Edward cradled his broken arm, wincing as the guards slammed the door behind them on their way out. He removed his shirt and fashioned it into a sling.
The hole, they called this cell. Good name for it. It appeared to have been carved out of the side of a mountain, with an opening just big enough for a solid steel door. He could hear nothing through the walls.
He scanned for nearby minds. Charlie, Alice. They were together, talking to one another, but he didn't know where. Probably not far away. Probably in a cell just like the one he was in.
He read Alice's mind, then Charlie's. Back and forth he went, trying to follow their conversation.
"You'll heal, Charlie, but not very quickly. Not without blood."
"Don't worry about me. It doesn't matter. We need to find Bella. She's the key. I saw some medical equipment on the way down here. They thought I was unconscious. But I saw it. Bella must be nearby. There'd be no other reason to have that equipment in here. They would have to keep her down here, away from most of the vampires. Having humans inside would be too much of a temptation."
That was Charlie's plan, then. To get them closer to Bella.
Edward flexed his fist. The arm was healing, but slowly. If only he'd thought to read Charlie's mind earlier, he would have known what the plan was, he would have simply avoided fighting the guards. He wouldn't have been tossed into the cell, slammed against the wall. He'd been too focused on himself, he realized. Feeling sorry for himself, was the truth of it.
No more. Bella mattered too much.
"But we can't get to her," Alice was saying.
"Not without help, we can't," Charlie responded. "Now, just listen. If I know Edward, he's probably figured out that I wanted us to get transferred down here. He'll be listening in on this conversation."
They talked for fifteen minutes as Charlie outlined his plan. They would come for him soon, he told Alice. They would torture him in front of his daughter to see if using him was leverage enough to get her to comply with their wishes, to give her blood willingly, without a fight, without threats of suicide. A compliant human was much easier to deal with. Alice agreed; this is what she'd seen.
When they determined that holding Charlie was enough, they would come for Edward, Charlie said. They would bring him in front of Bella and they would make her watch as they killed him.
"How can you be so sure?" Alice wondered. "Even I can't see that."
"The Skinner Box," Charlie said. "More technically, it's called an operant conditioning chamber. It's theoretical only. The behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner came up with the concept when he was a grad student at Harvard back in the 1930s. It works like this: Skinner believed free will was an illusion. Human actions, he believed, are nothing but conditioned responses to external stimuli. If presented with stimulus X, the response will always be Y.
"Let's say you put someone inside a box from birth and controlled everything that person interacted with. You could predict with a hundred percent accuracy every response the person would have, Skinner said. Even if the person were released into the real world. He thought all human behavior was the result of positive or negative reinforcement.
"There's a lot of horseshit in Skinner's behaviorism theories, to be honest. He never accounted for the vast variety in the human genome.
"But there's also a lot of truth. I know that now, Alice. I can predict what people are going to do in response to my actions. It's like a picture in my mind. I do this, then they're forced to do that. I've always had good instincts about people, I guess. But now they're amplified a hundred times. I know what people are going to do before they do, before they've even decided what to do. It's like I have a map, and all I have to do is follow it."
Amazing. Charlie was amazing. As Edward listened, he realized the full power of Charlie's gift. A man with an intellect like that could rule the world.
As Charlie predicted, the guards came for him a moment later. They dragged him away, leaving Alice behind.
Edward, if you're listening, stop now. You don't need to be a part of this. Don't worry about me. I can handle myself. Give 'em a half hour, then check back in. They should be done with me by then. Be well, my friend.
Despite the warning, Edward listened. He listened to Charlie's mind through every gut-wrenching moment as he was shackled in titanium-alloy chains, dragged into a room, and beaten. Charlie gasped as he saw his daughter strapped down to a table with tubes running from her arms and legs. He thought she was unconscious.
Charlie watched as she woke up though, a technician unhooking a full blood bag from an I.V. stand, replacing it with an empty one, and putting the fresh blood on the top shelf in a nearby refrigerator. There was far too much blood in there for it to all be Bella's. The empty beds in the room attested to the fact that she was not the first human they'd had down here.
