Us Against The World
A/N: Inspired to write this, oddly enough, after watching the Avengers film so many times, and this guy popped out of my psyche. It should be pretty obvious who inspired, and who plays and gives voice to this original character.
Disclaimer: I own nothing
Warnings: Violence, blood, some mild language, sexual content.
Childhood is not from birth to a certain age. And at a certain age the child is grown and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear
It was just the start of another day in London.
Isabella Swan, thirty years old, and Professor of English at Kings College, London, opened one eye at the offensive alarm clock blaring its cuckoo attempt at waking her up, and growled under her breath.
Muttering a string of swear words to make any sailor blush, she dragged herself from the warm haven of her duvet, and dragged herself to the bathroom.
Outside, the wintry sunlight, weak, pale yellow in colour, fought to puncture the fog that perpetually hung over the city of London, car horns already blaring in the early morning rush to work and school, tempers running high, people cursing as they rushed to get their morning fix of caffeine from Costa or Starbucks, already late for their day.
Bella shut it all out, as she closed her bathroom door, slipping off her pyjamas and sighing as the warm water of the shower pounded her skin. It woke her up, pulled her mind from the last of the dregs of sleep, vitalising her skin as the droplets slid down her slender figure, over living, soft flesh.
Afterwards, as Bella stood in front of her mirror, fogged, obscuring her face, her eyes fell to the skin of her hand, pale but enthused with a rosy tint. A sign of her humanity.
It had been thirteen years since Bella had stopped caring about that. Thirteen years sine she had truly left childhood behind.
She wiped away the fog, clearing the mirror to see the face of a mature, delicate young woman staring back at her, her face framed by long, damp, wavy locks of chocolate brown hair, serious brown eyes watching her scrutiny of her own reflection sardonically, but with a constant tinge of sorrow that never abated.
That would never abate. That had been his everlasting gift to her, this sorrow.
Bella shut her eyes, leaning on the cool ceramic bowl of the sink. She would not think of that, she would not think of himanymore. She had made herself that promise a very long time ago.
She opened her eyes again, and without letting herself truly see her reflection, she brushed her teeth and dried her wet hair. By the time she left the bathroom, she looked a different woman than the one who had stumbled in.
Getting to work seemed even more hectic than usual, that morning.
Bella had lived in London ever since she'd got her PhD and accepted a position teaching at the University, but even now she still marvelled at the sheer number of people who liked using the Tube. Never had anywhere she had lived felt so busy, so full of people.
Bella preferred it that way. She didn't like nature, or trees, or forests anymore. They all reminded her of Forks, of Charlie, of him.
Damn. That was twice in one day she had slipped. Bella gritted her teeth as she stopped for coffee, determined not to let it happen again.
She was just turning to leave, the warm cardboard soothing in her hands, when she could have sworn she felt a hand grab at her arm.
And then she walked into what felt like the equivalent of a wall, and almost fell back, except for the strong, lean arm holding her up.
With a strength which felt all too familiar.
Bella looked up, into a pale, leanly handsome face, framed by onyx black hair, just brushing the collar of his leather jacket.
She met his eyes, and frowned. She had to be imagining things, because the eyes that looked down at her were a reassuringly dark brown.
He wasn't a vampire, just extraordinarily hard.
"Could you watch where you're going next time?" she demanded, as the feeling of hot dampness spread across her pencil skirt. She looked down at the dripping mess her spilt latte had left on her clothes, and mentally sighed as she glanced back to him. Damn, he was too tall!
"Pardon me, my dear," he breathed courteously, yet she glimpsed the flash of irritation in his eyes. "It was completely intentional, I assure you."
He spoke with the kind of Old World charm she'd heard among the public school kids in her classes, most of them hailing from Eton, Harrow or the like. They all sounded like they'd belonged in a casting call for Brideshead Revisited or Downton Abbey.
Not to mention the British had an innately sarcastic undertone to their voices sometimes, which they could wield like a sword, even if they were being totally polite. It made it difficult to be angry, even though you knew you were being insulted.
"Look, moron," Bella began, her American sarcasm somewhat more blatant, and quite frankly she was annoyed enough already. "I really don't need some half blind idiot bumping into me and spilling my coffee everywhere! You owe me for the laundry bill…"
"Washing," he interjected, sounding bored.
"Whatever," Bella snapped, eying him narrowly.
"Perhaps, my dear, you might want to be more careful," he replied, lowly, almost dangerously. Bella felt a familiar shudder rush down her spine, and ignored it determinedly.
"Is that a threat?" she asked coolly, ignoring the grumbling behind her in the queue to get out the coffee shop.
"Not on my part," he replied.
"Hey! Move out of the way, there's a queue here!" someone yelled behind her, and as Bella glanced back, she felt a cold shiver as the door opened.
And when she looked back, the man was gone.
He slipped to the back of Bella's mind as she got on with her day, hiding the coffee stain with her suit jacket during lectures.
It was only as she got ready to go home again, the sun setting early as the winter came, and the streets steadily darkening, that she thought about him again, unease filling her.
He had felt so…unyielding when she'd bumped into him, and he didn't even look that muscular. During university, she'd met guys aplenty with some huge muscles on them, but even they had not felt like he did.
No one did, except…
Bella sighed frustratedly, as her mind once again went to him. How long would he haunt her?
She swiped up her bag, stuffing some papers into it for grading later, and waved goodbye to the admin staff as she left the faculty building, and walked across the courtyard to the foyer, and then out the turnstile, and to the bustling street.
She was relieved when she finally escaped from the mad rush of the Tube at Pimlico, her flat only a short walk away. The slight kitten heel of her shoes clicked on the concrete pavement as she walked along.
She felt a sudden shiver run down her spine, and paused, some old, half-buried instinct telling her she was not alone.
She glanced behind her, but there was nothing and no one following her.
That she could see, and experience had told her not to trust her eyes and ears.
Determinedly, Bella turned around and walked on, ears alert for the tiniest whisper of air as it was displaced by a movement too fast for human eyes to see, even as she knew it would be too late to do anything about it.
She reached her flat, and was just unlocking the door with slightly shaky hands when she felt herself barrelled inside, her breath knocked from her lungs, into the pitch black of her small studio flat.
She hit the floor hard, feeling blood in her mouth as she bit her own tongue, but she bit back the pain, and forced herself upright.
"Who's there?" she called, her heart racing with adrenaline and fear.
"Hello there, Bella," a voice spoke, which niggled at the edge of Bella's memory. "Long time, no see."
A shady hallway. A red cloak. Blood red eyes.
His name dropped from her lips without thought.
A light slipped on, to reveal the hulking vampire, clad in robes of deep grey and black, his Volturi crest shining on his chest. Beside him stood another familiar face, small compared to the giant, his eyes watching Bella intently, a scornful smirk hovering about his timeless features.
"Forgive the rude reunion," Alec continued. "But we wouldn't want any bystanders."
Bella went cold at those words, as she remembered only too well that horrific encounter in the Volturi's tower, in Volterra, so many years ago. She was surprised it had taken them this long to find her.
Alec tilted his head to the side, his smile turning from scornful to amused as he watched her. "You know, I'm almost disappointed the Cullens abandoned you," he murmured. "Dealing punishment to them for their transgression would have been more satisfying than merely taking out a lowly human they couldn't be bothered to kill themselves."
"Who say's they abandoned me?" Bella shot back, anger filling her as she stood, defiantly. "I rather think it was the other way around."
Felix chuckled. "That'll amuse the Masters," he muttered. Alec's head cocked to the side in confusion.
"Why abandon them when you knew it was certain death to do so?" he asked. "Did you think you could outrun the Volturi?"
"I guess I…forgot," Bella murmured, lamely, as they began to advance towards her, anticipatory, predatory smiles stretching their red lips.
"Too bad for you," Felix muttered, as Alec just bared his teeth and stretched out a hand.
Bella's eyes widened, her body freezing as she waited for something to happen….but nothing did.
Alec frowned, as Felix glanced towards him in puzzlement.
"Oh well," the giant sighed mock-sadly. "This will just have to be the painful way. I can't say I won't enjoy it," he added, with a dark grin as he lowered himself into a hunting crouch. Bella waited for the sudden impact, for the bone-crushing hold, the sharp agony as his teeth pierced her neck, and his venom infected her blood…
It never came.
She heard a pained yell as Alec was bodily thrown across the room, and then a tall, pale, dark-haired man in a leather jacket and jeans apparently appeared from nowhere, and stood in front of Bella.
Bella glimpsed Felix's eyes widen, and his jaw gape. "Baldo?"
Bella didn't hear her saviour say anything, except that Felix let out a roar of pain as he was thrown across the room, and then she heard a ripping, tearing sound that was all too familiar.
A darkened ballet studio. A fire. Pain. Blood. A strand of blonde hair writhing in flame…
The man, Baldo, turned and met her eyes, making her gasp. The man from the coffee house.
"What the hell…?" she gasped, the man smirking sardonically as he marched up to her, taking her arm. She gasped, his grip too strong, too cold, as she met his eyes.
Red. Dark red with a milky sheen. Strength. Pale skin. Cold.
"Why does Aro want you dead?" he demanded. Bella wasn't entirely sure she wanted this stranger to know exactly how much she knew. She knew all too well why Felix and Alec had been sent after her. "Tell me."
"I-" Bella stuttered, his grip on her arm becoming agonising. "Hey, do you think you could ease up on my arm? I'm not going to be able to tell you anything if my arm breaks."
"A broken bone doesn't stop you talking," he retorted, but his grip eased nonetheless.
"Who are you?" Bella asked. The man rolled his eyes, sighed heavily and turned to look at the vampires. Bella's eyes widened. "What did you do to them?"
"One of my gifts," he replied shortly. Alec and Felix were lying on the floor, in pieces. They were still alive, and conscious. "Telekinesis and invisibility. Comes rather in handy."
His words were bitten off, tense yet still musical in that seductive way that belonged to all vampires. Bella shrugged off its effect. The vampire cocked his head, as if listening then growled and swung back to her.
"I really am very sorry, my dear," he purred, and before Bella could even blink, his hand had clamped over her nose and mouth, cutting off her air until she lost consciousness, collapsing into his arms.
Bella awoke, groggy, her throat sore, her head pounding, lying on an extremely soft bed, the coverlet made of silk, a furred counterpane lying across her feet. She opened her eyes to see a white ceiling that was…rippling?
As she sat up, she realised it was a canopy, and her eyes widened as she looked at her surroundings. There was no other word for them but…luxurious.
It was decidedly modern, all neutral colours and dark wood, but everything was tasteful and expensive just to look at. She swung her legs out of bed, testing out her balance, still precarious despite time and aging, trying not to sigh as her naked feet met soft carpet, which they literally sunk into.
The moment she tried to take a step however, her balance disappeared.
Hard, cold arms slid around her waist before she could blink.
