Chapter 1 – The Volturi
If asked to choose a word to describe this new world Aro knows he would pick 'young'. America is still in her infancy. Everything about her exudes the excitement of the unexplored, the untamed. The trees are great towers, fresh into their growth, so much like their great cousins in Europe. The animals are plenty, almost tripping over themselves in their eagerness to be caught. Even the long rivers rush by undisturbed by the new conquerors.
So much untapped potential.
He wishes he were here on more pleasant business, this America would be interesting to cultivate, but a monarchy isn't run by niceties alone. Duty comes first. Caius calls them 'Enemies of the Empire'. Aro doesn't give them such an ostentatious title. No, he labels them as they are, annoyances. Ones to be dealt with swiftly of course, ere others think the Volturi vulnerable, but nothing so grand as an enemy. He hasn't had one of those since the Vikings. A pity really. He does so love a good game of chess.
He glances down at the seething vampire kneeling before him, restrained by two of the royal guard. Self-righteous, proud, and ultimately stupid. No, this whelp isn't even close to a rival.
Aro sighs again and folds his hands into a prayer-like pose just under his chin. “Was my suggestion really so complex?”
The red haired man, Daniel, growls, his Virginian accent heavy. “I will neva accept yer rule, tyrant.”
“And we're back to the name calling. Really, my boy, it's becoming quite tedious.”
He enjoys the flush of embarrassment that crosses the vampire's eyes. He's beginning to understand that Aro was only ever playing with him, that he never once took him seriously. And Caius thinks this mewling quim a threat? Aro wishes, truly he does. He's been so bored lately.
He grabs the sides of the man's marble face and begins to tear his head from his restrained body. Usually, he lets the guards do this part, but he's weary with the predictableness of life and needs an outlet for his frustrations. He's dissatisfied with this venture. There's nothing new here. Only the ordinary squalling of a fledging too impatient to wait until the right moment to strike. He'd much rather end this quickly so he can go back to Vulterra and his studies of this new-age idea called ‘voltaic pile’. It's a fascinating concept, one he might visit Alessandro Volta about this month.
It's the smile, the pure look of triumphant glee on his victim's lips, which causes Aro to pause in the execution. He tilts his head to the left and exhales. “Dare I ask?”
“Yah think me nothing.” Daniel chuckles, though it is strained because the awkward position Aro has his neck in will not allow for easy discussion. “Pity. I thought yah cleverer than that.”
Aro doesn't even register he's decapitated the man until a few seconds later. Months after, he'll still mourn that rash decision. As it is, he merely stares at the dulled eyes and then flings the head to a waiting guard. “Burn it all.”
Marcus glides over as the sentries execute his bidding. His associate’s uninterested eyes are tinged with just a hint of worry. “Brother?”
“I am well.”
Caius snorts as he also steps beside them. Aro levels a look at him and relishes when the youngest member capitulates with bow of his head. They all know who rules First in their little group. He sees their lead Tracker, Felix, approaching and graces a smile at him.
“Ah, back so soon? His treasures must be sparse indeed.” But the man doesn't join him in laughter. The tiniest bit of...something stirs in the pit of Aro's stomach. “What did you find?”
Never has he seen the royal guard so nervous before. The man takes a visible breath and looks him in the eye. “Carlisle.”
And just like that Aro's triumph is stolen. Gone is the rush of satisfaction that flowed through his veins. Replacing it is a horrid mixture of dread and rage. Carlisle? The young one had left them five years ago for these lands after their last discussion about feeding on humans. They'd parted on, well not good terms, but there hadn't been any unkind or heated words. Aro had even been thinking of searching for him while here. It seemed the boy preempted that thought.
“Where is the traitor?” Caius snarls.
Aro blinks at this accusation. Carlisle, their adversary? Never. The boy is too loyal for that to even be possibility. He might disagree with their methods of feeding, but he'd never go so far as to disobey the Volturi or discredit them.
He can't stop the wave of relief though when Felix shakes his head in disagreement.
“He is a prisoner, my lords.”
That makes it worse to Aro. The boy's been here half a decade. “How long?” He asks, his voice trembling. Carlisle is his student. No others are allowed to interfere.
“The human slaves say he was captured upon his arrival to this land,” Felix says.
Time freezes. To a vampire, five years is nothing, but all Aro can think of is those innocent, yellow eyes. That shy smile. That honest tongue which was never afraid to speak the truth. That fierce curiosity. He fears to know what five years with Daniel has done to his little fledgling. Oh, how he wishes the fool were still alive, that he’d not let his temper overcome his better judgment those few seconds ago. He would’ve enjoyed teaching him the intricate ways of pain.
“Where?” He says through clenched teeth.
