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Leech in the Rain

Chapter Text

The dull roar in Marcus’ head had quieted into a tolerable obnoxious buzzing.

 

Given more time, perhaps a few more days to his own devices, that buzzing would disappear entirely and be nothing more than a half-remembered annoyance of a very strange and tense period in Marcus' life.

 

He did not have days, though, he had hours.

 

How many of those hours remained he wasn’t sure. Aro had ever so helpfully set an alarm on Marcus’ phone, an item he now insisted he carry, but Marcus couldn’t remember how to activate it so as to check how much time remained.

 

Truth be told, he did not wish to.

 

Because the moment that alarm rang, he would be making his way into Carlie Cullen’s presence at the very least, if not Rosalie Hale and Aro’s as well, and perhaps Carlisle Cullen if he’d extracted himself from whatever Aro had embroiled him into this time.

 

Relationships were very complicated. Some were more complicated than others, either a person having many different relationships, or those relationships being tumultuous things that changed at the drop of a hat and never settled into anything comprehensive.

 

He was used to this.

 

There wasn’t a vampire alive, who stayed around long, who didn’t have some feelings regarding the Volturi and those feelings were rarely free of nuance even if it was simply fear of shadowy overlords and executioners. Even by simply being himself, he was hounded by one-way feelings of something or another from just about everyone in the vampire world.

 

But people, ordinary people, were not the Cullens.

 

Marcus had, in the past few days, been experiencing a– he wasn’t sure if headache was the word for it. He often saw complicated relationships, after all, his own relationship with Aro was one such, but that usually wasn’t his problem.

 

Nothing ever was.

 

Except Carlisle Cullen’s deeply dysfunctional coven had somehow become Marcus’ problem. 

 

Rosalie Hale was a fairly ordinary person. She loved too much and did not receive that same love in turn, she let herself be isolated from others, and she didn’t even realize these things– it was a sad existence, but ultimately one all too common.

 

Carlisle and Carlie were– more unusual.

 

Truth be told, Marcus had resigned himself to retirement ages ago. The moment Aro had found Chelsea, when they had realized the scope of her abilities, Marcus had let himself drift a little further. Oh, Marcus’ occasional insight was useful, but that didn’t require much thought and the active work of earning loyalty or sowing discord could now be left to Chelsea who only had to snap her fingers.

 

Then, when Jane and Alec had been found and no army could stand against them, he’d become entirely superfluous. Which was, in a word, relieving as Marcus had been spending the past thousand years by that point endeavoring to be entirely superfluous.

 

There hadn’t been the need for him to do anything more than give the occasional look towards this coven or that person, and let Aro take care of the rest with a touch.

 

Suddenly though, so fast it felt like the blink of an eye, and Marcus was not only mildly useful or nice to have but the only weapon they had left to their disposal and their last line of defense. Should Marcus now fail, then Volterra could very easily fall with him, nevermind Aro, Caius, Jane, Alec, Chelsea or all those chess pieces that Aro had gathered over the millennia.

 

It was an odd situation to be in.

 

He supposed it wouldn’t be for long, either they won or they lost and in either case this would soon be over, within a few years at most. It would be no more than the blink of an eye, and then life would return to normal or there would be no life at all.

 

Regardless, their fate now resided in Marcus’ ability to both conduct psychological warfare against the other half of the Cullens and to watch for when, exactly, the scale tipped in Carlie’s relationship with her wayward family members.

 

Aro’s relationship with Carlisle Cullen was just another headache on top of all of this, as it seemed Marcus’ interference was needed there as well. 

 

It was one of those problems that felt as if it should have been laughably simple.

 

They both had feelings for each other, at this point the misunderstandings had been mostly smoothed away, and both acknowledged they had been wrong in their own right and the wrongs done by the other party were not mistakes they themselves hadn’t committed.

