meant as in forever.
Felix, Demetri, the children, and the others were only gone for about two weeks. Their return was the things that human nightmares were made of…
"Master, Catherine disobeyed our direct orders, running out into the daylight. We annihilated the entire village as a precaution. I did my best to make it appear as if the humans perished from starvation. I contained her and we returned immediately," Felix informed the group.
Aro had gathered the Elite Guard to meet with us. Fearing that his patience with Catherine and Sebastian had come to an end, I suspected that my previous notion of returning them to Austria was an unlikely possibility. I couldn't contain the two of them, and even if I could convince Aro to let me go, which was highly unlikely, he would be unwilling to allot any further resources to their care. My heart felt heavy, because I feared the likely resolution. Caius' next words confirmed that my concern had merit.
"Aro, they have become a liability. You've observed them for years and nothing has changed. They are unable to be anything more than what they are…amazingly powerful and undisciplined children. We can no longer allot our resources to care for them. If they were anything other than what they are…our judgment would've been made long before this."
I wanted to scream at the reality of what was about to happen. I loved them, but even I knew that Caius' assessment was a coldly sober one in this situation. Catherine and Sebastian would always need constant supervision. Even I'd be tested to provide such dedication. Aro paced in front of us. Our discord with each other had been resolved after our heartfelt revelations, and I could see the indecision in his face as he considered Caius' words. That he was disturbed about the considerations was a testament to the fact that he wasn't all bad, and that made me feel a degree of victory. Aro's humanity hadn't totally slipped away.
He turned to look at Marcus, and then to the group. "They must be destroyed," he said in a pained voice.
Although having known it was coming, I felt cold at the words. Visions of their laughing faces and joy raced through my mind, but unfortunately even my memories weren't all positive. Catherine had destroyed an entire library room when I'd attempted to reprimand her for unnecessary cruelty, and Sebastian had all but beheaded another vampire who'd contradicted him. Although this behavior wasn't uncommon for fully mature vampires, at least those individuals were able to make different choices. Stuck in the state of "Id," Catherine and Sebastian would always act on instinct first and there was little hope that they'd rethink their actions later. They'd been changed too young.
"We must vote," he said, knowing that vampires in the past had fought for these creatures; he was insuring that there would be no dissension afterwards.
My hands shook, uncharacteristic for a vampire, as I knew that I'd have to give voice as well. Indecision flared through me as I struggled knowing that I was to decide on the fates of individuals that I loved. He started with Marcus and Caius first, and I thought that I'd have more time before I was asked to respond. So it startled me when Aro moved next to me.
"Carlisle, your vote?"
Caius glared at me, certain that he would have a basis to pick a fight with me afterward. My answer rendered him speechless.
The gasp that went through the room was audible. I had my reasons, things I'd not shared with anyone other than Aro…and that only because I couldn't keep it private. My vote seemed to cause the process to spiral quickly as vote after vote for ending the children's existence echoed throughout the room.
Aro's gaze didn't leave me throughout the process and when he motioned to Caius, I knew that the order had been given. Caius would assign the duty, and the two precocious beings would be no more.
"Carlisle, take care of it," Caius said coldly.
I rose in fury, knowing that he'd as much as slapped me with a proverbial glove. He was challenging me, most likely as a result of having denied him the pleasure of taunting me about a expected negative vote. Nothing he could've done would've caused me more pain…and he knew it. He grinned at me malevolently, and it took everything within me to keep from lunging at him. I had to remove myself from his presence or that was exactly what was going to happen. As I walked out of the room, various pairs of eyes followed me, sympathy clearly reflected in many. They knew how much I cherished the beings that'd just been sentenced to die.
I needed to feel the wind on my face and to find a moment of silence to contemplate what had just happened, but I wasn't even given that. Aro followed.
"I can't do it," I groaned out. "Call me weak, call me a pacifist, call me whatever you want. I just can't. Aro, I've asked little of you, mostly because you've given me so much, but I beg of you…don't make me do this."
"Carlisle…Caius was being unnecessarily cruel. I will countermand his order. Go see them, at least for a few minutes, and then leave. All will be taken care of when you return."
Like the coward I felt I was…that is exactly what I did.
The taste of the deer blood was almost bitter in my mouth. How could I delight in feeding, knowing what had occurred. As if by wicked intervention, evil met me at the door.
"It isn't over, you need to leave," Caius said with delight.
"What do you mean?" It'd been a full night.
"We ran into complications. Joseph took a little too much pleasure in prolonging the execution and the girl screamed. When she began calling your name, begging for you to come save her, others in the castle began to break. We almost had mutiny."
A red haze formed over my eyes as rage swept through me. Complications? There wasn't such a thing like that within our world. Seeing the satisfaction in his face, I realized what had happened. He'd chosen the executioner carefully, selecting someone who would delight in torture. By refusing to be the one to do it, I was, in effect, the guilty party. Caius had finally delivered a fatal blow. My choice had inadvertently caused excruciating pain, and I couldn't deny my complicity.
My hand was wrapped around his throat before I knew what I'd done. "One day, Caius…it will probably come to death between us."
He grinned at my words, and I grinned at the sound of his body hitting the wall. Moving through the castle was a blur, and I barged into the room that I knew housed the children. Sebastian was a ball in the corner, sobbing hysterically without tears. He jerked at the sound of the door hitting the wall, but when my scent reached him, he flew into my arms.
"Shh…" I comforted him, wrapping my arms around him. "I'm here now."
Felix looked at me in astonishment, having been assigned the duty of watching him. I could tell that he was confused by my behavior.
