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Story Notes:

I don't own Twilight. I'm only playing.

Author's Chapter Notes:

Hello again, Twilighted world! I'm back! I know it's been a long time but I bring a peace offering:
a long one-shot dear to my heart and news of CV.
Some of you may be wondering where the last chapter of CV is, but never fear!
I have the first part of it all done. With a few more edits, you should see a new part
very, very shortly. As for the rest of it, I have two scenes, the hardest, mind you,
left to write. My disappearance doesn't mean I gave up!
I promised I would NEVER drop CV. I never go back on my promises.
I fought long and hard with Bella the entire time I was missing... all between school work.
But if you follow me on Twitter, you already know all this depressing stuff and more!

My fandom spirit is being rejuvenated and I swear I won't disappear like that again!
So let's all share hot chocolate and cookies and enjoy?
I'm looking forward to seeing you all again! (:

As always, love goes to my wife and beta, Great Chemistry. I adore this woman to no end!
Thanks for always making me smile even when I don't want to, bb ;)


He's gone again, was the lament running through Sulpicia's head. She stood in the doorway of the chamber she and Aro shared. The light of the torches in the hallway couldn't even penetrate the shadows of the large room, unlike the bright lights throughout the rest of the fortress. Sulpicia wasn't fond of the new, modern technology called electricity and demanded Aro to keep it away from their room. He had relented then, but with the arrival of that man, Aro was reconsidering everything.

When she first met the golden-eye enigma, Sulpicia was intrigued. He came from England, home of the animalistic vampires, yet he wasn't the monster she had expected. He was well cultured and very opinionated. She had laughed with Athenodora about his lifestyle and the time he accused the Volturi of being cruel and unusual. Aro had laughed, too.

"What a strange man, yet so brilliant," he had said. It was seeing inside Carlisle's mind that started Aro's sick obsession. Carlisle could show Aro what he missed while he perfected his empire. When Aro had touched him, the memories of quaint towns and quiet mountains were too much.

Aro was utterly enthralled; he spent hours describing every detail to Sulpicia, and with each wistful sigh, her heart grew cold.

With a growl, Sulpicia went in search of Aro's human pet. What was her name? Haldis? It didn't matter. This would be the only time they talked. Sulpicia despised every woman who belonged to Aro, but it was the pet's job to know where he was at all times. They ran a business here. Yet when Aro seemed to spend every free moment hiding in an artificially lit room talking to Carlisle, Sulpicia believed that the last thing he thought about was the Volturi. Would she have to be jealous of every man, too? No, just this one. And she still didn't know what captivated Aro. Was it only the promise of stories, or was there something in Carlisle's mind that drew Aro in?

She tried not to break the door as she entered the waiting room where Aro's pet stayed behind her desk. She was greeted with bright smiles and respectful nods from workers. She ignored them all, wishing she could project her anger into the room. If only everyone was as miserable as her.

Sulpicia approached the desk where the exotic beauty sat, her hand scribbling on a piece of paper. "Where is Aro?" she demanded of the young woman.

Hilda jumped at the sharp tone and looked up. She was brought in three months ago, and the ancients made her very uncomfortable. The tightness around her eyes showed she was fighting her fear. Good, Sulpicia thought. I am still something to be feared.

The girl cleared her throat and sat up straight. "Um, Master Aro said he was going out with Master Carlisle," she answered weakly. "He said not to worry, he would return shortly."

Sulpicia grimaced. "And how long ago was this?"

"Two hours."

It was worse than she feared. Two hours of uninterrupted conversation. What was that man telling Aro now? "Very well. Let me know when he returns, Helena."

"Heidi, Mistress."

"Excuse me?" Sulpicia glared down her nose at the girl.

"My name is Heidi, Mistress Sulpicia," the young girl whispered.

"You are who I say you are, not who you want to be. Backtalk will see you on the streets again. Do you understand me, strumpet?"

The girl shook in her chair, nodding her head too fast. She was so terrified of the ancient, she couldn't even reply.

Behind Sulpicia, the door opened. She turned, hoping it was Aro, but was faced with Demetri and Jane. The little one had taken him to feed since he was still adjusting to his new life. He couldn't be trusted to go alone. He had a big appetite.

He smiled and bowed to Sulpicia; she spared a nod for him. There was something about him that she liked. Was it his odd sense of humor, or perhaps that he reminded her of an earlier Aro? Yes, that must be the reason.

"Good morning, Mistress Sulpicia," Demetri said pleasantly. "Are you going to eat? There is a good selection up there."

"No, Demetri, I have no desire right now," she huffed. "I was only looking for my husband."

