The stone walls were imposing, the artwork mildly horrifying, and the vampires in front of her wholly terrifying. Bella didn’t know what she was doing there.
Well no. That was a lie. She did know what she was doing there; saving Edward’s dramatic ass from his own idiocy. Fancy trying to commit vampire suicide without even double checking if she was still breathing! In fact, fancy leaving her for months, and then trying to commit vampire suicide without even double checking.
Honestly, the stupidity blew her mind.
Edward was clinging to her hand, and she could feel his eyes on her, as though he couldn’t quite believe she was there. She supposed he couldn’t, convinced as he’d been that she’d unalived herself. Idiot.
They were probably about to die.
She wasn’t stupid, unlike some, but she didn’t hold out much hope for seeing the sunshine again. The vampires here weren’t like the Cullens, and hadn’t Edward told her that the main law was never to tell the humans that vampires were actually a thing?
Given they were being taken to the top dogs—top bats?—it didn’t seem likely that this would go well for her, even if Alice and Edward were allowed to walk away in the end.
Bella hoped Alice got a pass. Jasper needed her, anyone could see that. Given Jasper was one of the few Cullen’s that Bella didn’t have an issue with, he hoped that he got his mate back in his arms at the end of this debacle.
And seriously, someone needed to put a leash on Edward so he didn’t do this kind of dumb shit again—both trying to get himself turned into confetti, and also telling a human his truth. Seriously, if he wasn’t going to turn his girlfriends to save lives, he didn’t deserve one.
Heavy doors—Bella doubted she’d even be able to move them herself—were thrown open like they weighed nothing, and Edward tugged her into a large open room. Bella looked around, interested despite herself.
It was… regal.
Her eyes caught on the three occupied thrones on the dias at the far end of the room. She recognised them from the painting Edwards had once shown her in Carlisle’s office. The Volturi.
Aro, Caius and Marcus.
They looked… old.
They were beautiful, of course, all vampires were, but there was something even more other-worldly about the three of them. Their skin almost looked like… tissue paper.
The three kings… leaders… whatever they were, were regarding Edward, Alice and her like they were a mildly interesting act in a circus, varying amounts of interest amongst them.
Unlikely as it was, Bella couldn’t help but hope that the ground would just swallow her up now, rather than be put through whatever was coming. It couldn’t be good.
Aro seemed the most excited to see them, and he clapped his hands together, practically bouncing in his seat.
“Ah, look, Edward, aren’t you glad we didn’t end you when you asked? Lovely Bella is still alive! What fun!”
Bella blinked at him, and then side eyed Alice, wondering exactly what drugs worked on vampires for this man to be quite so… happy.
She saw Alice’s lips tilt up and then twist, as though she were holding in a laugh, and imagined that Alice had seen in her head Bella’s pressing question, even if she didn’t quite dare to voice it outloud.
Turning back to the… head bats, Bella realised that in her distraction, Aro had approached them and was now standing almost directly in front of her, though his eyes were on Edward.
“May I?” he asked, tilting his head slightly.
“Ask her,” Edward replied, though he sounded unhappy. Bella glanced between them and then looked at Aro when he turned his eyes—damn they were bright red, holy shit—on her.
“My gift is somewhat similar to your Edward’s,” he explained, tone somehow softer as he spoke with her. “Except I require touch for it to work. I was hoping to see if you confound me as you do him.”
Bella nodded, sure that she didn’t actually have a choice, and then hesitantly offered the hand that Edward wasn’t still clinging to.
Aro captured it between both of his own and closed his eyes, only to open them a moment later, blinking at her. He released her hand at the same time as he let out a high-pitched giggle, stepping back from her.
“I see nothing!” he explained to his brothers over his shoulder. Bella wondered if he should really be so excited that her freaky brain had noped out on him, but she’d take excitement over anger and chose to not point it out.
“Perhaps… Jane, my dear?”
“No,” Edward snarled, stepping in front of her before she could even figure out what was going on. He let out a cry of pain a second later, cringing down to the floor. Bella arched her eyebrow, because what in the whole fuck was that about?
“Jane creates pain, Bella,” Alice explained, when Edward stopped whimpering, though he remained on the floor. “Aro wanted to see if her power would work on you.”
Bella looked up to see the little girl vampire glaring at her across the room. As the glare intensified, Edward forced himself to his feet and let out a sigh of relief.
“It doesn’t work on you,” Alice murmured, when Jane stopped glaring and Aro clapped his hands again.
“Seems… fortunate,” Bella muttered, shaking her head. What kind of absolute nuthouse had she walked into?
“Aro, do stop playing and get on with it,” the blond bat muttered, as Aro returned to his throne. “The law claims them, this is all pointless.”
Ah. There it was. Grumpy Gus in the middle throne wasn’t even remotely impressed with them and Bella was about to get chomped on. Fun times.
“How so?” Edward demanded. “I didn’t actually—”
“She knows about us and remains human,” Caius practically growled. “Therefore, you’ve already broken the law. If nothing else, she needs to be dealt with.”
Polite. Bella barely managed to not roll her eyes.
“She’ll be changed,” Alice piped up. “I’ve seen it.”
Bella looked her way and saw Edward doing the same thing, though he didn’t look half as happy as she thought he should. Shouldn’t he be happy that Bella would be with him for eternity? He’d just tried to unalive himself when he thought she’d had her life subscription cancelled after all.
Thought process follows that he should want her to be immortal, or as near as dammit.
Aro approached once more, this time to see Alice, to see all the futures in her mind. He held her hand for much longer than he’d held Bella’s and his expression was quite open when he eventually stepped back. He looked in awe.
“How magical, to see what is yet to come the way you do,” he murmured, sounding almost… covetous? That wasn’t good if the plan was to get Alice back to Jasper. “And Bella… you do so suit immortality, my dear.”
Bella felt her lips tip up slightly.
“But punishment must be dished out,” he finished. “I would so hate to kill you all, such talent… wasted. I don’t like to be wasteful. But what to do?”
“End the girl,” Caius said, nodding his head at me almost absently, as though I didn’t actually register on his radar.