The guard leads them at a blinding pace through the forest to a small, stone lodge. Several hundred human slaves are huddled together in a shivering pile of fear, but Aro pays them no mind. They’re worth nothing to him alive or dead. His followers can deal with them as they see fit.
Felix takes them to an open door near the back of the lodge. Aro catches the familiar scent easily as he descends into the dry, underground passage. His young one is here! He lunges forward, ready to break down the flimsy, wooden door that separates them, but Felix stops him with a hand on his chest. The guard chokes as Aro seizes his throat hard enough to make it crack and throws him to the floor.
“My lord, please,” the tracker gasps, “you must understand.”
Slowly, ever so slowly, reason seeps in and Aro loosens his hold. Felix has always had the Volturi's best interests in mind. He waits for Felix to regain his composure, conscious of Marcus and Caius near his side. They too are curious about the guard's sudden breach in protocol.
Felix glances at his brothers before explaining. “He's not what you remember, my lord. The Virginian was quite...harsh in his methods.”
Broken. His little one is broken.
Aro flies into the cell. What greets him is something that will plague his memories for centuries to come. It isn't anything that resembles a man, let alone his fledging, which stares at him from the far corner. No, Aro can tell from his eyes that the boy he once knew is no longer there. This is a mindless beast. A terrified creature, curled amidst rags that just hide his dignity, eyes darting desperately from one face to another, trying to determine who is the greater threat. Aro bristles when he catches sight of the thin, sparkling wounds on Carlisle's back.
That traitor whipped his child with silver!
Aro forces his fury back and swallows hard. “Carlisle?”
The trembling bit of stone flesh whimpers and hides his face in his knees. Aro whirls around. “Why?”
Felix, cracked throat healed, comes close and whispers, “The Gemini, my lord.”
What? How had such a low level vampire such as Daniel known of the comet? It is the best kept secret the Volturi have. Precious few have even seen it. Carlisle, Aro remembers with a jolt, is one of those privileged few. And, he gazes at the cowering form, it cost him dearly.
“Fetch me a robe,” he commands. He will not let Carlisle remain in this deplorable state any longer.
Felix flashes away with another vampire. Caius and Marcus inch closer, but Aro gives them no mind. He has eyes only for Carlisle. He sees the tiny hint of black behind the filthy, blonde hair. The boy is watching as one would an uncertain predator, waiting in anxious preparation for the moment when Aro attacks him. The very idea causes Aro's anger to rise again, but he represses it quickly when he sees Carlisle stiffen at the perceived displeasure towards him.
“Brother...” Marcus murmurs.
Aro spins to face him. He knows what the dark haired vampire is going to suggest. He'll call it mercy killing, say his fledgling is too far gone to be helped. Aro straightens. No, he will not be questioned in this. He has decided. And though it might seem like weakness, Aro feels he owes it to Carlisle to try. Such loyalty as his will not be rewarded with death...not yet.
“He is one of us,” is all Aro says.
“He was never one of us!” Caius hisses.
Aro growls back. He is First here and Caius will bend to his will, not the other way around. They face each other like that for minutes, neither willing to accept defeat. It's Marcus who brings the standoff to an end.
“We can try.”
Caius snarls at the siding, but steps back. “It will never work.”
As he watches Felix wrap and tie the floor length robe around Carlisle, Aro can't help but wonder if his brother is right.
The carriage ride to the ship is ripe with silent tension. Marcus has retreated into himself, no doubt mourning his mate's death - her talents would've helped, Aro admits to himself. Caius sulks. And Carlisle plasters himself as far away from them all as he can without flinging himself out the carriage.
Aro signals the guard to keep close watch, just in case.
The guards come to him while he studies in the library. Aro stifles a sigh. Another failure then. His followers too seem discouraged. They bow low, conscious that they've disappointed yet again. Aro forgives them this time. They can’t be held accountable for the Virginian’s actions, no matter how easy it would be.
“My lord, he still refuses to drink either human or animal blood.”
Of course he does. Aro has, by now, a detailed accounting of every torment the traitor inflicted on Carlisle. Silver in every method, even feeding. It explains the healing burns on his lips and tongue.
“There is a difference that's been noted, my lord,” one young guard dares to venture.
Aro’s vision narrows in on the man. “Speak.”
“It seems he reacts less violently to the animal blood.”
Aro shoves down the hope that bursts upon him at this news. So, his little one's passivist beliefs are still intact somewhere in the recesses of his mind. Aro needs only to coax them forward. Not all is lost.
“Is he in his room then?” Aro asks, standing from his chair.
“Yes, my lord.”
Aro waves them out and goes to retrieve his black robe. It is time he visited his student. What's required is a strong influence to guide him. His mate, Sulpicia, places a white hand on his arm just before he exits.
“Be gentle with him, my love.”
He pauses and nods to her, acknowledgement that he's heard her suggestion. Whether he takes it or not will depend on what he finds during this visit.