"Close your eyes, Sebastian. It will be alright." He shouldn't have trusted me. I didn't deserve the undiluted faith I saw in his eyes as they closed for the last time. Unlike the vampire they'd chosen, I made it to where Sebastian never felt the end. I tore his head from his body, quickly and precisely, unwilling to give them a chance to allow the other immortal to interfere.
I was now a murderer. Not just of Sebastian, though there was more mercy in his death than the alternative. Joseph, the sadist who had destroyed Catherine was now a pile of ashes, and it was my doing. All my long life devoted to compassion and reverence for life, and one moment of overwhelming hatred had cast a dark shadow on everything I believed in. I'd waited for awhile after the executions, knowing I'd need to bide my time. By stealth, I'd followed Joseph out of the castle, when he'd been sent on another mission. Having torn him limb from limb, I made him watch as I fed them into a fire before finishing him. And yet the act which had seemed so necessary brought me no peace at all.
I buried their ashes the next day. The imaginings of Catherine's bell-like voice calling out my name, in hopes I'd save her, would haunt me for the rest of eternity. I believed that their destruction might be their only hope of salvation. In my assessment, they'd been changed too young to be held accountable for their behaviors. As I prayed for their deliverance into the Lord's hands, I hoped that they rested in a celestial place together now, blissful and away from the atrocity that'd been their short lives.
Once again, I was left alone in Volterra…a place of hatred and strife, greed and avarice, and regret. Although it would be easy to say that I wished I'd never willingly followed them here, in transparency I couldn't even be that theatrical. I'd been granted a little over twenty years of the most enlightening experiences…couched in a hell that was beyond comprehension.
Aro had left me alone after the day he ran into Sebastian's room to find me burning the pieces of his body. He attempted to help me, but I pushed his hands away as I scooped up the still smoldering ashes. I didn't even want to see him now, even though he'd been incredibly supportive of it all.
Returning by the light of the waning moon to the castle, I needed time, I knew, to reassess my existence, what I was capable of, and my own nature before facing the leaders. I still wasn't certain I'd be able to keep from attacking Caius. Moving through the fortress, I realized that it was unnaturally quiet, and saw a light on in one of the libraries. Moving soundlessly toward it, I wondered if perhaps Marcus was there, needing his quiet assurance.
"…finally…your plan worked Caius. It's only a matter of time now…we'll continue to expose him to situations that challenge him," Aro's voice carried far into the still night.
I froze, awareness dawning over me in horrific waves. NO…
"…the children were expendable…it was an easy win…" Cauis answer came.
Turning, I moved toward my room. Time was of the essence, I realized, as I passed Felix standing on watch several hallways over. He would tell them of my return at such an unusual hour, and they'd most likely discern that I'd overheard the conversation. When Joseph failed to return, they'd quickly deduce what had occurred. Staunching the grief as I moved to my wardrobe, I hurriedly packed changes of clothes and the money and papers I kept there, wanting to shout in fury when my eyes fell on the cross and two pictures that hung upon my walls. Like Sebastian and Catherine they were to fall innocent victims to my choices. I imagined that Aro would burn them upon a pyre as he raged. I couldn't take them with me, though. Once they realized I'd fled, I knew that they could choose to send Demetri after me. If I was to have any hope a quick retreat was needed. I couldn't resist running my fingertips over the frames and the highly polished wood, knowing that I'd never see my treasures again… then I stole into the night.
Through Eleazar and his mate, Carmen, I heard of the destruction that occurred in Volterra after I'd left. Aro, it was said, had turned manic and destroyed an entire wing of the castle in a rage. Of course, many I'd met along the way thought it only stories told in bravado over the fires of the night, but I believed the stories…seeing in my mind my precious possessions being fed to the hungry flames.
It'd been one hundred years since I'd stolen away from Volterra in the middle of the night. I missed Marcus, but knew he must hate me now. Aro and Caius would've certainly kept him oblivious to why I'd left…so to him, I'd abandoned him. Sulpicia would detest my very name…because I'd hurt her love. Aro…my mentor and friend…he'd betrayed me in another attempt to secure my blind allegiance. He, however, would've couched it as my betraying him, I knew. I'd broken my promise. Only Caius would've been pleased at my absence. At least I'd been able to finally make at least one of the Volturi fully pleased with my actions.
I lived in upstate New York now, working as a local physician after utilizing the last century to perfect my ability to withstand the lure of human blood. Upon returning home after a long night at the hospital, the scent of vampires in the vicinity of my home made me stop, but I realized that if they knew where I was, it was better to face them than to return to the city where humans would've been innocent victims as well. But my fear was for naught, in that when I stepped onto my porch I found not Demetri as I expected, but two large crates.
The sobs that tore out of my chest as I saw the contents echoed throughout the trees surrounding my humble abode. Running my fingertips over the pictures, cross, and various tomes I'd treasured, I read the missive that'd been included.
Please return to me. I will work to earn your forgiveness. However, if you cannot find it within your heart to do so, at our next meeting I will call you Friend.
Aro of Volturi
Begging for reviews here…would love to know what you think? Even if it is just a smiley face…
To my wonderful betas – I've forever said the same things about them – but I couldn't imagine a finer pair to whip me into shape:
Cold One Paul: Even with his incredibly busy life, he takes the time to make me sound so much more intelligent. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy life to help me. You are amazing!
Crmcneill: Not only does he manage a red pen and the English language with the proficiency of an anal retentive autistic, he also manages to drive me half mad on a regular basis. For all the chaos you have in your life, you are a constant source of support. I can't even find the words to thank you.