The Count of Tuscany

Chapter 4

"... called Forks."

Even before the word was out, Edward had vaulted across the cockpit, landing feet-first on Demetri's knees. He crouched, hands gripping the tops of Demetri's arms in desperation as he glared straight into his eyes. "Did you feed?" he demanded. "In Forks, did you feed?"

The surprise of the maneuver sent the tracker off-balance for the briefest instant, before he jerked forward, trying to head-butt Edward, who twisted away. Then he was back, nose-to-nose. "Did you feed?" He felt panic rising up his body. They were there! If they came across her...

Demetri laughed at him. Edward shook him by his shoulders, causing the pilot chair to release ominous groans. A giant paw of a hand gripped his hair and Felix swung him around, throwing him into the bulkhead at the back of the cockpit. The metal buckled and the door burst open.

As Edward sprang to his feet, he heard Felix's intention to push him out into the cargo bay. He ducked so that Felix's swing went over his head, and then twisted, reaching over his shoulder to grab the outstretched arm and haul the vampire over his head and into the corridor. Then he spun around to face Demetri mid-leap, and shot out his right arm, grabbing him by the throat, and swinging him around to hang between him and Felix.

Demetri's smug grin never wavered, the glaze still coating his mind. "Ask me nicely," he crooned, crooking his fingers.

"Peace!" rumbled Felix from behind him. "Let him go, Cullen." Edward hesitated a moment, torn, then lowered Demetri, and glowered at him as Felix said, "Why is this important to you?"

"You recall Cullen's little pet?" Demetri replied for him, his tone jeering. "She's from the same town as the kid."

"Ahh," Felix nodded, calm and serious, not sharing in his colleague's taunts. "We fed, but not on any women." Briefly, the fuzzy images of two men in hiking gear formed in his mind before the gloss again covered his thoughts.

"We may have driven by her house, though," Demetri leered, clearly having fun provoking Edward. "There was one that smelled particularly delicious. Was that what you found…attractive…about her?"

Edward curled his fists. Fear for Bella's safety warred with scalding anger. Like a mantra, he held onto the thought, "She's safe, they didn't touch her. It's all right," and fought to stay still. He couldn't hear anything from either of their minds. Were these just lies to mock him?

"Enough!" This time Felix's voice was deafening. "We did not seek her out. We have orders that she remain unharmed. Master Aro was specific." As though that ended the matter, Felix passed them both, going back into the cockpit.

As Demetri pushed past Edward, he allowed one last thought through. "Freesia?" He looked up at Edward, and winked, before heading after Felix and pulling the door behind him, forcing its buckled panels almost back into place.

Edward was shaking. He stood in the corridor for long minutes, trying to control his terror.

Is she safe? Oh, God, please let her be safe. I shouldn't have left her! Then, Felix's words were before him again. "We did not seek her out." Whom to trust? What to trust? How does he know about her scent? How can he know if he hasn't been near her?

Demetri's gleeful voice reached him. "I’m going to have such fun with you, Cullen, for the next - oh, ten thousand years or so." He laughed again.

Edward realized he was snarling and forced himself to shut up. Doubtless, Demetri wanted him to arrive in Volterra in an anxious state. Showing him who'd be higher in the pecking order, perhaps? He had no intention of joining Aro's guard, but maybe Demetri didn't believe that. He stayed where he was for a few more minutes, and then turned his attention to the child in the cargo area.

The boy's thoughts were still muddled by the drugs he'd been given, but with each passing minute he was becoming more aware of his surroundings. He knew that he was in a dimly-lit and very noisy, large and cold chamber, in a substantially-built cage, but his dazed confusion was turning rapidly into all-out panic.

Edward walked the few feet down the corridor, picked up a fleece blanket from one of the side rooms, and paused in the doorway to the cargo hold. He searched the child's mind for a clue to his identity. He received swirled frantic images of faces: dad, sister, and most clearly, his mom.

"Hello, Seth," he said gently, "My name is Edward. It's cold in here, so I've brought you a blanket."

As Edward walked slowly toward him, the boy shrank back into the corner of his cage, peering around his knees. Tears poured unnoticed down his face and he shook uncontrollably. He didn't speak, just stared wide-eyed as Edward approached and pushed the blanket through the bars near his shoulder. Seth didn't take it, but merely continued his terrified stare, making small whimpering sounds in-between his sobbing breaths.

