"I want you to destroy me." It was a young man, little more than a boy, who asked this of The Brothers. His body appeared emaciated-rare for a vampire-and his eyes were black with a thirst that would have been unbearable. Still, he had the strength to ask to be destroyed.
Within himself, Eleazar felt the tug of rebellion, a part of himself wishing he could do likewise. Always. Lord Aro knew it was there, but with that relationship-witch around, the leader of The Three had no worries that Eleazar would leave the Volturi stronghold. He had been in Volterra since 1701, the victim of a slavering newborn vampire interrupted mid-hunt by a tiny girl with a vicious propensity for inflicting pain. Since he had been burning by then, and the girl-older than Eleazar himself by quite some years-thought he would be pretty to look at, she and the enormous man with her took him away.
Hundreds of years, it had been, Not that they were all without their entertaining moments. Beautiful women were everywhere and Eleazar wasn't quite dead. He had a gift and Aro rewarded him well for employing it to the benefit of all.
When the desperate young vampire-Edward Cullen, first-created of Carlisle Cullen, whom Eleazar remembered as something of an eccentric-entered the circular room with his bizarre request, Eleazar had focused on him, stepping from the wall to study the fellow. And the flat black eyes that met his were so...devoid of anything that it moved Eleazar to pity, even as the other man's talent registered in his awareness.
Reader of thoughts.
Oh? he wondered.
Edward Cullen nodded slowly, maintaining eye contact.
A pity... Along with his giftedness, Eleazar had learned of the burdens different gifts imposed on their wielders. It was a trial.
Cullen shrugged and, as if suddenly assaulted by a painful memory, his face crumpled in on itself. Lips thinned. Eyes squeezed shut. With a flat voice, Cullen told the assembled residents of the castle just why he was there. About the human he had loved, the beautiful girl whom he had left to preserve her humanity, only to find out she had jumped off a cliff and died.
Continued existence was clearly not what Carlisle's first-created wished, now that his love was dead. But that was what Lord Aro decreed. Perhaps he would find a place for himself among the Volturi.
Eleazar slid a resentful glance toward Chelsea, the Bonding Woman. Chelsea would see to it that Edward stayed, if Lord Aro wished it.
"You are wanted," Afton informed him through the heavy door to his personal chamber. Chelsea's mate. A physical shield of some limited ability, he was quite an asset.
Eleazar was only summoned when a new member was being considered for inclusion into the Volturi. He could read if there was a gift latent in a human or present in a vampire, and he would silently pass on his reading to Lord Aro. Then, The Three would take it upon themselves whether there would be a new member added to their ranks. It didn't happen too often, of late.
He pulled a black robe from the antique wardrobe against the wall, watching as the fabric fell caressingly about his body. Appearances must be maintained. His black hair was tied back in a queue, as he had worn it as a human, so long ago. He was not as pale as the Italians, having come from Spain (and not of the gentry) but he had enjoyed the slight color he possessed. So had the ladies. Difference was new and exciting in a life without end. He would do. Of course.
The surprise as he entered the Feeding Chamber was palpable. Interest spiked all over the bloodstained room. Young Cullen, whispered gossip informed him as it flew about the room, had tried to expose himself to the humans in the sunlight not minutes before! But a human girl had stopped him.
"Not just any human-but the one he had thought dead," Chelsea murmured, having glided up to him for her daily touch of Bonding. He felt the renewed tug in his chest and plowed through his resentment again.
Reader of Thoughts. Seer of the Future...!
The second gift surprised him, causing Eleazar's brows to rise into his forehead as he studied the tiny woman. Edward Cullen, his arm around a human girl, whipped his focus to Eleazar, a murderous intent hardening the still-emaciated planes of his face. Long fingers curled with even more possessiveness around the human.
Lord Aro summoned his attention with an uplifted hand and nod toward the human. Understanding, Eleazar bent his gift upon her.
The strength of the potential he could see in the pale, hollow-eyed girl was more than he had ever noted in a human before. Keeping his eyes on her, he skimmed the floor with his hand extended, knowing Lord Aro would connect with him.
