Author's note from DragonGirl323: "Hello again, everyone! Profuse apologies for the extended delay. We don't need to go into details, but both Mortal and myself are hoping we can post chapters more regularly now. So please enjoy the newest installment and let us know what you think afterwards! We love and appreciate all the feedback we receive."
Author's note from Mortal-paralight: "My apologies for putting out this chapter late. The blame falls on me because I couldn't get any inspiration to write this, and when I did, I had to delete what I wrote because it was pretty bad. Even now, the full credit for this good chapter falls on DragonGirl323 because she edited this chapter and made it better. So anyways, please read and review this chapter. We would like to receive your feedback."
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A Beauty within the Beast
Bella's Point of View
It had been a week and a half since the confrontation with the Volturi and nearly a week since his last visit. It seemed a little strange that he hadn't come sooner than this, and I welcomed the silence, butover the past few days as I remained rooted to my spot on the window seat, it became clear to me that I was starting to suffocate in this cell.
I wanted more than anything to walk outside or even pass through the hallways of the castle, but the crippling fear of getting used once more or even feeling the confusion that continuously gripped me every time Stefan was around kept me confined to this room. There wasn't anything I could occupy myself with, except stare out the window and watch the snow fall from the sky, which made me feel even more confined.
Placing my forehead against the glass, I closed my eyes and tried to find an upside to this experience, to this slavery, but there was none. I was a slave to him, nothing more, and there would be no returning to my old life, to my family.
Just as my despair grew, a beautiful sound began wafting into my cell, making me open my eyes and turn my head toward the sound. The resonance coming from the violin was low in volume, but with my vampire hearing, it was easy to hear the tunes. Considering Edward's musical talents, I could tell that it was simply someone tuning their instrument, but the sound was still lovely, a welcomed change since my arrival here.
In no time, the tune changed to an actual song, one that simply blew me away in the first few notes.
The music resembled a song that you would hear in the 1900's, something that lived on the pages of a romance novel and made you reminisce about a time long gone. In the beginning, it was soft and slow, with an almost sad undertone to it. As the song continued its course, it added a strange happiness that soon turned into longing and intense desire.
Since it was either Stefan or Vladimir playing, the reason behind this particular song choice could be because they were longing to be with their mates again. The song practically screamed that they desired to be nearer to them, at least, that was the tone that translated into the notes.
As the song progressed and continued to emphasize the player's desperate longing, my body seemed to be drawn toward the sound. Unconsciously, I pulled myself to my feet and moved toward the door, leaning my ear against it and listened attentively to the melody. The corners of my eyes twitched as a dim human memory jumped to the forefront of my mind. I had heard the song once in my life, and that was when I watched the movie Titanic and fell asleep partway through it—who can blame me? I was barely twelve years old at the time—but the melody still remained in my mind because it was wonderful.
It was as if the sound wrapped around you and made you feel all sorts of emotions all at once.
As the song continued, I wanted to follow it and find it at its source. But the fear that danger lurked on the other side of the door was always present, and that danger had a name: Stefan. Stefan could be outside and may want… Shaking my head, I backed away from the door, but was still entranced by the melody, part of me still wanting to walk out of this room and follow the song.
And that part of me was quickly taking control over my actions.
Gritting my teeth, I threw caution out the window and took a step forward, gripping the handle and opening the door, taking a few moments to brace myself before peeking my head outside, seeing no one present in the corridor.
An involuntary sigh of relief escaped my lips when Stefan was not standing outside the door, waiting for his next pleasurable session. A small weight lifted from my shoulders from not only the fact that I was in the safe zone for the time being, but also because the melody was still there, enveloping me and drawing me closer.
As my initial shock faded, I set off in search of where the alluring sounds were coming from.
While winding through the various hallways of the cold castle, my eyes continuously scanned the surroundings for any sign of the two Romanian vampires that owned this castle. But there seemed to be no sign of Vladimir or Stefan whatsoever. That brightened my mood a little, but then a flare of apprehension rose up within me. Where were they? Obviously, one of them was playing the wonderfully soft melody, which I assumed was Vladimir, but where was the other one?
Where was Stefan? What was he plotting?
The tune surprisingly led me to Stefan's study, completely flooring my expectations. Was he the one playing this wonderful song? The door was ajar, allowing the sound to carry throughout the castle. Silently slipping my head only an inch inside his study, my eyes immediately found Stefan, who was sitting with his back to the door as he played his violin. I was grateful for his momentary distraction because that made it easier for me to sneak a peek inside the large room, as well as recover from the shock of what I was witnessing in front of my eyes.