I probably didn’t. It’s not like I paid much attention to specific broccoli trees after all.
“Bella will be a vampire,” Alice said again, firmly and a little desperately. “We’ll fix the rule break immediately, and I assure you, it won’t happen again.”
Edward looked decidedly unhappy about that.
Bella rolled her eyes.
“Perhaps that’s enough. What say you, Marcus?” Aro asked, eyes on his dark haired brother, who’d yet to show any interest in the happenings in the room.
“The girl is the essence of the break in the law. If the girl is turned, I see no reason not to let them go. Though perhaps the girl should remain, so we can ensure the law is intact.”
“You’re not keeping her,” Edward said, tugging Bella’s arm until she was behind him. “She’s mine. ”
“You broke up with me,” Bella pointed out, drawing all attention to her. She looked up at Aro. “If I remain here, to either be turned or eaten, can Alice and Edward leave unharmed?”
“Of course, dear girl,” Aro replied. “And you’ll be turned, not… eaten. Such potential should never be wasted on food.”
Bella glanced at Alice and then nodded her head. “Then I’ll stay.” Ignoring Edward’s growling, she reached out to Alice. “You have to go home to Jasper. He needs you.”
“It’s fine. And when I’m turned and not a snarling mess, I’ll be able to come and see you, right?”
She glanced at Aro once more and he nodded again. “You’ll not be held prisoner, dear Bella, though you’ll be welcome to join the guard at any time, I’m sure.”
Alice squeezed her hand carefully. “I’m so sorry this is necessary, Bella. I’m so sorry I didn’t say goodbye the first time. I love you.”
Bella smiled. “I love you too. Make a lie for Charlie, Alice. Let him… stage an accident or something. And tell Jasper that he’s stronger than he thinks he is, okay? He was feeling everyone’s bloodlust that night and he still let Emmett hold him back.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him for you, make sure he’s okay,” Alice promised softly. Then she blinked. “Jasper will believe that from you in a way he’s never done from the rest of us. You’ll tell him yourself when you see us?”
“I’ll make sure I do that.”
Alice wrapped Bella in a hug, and then shifted them slightly, so that Alice was closer to Edward than Bella was.
When she released her, Bella was pulled back by one of the crowd, as Alice held onto Edward, who was throwing a ridiculous tantrum. He was going to get himself killed, the bloody idiot.
“Bella,” he begged, staring at her over Alice’s shoulder. “Don’t do this. I love you, you’re mine, dammit.”
Bella sighed. “Go home to your family, Edward. Don’t make them feel the pain I did when you left. It’s not fair.”
Alice murmured to him so quickly, Bella couldn’t hear her, but she was sure the rest of the vampires could. Whatever she was saying seemed to have an effect, because all of the fight seemed to leave him and he sagged in on himself.
Bella felt a little bad for him; he was a perpetual teenage boy, after all, and this must be a lot for him to deal with. After all, imagine having to deal with actual consequences for your assholistic behaviours.
Alice led him towards the doors and then looked over her shoulder at Bella. “I love you,” she mouthed. Bella mouthed it back.
Seconds later and she realised she was alone in a room, filled to the brim with vampires she knew she should inherently fear.
Bella was left in a room—with a bed, and she didn’t ask why it was there because the thought was enough to make her cringe. She was told to get a decent night’s sleep, and that someone would be there the following morning to ‘deal with her’.
Interesting way of putting it, she supposed.
She’d tried lying down, but she was too wired, too scared, too… everything, to sleep, so instead she found herself sitting in the bay window, overlooking the city of Volterra.
The sky was just darkening, and the city looked stunning. She wished that she’d been able to come to Italy under different circumstances. She’d always wanted to travel Europe. Still, she supposed that she’d get her wish eventually.
When she was able to go out without hurting the humans, she’d have all the time in the world to explore every place that had ever interested her.
A low knock sounded on the door, breaking her thoughts, and she looked up to see Marcus standing in the doorway, holding a cloche covered dish. He placed it on the table close to where she sat, and then perched on the bed.
“I thought, perhaps, you might be hungry.”
The thought of eating was enough to turn her stomach, honestly, but she thanked him quietly anyway.
“You’re an interesting one, Miss Swan,” he murmured. “I think, perhaps, you’re going to bring a life to this old castle that we didn’t know was missing.”
He was gone before she could ask him what he meant, and after a few more minutes, she walked over to uncover the dish.
Pizza, sliced and smelling delicious, had been hiding beneath the stainless steel, and despite her earlier thought that she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t resist taking a bite.
It was perhaps the best pizza she’d ever tasted; unsurprising given they were literally in the home of the pizza. Before she knew it, she’d managed to finish the entire thing, and more than that, she could feel her anxiety lessening, and her eyelids drooping.
She lay on top of the sheets on the bed, and within minutes, was fast asleep.
“Apologies for the wait this morning, my dear,” Aro said, smiling apologetically at her. “There’s been some discourse on who would be the one to bite you, and it took a while for us to make a decision.”
Bella blinked. She knew from Edward that she smelled particularly good, but she couldn’t imagine how odd it would have been had she been there, to hear people arguing over who got to bite—and drink—her.
“It’s… fine,” she offered, when it became clear he was waiting for an answer.
“I know this must be quite overwhelming for you,” he said after a pause. “Marcus is going to be the one to change you, Isabella. He seemed quite insistent on it, and he wants little so much that we tend to allow him his way when he actually makes a request. He’ll be along at dusk to complete the change.”
Bella nodded, swallowing hard.
“Is there anything you’d like to do for the next few hours? A last human request, as it were?”
She shook her head, and then stopped. “Can I… is there a bookshop nearby? I’ve been told that, for the first year, I won’t be allowed around humans. Something to quell the boredom seems… good?”
Aro chuckled, oddly delighted by her again. Bella wasn’t sure what to make of that. “Dearest Isabella, perhaps you’d allow me instead to show you our library? I’m quite sure you’ll find everything you could possibly want there to ‘quell the boredom’ of your first year.”