The girl saw him move and her eyes shifted to his. Shadowed by infinite sorrow, they were deep and watchful. Edward Cullen had made her a tragic heroine, indeed. Still, he knew the power she possessed and that was highly intriguing.
She should be one of us, he mused to himself.
Lord Aro, still making skin contact through his fingers, seemed to chuckle. "Oh my, yes. She should be here. We would be so happy to help Carlisle's progeny get a happy ending."
There was a blur, but Eleazar felt only that he had to protect the human in the midst of what was suddenly a chaotic, violent disaster.
"Edwaaaard!" the girl shrieked as Eleazar spun her to safety against one wall. He braced her effortlessly in his arms, shielding her eyes from the bloodless carnage.
"Bella!" The girl's name came from two throats. The cries ended in wordless screams of agony as they were undoubtedly assaulted by Jane. Eleazar was too familiar with the peculiar sound vampires made under the small Pain-Deliverer's attention.
Ah, the Seer, yes. Alice. Eleazar absently cataloged that gift in his mind while he held young Bella in his arms so that she would be simultaneously protected from the fighting vampires as well as from herself. Should she get in the middle of the melee, she would be killed.
For pain didn't end with the mind.
"You cannot change her," young Edward ground out.
"Oh, but I can, dear boy. I can." Aro sounded very calm and matter-of-fact about it. "Preserve the little one. She is quite gifted," the Lord of Volterra instructed, as if telling children to put away their playthings.
A final rendering of limbs, a shout of abject denial, the tortured voice thick with love as the young man cried, "Bella!" had Eleazar darting a quick look over his own shoulder.
"No, no, no, no..." the girl whimpered in the shelter of Eleazar's arms. Grief must have stilled her movements, however, for she ceased to struggle when the first plumes of purple smoke spiraled into the air.
The Seer wept, crumpled on the stone floor. Already, she was being seen to by Chelsea. Bonded into the Guard, Eleazar was positive.
"Good Eleazar," Lord Aro called, his eyes bright and cheerful. "I must call my old friend Carlisle. We have things to discuss. You are to bring dear, dear Bella into our society." He smiled, still watching the burning as that purple-scented smoke rose into the shadows far above.
The girl in his arms was motionless, seeming to be without volition. Eleazar found himself caring very much to protect her from the rapidly diminishing pile of what used to be her beloved. "Come, Bella," he whispered as he held her against his chest, tucking her head under his chin as he carried her as he might a little child. Heidi would be arriving soon, and it would not do to keep Bella anywhere near feeding vampires.
"I am going to make you into one of us," he informed the girl. "My name is Eleazar and I know you are going to be a marvelously empowered vampire."
"Edward," she whispered as he moved at human speed up a flight of stairs. Stone steps echoed with whisper-softness as they ascended. No lights were needed at these levels-all the residents could see in the dark. "What happened...?"
"My dear, sweet innocent," Eleazar murmured. "He defied the Lord of Volterra and actually tried to attack him." The girl whimpered, shivering in his arms. He tried to comfort her. "He loved you, you know. Very much."
In his room - for he knew not where else to take her-Eleazar made quick work of cleaning her up. She seemed to submit as a porcelain doll would; no protests did she make as he took off her outer clothing and used a cloth to cleanse her body. Her hair was tangled, so he combed it with one of his own combs. She stood or sat as he positioned her, eyes vacantly distant.
He would not disturb her mourning by conversation.
When she was clean to his satisfaction, he carried her to his bed and settled her in the middle of it. She lay unmoving, hands at her sides. Taking advantage of her docility, he flashed to his wardrobe for one of his own shirts for her to wear while she changed. He would clothe her as soon as he had done as he had been bidden; females did not like to be left too vulnerable and without outer clothing, they did tend to feel that way.
"My dear girl," he said, breaking the silence at last. "This is going to hurt, but you will not be left alone." The welling of protectiveness he felt surprised him. "Your friend, Alice, will be here when you waken," he went on, hoping he could arrange that, hoping to give young Bella some form of comfort before he hurt her. "And I will not leave your side."
She roused then, a little. "What's, what's your name?"
"I am Eleazar. I knew Carlisle Cullen. A long time ago."
Tears fell from the corners of her eyes, dripping down her temples to her hair. "This is all my fault..."