"Dad," he heard Bella moan. He thought she sounded weak, drained. He looked at her. She'd already lost weight. She was pale, with sunken cheeks and an oily sheen to her skin.
"You animals," Charlie said.
A trio of dark-skinned vamps stood nearby, all shirtless and heavily tattooed. Edward jumped from Charlie's head into theirs, scanning, searching for a clue about who they were and what their connection to the Volturi might be. But they were thinking in a language he wasn't familiar with. Portuguese, maybe.
He didn't want to lose track of Charlie, so he went back to reading his mind. Just then, Charlie watched Caius walk into the room carrying a four-pound sledge hammer.
Out of respect for Charlie, Edward didn't listen any longer. Charlie would tell him what he needed to know later on. The rest he had no right listening to. A man's pain was his alone to suffer.
The next half hour passed by slowly, anxiously. Edward had had enough. He scanned for Charlie's mind.
"OK, OK, I can't take it anymore," Charlie was saying, though Edward could tell he was simply trying to deceive his captors. "Just kill me. Please."
As far as Edward could tell, Charlie's kneecaps were shattered. His teeth were cracked, and his left arm throbbed with pain. His only thoughts, though, were about Bella, who remained strapped to the table. She was crying.
Charlie watched as Caius went to the fridge, removed a bag of blood from the bottom shelf, and twisted the cap from the end. He put the bag to his own mouth and sucked from it, slowly.
Edward could feel Charlie twitching. His mind raced, far too fast for Edward to keep up.
"Oh, would you like some?" Caius was saying. Charlie watched him approach.
Edward sensed that Charlie was fully in control, but that he wanted Caius to believe he wasn't. He lunged for Caius, all the while keeping the three other vamps in view.
Edward watched through Charlie's eyes as Caius easily dodged Charlie and laughed. He motioned for the other vampires to approach and hold Charlie down.
Edward was startled when a sense of euphoria overtook Charlie, an adrenaline rush he himself was quite familiar with. Caius had given Charlie a taste of the blood in the bag.
"Don't worry," Caius said. "This is not your daughter's blood. You may think me evil, but even I have my boundaries. I need you alive, sir. I can't very well torture a dead man, can I?"
After a few more sips, enough to allow him to heal, eventually, Charlie limped back to his cell, the three dark vampires leading him. He fell into Alice's arms as he was pushed into his cell, the door slamming behind him.
"Oh my god, Charlie. Are you OK?"
"They'll be coming for Edward soon," Charlie said. "He can take care of himself. But Bella cannot. Alice, she's bad. They're bleeding her dry. If we don't get her out of here, and I mean soon, she won't last. To be honest, I'm not sure she'll ever recover from what they've done."
Edward felt the rage boil inside of him. It seemed as if his heart were beginning to beat again, though he knew that was impossible. His fingers tingled and the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
He smelled the air as if for the first time, a mix of dank mildew and the reek of the undead.
He pulled the last Marlboro from his pack with the broken arm, now fully healed. He removed the sling and put the cigarette to his lips, took the Zippo from his back pocket, flipped the top open with a practiced flick of his thumb, spun the flint wheel on his black jeans, and lifted the flame.
He closed his eyes and leaned against the solid wall, drawing deeply on the cigarette. He blocked out all the minds around him and focused on Bella. He could not get into her head, a fact that he deeply regretted right then, but he concentrated on who she was. The girl who thought there was nothing to live for, convinced otherwise by a man who had been, for all intents and purposes, dead for a hundred years.
He savored that irony. He let it simmer. He remembered the first time they kissed, their first dance, the sweet smell of her blood at the gas station, the look of her, nearly naked, when she told him her story, the feel of his hands on her skin, her warm blood coursing. He recalled the night she revealed who she was, who she had been, and who she believed she was destined to be. No one deserved those horrors. No one deserved what she was going through now.
