Fifteen minutes passed. Remembering her bag (and to tuck Anna's scarf up her sleeve), Beth left the bathroom feeling incredibly refreshed, and smelling rather like a white chocolate cookie.
Mm. That was probably the best bath I've ever had!
All was quiet outside her room – so much so, she felt momentarily guilty for breaking it with the intrusive knock on Anna's door.
"Come in, Beth."
She found a very different Anna inside, sitting quietly on the edge of her bed while she unravelled her long plait with delicate precision, brushing it carefully out with a many-toothed comb she must have found somewhere.
The indigo dress was gone, folded away in the bag beside her, and she now wore a maroon, hooded shirt with dark jeans that accentuated her curves.
Beth noticed one thing most of all, and it left her feeling guiltily relieved. "You look better."
"I feel better." Anna didn't look up, even when she sniffed. "What's that smell?"
"Oh. Yeah, I had a bath." Beth came to perch her bum beside her friend on the bed, watching her comb her hair. She curled her fingers around each segment of plait, teasing it out and expertly taming the curls with the white comb. "Where did you get that? It looks like ivory."
"It is. I found it on the sink in my bathroom." Anna looked up. She didn't appear to notice the way Beth gaped in horror at the thought of whichever elephant the precious material had been stolen from.
"Oh." An awkward pause. "I'm really sorry about what I said before, about you and Aro. It was a stupid thing for me to say –"
"No, Beth. I'm sure you were right. Everyone must know about us or at the very least have inkling. " Anna sighed. "This bond between Aro and I is new to me. It," – she swallowed, lowering her comb at last – "it hurts."
"I know. I can see. " Beth wrapped an arm around her. "Marcus told me it was the strongest bond he had ever seen. So… you don't have to leave, you know. We can stay, if it will be better for you."
"No. Somehow I do not think it will be." Anna straightened up, almost proudly. "I am to become Aro's Queen, Beth. That is a responsibility I have to ready myself for."
"You mean without his…um, presence distracting you?"
"Mm. I am going to miss him."
This shouldn't have surprised Beth, but it did. She's changed so much. "And he will undoubtedly miss you too. So it's probably a good thing I found this…"
She pulled out the scarf with a small flourish, and placed it in her lap, treating it as gently as a kitten. "I found this in the garden, and I thought you might like it back."
Anna exhaled a small laugh. "I must stop leaving this around." Her hands came almost protectively over it. "Thank you, Beth."
Beth shrugged. "I suppose you'll…leave it with Aro, won't you?"
She paused. "Yes. I will."
Suddenly, there was a curt knock on the door, and they exchanged a startled look, both thinking exactly the same thing. Is it him?
"Who is it?" Anna asked. She kept her voice composed, despite her wide, eager eyes.
"It is Demetri, signora. My Masters are asking for you."
Beth bit back a groan. Oh, great. You. Beth was dreading the sneering, contemptuous look Demetri seemed to hold just for her, but she followed Anna in spite of it.
Don't forget your promise, a small, but very reproachful inward-voice reminded her. Treat him with respect…and maybe he will return the favour.
Stepping aside, Demetri courteously nodded to them, bidding them good morning without a flicker of emotion – that is, until Beth drifted passed.
He smelt the familiar, sweet waft of Volturi bubble bath emanating off her. His handsome gaze seemed to sharpen to a point where she wanted to cringe away from it.
Go on, then, she thought. Make a fuss. Just stop glaring at me.
"I see you have been making yourself at home," he acknowledged, silkily, but that was it.
Beth tried not to gawp. "Yes, um…"
"She will be staying with me on my return," Anna smiled over her shoulder.
Well, Demetri clearly was not expecting that. In any other situation, Beth would have laughed at the expression on his face, but she felt only a bitter stab of hurt.
I'm not that awful to be around…am I?
"Let's go, shall we?"
They made their way to the Hall in silence, allowing minds to wonder. Neither of them could help thinking back on the dark dread they had felt that day. Back when the Volturi were just an emotionless, ominous cult of authority who had so mercilessly killed her family.
But who knew they were so...human? Marcus with his wrecked heart, Caius with his wife (Beth tried not to linger on that too much), and Aro, falling quite wonderfully helplessly in love with her best friend. It rather screwed up the mind.
Through the heavy doors, and they saw all trace of the night before had vanished in the Hall, presumably by human cleaners. They'd even had time to wax the floor.
Only the three leaders stood in the room, and Anna wondered if perhaps the Guard had been ordered to stay away – and if that was so, how much had Aro told them? Someone was dead, there was no question there, but they couldn't possibly know who, could they?
