A/N: Thanks to GiselleX for beta reading and congrats to her on winning the New Moon round of the Canon Tour. Make sure to check out their tumblr (thecanontour. tumblr. com) for information on the upcoming Eclipse round. You'll find me there, too!
The statue doesn't answer; it never does. It stands frozen in the moment I cast while the ivy and the olives spread around it. The spring blossoms fill the air with an array of scents, all thick and overlapping. I know many of the guard enjoy it, almost able to taste the nectar, but to me the smell is tactile, a barrier between me and Didyme, even just her effigy. Green leaves and new wood touch the old, grey stone marbled with red. The moonlight barely touches the garden and shadows cover everything, making it all grey over green. Green on grey, grey on green, blurring together like day after night, night after day. How long since I carved her? It was the second decade after she was taken from me. Aro moved her to a sheltered spot, under the eave of the courtyard, terracotta tiles keeping off the rain. I'm glad for that. The lines of her face remain unchanged, just as they would have if...
How long has it been since I sat here?
"I met someone today, Didi. Someone who... woke me up." How long? Could I remember the year? Could I say what year this was? I remember her. I remember the pure joy that shone from her. I remember feeling her in my arms, my mouth. I remember her breath, her voice, and her eyes. I remember how they glowed after she fed, how they burned with desire. I remember losing myself in that desire, losing myself in her... losing myself.
Somehow, I have been found again, found by this young Cullen and his human love.
"He's like us, Didi. He lost his mate. He's braver than me. He's asked us to destroy him. I think he hopes to find her in the life after this."
Cullen stood before us, looking as I felt. I wonder if he saw kinship in my eyes, in my mind. We are both living without that which makes life worth living. His disheveled state reflects our minds better than my groomed hair and brushed velvet. Others do this for me. I don't care if my hair is tussled, if my clothes gather dirt. The trappings are just that, trapping me in a life I don't want. He has obviously let go.
I didn't think of following Didyme beyond this life for years. At first, all I wanted was to keep her wish, to leave Volterra and make a new life. We hoped to find a place where we weren't plagued with intrigue and Romanian threats. Her desire was to find a child. Not an immortal child, we already knew how impossible that would be, but she had hopes to be able to raise a human child, setting them free when they were old enough to know what we were. I thought she was crazy, but I was so crazy in love with her, I wanted to try, for her. I was still planning that very thing when the will to leave disappeared in my grief. That was when I first contemplated ending my existence, when I carved her statue. By then Aro was too determined to keep me as a figurehead. Just as he had urged Didi and me to put off leaving, he urged me to hold out a little longer. In the end, the drive to go left altogether. I can't recall why, almost as though I never consciously chose to stay. How strange, I can remember with clarity every day with Didi, but the exact day I stopped trying to leave is lost to me. What would cause that? How long ago?
There is a faint rustling behind me — a vampire trying not to be noticed. A glance over my shoulder reveals Chelsea. She is so familiar, her scent through the myriad of blossoms, the lines of her limbs, her height, the expanse of her chest and hips, the blonde hair curling around her face. I know her face at least as well as I know Didyme's. She is never far from me.
Is that why I've never broken free? Has Chelsea been binding me to Aro and the guard this entire time? How long? Why didn't I see it before? How long has my grief made me blind? Judging by the garb she wears, a few hundred years. Her flowing dress is not so different from the one the statue wears, and it suits her. She wears it often. However, Cullen wore different clothes, those centuries newer.
Clothes don't matter. How long doesn't matter. Cullen and Aro's decision doesn't matter. Didyme is gone and I will never be able to follow her. Cullen won't either, I realize. Aro isn't going to let a vampire of Cullen's abilities escape his grasp. Not if he still feels he needs mine.
"Aro will never agree to his demand, will he, Chelsea." I address her although she hasn't made herself known. Then my attention returns to the statue. "He has never given me that sort of freedom. I miss you, Didyme." My voice hitches, my breath coming in a sob. There are no tears though, never tears. No matter the anguish I feel. We were supposed to have eternity together. Has it been an eternity without her? It must. It feels like longer, much longer without her than with. Is that true? How long?