Stefan's study consisted of two floors, the walls of both decorated with rich, dark mahogany wood, so different from the aged stone of the rest of the castle. The second floor had a lovely thick banister surrounding it, with floor to ceiling bookshelves on both floors. A spiral metal staircase stood in the far left corner of the study right beside a beautiful white stone fireplace, just begging to be lit to bring the room some color.
Beautifully upholstered seats were stationed on each corner of the ancient rug in the middle of the room, and an elegantly designed chandelier was rooted in the ceiling directly above the middle of the rug, illuminating not only the designs in the carpet, but also the seats and the immaculate wood floors.
Even though the scenery of his study was astonishing and could keep me in awe for hours on end—especially the library—, none of it came remotely close to Stefan's talents on the violin. There was not only a sense of age to him, but also years of loss and longing. There were so many different emotions he was translating into the notes of the instrument that…it made me question whether or not he could have a softer side to him.
All too soon, he stopped playing and after the music had faded completely, he sunk into his chair and lifted a hand to rub his eyes as though he was fatigued. I found my gaze transfixed on Stefan's back and realized with a small amount of chagrin that I couldn't look away from him. It was as if my entire body and soul was crying out for him to start playing that wonderful melody again.
But, once again, my prayers went unanswered as Stefan finally inhaled, detecting my scent, and snapped his head in my direction, our gazes locking as the silence grew around us.
Stefan's eyes widened and he straightened in his seat as my name slipped from his lips, his surprise over my appearance evident in his voice.
My body involuntarily flinched at his reaction, making me believe that I'd intruded on his personal time when I realized that his posture had become alert and calculative. My gaze went down to the ground and my feet unconsciously moved back a few steps. "I…I'm sorry…" I said weakly in response to his surprise.
The small stretch of silence that followed hung thickly between us and my anxiety flared when I heard the soft intake of air as he prepared to speak. "It's alright. Come in, if you'd like," Stefan offered, the softness in his tone surprising me.
As my eyes drifted upwards, I saw him place his violin against the side of the chair before his attention centered on me once more. Fear began to course through me at his unexpected attitude shift. While walking inside his office, closing the door behind me and staying close to the door, my hands started to shake slightly as my mind ran through the reasons why Stefan would change his mood in such a short amount of time.
If his change in demeanor is another manipulation tactic to get his way, it may be best to stay close to the door, just in case.
Stefan remained silent for a few moments before looking down at his violin momentarily. His gaze found mine soon afterwards and his body shifted slightly in his seat. "I assume you weren't aware that I played?" he asked gently, making me look up at him ever so slightly and uncertainly.
Shaking my head, I replied hesitantly, "I…I really hadn't expected this side of you."
The ghost of a smile appeared on his face, making my anxiety escalate to another level. "Not many do," he said, unfortunately not relaxing my frayed nerves. "I've mastered quite a few instruments."
My gaze dropped down to my feet and my hands involuntarily went to worry at the hem of my shirt—a nervous tick from my days as a human that I hadn't been able to shake—as a bout of honesty slipped from my lips unconsciously. "I…I don't think I've ever heard something so…beautiful," I stated, instantly regretting those words. What if he scolded me for speaking out of turn or saying something that he disliked? Stefan would certainly make me pay for speaking up…and that thought only amplified my fear. The struggle to keep my instinct to flee under control was becoming more difficult with each passing second.
Looking up, I saw Stefan's smile widen, which only made me grip my shirt even tighter, anticipating a horrifying and gruesome response from him, and braced myself for a swift retreat.
But his next reply simply shocked me to my core.
"Thank you," he said, and the gratitude I detected in his voice actually sounded genuine.
This was the first time that Stefan had ever complimented me. At least, I believe this is the first time that he ever complimented me and meant it. Why would he say that? What was going on with him…? Ever since he came to my room last week, something inside him had changed. The crystal clear memory of what his fingers felt like as they brushed my cheek still left me with a great deal of confusion. I don't exactly know what had brought about such a dramatic shift in his demeanor, and who knows how long it would last, but…it was a nice change of pace.
"It's been some time since I played last. Helps me think," he explained, making me wonder why he would talk so…calmly, especially to me, someone who he only considered a pet that could be tamed when needed.
Nodding slightly, I continued to fumble with my shirt while staring back at him. "Should I leave you to it then…?" I asked shakily, not wanting his wrath to suddenly surge and hit me full force. "I…I didn't mean to disturb your thoughts."
Stefan shook his head and said, "Don't worry, you didn't disturb me," and rose from his seat, carrying his violin over to his desk and delicately resting it on the surface.