He knew nothing of that, but he came to kneel on the mattress next to her. "Soon, your life will begin again. All of your past will disappear," he said, thinking to encourage her. He had not changed anyone since that mistake back in 1815, but that human had been terrified out of his mind. Most of them were, he had heard from others.
Terrified or post-coital.
"Charlie..." Bella whispered next.
"Who?" Strange irritation flared in his chest, spreading to his arms. Wasn't the boy's name Edward? Of course it had been.
Human ties. He had nothing to say except, "Shh, dear girl. Soon, it will all be over."
She closed her eyes and, after a quick inhalation, Eleazar bit her throat.
She burned, but Bella hardly noticed, so broken did she feel. A calm voice spoke to her, though, telling her what was happening. Assuring her, "All will be well. Soon."
The sounds crashed in on her ears when the burning stopped.
"Ah, she hears us. Good." The deep, soothing voice spoke and Bella didn't know how to react to it. She trusted that voice - it had never left her, not once. That was more important than the memory that the voice had been there when the burning began. More important than the fact that she could only remember her first name. More important than anything. He had remained with her.
Bella's mind sought to make connections, but they eluded her. All she heard were the most beautiful voices she could have imagined. Someone shifted and the air shifted likewise, just enough that she could feel it move like tiny wings over her bare legs.
Shocked, Bella opened her eyes and leapt from where she had burned. Almost, she expected to see a bed of charred wood and fabric, but no. Instead, there was brown and cream with navy accents. Her eyes flew over the coverings, counting individual fabric threads without her mind telling them to do so. Eight hundred.
"Oh, Bella," said a light, silvery voice coming from a tiny brunette. "You're beautiful."
"Ah, yes, my dear. But you must be so thirsty..." said the man with the avaricious smile all over his face.
"We'll teach her to hunt," a blond man with a scarf inserted with determination.
A sob came from the woman wrapped around him. "She would want it that way, I know it."
Terrified, not recognizing anyone, but knowing beyond a doubt that she could differentiate who they were by their scents-which felt right but wrong-Bella shrieked, "Where are you?"
"Who?" came a chorus of voices.
The name meant nothing to her scattered memories. She began to panic. "Him! He was here. Him!"
There were five beside herself in the room, all of them seeming far too eager to approach her. Now, they melted back to the curved walls. All save one.
"I'm here, dear girl. I never left."
Relief washed over her skin, leaving her feeling clean and peaceful. With a thought, she had moved to his side. "You didn't leave me," she whispered. Hope flamed in a single flicker within her breast. Hands clasped in front of her, because her fingers were trembling, she came within a breath of him. He was beautiful. Clear skin-not as pale as hers, but luminously olive complected. Eyes of deep burgundy met her own and her tremors ceased. She was able to relax her fingers and reach for his hand.
"I never left you," he said again, capturing her fingers in his gloved palm. "How do you feel?"
"I am Eleazar, Bella. Do you remember meeting me?"
She tried, but couldn't. "I only remember your voice." Then, she swept a glance around the others. "I'm sorry. I-I don't remember. Have we met?" Clinging to the one person she knew for sure had cared for her, Bella swallowed against the burning in her throat, willing it away.
Three of the others in the room sighed. The blond male spoke. "I'm Carlisle, Bella. This is my wife-my mate, Esme."
"I'm Alice," the smallest female said in the high silvery voice. "We-"
"Now, now, dear," interrupted the last one, the male with long black hair hanging over both shoulders. His red eyes were shining brightly through what appeared to be a film over the corneas. He extended one hand to the girl he had interrupted and the other one he held out to Bella. "We don't want to overwhelm our newborn."
A spike of confusion hit Bella behind one ear. "Newborn?" Instinctively, she looked to the only one in the room she trusted at this point. "Eleazar? I'm an adult."
His smile was gently humored. "You're one of us now. An immortal. But you're new to this life so we call you a newborn. And, like any newborn, you'll be well cared-for."
"Absolutely," came the murmurings of the others.
"This is our leader, Lord Aro of the Volturi," Eleazar said, nodding and bowing a little to the man with the long black hair.