He strides down the torch-lit hallways at a human pace, needing the extra time to collect himself. He must be aloof to Carlisle's pain. He's tried the softer way of persuasion these past weeks and found it lacking. Force, it seems, must take precedence in this case. Aro hesitates at a picture. It portrays all of them, Carlisle as well, adorned in their best attire, gazing down on a ballroom full of dancing people. His student is to the right, almost hidden behind the marble pillar.
It's so like him, Aro thinks, to keep to the background, to not seek glory or attention.
It’s one of the many reasons Aro trusts him so. He knows the boy has no ambitions for the throne. No, his little one is a scholar and healer to his very bones.
What must these past five years gave been like for him then? To be the sole object of interest for one person? To have his every move, breathe, and words censured to their smallest details? To know that each day would only bring more agony and only his betrayal of the Volturi would end it? Not many have shown that kind of loyalty to Aro before. He treasures it, though he wishes it hadn't cost his student so much.
Nevertheless, this self-induced starvation of Carlisle’s will stop. He is safe now and his body needs the nourishment that only blood could give.
Aro finishes the journey through the halls and pushes open the chamber door. Several guards are already inside, strategically placed throughout the room – mostly at the windows and door, in the event Carlisle attempts to escape. Not that Aro believes for a moment that the boy will seek such actions. He's far too scared of punishment to even dream about that level of defiance.
The afore mentioned young vampire sits on the edge of the lavish bed in the room, hands clenching the mattress with a death grip as he stares at his lap. The servants have done a superb job of cleaning the boy. His once matted hair is bright blonde again, fluffed and smelling of apple soap. His wounds are clean, all traces of the silver washed out. He wears a simple white shirt, open near the collar, and black breeches. Some tight stockings wrap his feet, though without shoes he seems even more the lost child.
Aro goes closer and doesn’t miss the slight flinch this movement merits from Carlisle. He ignores this and moves so that he is mere inches from his student’s knees. The grip on the mattress is threatening to tear the material open. Aro hooks a finger under the boy’s chin and with little effort forces Carlisle to look him in the eye. There is no recognition in those black depths beyond the knowledge that this is a new vampire owner. Carlisle has forgotten who any of them are, but Aro promises himself that he will change that.
“I hear you refuse to eat, young one,” he says. He makes sure his voice is neither accusing nor understanding. He’s stating a fact and that is all.
Carlisle quivers as he opens his mouth to answer, only to close it again. He doesn’t know what words will be right to avoid disciplinary measures, so the boy opts for the neutral silence; lets Aro decide whether to be offended at an imaginary fault, rather than a real one. Aro wonders how many times Carlisle has had to make this option.
“Well?” Aro prompts, not willing to let Carlisle take such an easy way out.
Carlisle searches his face with frantic eyes, trying to see what it is his new tormentor wants as the correct answer. Aro keeps all emotion off. He needs to know just how far gone his little one is. At last, Carlisle responds, though it is so soft only a vampire’s hearing would’ve caught it.
“I am sated, master.”
Aro raises an eyebrow. “I think we both know that’s a lie.”
Carlisle stiffens and Aro hears the beginnings of the mattress ripping apart. The young vampire trembles and Aro knows if it weren’t for his finger on Carlisle’s chin, the child would be curling in on himself. He stays firm though.
“Well?” he asks.
His fear evident for all to see, Carlisle answers, “I’m sorry.”
Aro doesn’t respond. He waves the servant carrying the cups filled with blood over. The woman stumbles over herself in her hurry to obey. In any other circumstance, Aro would be amused at the quaint display. Now though, he pushes the disruption aside and focuses on the problem at hand. He knows if he demands it, Carlisle will drink…but which cup shall he give him? One is full of fresh human blood, the scent intoxicating – a maiden of fifteen who smells of peppermint and autumn days in the forest –, while the other reeks of dog – an old thing, probably filled with fleas.
Does he dare? He knows from the reports that Daniel forced his student to partake in human blood. What’s a little more? In Carlisle’s current state, Aro is in the rare position. He can give him the human blood and he knows Carlisle will drink it. And once Carlisle is again his normal self, Aro can use this event to alter his beliefs. The resulting despair at his blemish alone might do it for the boy.
Yet, it is the dog’s blood he picks up from the golden tray.
Caius would call him sentimental, though Marcus would realize his motives. He doesn’t want his student to choose their ways because of some drowning anguish. He wants him to recognize his inexperience and see that their way is better. It is the only path that counts to Aro, anything else would be a mockery.
He wraps Carlisle’s hands around the bronze cup. “Drink it.”
It is a command and all in the room know it. If he were kind like Sulpicia, he might take a sip of the liquid to prove it held no harm. But he is not sympathetic. He is First and he will be obeyed because he knows what is best for others. He will not coddle them.