"I won't hurt you." Edward used his most soothing voice. "You're feeling cold. Take the blanket and wrap it round you." Seth didn't budge for a few more seconds, but then tentatively reached out his hand to where Edward still held the blanket, weakly grasping it and drawing it to him. To his own surprise, Edward reached as far as he could through the bars to help wrap the boy's shoulders, tucking it around his back and cushioning him from the bars. Whether it was just having a reason to move, or the small kindness, the panic in Seth's mind subsided marginally, allowing for a hint of rational thought.

Edward turned, looking back toward the cockpit, debating whether to rejoin the other vampires. The boy would soon ask questions, and he had no wish to be the one to answer them. It wasn't hard to guess how he would react if Edward told him the truth. This situation was not of his making, so why should he deal with it? On top of that, the boy wasn't even a proper human, he was one of the shape-shifters, and despite the treaty, there was no love lost between the Cullens and their former neighbors.

But the situation is of your making, he realized. You were party to the treaty and Aro probably knows about it. Any danger to the tribe comes from that decision, due to allowing them to live and remaining close by. Volterra may have never known they existed if it wasn't for the treaty and your association with Bella. And this is an innocent, werewolf or no. You can't simply abandon him here, alone and terrified.

He sighed, turning back.

"I know you're afraid," he said, "and that you feel ill. I won't hurt you." He kept talking, slowly and reassuringly.

"W- where are we?" Seth asked in a trembling voice.

"On a plane," Edward hesitated, "heading for Italy." He crouched down so that they were on the same level, and kept his sentences short. "I'm just a passenger. I didn't know you were here. I won't hurt you."

He paused again. Seth's only response was to make more frightened noises, but he'd understood some of what Edward had said.

"Can y-you get me h-home?" His breathing came in gasps as his sobs temporarily subsided.

Edward shook his head, wondering whether to lie. For a few seconds he couldn't look Seth in the eyes. If he lied, said everything would be all right, would that do any good? Seth was beginning to change, and would soon involuntarily phase. Even if he could get the cage open, what good could that do? It was made of titanium, and might even be strong enough to hold the two pilots, but how could Edward lure them in to trap them? Factoring in that he would have to do this without getting Seth killed in the process, or crash the plane for the same reason, he couldn't see that he had many options at this point. And if they didn't arrive in Italy, and Edward made it back to his family, what retribution would Aro take when he eventually found out?

He scratched his head in indecision. No. At this moment, Alice would be telling Carlisle everything that was happening and they'd work out what to do. If Edward took some rash action, it might ruin any plans they came up with. Jasper was a master strategist and Carlisle knew the personalities involved. His best course would be to feed Alice as much information as possible, and also reassure Seth. It occurred to Edward that the kid might be intended as a bargaining tool to force him to join the Volturi; kidnap someone from Bella's hometown to show that she wasn't safe, and have an opportunity to study one of the Quileutes at the same time? Or was it possible that Aro didn't know about the wolf history of the tribe and this was just a coincidence?

He huffed in frustration. There was a missing element in all this. The Cullens had lived in Forks for more than two years without any effect on the tribe, yet the wolf gene had triggered in Sam Uley a short while before they left. Carlisle had worried that it might have resulted from their presence, but as everyone agreed that the transformation was a survival trait for the tribe, it didn't make sense for it to take so long. The legends also said that the wolf-gene caused aging to stop. For it to affect someone as young as Seth and to presumably keep him as an adolescent for decades or centuries, was not a good development for a race of people. As Edward knew only too well, it was bad enough being permanently seventeen, but to be frozen at a younger age would be intolerable.

Could this possibly be a last-ditch evolutionary response to being in close proximity to three vampires? Did their presence cause it? That might explain why this change was coming on so quickly.

Of course, none of this explained how Aro had found out about them without the Cullens being aware they were being watched. Edward finally decided: the best he could do was keep his cool, finding out as much as he could to help Alice.

From the cockpit, he heard yet another chuckle from Demetri, but tried to ignore it. He looked at Seth, who was still waiting for an answer to his question, and shook his head again.

"I wish I could, but at the moment, there's nothing I can do." Seth's face crumpled and he broke into fresh sobs.

