The Twilight Twenty-Five
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Marcus was happiest when he was daydreaming about the apocalypse.
The sun getting too hot, the oceans rising. The whole earth and all the works of man - pyramids, temples, cathedrals, books, cigarettes, cell phones, hydrogen bombs, antidotes and cures, recipes, memories, songs - would be gone for the rest of time. He would think that maybe, at the very end of all of this, he would find her again. Two tiny specks of energy uniting in the infinite darkness.
He walked the Roman streets in autumn, just after a storm. There were still dark clouds in the sky, and evening was slowly falling behind them. The cars went by with the sound of a long, drawn-out match strike. Tires catching in the water on the glossy pavement. To him, it was as loud as an ocean roar. Everything was. Couples talking across the street. Babies crying in the apartment buildings he walked by. Heartbeats. Heartbeats. Heartbeats. Music blaring in restaurants.
Had he ever loved Rome? Had he ever even liked it? Aro did. Aro loved all the grand old cities, where he could remember the land before the buildings were put up. He seemed to love so many things, Marcus thought it was entirely possible that his old friend had forgotten what it really was to love. But Marcus would never forget.
You should get back soon, He thought to himself, You are becoming discontent. Go back and sit still and let the moss grow over you and let yourself be content. You shouldn't have left, they'll notice. Caius will start talking about what a liability you've become, and this time Aro might listen. Then what will stop them?
But why stop them? Why do anything at all? Why not stop feeding and let your eyes grow dark and clouded?
A young couple waked by him. Two men holding hands. One of them seemed to notice him with that unsettled awareness mortals sometimes had. Perhaps his eyes were too bright, or perhaps this fellow just had good instincts. It didn't matter. He didn't care about being observed.
Maybe you should bury yourself in a bed of dirt and sleep for a hundred years, like one of the damn Romanians.
He bumped his shoulder against someone who was rounding a corner street.
"Oh!" She gasped, "I'm so sorry! Excuse me!"
The voice caught his ear at once. It was a voice he hadn't heard in three millennia, but a voice he knew intimately. When he looked up, he saw her face. The gentle curve of her jaw, the slight tilt of the nose, the soft high cheekbones, the laughing feline eyes. And the mouth. That slightly-too-thin and slightly-too-wide upper lip that gave her such a memorable and lovely smile. If he'd have slept, he would have dreamt of that smile.
She was wearing modern clothes. A white dress shirt tucked loosely into a pair of tight black jeans. She had a necklace made of large pieces of something that looked like sea glass but might have been jade, an emerald green purse and pale green platform shoes. A burst of happy colour on a chic girl walking the streets of Rome. A chic girl with the same voice, the same face, the same mouth and the same waves of dark hair that had belonged to another girl who'd live centuries upon centuries before her.
A coincidence. It must be. You knew there was bound to be a woman whose features would have come together the same way. Someone was going to remind you of her sooner or later…
"It's alright." He said, and he couldn't help but smile at her just a little.
She smiled back, not quite meeting his eyes, and hurried on down the street. He watched her go into a door at the very end. A glass door with some notices and logo stickers on it. That meant a public place.
Follow her. You'll never get another chance to see her.
No. Go back to where you belong now. It's dangerous to stay in one place too long.
She'd gone into a little restaurant. He could see her through the window, sitting at a coffee bar with a small white cup and a magazine. She had one elbow up on the top of the bar, and she was kind of twisting her hand absent-mindedly in the air. Running her thumb over the edges of her fingernails. Just like she always did when she was distracted and thought nobody was looking at her. Then she tilted her head to one side, and her hair fell across her back in the same bouncing waves it always did.
He wanted to go to her and take her up in his arms and kiss her.
But it wasn't really her, was it?
Without a clear plan in his head, he opened the door to the café and walked in. Nobody noticed him particularly, or they would have glimpsed the flickering expression of utter disgust that took over his face when the strong smell of food and drink hit his nostrils. It had been quite awhile since he was that near to it.
There was a table in the corner by the window where he could watch her in a subtle way, and not be too near to the other mortals sitting around the place. He pulled out one of the chairs and sat in it.
What did you hear the children saying about these places?
The children. That was her word for the newer members of their coven. Such a sweet habit of hers. He'd picked it up and never dropped it.