Bella nodded slowly, wondering if she should bow, too, but then she looked at herself and noted her bare legs. Again.
She gasped as her mind careened into a wild spiral. "Legs! What am I wearing? What happened?"
The small woman stepped slowly forward. "Bella?" Her golden eyes were warm and compassionate, but also held immeasurable sorrow. Bella felt utterly out of place in front of her. "I have some clothes for you, if you want them."
"Yes, please," she blurted. And bending a little, she added, "can you show me how to make the burning go away?"
"Of course," Alice assured her.
She was holding his hand, so Eleazar went with her to Alice's chamber. He remained with his back turned while she dressed and then took her hand again when they went out to seek that which would soothe the ever-increasing burn in her throat.
When the solution was found to be blood, Bella did not hesitate. That Eleazar watched with obvious absorption, she put down to his having sired her. He clearly took his responsibility toward her seriously.
Over the next few months, he rarely left her side.
The day the door into the echoing "dining chamber" was splintered into one thousand, eight hundred and seven pieces-her mind gave her no recourse but to count each shard of wood-was the day Bella's memories returned to her.
The tortured-sounding demand interrupted her training, where she was working with Jane and Eleazar on an unusual aspect of her vampire life: a mental shield. Keeping Jane's mental power from hurting Eleazar took a great deal of concentration, but she was able to do it.
"Alice! Where are you?"
Without a word, Jane swirled and left Bella's room. She hadn't been wearing her cape-"It's for show, and you're not someone who needs to see it."-and disappeared in a blur of motion. Eleazar stilled, his gloved hands still on Bella's shoulders.
Instinctively, Bella whispered, "What is it?"
"They're gathering. Someone's intruded, I think. Come, Bella." She turned to her wardrobe for her hooded cape, which had been customized for her much as each member of the Guard had done. Ranging from charcoal gray to light-absorbing black, the capes billowed dramatically. Bella's own was a soft black with a subtle pattern worked into it that matched that worked into Eleazar's. He had commissioned it for her and she made the assumption that they were alike because he was her sire.
She never asked.
They sped down the curving staircase, their feet making only barest whispers of sound. Ahead, in nearly cavernous audience chamber for The Three, they could hear growling and wailing. Sounds that no human would continue to make. Soon, a wave of panic reached Bella and she stumbled down the final steps to the stone floor.
"What was that?" Longing swept over her as Eleazar lifted her and propelled her forward with this momentum. She thought briefly that the longing was her own, but it slipped from her as soon as she tried to analyze it. As they reached the gaping hole that used to be an ancient oaken door, Bella was frozen by what she saw.
Alice-her friend with the golden eyes-was locked in an embrace with a tall man whose shirt was ripped and dirty, ragged with claw marks. His skin as revealed by the destroyed cloth was heavily scarred. Every line of his limbs was taut but the expression on his face was entirely peaceful. A sense of calm wafted over Bella and she relaxed in the circle of Eleazar's arm. "Oh," she breathed.
"Jasper Jasper Jasper." The low, sibilant murmur brushed over curved walls.
"She's one of ours." Aro didn't need to raise his voice; it was enough that he had come to stand right next to Alice, his hand reaching for her.
He was stopped when Jasper-that had to be the newcomer's name, Bella knew-growled deep in his chest. The menacing sound reverberated in her bones.
A small woman named Renata threw herself in front of Aro, her arms stiffly out before her. Alice screamed, throwing herself on Jasper's body as he fell to the floor, writhing in apparent agony.
"Jane," Eleazar whispered.
The scene flung open a door in Bella's mind that had her crying much as Alice was then doing.
Edward almost stepping into the sunshine. The dark walk into Volterra. Meeting Aro. Edward...
"Edward! He was torn apart and burned," Bella gasped, feeling a sob rising in her chest. "Charlie! Renée!"
Silence crashed in like a live thing, but Bella hardly noticed. She was consumed by the tidal wave of memories that were suddenly there. She turned instinctively into the chest that was just behind her, wrapped her arms around it, and sobbed in the non-relieved manner they all had as vampires. Her chest felt carved open, as if she had lost her best friend in the world.