"I just passed Master Aro upstairs. He said he would be down soon."

Shortly, soon—there was never an exact time. He would spend forever with that wretched Carlisle if she wasn't in their way. Sulpicia held in the scream, tightening her fists, trying to stay calm, but the disgust was clear on her face.

"Mistress, are you well?" Demetri asked.

Without a word, Sulpicia turned on her heel and marched down the hallway she had come from. Instead of turning right, the way to her chamber, she went left. She had to find Athenodora.

It was times like these that Sulpicia wished Didyme was still alive. Didyme was flesh and blood to Aro; she could make him do many things. She was the one who pushed Aro into starting their kingdom. She had been a powerful ally for him with her special ability; although in the end, it hindered more than helped. When Marcus was recruited, it was more than Didyme's power that drew them together. Despite wanting a powerful kingdom, Didyme grew tired of the Volturi and wanted a quiet life for her and Marcus. Aro believed it was weakness. He always regretted bringing his sister over, and he had killed her to keep everyone safe. Sulpicia still thought it was Marcus's fault. Didyme would still be alive if they had never met.

Sulpicia heard the harp music long before she found the door in the black corridor. Caius preferred darkness, just like Sulpicia. She used the lion head knocker attached on the door, but the harp continued playing. She knew it would. The old door opened with a creak to reveal one of Caius's female guards. They were twins, and Sulpicia could never tell them apart. She never cared to; honestly, she thought it was ridiculous that a woman should guard a man.

"I've come to see Athenodora," Sulpicia told the ghostly woman.

"My mistress does not accept visitors during her playing," she replied. "I am sorry, Mistress Sulpicia. Please come back later."

It was the line she heard every time Aro disappeared, when she would seek Athenadora, and every time Sulpicia had the same reply. "Step aside," the elder order. The guard bowed her head, held the door open, and let Sulpicia enter. Athenodora would not be happy, but Sulpicia often interrupted her practices. She would simply have to live with it.

The room was just as large as hers, but it was less crowded. Sulpicia had an ever growing book collection after Carlisle taught her how to read. Caius had a wall of weapons with a harpsichord and harp on the raised dais in the far corner. Sometimes Caius would play a duet, but it was rare.

Athenodora sat on a small stool, surrounded by fat, white candles that made her blond hair glitter; the dim light danced around her white gown like something alive. Her fingers gracefully plucked and strummed a haunting song as she swayed with her instrument; her timeless face was the picture of ease. It was always inspiring to watch her play, but Sulpicia was too upset to be stunned into silence.

"He left you again, has he?" Athenodora sighed. It wasn't an act; her voice was always very quiet, very feathery.

"How did you know?" Sulpicia snapped.

"You always seek me when he's gone. Tell me, do I fill the hole he leaves in you?" Her fingers danced across the strings, plucking a whimsical song to match her teasing tone. "I know I am beautiful, but I did not know you think it of me."

"Everyone knows you are beautiful, but it is not why I keep coming back."

"Of course not," Athenodora scoffed, her song becoming angry now. "You can never stop by for a chat. Everything is done with you in mind; you do nothing unless you benefit. Call me egotistical, loving sister, but you are selfish."

Sulpicia approached the dais. "Is that what you think? That all the steps I take to prevent my heart dying when my mate leaves me is selfish? Would you not also do it?"

Athenodora's fingers stilled on the strings, the last chord she plucked echoing in the quietness. Her red eyes glared down at the brunette beauty. "How dare you," she hissed. "Caius would never be swayed by gold eyes and tender words. He is not weak like your Aro."

"Yet you had a wayward lover. You know how it feels."

"Once upon a time, yes, but I have a better mate now. One who loves me."

"You think Aro does not love me?" Sulpicia asked quietly. Deep inside, she knew Aro still loved her; if it wasn't true love, he would have disappeared with Carlisle already.

"I know he does still," Athenodora answered as she stood. "Carlisle tries both of you, but Aro adores you more. However, I do not blame you. The fear that the next time he leaves, that it will be the last, is paralyzing and affects every thought. I see the same walls around you that I had in my human life. You move your pawns in a way that ensures Aro stays oblivious, yet gives you more power."

"So you noticed." Sulpicia had been moving behind Aro's back as his obsession grew. She had guards that were loyal to her instead of her mate, and slowly, one book at a time, her collection was moving to a different room. When it came to the final fight, she wanted trustworthy warriors at her back and her collection safe. "I had hoped to keep that a secret from everyone else."

"Sulpicia, you are preparing for the end of the world. That is no secret." Athenodora stepped off the dais and embraced her friend. Sulpicia held onto Athenodora's slender frame with all her strength, wishing she could cry. What would she do if Aro disappeared with Carlisle? She heard the rumors that they wanted to move onto the New World. Would Aro go?