"Awake at last," a voice purred in her ear. "I was beginning to wonder if I'd put you in a coma."
"You needn't have worried at all, if you hadn't decided to suffocate me into unconsciousness," she retorted, focussing on one spot in particular to ease the dizziness. She heard a small chuckle in her ear, and then gasped as she was turned around, and her legs once again swept out from beneath her. "What the…? Put me down!"
"So you can fall over again?" the vampire snorted. "Pardon my reluctance to do so. I'd much rather you were conscious for our discussion."
Bella's eyes narrowed even as her heart pounded in sudden fear. She remembered her flat, Felix, Alec…
The vampire's lips quirked a mite sardonically. "You have nothing to fear here, Professor Swan," he told her, as he paused by the bed. "I will not harm you."
This close, and fully conscious and no longer stunned by fear or shock, Bella could truly see the features of the man…the vampire holding her.
He was good-looking, extremely so, leanly handsome in an exotic, aristocratic way, with his dark hair and pale, marblesque skin. He looked the epitome of a vampire.
His grin widened as he caught her staring. "Seen something you like, Professor Swan?" he asked her tauntingly, as she just glared at him.
"Put me down," she told him, coolly. His face hardened, and he did so, fairly dumping her on the mattress in a heap, as she pushed her hair out of her face and her glare went up a few notches. "What the hell was that for?"
"You told me to put you down," he told her, crossing his arms superciliously, one fine eyebrow rising as she glared at him. "You didn't specify to do so gently or otherwise."
"Are you always this arrogant?" she asked sarcastically. "Or did I just catch you on a bad day?"
"Are you always this uncooperative?" he countered, amusement twinkling in those red eyes. "Not to mention danger prone and challenged in the coordination department."
Bella's eyes narrowed at the insults, true though they were. "Look, you kidnapped me, vampire," she spat. He chuckled.
"Ahh, so that is why Aro wants you dead," he replied, sighing. "Him and his precious secrecy."
"Why did you save me?" she asked. "Who are you? Where the hell am I?"
"My, you do love asking a lot of questions, don't you, woman?" he shook his head. "Humans. All so impatient to have their insignificant little questions answered, as if their concerns are the most pressing."
"Well, you clearly know my name and where I work," Bella retorted, folding her arms and settling back into the pillows against her spine. "So I'd thought I'd just skip to the part where you starting answering my questions. And not all of us are immortal. At the rate we're going, if I waited for you to answer my questions, I'd be cold in my grave.
"Touche," he chuckled. "At last, someone with some spirit."
"Gee, thanks for the compliment," Bella rolled her eyes. "Look, you obviously saved my life, so please answer my questions."
"On one condition," he replied, holding up an elegant, white finger. "Quid pro quo. You answer mine, I answer yours."
Bella shrugged. "Fair enough."
"Very well, I'll begin-"
"Hey!" she snapped. "Who say's your questions get precedence?"
He snorted. "If you go by any scale of superiority, woman, I surpass you," he countered. "Age, intelligence, experience…"
"Well, that depends on the use you've made of your time and experience," she argued, an appreciative gleam entering her interlocutor's eye as he grinned.
"Well, someone knows their English literature,"
Bella rolled her eyes again. "I am an English Professor, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Yes, I obviously missed the rather large name plaque on your office door, and the identification card hanging around your neck," he replied, equally as sarcastic. Bella settled for a dignified silence and a roll of her eyes. The surreal element of the situation suddenly occurred to her. Here she was, kidnapped by a vampire, after being hunted down and attacked by other vampires, and she was sniping at him.
"Well, it's obvious you know something of my kind for the Volturi to be hunting you," he began, taking her silence for acquiescence. "I would very much like to know how and why you came to know of our kind."
Bella felt herself shut down at those words, as painful memories sprang to the surface. "That's need to know," she replied forcefully. "Suffice to say, I encountered the Volturi and they let me go, on the condition that I became a vampire."
Her saviour's face had hardened at her words, but to her surprise, he did not push.
"What is your name?" she asked. "Who are you?"
"My name is Theo," he told her. "And as you so obviously, brilliantly deduced I am a vampire."
Bella frowned. "Felix called you Baldo…" she trailed off as he almost glowered at her.
"I stopped using that name a long time ago," he replied. "Theo is simply a modern variant of my birth name. I prefer it."
"And kidnapping women is another preference?" she demanded. "Thanks for saving my life, but you could have given me some warning…"
"Hardly," he snorted again. "You're too stubborn for persuasion. I'm rather afraid I kidnapped you for your own good. If the Volturi have tracked you down, then you have but one choice now: turn or die."
Bella felt her heart sink, and almost laughed, her mouth quirking as the impulse washed over her. Not so long ago, she would have given anything to become a vampire. Now…what was the point?
"And that's your professional opinion?" she inquired, sarcasm leaching back into her tone as she glimpsed his intrigued expression at her slight show of wistfulness. His face blanked out, hardened and Bella fought back a strong surge of disappointment.
"I know from experience," he told her darkly. As she was intrigued in turn, he just smiled, infuriatingly smug, and tapped his nose. "Need to know," he told her, in a singsong voice, highly annoying as he threw her words back at her.
In response Bella just threw a pillow at him.
It didn't come anywhere near its mark, as he laughed, a surprisingly delicious sound, musical and rich. It made Bella want to hear it again.
"You're a brave one, I'll give you that," he told her, returning the pillow. "You'll have to stay here until you've made your decision. I have shielded you for the time being, so take your time."
Bella stared at him, her mouth hanging open. Stay here, with him?
Once again vampires had come back into her life and screwed things up again. She glowered at him, impotent tears fogging her vision.
"And don't think you can attempt to run, my dear," he told her. "Not only would you make it only about….oh, let's say two feet from that bed, but the Volturi would hunt you down the moment you left my flat. And if I find you trying to run away, I'll tie you to that bed."
"Is that a threat?" she asked, staring up at him as he leaned closer. Too close.
"A promise, my dear," he purred, huskily. It sent unwanted shivers down Bella's spine. "I don't give threats, only warnings."
"But work, my family…" she trailed off stiltedly. "I can't just disappear!"
"Well, it's a good thing I brought your laptop with me, is it not?" he replied. "You can send an email to your colleagues tomorrow. Either way, Isabella Swan, you are not leaving this flat until you decide if you want to die or turn."
"Why? Why did you save me?" she asked. Again, Theo's expression blanked out and he eyed her coolly.
"Need to know," he replied unhelpfully. "Goodnight, Professor Swan."
And with that, he left the room. Bella didn't bother checking to see if the door was locked. Either way, he'd catch her before she even made the front door, and the Volturi were still after her…
She held back the tears, and forced herself to relax into the soft bed beneath her.
Sleep did not come that night.
It came rather early in the morning, and by the time Bella finally awoke, groggy and disorientated it was early afternoon. She rolled over in bed, eyes squinting at the clock on the bedside.
She groaned, hiding her head back under the pillow. She really didn't want to get up, but she had a sneaking suspicion that if she didn't, her new friend might just make her.
She reluctantly left the warm bed, her eyes widening when she saw her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was completely dishevelled, almost sticking up in some places, and she looked…flushed. Too warm. Her shirt and linen skirt were both rumpled beyond repair.
She spotted a familiar black carryall, her carryall. It appeared her new friend had packed for her. And by packing, she meant everything.
Feeling anger well up, she sighed heavily. She knew he could hear her.
"I will find a way to get you back for this, you sonofa-"
"Well, that is no way to speak to your saviour," a familiar, seductive voice murmured behind her. She turned to find him standing behind her, leaning nonchalantly on the doorframe, his lean body casually attired in dark slacks and a blue shirt, his dark hair slicked back.
He was beautiful in the way all vampires were, but there was a kind of…inherent sensuality in his looks, voice and mien that allured Bella even as she glared at him. She wasn't afraid of him, even though she knew she should be.
He would probably be the one to kill her if she chose not to turn.
"I don't appreciate anyone rifling through my stuff," she replied. "Didn't your mother teach you manners?"
"When I was born, my dear, manners were rather different," he murmured lazily, his eyes flicking up and down her figure.
"I can tell," Bella replied dryly. She turned back to her bag, and her eyes widened. "You packed my underwear?"
"Well, if you would prefer I let you walk around…what is the term? Ah, yes, 'commando'?" he retorted. "Incidentally, I took the liberty of emailing your employers at the University. They believe your mother has been taken ill suddenly, and you are needed. Is that satisfactory?"
Bella glared at him as she pulled out a soft pair of jeans, and a loose sweater. "Do I have a choice if it weren't?"
"No," he replied coolly. "Breakfast is nearly ready, my lady."
Bella ignored the sarcasm, glaring at him until he left the room, giving her some illusion of privacy. Once she was dressed, had brushed her teeth and hair, she went to the large bay window, looking out over the city.
They weren't far from Canary Wharf, high up in the sky. She knew a flat in this area, in such a tall apartment building, would cost several years of her salary.
So that at least told her he was rich. Very rich.
Not much of a surprise really, if he'd been around for a few hundred years.
A mouth-watering scent filtered in from the kitchen, and she didn't need vampiric senses to know what it was. Coffee, bacon and eggs.
Her stomach growled, reminding her of how long it'd been since she'd eaten, and she sighed, surrendering to her body.
The flat was as modernistic and open as the bedroom, the walls painted in light, cool colours, making it almost look like an ice palace.
The kitchen and living room were one big room, with low slung sofas in dark brown leather, the wooden cabinets all done in dark wood which matched the sofas.
Theo was stood at the grill, transferring bacon from a frying pan to a plate. He didn't glance at her as she entered, just gestured gracefully to the pot of coffee on the breakfast bar.
Bella poured herself some coffee, taking a seat at the breakfast bar. "What, no apron?" she quipped.
He chuckled. "What design would you prefer? French maid or male stripper?"
Bella rolled her eyes. "I'm traumatised enough as it is, thanks very much," she murmured. Theo laughed again.
"How do you like your eggs? Sunny side up or over easy?"
Bella could only watch as the darkly handsome, dangerous vampire who saved her life and then threatened to kill if she didn't turn, served her eggs and bacon, and then watched her eat it.
"I never said thank you," she murmured, after she'd finished. "For rescuing me."
Theo paused, before meeting her gaze. "You're welcome. Perhaps I was somewhat…cavalier yesterday, not only in my questioning you about things which were obviously painful, but also in informing you of your choice."
Bella shrugged. "It was always going to happen one day," she muttered. "I'm just surprised that it took them this long to come after me. It's been thirteen years."
"I have found that with the Volturi, they are anything but predictable," he sighed. Bella glanced at him, questioningly. "And they are ruthless to an extreme."
"You took out Alec and Felix," she replied. "I can't imagine Aro, let alone Caius, will be too forgiving for that. You shouldn't have done it."