Bella nodded, and he took her hand, tucking it into the crook of his elbow. He led her from the room, walking at a slow pace even by human standards. As they walked along the labyrinth of corridors, he pointed out specific paintings to her, offering a little insight into the artwork as they walked.
She was surprisingly comfortable with him.
They reached the library fairly quickly, and Bella wondered if she’d really been killed and sent to heaven, because Lord, that was a lot of books.
The size of the library was impressive alone, and as she looked up at the seemingly never ending rows of perfectly stacked books, she wondered just how long it would take her to read everything in there once she’d been turned.
She’d give it a damn good go should she be allowed.
Beside her, Aro seemed pleased by her reaction, and he asked her what she liked to read best. When she told him that she enjoyed the classics, he flitted away and came back almost instantly with three books in his hands.
She took them from him gingerly and looked through his choices for her.
Pride and Prejudice, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby. All books she’d read before, and all books she loved.
And all first editions.
“Is there any chance you have cheaper versions of these lying around?” she asked, biting her bottom lip. “I’d hate to ruin them when I can’t control my strength.”
“Oh Isabella, my dear. You are a delight! ”
Marcus was gentle with her. It seemed odd to think that when he was literally about to drain her almost completely dry before he pumped his own venom into her body, but he was.
His hands were gentle as he helped her onto the bed, and he spoke softly as he told her about the way she’d feel—nothing she hadn’t heard, really—and the promises that as much as it would feel like she was dying, the pain would end eventually.
She stared up at the ceiling, willing herself to hold her composure, to not scream and cry and fight. She wanted this, despite not actively wanting the pain, she wanted to be a vampire.
The first bite didn’t hurt as much as she was expecting, but it didn’t take long for the burn to start.
It didn’t take long for the burn to take over.
She could taste the air. She’d never been able to taste the air before. It was a complicated scent, but she could separate each single one if she tried hard enough. A rustle made her jump, and before she was consciously aware of even opening her eyes, she was crouched in the corner of the room, looking around for the source of the noise.
A dark haired man watched her with an amused smile on his face, and it only took her a moment to realise it was Marcus.
The man who’d turned her. The Volturi leader.
She could have cursed herself for being so awkward—still, even in this new, hardened, perfect body—but he chuckled melodically as she straightened up.
She looked around the room. “Have you been here the… whole time?”
He nodded. “I didn’t feel right, leaving you alone.”
“I… thank you?”
“Of course, cucciola . Now, how are you feeling?”
“Uh. Okay? I think? It’s… a lot?”
And it really was. She could hear the murmur of voices all the way from what she was sure was the throne room, and she could smell everything, and everything seemed… slower, almost. Like she was processing things so fast that it was like time had literally slowed down.
She realised, absently, that she was the one that had gotten faster, but she thought it would probably take some getting used too.
“Do you think you can manage to come with me to meet Aro and Caius as your new self?”
There was only one way to find out.
The throne room was filled with vampires, and Bella slowed to a snail's pace behind Marcus as they neared the double doors. Everything still seemed so overwhelming, and she couldn’t help but understand the threat that she was walking into.
“It’ll be fine, cucciola . They’re simply excited to meet you,” Marcus assured her quietly. He tucked her hand in the crook of his arm and pushed the doors open with his free hand, leading her inside.
Thankfully, the guard was fully assembled, leaving most of the room free and clear. As long as she kept half of her attention on them, she could think around the threat that was presented amongst them.
Aro and Caius watched her walk forward with their brother. Caius looked… Well, he had a bit of a strange look on his face, but then, she could vaguely remember that he’d wanted to see her dead rather than changed, so perhaps he was just pissy that he hadn’t gotten his own way. Aro seemed excited, but then, even with the dullness of her human memories, she thought that was a perpetual state of being for the vampire.
Aro just seemed constantly delighted by life and everything in it.
“Isabella,” Aro cooed at her, standing from his seat to meet them at the bottom of the steps. “You are beautiful, my dear.”
“Thank you,” Bella murmured, not particularly liking the way the focus of the room seemed to be all on her.
Aro held his hands out for her, and it took her an embarrassingly long half a second to realise what he wanted. She slipped her free hand into his, and watched with fascination as frustration and then awe and delight filled his face.
“Still nothing,” he lamented, though he smiled. “It will be interesting to see if that shield of yours can be manipulated, Isabella. It would make you quite the… asset, should you choose to stay here for an amount of time.”
Shield? Well, at least her freakiness had a name, she supposed.
He turned his head to his blond brother. “Aren’t you going to welcome Isabella, brother?”
“It’s fine,” Bella said, shaking her head. “I don’t need, uh, welcoming? Anymore, I mean. It’s good.”
Beside her, Marcus chuckled.
Caius stood slowly from his throne and approached them, arching his eyebrow at Marcus for a moment before he looked at her properly.
“Welcome to Volterra, Miss Swan. Immortality quite… suits you.”
Bella offered him an awkward smile, leaning just slightly into Marcus. There was something about Caius that just made her feel… weird. She wasn’t sure she liked it.
“Sulpicia and Athenodora will be here to greet you shortly, Isabella,” Aro said, a sly grin on his lips as he glanced at Caius, who rolled his eyes. “They seem quite excited by the new addition to the castle.”
Bella was lost. She had no idea who Sulpicia and Athenodora were, but she supposed they were important, if Aro was taking care to name them specifically.
“I think, perhaps, that Isabella should feed before any more introductions are made, brother,” Marcus said, and at the mention of food, Bella realised her throat was, in fact, on fire.
How hadn’t she noticed that?
Swallowing hard at the venom that pooled in her mouth, Bella looked at Marcus. Was she going to be expected to drink from humans? Did she want to? She’d only ever really been around the Cullens, the ‘vegetarians’ of the vampire world, but she hadn’t seen a single person in the castle with gold eyes.
“You can drink from whatever you wish, dear,” Marcus assured her, apparently reading her mind without any kind of aid.
She was about to answer when she heard movement from far away. The shuffling of many feet, and the beating of many hearts.
“If you don’t wish to consume human blood, Isabella, I suggest you leave now,” Aro said, clearly having heard the same thing as she did.
