My days in Volterra began to adapt to a rhythm. A member of the guard, usually a shy, brown haired girl named Renata, brought me breakfast, and then I was left to my own devices. After a while, I figured out that mornings were when the Volturi conducted their… whatever it was they did. The pale scar on my neck where Marcus had bitten me and drank my blood had its intended effect. Nobody ever questioned where I was going within the castle, and the guards either ignored me or stepped out of my way.
On most afternoons, Marcus would spend time with me. I didn't really understand why he was willing to hang out with a human. I wasn't the most interesting conversationalist, and I kept pretty quiet, knowing that if I began talking, all my questions would spill out. Occasionally he touched me, a quick brush of fingers over my cheek or hair. It could be considered casual or curious, nothing more and yet it still made me feel like I was on fire. Once, I even considered offering my blood to him, just to experience that overwhelming rush of sensation again.
I didn't recognize my thoughts sometimes. All I felt these days was uncertainty and want.
One morning, a few days later, I woke up to bright beams of sunlight and the gentle pressure of hands on my shoulders. The caress was cool and I arched into it contentedly. Marcus's touch never failed to make my heart race, and I knew that he could hear it.
"I see you are awake, Isabella."
I recognized his voice immediately. It was warmer than usual, as though he was amused by my completely shameless appreciation. I sat up lazily, my smile wide and soft. I probably looked silly but I couldn't bring myself to care.
"Good morning, Master Marcus," I said.
"You sound happy today," he said, looking at me curiously from where he was sitting at the edge of my bed.
"It feels like the beginning of a good day," I murmured, still a little giddy.
"Perhaps," he agreed. Before I could ask why he was waking me up personally, he said, "There is someone who wants to meet you. You may recall that Caius has a mate."
"Athenodora?" I stumbled on the pronunciation of the name.
"Precisely. She is quite curious about you."
"Why? I mean, I'm not that interesting." I certainly had nothing that would intrigue an ancient vampire, who had probably seen hundreds of more compelling people.
"I see no harm in humoring her request," he said. "I consider her my little sister, and I'd do greater things to make her happy."
Very gently, he pushed me down onto the bed. It was exquisitely soft beneath me and I relaxed, feeling completely safe. Marcus untangled the sheets from around my legs, leaving me in my shorts and tank top, with nothing else separating my skin from his. With a sigh, he pressed his lips to my ankle, brushing a fluttering kiss over the round little bone. My nerves suddenly sparked to life and I moaned hungrily when I felt the scrape of his teeth.
"Such an eager little human," he purred. His voice had taken on that deep, heavy tone that accompanied his thirst. So very slowly, he kissed his way up my leg while I squirmed and my breathing grew ragged. His mouth was wonderful, lingering on the sensitive spots of my flesh. My back arched helplessly as I tried to find a way to move closer to him, to prolong contact in any way.
"Hush, my Isabella," he murmured, his cool breath delicious on my inner thigh. "If you thrash, I may hurt you and neither of us would want that."
I nodded mutely, desperately, and then he sank his teeth into my skin. Pain and pleasure rushed through me in waves that wrung me out and turned my mind black. This was something different than sex, something darker and more dangerous. I could only lie there and gasp while he fed, clinging to the feeling and praying that it would never end.
After he was done, he raised his head and wiped away a little blood with gentle fingers. "The pleasure you take from this is truly extraordinary," he said, lost in thought. I wondered why he decided to feed from me today. Maybe it was because I'd be seeing other vampires, and he wanted to remind them and me whom I belonged to, or simply because he wanted my blood and my reactions.
I foolishly wished it was the latter.
I didn't know what to say to him, so I remained still until he nudged me in the direction of the bathroom.
"Is Athenodora absolutely terrifying?" I asked, as I walked down a long corridor, beside the tall, dark-haired vampire. I began feeling foolish the instant the question left my lips. What could Marcus say? He clearly valued loyalty to his coven, and he wouldn't speak ill of the woman who was practically his family even if she was horrible.
He almost smiled.
"She is not like Caius, if that's what frightens you," he said lightly. "And she is a better companion for you than most here."
I didn't know how to interpret that, so I stayed quiet, waiting to meet this vampire who had suddenly taken an interest in me.
Marcus steered me to a small chamber in the middle of the castle. It must have been a sitting room of some sort, but it was beautiful just like everything else here. The ceiling was painted a deep shade of blue and speckled with silver stars in the shapes of constellations, and antique furniture was scattered around the room. Curled on one of them and pressed close to Caius was easily the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
She had the same translucent skin as all of the ancients and her features were impossibly elegant. Long, pale blonde hair spilled over her shoulder in perfect waves and even seated, I could tell that she was tall and graceful. The dress she wore was one of those slinky designer pieces that only looked good on magazine pages and apparently, her.
I couldn't decide whether to be jealous or more scared than usual, although some snarky corner of my mind wondered what Caius had done, or what secret skills he had to score a mate that hot.
"Satisfied?" Caius murmured to Athenodora, giving me a disdainful glance while stroking his mate's hand.
"First I have to meet the girl," she said. Her voice was gorgeous, just like the rest of her.
"Call me if she bores you," the white blond vampire said, standing up and brushing a quick kiss over Athenodora's hair. She tilted her head and caught his mouth instead. For a second, they looked like a regular couple instead of ancient demons. Kind of cute, really.