For the next couple of hours or so, Edward sat with him and tried to soothe him, while Seth wept and pleaded for Edward to take him home. Edward hated every second of it. One part of his mind asked him over and over why he didn't just walk away and leave the boy to his fate. The other part felt horribly responsible for the danger that the Quileute tribe were facing, and also more empathy with this so-called enemy than with those who were his own kind. True, the callousness of most vampires disturbed him, but this went deeper. This was no way to treat innocents because didn't result from a need to feed. It was the deliberate mental torture of a mere child, and it was unforgivable.

He could hear that Seth had no idea about his developing changes and barely noticed his sharpening senses. His constant tears caused his nose to swell and block, so he couldn’t at first take in the strong scents around him. His temperature steadily rose and he quickly flung away the blanket, and then shrugged out of his coat as he became feverish.

As time went on, the endorphins released by his tears gradually left him in a numbed calmness. This began to change as new lupine hormones flushed through his system. They bolstered his courage and, had he known it, refined his instincts. But it also left him weary and aching. Edward could already see the physical changes developing; some of the childlike roundness was leaving Seth's face. These changes would take energy and it must have been many hours since Seth last ate.

Edward left his side at one point to search the cabinets for food, finding cookies and chips, and a few cans of soda. Seth accepted them half-heartedly, wrinkling his nose as he became aware of a previously-unnoticed bleach smell, combined with machine oil, old leather and others he couldn't identify. He ate the cookies while Edward considered how to approach the subject of the Quileute genetic legacy.

"I lived in Forks until recently," he began. Seth looked up with dull interest. "My surname's Cullen. My father, Carlisle, worked at the local hospital." Seth gazed at him and then slowly nodded.

"I've heard of your family." His voice was thin with fatigue, "But I don't think I've ever seen you before." His thought processes reminded Edward of Emmett; as he thought, he spoke. "I'm not …I'm not supposed to talk to any of you."

Edward nodded, giving him a small smile to reassure him. "That doesn't surprise me. My family is a little unusual."

They were both silent for a minute, until Edward tentatively opened with, "I know all about your legends and heritage, and we need to talk about them."

"We do?" Seth clearly couldn't understand what relevance this had to anything. Although his thoughts were still sluggish, he was paying more attention now.

Edward began by reminding him of the stories of his tribe: Kaheleha and the spirit warriors, Yaha Uta and Taha Aki and his Third Wife. Seth sat quietly, gazing wide-eyed at him, surprised that an outsider knew so much, and now looked at him very intently.

Edward moved on to talk about Sam Uley and how he'd undergone his transformation in late spring. Seth interrupted, thinking that this was a joke, but fell silent again when Edward mentioned Sam's panic while he tried to understand what had happened to him, and his estrangement from the tribe until he learned to control himself.

When Edward talked about the Cold Ones, and particularly one coven whose members did not feed on humans because of the treaty negotiated eighty years previously, he heard Seth’s internal debate, "No!…"He's not trying to suggest ...Those are just stories!" Edward shook his head and carried on listening to Seth’s thoughts. Seth stared at him and narrowed his eyes."He looks a bit like the legends describe. He's very white ... and he doesn't have red eyes…Don't be stupid, Seth, they're just stories ... and his eyes are yellow, not red…But nobody human has yellow eyes ...We were told never to go near any of them…He can't be!...But he doesn't smell right…He doesn't smell human…No! There's no such thing…But he…If there was, then the wolf stories would be true, too ..." He suddenly realized that Edward had paused and was looking at him sadly.

"Yes," he confirmed, "the Cold Ones are real and we are vampires."

Seth stared at him for a long time, unblinking. Then he slowly cocked his head to one side and inhaled, tentatively at first, then deeply. Edward could feel his concentration. Although he knew he was stronger and faster than Seth, being the focal point of this calculating gaze brought home that these people really could kill his kind. Seth's mind went cold as his new senses analyzed Edward's scent, identifying him as the enemy of humanity. The chirpy, outgoing boy was drawn down into a whirlpool of instinctive hatred.

His heart pounded and his lips drew back in a sneer. Fury built as a hot, scarlet haze blanked his vision and his blood pressure rose.

Demetri and Felix heard the changes in his heartrate and allowed their amusement to leak into their thoughts.

Aro is going to love his little puppy. Let's hope he's housetrained.

Seth snarled at Edward, the sounds tearing at his human vocal cords. He gripped the bars, knuckles white, then pushed his arm through as far as he could go. The bars dug into his face, as he tried to claw at Edward's eyes. Edward stood just out of reach and spoke to him calmly, keeping his sentences short, though he held little expectation that he would be heard.

