Carlisle opens the heavy wooden door passing it off to Emmett to hold for the others while he leads his coven inside.
When he looks at us I can actually see the shock on his face before he blinks and his features morph to something representing jubilant relief- his expression changing so quickly it is as though the previous emotion was merely a trick of the light.
"Bella! Such a surprise to see you here of all places. You appear to be doing well," Carlisle says and I force myself to blink at him with apathy.
"Dr. Cullen. Not really such a surprise that I'm here considering I can't seem to go more than a couple of years without seeing a vampire. It has been that way ever since I first moved to Forks. As for looking well, I suppose so. Marcus and the Volturi have taken great care to help me recover," I reply calmly, slowly tightening my grip on Marcus' fingers for comfort. He obligingly squeezes back.
"Bella, you know you don't have to be so formal with us," Esme admonishes quietly after a moment's silence; looking like she wants to come forward and touch me but is put off by Marcus' presence. Thank God for small favours. Rosalie of course appears as cranky as always, he mouth tight, and her eyes portraying a gaze of superiority and disgust. Emmett is peering back and forth from his mate to the others as if to try and figure out some great mystery he's been left out of, obviously unsure of why his wife is appearing so hostile while the others so overjoyed.
I take a moment to balance in my mind what to say in response to Esme, along with Aro's instructions previously, before deciding to go with my gut instinct. "I really would prefer to refer to you all formally, Mrs. Cullen. To be perfectly honest, feel like I never truly knew any of you and that you certainly never knew me."
All of the abbreviated Cullen coven look at me for a moment displaying a variety of taken aback and condescending faces. Oh joy here it comes, the Bella guilt-trip they liked to pull.
"That's not true, Bella, and you know that. We accepted you into our family from the very beginning. After everything our family went through together I would have hoped you'd remember that," Esme says, tucking her arm around Carlisle's from where she sits beside him on the hard couch opposite from where our coven has positioned themselves.
It is yet another subtle power play the furniture, as the seats we have placed ourselves in are not only a tad more elaborate, they are also higher off the ground. Everything is to give a slight advantage, even the fact that the chairs and couch they've been provided with have very little to them as far as comfort goes- though how much that really affects them as vampires I can not say.
I gape at her for a split second before I force myself to laugh bitterly. "You and I must have very different definitions of family, Mrs. Cullen. Do you regularly leave members of your family in peril?"
"Whatever do you mean, Bella? Edward left you so that you could be human and happy, we've only ever looked out for you," Carlisle replies a touch of condescension in his voice, completely ignoring my request for formality as well. Why am I not surprised?
"Caius, I believe it was you who explained to me about what any sensible vampire does when they kill a vampire's mate." Caius looks my way, his face blank but he nods graciously at me so I continue speaking. "Emmett, why don't you take a guess at what the best course of action is in that particular instance. Or better yet, let's say someone has killed Rosalie. What's your course of action?"
Emmett blinks at me before exclaiming incredulously, "I kill them of course! Or get in contact with the rest of our family to help get justice."
I smile at him slightly then turn to Carlisle and lift an eyebrow. "You do remember the other two vampires that came with James, correct?"
Emmett glances—at least I think so, stupid vampire speed—towards Carlisle unsurely. "Victoria followed us, Isabella," Carlisle begins to speak, I however interrupt him with a snort of incredulity; if they truly believed that Victoria had followed them all those years ago, she certainly hadn't for long, nor had they done a well enough job of keeping track of her. Thankfully Aro steps in at this point, sitting up straighter and looking down upon the Cullens before speaking slowly as though explaining himself to a particularly dense child.
"We are vampires Carlisle, please think for a moment as one. Predators, such as us, go after the weakest link. The prey that is least likely to fight back, especially if it will draw other stronger prey down with it. Our Isabella, especially by herself, was the perfect target. You have all lived long enough to know this. In addition, you know very well what our response would have been to Victoria killing a human that knew as much as Isabella does— she would have been thanked. Has the diet you are on befuddled your senses so completely as to make you become completely blind to this? What could possibly have been your reasoning?"
"We consulted with Alice and believed that us leaving was the best possible course. None of us believed Edward would leave his mate long enough for there to be an issue," Carlisle pressed to Aro entreatingly.