"You need to order something or they'll kick you out." Wasn't that it? "Always ask for something strong. They just bring some kind of drink to you."
The waiter came and stood by the table with a notepad in his hand and an expectant look on his face. He didn't say anything or try to make conversation. Marcus appreciated that.
"Something strong." He said, in as confident a way as he could manage; the waiter nodded and went away.
There were too many noises in that place. Half a dozen heartbeats, the constant clatter of dishes in the backroom, forks against dishes at the tables nearby, buzzing mortal conversation, rumbling coffee machines and the strange vacuum noise of the steamer. He tried to focus all of his senses on her as much as he could - ignore the overpowering smells and obnoxious sounds - listen to the soft wrinkle of the magazine pages as she turned them, the sipping noise when she took some of her coffee, the gentle clink when she put the cup down on the counter.
Everything she did sent an electric current through him. Like he was being revived by a thousand microscopic bolts of lightning. These small moments, watching this echo of his past, were bringing him back to life.
The waiter brought a small thin cup full of pitch black coffee that smelled more pungent than anything else in the room. Marcus tried not to grimace, just to nod his thanks at the man to get him to hurry away. He was only there for the girl. Anything else was a waste of time.
"Hello again," She said, standing across from him with the magazine tucked under her arm, "I crashed into you before, do you remember?"
The waiter looked between the two of them, both with curious and haunted expressions on their faces. He shrugged and went away. La vita a Roma.
Marcus nodded at her.
"Would you like to sit?"
She thought about it, then pulled the chair out.
"I can't talk very long, I have a rehearsal I need to get to."
"I'm a dancer…" She said, distractedly, "I'm sorry. I feel like I've seen you somewhere before. Before today, I mean. It's so strange."
"You remind me of someone as well," He said, "You look identical to her."
Her interest was piqued by that, and her eyes widened with a familiar girlish curiosity. Everything - everything - about her was the same.
"Do you have a photo of her?" She asked.
"No. I wish I did."
"Can we look her up on the Internet?"
He shook his head.
"Have you lived here long?" He asked, trying to dissuade the girl from asking too many questions with unusual answers. He didn't want to alarm her or make her uncomfortable. He just wanted to talk to her.
"In Rome?" She smiled, "I've lived here forever. Sometimes I feel like I've been here as long as the statues, back when all the men were called Marcus Something and the coliseum had all of its walls."
"Why did you pick that name? Marcus."
"Oh, I think I read someplace that it was the most popular name back then. All of the ancient Romans in movies are called Marcus. Does it matter?"
"My name is Marcus."
She nodded, distant for a moment. Looking at something far away in her mind, like she was trying to make out shapes in the night.
"How funny," She said, "I feel like I already knew that."
There was a tapping on the glass by his chair. Somebody knocking on the window of the café. He didn't look up at first, he was so enchanted by her. By finding her again. The fact that she seemed to recognize him somehow was curious to him. He wanted to know more about her and what she felt towards him.
The tapping came again.
"I think those are some friends of yours." She said, and nodded out the window.
Finally he turned to look and saw three pairs of dark red eyes. Three of the children. Demetri, Felix and Jane. Aro must have sent them searching. They were dressed in their modern street clothes in order to blend in, and because this wasn't a formal assignment. He was not being called upon by some decree or as some form of punishment. Still, Jane had been sent instead of Corin. This was a warning. A reminder.
None of the children would confess their orders to him, and Aro would deny any of his suspicions, but Marcus was sure that this was another sign of how weak the ties between them had become. Beyond the scope of Chelsea's false devotions.
"Stay here for a moment, would you?" He said to her, then headed out to the street.
"Hello, Marcus!" Felix said with an airy cheerfulness that was supposed to make everything seem chummy, "What a strange thing, coming across you. We were out touring the city, and Demetri said: 'I think Marcus is nearby.' So we thought we'd catch up with you."
"Are you on a date?" Demetri asked with a half-smile, "You're not going Cullen on us, are you? It's ill-advised to get attached to the food. You know that."
"She looks like Didyme." Marcus said simply, and all of the teasing and taunting drained out of them.
None of them had known Didyme, they were all too young. Demetri was eldest, and he'd joined right after her death. But they knew her shadow, and they knew her story. Most of all, they knew what she meant to Marcus and what Marcus meant to the Volturi.