 

Surely, after admitting that much, they would choose to be reasonable and begin to at least rebuild a tentative friendship that could only be useful in these trying times when they were made unwilling allies.

 

But no, no, at once both were entirely too dramatic, too stubborn, and too romantic for such emotional maturity to even occur to them, leaving this entirely up to Marcus.

 

Perhaps it wasn’t truly his problem, but– while the Volturi needed Marcus now, they needed Aro on a more permanent basis if they were to keep running. And Aro, for some ineffable but inalienable reason, needed Carlisle Cullen.

 

Marcus felt tired.

 

He always did, this wasn’t a new feeling, everything he knew now was chronic exhaustion and he had only the barest memory of feeling otherwise.

 

This time, however, it was worse than usual.

 

He was tired and faced with the daunting reality that in a few hours he would be back in that room watching Carlie Cullen as she watched a screen and Rosalie Hale watched him in suspicion.

 

Marcus had only seen the hybrid once before, at the first trial, and she had already been well on her way to being a chronic headache even then.

 

Too many people had known her too soon, had placed all their hopes and dreams in her, within three months in this world she had a dozen strangers looking to her as an almost messiah type figure who represented the child they never thought they could have and the symbol of Volterra’s tyranny.

 

And among her family–

 

Marcus had never seen a child who had so consistently been regarded as a beloved object.

 

Her mother, her father, the entire family, saw her as an extension of Bella and Edward. Rosalie Hale saw the girl as the daughter she and Emmett could never have, the closest thing they had to their own child. Alice saw the girl as even less than that, a headache or else a doll to dress in children’s clothing. Edward and Bella barely regarded the girl at all, she was the same to them as the cottage where they played at being human newly weds living in the countryside. Something that was certainly nice to have, something they deserved, but an afterthought at best.

 

Carlisle Cullen differed, but only slightly, in that at the time to him Renesmee was a source of apprehension, wariness, and a medical anomaly which he did not have the answer to. Carlisle Cullen loved her dearly, but he had been preparing himself for what he saw as an inevitable and rapid death. 

 

Aro had pondered aloud, as he often did around Marcus, providing his half of a discussion that would never come, if this would change as she grew older.

 

It hadn’t.

 

Carlisle and Rosalie had changed. Carlisle’s bond with her had been shockingly strong, stronger even than his love for any of his family or his feelings for Aro. Carlie had, at some point in the six years that had passed, become his greatest treasure and highest priority in this world, and he was the same to her. It was a bond that could– be damaged, all bonds could, but Marcus did not doubt that a thousand years from now, if they were both still alive, then they would still be immensely important to one another.

 

And–relationships changed, and those changes could be viewed and dissected, the entire history of a relationship was written but it was not always temporally clear. However, were Marcus to take a guess–Carlie and Carlisle’s current relationship had only been a very recent development.

 

Marcus, even without Aro’s input from Carlisle’s point of view, would have guessed only within the past year.

 

Rosalie’s relationship with her had been one of zealous maternal love, poured into the girl because Rosalie had given everything up for her, and she knew it deep down for all that she entertained delusions of somehow getting back with Emmett Cullen. Her love for Carlie was genuine, but it was motivated by a sense of duty and guilt, that Rosalie had to step in as a mother because the one who should have, hadn’t and Rosalie had been wrong to ever trust she would.

 

Only, for all that Carlie was grateful to Rosalie and included her in the family unit she had left, she did not truly feel close to her. They were family, but she had her best friend in Carlisle and she did not understand Rosalie well enough to understand how deeply this would wound her if she knew.

 

Yes, those relationships had evolved past what Marcus would have guessed.

 

But the wolf was static in his obsession, from what Aro knew, Jacob Black always would be.

 

The others had–not changed as much as they perhaps thought they had.

 

Edward Cullen had grown tired of having a daughter as she’d grown older. As she’d surpassed his own physical age as well as his intellect, he’d become disenchanted and stopped seeing her so much as an extension of himself and his wife but as a threat.