"Now, now, no crying," Athenodora whispered, kissing her friend's temple gently.

"He will leave me, Athena," Sulpicia said softly. "He will run off with his golden eyed angel and leave this devil behind. What will I do then? I refuse to live without him."

"You say this every time. Why is it you come to me with the intention to lash out yet when you get here, you cry on my shoulder? You should be telling these things to Marcus—one who sees relationships and cares—not me. I am but the wife of a cruel-hearted man."

Sulpicia pulled away with a glare, ready to scold her friend, but there was a smile on Athena's face. Sulpicia hated it when Athena insisted she was cruel; Athena did it only to lovingly provoke her.

While it was true Caius was an angry soul, it hadn't always been that way. His heart had hardened over time from too much bloodshed, too many battles, and having to kill too many of his own line. Sulpicia watched his transformation over the ages. He had tried turning his dying mother, but her body did not handle the change well. The last warm bit of his heart died when he had to kill her. But that cruelty had stayed with Caius, never once touching his wife. Athena had persevered through all her trials and was perhaps the strongest woman Sulpicia knew. Caius's rancor could never penetrate that strength.

But Athena's joke didn't distract Sulpicia. "I dare not share secrets with that man," Sulpicia scoffed. Since Didyme's death, Sulpicia avoided seeing or mentioning Marcus. She hated the sound of his name. "He had Didyme killed, who will be next?"

"No one, I believe. He can't; he only sits in his room, staring at nothing. He has attendants to bring him food and bathe him. When Didyme died, so did he. Why don't we go pay him a visit?"

"Do not guilt me, Athena; you know I don't like it. If he is so worthless now, why does Aro keep him? For his power? That was his excuse for killing Didyme, yet what has Marcus's power brought us? Nothing! With Didyme came love and happiness, warmth that was lost to us. We have terror and anger to replace her. Was it worth it?"

Athena frowned. "Of course not, but Aro was right. Marcus must stay. We are the oldest of our kind, Sulpicia, we must protect ourselves. Destroying our friend was not the correct way, but Aro wanted to make a threat to all of us: We need each other to survive and betrayal is not accepted."

"You know he does not think like that! Aro is a monster. Some days I believe he came from England. How can he feel nothing for his sister, yet show all the compassion of the world for that awful man?"

Athena reached out to touch Sulpicia's arm, but she stepped back, out of reach. "Let us speak no more of this. It upsets you. How about a stroll in the courtyard upstairs? Or, if you are hungry, we can find a man who looks like Aro, and you can placate this anger."

Sulpicia was walking toward the door as her friend spoke. The guard opened the door, and she stopped in the doorway, briefly, to say, "I have no desire." The door closed. She continued down the hall.

Yes, no desire. She had no desire to sit, prim and proper, and watch as Carlisle stole her lover away. She had no desire to kill him, or Aro. There was no desire to do much of anything except wallow in her grief. What other ways could she prepare herself for the final fight? Aside from destroying the thing that made Aro smile? Nothing. What could she do to keep Aro? She tried being seductive, being fun, and even tried threats. Nothing could sway his mind from Carlisle.

Sulpicia stepped out of the darkness, and her eyes burned from the glare of the electric lights. She stopped, glaring up into the light, and reached out. She imagined Carlisle's face to replace the glass. Her fingers curled around his neck and she squeezed. There was a pop, and suddenly there was less light.

She continued down the hall, bursting every light along the way, until she reached the door. She heard deep voices from the waiting room approaching. It was them. She held on to her anger, waiting for the door open. She would not run to him. He would come to her.

Light flared as the door opened. Her eyes adjusted quickly to see Aro's surprised face, though it was quickly replaced with a smile. It was always like that; he would act surprised, as if he was caught, and then give her the smile that she fell in love with. It wasn't fair.

Carlisle stood beside him, the doorway big enough to fit them both, giving her a grin. He was always happy to see anyone, but she liked to think that lift of the lips meant he knew secrets about Aro only she was supposed to know. She wondered if he knew the very foundation of the Volturi yet, or if Aro had enough self-control to keep it to himself.

Aro made a motion, as if he would come to Sulpicia, yet stopped short. She spotted the reason why. As always, their hands were clasped together. Nothing would break their grip unless they wanted to let go. She had tried before in a fit of rage. Carlisle was always the first to let go. She would have called it weakness, he might be afraid of her, but she knew he was letting her win. And she hated it.