"Marcus?" Chelsea's voice is a soft bell, a wind chime. I feel her breath flow from her mouth to the hair on my shoulder. She is only an arm length behind me, facing the statue as I am, but standing. "Can I help?"
"You can stop," I tell her, my voice devoid of emotion now. Balling my hands into fists, I voice the hope, the desire that has driven me here. "You can give me the chance young Cullen has — to test myself, my resolve."
"You would destroy yourself?" she asks in wonder. I can't see her expression, but somehow I know her eyes are wide, her mouth agape. My eyes are only for Didyme. "You think that is better than this?"
I close my eyes, imagining the flames, the teeth of my guard tearing my head from my shoulders. It feels right. "A thousand times, yes."
I can hear her hair brush her shoulders as she shakes her head. "No. You have a purpose here, at our head. Aro needs you. I need you." Her tone is almost petulant, a child unwilling to share her toy, unwilling to let go. She is closer, her hand finding my shoulder.
I turn slowly to face her, curious. Her face is contorted in pain. This is more than a child's tantrum. Does she care for me? Does it matter to her?
"I can't... let you... I can't let go, Marcus. It's been so long; I don't know how to stop." She covers her face. Whether in shame or anguish, I don't know. I rise slowly; emotion is still foreign to me. I truly feel as though I've just woken up. What has that young vampire done to us? How has he shaken our tentative balance? First he drives me here, somewhere I haven't sat in centuries or longer. He makes me remember my love, my pain, my loss. Then he brings Chelsea to her edge by considering me in his place. She seems truly pained at the possibility that I might cease to exist. Has binding me all these years bound her to me? Is her fate tied to mine? It doesn't matter. This Cullen may be able to change many things, but my fate isn't one of them. I am bound to spend eternity here, without my Didyme.
Rising, I take her shoulders in my hands, squeezing lightly. "You can't. Just as I can never be free." My sigh feels like the rumble of a landslide, a mountain coming down on me, locking me back in place. My eyes darken and I walk blindly back to the throne room, to the dais. Suplicia and Athendora turn from my brothers. Suplicia approaches, but I idly wave her away. There is nothing she can do, nothing anyone can do. Didyme is gone where I am forbidden to follow.
Aro takes my hand, knowing I don't wish to speak. He will know my desire to be young Cullen, to follow my love beyond this plane. He will know I think he's already reached a decision, regardless what I think.
"I do care what you think, brother," he whispers, squeezing my hand. He means the gesture for comfort, but he can see in my mind that it does nothing. Taking my seat, I am again the man of stone to match my wife in the garden.
Cullen will return soon to hear our answer. For my part, I wish him eternal happiness. I will bear eternal damnation.
He enters the throne room at Jane's side, eying her warily. He can hear her thoughts, something I don't envy. I wouldn't take his gift if I could have it. The only thoughts I want to hear are gone.
"You have reached a decision?" Cullen asks, his chin thrust out. He is defiant. There is a fire in his eyes that I don't recall when he approached. Of course. He will already know what Aro is going to say. He already knows he will be denied. Why did he come? To hear it for himself?
"I have reached a decision," Aro says, smiling to disarm. "I have decided to offer you a position in our guard. A man of your talent would eliminate any unfortunate miscommunications. You would have an honored place, at our side." Aro gestures to Jane, to Alec, to Renata — his most trusted guards — trying to entice young Cullen to his side.
His odd golden eyes — for even dark they are brown more than red — turn to me as he answers, "Thank you, no."
I almost chuckle. Why would he condemn himself willingly to my fate? It would be beyond foolish. I wish I'd had his wisdom... how long ago? "As much as I appreciate your offer," he says, turning his gaze back to Aro, "I must decline. My family needs me."
"Your family." Aro's smile broadens. "We'd welcome our old friend Carlisle back with open arms. I believe your entire family could find a place with us."
"Feeding as you do?" Cullen asks, nearly cutting Aro off. "No, I think my father's reason for leaving is still valid, and the same reason we would have to decline."
"I see. Well, I'm afraid I must decline as well. I will not see such talent destroyed at my hand. I'm sorry, young Edward, but you will not have our assistance in your demise."