Jane leaned to look through the window, wanting to see what this girl looked like.
Marcus whirled around, only to see the table they were sitting at was now empty. There was no sign of the girl, just the untouched espresso where he had left it.
"Damn you!" He said to the three of them, "And damn Aro for sending you!"
They exchanged glances amongst themselves. It must have been a shock, he knew. For so long he'd been nothing to them but a reanimated corpse slumped in the third throne. They probably wondered why he'd been chosen to be a leader in the first place, other than his gift. Marcus realized that he hadn't been himself in so long, none of the children knew what he was actually like. It must have come as quite a surprise to them that he had any kind of personality.
"Wait here," Demetri said, "I'll go speak with the staff inside. Maybe she comes here often. They might know where we can find her."
"Thank you." Marcus said, getting some of his composure back.
When Demetri had ducked into the café, Jane asked:
"What did she look like?"
Felix raised an eyebrow at her.
"She can't have gotten too far," She explained, "And there's probably only that side exit down in that alley. If I had a description…"
"Dark hair, delicate build, taller than you by about three inches. Blue shoes, green bag, white shirt."
"You noticed what she was wearing?" Felix chuckled, "You're much more observant than I am."
"Potted plants are more observant than you are," Jane said, "Stay here. I'll check the nearest streets."
When she was gone, Marcus said to Felix:
"You two have a rapport."
"After five centuries of working together, you tend to build one," Felix shrugged, "We're all friends in the Guard."
This surprised Marcus. He hadn't heard the word friends used in reference to the Volturi Guard except when Aro was attempting to be political. Of course they were friends. He could see it all, the ribbons of shared experience and battlefield victories. He wondered why he had never used his gift to see how the children felt about one another, instead of just checking to make sure they all felt devotion to Aro.
He had been in a haze for far too long.
"We'll find this girl for you," Felix said, "You need to think about what you want to do when you see her again."
"I just want to see her."
"Fine. But remember that we're risking trouble by doing this."
Demetri came out of the café shaking his head.
"Where's Jane?" He asked.
"Checking side streets."
"The proprietor had never seen her before, and hadn't paid enough attention to her to catch a good thread of her mind," He explained, "I paid for your coffee, by the way."
"Marcus seemed pretty focused on her, can't you get a read on her from that?" Felix asked Demetri.
"He was mixing her up with his memories. Half of the tenor is hers, half of it isn't. I can use what I got from the man at the counter and try to mix it with the impression Marcus had, but it's weak. If we had more information…"
"She's a dancer." Marcus offered.
"Do you know her name?"
Jane returned then, shaking her head and looking genuinely disappointed. Another surprise for Marcus. All he really knew about her was that she was unwaveringly loyal to Aro. It was an unquestioning loyalty born out of fear and pain, and one of the most consistent of all the bonds he was asked to examine. Why was she helping? Aro would want her to bring Marcus back right away.
"No luck," She said, "She could have gone into another building. Can we follow her?"
"It's difficult," Demetri said, "But we can try."
"If we get home by dawn, Aro won't notice how long we've been gone," Jane nodded, "We'll search until then."
For the first time since his wife had died, Marcus decided to look at how people felt towards him, instead of how they felt towards one another. What he noticed, looking at the feelings and strings that bound these three children to him, was that they all saw of piece of themselves in him and his apathetic state. They all knew that each one of them was one harsh blow away from spending the rest of their eternity as he did.
In finding this girl, they would prove to themselves that they could reclaim something lost. That it was possible to have a piece of your past back.
But this girl wasn't really Didyme. She wouldn't bring the past back with her. He had prayed so many times to so many gods for one more look at her, just to have her tell him what he was supposed to do. How he was supposed to go on without her.
His prayers had finally been answered.
"No, children," He sighed, "It is best not to bother. I was given a gift tonight, and it is time we went home. Who knows? Perhaps she has a new life. I won't ruin that for her. We all must take our second chances the way they come."
His wife had never understood hope any better than he had. But she had always been remarkably adept at bestowing it upon him nonetheless.
"Are you sure?" Felix asked.
Marcus sent one last, long look through the café window, at the seat she had taken. He hoped her life was one worth living, that woman who was and wasn't the ghost of from his past.
"Not at all," he replied, and then led them back home.