As she predicted, Carlisle dropped his hand, leaving Aro free to approach her. She almost ran, but she knew better. If she walked away, it would mean Carlisle won. She would fight to show she rightfully belonged beside Aro.

She was wrapped in his arms before she could blink. His scent engulfed her; he had just fed, because underneath the smell she knew, was blood. But it smelled sour. "Mio angioletto," he whispered before kissing her. She was so surprised she couldn't respond. He never kissed her in front of Carlisle.

Sulpicia pushed on his chest. He obediently backed up, but he didn't let her go. She stared up into his smiling face, showing her confusion and bewilderment. Then she saw it. The reason for his abrupt happiness was not about seeing her, or even spending time with Carlisle. She knew why he smelled sour. She fought to get out of the grip of this man she didn't know.

"What happened to your eyes?" she screeched. Orange! They were a light orange where the ruby red should have been. She turned to Carlisle. "You beast! You devil! You turn him against all of us!"

Aro put himself in her way before she could touch the blond man. "It was my decision, Sulpicia, mio tesoro. The way he described it, hunting and feeding on animals, it was fascinating. It is nothing like attacking humans. There are no screams, very little blood spray. The feeling of being a phantom out in the woods is certainly something to live for."

She stepped back, unwilling to touch this stranger. "Bugiardo," she hissed. "You are a liar! That man is constantly at your ear, whispering the sweetest words. What can he give you that I cannot?"

"Carlisle shows me new lands and people while I never have to step outside my city," he answered simply.

"If you want to see the world, we can go. We can leave this scared little city behind and make your dreams come true."

"Carlisle has already done that, mio tesoro." Aro smiled as if her heart wasn't breaking.

"I will not stand idly by and watch your cat-and-mouse game, Aro," she whispered; she refused to let him hear the emotion in her voice. She held her head high, fear and anger warring in her chest. "You two have circled each other like sharks since he arrived. You are inseparable, and I am tired of fighting for your affection. Either you love me, or you love him."

Aro gave her oblivious, confused eyes. His world must be so simple, she thought angrily. He never understood the complexity of his follower's minds. If someone had a problem, he would ignore it. He would hide in his blissful world. Now his childish mind was close to losing him his wife. Sulpicia wondered if he would even understand the consequences.

He looked behind him where Carlisle stood resembling a statue, then returned his attention to Sulpicia. She watched the thoughts fly behind his eyes. The confusion morphed into anger.

"What are you talking about, Sulpicia?" he demanded. "I love you, only you, is that not enough? Must I dedicate all my time to showering you with praise? I have watched you for years, bonding with Didyme and Athenodora, yet I never said a word. I did not order you to stop spending time with them; I never gave you an ultimatum. I let you enjoy your friendship. Perhaps if you would pull your nose out of your books, you would realize I have found a friend, a companion who is brave and loving, to show me the way the world changed while we hid like cowards."

"That is not what it looks like to the rest of us," she argued.

"Why should I care what others think?" Aro reached behind him and grabbed Carlisle's hand, pulling him forward. "We are happy, that is what I care most about."

Sulpicia clasped her hands together, her lips making a thin line on her face with her anger. "What about me? Because he is beside you, you no longer care for me? What I think? You do not have to live with the pitying looks!"

"What are you talking about?"

"I heard the rumors—everyone has." She pointed a finger at Carlisle. "He invited you to go to the New World. You already bear the mark of his ownership with those eyes. Will you go with him? Will you leave your devil for your angel?"

Carlisle glanced behind him through the open door. Sulpicia didn't care if they were attracting stares. She would put this to rest. Either Aro loved her or he didn't. He could say whatever he wanted, but his actions would tell her the truth.

"Perhaps we could take this discussion to a different area?" Carlisle suggested lightly.

"No one invited you to speak!" Sulpicia bellowed. Her anger was bubbling just beneath the surface now.

"Sulpicia, stop this now," Aro snapped. "You are acting like a petulant child. You embarrass yourself in front of everyone."

Sulpicia couldn't believe what she heard. She held her breath in surprise. Aro, her beautiful husband, had called her a child. The insult stung like a slap across her face. With a paralyzing glare, she found her voice. "At least they will remember that I did not give you up without a fight." Sulpicia picked up the hem of her gown and ran down the hallway. She couldn't watch them any longer. With every hurried step, her frozen heart cracked.

If Aro went with Carlisle to the New World, Sulpicia wouldn't cry. She saw it coming; she was prepared. Yet knowing she could not stop her lover's decision, that he craved something more than her, broke her heart. What was wrong with her? Was she not good enough for him? Why did he crave that man?