Bella wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. She didn’t particularly relish humans or animals, in all fairness, and once again she looked at Marcus for guidance.
“Perhaps you could try both and make a decision from that, no?” he offered.
She swallowed and then nodded.
He led her up to stand beside his throne as the brothers took their seats. She wasn’t really sure what she was doing up there, but she wasn’t about to ask. Not right now, at least. She glanced over at the guard to see her own surprise reflected on a few of their faces.
Whether that was good or bad, she wasn’t sure.
It seemed to take an age for the humans to arrive at the throne room. Bella stood still like a statue beside Marcus’ throne as the doors were pushed open to permit a crowd of people. The smell almost knocked her off balance.
She’d barely gotten used to the scents in the room from the gathered vampires, but humans seemed to have more… ew.
She supposed they had more bodily fluids.
She watched them all look around the room with undisguised interest, pointing and snapping pictures of things with their phones and cameras. Her eyes zeroed in on one particularly large man. He was staring right back at her, his mouth open, his eyes undeniably displaying lust.
She shuddered internally.
“Such restraint,” Aro commented, and she looked his way to see him looking at her. “You’re a marvel, Isabella, truly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so young to this life able to resist such a veritable feast.”
She tilted her head. “I thought the three of you would at least eat first,” she said softly. “Being leaders and all.”
“That would usually be true, cucciola ,” Marcus said, nodding his head. “But given how young you are, it’s surprising that you’d have so much control. We rather expected you to rush them as soon as they walked through the door.”
She shook her head. It wasn’t all that urgent, though the burn in her throat was getting worse.
“Go ahead, Isabella. Ladies first,” Aro said, nodding his head at the crowd. “We insist, just this once.”
She glanced at Marcus, who nodded encouragingly, and then looked back at the man who’d been watching her with lust in his eyes.
He was wearing socks with sandals.
She thought, perhaps, that was an offence worthy of being eaten. She walked down the steps slowly, stopping directly in front of him. She tilted her head, and then leant in. The man didn’t even try and escape, not until she’d already sunk her teeth into his flesh, and by then, it was far too late.
Around her, she could hear the sounds of the brothers and the guard all choosing their own meals, but she paid them little mind until she’d drained the man almost completely dry. When she was finished, she dropped him unceremoniously to the ground, and wiped the corner of her lip, where she could feel a little blood trailing down to her chin.
“That was quite controlled,” one of the guards said to her, as he picked up the body of the man and threw it into the gathering pile in the middle of the room. He winked at her before he turned away and she smiled at him before turning back to Marcus, who gestured for her to join him.
“How do you feel?” he asked her, tilting his head up to look at her.
She thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “I feel okay. My throat doesn’t burn anymore.”
She frowned before realising that he was asking how she felt about killing a man. “He was wearing socks and sandals,” she said, shaking her head. “I feel okay about it.”
The whole guard stopped and stared at them when Marcus’ laughter rang through the throne room.
Meeting Sulpicia and Athenodora didn’t happen for another three days. Bella supposed time passed differently for those who’d been living for millenia. Sulpicia was delightful, and when she explained that she was Aro’s mate, Bella immediately thought that she should have known as much.
The two of them seemed to share a joy for life that Bella rarely if ever saw in others.
She also gave Bella some tips and tricks for dealing with her strength when dressing and doing delicate tasks like reading, for which Bella would be forever grateful for.
Athenodora was… less delightful.
She seemed to consider Bella lesser, as though she wasn’t worth the time it had taken her to come down from her tower—which, considering vampire speed, was quite the insult. She called herself Caius’ ‘wife’ and Sulpicia later explained that while they’d ‘married’ they were not mated.
An interesting distinction, given the way the Cullens were both, she supposed. Sulpicia explained that, when one lives as long as the brothers had, taking lovers, even wives, while waiting for a mate, was the only way to remain sane and not cave to loneliness.
Bella supposed that made sense.
She didn’t ask about Marcus’ mate, but Sulpicia was a fount of knowledge and explained to her what had happened to Didyme, her death and Marcus’ considerable grief since. She was rather surprised when she heard about the way Marcus had been treating her, and that he’d laughed in the throne room, but she’d seemed happy about it regardless.
While Athenodora had left quite quickly after arriving, Sulpicia had spent hours upon hours with Bella, answering her questions and asking her own, and directing Heidi and Jane, two of the guard, on Bella’s wardrobe.
It was nice, Bella thought, to have made a new friend.
Especially when it seemed it would be a while until she was able to visit her old ones.
“Marcus seems quite taken with you.”
Bella startled and turned to see Caius walking towards her. She’d been in the castle a few weeks, and had decided that her favourite spot—the one she was in now—was in the gardens at night, when the moon shone bright overhead.
She liked to read there, and often just sat and enjoyed the peace of the place.
He joined her, sinking down gracefully against the rock she was leaning against, sitting so close they were almost touching. She wasn’t really sure what to say to him, in reply to his comment though. Was it a bad thing that Marcus seemed to enjoy her company?
“He seems to view you as something akin to a daughter,” Caius continued. “It’s… good to see him engaging with life once more.”
“I… enjoy spending time with him,” she replied softly. It wasn’t a lie either; she loved the hours she got to spend with Marcus. He had such interesting stories, and he was always checking in on her, making sure she was happy and had everything she needed.
“Demetri and Felix seem to enjoy your company as well,” he added, though he didn’t look quite as happy about that. “And of course, Aro and Sulpicia cannot get enough of you.”
She wasn’t sure if there was a point to his choice of subject. Was he warning her off his family?
“And yet, I cannot make my own opinions about you, because every room I enter, you’re very quick to leave.”
Oh. That was his point.
Bella winced, because that wasn’t a lie either. In all fairness, she’d thought he’d already made up his mind to dislike her, and given Athenodora’s attitude, she’d thought it best to just avoid them both.
She said as much, grimacing because the last thing she needed was him to have it out for her.
He chuckled bitterly when she mentioned Athenodora.
“Pay my wife no mind,” he said, almost like the word ‘wife’ was a curse on his lips. “She’s a jealous harpy.”