At the word mate I felt Marcus tense and shift me incrementally closer. I mentally shudder at the thought of having such an intense connection with Edward in the same way as I have with Marcus. The physical intimacy as well as the more important emotional connection was leagues away from what I ever felt back in highschool with Edward. I feel desired and precious with Marcus instead of always being substandard around Edward. The circumstances of my life since their departure and the happenings around me have provided much fodder for self-reflection, especially lately now that I am beginning to feel safer, not to mention the tidal-wave of emotional responses over the last few hours since their arrival. The amount of disrespect and scorn that hid behind their actions haunts me— or rather my naïveté to their real thoughts and feelings does. I do hope to have the confidence to bring all these issues up to them but I am unsure how my grudges could possibly bring forth more information about what the Cullen's motivations are; let alone keep up the front of the Volturi being alright with using humans willy-nilly as long as they get gifted vampires out of it. A large part of me is afraid I'll screw this up, that I won't succeed, but as the rest of my… my coven, I suppose has informed me that that would be impossible unless I out and out reference the Romanians. I suppose the best course of action here is to continue to fake it until I make it.
"That seems like such a familial thing to do, doesn't it? Make such life altering decisions on one person's say-so. You all really don't like to include everyone's point of view at all. Let us review." I state holding up one hand and bringing a finger up slowly for each point. I take a deep breath and hope my voice doesn't waver or warble too much with emotion.
"Leaving me without even an emergency contact phone number, let alone any other details, that's a responsible thing for a doctor to do. Completely ignoring some of my concerns dealing with James and my mother during that particular trial. Because conferring with the only person there who knew the intended victim was obviously a waste of time," I state scathingly, briefly rolling my eyes. It is such a modern thing to roll one's eyes, completely full of disrespect that I know it will bother the Cullens- I make a note to thank Athenodora for that particular thought later, for now I plow ahead with full steam, my voice rising a little.
"Alice and her insistence on always using me as her prop for every little fancy- such as Bella Barbie, the birthday party, even what I ate sometimes. I am not, nor never was a pet, I have my own preferences for self-expression and I certainly didn't need her constantly making me feel as though my opinions were inferior. Not to mention your coven blaming me for situations that occurred beyond my control—Edward in particular was good at that, Port Angeles and the baseball game are some highlights. The laying of blame at one individual's feet never seemed to be just me either. Jasper at my birthday party was the one who was considered guilty by you all- which was and still is completely ridiculous. He's an empath!" I exclaim leaning forward on Marcus' knees as if to emphasize my points.
"Even I who has little experience with vampiric gifts know that not only would he have had to deal with his own bloodlust, but that of every other vampire in that room; especially after Edward's glorious rescue which pushed me into a stack of glass dishes. Which brings me to the observation that it isn't just me among your so-called family you ignored; Rosalie and Jasper's rightful concern about a human being let in on the secret, especially considering that Edward wasn't even my mate, was one such time. Gosh, the many objections of Rosalie alone, her rightful concerns that everyone ignored! Is it because she isn't gifted or because she's female, Dr. Cullen, that you don't listen to her? As it seems from where I sat on the outside looking in that the only vampires whose opinions you ever take into consideration are Edward and Alice. I doubt even your mate gets much say—"
"Don't bring me into this, you pathetic human" Rosalie interrupts jarringly, her voice holding barely restrained rage, her hand clenched claw-like into her husband's arm. "You have no idea what you're talking about, let alone all the contributing factors-"
"Watch your tongue, girl," Sulpicia hisses coldly, her back straight and her lips slightly curled in an aggressive and disgusted expression. "Isabella is mated to our brother, and thus she deserves the respect that come with such a position—especially within our home."
"Edward is Isabella's mate, Sulpicia," Esme insists after a moment of silence in which Sulpicia continues to glare at Rosalie, not allowing herself to be distracted by the other female. Rosalie finally relents and huffs slightly in acknowledgement before nodding stiffly and turning away. Aro laughs at Esme's comment.
"Carlisle did you not even bother to teach your mate about the basics of vampire mating? Or bonding? Or even Marcus and I's gifts?" he asks rhetorically.