She reached her destination. She didn't stand around; Sulpicia yanked the large door open and entered the chamber she and Aro used to share. Her most precious books were still on the old oak bookshelves, unlike a few others that were already hidden away in another room. If her favorites disappeared, Aro would have questioned it. She refused to move them for that reason, but now she tore them from the shelves. She had to be careful with her oldest; the leather spines bent easily, some of them already flaking and frayed. They carefully went on the bed while she searched for a sack. She would take her favorite books and the guards loyal to her and leave.

If Aro threatened to kill her, she would look him in the eye. She would dare him with her chin high. She was not afraid of death. She had been living it for centuries.

A soft sigh exhaled behind her, startling her out of her thoughts. She turned on her heel to find a skeleton sitting in Aro's favorite wingback chair near her bookcases. She didn't even notice him when she entered. Marcus had become a stranger to her over the years. Sulpicia ended their friendship when she learned of Didyme's death. Now that she was looking at him, there was nothing that resembled the proud man she used to know. The obvious lack of hygiene was appalling, and she could admit he looked awful, but that was it. She felt no sympathy toward this man. She had managed to avoid him for ten years. The skeleton ruining the upholstery was a stranger and nuisance to her.

She ignored him while she continued searching the room for something decent to hold her belongings. His heavy breathing made it hard to pretend he didn't exist. She was sure his body was ready to fall apart.

Sulpicia finally gave up her search and pulled the unfinished throw from the bed. Aro's mother had weaved an intricate pattern of reds and black, but died before she could complete it. It was all he had left of her, and it was perfect for Sulpicia's purpose. It was too short to tie the edges together, so she grabbed a ribbon from her vanity to tie it closed.

While she moved, she snuck glances at Marcus. He watched her with the same indifference as that of the wall behind him. They might have had their differences, but Sulpicia would never wish this fate on anyone. She couldn't imagine going through it herself. That's why she was making the first move. She would not become a mindless being like Marcus. Idly, she wondered if he was enjoying her distress.

As she tied off her makeshift satchel, Marcus found the strength to speak. He cleared his raw throat sharply, causing Sulpicia to jump. She wasn't aware he even remembered how to speak.

"You do not wonder why I am here?" he asked in a raspy whisper.

"Not even a little," she snapped.

He waited patiently with his vacant eyes. He knew she was lying.

With a sigh, she continued, "But you would not be here unless it was important. What do you want with me? Have you come to laugh like the others? It's been ten years, you realize."

"I have a painful reminder of each day that passes," he answered, voice tired already. "I come not for the satisfaction I should feel from watching your world crumble, but because I was worried for you. The tremor I felt was strong."

It was not always so nice to have someone who could see and feel relationships. Of course Marcus felt the strain between her and Aro; it was nearly palpable to the entire coven. If Marcus came to warn her, he was too late. Their bond had already dissolved. She was getting out of this awful place.

"Is this all because of Carlisle?" he asked. Sulpicia nodded curtly, her fingers flexing around her books. "Ridiculous, irrational woman," he scoffed. "He is not even connected to Aro. He does not appear as a knot in your bond to your mate. Carlisle simply does not exist as anything more than a fleeting interest."

"He has been here for months," Sulpicia hissed, stepping closer to the skeleton. "Carlisle is trying to steal my mate away from me, I know it. The many glances, always touching—as if they're in love! I already told him I refuse to watch their games anymore. I am leaving, never to return to this wretched little town."

"Where will you go?"

It was a question she didn't have an answer to.

Sulpicia had lived inside Volterra for as long as she'd been dead. The idea of stepping outside the town seemed ridiculous to her not long ago. When Carlisle had appeared, she was willing to put it all behind her. If Aro wanted to see the world, they would go. Now she was on her own. What lay outside Volterra?

"It is plenty safe for you to stay here," Marcus rasped. "You are simply overreacting."

Sulpicia turned to the skeleton with a glare. "Overreacting?" she hissed. "If I am overreacting then so are you! Look at you—you are a shell of the man you once were. Just the sight of you disgusts me. Every day I wish you were the one who was destroyed, not my friend."

Marcus didn't blink. He continued to stare at Sulpicia as indifferent as before. "The tremor I felt was not Aro's doing," he said, completely ignoring her outburst. "It was from you, all the actions you are taking. You are trying to kill yourself."

Her breath caught. "What?"

He nodded slowly, as if it was painful. "Did I not tell you? Carlisle is a fleeting interest to your mate. Aro will surely move on in a matter of weeks."

"Liar," she growled. "You are all liars!"

"Has he not always been this way? Aro sees a beautiful, shining object and wants to take it for himself, but when he has it, what does he do with it?" Marcus didn't wait for her to reply, although she already took the breath to do it. "He plays with it for a matter of days. He praises it and obsesses over it, and then he throws it away."