 

He now viewed her the way he might a hated rival, one unworthy of whatever victories she had won and whatever generosity she had previously earned from him, and one he had to quietly and painfully pretend to tolerate in the presence of others out of respect for their own mistaken feelings.

 

This did not make Carlie a person so much as the extremely expensive Christmas gift one bought for themselves that they then regret purchasing several years later.

 

Bella’s relationship to her daughter was overcome by guilt, by desperation and grief, but this too did not make Carlie a person. Carlie was as much of a symbol as she always was, innocent, naive, and helpless to the mechanizations of those around her. She was something that Bella had failed entirely but nothing more than that either.

 

Jasper was fond of the girl, missed her more than he had expected to, and he did see a person in her. But, she was not worth Alice. And Alice herself– Alice regarded all the world around her as objects, only to varying degrees. Carlie had become something more to her than a headache, like the pet she hadn’t agreed to take in but a few years in found herself not minding quite so much. She wished the girl well in a way Edward could not be said to, but she did not love her.

 

No, it was the little hybrid’s relationship to others, to the world at large, that had taken a very dark turn.

 

A person’s relationships to the world required some concentration to suss out, as it was never clear cut. It was in the relationships with casual strangers, the impulses people had from the people they encountered in their everyday routine, it was in the sum of how they interacted with the world around them.

 

Carlisle Cullen had greeted everyone with an air of optimism, and he had in his every relationship endeavored to see the best in everyone.

 

Carlie did not.

 

When she was a child, she had held great trust for the world around her. Even Aro, terrifying as he must have been, was someone she didn’t truly believe would harm her, it wasn’t something she could fully comprehend. She’d been fond of everyone on the Cullen side, too, even the Romanians who she viewed as funny men.

 

Carlie now not only trusted no one, but regarded both strangers and those she had once thought she knew well with a profound cynicism. Even those who had remained by her side and were beloved, she kept a close eye on to suss out whatever deep, hidden, flaws she had missed.

 

She was reassured that, in her grandfather, she found a naive predisposition to trust those around him and only see the best of them. More, that he seemed attracted to the worst of people who took advantage of him. If this were her grandfather’s great failing in life, then it was one she could easily accept and no betrayal of her. If anything it filled her with a sense of responsibility, that she would have to watch out for him so he never let any more Edwards, Esmes, or Aros into his life.

 

This, too, was part of what kept her from Rosalie. Her relationship with her aunt was one of quiet wariness, of waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for Rosalie to reveal a more profound flaw than believing too much of Emmett Cullen.

 

Marcus was met with this same suspicion, as she had sat in the home cinema with him and he sensed her scrutiny.

 

And Aro had thought it was such a simple thing. Watch the girl and see when Jacob Black started feeling triumphant, hopeful, and repentant in his relationship with Carlie Cullen rather than the black, hopeless, misery that entrenched him now with her abduction.

 

Surely, they could trust Jacob Black to remain Jacob Black.

 

Of course, should Jacob Black be kept out of the loop, or murdered, it would be for naught and Marcus would have to start studying Bella’s relationship with her daughter, perhaps her father as well. Perhaps he’d even have to start watching Carlisle.

 

But Aro suspected, and Marcus agreed, that Jacob Black would make it his life’s purpose to know as Carlie Cullen was his life’s purpose. He was not capable of not doing everything within his power and more to see her return. 

 

So for now, Marcus would watch Carlie.

 

Through the dull roar in his head he caught the sound of footsteps.

 

Aro was approaching.

 

Marcus idly checked the phone. Per Aro, it also needed to be charged every so often, or it would cease to function properly. A tap of one of the many buttons caused the glass to flash a bright, obnoxious, white. Still functioning, then, and not yet time.

 

Which meant that Aro was coming over sooner than expected.