Abruptly, Theo turned away, taking her empty plate and putting it in the dishwasher. "Oh, I know where this is going. You want to know why I saved you, and my previous experience with the Volturi."
"If you do, I'll tell you why they're after me," Bella offered, forcing herself to ignore the pain the notion elicited as Theo turned back to face her, crimson eyes narrowed.
"I know why they're after you, Professor," he growled. "You're human with knowledge of vampires. Aro is nothing if not obsessed with secrecy."
She tensed as he rounded the bar, crowding her against the countertop, as she stared defiantly up at him, refusing to so much as blink.
She should have known she would never win a staring contest with a vampire.
"I'll make you a deal, Professor Swan," he murmured huskily. "Tell me how you became involved with my kind, and I will tell you of my association with the Volturi."
Bella found herself drawn in by his red, red eyes, hypnotising her. Her mind resisted even as she found herself instinctively softening.
No, no, no, no….
This was exactly how it happened last time. With…him.
She wouldn't do that again, not with a vampire. She felt her body begin to tremble, as Theo glided closer, leaning over her on the counter, his red eyes with that slight milky film…
"You're one of them, aren't you?" she breathed. Theo tensed, almost imperceptibly, but Bella had had too much experience with vampires not to see it. Hell, she could almost feel it, they were so close. "Your eyes, they have…a milky sheen to them, that I've only seen once before. In the eyes of the Volturi leaders. You're one of them, or at least as old."
"You're perceptive, I'll give you that," he breathed. "Perhaps too perceptive."
"You doing the whole intimidating act thing will not frighten me," she retorted. Her heart was pounding, and she felt like she was shaking. Dear God, why did he have to be damn hot?
"Perceptive and brave," he said laughingly, a wide smile transforming his face from menacing to boyishly adorable. Bella blinked.
Definitely something to do with Aro.
"Or you're just exceedingly foolish," he continued. "Here you are, utterly at my mercy, with no one coming for you, or to your aid and yet…you are not afraid."
"If you want to kill me," the words rushed from her lips, already so close to his. All it would take, to press her lips to his, was a few, miniscule centimetres. "Then there's not much I can do about it."
"I admit your scent is…seductive," he admitted. "but I don't kill purely for pleasure anymore."
And with that, he moved away, releasing her from his suffocating presence and moved away to one of the sofas, sinking back into it with an indolent grace Bella found both annoying and enthralling.
"So do we have a deal?" he asked, leaning back against the cushions, gesturing for her to sit down. Bella watched him, folding her arms defiantly.
"Fine. You go first," she replied, her mind frantically coming up with possible ways to get away from him if he was Volturi.
But if he was…why go to all this effort when Felix and Alec pretty much had her at their mercy? Unless Aro was hoping to force her into becoming a vampire?
If so, why did Theo want to know about her past? To gain her trust?
"Professor Swan," he called softly. "Sit down."
She hesitated, feeling the compulsion in his words, before capitulating and sitting across from him. Despite the distance, she knew he could be on her in seconds if he decided to kill her.
"You go first," she repeated her earlier words, but he shook his head, extending one arm out along the back of the sofa, crossing his legs. Bella ignored the seductive pose, wondering if that was part of this deception too.
"Oh, no Professor," he breathed. "I saved your life. You go first."
Bella sighed, knowing she didn't have the time to keep up this fight. Someone needed to be the grownup. "Fourteen years ago, I moved to the town of Forks, in Washington, to live with my dad. On my first day of school, I met a boy…"
She told him how she met the…Cullens, and….Edward. Even thinking his name was painful, but she forced herself to go on.
She told him about James, and Edward leaving her after her eighteenth birthday, and how she had gone cliff-diving. She explained about Alice's visions, and that the seer hadn't been able to see her surface from the water because of the shape shifters, and that Rosalie told Edward she'd committed suicide, and he had gone to Volterra to die.
She explained about the Volturi's ultimatum, and Victoria's attempts at revenge. She told him about her brief engagement to Edward.
She didn't mention why she had broken with the Cullens. That was too painful a memory to tell anyone, let alone a complete stranger who may or may not kill her.
As she sat there, telling her sad little story, she felt all the old anger and bitterness well up inside her, as she remembered Edward with his heartbreaking smile, his copper hair and golden eyes.
She closed her eyes, determinedly.
"And that is all?" Theo asked, his voice gentle, devoid of all sarcasm or teasing. Bella inhaled tightly and nodded. She waited, breath bated, for him to ask more, to ask why she had left the Cullens, left Forks, left America.
To her surprise, he didn't. But when she opened her eyes, she found his fixed on hers, some emotion in those bloody orbs she couldn't identify.
"Don't you dare pity me," she hissed, and those eyes turned cool.
"I wasn't offering such an emotion," he replied, refusing to drop her gaze, but the slight warmth that had been those eyes, that had both allured and frightened her. "You hardly need pity, Professor Swan. I do not see finding the strength to forge your own life, despite the metaphorical sword hanging over your neck, as something to pity."
"You're going to ask why I broke with them, aren't you?" she eyed him narrowly, but he just smiled.
"No, but you will tell me," he replied intently. "When you trust me better."
"Cocky bastard, aren't you?" she retorted. "Why do you even want me to trust you?"
"It would make things easier between us," he admitted. "If you choose to turn, then I'd rather you trusted me to do so, and to instruct you after the change. But other than that purely mercenary reason," he shrugged. "I do not know."
Bella fidgeted, suddenly uncomfortable with his unyielding scrutiny, and looked away to the window, tucking her knees underneath her, studying the bustling city outside.
"So, I told you mine. Tell me yours," she mumbled, eventually deigning to look back to Theo when he cleared his throat and shifted.
"You were right in thinking I am as old as the Volturi leaders," he began. "But my involvement with them goes far deeper than merely being as old as they are."
"You were one of them," she breathed. He nodded.
"Not a difficult leap. I was useful to them, with my gifts, but beyond that…Aro was my half-brother," he replied. Bella's jaw dropped open as her head snapped around, shock and fear commingling in her blood.
"Wait a minute, what do you mean 'was'?" she asked, trying to restrain the illogical urge to run. It wouldn't do her any good.
Theo's hand, which had been gracefully relaxed on the back of the sofa, now clenched into a fist, and he stood up in a sudden surge of movement, knocking Bella off guard.
"My…our father was not exactly the most faithful husband to his wife. My mother was a young woman in the village that he seduced and kept as his mistress. When I was born, Aro was already a vampire and he ignored me for the most part. Until I grew up, until I was a man."
"I was thirty years old when he came for me," he continued. "He gave me no choice, no time, just changed me into a vampire and brought me into his coven. At first, I was angry, betrayed. A man who had never shown any interest in me, a monster in the eyes of our people, and he just turned up and destroyed my life, for the gifts he hoped I would possess."
"He thought you would be like him," Bella interjected. "A tactile telepath."
"Except I wasn't," Theo smiled mirthlessly. "I was something immeasurably more useful. You saw my gifts, Isabella. I can shield myself both physically and mentally from another's sight, and I can extend that invisibility to another. I can move people and objects with my mind."
He slipped into silence as he turned to face the window, looking out over the city below them, an immortal being who must have seen things Bella could not imagine. She waited patiently for him to continue.
"There was one consolation to my change," he finally continued, his voice barely stronger than a whisper. "My half sister, Didyme. Aro changed her with the same hopes with which he'd changed me. But, to his disappointment, her gift was not one he could utilise. She could emit an aura of such happiness and love, that it made one desire nothing more than to be in her presence, to feel that happiness. She made the change seem like a gift, not a curse, a light in my darkness when I mourned the loss of my mortality. Aro left her alone, saw her as little threat until she and her husband Marcus considered leaving the Volturi for good."
"What did he do?" she asked, remembering with a shudder the dark-haired, amiable yet sinister vampire.
"He killed her. There are two vampires in the Guard, Corin and Chelsea, whose powers are not wholly different from Didyme's. Corin can elicit feelings of pure contentment in a person, and Chelsea's gift is control, changing allegiances in a heartbeat. Chelsea ensured Marcus remained loyal while Aro covered up his involvement in Didyme's murder. But I knew, and no matter what Aro, or Chelsea or Corin did, I would not be silenced. He murdered my sister, the one good thing in my dark life at that time. I had not the strength or the courage to kill him, so I ran instead."
"And ever since then, you've kept running?" Bella guessed, feeling an immense amount of compassion well up in her heart, as he turned to look at her, and guessing he would not want it anymore than she'd wanted his pity, she suppressed it.
"My 'brother'," Theo's smile was tight and forced when he said that word. "has never been able to catch me, and for the most part he has left me alone, as long as I do not venture too near him or Volterra. Of course, I make as much trouble for him as I can. Even ended up accidentally inserting myself into several mythologies because of the tricks I used to play on humanity, as a trickster deity."
Bella rolled her eyes. "Ok, now you're having me on," she replied, standing up and going to the sink to get a glass of water.
"Oh I assure you, Professor Swan, I amassed quite a reputation for myself," he chuckled, all sobriety passed. Bella just snorted.
"You're trying to tell me you're responsible for the myths and legends about trickster deities in European literature?" she turned back to face him, slightly disconcerted when she found him so close.
"I contributed," he replied with a mischievous grin that made her knees weaken. He sobered slightly, his smile fading as she watched him, taller than her by what felt like at least a foot. "Well, Professor Swan? Do you trust me a little more now?"
"Which cupboard has the glasses in it?" she asked instead, turning away. He reached up and opened one right in front of her, his body suddenly surrounding her, not touching but close enough that his chill reached for her, caressed her. Bella found her breath suddenly came short, and she futilely hoped he didn't realise. "Isabella."
"I beg your pardon?" he asked, and she could hear the frown in his voice.
"Call me Isabella," she replied. "Professor Swan is a little…formal."
"Very well…Isabella," he breathed, and the way he said her name, caressed it, made it sound so seductive, so sultry it sent shivers down her spine. For once, her hated first name sounded good coming from his mouth.
As it was, 'Bella', that naïve, submissive girl she had been when she was eighteen had died a long time ago. She supposed they were alike in that regard.
"I take it," Bella determinedly continued despite how heated she felt as she filled up the glass. "I'm allowed to work while I'm here?"
"If you wish," Theo shrugged, moving away, giving her space. "Incidentally, I started shielding you the moment I took you from your flat. And as such, I would imagine your little seer friend may have become…concerned if you disappeared from her sight. Have you considered contacting the Cullens? Technically, they did promise to turn you-"
"No," Bella snapped. "I don't want anything more to do with them. I left them for a reason."
Theo's head cocked to the side, curiously. "There's something you're not telling me," he murmured steadily. She just eyed him, before downing her water and going to the bedroom to fetch her laptop.
Bella was halfway through marking some second years' papers when she felt him standing over her shoulder. He leaned over her, and she tensed, expecting some demand to be told all, or another attempt to unsettle her.