I nodded, keeping my eyes on him as he placed his violin down, and decided to try and see how far his light mood would go, even if it may hurt or even kill me in the long run. "How long have you been playing?"
Another short pause followed my question. "Around four hundred years," he answered as he leaned back against the edge of his desk and folded his arms over his chest. "I took interest in it back in the early 1600's."
Nodding slowly, I swallowed the venom pooling in my mouth and said, "It shows. You're quite talented." The instant those words left my mouth, I had to force myself to remain stoic even though my eyes desperately wanted to bug out of my skull in absolute shock. What was wrong with me?! Why would I compliment him, the man who had tortured and used me as his slave? Yes, his talent for playing the violin was astonishing, but what would push me to actually praise him, especially now?
Stefan inclined his head toward me and said, "Thank you," making me wonder where this nonchalant attitude was coming from. Normally, he would never allow me to speak up like this, and he would certainly never say 'thank you' so freely.
And to think we were now complimenting one another… Something was definitely wrong here.
As the silence between us thickened, a part of me simply wanted nothing more than for it to be transformed into a symphony of wonderfully soft classical music. To break the awkward silence, I coughed once and briefly looked away, once again letting the illogical part of my mind speak for me. "Would you…would you mind playing again…?" I asked, in a sense hoping that he would pick up his violin again, but another part only wanting to get away and hide before his good mood faded and the tyrant returned.
Stefan shot me a perplexed stare and blinked a few times before speaking up again, never failing to surprise me. "I wouldn't mind at all," he said before reaching behind him and picking up his violin again. "Would you like to hear something different?"
Delight surged within me as I watched him cross the room, but it still surprised me that he would, in fact, indulge me. Usually, he would shoot me down for speaking up, or even punish me for voicing my opinions, but now he was being…civil about this entire conversation, which made me unaware of what I was saying until the words were already out of my mouth.
Just like right now.
"It…would be nice to hear something different, see what you know," I answered, nearly biting my tongue in shock. Yes, I liked to hear him play, but it wasn't my place to tell him that he should. Not after everything he's done to me…
Stefan nodded and sat down before placing his violin beneath his jaw, shooting me an unexpected grin, which, surprisingly, didn't make a cold shiver shoot down my spine like it did usually. This smile possessed an odd warmth, which was doing some very strange things to my innards.
"I know a few things," he retorted, dropping his gaze to his instrument and rhythmically tapping the bow against his knee in concentration.
As he thought of what to play next, I took an involuntary step forward, but stopped immediately when I realized what I was doing. I had wanted to be closer to him, and not because I was worried about not being able to see or hear him correctly. Keeping my gasp of horror contained took every drop of strength I possessed in my indestructible body.
Gripping my shirt once more, I said, "Well, just play whatever comes naturally to you. I'd love to hear anything, actually." In fact, it was simply to stop the annoyingly uncomfortable silence from returning…I think?
Stefan smiled in my direction, only making my curiosity and anxiety flare even more, before lifting his bow. "I heard this one just a few years ago," he informed me, positioning his fingers on the strings and taking an unnecessary breath before starting to play a song as equally beautiful as the first.
Stefan kept his eyes on his instrument as the slow, lamenting notes began to drift throughout the study. I noticed absently that the high ceiling provided some excellent acoustics. It must be why he likes to play here.
I could tell after the first few notes that this song was much different from the previous one. It began slowly, the rhythm languid, and I nearly gave into the impulse to sway along like a charmed cobra. But as the song continued to build, wrapping the room in a soft, melodic cocoon, it brought a graver, yet anxious depth to the melody, creating a newfound appreciation for the variety in tunes.
Each note changed from soft and gentle to powerful and strong with a level of flawlessness that no human would ever be able to replicate, especially when Stefan came to what I assumed was the middle of the song. It seemed like he was battling with his own inner thoughts and emotions on that violin, making it cry a sweet, yet haunting melody.
As he played, I stood rooted to the hardwood floor, too mesmerized by the music to bother sitting down anywhere. Not only did the song captivate me, but it seemed as though the Romanian himself was lost himself within the notes. And, as his eyes slid shut, the ghost of a smile began to creep itself onto my face, genuinely loving his performance and the lamenting tone of the song. This was the first time I had witnessed such vulnerability from him.
Maybe…maybe there was a beauty within the beast.
Even as the last of the notes wafted through the room, I couldn't move from my position. I was too entranced in the music, too busy to pay attention to anything but the rise and fall of the melody, much less Stefan's eyes opening and his gaze finding mine.