Carlisle stares at the crimson waters for minutes, but he does eventually consume it. Quick, deep gulps meant to try and make the agony of the silver pass sooner. When he is done, Carlisle lowers the cup. He waits for the expected pain. Aro waits for him to comprehend. When he does it is with a shudder.
Wide, black-yellow eyes jerk up to meet his red ones with shock. Aro can see the thoughts racing through his mind. Why is there no silver? Is there some other drug laced in the food? Will it be worse than the silver? Why has the new vampire given him animals’ blood instead of humans? What ulterior motive is at play?
“Good,” Aro smiles. “I expect you to drink your fill and stop with this stubborn display of rebelliousness. You are weak and I will not have that.”
Carlisle only stares at him.
He turns to the servant again. “Bring more to him.”
“Animal, my lord?”
He doesn’t like that subtle jab at his decision. “Of course.”
The color drains from her face at his flat tone. She knows she’s caused offense. Many have not lived to see another day for doing so. He plays with the idea and decides he’s angry enough. He snaps at two of the guards. “Be so kind as to relieve Miss Elizabeth of her tray. I have no further use of her services.”
Her strangled gasp is all he hears before the guards wisp her away. Her screams of apology are a balm to him…until he sees the look of alarm on Carlisle’s face. He’s watched the entire drama. Aro grumbles. He hates having to pansy foot around his student. Never before had he cause to do so. They’d enjoyed many a debate, both men honest and blunt, never afraid of retaliation from the opposite party. This dismal creature before him is nothing but a shadow of that once interesting boy.
But irritation will only make him rash. He can’t rush this, tempting though it is. He smiles down at Carlisle. “Fear not, young one, you are always in my good graces.”
A look of puzzled concern plasters itself on the boy now and Aro leaves him to fret over this new development.
Asking Sulpicia for her aid in the matter is one of the better decisions Aro’s made since embarking on this task. Her calm manner of approach soothes Carlisle as nothing else can. One touch from her and he relaxes. Aro would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little jealous of the instant trust his student gave his mate, but she’d explained it neatly to him whilst they sat by the fire that first evening.
“You are as a dark storm, my love, terrible and great in its majesty. All know your supremacy upon seeing you, even if at a distance. When Carlisle was himself, that intensity drew him to you. He loved that your long years had not dulled your passions.”
Here she’d paused and cupped his cheek.
“But that same force of power blinds him to recognizing you now. That filth from the new world beat his spirit down so that he retreated into his mind. All that is left is recent memories and instinct. All his senses cry out to submit to your will. Yet, he knows that his former master hurt him, often on a whim, so he fears to hope that his new one will be different.”
“Better to prepare for pain than to pray it will cease,” he’d murmured.
She’d stroked his hair. “Indeed.”
He sighs. It’s not easy watching the young one interact with his mate without fear and yet tremble every time Aro so much as glances in his direction. The boy tiptoes around him, nervous that he’ll somehow displease his new master. It frustrates Aro to no end. What has he ever done now or in the past to warrant such behavior? Nothing. And that just adds more salt to the wound.
Aro pushes the library doors open and peers inside. Tucked away in a corner near the fire are his mate and Carlisle, the latter smiling shyly as Sulpicia laughs over something he’s observed. The peaceful aura shatters though when the boy sees him. Then, it’s as if the coven leader is staring at a marble statue. Aro forces a smile onto his lips and steps in.
“And what great story have you found today?” he asks, walking over at a human’s pace. Carlisle reacts badly whenever Aro uses his vampiric speed. Aro’s imagination has no trouble assuming why this is so.
Sulpicia chuckles as she closes the thick book they were reading. “The intricate details of the human body.”
“An interesting choice, my dear.”
“Indeed?” He looks over at his student. “And what, pray tell, brought this on? If you’ve need to study, you know you have only to ask and I shall provide you with a living specimen.”
The outburst shocks them all. It’s the first bit of emotion other than frightened compliance the young vampire has shown since he’s been found. How poetic that it’d be the threat to a human life that would bring it forth. How telling. Aro focuses back on the present.
Carlisle leans back in his chair and Aro hears the brittle wood creak at the joints. Were he still human, Aro knows the boy’s heart would be beating wildly in his chest and his breath would be coming out in short gasps. As it is, Carlisle only grips the edges of his sleeves. Aro knows he wants to fall to the floor and prostrate into a groveling bow, whispered apologies flowing from his lips, but they’ve discussed this behavior enough times for Carlisle to know it’s not acceptable.
Sulpicia switches her gaze between them both before getting up in a single smooth motion and placing her book on the end table. “I think I shall leave.”