"Seth, you're going to phase soon. Just like Sam. Listen to me. I can help you."

Seth hissed through his teeth, "You're a stinking, evil bloodsucker!" His eyes were wild and his face flushed bright red, "I'm going to rip you apart!" Again, he lunged at the bars. Edward could feel only sympathy. He knew only too well how easily the internal beast could swamp the kindest personality and leave it powerless to control its own body and brain.

Demetri had come to the doorway and was thoroughly enjoying what he saw. "Polite, isn't he? I wonder whether Aro will allow Jane to bring him to heel."

Edward shot him a disgusted look.

"I'll kill all of you!" Seth screeched, completely out of control now. "You're just parasites, murderers!"

"Don't worry, little dog," Demetri mock-soothed, grinning widely. "Perhaps we can find you a naughty vampire to use as a chew-toy." He gave Edward a sidelong glance before turning away and heading back to the cockpit.

Once again, Edward was running his hand through his hair, muttering, "Alice, I could use Jasper here right now."

Seth's rage had reached the point where he was trying unsuccessfully to shake the cage bars, while screaming incoherent words. As Edward spoke again, he pulled away, letting out a howl that sounded more animal than human. Then he flung himself backward and phased.

The cage had previously seemed excessively large. Now it was full of a panicking, enraged, sandy wolf. Seth spun round and around, barging unseeing into the cage bars, howling, whimpering and snarling. Edward shared every terrified, angry impression with him.

He kept stumbling, unused to being on four feet; his center of gravity and personal boundaries were all wrong. His nose finished too far from his eyes; his ears were on the top of his head instead of the side, and his lower back felt heavy and unsteady.

The bleach scents that had grown stronger over the past couple of hours now burned their way up into his sinuses until he thought he would go mad with the irritation. His screams came out as howls, hurting his own ears in their intensity, but he couldn't stop. He tried to flee, to get away from all these sounds and stenches, but his body betrayed him. He hit something immovable again and again, until his shoulders were a mass of bruises, yet still he tried to escape. There were voices, shrill and sharp, like fingernails down a blackboard, some mocking him, one authoritative but sympathetic. He leaped again, but succeded only in stunning himself.

Edward reeled from the blow to Seth's head and his crash to the floor that caused the whole aircraft to shudder. The wolf lay panting and stunned, his whirl of thought temporarily subdued. Although Edward's own head rang from the echo of the impact, he tried again.

"This is exactly what Sam went through when he first changed into a wolf. I know how awful this feels. I can help you, Seth. I know you hate vampires; that's natural for you. I know this means you hate me, but I promise, I won't hurt you," he reassured in the same vein, trying to pitch his voice so that to wolf ears it would sound less strident.

To his surprise and relief, Seth began to listen to him again. He was feeling weak now, needing more food to fuel the changes in his body, and exhausted from the fear and fury. For the moment, Seth had neither fight nor flight left in him. As he rested, his body continued to adapt. His olfactory system adjusted so that, while he could still detect all the different scents around him, his nasal cavities were no longer aflame; he could still hear every sound, but they were no longer an overwhelming barrage of thunderous, incomprehensible noise. His instinctive desire to rip, rend, and dismember every vampire he encountered, trickled away with his exhaustion, allowing other thoughts through.

Edward relaxed internally, and kept talking. Sam's thoughts had been particularly loud in the early days, so it had been nearly impossilbe to avoid hearing him. He slowly explained the changes Seth had undergone when he phased and how Sam had learned to change back. As Seth calmed once again, Edward walked round the cage to where his head rested by the bars. He sat down beside him.

"Sam’s method was to relax, then imagine he was collapsing in on himself, folding up like a box."

For nearly an hour, Seth struggled to control his fear and fury. At times it overwhelmed him and he howled and writhed, giant paws scrabbling at the floor, his muzzle, bruised and bloody as he forced it between the bars, trying to attack Edward. Then he'd regain control, always a little more, and they'd continue. In some ways it reminded Edward of dealing with newborns, although he wasn't used to being the subject of the attacks.

Eventually, they took a break. Seth curled up facing Edward, eyeing him warily. He'd very quickly worked out that Edward could hear his thoughts - which had caused one of the more violent of his attacks - but for now, his mind held curiosity.

"It's okay," Edward assured him, "you can ask."

"This is weird."

For the first time in many hours, Edward gave a brief smile and nodded. "That it is."