Sulpicia scoffed. "I already know this. I have watched Aro for years as he found new toys to pour adulation over. It sickens me. And yet this man, this disgusting angel, is different. He is not like Aro's other toys. He will not sit in the corner, waiting to be called on. He tests Aro with every word, every motion. Aro is madly in love with him; not as a toy, but as a man."

Marcus sighed heavily. Sulpicia wondered if their conversation was wearing on him; as far as she knew, this was his first conversation in over ten years. "Perhaps that is not what I meant to say."

"Do you mean to say that I am Aro's toy?" Sulpicia scoffed.

Marcus made a short motion with his head, a strange bob that looked slightly painful with his brittle bones. Sulpicia took it as a nod, and thought nothing of striking out at the man she once called friend and brother. The smack of her skin against his was loud in the chamber, and her sharp nails left deep furrows in his cheek. The healing process didn't begin immediately. Sulpicia waited, yet the wounds stayed.

"You pathetic old fool," she spat. "Your very presence disgusts me!"

Her hand drew back for another lash, but the sound of a throat clearing behind her stopped her. Hand poised in the air, Sulpicia turned to find the one man she didn't want to see. Her hand dropped to her side, face coiled into a sneer.

"What are you doing here?" she asked the blond man.

Carlisle stood in the doorway, looking so much like the fallen angel he probably was. It was truly no wonder why Aro commissioned all those paintings, but Sulpicia would never admit she found him beautiful. They were enemies. Enemies did not admire one another.

The look on Carlisle's face said he was uncomfortable, and she hated it. She was the one who should have that lost look—not him. He didn't deserve it.

Before Sulpicia could scream, Marcus cut the silence with his rasping voice. "Ah, Master Carlisle, just in time." He pushed on the chair arms, assisting himself to his feet like a human might. He stood on weak legs, teetering in place. "Would you mind escorting me to the door? It seems I am having trouble standing on my own today."

Carlisle brushed past Sulpicia as if she wasn't there. She clasped her hands, to resist grabbing him, forcing him to look at her and the anger and hurt she felt.

"Please, it's just Carlisle," the angel said with a laugh. He offered his arm to Marcus, and the ancient grasped his arm, slowly shuffling towards the door. "If I may be so bold, where are your attendants? I know they usually keep a close eye on you."

Marcus coughed a painful chuckle. "Yes, I am always surrounded. The amount of eyes and hands waiting on me . . . inquietante."

Sulpicia watched the men move towards the door. She remembered a time when that slow skeleton was a strong warrior, fighting men and the dangers of the sea. It was not only the loss of his mate that had changed him; time had eroded all of them. The changes were different for them all, but the fact remained that they were not the people they once were. She wondered how Didyme might be affected, were her friend still alive. Would she continue to smile and share her warming gift, or would she be as cold and callous as Marcus used to be? As Caius was now? Her heart ached with the thought.

Not Didyme. She would never be so uncaring, Sulpicia thought.

"Now, you two have much to talk about," Marcus was saying, having made it to the door. Sulpicia gathered her satchel of books and prepared to leave. There were hidden exits around the room; she would take one to avoid Carlisle. "I will return him in a moment. Do not move, Sulpicia."

She sneered at his back, but curiosity kept her in place. What would Carlisle say to her? Would he think himself better, being able to steal her mate? Perhaps he would try to sympathize with her . . . she couldn't accept that. She refused to let his kind eyes mock her.

The door closed with its familiar boom. Carlisle turned back to Sulpicia, making his way across the distance between them. He wore no expression, but she was sure she could read his thoughts. She steeled herself. This would be the final confrontation. She already admitted defeat in front of Aro, but she could make one last stand against Carlisle.

He stood at the edge of the bed, leaving plenty of room between them. She appreciated the thought, but it was unnecessary. She wouldn't kill him. She loved Aro too much to kill his new treasure.

"Mistress Sulpicia, can we talk?" Carlisle asked softly. "I know you probably don't want to hear it, but I can't leave here knowing you are in pain."

Sulpicia scoffed, her fingers tightening around her books. "Pain? I think you are mistaken. Has Marcus's delusion crawled under your skin?"

Carlisle motioned to the vast room, his arm sweeping past the nearly empty bookcases. "Then where are your books? You told me they were your greatest treasure. It speaks many, many words that they vanished. More than you're willing to say, I'm sure."

"How dare you! Standing there, talking about me as if you know me. Aro may be so deeply in love with you, but we are not friends, Carlisle Cullen. You know nothing of me."