Jealous? What could the… queen bat?... possibly have to be jealous of when it came to Bella?
Bella wasn’t really sure what to make of any of that. Caius regarded her for a long moment and then glanced down at the book in her lap.
“Tell me about your book?” he requested, tipping his face towards the moon.
“I… haven’t started it yet,” she admitted.
He chuckled, and then plucked the book from her loose grasp. “Then perhaps you’ll allow me to read it to you? It’s a beautiful night for it.”
She shifted slightly as he balanced the book against his leg and opened it up to the first page. His voice was melodious as he read, and Bella thought she could sit there for days and listen to him.
The thought brought her up short and she frowned slightly.
Between spending time with Marcus and Sulpicia, training with Demetri and Felix, laughing at Aro’s antics, and nights spent being read to by Caius, Bella was surprised when Marcus told her it was her six month anniversary to being changed.
She hadn’t realised just how fast time had been flying. She was half way through her newborn year; though in fairness, she didn’t think she’d have any kind of a problem being around humans, the thought of drinking blood still didn’t fill her with relish. She drank enough to keep herself full and not in pain and no more.
She’d tried animal blood, and found she felt mostly the same about it as she did humans. It served a purpose, but she didn’t… crave it.
Though the hunt was more fun with animals.
Her eyes were still bright red, the remnants of her own blood still lingering, but she thought that, once they could change, they’d probably be a burnt orange colour, showing a mixed diet, depending how she was feeling on any given day.
Still, the thought of being halfway through her guaranteed year at Volterra had filled her with a strange sort of sadness. While she was looking forward to being able to travel, see new things, see a few old faces, the thought of actually leaving the castle was… both daunting and sad.
She liked it there.
She liked the people.
She didn’t want to leave indefinitely, but she wasn’t sure if she’d be invited to remain.
Part of her scoffed at the idea that she wouldn’t. Her shield was as malleable as Aro had considered, and she’d successfully learned how to control it enough to cover others, which made her useful, and she thought the brothers—and Sulpicia—enjoyed her company as she did theirs. Enough that they’d want her to stay.
But part of her, the part that had always thought she wasn’t enough for Edward, she supposed, told her that they couldn’t possibly want to keep her. She tried to fight that side of her, but it wasn’t easy. Even as a vampire, her insecurities were still there.
Bella looked up to see Giana—the human secretary—looking at her nervously.
“You’ve a phone call in the office,” she said quietly. “A Carlisle Cullen?”
Bella blinked. “Oh. Uh. Sure, I’ll come and… answer it?”
Giana nodded, and left the library, where Bella had been holed up. Bella took a moment to consider the reason why Carlisle would be calling six months after she’d been there, but knew she’d only know if she actually spoke to him.
She was unreasonably nervous about it.
Getting up, she followed Giana’s trail to the reception at a human pace, prolonging the time she had before she heard from the man she’d once thought would be the head of her family. Giana directed her into a small office, where the phone waited for her.
Taking a deep, albeit unnecessary breath, Bella picked up the phone.
“Oh, my dear, it’s so wonderful to hear your voice.”
Bella blinked. “Is it?”
“Alice told us what happened,” Carlisle said softly. “We wanted to contact you immediately, but she said you weren’t ready to hear from us.”
Bella nodded to herself, considering that. Alice was correct. If they’d called any earlier, Bella didn’t think she’d have been able to speak to them.
“Is everyone… okay?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.
There was a pause, and she heard him sigh on the other end of the phone. “Everyone is… holding up. I believe, if or when you choose to visit, you may be able to heal a few people.”
Bella frowned at that. “I… am not planning to get back with Edward, Carlisle.”
“I didn’t mean him, Bella,” Carlisle assured her gently. “Oh, of course he’s still hurting, but it is a hurt he caused himself, and so there’s little that anyone can do for him right now. I’m sure that, eventually, he will pick himself up and dust himself off. No, I’m talking about Emmett, and Jasper, and Esme and myself to some extent.”
“I… what happened?”
He chuckled sadly. “We miss you, sweet girl. What we did to you was… appalling behaviour, really. To leave you as we did… I believe it was the biggest mistake we’ve ever made, and we’re suffering the consequences of that now.”
“Oh. I, uh. Don’t really know what to say to that,” Bella admitted. “If it makes you feel better, I forgive you for leaving? I won’t pretend it doesn’t still hurt but… I’m happy here.”
“Truly? That’s all I ever wanted for you, Bella.”
“I am. I will visit though, when I’m… once my first year is up. I’ll come and see you all. If that’s okay?”
“You’ll be welcome at any time, sweet girl,” Carlisle assured her. “Do you think you’ll be able to be around humans enough to travel?”
She assured him she would, and he asked her questions about her experiences so far, marvelling over the way she felt about blood in general, and proud of her when she told him she’d tried out hunting animals instead of humans.
It was a nice phone call and by the end of it, she felt settled in a way she hadn’t realised she needed. Perhaps part of her did still crave the approval and love of the Cullens, despite having found a family in Volterra.
“If I was to leave,” Bella said, eyes on the moon instead of her companion. “Would I be… can I come back?”
She could feel Caius’ eyes on her. Her first year was almost up, and she’d been thinking more and more about seeing the Cullens.
“This is your home,” Caius replied quietly. “There would be more than one sad vampire should you choose not to return if you were to leave.”
Bella nodded slightly. Deep down, she thought she’d known that, but it was nice to have the confirmation.
“When do you intend to leave?” he asked, after a long pause.
“In a few weeks,” she replied softly. “I’d like to see the Cullens, and maybe explore a little. I feel like I’d never seen anything before I came here. I’d never been to Europe before.”
“Do you know how long you plan to be away?”
She shook her head. “Not really. Not too long. I like it here.”
He slipped his hand into hers and squeezed gently. “I’ll hold you to that. If you’re away too long, I’ll come and collect you myself. You belong here, Isabella.”
She turned her head to look at him. They’d spent so many nights out in the gardens together, and she’d come to rely on his quiet presence, despite the… sticky start they’d had. She’d miss him as much as she’d miss Marcus, she knew, though perhaps…
He was married, she forcefully reminded herself, as she’d been forced to do more times than she’d like to count. He reached up with his free hand and cupped her cheek.