Aro nods, his silent thanks to his mate for her understanding of his needs. She smiles and ghosts a hand on his shoulder. Be gentle, that action means. Aro touches her fingertips just as she lets go. Perhaps, he communicates. He waits until he cannot hear her retreating footsteps down the hall before he places his attention back on Carlisle. The boy hasn’t move.
“I see your notions about humans haven’t dulled these past five years,” he says, sitting in the chair Sulpicia recently vacated. It brings him two feet from the boy and he can see from the tautness in the boy’s body that Carlisle knows this too. The young one draws in an unnecessary breath, showing just how nervous he really is, and straightens a little.
Aro allows the ‘master’ to slip by this time. There’ll be ample occasions for him to wean him of that pitiful phrase later. “I suppose your old holder tried to cure you of this?”
Carlisle hesitates, perhaps memories of past torments rising up. “Many times, master.”
“I shalln’t ask how. He never was a pleasant man. I am curious though,” and here he can’t help himself, “How did you manage to retain that particular knowledge and not the facts about us?”
He waves aside the boy’s anxious confusion. “Ignore me, I ramble.”
Carlisle peers closer at him, almost as if he’s trying to remember something. “We…we know each other, master?”
The boy saddens. “I don’t remember.”
“I know.” Aro straightens and coats his regret with another smile. He picks up the book Sulpicia left behind. “So, tell me, why are you so interested in the specifics of the human body?”
“I…” Carlisle hesitates again, clasping and unclasping his hands in his lap. “I wish to heal them, master. I wish to be a doctor.”
Oh, his little one will never change.
Caius is by far the least kind to Carlisle, but then that’s always been the case with the two. Aro’s young brother cannot comprehend his student’s desires to refrain from his natural food source, nor why he would want to become a doctor for them. In his vexation Caius lashes out, mostly with words, though he’s been known to be physical too – a few well-placed shoves, nothing more, Caius knows better than to exceed that. In the past, this hadn’t been a problem. Carlisle let any venomous words and pushes flow over him with little heed, but the young one is more vulnerable at this time. And Caius knows it.
Aro should’ve known better than to not place a watch over his volatile brother.
He gets small reports from the servants of Caius’ misconduct, more hints than testimonies. They come to him, skittish and wary of blacking a royal member’s name. In hushed whispers, behind closed doors, they tell him in one way or another of his brother’s hatred for the young one and of the hostile visits he’s paid to the boy whenever he thinks Aro busy.
Where would you like Carlisle’s clothes, my lord? The rips? Oh, we’re not sure, but Caius told us to get rid of them. The destroyed books of doctoring? Caius said they’d be useless in this state. The slight sedative lacing the young ones animal blood? It’s to help with the pain.
The man before him twitches, but perseveres in his explanation, he’s not the head butler for nothing. “The visits have become more frequent, my lord, as well as more violent.”
Aro grunts to show he’s listening intently. Perhaps it’s a good thing he forwent his trip to Volterra’s market day. Heidi’s bringing in their food, so there isn’t really any need for him to hunt. He’s grateful the other vampire is being so blunt. He’s tired of the hints and wants to straightforward truth now. “Go on.”
“The boy doesn’t know what to do, my lord,” the man says. “He knows Lord Caius to be a royal and fears retaliation too greatly to defend himself.”
They all fear Caius’ retribution, which makes their bravery in bringing this to him admirable. He’ll remember when it comes time for the annual review. “What exactly has my brother done that brings you to me now?”
“Caius…Lord Caius is with him now, my lord. He is in a foul mood.”
Aro waits, but that’s all the servant gives him. Dismissing the butler before the man can see how greatly this affects him, the coven leader settles back in his seat. His hackles rise. How dare his brother disregard his authority in such a public manner. Did he think Aro would not find out about his transgressions? It seems another…discussion…about who is First is in order. He’d thought he’d made it clear last time, but it seems Caius is dense.
He marches out of the room, pausing on a moment at his clerk’s desk. “Mary, are there any ships departing for Tokyo this day?”
“No, my lord, though there are two set for the morrow.”
“Be a dear and arrange a voyage on one of them for Lord Caius.”
“Of course, my lord,” the woman’s voice purrs.
Aro continues down the hallway and heads towards Carlisle’s chambers. It doesn’t take him long to arrive there. But before he can go in Caius himself speeds out, nearly knocking him over. The pasty man straightens upon seeing Aro, giving him a strange smile. He brushes out his disheveled clothing. “Ah, brother, I’d thought you in the markets today.”
“So I gathered, brother.”
His stress on their association gives Caius pause. The man raises an eyebrow. “What is wrong?”
Aro pats off a few stray dust particles. “Did you think I would not find out, brother?”
Caius attempts to back away, but Aro grabs hold of the lapels on his coat, straightening them with more force than necessary. “Did you think me simple?”