"I assure you Mrs. Cullen, from Marcus' gift it is quite apparent that Isabella is his mate- and no one else's," Aro says condescendingly.
"Why is she still human than? Obviously her very presence is breaking the laws you uphold," Rosalie snarks heatedly, with the barest veneer of politeness.
I go to speak but Marcus squeezes my wrist lightly. I turn back to look at him a tad and can see his face is much like stone, and I'm glad he is not looking at me with such an expression.
"Why my mate is not turned yet is no concern but our coven's. In the past we have allowed the rare vampire a slight extension in keeping a human such until a specified time. Or are you and your coven questioning our ability to rule? That we would risk our entire species existence without thought?" he questions his voice deep and pointed. If possible Rosalie looks as though she would pale if she had the ability.
"Of course not. No," Carlisle states, placing a restraining hand on Rosalie's shoulder. "We do not question your rule. It is merely a shock for us to arrive in one of the vampire strongholds of the world and find Isabella here. We expected her to be back safely at home in the United States."
I bit back a laugh of disbelief causing all of the eyes in the room to turn towards me once more. "I have not been safe since well before you even left Forks, Doctor. Do you know what your lack of forethought cost? Hmm?" Carlisle blinks at me momentarily, I continue as it looks as though he has decided to act as though I am exaggerating.
"What happened was that Victoria did exactly what Caius stated earlier- she went after the weakest link. What happened was that I had to hide for my life behind more supernatural, your neighbours the werewolf pack. What happened was that due to your inability to share critical information, let a lone act on it, a total of thirty-two young Quilette men and one woman changed due to the presence of yourselves and later the group of sadists Victoria brought with her. What happened was that twenty-one of those wolves died trying desperately to protect their people. What happened, Doctor Carlisle Cullen, was that I got to witness and now bare the weight of forty-eight deaths on my soul for the rest of my life; of elders, men, women and children, some of which were under my care at the time. I've lost most everything in my life due to your recklessness. The only possible good that has come of this is my connection with Marcus," I finish quietly but firmly. Esme is looking at back and forth at Carlisle and myself in horror, while Rosalie isn't looking at anyone at all her eyes focused steadily on the stone wall.
Emmett gapes for a moment- "You weren't supposed to be in danger-" he starts but closes his mouth when Rosalie grabs his hand and squeezes harshly. For a moment I am frozen, hoping that my conclusions from that simple move are wrong. I glance at Sulpicia who is the first to catch my eye, and swallow back any emotions or conclusions at her distinct but small shake of her head discouraging me from pressing further. I breathe deeply and Marcus tightens his grip on my right hip, thumb pressing firmly but soothingly through the fabric. Where he not a vampire I don't doubt that he would have to press quite had for me to be able to feel him through all the fabric of my dress, and yet he makes it seem so natural his ability to blend both vampire strength with precision to handle my more delicate state. That is neither here nor there though and I know my mind is merely jumping around because I desperately want to focus on anything but the present. I breathe as deeply as I can again (the corset is surprisingly comfortable, but a full deep breath still isn't possible) and try to force myself back on the topic of our meeting.
"Obviously, we have made a grave mistake, Isabella. I can only hope that you can forgive us," Carlisle eventually says in the aftermath of my words. I pause a moment longer before I answer him.
"I dream in blood and screams due to your coven. I saw a little girl ripped apart in front of me. I will never be the same, Doctor. So no, I do not believe I will be forgiving you or yours anytime soon."
Esme nervously and unnecessarily clears her throat. "We can only endeavor to try and win your trust back, Bel- ahem, Isabella."
I hum quietly in reply neither agreeing nor disagreeing with her statement, turning instead to look away from the Cullens for a moment. Athenodora moves herself slightly drawing my gaze and from behind Caius' body to block the vampires across the room from seeing, rolls her eyes, an expression of exaggerated disgust on her face. My lips quirk slightly for a second, bolstered by her silent support.