 

This wasn’t too out of the ordinary, Aro often found time for him, especially when he felt he hadn’t seen enough of Marcus. However, these weren’t ordinary times, and in the past week Aro had been understandably preoccupied.

 

Which meant, whatever Aro wanted, it probably was going to give Marcus another headache.

 

Aro appeared in the archway to the garden, and–

 

Marcus felt his brows knit together.

 

It was amazing.

 

His bond with Carlisle was certainly no worse than before. Marcus almost felt, in fact, that it had improved as there was a sense of clearing the air a bit. Caius’ actions against the Cullens were now out in the open, Victoria’s army explained, and while Carlisle undoubtedly wasn’t happy about any of it, it at least wasn’t hanging over their heads.

 

Of course, nothing had truly been resolved and it looked as if Carlisle Cullen was still intent on being done with Aro (for all of two seconds and now he was fretting if he could allow himself to care for Aro or if that would conflict with his conviction of remaining perfect strangers), but it certainly wasn’t worse.

 

Yet, somehow, Aro looked like an utter wretch.

 

His bond with Marcus had changed as well, for the first time since– well, it had grown in the years that passed after Didyme died, as Aro’s grief had deepend instead of growing more distant, and he had become more and more dependent on Marcus. There had never been any change in the sense of new impulses or different directions, though, only the same feelings growing stronger.

 

Aro took a breath, as if to start in on whatever it was he wanted to say, then he moved to take the seat next to Marcus. He stared forward at the gardens, not looking at anything in particular, and let silence overtake them.

 

He did not reach for Marcus’ hand.

 

Finally, Marcus wound up being the one to speak up.

 

“Our relationship has changed.”

 

Aro let out a sound that was someplace between a laugh and a sob. “Yes, I imagine it has.”

 

Marcus waited for him to elaborate.

 

He didn’t.

 

Turning his head slightly, Marcus saw that Aro’s gaze was someplace far away, like he wasn’t in the garden with Marcus at all.

 

“If it’s about the girl and Carlisle, it needs to be done, you know this even if your former lover doesn’t,” Marcus pointed out, as Carlisle and Aro having a row over Marcus’ watching the hybrid was the only thing he could think of.

 

So much drama over such a small thing, as Marcus and the girl had yet to exchange any words of worth with each other.

 

Aro’s lips pulled into a half-smile. “It has nothing to do with Carlisle.”

 

Marcus looked at their bond.

 

Where there had been fondness on Marcus’ end, distant and diluted by the thick fog that clouded his every thought and emotion, there had been a deep, unshakable love on Aro’s, mixed with guilt and a desperation to make up for some great wrong he felt he’d done Marcus, a cocktail of emotions that had made Aro unable to ever allow himself to give up on Marcus. This need to save Marcus was so deeply ingrained into Aro that it rivaled his love for Carlisle, or his sense of duty towards the Volturi: it had become one of his defining features.

 

What it was he felt he had done to Marcus was unknown.

 

Now, though–

 

Now, there was a sense of finality to Aro’s end of the relationship. A sense of resignation, of grief, shock, and horror: Aro expected to lose Marcus very shortly, and was so dazed by the prospect that he seemed to be swallowed up by a fog of his own.

 

Aro would be very upset, whenever it was he took Marcus’ hand again, but Marcus found all of this needlessly dramatic.

 

Three thousand years were not ties so easily broken. At some point, a relationship passed the point of no return, and through sheer inertia alone it kept moving forward in spite of itself. To change things now was to try to stop a boulder from rolling down a mountain. 

 

“I want you to know, Marcus, that…” Aro trailed off as his courage left him, and he was left looking even more deflated than before.

 

Marcus wondered, for a dull moment, if it would just make things worse if he asked Aro if they couldn’t skip past this or save it for a later date. Marcus was already exhausted as it was and had far too much occupying his thoughts.

 

“I have no right to want anything from you,” Aro said, more to himself than to Marcus.