“Aro, I –”
He thrusts the younger against the wall, the fragile mortar cracking. “Carlisle is my student! And you dare to touch him?”
“Brother, please, I –”
“You forget your place, brother.”
Caius stills. “Of course. I apologize. It shall not happen again.”
“No, it shall not.” He releases Caius. “I have need of your assistance in Japan. It will take some time to accomplish. Your ship leaves within the day. Do try not to be late, brother dear.”
Caius, though insulted, knows not to press his luck in this and darts down the foyer. Aro watches him leave. The guards at the door have studiously ignored the royal squabble. He nods to them. “Make sure he is escorted as befits a royal.”
Five guards. All will know the insinuation of distrust this implies.
“Yes, my lord.”
Aro prepares himself mentally as he inches the chamber door open. He can hear soft murmurs and he stops, straining to catch the falling phrases. He starts. Marcus is within. For a brief moment, Aro thinks his other brother has betrayed his trust as well. His hands tighten into fists, though they loosen as the conversation penetrates his angry fog.
“But w-why, master?”
“But they’re living beings.”
“As are the animals you feast on.”
A pause. “They have souls.”
A dark chuckle. “You never change, do you, young one?”
Aro’s rigidity releases itself. Marcus, while apathetic to most things, has ever been tolerant to Carlisle. He shouldn’t have expected different this time round. Of course, the eldest vampire would defend the boy. Not agree with him, naturally, but not allow any abuse either. He knows the fragile line Carlisle’s sanity walks these days. Aro smiles as he remembers Cauis’ rumpled appearance. It appears Marcus hasn’t lost his skill in battle.
“You must defend yourself, boy,” he hears Marcus say softly. “To yield like this only invites Caius to try harder.”
“But he is master!”
A shuffle. “Yes.”
“He is to be obeyed.”
“…I do not understand, master.”
“You will, in time,” Marcus says.
There is another shuffle and a whimper. Aro steps inside, taking in everything with one glance. How the servants looked different shades of relieved and smug. How the table near the left window is smashed beyond repair. How there are broken bits of glass strewn about the floor, as well as wood. How Carlisle curls in on himself even more when catching sight of him. How Marcus continues to rest his hand on the boy’s trembling shoulder, eyes older than Aro remembers them being. Aro nods to the ancient vampire and the man squeezes Carlisle’s shoulder before rising.
Aro signals the servants to follow his brother out and observes Carlisle’s state. The boy’s clothes are ripped in several places and he can see fresh cracks in the white, vampiric skin around his throat. Hot rage pools up in Aro’s chest and bubbles forth before he can stop it. He darts forward in a blink of an eye to more closely inspect the damage. Carlisle, as per his usual, reacts badly to the sudden movement, flinging his arms up around his head.
Aro growls, he can’t help it. This misplaced fear of his student’s is becoming unbearable. “Give me your hand.”
It’s the first time since this dilemma that he’s asked Carlisle to allow him access to his thoughts. He knows he can only blame sentiment on his delay of the useful power he possess. Carlisle peers up at him through his arms, but he obeys the command without question, even if his body screams his uncertainty.
Aro closes his own eyes, he knows Carlisle won’t take advantage of the opening, and observes the rush of memories that flood his mind.
He sees the grey seagulls as they fly overhead the large ship he’s boarding for the new land. He can smell the fresh kill he is burying, after draining the doe’s blood. He watches as a strange vampire approaches him and then suddenly he’s overcome with a wave of vertigo and collapse, unable to use his limbs. He feels the searing pain of the silver-laced whip as it cuts into his skin, the burn of the human blood as it’s forced down his throat – and, oh, the shame that fills him when he realizes that they’re able to make him go against his beliefs so easily – the crack of bones breaking as brick-like fists pound into him. He hears the demand for the location of the Gemini over and over, both before, during, and after the ‘punishments’.
He retreats into his own mind then, unable to bare the tortures, but unwilling to give the information that would end them. And then there is nothing but a black abyss, a sweet nothingness where he feels nothing. It should frighten him, this loss of his mind, but he revels in it instead. If he stays here he won’t have to face the cruelty of this crazed vampire. If he remains in this limbo he will not betray him. And that last is something he doesn’t wish with all his heart.
The mysterious vampire in his mind is aloof, calculating, and set in his ways, but Carlisle knows he’s only ever been kind to him. He speaks to him of things that help broaden his knowledge of the world, of medicine, of defense. True, the older vampire looks upon him as one would a wayward child, but he’s all right with that. He is a child compared to the others. Only he knows that his ways will never change. And he feels humbled that the coven leader trusts him enough to show him the Gemini. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he broke that rare gift and told this vampire what he wanted.
Aro skips through the memories of Carlisle’s rescue and ultimate revival from his coma-like state, he’ll dwell on them later, and focuses on the recent events concerning Caius.