"So how do you get to be a vampire anyway? Did you want it?"

Glad to have an opportunity to distract Seth from his immediate worries, Edward told him a little about the Spanish Influenza and how it had brought him to Carlisle.

"So you were just normal, got bit, and that was it? I mean, you weren't, like, evil and asking for it?"

"No more than anyone else, I suppose."

"Well that just sucks." Then, tentatively, "Are you evil now?"

"I don't know." Edward rested his chin on his folded arms. "I don't want to be."

They both fell silent for a while, until a memory surfaced, prompting another question.

"Wasn't it you who used to date Bella Swan?"

"Yes." Edward felt the customary ache in his heart at the mention of her name.

"Jake was real ticked-off when you guys started dating but didn't you, like, dump her?

The words had never been so difficult to say. "I'm a vampire, and she's human. It wasn't safe for her, so I ... we left."

"I heard she got sick. My dad told my mom. Depression or something." Edward's head shot up and he stared at Seth, "Bella's sick?"

Seth had lifted his head to stare right back, his enormous brown-gold eyes sympathetic. "She really liked you, huh?"

"Yeah," Edward murmured. "Maybe she did." He put his head back down on his arms, remorse mounting in waves. Could he have caused any more damage? He'd abandoned Bella just before the Volturi discovered her existence. Aro's initial reassurances sounded less reliable now that he was here with his ”honor guard.” They'd also found out about the tribe at La Push and once they'd studied Seth, no doubt their next priority would be to wipe them all out, uncaring that they were no threat to anyone. They'd do it simply because they could. Along with anyone else in the area.

He forced his fear down, not wanting Seth to pick up on it. The kid had enough to deal with.

How would Aro react to Carlisle's choice of a treaty over genocide? Would it be considered treasonous and give them a reason to destroy his family? Edward had gathered at a very early date that Aro's logic was unpredictable and he had a whim of iron.

Carlisle had found that sometimes Aro was irritated beyond speech by his refusal to adopt Volturi habits of feeding and debauchery, but his excesses had been stayed by the novelty of his guest's habits. In an existence already three millennia long, new diversions were welcome, which brought him back to Seth. Edward was surprised to find that he wasn't indifferent to the tribe's fate, although up until now he’d thought he'd tolerated their proximity mainly for Carlisle's sake. It seemed Bella's influence had extended further than he knew.

Seth yawned. Edward heard his breathing and thoughts beginning to slow. He imagined boxes folding themselves up, corals curling and retracting, flowers closing for the night, and then, with a quiet rustle, he transformed back into his human form. This jolted him out of his doze and he sat up, startled.

"Wha... ?" He stared down at his naked form amidst his tattered clothing for a second, before grabbing the blanket and clutching it to him. "Ew! Not cool."

Edward gave him a brief smile. It was all he could manage. "Welcome back." He stood. "I'll go see whether I can find any clothes for you."

As he reached the doorway Seth said, "I don't hate you, Edward; I know this isn't your fault."

He didn't turn around. He couldn't look at Seth as he muttered, "That makes one of us."

Oo0oOo0oOo0oO

Aro stood atop the highest tower, gazing down on his beloved Volaterrae, phone still in his hand. Carlisle had been vague about the reason for his call, enquiring politely whether Edward had met his representatives in Boston, and what time his flight was expected. Aro had reassured him that he had heard from his guard; they had welcomed Edward, he was enjoying a comfortable flight, and they were expected to land at Pisa around ten the following morning.

He pondered, tapping the phone against his chin. Wherever Carlisle was, he would have the psychic with him, and, according to his informant, she should be able to inform him of any aspect of Edward's journey he wished to know. Either Carlisle had another motive for his call, or the witch couldn't give him the information he required. Distance didn’t normally cause her any problems, so it seemed something else was interfering.

He went over everything carefully, and tried to think of what could be different. Edward was blocked to her, and there were three creatures on board besides him.

Suddenly Aro felt an upwelling of delight and allowed himself a brief giggle. Caius had argued long and hard against what he termed “Aro's folly” in ordering the abduction of the boy, insisting they shouldn’t reveal their knowledge of the wolves until they annihilated them. If a study of the mutant revealed unexpected talents, this snippet of information alone justified any risk. Caius had publicly challenged Aro’s judgment but now he'd have to visibly back down.

For the moment, Aro's dominance was secured.

.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.


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