Instead he just snorted. "Seriously, how did this one even make it into the second year?" he asked, eyes flicking down the paper she was marking. Bella suppressed a smirk even as she frowned at him over her shoulder.
"These are private, Theo," she snapped censoriously. "You shouldn't be looking over my shoulder, let alone making unhelpful remarks about my students."
"Clearly this one spends more time ogling his professor than taking notes in the lecture, my dear," he breathed. "Not that I can blame him, Isabella."
He did it again, said her name like silken sin. Bella glared at him, before turning back to her work and haughtily ignoring him.
He chuckled and left her to it.
It was nearly dark by the time Bella had finished, so she uploaded the marked papers to the online university learning site, and shut her laptop down. A delicious smell wound its way in from the kitchen, and she smiled as she went to see what Theo was cooking.
Chinese stir fry.
"Smells good," she said by way of announcing her presence, but she wasn't stupid enough to think he hadn't heard her coming. He looked up from the cooker, and grinned. Bella pretended to shake her head disappointedly. "Still no apron."
"Now, now enough teasing," he growled, tipping the contents onto a plate. "Red or white?"
"Excuse me?" she asked, eyes fixed on the steaming, completely delectable looking plate of vegetables and chicken. He held up a bottle of wine, and she nodded when he held up the red.
"When did you learn to cook so well?" she asked, after she'd dug in, barely waiting for the food to cool before shovelling it in. Theo laughed from his perch opposite her at the breakfast bar.
"I've been around for a few thousand years, Isabella," he chuckled. "I learned a few things."
"Like how to hack into password-protected email accounts?" she continued teasingly, remembering his little break-in that morning to send that email. Theo just smiled innocently.
She took a sip of red wine, savouring the taste and the burn as it slipped down her throat, before taking another bite of chicken.
Theo got up from his seat, to pull open a small drawer next to the fridge freezer, and Bella stiffened when she saw what was inside.
Bags of blood.
He poured one into a crystal wine glass, before rejoining her at the bar, shaking his head ruefully when he caught her suspicious glare.
"Oh, don't fear Isabella," he murmured reassuringly. "I didn't kill anyone for this. All above board, I assure you."
"You said you don't kill for pleasure?" she laid down her fork, as she watched him take a delicate sip of the thick red liquid. He smiled.
"I don't kill very often anymore," he explained. "With blood banks and donations, there is no need. The last time I did, I was starving in the middle of the London Blitz and I came across a young boy, lying in the ruins of a bombed house, dying. I put him out of his misery."
"And I'm supposed to take that on faith?" she retorted, still suspicious. He shrugged, not rising to her bait.
"Do what you like, it means little to me either way," he replied coolly. Something in Bella longed to shake that infinite control, wanted to see the beast inside. A suicidal urge perhaps, but she wouldn't be here if she didn't have these urges.
"Do you hate your brother?" she abruptly asked, prompting him to turn to her, tense and cold, his suddenly icy eyes fixed on her.
She'd shaken him at last. She had to be mad.
She remembered the odd madness she had sensed in Aro, and the others, when she had encountered them in Volterra, an uncontrollable ability to turn at any moment, a product of millenia of existence.
Theo had it under better control, but she saw it now, as he placed the wine glass down with a precise click, and then hid his hands in his pockets.
"Yes, I do hate him, Isabella," he finally said, in a voice so devoid of emotion that Bella would almost have thought him a liar if it weren't for the anger burning in his eyes. "But not for the reasons that you think. I despise his ruthlessness even as I understand the reasons behind it, in killing Didyme. I hate his pomposity, his decadence, his cowardice, but more than that I hate the choice he took away from me when he changed me into a vampire. I came to terms with what I am a very long time ago, Isabella, and I do not hate him for what I am."
"Just the choice he took away from you," she finished for him, suddenly feeling so young and foolish. She looked away, into the depths of her wine, as red as the blood in his. She frowned, still not meeting his eyes. "Why did you tell me this?" she asked, curiously, her heart heavy.
"You asked. Why ask if you did not wish to know?" he countered, taking her plate and cutlery, and putting in the dishwasher. The hum of the machine filled the silence between them and Bella, desperate to break it, hopped down from the bar to go to one of the sofas, looking out at the sunset as it painted its amber rays on the pale walls of Theo's home.
What was she doing? Truly, she had to mad to be baiting him so much, asking questions she had no right to ask. She'd been willing to accept Edward with the knowledge he had killed people, hell she'd been willing to trust him with her body, her blood and her life.
Theo had saved her life, sheltered her and yes he was cold and arrogant and sarcastic.
But didn't he at least deserve her trust?
And they were so different. Edward was, and remained, tormented by what he was, determined to see himself as a monster. Theo, like his brother and the Volturi, accepted what he was, and had found another way to live without killing. Who was the more admirable in that regard?
A moment later, she heard him leave the kitchen and join her on the sofa, sitting on the opposite end, facing her. Reluctantly, she met his eyes, dark, gleaming in the fading light, a ray of dying sunshine lancing across his muscled forearm, making it shine.
It didn't remind her of onion skin, the way Aro's skin had, but it looked so translucent, like he was carved from ice. She longed to reach out and touch him, but she forced herself to hold back.
His question surprised her, making her mentally jump. "Why did you decide to become a teacher?" he asked, curiously. Bella's glance was swift and piercing, but he looked genuinely, innocently curious, as eager as she to leave their previous conversation behind.
"Well, I just loved studying and reading, as dorky as that sounds," she tried to explain. "And when I got my PhD, I thought maybe I could try and transfer that across to other students."
He hid his smile behind his glass of blood, but she caught it.
"Yeah, go ahead and laugh," she retorted.
"No, I completely agree," he told her. "One thing immortality has given me is the chance to learn all I wished, for as long as I wanted."
"I suppose that is one upshot," Bella agreed. "Who is your favourite author?"
"Oh, now that is difficult," he chuckled. "Homer always knew how to spin a good tale."
"I loved the Odyssey when I was a kid. And the Iliad," she laughed, remembering sitting on the porch of their house in Phoenix, reading in the twilight.
"Shakespeare, of course," he continued. "But I also loved Marlowe. There was a maturity to his poetry which I admit, I find somewhat lacking in the Bard's work."
"How do you mean?" she asked, her smile turning to a frown. So they sat there, debating the various highlights of both authors' works, before moving on to writers like Bronte, Austen, Byron, Shelley, Stoker…
Theo's contemptuous commentary on Dracula had Bella in fits of laughter. She hadn't had such a good talk about literature in ages.
They progressed on to twentieth century writers, enjoying a spirited debate about 1984 and A Clockwork Orange, and their depictions of dystopias and control theories, their arguments verging on the psychological. He was fast, quick-witted so most of his answers made her laugh as well as annoying her enough to retort, and he clearly knew his material.
Eventually the argument got back around to Shakespeare, inevitably.
"I don't care what you say," Bella protested, filling her wine glass for a second time. "Romeo and Juliet remains one of the greatest love stories ever told."
"A love story in which both lovers die by the end?" Theo scoffed. "Please. Surely it would have been a greater service, and indicator of Juliet's love, to have continued living for her Romeo than killing herself so needlessly."
"Perhaps she could not bear to live without him?" Bella retorted. Theo just laughed. "Is that so hard to believe?"
"No one is worth dying for, Isabella," he told her. "And you seemed to have managed pretty well considering your own…brush with all-consuming love."
"That was different," she protested, as pain sparked deep in her breast. She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, taking a deep draught of wine.
"I'm sorry," Theo breathed. "Once again, I touch on matters painful beyond my comprehension."
"Oh, I don't know," she smiled softly, sadly. "I think you've known pain, Theo."
He met her gaze and held it, Bella's heart pounding as she shakily placed her empty wineglass down on the table, her entire body just…waiting for something.
"Your heart's racing," he told her, as she inhaled, trembling, breaking the invisible chain holding her eyes to his.
"Too much wine, I think," she lied, standing up. "I think I'd better go to bed."
"Very well, Isabella," he murmured, a hint of…something dropping into his voice. She almost wished he'd offer to join her, but he didn't and she escaped before her body did something stupid.
The next morning Bella was even more reluctant to get out of bed. She'd had dreams all night long that she would rather not remember, but unfortunately, as she rolled over in the bed, too empty, too big for just her alone, they refused to stop playing themselves again, on the back of her eyelids, like a movie on loop.
She stretched her leg out, and felt it collide with something hard, encased in soft fabric. Mentally she groaned.
Couldn't he stop haunting her for one second?
"You know," she moaned from under the pillow. "Watching a girl sleep is technically stalking."
"I doubt you had such objections when you were with Mr Cullen," he replied coolly, and she rolled her eyes. She threw the pillow in his general direction, unsurprised when it landed next to her a moment later.
The sun was out, and the light was scraping Bella's nerves harshly, particularly her eyes, her head pounding as she levered her eyelids open.
Theo was sat at the end of the bed, watching her intently, a glass of water and some aspirin in one hand. He held it out to her, and she drank it gladly, grimacing at the acrid taste.
"Thanks," she mumbled, sitting up as he took the glass back. His smile was crooked as he watched her. "What?"
"I never really understood the expression 'hair like a bird's nest' but…" he trailed off suggestively, his eyes fixed on her brunette waves. Her face drained of colour, her hand reaching up to pat her hair gingerly, her eyes narrowing as she realised he was teasing her.
"Do you want another pillow thrown at you, Theo?" she asked, threateningly. He merely chuckled and stood, leaving her alone.
She watched him go, her eyes lingering on the pull of fabric over his taut body, feeling her pulse race and her mouth go dry. Damn it, she was in trouble now.
She saw him pause at the doorway, and froze, every cell in her body both hoping and fearing that he would be able to tell, and he would turn back.
But he didn't.
Bella showered, first cold then warm, trying to drive away the disappointment she felt that he had walked away. She thought about what was happening, and the three days she had known him, and wondered if she was going insane.
Talking about the Cullens, telling Theo at least part of the story had felt…good. It had left her heart raw, open but it was bleeding out the poison of her bitterness slightly. A catharsis.
As the hot water pounded down on her body, she recalled everything he had told her about his own past, and felt oddly privileged he had told her. It had taken one hell of an argument perhaps, but it made her feel…trusted.
And she trusted him. That inescapable fact crashed down on her, even as she knew how much harder this was going to make everything. She trusted him, and she would either make him kill her or make him change her.
But what was she exchanging her mortality for? What?
Bella knew she wanted him. There hadn't been anyone after she had left Forks, because she had frozen out Jake, Edward and anyone who tried to reach her, and men had figured largely into the equation of her life. She didn't know if she wanted to feel the agony of loving anyone again.
Except with Theo…it wasn't love, per se. She already respected him, trusted him and a part of her feared him, but she also wanted him. She was intensely attracted to him in a way she hadn't been since Edward.
She wondered if he felt the same.