"I feel I must ask, how are you doing with the blood issue, Isabella. Seeing as you are living among human drinkers, and your confessed horrors. Especially as you will be turned. Even if you were to take on our vegetarian diet a newborn constantly tantalized by such close enticing blood would surely drive them mad," Carlisle asks his tone a blend of concern and professional. I don't buy it and I can see Caius's nostrils flare in agitation. Caius I am coming to realize can get away with having his displeasure shown, as he seems to project grumpiness in front of others continually anyways. Aro, on the other hand I have yet to see disconcerted or upset in a non-jovial overtone when in company. Even now with this subject undermining them (at least I am fairly sure that is the objective here, I am trying to keep a clear head with all my emotions swirling around), he does not so much as have a single eye movement out of place.
"All of the Volturi has been very good about my human sensibilities. I am well aware they drink blood, but on the other hand with their indulgence in their proper food source I never have to worry about my own safety."
"What do you mean, Isabella?" Esme asks right as Rosalie says scornfully, "That doesn't make any sense."
I lean back into Marcus, trying to make it obvious my comfort level with him. Picking up on this he leans down and slowly, caresses my pulse point with his lips for a couple heartbeats.
I blink myself back into the conversation after a second trying to ignore the feeling of him kissing me. "What I mean is that unlike when I was near your coven, here I don't have to worry about cutting myself on anything. It doesn't matter if I am clumsy and scrape my knee or accidently bite my lip. I'm never reminded to watch myself. Marcus has assured me that all of the Volturi have the ability to control their bloodlust. I can only conclude this is because they drink what they are supposed to. As for myself? I know you are quite old Doctor Cullen but being a medical man I thought you would have been aware of blood banks. It would work quite well for me I believe. The humans donate blood, I'll get my necessary meal and they get free cookies. I mean, it doesn't make sense to kill the milk cow does it? Besides the blood would come pre-packaged and everything," I state and then spout out. I have no idea exactly how the Volturi all feed, and honestly I have tried my very best to ignore that very point (which I can see is likely the reason Carlisle brought it up now- creation of discord seems like a useful tool.) However, I figure my completely off the top of my head answer will at the very least give him pause, though I do feel my stomach churn at the thought of all the blood alone. Gosh, I hope I don't look ill.
I cut Carlisle off before he speaks again wanting to get off the topic, especially as I now remember Caius mentioning something about a group of humans to disconcert the Cullens. I barely hold back a shudder thinking about it. "Not that it really matters at the moment as Gianna has been making me lovely food. She's really quite gifted- especially with Italian desserts."
"Does the fact that Edward left to keep you human mean nothing then?" Rosalie asks barely keeping the disgust in her voice low enough to be considered acceptable in the company she is currently in.
"Edward never took my opinion into consideration, Rosalie. Now, as he willingly left me, he most certainly gets no say in what I chose to or not to do with my life. Neither do you nor the rest of your coven. I may be younger than you but I still have a fully functioning mind of my own, a will of my own. For good or for ill I am responsible for my own choices with all the consequences and benefits that includes. I may ask and take others opinions into consideration, especially those close to me, but I am the final and truly only vote that counts in the end."
I huff at the end of this and look at the present Cullens with mostly hidden distain. They just don't seem to understand this concept. Fed up of defending myself I scratch my nails along the inner palm of Marcus' hand, knowing I need to leave before I get even more worked up. Honestly I hope the rest of my group got something out of this because honestly, all I have at the moment is the beginning of a headache and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
AN: (I made a small mistake in the last chapter and left out Caius and Athenodora from the meeting. This is stupid of course as Caius is their strategist and therefore needs to be there. I'm sure I had a reason for them not being there previously, but I have since forgotten what that was. Now I've decided if I'm ever going to get this chapter out I just need to write it. So let's just say Caius and Dora slipped in right after Aro and Sulpicia)
*Peeks out from behind fort* Hello? Are you still there? *ducks back due to bombardment of rotten fruit*
Well real life sucks, and so does muse issues. I'm not sure any of you want to hear my excuses but here is the newest chapter. I haven't given up on this, but it is slow going. Real life hasn't been the kindest lately. I wouldn't have gotten this chapter out without all the help of the people on the Until Dawn Facebook page and especially my beta and idea bouncing girl and inspiration pic girl Dixie. You have been an angel.