“I’ll miss you, Isabella. Don’t be gone too long.”
Bella couldn’t help but lean into his touch. She felt terrible about it, but she thought she’d feel worse if she moved away.
“Marcus, I really don’t need—”
“You’ll take them,” he demanded, pushing the items towards her forcefully. “If you need help, then you will call me immediately. And I won’t have you out there with no money and no way to return home.”
Bella leant over to kiss his cheek. “Thank you.”
She picked up the phone and the credit card and dropped them carefully into her bag. “What about this?” she asked, carefully picking up a delicate gold chain. Hanging from it was the Volturi sign that the brothers wore around their own necks.
The guard wore silver ones, and if Bella was to receive any, she assumed it would be a silver one like them.
“In case you run across any nomads,” Marcus said, leaning over to take it from her and fasten it around her neck. “It will make them think twice, if they see this. I know you can protect yourself, but… I worry, Isabella.”
“Like an overprotective father,” she agreed, smiling at him.
“Ahh, cucciola , that I am. You’ll return home as soon as you’re done with what you feel you must do?”
She nodded. “I promise. And you know, phones work two ways. If you want to call me, I’ll always answer. And if you need me… I’ll come home immediately.”
“I do not doubt it. I love you, mio bambino .”
Alice was waiting for her at Portland International airport. She was practically bouncing on the balls of her feet when Bella approached her, and she tugged her into a hug as soon as she was in touching distance.
Bella hugged her back, glad to see her friend.
“I missed you,” Alice squealed, squeezing her tightly, before she let her go, only to link their arms together.
“I missed you too,” Bella replied, as they walked over to the baggage area to collect her suitcase. Alice spoke a mile a minute about all of the things they could do while Bella was visiting, and Bella let the sound of her voice wash over her.
It was nice to be there, but she found herself missing the peace of the castle back home. And wasn’t that weird, that she considered Volterra more of a home than America.
“How’s Charlie?” she asked, interrupting Alice mid-sentence. “Did you..?”
“He handled it… badly at first,” Alice replied with a sigh. “But he’s been spending a lot of time with a woman from the reservation. Sue? And he seems to be getting better. It was always going to hurt him, Bella, whether you were with us or… them.”
She nodded, ignoring the ‘us or them’ at the end of her sentence. She hadn’t come here to be convinced to stay, after all. As far as Bella was concerned, she didn’t have to choose; she was perfectly capable of maintaining both relationships.
“Thanks for watching him,” she said eventually. “I’m glad he’s moving on. Tell me about all of you; what have you been doing for the last year?”
She was nervous when Alice pulled up to a spacious, beautiful house. She was also mad at herself for being nervous. The Cullens were her friends, after all. Despite her no longer being with Edward, she’d built relationships with most of the others without him being involved. There was no reason that couldn’t hold now.
Carlisle himself had told her that they all wanted to see her.
Speaking of Carlisle, the doctor was the first to greet her, already at the door when she climbed out of Alice’s car. Bella smiled at him, but walked at a human pace to meet him. He seemed hesitant when he leant forward to hug her, but the familiar scent was enough to help settle her nerves, and she hugged him back tightly for a long moment.
“Where is everyone?” she asked, when they separated.
Carlisle shook his head. “Waiting for you in the living room. We thought it best not to overwhelm you as soon as you arrived.”
Bella grinned. “Thanks. I think I needed a minute.”
He just nodded and with Alice a step behind, led her into the house. It was as beautiful as the house in Forks had been; perhaps more so, now that she was seeing it with a new, more powerful vision.
Admittedly, when she walked into the living room, she paused when she saw Edward. She hadn’t given much thought to how she would react to him—nor him her—because strangely, she hadn’t actually expected him to be there.
He stared at her as though he’d never seen her before, and Bella wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Since she’d been in Volterra, she’d come to terms with how utterly unhealthy their relationship had been. Not that she blamed either one of them really, but their differences hadn’t been compatible and she was no longer sure if Edward loved her as a person, or if he loved her silent mind and the scent of her blood.
She turned her head to see Esme leaning against a large fireplace, a hand over her mouth and venom in her eyes that would never fall as tears. Bella smiled at her and then glanced at the sofa, where Jasper and Emmett sat side by side. Jasper was watching her with curious eyes, and she realised that she’d left her shields up fully; he couldn’t get a read on her emotions.
Emmett looked like he was itching to greet her, but Rosalie sat on the arm of the sofa, a hand on his shoulder that wasn’t so much a restraint as a warning. Before, Bella would have thought that Rosalie just didn’t want Emmett near her, but she thought perhaps the blonde girl understood the possibility that Bella wouldn’t want Emmett all over her.
That she felt betrayed by their abandonment.
“Hi?” she offered, when the silence grew a little more awkward than she’d have liked. It seemed to break the ice, as Carlisle, Emmett and Jasper all laughed.
Rosalie shook her head but she was smiling slightly.
Esme took the hint and walked across the room to greet her, pulling her into a hug so gentle, Bella could have still been human.
“It’s wonderful to see you, dear,” she murmured. “We’ve missed you terribly.”
“I missed you too,” Bella replied softly.
When Esme moved, Emmett cleared his throat unnecessarily.
“Bells, I’m sorry. I should have never gone along with leaving… It was always way more fun when you were around.”
Bella held her arms out and he was beside her in an instant, hugging her tightly. “I missed you, bear.”
“I missed you too, Bells.”
Rosalie was next to greet her, though she didn’t try to hug Bella, instead she reached out to squeeze her hand.
“I’m so sorry I caused all this,” she murmured. “You went to save my brother and it cost you… everything, and that’s on me. I’m so sorry, Bella.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Bella replied quietly. When Rosalie opened her mouth—likely to argue—Bella shook her head. “It really wasn’t. Not really. There was a lot of fault all around, but you shouldn’t shoulder it all, Rosalie. Alice should learn to depend less on her visions, Edward shouldn’t immediately go to extremes… especially ones like committing suicide… I shouldn’t try jumping off cliffs for funsies. It’s… there’s fault all around.”