She suddenly felt cold arms push her back against the slick tiles and gasped when she opened her eyes. Theo.
The water darkened his hair even more than she'd thought possible, droplets trailing down his skin as he stepped closer, pressing himself to her. She was filled with the urge to press her mouth to his skin and lick away those trails.
"Isabella," he murmured, his refined, seductive voice like sin and salvation all rolled into one. He bent his head and kissed her-
"Isabella! Unless you have some form of nefarious plan to cause another drought this year, might I recommend you come out of the shower!"
Theo's voice pierced her daydream, and Bella flushed a deep red when she realised what she had been doing. She rinsed off her hair and body, and then stepped out, the air thick and sultry with moisture as she dried herself and dressed, again in jeans and a white blouse.
She mentally prepared herself for any more taunts or verbal jabs, but Theo was nowhere to be seen as she paused in the doorway of the kitchen-cum-living room.
She stepped inside gingerly, wondering if he was somewhere, waiting to pounce, but her only companions were her laptop and a plate of toast sitting beside a glass of orange juice.
She tentatively ate the toast, wondering if she was going to bring it back up, but the nausea and headache began to fade as she got to work, preparing more lecture outlines and setting the set reading for the next couple of months.
When Theo returned at sunset, she just looked to him curiously. His black hair was dishevelled, his leather jacket torn and she felt worry spark as she sat up.
"You ok?" she asked, setting aside her laptop.
"I had a little run in with some of my brother's guards," he told her frankly, slipping his jacket off and slinging it over the sofa. "The Volturi know I helped you, and their search has only intensified."
"You didn't answer my question," she cocked one brow. He sighed, and smirked ruefully.
"I am well," he replied. "I covered my trail well enough that Demetri will not find us."
"That wasn't what I meant," Bella replied coolly, as nonchalant as he. "Is Aro here, in London?"
"Not that I know of," he replied tersely. "Your concern is noted."
"I'm touched," she retorted sarcastically, shutting her laptop curtly and turning away.
Despite the frostiness of the exchange, they slipped back into their previous day's routine, Theo making sarcastic remarks about her students' papers while she marked them, then cooking her dinner and discussing various topics over wine, or in his case, blood.
This time they stepped away from literature and talked about music. Theo was shocked she had never been to an opera.
"You live in one of the cultural centres of the world, and you have yet to see an opera?" he asked incredulously. "Professor Swan, I am amazed."
"I should take a photo to capture this moment for posterity," she joked. "I just never found the time."
"Then, my dear, I will make it my personal mission to take you to one," he informed her gravely. "Consider it a part of your long neglected cultural education."
"I'll have you know I am no philistine, Theo," she retorted. "Not all of us have unlimited time to spend doing what we like."
"You could have," he replied, his teasing smirk fading as silence fell between them, Bella looking down into the depths of her half-empty wine glass.
"Why did you save me, Theo?" she finally asked.
"Because I saw the Volturi stalking you, that morning I bumped into you in the line. I wondered why my brother had sent his strongest guards after one little mortal so I followed you. I saved you because I wanted to spite him, I wanted to discover why they were hunting you, and…because I couldn't see an innocent woman slaughtered for something I suspected she had no control over."
She went to bed shortly after that, unable to muster up any words to reply, feeling his gaze on her back the whole time.
The next morning, Bella was sat at the sofa, in front of the large window, when she felt Theo slip down on the sofa beside her.
"Your student forgot to put a comma in there," was his dry opening quip, as Bella just smirked and shook her head ruefully.
"You're in a pedantic mood today," she commented quietly, eying him as he pulled out a leather pouch from his jacket, laying on the sofa between them. Curious, she laid aside her laptop and took up the pouch, looking to Theo questioningly.
He smiled and gestured for her to open it. It fell open to reveal papers, old, cracked, written on by a sprawling, rough hand in long strokes, blotted and wandering, reminding Bella of someone writing with a quill.
Then she read the words, and her jaw dropped open.
"Is this what I think it might be?" she asked, in an awed voice. He chuckled.
"Amazing what one has stashed away in their attic," he told her airily.
"But I thought Shakespeare's notes were either lost, destroyed or in archives. How did you get this?" she asked, her voice hushed as she reverently touched the centuries old pages.
"Nicked them from old Will's desk in the 1600s," he told her cockily, as she eyed him disbelievingly. A gentle, sincere smile stretched his lips. "I'd thought you would like it."
Bella laughed, a short, joyful laugh, as she carefully turned the pages of the manuscript, her eyes scanning over the ancient words with delight. "This is incredible," she sighed. "Thank you."
Then he began to speak, reciting the words on the page under her hand, making her shiver, making her want him so badly, as she shifted in her seat, a telltale shudder rippling up her legs.
"If I profane with my unworthiest hand, this holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: my lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss…" he murmured, his voice like silk, sliding over her senses, silencing reason and doubt. She closed her eyes, biting her lip unconsciously. She felt cool fingers take the manuscript from her hands gently, then those same fingers trailing over the lazy sprawl of her pulse in her throat.
She tilted her head back, as sweet breath washed over her face and a gentle hand stroked along her jaw. A gentle moan escaped her lips as he whispered in her ear.
"You want me, Isabella," he said, his voice like crushed glass, rough yet seductive. "You want me so much I can almost taste it in the air when you're with me."
"I barely know you," she protested weakly, opening her eyes to meet his, burning, black and hungry.
"That does not signify," he replied heatedly. "You know more about me than I have told anyone for centuries. Besides, we are two consenting adults, are we not, and we both know that this is not love."
"No, it isn't," she agreed, forcing herself away from him, standing before him and pacing agitatedly. "But I'm supposed to be making a choice, and starting something like this won't help."
"Then think on it this way," he growled, standing also. The graceful surge of movement sent Bella's heart into overdrive. "If you agree to change, and decide you do not wish to stay with me, then I will not attempt to stop you. There is nothing binding you to me, if you wish to leave."
Bella searched his eyes, dark, lustful and felt her body override her mind. She remembered all the reasons why Edward had said they could never do this, and batted them aside.
She trusted him, and that was a start.
"You're right, I want you," she began, in a quiet voice, glaring at him when a look of triumph flitted over his face. "But the question is: do you really want me?"
His gaze sharpened, and he stepped forward, his vampire speed bringing him to her in a matter of seconds. He towered over her, and she was forced to crane her neck in order to meet his eyes.
"How long has it been since a man stood this close to you, Isabella?" he asked, ignoring her question. Caught off-guard, she stepped backwards when he stepped forwards, continuing his seductive speech, her own body readily betraying her. "Touched you, kissed you? Made love to you?"
"I've never…" she trailed off, a slight hint of blush warming her skin when she felt the edge of the sofa behind her knees. His eyes lit with desire and anticipation, as he continued to stalk her like the predator he was.
"Well then, my dear, I must ensure not to disappoint," he grinned suavely, stepping in so close, their lips brushed and Bella nearly collapsed. He pushed her down, pressing her body into the sofa with his own, their lips meeting in a frantic dance that made her head spin, his tongue possessively claiming her own. His pelvis shifted against hers, making her moan into his mouth, surrounded by cool, hard flesh quenching the fire in hers, one hand sunk deeply into his raven hair, tightly, ensuring his mouth stayed on hers.
It was the first time she'd let a man kiss her in thirteen years, and her body all but cried out with pleasure and longing.
He pulled back for one infinitesimal moment, his voice reduced to a primeval growl, melting Bella, softening her beneath him.
"Does that answer your question?" he demanded hotly, before kissing her again, rocking his hips into hers as her body heated and awakened, her legs entwining with his, hooking one knee over his hip, as his hands deftly unbuttoned her shirt, his lips leaving hers to mark the soft, untouched flesh as his own, cold lips and tongue sending lightning bolts of pleasure through every nerve she possessed.
"You kiss by the book," she murmured a line, against his lips, as he paused once more, a devilish smile lurking on his sensual mouth. She met onyx black eyes, aflame with need, and only smiled, giving into what she wanted for once, and kissing him with everything she had.
It was a strange contrast, being held by icy arms while in steaming hot water. The soothing liquid lapped at her still sensitive breasts, marked with the occasional bruise already fading into dull purples and yellows. She lay in his bath, tucked against his chest, her back and hips nestling into the cradle of his arms as he gently, devotedly washed her, soothing the aches in her previously untried body.
It'd had been one hell of a lesson.
As the sponge pressed against her heart, making it race under his touch, she smiled as she felt him ready and hard against her back once more. She reached up behind her, resting her hand on his stony cheek, which he nuzzled then pressed a kiss to her palm.
"Again?" she breathed, in turn tilting her head back and sucking gently on the droplets of water collecting in the hollows and planes of his neck. He groaned, his arms tightening around her, intermingling with a satisfied chuckle.
"Two things you will learn very quickly about vampire males, my dear," he breathed, as she gasped and arched against him. "Durability and short recovery times."
Bella's laugh was cut off abruptly when he carefully thrust into her, her body welcoming him in, dull pain mixing with pleasure. She clung to him, their lips meeting gently, a stark contrast to the controlled fury of their union earlier.
Even before she broke the kiss and surrendered to his experience and passion, she met his eyes and knew her decision was made.
What they had may not be love, but she trusted him implicitly.
She wanted to become a vampire.
Bella stirred reluctantly at the sensation of cold, open-mouthed kisses trailing down the back of her neck, and down her spine. She moaned and stretched luxuriantly, refusing to leave her warm bubble of contentment just yet. A huff of amused chuckling only made her more determined to stay.
"Come on now, Isabella," Theo whispered in her ear. "Time to wake up, we have appointments to keep."
She mumbled something suspiciously like "Don't want to," and "Go away, this is your fault."
His laughter only grew. "I knew I was good but this just proves it. I am exceptional," he growled against her ear, as her eyes snapped open and she huffed at his arrogance.
"You wish, vampire boy," she snapped, turning over to find him hovering over her, eyes shot black with desire, his usually fastidiously tamed hair ruffled by her own hand. She smirked at the evidence.
His face softened slightly, as she winced as sore muscles complained. "You are not in too much pain?" he asked quietly. She shook her head.
"Nothing too bad," she told him soothingly. "Just feels like I pushed it too far on the treadmill at the gym."
"Well, that is the first time I have ever heard sex alluded to like that," he grinned, his cool fingers tracing intricate patterns on her arms and back as she leaned into him.
"It was amazing," she conceded with a dreamy sigh. "Thank you."
She could hear the smugness in his voice. "You are more than welcome, Isabella."
"Yeah, well don't go getting a big head about it," she replied saucily, making him chuckle, the sound rumbling through her like thunder. She rolled her eyes as she realised the double entendre in her words.
Emmet would have been proud.
"You were surprisingly adept, for a virgin," he continued. "Did you never attempt this with Cullen?"
"No," Bella admitted softly. "He always said it was too dangerous."