"Shh, dear girl. I have you safe," Eleazar murmured. She could feel his arms moving around her, felt a gesture he made, but she didn't know what it was. The conversation continued as the memories rippled behind her eyelids.
"He left me."
"You found him."
"He wanted me to be human..." She remembered that. Remembered why Edward had attacked even Lord Aro-to preserve her humanity. A foggy conversation about souls floated through her mind. She slowly focused up on Eleazar's face. His eyes were narrowly concentrated upon her, his expression concerned and compassionate.
As she watched, he seemed to relax. "He wanted you to live, Bella. It meant a great deal to him." With apparent deliberation, he cupped her face in his tightly gloved hands. "I am almost sorry you had to remember."
Bella spun in Eleazar's arms and stepped out of them as she saw Alice and Jasper running across the chamber. "Alice! Jasper!"
It was a true reunion for them all.
"Why do you wear the gloves?"
Eleazar sighed a little to himself. He had expected this question a long time ago. Bella's eyes had gone completely gold. His own were following suit. Hunting from animals sat better with him, for one thing. Spending time with Bella had changed his outlook...and a lot of other things, too.
They were sitting in the courtyard on a foggy morning after a night spent hunting. He had cleaned up and so had she and they had agreed to meet here before the daily audience with Lord Aro. "Do you remember when Jasper came for Alice?" He watched her smile, leaning back in apparent comfort on the marble bench. "You do. Alice's Bond to the Guard held, but the mate bond she has with Jasper was able to break through that."
Eleazar smiled a little wistfully as he studied his companion. She had become so much a part of his every moment. Her scent lingered on his clothing, in his chamber. Turning her head a little, she caught him at his musing.
"They stayed, though. Alice and Jasper."
"So have I," he said quietly, reminding her.
It was as if he had said a child's "magic words." Bella turned toward him on the bench, hitching her leg up a little. She wore dark trousers and leather boots with a red silk blouse. She was quite stunning. He waited, as he had been waiting, as patiently as his centuries had taught him.
"You have. You've never left."
"I never wanted to," he confessed, laying his heart before her. It might have been, he thought, the most brave thing he had ever done. She had depended upon him all these months. Almost a year. Sometimes, her eyes lingered. Her touch pressed and asked silent questions he never answered.
"I never wanted you to," she whispered.
Relief bloomed within his chest. He cupped her cheek with one hand and lowered his head to brush his lips across her skin but she stopped him with a small motion of her head.
"Why do you wear gloves?"
"Ah." He let the syllable out of his body with a sigh. "Jasper and Alice are mated."
With obvious frustration, Bella stood up. "What does that have to do with your gloves?"
"The mate bond is established through the skin, dear Bella."
He watched her internalize that, his chest tightening as her face fell. "Oh. So you don't want to be-to be bonded like that with anyone." Nodding, she inhaled visibly. "Well, that makes sense. It would interfere with-with your position, right?" She kept nodding, stepping a little farther away from him. "Sure. Perfect sense."
She smiled-it was a valiant effort. "Look. I get it. I mean, I wouldn't want to go around worried about finding myself mated to some random stranger, either."
With a helpless sort of laugh, Eleazar rose from the bench slowly, removing his gloves from his hands. "Bella. I didn't want to-to rush things. If a partner was ever for me, I wanted to learn about them on my own, not because of an instantaneous response that I have no control over." He tried to speak softly, gently, but his tone was more firm than he had wished. Still, he smiled. She did not seem to mind his conviction.
Indeed, her eyes were wide and glowing, her lips parted, and she had ceased to wander. "Oh. You wanted to spend time with someone, first. Get to know them."
"Exactly," he whispered, drawing slowly nearer to her.
Her gaze dropped to his bared hands and she studied them. "They're beautiful."
Whatever she had been about to say was cut off when he slowly slipped his hands around hers. She felt familiar-yet different. Her hand's shape was entirely a part of him, but this-
"Oh." The sound issued from each of them.
"Bella." Their eyes met over their clasped hands as nerves raced and minds embraced their new relationship. This time, she did not move away when he bent to meet her lips with his.
The fog had burned off and the sun sparkled brilliantly from their bare hands before their endless moment of recognition was over.