“The cliff was for fun? ” Edward asked, the first thing he’d said since she arrived.
Bella looked at him and arched her eyebrow. “Yes.”
“I asked you to take care of yourself!”
“You also told me that I’d been little more than a distraction and that you didn’t love me, and that I wasn’t good for you,” Bella pointed out.
Edward winced. “I didn’t think you’d let me leave if I told you we were leaving to keep you safe.”
Bella shrugged. “What could I really have done to stop you?”
“It’s in the past now,” she murmured. “Decisions were made and regrettable or not, the reality of that is what we have to deal with.”
Edward opened his mouth, but Bella turned her attention to Jasper.
He smiled at her. “Hey, darlin’. How are you?”
She chuckled at him. “I’m good. How are you?”
“Confused,” he admitted. “I can’t feel your emotions at all.”
That drew the attention of the others in the room, but Bella chose that moment to release her grip on her shield. He blinked, and then smiled slowly.
“Your emotions are as strong—stronger even—than they were before.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“If you’re feeling good things? It’s like Empath-crack,” Emmett said, chortling. Bella joined him laughing, but slowly put her shield back in place, leaving it down just enough to give a hint at her emotions.
Jasper stared at her for a long moment and then asked, “You really don’t hate me at all, do you?”
“Hate you? How could I possibly hate you?”
“Bella… all of this is my fault! If I’d been able to control myself then—”
“Hey, no,” she said, shaking her head forcefully. “Absolutely not. Jasper, I bled in a room full of vampires! Of course you were going to try and eat me—you were suffering the hunger of six other vampires! Well… five, since Carlisle seems to have super vampire control.”
“You’re the strongest one here, Jasper,” she added, smiling gently. “Anyone who thinks otherwise can fight me.”
“I told you you weren’t fighting that hard to get at her, bro,” Emmett said, clapping Jasper on the shoulder. “You need to cut yourself some slack.”
Slowly, Jasper stood from the sofa and walked over to her. He held both her hands in his and said, “Thank you, Bella.”
She tugged on his hands until he was closer and then hugged him tightly. “Believe in yourself the way that I believe in you and you’ll never have anything to fear,” she whispered, just for him, as she dropped her shields again for a moment and focused on everything she felt for him.
His knees buckled slightly but he stayed on his feet, holding onto her tightly for a full minute before he stepped back and she snapped her shields back. He returned to his seat, and Bella sat on the arm of the chair that Alice had seated herself in.
The pixie-like vampire was beaming up at her. “Thank you,” she whispered, leaning her head against Bella’s hip.
Being around the Cullens again was fun. Bella was enjoying her time with them immensely, and they seemed to be enjoying having her there.
Edward was making himself scarce a lot, staying on the fringe of things whenever they were all together, but Bella found that she was okay with that. She knew that eventually—before she left at least—the two of them needed to have a conversation, but she was okay waiting until he was ready.
To a point at least.
“He’s confused,” Carlisle had confided in her one night when the two of them had gone for a stroll along a nearby river. “I’m not sure he was ready to confront Bella-the-Vampire as opposed to who you were before we left.”
She had nodded. “I know. Edward loved the idea of me, I think. I’m not saying he didn’t love me, but it was…” she had shook her head. “First love is always messy, right?”
Carlisle had laughed and replied, “Indeed it is.”
She’d been there fifteen days when the phone Marcus had insisted on her taking had beeped in her pocket. She’d almost forgotten about it during her time there, but when she’d slipped it from her pocket and saw Caius written on the screen, she’d smiled to herself.
The gardens are tragically dull without you here to listen to me read. I miss you, Isabella.
Bella leant back against a nearby tree as she considered her reply.
I miss your voice. Books just aren’t the same now I have to read them to myself. I miss you too.
It took barely thirty seconds for a reply to arrive.
When are you coming home?
Looking up at the moon, Bella typed a single word and put the phone back in her pocket.
“You’re leaving,” Alice accused, a few days later, while the two of them were shopping in the Pioneer Place mall. “You’ve only been here a couple of weeks!”
“Almost three,” Bella corrected, smiling. “And I am. It’s not goodbye, Ali. It’s… see you again soon, okay?”
Alice blanked for a moment and then glared at her. “A whole eight months is not soon !”
Laughing, Bella bumped Alice with her hip. “For us, it’s barely any time at all.”
“You really feel at home in Italy, huh?”
Bella nodded. “I can’t explain it, but yeah. I really do. I… miss them.”
“Uh huh. And Demetri and Felix. And Heidi. And Sulpicia.”
“Caius in particular though, right?”
Bella looked away, embarrassed. Had she still been able, she knew she’d be blushing bright red. “He’s married, Alice. It’s… inappropriate.”
“Married, not mated,” Alice pointed out. “And… not married for much longer.”
Bella blinked. “What?”
Alice bit her lip. “Tell him how you feel. It… will go well. And I won’t see you for thirteen months now, so you better be grateful.”
“You don’t have to go back to them, you know.”
Bella sighed. “I don’t have to do anything,” she agreed, straightening up from where she’d been zipping up her suitcase. “I want to go home, Edward.”
She turned to face him, and then waved at the sofa in the guest room for him to come in and sit down. She sat on the bed, facing him, her legs crossed in front of her.
“Home could be here,” he pointed out, as he sat, his hands in his lap.
“But it’s not,” she replied. “I love all of you, Edward, I really, genuinely do. You’re part of my family. But so are they. It’s not goodbye, not really.”
“But it’s goodbye to the possibility of you and me?”
“We said goodbye to that in the forest in Forks, no?”
“I just wanted you to be safe, Bella. I didn’t stop loving you.”
“I haven’t stopped loving you either,” she said. “Love doesn’t work like that. It’s just… a different love now. I love you like I love Alice, or Emmett, or Jasper. I love you like I’d love a friend, a brother. And I think, if you look at your own feelings properly… you’ll find you feel the same. I’m not that girl anymore, Edward.”
He tilted his head as he looked at her for a long moment. “For what it’s worth… I’m sorry for everything I did that caused you pain.”