"I could say the same thing," he replied calmly. "Since I've been here, you avoided me. I know how you and Athenodora mocked my way of living, how you dote on your husbands, and yet I still know nothing about you. Where did you come from? How did you find Aro? What started your fascination with books, even though you couldn't read?"

"Those are memories you will never understand," she replied through tight lips. She barely understood them herself; glimpses of her human life, of warm fire and sparkling blue-green waters. She couldn't remember who she had been in her past life, how she survived. And she hated Carlisle even more for making her think of it. "Say your part so I may leave. I would prefer to be outside the walls before sunrise."

Surprise filled his eyes as he sat on the plush bed, one hand tight around the post. "You're going to stay? Most women would not wait for an explanation."

"If you do not talk faster, my patience will run out."

"Of course, how rude of me," he said politely. "Mistress Sulpicia, mate of Aro, master of Volterra, I know my arrival has caused you much pain, but please believe me, I never would have come if I knew what could happen." The formality of his words was touching, but Sulpicia had learned long ago to ignore pretty words. "I'm not sure I can explain what formed between your husband and I; he came to me out of curiosity, his need for knowledge becoming obsessive. I would never try to replace you, you must know that. Aro and I are only friends, both scholars. We learn so much from each other that seeking this companionship is natural."

She waited a breath to reply, in case there was more. Carlisle was silent.

"You expect me to believe that?" Sulpicia spat. "That this is just some ridiculous game for you?"

"It's not a game; it's just friendship, Sulpicia."

"So you continue to say! Look outside of your little professionista amicizia," she growled. "The secretive looks across the room, the whispers—the hours locked away in some room unknown to me! You certainly do not try to deny what you have. Everyone knows what's happening! Keep the rest of your poor excuses. I am leaving."

Sulpicia clutched her books to her chest and moved to the far wall where the hidden tunnel waited. Protected by a wall of stone, it was easy for someone of her strength to destroy and make a quick escape. Her rage would only fuel that strength; she refused to feel the hurt, the very ache in her hollow chest. That man was no angel. He had come to confront her, to apparently try to make things right. He hadn't even apologized for making her feel this way.

"Sulpicia," Carlisle said as her hand pressed against the stone. "Sulpicia, wait. That wasn't what I came here to say. Not at all. Let me make this right."

"There is only one way, Carlisle Cullen. The devil that plagues Aro's life must disappear for his own happiness. And so she will go." The stone cracked under her fingers; she could feel the hollow walkway just beyond.

"I will go."

The certainty in those two words was enough to stop her. She turned to find him closer than before, determination plain on his face. She tried not to show the shock she felt. This was a game to him. She wouldn't fall for another of his tricks.

"What are you saying?" she asked, almost breathless. "You are what makes my hus—Aro happy. We cannot both leave."

"No, of course not. I will leave, and you will stay, and this whole problem will follow me out the gates. I never meant—never thought—to interrupt your bond. Yet what you might not know is that Aro doesn't love me; he hardly holds a shred of kindness for me. He only sees me as a pawn; a valuable mind that he could put to use in his kingdom." Carlisle was close enough now that he carefully reached out, taking the books from her hands and setting them on the table beside him. He held her hands then, and she let him, staring dumbly at his handsome face, soft with its smile.

"Aro always mentions you around me, as if to remind me not to fall in love with him," Carlisle continued softly. "He constantly talks of how you would love to venture here and there—all around the world. He regrets not being able to take you. As a surprise, he was having me write a book for you. Of all the places I'd been. He was going to fill it with illustrations."

Sulpicia exhaled heavily, her eyes wide. Aro still thought of her? Enough to create such a beautiful gift? She shook her head. No, this was just a trick. Aro had moved on . . . and yet, some of what Carlisle said made sense.

"He would never do such a thing for me," she said wearily. Some of that rage had diminished, replaced with a deep tiredness. How could she stand here and listen to him?

"But he did. Half of it is already written; it's lying in the desk in my room. Shall I get it for you?"

"No, no. I . . . I want you out of my sight. I cannot stand these lies."

Carlisle dropped her hands with a frown. "Let me make this right, Sulpicia. Please. Please stay with Aro. He loves you so much. I worry that if you left him, he might become like Marcus. Could you go on knowing you did that to him?"

Her hand came up to strike him. She couldn't listen to him anymore! His hand caught hers, not at all surprised. She huffed and tried to break his grasp but he was too strong. All of her emotions twisted violently inside her. They made her sick.

"Get out!" she screamed. "Get out of my sight! You devil! I want you gone from my city! Never come back—do not even think of saying your goodbyes—just get out!"