He felt the corners of his mouth lifting into a smile when he heard soft footsteps. The guards were coming. Brazilians, he believed. Members of the infamous Amazon Tribe. In league with Caius, followers of the hooded one.
Realization dawned on him then, the story coming full circle. The hooded vampire was the man who had turned him so long ago. Now that he'd made the connection, it was unmistakable.
This moment, right here, was what he had been created for. His torment in the hospital, when he watched his wife die, when his baby was torn from his arms by the hands of that monster, it had led up to this. His life, and his death, they would mean nothing if he did not save Bella.
She was the beginning and the end of everything.
He sensed friction as a guard in the hallway pulled the key to his cell from his pocket. He felt air molecules move when the guard put the key to the hole and slid it in. It was as if here were connected to the world in a way he never had been before. The lock clicked, tumblers fell into place, and the pressure in the room changed slightly as the door began to swing open.
Edward remained immobile, his eyes closed, the cigarette dangling from his lips. He kept his hands by his side, loose, his long black coat open, his bare chest still.
The door swung inward.
Edward did not move, nor open his eyes.
The guards approached, one on either side of him.
One reached for his arm. The other for his shoulder. Edward felt them close in.
He opened his eyes and he let the smoke drift from his nostrils and he swung his left arm to his right and his right arm to his left and he grabbed the two vampires by the wrists and pulled with all his might and watched as they collided in front of him.
He drew in more smoke from the Marlboro and he brought up his right knee into the faces of the two guards, simultaneously cracking their jaws.
He leapt into the air and brought his legs up over his head and he flipped and came down upon them with the force of a hundred years of anger and he pinned each of them beneath a knee.
Reaching first for the vampire on his right, he put his fingers in the man's eye sockets and pulled and he felt the soft tissue give way and he used the strength that had been building within him for eons now to remove the man's head.
He smoked, and he savored the flavor of the smoke and he exhaled and he grinned, because he knew that now the dark days were over. He would save Bella and they would escape this place and when she was well again, he would come back here and he would destroy the Volturi and everything that it ever would be.
Edward stood then, the severed head of one vampire in his right hand and the dazed body of another in his left.
"I'm coming for you, Caius," he whispered, and he spat the spent cigarette onto the ground and, almost as an afterthought, removed the head of the remaining vampire with a quick pull.
He tossed the disembodied head aside and opened the door the rest of the way and removed the key chain. He scanned for Charlie and Alice, and he slowed as he approached the cell where their signal was strongest.
He made sure there were no guards inside and keyed open the door.
"I'll need your help," he said.
"I was expecting you," Charlie said. He stood on shaking legs. Alice gripped his hand tightly and led him out the door.
"She's this way," Charlie said, limping down a long, winding tunnel through the rocks.
When they reached their destination, Edward searched for the correct key. He found it and wrenched the door open.
"No. Wait!" Charlie screamed, but it was too late.
Edward was quick though, his instincts taking over. He ducked as another dark, tattooed vampire came at him. He took the vampire's head in his hands and used his momentum to propel him into the wall.
Charlie picked the dazed vamp up one-handed, while Alice put her arm around the vampire's head and twisted her body. The bones snapped and the skin ripped and the head came off with a pop.
Charlie and Alice stood guard at the door as Edward ran to Bella, whose eyes were closed. Her breathing was irregular, weak and raspy, and her heart was beating far too quickly. She was in shock; she had lost too much blood. He hoped she hadn't given up.
Edward disconnected electrodes from her chest and gently pulled the tubes from her arms and legs. He lifted her to his chest and embraced her as a trickle of blood seeped from the needle mark in her arm. He kissed her there, on her wound, and he hoped that he could remove the pain. He tasted her blood, but quickly pulled his mouth away.
Bella moaned, but she did not open her eyes.
"How's she doing?" Charlie called out.
"Oh no," Alice said.
Edward bent to kiss Bella one last time, while she was still alive.
A/N Well that was fun. Stick around, things look like they're about to turn. ;)
Give MazzyStarla some loving, y'all. She fixed some stuff here that made it readable.