Theo snorted. "Sounds like your former lover just enjoyed martyring himself," he remarked caustically. He rolled her over onto her back, looming over her, dark desires already stirring the nerves in Bella's tired body, as she smiled and reached for him with her lips.
His kiss was deep, searching but tender, teasing out her response until she was soft and hot beneath him. She cupped his unyielding cheek with one hand, as he drew back with a dark grin.
"You, Isabella Swan," he growled, as breathless as she. "are enough to tempt a saint."
She wondered what she looked like, lying beneath him on his bed, naked and vulnerable to whatever he wanted to do with her, or to her. The thought was as arousing as it should have been scarifying, but she just smiled and leaned up to kiss him again.
"Our appointments can wait, can't they?" she asked, coyly. "It isn't even dark yet."
"And who am I to refuse a lady?" he grinned, a dark, unholy grin that set Bella's nerves alight. Her teasing smile was devoured by his lips as he pressed her once more into the softness of his bed.
Bella stood in the bathroom, brushing her freshly washed and dried hair into some semblance of order, wondering what to do with it, until she just decided to pin it half up, half down, her eyes sliding over the dress Theo had pushed on her half an hour ago, when he'd finally deigned to tell her what their 'appointment' was.
He was taking her to the London Metropolitan Opera.
She was excited and worried both at once, wondering if the Volturi would track them there, but he assured her he would keep her safe. It wasn't her she was worried about.
She wondered if this counted as a 'date', of sorts. She supposed it did, except they'd already skipped to the sex part. Not that she was complaining.
It was a huge step that she was even contemplating a relationship with anyone again, let alone another vampire.
Sighing, she readjusted the dark red satin dress, making sure it covered the marks on her skin. Most were hidden, but there was one on her upper arm that a shawl would take care of, and another on her neck that her hair just managed to conceal. The sight of the fading mark only made her feel absurdly happy.
Shaking her head, she pulled on her black coat, refusing to let Theo see her until they were somewhere public and he couldn't even think about, well…
She rather liked this dress. She didn't want it going the same way as her jeans.
It held close to her figure, before flaring from just below her bottom to the ground, just brushing it with the hem. It was a burnt red colour, like rust or dried blood, but Bella could only wonder at how well it accentuated her figure instead of dwell on that macabre thought. It was sleeveless, the neckline exposing just a little of her cleavage, but not enough to make her self-conscious.
Apart from some delicate silver earrings she'd found in her bag, she wore no jewellery.
"Are you sure this is safe, Theo?" she asked, as she pulled her hair out from under her collar, and left the bathroom. He was stood in the bedroom, dressed in a dapper, exquisitely cut suit that hugged his strong, lean body, covered by a black overcoat. Bella felt that familiar surge of arousal as she leaned against the bathroom doorframe, and drank him in.
"I take it I meet with your approval?" he chuckled, sensing her scrutiny, draping a silken patterned scarf around his neck, before glancing at her. "You look ravishing as always, Isabella, but I had hoped to see you in that dress without the coat."
"Sorry, Theo," she smiled coyly, crossing the room to straighten his coat lapels. "But knowing your proclivities for tearing my clothes, I'd thought I would wait until we're somewhere public, just to be safe."
He laughed, a bright, easy laugh that thrilled her to her toes. "Dear me," he grinned silkily. "Five days with me, and I have a veritable seductress on my hands."
"You only have yourself to blame, darling," she grinned back, pulling his lips down to hers by his scarf. They kissed heatedly, Theo straining her to him, sliding his hands into her coat and slipping them around her waist, pulling her tightly against him. She moaned, and slid one hand up his neck to feel his silken hair twining around her fingers.
He pulled back. "To answer your first question," he murmured roughly. "We will be perfectly safe. I will not let anything happen to you, Isabella."
The look in his eyes was earnest and sincere, and Bella felt her heart seize at that look. She pressed her lips to his one last time, before stepping back.
"I know," she breathed softly. "Come on, or we'll never leave."
"I didn't hear you complaining last night," he retorted, his sombre mood giving way to his usual teasing jibes. Bella shook her head and laughed, buttoning her coat as he took her arm.
The opera was packed to the rafters as Theo led her up the stairs to their private box. She supposed she shouldn't be surprised he had his own box really.
The centuries old building was done in gilded marble, cold and echoing, the floor covered in luxurious velvet. People clad in glittering gowns and svelte tuxedoes littered the hallways, mingling and laughing amiably. Bella kept her eyes open, but she felt no fear with Theo by her side, like her own dark guardian angel.
Well, perhaps a fallen guardian angel.
Once inside, the velvet curtain drawn across, the porter gone, he gallantly slid her coat from her shoulders, and she felt his arrested stare as his hands tightened around her arms.
"I take it I meet with your approval?" she asked teasingly, as his lips drifted across her exposed neck, using his own words.
"I can see why you insisted on the coat," he told her huskily, one hand slipping from its grip around her arm to glide down the curve of her satin-clad waist, to her hip. "Had I seen you in this dress before we left home, I might never have let you outside the door."
"Now don't be greedy," she admonished her, slipping from his hold and taking her seat, the orchestra below just tuning up. Her breath hitched when he bent over her, mouth just brushing the whorl of her ear.
"It's not called greed when it is reciprocated, my dear," he whispered, "As it is, you're just tempting my control."
"What me? A mere mortal?" she replied in a hushed whisper. "Perish the thought."
He chuckled, taking his seat beside her, but not before brushing a soft, barely chaste kiss across her lips, in full view of anyone who bothered to look up at the private boxes.
"Just so everyone knows," he growled. "You're mine, tonight."
She didn't add that she was only his temporarily. The fact was, she was infatuated with him and who knew where that infatuation would lead, once she was immortal? She wasn't about to put all her eggs in one basket but… she was open-minded.
The curtain went up, the opera started but Bella could barely pay attention when she had Theo's devilish fingers gently playing with the nape of her neck, caressing the smooth skin, making the fine hairs stand up on end.
Eventually, the exquisite music sucked her in, and she felt her heart rise and soar with the melodies and the singers' voices. By the time the intermission came, she was blinking back tears.
When the lights came on, she clapped politely, trying to surreptitiously wipe her eyes. Theo handed her a handkerchief silently, not saying a word but she glared at him warningly anyway.
"It's easy to get lost in the music, is it not?" he asked quietly, neither moving to leave their box and join the gathering in the main lobby. Bella glanced in his direction and smiled gently.
"I've always loved music," she breathed, "although there was never much opportunity for opera in Arizona or Washington."
"I must make sure to give you a thorough education," he quipped, making her laugh, throwing her head back so he could see her long, swanlike neck. He left her to fetch a glass of champagne for her, and she sipped the golden liquid, relishing it.
It would be her last for a long time.
"Theo, I'm going to send in my resignation tomorrow morning," she told him. "After my last lecture."
She expected him to object to going in to work one last time, but he just nodded. "Very well. What will you tell your mother? Your friends?" he asked.
"That I'm taking some time off to travel," she replied. "God knows Renee has been bugging me to take life a little less seriously."
"Wise woman," he grinned, taking her hand. "I would have loved to have met her."
"Maybe one day, when I've learned control," she replied wistfully. "Perhaps I can return to teaching one day, as well."
"You will learn control, Isabella," he assured her. "I will help you, and I won't let you do something you shall regret."
She smiled, leaning in and brushing his lips with hers. "Thank you, Theo, for everything," she sighed. "I trust you with my life."
"This is not a time for tears," he soothed her, one thumb tenderly wiping away the diamond droplet that had escaped onto her cheek. "I will do everything in my power to help you, protect you, cherish you for as long as you want me."
Bella's heart stilled at those words, and her breath came fast even as the unruly organ leapt for joy, and her mind whispered caution.
But she was done with caution.
"You were right when you guessed I hadn't told you everything," she began shakily, but determined to lance the last of the poison out of her life. "Aro didn't just want me turned into a vampire for the sake of secrecy, but also because he thinks I might have a gift, a shield. He couldn't read my thoughts, and neither could Edward. Not even Jane's gift could do anything to me."
"I surmised that," he nodded. "If you had been an ordinary human, you would have had you killed, regardless of any pleas by the Cullens. But what else?"
"Not long after we returned from Volterra," she began to explain. "After Victoria was killed and the Volturi had left, I was in the throes of planning my wedding. One day, Charlie offered to drive me to Seattle for some lunch. I think he just wanted some more time with me before he lost me as just his daughter."
"Anyway, on the way home…" at this she trailed off, a lump suddenly appearing in her throat and she hated herself for her weakness. "There was an accident. A truck, an oil tanker. The driver fell asleep at the wheel, totalled the tanker. We were right beside him on the freeway. Alice saw what had happened and they were there, Edward pulling me from the wreckage."
"And?" he asked gently.
"I was lucky, just a small head wound and a little dizziness but my dad…" she stopped again, the pain and the raw anger welling up inside of her again, so long repressed. "He was dying. I begged Edward to change him, to save him but he refused. He wanted to wait for Carlisle, he didn't want my dad to become a vampire, a monster. He wouldn't do it, not even for the person he claimed to love the most. I watched my dad die, when he could have saved him."
"After that, I couldn't…I just couldn't bring myself to even look at him any more. After the funeral, I packed up, sold up and went to university and never looked back. Neither Edward, nor the Cullens, tried to contact me again and I left his engagement ring in an envelope in my room before I left."
She shrugged, bringing her painful tale to a close. "So now you know," she sighed. "Why I left them all behind, even Mom."
"I am sorry, Isabella," he breathed, making her look at him. "I cannot say if I would have done the same if I had been present, but I am sorry for your pain."
"At first, I wondered if I had been right to ask Edward to change my dad. It was no less than Carlisle had done for them all, changing them when there was no other option. I wondered if my dad would have hated me for it, and then I realised he would have rather lived in any way possible, for me, than died for one man's self-loathing. Edward killed my father, not the truck driver," she whispered painfully. "For years, all I have felt is numb, so determined never to look back, never to remember. Until the past came back to bite me on the butt."
"Without pain, without loss or trial, we cannot grow," Theo replied, sounding almost sad himself, and she remembered all he had lost, all he had suffered at the hand of one who should have loved him. "You don't have to feel numb, not anymore. I will never let harm come to you, never again."
She smiled, willingly leaning into him as his arms came around her tightly, holding her comfortingly. He leaned his cheek on her hair, soothing her pain even while the curtain went back up and the singers returned. They didn't let go of one another throughout the second act, neither willing to relinquish their peace.
She had not felt so protected, so…loved in a long time.
They clapped appropriately when the curtain call came, but neither had taken much notice of the performance in the second act. His eyes, hidden behind mud brown contacts, met hers, holding her in his gaze as tightly as his arms had done, and then he took her hand and led her out.
He took her home.
That night, while she lay in his arms, completely sated and limp, she smiled to herself as she lay on his chest, hand over his silent heart.