She swallowed. He had some serious explaining to do; she could see that in Caius' face, as they all glanced up at the sound of the girls' entrance. He looked like he was about to explode.
A smile as dazzling as the sun broke on Aro's face, and her heart seized in her chest.
She dropped her bag, yet even in her blatant eagerness, she did not run to him…he caught her, drawing her in; clinging to her almost in such a passionate, desperate way, Anna shivered. She pressed a single, sweet, lingering kiss to his lips, causing him to sigh with longing.
Beth felt the need to avert her gaze. Will it always be like this? She was relieved when she caught the eye of Marcus, who gave her a smile of greeting. Her heart lurched at the memory of their last meeting, but she returned it easily, feeling genuinely glad to see him again.
Caius spotted this, and she suddenly felt like a naughty child under his glare. It crackled with suspicion.
Boy, I can't wait to see you again, she thought, gloomily.
The future Queen of Volterra was only metres away from her, but it might as well have been an entire world away. She had only eyes for Aro.
"You have something for me?" He was asking. His fingers teased at the loose knot that tied her scarf around her forearm.
"Yes." Anna swallowed, and something clicked in her throat. Her eyes shone. "As I recall, you are quite familiar with it.
He brought the scarf to his nose, breathing in her fresh scent. His eyebrow arched. "A fond memory?"
"A vow," she whispered. "One of many to come." The sweet sincerity in her voice made him beam wider.
"The day beckons, brother," Caius said, abruptly. "The sun is rising."
Now it was Beth's turn to glare – but when she automatically glanced up at the ceiling, she saw that he was right.
So if they were going to leave without drawing too much attention to themselves, they were going to have to leave now.
Anna swallowed. "Time is not on our side," she sighed, her voice small.
"But soon it will be," Aro glanced up at Beth, and said, with just a hint of strictness. "I await your return."
Translation: Take care of my mate, you hear me?
She nodded, rolling her eyes a little. "It'll be sooner than you think, trust me." That earned her a small, watery smile from Anna.
"Farewell…my love." She pressed a final kiss to his forehead, and turned away.
Beth almost expected him to follow them out, but he did not. He stood there, with the bright eyes of a fraught man, but that was it, and that confused her. Didn't he like leaving his hall, even now, watching his Queen depart from him?
Wrapping a protective, supportive arm around Anna's shoulders, she stored that little niggling thought away for a later date.
It was Demetri who saw them out. How strangely fitting it felt, as it was he who had seen them into these strange turn of events.
No one spoke, not even Beth. For once, the quiet didn't affect her at all. Anna was putting on a brave face, but the pain flashed raw in clear in her eyes for all to see, as the distance between her and Aro grew and grew.
They reached the back entrance. Demetri came to a stop, his face bored, almost blank.
"Well," said Beth. She smirked, crookedly. "This has been…fun."
Anna's lip curved into a small smile, while Demetri was, of course, scowling.
"This is hardly the time for joking." He suddenly glared at Anna, growling, "You are making a terrible mistake, leaving Master Aro like this."
"Hey!" Beth cried, shocked and angry, but Anna got there first.
"I realise that, Demetri. However, you should have a care before you decide to lecture me on what you believe I should and should not do." She smiled. There was no malice behind that smile, and perhaps that was what made it all the more deadly. "After all, you do not want Aro to think you doubt me, do you?"
Beth didn't know whether to applaud her or be afraid, except she felt very glad she wasn't on the receiving end of that question. Demetri looked quite taken aback.
"No, I do not…my Lady." He cleared his throat, uncomfortably. "Forgive me for saying so."
Holy shit! Beth thought, with some delight. If Anna was shocked to hear him apologise – and address her as his Lady – she did not show it.
"That's quite alright." She smiled again, and it was beautiful, serene. "Just know that I won't keep him waiting; I promised him I wouldn't. Goodbye, Demetri."
"Yeah," Beth nodded her head. In spite of her vow, she knew she would be ribbing him mercilessly about this later. "See you soon. Real soon."
They walked out of the Volturi's headquarters, hand in hand, with their hoods up.
Up in his room, Aro watched them disappear briefly under Beth's glamour.
"Till we meet again," he murmured to the air, "Don't keep me waiting, my love."
He could almost see her smiling, that gentle, delicately coy smile she kept just for him.
I won't, my love. I won't.
To be continued…
So here we are at last! I really hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing...although next time, I'll try not to lay the angst on quite so thick! The title for the sequel is going to be Finding Her Feet, so look out for it when I am ready to put it on here!
For now, though, your feedback and reviews are always welcome!