He sees the spiteful smile as the second royal vampire whispers hateful, demeaning words into his ears. He shudders – sometimes sitting in his chair, sometimes leaning near the window, or even resting on top of his bed – as he waits for the footsteps, barely heard because of the great speed the other possesses, that announce his new tormentor’s approach. He feels the new wounds as the royal snaps when he inevitably fails to agree with his views. He’s grateful though when the servants help him recover, even if it does mean he’ll be well enough to appreciate Lord Caius’ next visit.
Abruptly, Aro comes back to himself and releases Carlisle’s shaking hand. He understands his student’s decent better now. It’s an odd mixture of possessive rage and sadness that fills him. He lays a hand on Carlisle’s shoulder.
“Loyal against all odds.”
Carlisle blinks at him, unwinding from his crouched position against the wall. He’s still skittish, but the fact that he’s opened his vital organs means much to Aro. While it’s true vampires don’t need the tissues anymore, it’s still a mental instinct to protect them when attacked. He makes sure he lets the boy take control of the situation. For some time his student stares at him with unreadable look.
“Loyal, master?” Carlisle asks at last, glancing down at Aro’s hands.
The coven leader knows without prompting what the boy’s statement entails – How do you know? What did you just do? – however he circles around the truth, eager to test just how steadfast Carlisle is to him. He hesitates. This could reverse any progress he’s gained over this month with the boy.
He presses on regardless. He has centuries to reestablish trust if need be. “Where is the Gemini located, young one?”
The change that passes over his student is instant. He flinches, hard, and grips his elbows. “I know not, master.
“Come now, I know that to be an untruth. You can tell me, young one. Where is it?” Aro wonders if his gentle tones will persuade Carlisle to give in. Wonders if the kindness he’s shown the young one over these months will have weakened his resolve enough to make him speak his coveted secret. One look is all it takes for Aro to know it won’t be.
Though Carlisle shakes as he stares into Aro’s eyes, there is a defiance hidden deep within that wasn’t present before. “I know not, master.”
A thrill of satisfaction runs through Aro. He knew he’d chosen well when he picked Carlisle for his student. Broken he might be, but never shattered. “And if I should call you liar?”
Carlisle ducks his head. “I know not, master.”
“You do not fear…” he teases with the word he knows will draw a reaction, “…punishment?”
Carlisle stills. A moment passes. Two. A minute. Three minutes. Aro is patient as he watches the myriad of thoughts race across his student’s face. Then a murmur of numbers flood haltingly from Carlisle’s lips. “4,800…60…300…100…1,600…300.”
Aro frowns. This is unexpected.
It takes a moment, but Aro’s mind recalls the familiar divisions. The exact man count of a roman army. His student is applying Aro’s most basic lesson. He’d warned Carlisle at the beginning of their studies together to never become arrogant enough to believe he’d not break. Everyone has a point where they can no longer resist. In the event you reach yours, have a simple phrase or number sequence that your mind that relies on. Repeat it over and over until that is all you can see, hear, taste, and acknowledge. It’s good to know Carlisle took that lesson to heart.
He brushes Carlisle’s hand. “Enough, young one, I am satisfied.”
A brief pause in the litany of numbers, a shudder, and then a cautious tilt of the head before s stuttered whisper issued forth, “S-satisfied, m-master?”
“Indeed. Your faithfulness is commendable, admirable even. Your friend would be pleased with your silence.” He rises and beckons a servant in. “I shall see to it you are no longer disturbed by Caius.”
Carlisle glances at the vampire by the doorway before he nods, hands still gripping his elbows.
“Take care of his needs,” Aro commands and then strides out as the servants approach Carlisle. Marcus is leaning against the wall opposite the door when he enters the darkened hallway. Aro raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t question his brother’s prying. The ancient vampire always has a motive for his actions. “Brother.”
Marcus follows him down the hall. “He trusts you more than expected.”
“Why risk such a display?”
Aro smirks at him. “Why indeed, brother.”
Marcus’ eyes cloud with thought for a moment and then he hums, nodding. “I see. Will you try again?”
“No.” He glances over. “And you?”
“I have no need to seek out answers that are already known.”
They arrive at Aro’s study. A bright fire crackles within the room. It’s for aesthetics sake as well as a source of light. Vampires have no need for the warmth the blaze gives. He uncorks a flask of human blood – a male of fifty who smells of tobacco, honest sweat, and wheat-cakes – and pours himself a glass. He peers over at Marcus and pours him a goblet as well. “You think me foolish for continuing this.”
Marcus accepts the offered blood. “I think you bored.”
“Perhaps,” he says, unwilling to admit more detailed explanations of his reasoning. He trusts Marcus to be steadfast and honest, but no more. He studies the thick liquid in his flute, twirling it as one would a fine wine. The scent that wafts up invigorates him.