She was in love with him. Despite what she had said not long before, she was in love with him. She must be mad, but she couldn't help it.
She was in love with Theo.
The next morning, she slipped from Theo's arms and swathed herself in his discarded shirt from the night before, the vampire lying in bed behind her eying her with a lazy smile.
It was early, not yet seven in the morning, but she had her final lecture after lunch. She needed to be ready, and make it a tour de force, since it would be her last for the foreseeable future. After that, her head of department would receive her resignation letter, and she and Theo would simply…disappear.
She was pretty certain Theo's plan for helping her avoid killing anyone was to simply keep her in bed for the next decade or so.
A plan that met with her full approval.
As she stood at the breakfast bar, sipping at coffee and waiting for the toast to pop up, she flicked through her notes, smiling slightly when she realised that here she was, once again willing to give up everything for a vampire.
Except this time, she was not so young, so naïve, so submissive. If things did not turn out well for her and Theo, then she would not mourn, she would not let it embitter her.
She would walk away, and regret nothing.
Je ne regrette rien
She smiled and relaxed as now highly familiar arms slid around her waist, holding her as she flicked through her notes, as nonchalantly as possible when she felt him against her back.
"It's not a wise thing to tempt me so," he growled huskily into her neck. She arched her head back, pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses to his neck. "Walking around in my shirts so brazenly."
"Who said I was wise?" she retorted coyly, running her hand through his hair as his mouth laid a trail of gently biting kisses down her throat. "When will you change me?" she asked as he slid his hands beneath the cotton, possessively gliding his hands up her ribcage.
"Soon," he murmured soothingly. "As soon as we reach my home in Geneva."
He was taking her to Switzerland before he changed her. He wanted her as far away from large cities as possible, for her newborn year. Bella remembered only too well the stories Edward, and Rosalie, had tried to use to frighten her. The memory of Victoria's newborn army haunted her too.
"I need to finish revising my lecture," she breathed, as she felt him pulling the buttons from their moorings, and the shirt gaped. He chuckled, as he turned her around, backing her against the counter.
"Relax, Isabella," he whispered, leaning into her seductively. She eyed him narrowly. "You will be fine."
"Easy for you to say," she grumbled as his lips pressed against her pulse point. "You're not going to have…to…"
"Have to what?" he asked teasingly.
"I forgot my point, you monster," she growled, as he raised his head, a self-satisfied smile lingering on his sensual mouth. "Now either do something about it or I will find a way to injure you."
"Yes ma'am," he replied sarcastically, surprising her by lifting her onto the breakfast bar, slipping himself between her legs and tearing off the shirt. He covered her yelp of surprise with his mouth, devouring, passionate as she moaned and pulled him closer.
Afterwards, Bella was surprised the breakfast bar didn't collapse under the stress.
Later that day, she was stood at the lectern in the main lecture hall at Kings, her notes under her nose, one hand on her laptop as she flicked through the slides of her presentation, thrown onto a large screen by a projector.
The staff had been dismayed by her sudden departure, but her lie about her mother ensured she got the sympathy vote. They wouldn't have much trouble finding a replacement.
As she looked out over her students, sat in chairs on ascending steps like a Greek forum, she smiled a little wistfully. She'd miss this, but she might be able to go back to it.
As she expounded on the deeper meanings of Austen and Bronte, and their importance in feminist literature, her eyes met those of the darkly handsome man, dressed once more in an impeccably tailored suit, standing at the back and watching her with a gleam in his brown eyes.
He refused to let her out of his sight until they were safely away from London, and she liked the warmth the thought inspired in her. She smiled, a secret, sultry smile just for him, as she remembered all that had transpired over the past few days.
Five days that had changed her life forever.
Bella returned her gaze to her students, returning to her professor mode as she went on to Shelley and Stoker, until she saw a sudden flash of golden eyes and bronze hair, and she froze, her smooth speech stuttering.
She glimpsed Theo's eyes widen in alarm, but she recovered herself while frantically searching the auditorium.
No, she had to be mistaken. They couldn't be here. She was being silly.
Rattled nonetheless, she finished her lecture and took her time as the students filed out, her hands shaking as she packed up her laptop and notes for the last time. Theo made his way unobtrusively to the front, catching her arm as she forced in a tight breath.
"What is it?" he breathed, concerned.
"I…I thought for a second that I saw…Edward," she replied shakily. "But it couldn't have been."
"It's a possibility," he admitted as she turned to him, shocked. "I stopped shielding you last night, so your little seer might have seen you again."
"You what!" she snapped, anger rolling through her. He rolled his eyes and took her arm, leading her down the aisle between chairs.
"I didn't see the need," he snapped back, quietly. "You are immune to anything the Volturi can throw at you in terms of their gifts, and as for the Cullens….perhaps it is time to face your past."
"You bastard," she hissed as they walked down a long hallway. "I told you I never wanted anything to do with them ever again!"
"Would you let this bitterness follow you into your immortal life?" he demanded, pulling her to a halt in the hallway. "Better to find closure, and start anew, than carry all this baggage for eternity."
Jaw clenched, she looked away, not wanting to admit he was right. He could have at least asked her first!
"I am so going to kick your ass when I'm a vampire," she snarled, and his face eased.
"I'll hold you to that," he growled back, pushing her against the wall and covering her body with his own. "My fighter, my Isabella."
She moaned as his talented mouth caressed a sensitive spot under her ear. "Pull a stunt like this again, and I won't be your bloody anything!" she gasped, sounding pathetically weak even to her own ears.
Theo was just leaning in to kiss her again when he paused, his face hardening and Bella stiffened.
"They're here," he hissed, pulling away and shoving Bella behind him.
"Well, isn't this touching?" a sneering voice asked as Bella peered around Theo to see who it was.
How she hadn't recognised that sweet, girlish voice, that angelic demeanour she would never know. Her blood ran cold as she realised Theo was standing in front of her, and he was vulnerable to her gift.
He could make himself invisible, both mentally and physically. He couldn't stop Jane hurting him with her power.
"Well, well, well," he smiled, his voice low, dangerous. "If it isn't my brother's favourite little lapdog. Tell me, how is Alec doing?"
"Better now he's healed from what you did to him," the diminutive vampire hissed. "Now stand aside, Baldo. Your brother has no quarrel with you."
"Ahh, but I have a quarrel with him," he replied. "This woman will be one of us soon enough."
Bella didn't need to see Jane's face as a sadistic laugh echoed around the hallway. "Oh, this is precious. The prodigal brother, in love with the pathetic mortal," she snickered. "The master will simply love this."
Bella was vaguely aware of two more vampires apparently melting from the shadows, dressed like Jane in black and bearing the Volturi crest around their necks. Demetri and Felix.
"Aro must be getting desperate if he sends his best after Isabella in broad daylight with mortals nearby," Theo murmured silkily. "I must say it is amusing, watching him break his own precious laws."
"Enough, Baldo," Jane snapped. "We will have the mortal. Demetri, Felix!"
The two vampires sprang towards Theo, who just smiled. Bella felt him pull her bag from her hand as she was shoved to the floor and he spun, using the bag like a club, the worn leather smashing into Demetri's chin and flipping him over with the force of it. She winced, pretty sure her laptop was now scrap metal.
With a roar Felix reached them, but Theo simply waved his hand, sending the giant flying through a window. Jane shrieked with rage, jumping forward with a feral smile, and Theo collapsed, writhing in agony.
Bella did the only thing she could think of. She threw herself in front of him, blocking him from Jane's sight.
Silence fell. Theo stopped writhing and Jane's smile slipped.
Panting, shaking Bella was barely aware of Theo's arms slipping around her, and then Jane leapt towards them with a predatory scream, Demetri joining her, but Theo sprang away, shielding them both with his gift, hiding them from the vampires' sight.
He cradled her in his arms and ran.
That evening she sat on their sofa with him, cradled in his arms, still shaken by their close shave with the Volturi that morning.
He stroked her hair, both content to let the silence sooth them. Bella was too wound up to speak, her mind replaying what had happened in that hallway.
Jane's sadistic smile. Felix flying through that window. Theo, graceful, strong Theo fighting for her. Theo writhing in agony.
His arms tightened around her, and he lifted her head to find her lips with his, his kiss soothing, calming the fear still poisoning Bella's blood, chilling her more than Theo's embrace ever could.
"I appreciate your assistance, Bella," he told her, whispering in her ear. "But please, do not do that again. Do not place yourself between me and danger."
"I couldn't let her torture you," she whispered back. "I just couldn't."
"I know, love," he sighed. "Soon, soon this will be over and behind us. Aro will not have grounds to harm you once you are one of us."
"Won't he?" she breathed, cynically. "He wants my gift. He wants me."
"I will not let him take you," he replied fiercely. She only smiled and clung tighter to him, inhaling his sweet scent, loving the feel of his strength holding her, protecting her.
He stiffened, and she glanced up in concern and fear. "Have they found us?" she asked, in a bare whisper.
A moment later, he relaxed slightly. "No," he told her, a wry grin on his lips. "But I do believe we have some unwanted house guests."
Bella often wondered how she would react if she saw Edward again. Would she feel hate? Grief? Regret for how they had parted? A flicker of the love she had felt for him?
No, she found she just felt a slight irritation as she stood in front of the window, Theo by her side, Edward and the rest of the Cullens amassed before them.
He was as heartbreakingly beautiful as ever, his bloodless skin gleaming in the light of the moon and the city outside, his golden eyes fixed on hers.
She didn't move, didn't greet him just stepped closer to Theo, unconsciously telling him with whom her allegiance lay.
He stiffened, but could do nothing. Alice was not so careful or perceptive.
"Bella! It's so good to see you," she breathed ecstatically. "When I saw you disappear, I thought-"
"I know what you thought Alice," Bella held up a hand, her tone cool. "That was Theo. His gifts shielded me from your sight. He saved my life."
"Thank you for that," Edward looked to the older vampire, who just eyed him indifferently. "We came as soon as Alice saw the decision Aro made, to send his guard after Bella."
"Isabella," she interrupted. "I prefer Isabella now."
He frowned, but said nothing.
"You're rather late, Cullen," Theo drawled lazily. "I have saved Isabella twice from the Volturi's efforts. Rather lax care you've provided, if you left her alone in the world without protection."
Edward's face darkened, as did Emmet's and Rosalie's, but Bella sent Theo a narrow glare.
"He knows about Charlie," she said by way of explanation. She turned to Carlisle, one brow raised superciliously. "Why are you here?"
"We came to protect you," he replied. "Our plan to keep you safe would have worked."
"Or…" Edward interjected, before he paused. When he spoke again, he sounded reluctant. "Or we could have changed you."
"You think after what happened, that I'd want you anywhere near me again," she trailed off, anger breaking free for a moment before she regained her composure. "Theo beat you to it. We've already made plans to go to Geneva where he will change me and help me adjust."