It only took me mere moments to realize how we were both staring at one another, the odd expression on his face snapping me out of my blissful musings about his talent for the violin, but those few short seconds were far too much. He was not supposed to be looking at me like that! I promptly looked away, taking a submissive step back toward the door, and began to fumble with the hem of my shirt once again.
"That…that was really beautiful," I admitted, taking temporary advantage of his unnatural kindness to be honest. It wouldn't feel right, or be very wise, to lie when he saw exactly how I was looking at him.
Stefan curiously shook his head before nodding out of the blue and said, "Thank you. I'm glad you liked it."
"Well, it would be hard to find anyone who wouldn't like your playing. It really is great," I said, turning my head to finally look him in the eyes.
One corner of his mouth drifted upward in response and the silence grew around us once more. After a few moments of awkwardly staring at one another, I coughed out of habit and began turning around, reaching out for the handle. "I…I should probably head back to my c—" I instantly caught myself and refrained from calling that room a cell, trying to avoid ruining his good mood, before speaking up again. "I mean…my room."
Just as my fingers curled around the door handle, Stefan's voice stopped me in my tracks. "Wait…" he said, making me wonder if his calm demeanor had finally disappeared, making room for his violent side to resurface.
Barely turning my head, I watched Stefan rise from his seat out of the corner of my eye, bow and violin in hand, and take multiple steps toward me. "I would enjoy playing for you more often," Stefan admitted gently, and shock once again shot through me like a lightning bolt at his words.
He's just full of surprises today…
After turning to look at him more fully, I asked, my stunned bewilderment easily evident in my voice, "You would?"
"Yes, if you'd like," he replied, dipping his chin.
My mind continuously tried to find some reason behind his actions, but there were absolutely no logical answers. There was no reason why he would be so kind to me after all these months of torture and manipulation…
After a few moments, I nodded. "I…I'd like that."
Stefan shot me one of his apparently charming half-smiles and came to stand beside me, his proximity making my anxiety flare. "May I escort you back to your room?" he asked, offering me his arm.
Confusion once again seeped through me at his behavior, staring at him uncertainly for a few moments, debating whether or not that simple act could lead me into a trap. But, curiously, my arm moved of its own volition toward his and my hand settled into the crook of his arm, my fingers gently curling around his bicep, something that took both of us by surprise.
When our gazes locked again, Stefan looked as though he wanted to say something, but instead he only nodded and began leading me back to my room, our pace slow and steady. I let him guide me through the quiet corridors, deciding to keep my mouth shut about his behavior for the time being, and tried to sift through all the different emotions that were running rampant inside me.
Confusion and uncertainty were the two most potent of them all, not only because of his actions, but also because of his closeness. Every time he was this close to me, I became almost frantic, uncertain about what to do next. But now that he was being so kind to me, everything seemed to be heightened. I just couldn't stop myself from noticing things about him that I should have not have been taking notice of, like the hardness of his muscle as it moved beneath his skin, how delicately soft the fabric of his shirt was, and especially the potency of his scent. Now, I really didn't know what to say or do…
And it was all because of this small attitude adjustment.
Stefan stopped us outside the door and opened it for me, looking in my direction. "Before I leave, do you need anything?"
Shaking my head, I peeked at him out of the corner of my eye. "I'm alright for now, but…thank you for offering," I admitted, my confusion only intensifying as we continued to speak lightly, almost like this was an established habit.
He nodded and gently pulled his arm out of my grasp, stepping away from me. My eyebrows twitched, perplexed. I had been expecting him to come inside and take me to bed, but now, he was moving away from me…as if the thought wasn't even an option in his mind. I liked this, but I couldn't stop wondering if this was a ploy, a test to make me even more confused and vulnerable.
"You're welcome," he said, remaining motionless as he stared at me before turning away and beginning to walk back down the corridor without another word.
My narrowed gaze stayed locked on his disappearing form, my confusion thankfully lessening the further away he got away. What was his game…? Why was he being so nice to me after all this time? What had made him change, if that was even the case? I could continue to ask myself all of these questions, but there would be no point. They would never be answered, at least not at this point in time.
Placing a hand over the center of my chest where my heart used to beat, the confusing bundle of emotions continued to unravel within me as I closed the door and went over to the bed. As my eyes roved over the room, a sudden sense of emptiness settled over me, and I sighed heavily.
Why was I feeling this way? Was it because of this side of him that I didn't even know existed…?
Those two questions ran circles through my mind, but one in particular kept resurfacing, and it continued to perplex me to my very core: What had made him change?
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Mortal-paralight & DragonGirl323