She nodded. “I know. And I do forgive you, if that’s what you need to hear. I just need us to be friends, Edward. There’s someone out there for you—hopefully already a Vampire, since I don’t think your family needs this drama again—and you’ll be so happy when you find them. It’ll happen for you, okay. Don’t… don’t give up, and don’t shut yourself off. While you’re waiting for romance, remember that you’ve got the best family in the world.”
He nodded. She stood up and he joined her, tugging her into a hug. He pressed a soft kiss to her cheek, and said, “and the best new sister that will definitely be coming to visit again soon, right?”
She laughed. “Right.”
“I love you,” he murmured.
“I love you too, Edward.”
“Miss Isabella! I… don’t think we were expecting you?” Giana said, blinking rapidly when Bella walked through the office.
Bella grinned at her. “You weren’t, it’s fine.”
“I’ll announce you,” Giana promised, picking up the phone on her desk.
Bella shook her head. “No need. I can announce myself. Are they gathered in the throne room?”
“Thank you, Giana, that’ll be all.”
Bella walked at a leisurely pace down the hallways towards the throne room. She hoped that there wasn’t a trial happening, but she didn’t honestly care that much. If there was, she’d join the guard until it was over.
She pushed the doors open and grinned when she realised that they were only just gathering. Caius hadn’t even arrived yet.
“ Cucciola, Isabella !” Marcus cried, smiling as he stood from his throne in time to catch her in a hug when she ran to him. He squeezed her tightly. “If we’d have known you were coming, we’d have sent someone to pick you up from the airport!”
“I wanted to surprise you,” she replied, shifting her attention to Aro, who was waiting impatiently for a hug of his own.
“Sulpicia will be overjoyed to hear that you’re home, dear one,” he said softly. “She’s been practically unbearable, moping around missing you.”
“I’ll go and find her in a minute,” Bella promised. “Are you receiving visitors?”
“Unfortunately,” Marcus said, shaking his head. “It should be handled quickly though, Isabella, and then we can celebrate you being home properly.”
“I’ve only been gone a few weeks,” Bella said. Honestly, anyone would think she’d been gone for years.
“And yet, your departure has been felt throughout the castle,” Aro said, shaking his head. “You’ve made quite the impression on all of us, dearest Isabella. We are less without you here now.”
Bella squeezed his hand. “I’ll go and find Sulpicia while you deal with whatever messiness is due. Send for us when you’re done?”
“I’d be surprised if Caius doesn’t hunt you down himself,” Marcus said, smiling slightly. “He’ll be appalled when he realises he wasn’t here to greet you.”
Laughing, Bella left the hall in search of Sulpicia.
The business must have taken longer than expected, for as night fell over Volterra, Bella had yet to see Caius. Leaving Sulpicia in the library, she’d walked to the gardens only to find them empty.
Sitting down against the rock that she frequently chose, Bella closed her eyes and revelled in being back where she felt the most comfortable. She’d missed these gardens almost as much as she’d missed the time spent with Caius in them.
“He won’t come to you.”
Bella opened her eyes to see Athenodora glaring at her from down the path.
“Caius. I know the two of you spend much time here; he won’t come to you now. I’ve… impressed upon him the importance of remembering who he is; who I am.”
Athenodora was prowling towards her as she spoke, and a prickle ran up Bella’s spine, telling her that was very much in danger of being attacked.
“We’ve been together a very long time, Isabella… and I won’t stand for some newborn coming in with ideas above her station. Caius is mine. ”
The last word was a snarl, and was followed immediately by an attack. Bella dodged away from her, grateful for all the training she’d done with Felix and Demetri. She wasn’t sure if Athenodora was attacking to warn her away, or if she truly wanted Bella dead, but it was better not to take any chances.
Athenodora reached out to grab at her hair and Bella intercepted her hand and twisted, pulling with all of her might until the arm separated from the shoulder with a sickening rip. That only seemed to enrage Athenodora more, and she let out an unholy screech before reaching for Bella again.
Except she never made contact. Across the gardens, there was a shout, and then a blur of motion even to Bella’s vampire eyes.
Before she could even register what was happening, Caius stood before her with Athenodora’s head in his hands, her body in pieces on the ground.
Caius stared at her for a long moment before he said, “Welcome home, Isabella.”
“Quite the excitement on your first night back,” Marcus said, brushing Bella’s hair gently with an ornate, silver handled brush. Bella leant her head against his thigh and sighed.
“Why would she attack me like that? I don’t… understand.”
“No?” She could practically hear the smile in his voice. “Well, perhaps it would help to know that Athenodora overheard Aro and I speaking about the bond between you and Caius.”
“I saw it almost as soon as you arrived,” Marcus replied softly. “It was faint, but there, even while you were still human and Caius was demanding you be killed.”
“What kind of bond?”
“You really don’t know?”
Bella didn’t answer. She had hope, but… could it really be?
“I need to speak to him, don’t I?”
“Please do. He’s been in an absolutely foul mood since you ran away from the gardens. He thinks you hate him for what he did.”
“He protected me!”
“Perhaps you should go and tell him that, cucciola .”
“I’m sorry I ran.”
Caius turned to look at her. He was eyeing her cautiously, and she hated that she’d made him feel like that.
“You protected me,” she murmured. “I wasn’t running from you so much as I was running from… the situation. I didn’t expect her to… do any of that.”
“No,” Caius murmured. “I don’t suppose you would. But then, you never really knew Athenodora.”
“You expected her to attack me?”
“Not so… not the way she did. I expected her to try and warn you away from me. Athenodora has been comfortable living as my wife for centuries. She feared you’d change that.”
“Marcus… he said we have a… a bond,” Bella said, stepping closer. They were almost in touching distance, and Caius closed the gap between them, reaching a hand up to cup her cheek.
“Indeed we do,” he whispered. “Have you figured out what bond it is yet, tesoro?”
“Mates,” Bella replied softly. “We’re mates.”
Caius smiled, and leant into press his lips to hers in a soft, chaste kiss. “ Tesorino . You’re mine.”