Carlisle eyed the vampire standing beside Bella, looking older than he was, but then so did Bella now. He looked familiar.
"Do I know of you?" he asked. "Your face is familiar."
"You might have done," Theo replied coldly. "Although I doubt my brother cares to speak much about his recalcitrant younger half-brother. Black sheep and all that."
"You're Baldo?" the blonde vampire asked, his voice softening slightly in amazement. "Aro's brother?"
"Indeed, Doctor Cullen, that was my name once," he replied, reaching out an arm and pulling Bella to him. "And now, if you haven't already led the Volturi to my doorstep by your arrival, I would advise you leave before Demetri tracks you here. Isabella is in safe hands."
Bella felt Edward's eyes rake her form, pleading, burning but she felt nothing.
Until she saw his eyes alight on a bruise, fading, slight, on her neck. A bruise caused by Theo's mouth just that morning.
"Bella…" he trailed off, horror filling his eyes. His head snapped towards Theo, and he snarled. "What have you done to her?"
"A great many things," he replied curtly. "All of them at her request and with her consent."
The bronze haired vampire looked sick. Bella rolled her eyes.
"Oh spare me your martyr complex, Edward," she snapped briskly, eliciting shocked glances from the Cullens. "This has nothing to do with you."
"Nothing to do with-!" he snarled. "Bella, he's hurt you!"
"My name is Isabella!" she shouted. "Bella disappeared a very long time ago."
Edward's eyes softened, as his eyes darted between Theo and Bella. "Bell- Isabella, you know how sorry I am for Charlie's-"
"No!" she snapped. "You don't get to speak his name. Just shut up and get the hell out of my life. I don't need you anymore."
Jasper's face was sad when he stepped forward, touching Carlisle's arm. "Perhaps we should leave," he murmured. "We are unneeded and unwanted here."
"Damn straight," Bella agreed curtly. Edward's hands curled into fists as he glared poisonously at Theo.
"You hurt her. If you cared for her at all, you'd never have dared-" he began to growl, but Theo cut him off.
"No, Edward Cullen, you are very mistaken if I pressed or forced anything on Isabella. I cared enough for her to let her make her own decisions, well aware of the risks involved. You were the one who cared too little if you could not overcome your own self-disgust to save an innocent man's life," he replied, his voice as cold as pack ice.
"Go away, Edward," Bella told him, stepping in front of Theo and folding her arms. "Go, all of you. I told you I never wanted to see any of you again, and I meant it."
"Bella," Edward tried one last time, but she just held up one hand and pointed to the door.
Carlisle stepped forward, but his eyes were fixed on Theo. "I hope you realise that Aro will not let you go easily. He desires Bella's gifts, and yours, and he will not stop hunting you until he knows she is either dead or changed," he said, coolly. Theo just nodded superciliously. He looked to her one last time, and nodded, seemingly defeated as he turned and led his family out.
Bella turned away, looking out of the window until she heard the door slam shut. And breathed a sigh of relief, feeling thirteen years of pain leave her with their departure from her life forever.
Theo's arms came around her and she leant back into his embrace. They stood in silence for awhile, just staring out at the cityscape.
"He's right, isn't he?" she murmured, at last. "Aro will not stop."
"No, he will not," her lover replied softly. "He knows I am at large once more, he knows we are intimate and he will not hesitate to use that against either one of us."
"What will we do?" she whispered, feeling his lips trace her pulse longingly. She felt so heavy, so tired as she thought over the day's events, even after the catharsis of the Cullens' departure from her life entirely.
"We will think of something," he rocked her slightly in his embrace, soothing and arousing at once. "It's us against the world, I'm afraid."
As long as she was with him, she didn't care.
"I love you," she breathed, pushing the words past the lump in her chest. Theo's answer was a deep, tender kiss that spoke all his tongue could not. She accepted that, readily, fully and with all her heart.
When he broke away, his red eyes were warm and soft. "Come," he told her. "We have a plane to catch."
Two years later…
The Palazzo della Pergola, Florence, Italy.
A tall figure clothed in black paced the hall, his footsteps echoing off the pale marble, scant light making the elaborate crest hanging from a chain on his chest glint, the golden 'V' shimmering.
Long black hair hung down his back, and blood red eyes with a milky sheen traced patterns in the marble under his feet.
He was waiting for someone.
Eventually he raised his head as more footsteps sounded, and an equally dark figure melted from the shadows, clothed in an exquisitely tailored suit, the long overcoat billowing behind him, Gothic and dramatic. A long cane rested in one hand, clinking on the floor with each step he took, but it was all for show.
"Ahh, the prodigal brother returns," the first man called out, his voice amiable, jovial yet it held an undercurrent of menace. The second man was unaffected. "You needn't have called me out so far, brother of mine. You know you always have a home in Volterra."
Theo simply smiled at Aro, flipping his cane around in his hand and eying it meditatively. "And return to being your mindless slave, brother? No, I think not," he replied coldly. Aro sighed, holding his hands out in supplication.
"How long has it been since our last meeting? Three, four hundred years?" he asked curiously.
"Five hundred years and one month," Theo replied.
Aro clapped his hands. "You counted!" he laughed gleefully. Theo eyed him with disgust.
"Only counting down the days until I tear your head off, brother," he spat, turning away. "Tell me, does Marcus know you murdered his wife?"
Aro stiffened, his amiable façade dropping faster than a snake's strike, as he eyed his younger brother speculatively. "You know he does not, Baldo," he replied. "Or is it Theo now? Is that the name I hear you prefer nowadays?"
"Do what you will, brother, I care not," was the cold retort. "I have never cared."
"No, you have not," Aro sighed, and now he seemed sad. "Oh, brother. It saddens me to know your hatred of me, when I think of what we could accomplish together."
"As your vassal?" Theo snorted. "No, thanks. I would rather drown in my own blood."
"That is your answer?" the elder vampire asked, sounding hurt, disappointed. Theo just eyed him icily until he sighed. "Very well. I had hoped we could reconcile, but alas, it seems not to be so."
"I didn't call you here to listen to your pathetic attempts at recruitment and self-justification, Aro," Theo began curtly. "I called you to issue a warning."
Aro's onion skinned face creased into a wide, dangerous smile. "And how is your young woman? Faring well with a life on the run?"
"She is well," Theo replied. "Which is why I came here, to warn you Aro. She grows stronger every day, her gifts powerful. We tire of your incessant pursuit, so I will only say this once, brother. Leave us be."
"I do not see her here," Aro replied coldly, all attempt at civility or pleasantry gone. "And you are hardly in any position to giving threats, brother."
Theo just smiled as Aro signalled gracefully, and Chelsea, Jane, Demetri, Alec and Felix stepped from the shadows, anticipatory smiles on their perfect features.
"I am rather afraid it would come to this," Aro breathed sadly. "But if you will not come willingly, then perhaps my dear Chelsea may change your mind."
He did not move as Chelsea smiled prettily, stepping forward, her eyes intent.
Silence fell. Nothing happened.
Then it was broken by a laugh, rolling, musical and taunting. It came from Theo. "What's the matter, Chelsea? Lost your bite?" he asked teasingly. Chelsea frowned, then glared, snarling. "You'll have to do better than that."
Jane smiled, but once more it had no effect.
"Oh dear, brother, your attack dogs seemed to have lost their bite. Did you pick them for their bark instead?" he called tauntingly. Aro's eyes darted between his guard and his brother, utterly bemused.
Alec raised his hand, his smile expectant, knowing but it faltered when his gift once again failed, as it shimmered into existence, a cloying, sickly purple mist pushing harmlessly against an invisible wall surrounding Theo.
Theo met his brother's eyes and just smiled.
"Isabella," Aro breathed the word, an awed, delighted grin overcoming the panic and the fear as Theo dropped his shield and Bella seemingly stepped from the air behind him.
The change had only made her more beautiful, her skin smooth as moonlight, her crimson eyes gleaming with laughter and confidence, her long dark waves of hair loose down her back, framing her goddess's face. The rest of her was dressed in a black, tailored suit, a green silk blouse beneath the jacket. A gold band glittered on her left ring finger.
"Well, my dear," Aro sighed. "What an unexpected surprise! And may I say how lovely you look. I knew immortality would suit you, my dear."
"Thank you, Aro," she inclined her head gracefully. "As you can see, I have found out one or two surprises along the way."
"Oh, indeed, indeed," he chuckled, rubbing his hands together in glee. "I am so glad my brother changed you. Such a waste if things had gone the other way."
"I'm sure," she replied politely, before her expression turned deadly, serious. "You can see what I can do, Aro. Your best are nullified against my shield, and Theo's gifts. Leave us alone, and we will gladly leave you alone."
Aro just shook his head, but Bella could see he was worried by her gift, if the uncertain expression on his guards' faces were anything to go by.
"We are many, my dear," he whispered. "And you are but two. What use are your threats?"
"Oh this wasn't a threat," Bella smiled, her grin a lethal, seductive baring of teeth. A predator spoiling for a fight. "Just a warning."
"You will never have us, Aro," Theo added in agreement. "Leave us be, and maybe you won't have to go looking for any new guards. Au revoir."
And with that, he pulled Bella close and they disappeared from sight, as if they had never existed at all.
Two days later…
The wintry sunlight graced the sprawling city with the last of its weak rays, making the silver and glass skyscrapers gleam like polished platinum.
Two figures stood at the window in one of these towering monoliths of the modern age. Identical gold bands glittered on their left hands, only outdone by the effervescent diamond shine of their skin in the sunlight, hands cupped gracefully around full crystal flutes, filled to the brim with what could have been mistaken for wine, but was actually blood.
Bella smiled as she thought over the confrontation only two days before. Since her change, she had been honing her skills and her control in preparation for that day. Both she and Theo knew it would happen.
It had not been easy, and there had been many close calls where only Theo's intervention saved the life of some poor hiker, or innocent mailman.
The change had granted her beauty and immortality, but Bella was so much wiser now. It had granted her perspective and strength she had never known.
The strength to protect all that she loved.
Including her husband.
She turned, and careful not to touch her glass to his too hard, she tapped the crystal together.
"To a warning well given," she murmured, smiling gently at the man she loved more than anything. He smiled, and drew her close, pale hand splaying over her hip possessively, mouth ghosting over the place where he had bitten her and stripped her of her mortality forever.
"To eternity, my Isabella," Theo whispered. "My love."
As she let him draw her into his arms, into his kiss, equals and opposites, she felt only a deep peace settle over her. She would miss the lake house in Geneva, remote and isolated, perfect for them, but she loved it here.
Here, she had first fallen tentatively in love with Theo, faced her fear and her grief, and released them. And now after two years of hiding, they were free, they were home.
A/N:So my first attempt at an original male character, what do you think? If you want to know who inspired him, just think Tom Hiddleston with black hair...
That man is too lush for words.