"Done," she agreed, giving him one last smile while he left.
"Hello, brother. And this is the famous Bella, I see. A pleasure," she sang, gesturing for me to sit down. Feeling more pigeon toed than usual, I picked a chair across from her. She and Marcus exchanged a few words in Italian, and then he disappeared, leaving me completely alone with this shockingly beautiful vampire.
"Thanks, um, you too," I said, my fingers tangling in the fabric of my dress. "I don't really know why you're interested in meeting me…" I added, before realizing how awkward that sounded.
"Because nobody would give me a straight answer about you. Aro finds you interesting, Caius does not like you- it's not personal, he doesn't like most people- and Marcus won't tell me anything," Athenodora replied. "So I decided to find out for myself."
I gave her a worried look. She wasn't a Cullen, I reminded myself. There was no way she'd like me without a good reason. Besides, she was probably comparing me to a thousand famous and beautiful historical figures that Marcus could have pursued instead.
"You resemble Didyme," she said finally. "Not in the extreme, but you do." She sounded softly sad.
"I'm really sorry," I mumbled. I knew that trait had saved my life, but it had to be painful for this vampire to see an imperfect copy of someone she'd clearly loved. "Do you know… could you tell me what happened to her?" I asked, stumbling on every word and fearing rejection.
"We do not know. That's the tragedy of it, really," Athenodora said. Her eyes were wide, but it seemed that she was examining a memory instead of looking at me. "During a fight with a nomadic Egyptian coven, Didyme was killed. Who did it and how remains a mystery. By the time we regrouped, there were no opposing survivors, and Didyme was already ash."
"That's terrible," I said. Suddenly, Marcus's possessiveness made sense. He probably lived in fear of losing everyone he was close to after experiencing something like that.
"It is. As you can imagine, the lack of closure impeded Marcus's recovery."
"Will he mind that I know?" I didn't want to pry in his closely-guarded secrets. Part of it was fear of his reaction, but I also thought that he deserved his privacy regarding someone he'd loved so deeply.
"The facts themselves are common knowledge," she said. "You could find them in any of our histories in the library.
"Thank you," I said, grateful that she'd answered my questions so directly. My voice must have quivered, because Athenodora immediately leaned over and patted my hand gently.
"You needn't be so frightened. Marcus is not a cruel man," she told me.
I really wanted to believe her. Heck, she was probably right, from her perspective. Or she was completely crazy and comparing everyone to Caius.
"I just don't know what he wants from me," I said quietly.
"That I cannot say. All vampire couples are different."
"I don't think we're a couple." Our relationship was… well, I couldn't even describe it. Mutual confusion was probably the most accurate definition of it.
"He has not been this interested in anyone for two thousand years. I can say no more." Athenodora said this gently, without a hint of teasing, and I believed her.
"You're really helpful. I mean, wow, I wasn't expecting that." I couldn't believe I just blurted that out. It was almost rude. I had to fight that the urge to clamp a hand over my mouth and apologize.
"I must confess that I didn't have high expectations of you either. I met Carlisle a few centuries ago, and he was insufferably self-righteous then. I couldn't imagine the potential mate of his favorite son being any better." Her laughter was so bright, like bells, and I realized that I was beginning to like her.
My mouth adjusted itself into a smile. Somehow, it felt nice to hear that Edward hadn't' scarred me for life in some terrible, noticeable way.
"That bad?" I asked. I really wanted to hear about Carlisle's life in Volterra. I'd built up the Cullens to be completely perfect in my mind, and I wanted to adjust the image for accuracy.
"Yes," Athenodora said. For a moment, she fell silent, weighing her words, then she grinned at me. "Oh, very well. I guess I'll gossip within half an hour of meeting you. When Carlisle was with us, he became infatuated with Aro's mate. You'll meet Sulpicia soon, and she's very beautiful, so I'll concede that he had good taste. Still, among our kind, it's unspeakable to pursue someone else's mate."
"What happened?" My eyes were probably round as teacups. It was so hard to imagine the saintly Dr. Cullen wanting anyone besides Esme.
"Aro found it harmless at first, but soon he grew jealous. Male vampires are incredibly possessive, you'll find out if you haven't already. So, he challenged Carlisle, giving him the choice between fighting and leaving. The fact that he continues to live tells you which option he took."
"That's different from the way Edward told the story." I wondered whether Carlisle had lied to his son, or whether my former boyfriend had heard the truth and just told me his preferred version.
"Oh?" She tilted her head curiously.
"He made it sound as though Carlisle left for moral reasons. He didn't want to feed on humans, you know? And that Aro desperately wanted him back." That was all that I remembered from that discussion I'd had the first time I was in the Cullen house.
"That's wonderfully predictable," Athenodora said. "The Cullens, in my experience, are more hypocritical than they seem. I know it must be difficult, hearing me speak ill of those you love, but you deserve to hear the truth."
I was beginning to understand that, but all I felt was anger. I hated the fact that I had been taken advantage of by a teenage vampire and his family, who didn't want to be honest with me because I was human, or because they didn't care. Still, Athenodora was calming to be around and I talked with her easily until Marcus reappeared.
She waved a friendly goodbye to me as I left. "We must do this again sometime," she said, and I smiled, tentatively deciding that I'd made a friend.
AN: My dear readers, I'm sorry for the long amount of time it's taken to update. Your reviews definitely encouraged me to continue. Thanks!