Carlisle kissed her knuckles softly, almost mockingly, before he released her hand. "I'll be gone long before sunrise, not a word spoken. But please, look for that book. I'll leave it in my room for you."

Without another word, Carlisle Cullen turned and left. The devil was finally gone, taking all his pretty words and lies with him, never again to tempt her lover. With a sigh, she went to work gathering her books. Slowly, unthinkingly, she replaced them one-by-one in their rightful places.

After the last space was filled, Sulpicia realized what happened. The weight of the circumstances fell on her, and she sat heavily on the bed. She despised Carlisle because she believed he was trying to take Aro, yet he stood before her and spoke of how Aro would go on about her. Was it true? Had it been a misunderstanding? Had she just ruined Aro's happiness by forcing Carlisle to leave? What would she tell her husband? Perhaps Carlisle was not gone yet; she had to find him and apologize.

Sulpicia stepped out into the bright hallway, making her way toward Carlisle's room. The door was open, the room as empty as always; he had never felt the need to leave things out, to give the room personality. She couldn't say if he was still here or not. She turned to leave—what if he was in the corridors?—when, on the far wall beside the large bed, the sturdy desk caught her eye. Curious, she went to it and pulled open its drawers. The bottom drawer on the right held a thick leather-bound book. Carefully, she brought it out into the light.

The pages were thick and heavy with ink. She opened the book, not at all used to the silence that came with the action since her books often cracked, and was surprised by the brilliant scrawl. It was just as he said. There was a small note in the beginning addressed to her but she barely stopped to read it. She continued flipping pages.

Filling page after page was not only minute detail of French architecture, but people. What they wore, where they wore it. He described the beauty of plays and operas, how people danced back and forth across a stage to entertain. She wished to someday see the inside of an opera house; the vast gold ceilings, boxes hanging as if by magic. The statues everywhere. Every detail fascinated her.

A soft noise came from the doorway. She jumped with surprise, slamming the book shut and looking up to see Aro standing there. She thought he might still be upset by her earlier outburst, yet he smiled when their eyes met.

"Mio tesoro," he said pleasantly, "what are you doing here? Where is Carlisle?" Then he spotted the book she held. "Oh no! You found it already? And here I thought we were being sneaky."

Sulpicia smiled gently as he entered the room, his face alight with joy. "What do you think of it? Marvelous, am I right? I spent days convincing Carlisle to do this; he made such good progress, but I did not want to share it just yet." He held her face. "Ah, but you did not look ahead too far, did you?"

"Of course not, my love," she replied. "I would never ruin such a surprise."

"Eccellente," he whispered against her lips. "Now I must go find Carlisle. We have so much to do, so much to cover."

"Aro, Carlisle left a note earlier. He did not wish for you to worry, but he had to leave," Sulpicia said hesitantly. She had to tell Aro something. Although what Carlisle had said was true, this did not make them friends. Sympathy was not to be shown to her enemies . . . she knew this, but she could spare this much. Clutching the book, she knew it truly was a misunderstanding. Marcus had told her that she was overreacting. This book proved all the time Aro and Carlisle spent alone meant something, but for someone else entirely. It was all for her.

"A note?" Aro asked with a curious tilt of his head. "Leave? So suddenly? Did he say why?"

She shook her head. Suddenly she felt regret for yelling at him. "Only that he had to continue traveling. I am sure he will come back one day."

Aro was quiet for a moment, his eyes far away. She wondered if Aro really had grown attached to Carlisle. Then he came back to himself with a shake. Taking her arm, Aro led her out of Carlisle's room. "Ah, it is truly a shame he had to move on so quickly," Aro said, "but perhaps what he said rings true. Carlisle is certainly not one to linger in time like us. If only I could have gotten him to finish the book before he left . . . but he will have to come back to finish it. He seems the type of man to finish anything he starts, does he not, Sulpicia?"

"Of course, dear," she answered with a smile. This was her Aro. The one so out of touch with reality, yet still so clear minded. He probably didn't remember her outburst in the hallway.

"I cannot wait to see what adventures he brings back with him next time!" Aro continued. "And yet, I find myself wishing he would not come back at all. You see, mio tesoro, staying away from you, hiding secrets from you, is just too hard on this poor old fool. I do not need such a devil enticing me away from my angel. In fact, I very much prefer to stay right by your side." Aro smiled down at Sulpicia. "What do you say, my dear? Are you willing to face a thousand lifetimes with this fool?"

For a moment, Sulpicia thought she heard her heart skip. She felt almost human. With a content sigh, she hugged his arm closer, still holding onto the book. "Of course, mio adorabile vecchio scemo."

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