Cullen's eyes find me again. The defiance is still there, but something else with them. Pity, I think. Aro dismisses him with a wave and as the boy turns and walks swiftly away, I wonder how it's possible that Aro hasn't seen it. Cullen will go to plan his next move, the one that will require his destruction. If he finds any echo of his situation through me, he will stop at nothing to guarantee swift retribution. He will force our hand.
It doesn't matter, I realize with another sigh that takes the little life Cullen's visit has given me with it. If Aro means to keep him, he will send someone to stop him. If he doesn't, Cullen will get his wish. I, however, will go nowhere, held in place by Chelsea.
The morning closes, turning to noon, and Chelsea pulls me from my throne. "Come Marcus. It is your day. Sit with me instead."
She takes me to another room where vampires mingle and chat and plan for the meal Heidi is to bring. From the window I can see the crowd in their red robes, wearing fake fangs and celebrating their sanctuary from the dreaded vampire. It is a sham I haven't even observed in a century. It is little changed from then.
Around me the vampires discuss the coming feast. Each has their own taste. This one likes females, that one males, this one younger blood, that one the aged. I try to recall if I had a taste. Didyme did. She loved young men. She loved how they responded to her even when terrified of her. They still turned faces of joy, ecstasy toward her before she drained their blood. She never played with her food. Except that once, I had watched. I still remember the unbridled lust, love and elation on his face as Didyme gave him pain and pleasure in equal measure. My own lust had overwhelmed me, barely moving the corpse from the bed. That had only been once, and that had been her taste, not mine.
Now, I drank whatever was left when the others had taken their picks. Usually the old. Very few of us savored aged blood. I did like it, but it wouldn't be my choice. There was a spice that came with age, experience, just as there was a sweetness in the innocent. Given the option, I would take the young, but I had no desire to drink at all, so I took what was left, what no one else fancied. The only thing I fancied was gone.
"Marcus?" Chelsea asked. "You're smiling. Were you remembering something?"
I shake my head. "A moment with Didyme."
Chelsea closes her eyes, feeling my pain. "I understand. I'm glad you've joined us. Something has changed, hasn't it?"
I nod, not able to put my finger on what exactly Cullen said or did that brought me out of the fog that I've been in... how long? I still slip back. The knowledge of the inevitable, eternity here without her, drags me down.
Chelsea's arms are suddenly around my neck. "You aren't him. We can't lose you. I need you."
Again, she needs me. I don't believe Aro does any longer. Caius has taken my place. He is Aro's second voice, though it is one filled with greed and ambition. My cautious tone has been forgotten.
Felix comes with a summons; our meal at hand. I walk at Caius' side to the windowless chamber where our prey will be trapped. I expect Heidi, so it's surprising to find Jane, Alec and Demitri at the door.
The crowd splits to reveal the pair. There is another vampire with them, Aro calls her Alice, but I have no eyes for her. All I can see is the extraordinary connection between mates. I see it every day in the castle between the many pairs of vampires here, but each one is unique, its own shade and thickness. Perhaps because she is still human theirs is flesh colored, the pink of blood beneath the surface. The rosy strand is not thin, but strained somehow. It seems taut, too tight. Still it is obviously a mate-bond.
The ramification comes slowly, even after Aro addresses it. Bella is alive after all. His mate isn't dead. He has the chance to make her a vampire and spend eternity with her. My heart clenches. He has more than I will ever have again. He and I are not alike. He has everything while I clutch at nothing.
The need to leave their presence is overwhelming. I step to Aro's side, ignorant of their exchange. Aro will do as he wishes. I'm not needed to be his temper, just to give him the information he needs. She is Cullen's human mate, something I've never seen before. Something I don't want to see again.
Dropping Aro's hand, I leave the hall, not caring to feed, not wanting to be near the reunited couple. I head straight for Didyme, collapsing at the plinth that holds her. My arms wrap around her ankles, knocking loose stone from her dress. The dress isn't her and my crush stops at her feet, her legs, never intending on leaving again.
How long? How long have I existed without you?