“It is certain he will not fully recover, brother.” Marcus’s scarlet eyes are sad. “He will never be what he once was.”
“Never is a long time, brother,” he replies, taking a sip from his glass. The chilled plasma fills his senses and he smiles in pleasure. A good catch, this one. He takes another, longer sip. “Carlisle is stronger than you give him credit.”
“Perhaps before this.”
Aro tilts his head. “Would you have me kill him?”
“No,” Marcus shakes his head, placing his finished glass down on the table with a delicate tink. “While it might have been a mercy before, now that his mind has returned it is unnecessary.”
Aro nods. “He still wishes to be a doctor for the humans.”
“Yes, I heard about the incident in the library from your mate. She is quite amused by it.” His brother places a hand on his shoulder. “I only seek to warn you, brother. Do not expect your student to return to what he once was. Accept him as he is now and build from there.”
Maybe his brother is right in this. Aro has been urging Carlisle to recover his former life, but perhaps in doing so he hampered the boy’s progress. It would hurt no one to try Marcus’ theory for a time. After all, as he said before, he has centuries to fix any wrongs done.
“I hear there is an outbreak of the plague in the neighboring town,” he hears himself state dryly. “It might do Carlisle good to see just what it is he is dreaming of.”
“I shall see to the details, brother.” And then, in a rare show of emotion, Marcus smirks as he turns to leave. “Will Caius be long in Japan?”
If anything that first trip to the plague ridden town only fueled Carlisle’s desire to aid the humans extend their short lives. He’d flitted about the grime splattered streets with open sorrow on his features, aiding the diseased humans where he could; a murmur of prayer here and kind hand there. Aro isn’t surprised. While the boy has lost his memories of his previous life, his character and morals are still firmly intact. He wonders if it is because of the boy’s religion, but shrugs it off as irrelevant.
A few days later, Aro shows Carlisle the tower room that will be his workshop. He made sure the servants put a few necessary items on the shelves, but left the rest of the details to his student’s discretion. Time for the boy to make his own decisions and demands. It took half a week before Carlisle built up the nerve to ask for more supplies and another visit to the town. Once that barrier was breached however, Carlisle dove into his research with unrestrained zeal.
Two and a half weeks have passed since then and Aro deems it time for a visit. He strolls up the stairs and knocks on the oak door, waiting for the quiet ‘come in’ before opening it. Inside is an organized mess of assorted tools to aid Carlisle in his quest. Numerous drying herbs hang from the rafters and hooks. Labeled jars of crushed plants and creams line the shelves on the wall. In a corner steams a small pot of mint water. His student is hunched over the table in the middle of the room, curious, yellow eyes staring, unblinking, at him.
Carlisle straightens from the bowl of teasel roots he’s been grinding. “My lord.”
Aro smiles and folds his hands before him. “Hard at work, I see.”
“Yes…Can I be of assistance, my lord?”
The day Carlisle shed the phrase ‘master’ had been a good one. True, he replaced it with ‘my lord’ instead of the familiar ‘Aro’ he was hoping for, but it’s better than the former label.
“No, no, I only wished to visit and see what progress you made, my boy.” He glides over and peers down at the elegant writing on the parchment. In thin, but looping lines, Carlisle has detailed a summary of the plague that tormented the town and his most recent endeavors to cure it. He looks over at his student. “I seem to recall you using teasel root before.”
“Yes, my lord,” Carlisle nods, an eager spark igniting in his young eyes, “but this time I plan on mixing it with the silver and the mint cream.”
“Do you think it the cure?”
Carlisle’s enthusiasm dims and shakes his head. “No, my lord, though it will aid in easing their pain. Particularly around the lungs and heart.”
“Then it is time well spent,” Aro declares.
The boy studies him with a furrowed brow. He opens his mouth once, but closes it just as fast. The second time he opens it he is successful in uttering words, though it comes out laced with trepidation. “I fear I am baffled, my lord.”
“Oh?” He waves his student to elaborate and watches as Carlisle gathers himself.
“You care only for the humans as a food source. Their physical health doesn’t impede this and their happiness is irrelevant.” Carlisle breaks eye contact. “Why care if I succeed?”
Aro offers an enigmatic smile and picks up a teasel root. “Why indeed. What think you?”
Another hesitant scramble for words. “Because it benefits your ultimate goal.”
“To restore me to my former self. The one in the picture in the fifth hallway.”
What a sad, dreary world it is when the subject of an experiment is fully aware of his involvement. Aro knew it would only be a matter of time before his student’s bright mind caught onto the test, so he told him the blunt truth the first day. I do this only in the hopes that it will help you return your mind.
“I do wonder why you ask questions to things you already know,” Aro baits with a thin smile.