 

“What is it?” Marcus asked with a sigh, cutting Aro off so that they could get to the point already. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work.

 

Aro continued to stare ahead. “Carlisle said– he said that he misjudged my character. That is his reason for not wanting me in his life anymore. It has nothing to do with anything I’ve done, or said, those are what drove us apart, but not what made him give up on me.”

 

Marcus sighed, and such bald-faced promises that this had nothing at all to do with Carlisle Cullen, “Aro, he doesn’t want you in his life because he’s suffering an emotional crisis brought about by being desperately wrong about those he loved and trusted most in the world. It’s himself he hates and distrusts far more than you. You’re just an easy target.”

 

Aro shook his head. “He doesn’t want to be with me because he knows he misjudged me, and– now he has seen enough to know that I am not a person he wants in his life.”

 

“Yes, but he wouldn’t want to be with anyone else either, because he fears he’d misjudge them,” Marcus said, “He’s secretly quite relieved that wife of his walked out on him.”

 

Oh, he still thought the world of Esme and accepted why she had chosen to remain at Edward’s side. He didn’t resent her for that, and assumed that she assumed Carlie would be well protected by Rosalie and Carlisle.

 

Still, he didn’t have to wonder about being in Volterra with Esme, wondering how much he understood his own wife if he hadn’t understood his own son. For however much he would try to trust her and adore her as he once did–he would always wonder.

 

Aro laughed. “This isn’t about Carlisle, Marcus.”

 

Marcus felt his brows knit together again.

 

This was proving to be a confusing conversation.

 

Marcus sighed, unable to stop himself from rubbing at his temples, “Then what is it about?”

 

“It’s about the people close to me only being close to me because they don’t know the person I am,” Aro replied in a tight voice, his thin fingers closing into fists.

 

“Oh?” Marcus asked dully, “Who are you, then?”

 

Aro said nothing, only continued to gaze ahead. “Do you ever–” he cut himself off.

 

He sighed. “There was this human philosopher a few centuries ago, an Englishman. He invented the empirical method, which is– to not assume that previous results will guarantee the next. If you drop a book to the floor a thousand times, and it falls down each time you will assume that the book will fall down on the thousand-and-first time. However, you don’t know the future, so you can’t actually know for sure–” he did a wavy hand gesture.

 

As usual, Aro was eloquently blathering on about nothing at all.

 

He’d always had quite a talent for it. Of course, Marcus had spent the past several thousand years tuning it out but–he remembered, distantly, when Marcus was not so dead to things, Aro blathering on to other covens about nothing at all and how they’d somehow hang on his every word.

 

Of course, they could never repeat back any of what he’d said, or even summarize what he’d said, but everyone agreed it all sounded very intelligent.

 

“I’ve been dropping books to the floor for two thousand years,” Aro said, and he sounded– terrified.

 

As if with every word out of his mouth, he was taking one step closer to a pyre where executioners would be waiting, ready to tear him apart and throw the pieces in.

 

“I’ve– it’s not even that I’ve been lying, not when I never speak of–” he cut himself off again, and his fingers, which he’d tried to flatten against his thighs, closed into fists again.

 

Marcus wondered dimly if it wasn’t too late to suggest Aro take this discussion to Sulpicia instead.

 

Aro took a deep, shuddering, breath, and then he admitted, “I- I don’t know how to say it. The words– it’s like a piece of my vocabulary is– missing, I can’t–”

 

He slapped a hand in front of his mouth, squeezed his eyes shut, and breathed quickly.

 

“I see,” Marcus said after a beat.

 

He idly wondered if it might be easier for him to just guess whatever had happened. By the look of it, it was something truly dreadful, something that Aro was convinced would cause Marcus to reevaluate his character…

 

An idle glance, though, told him that Aro’s relationship with Edward Cullen hadn’t changed. The only thing Marcus could think of, in the recent age, that Aro would find so shocking and terrible was if he had decided to take the boy as a lover. 

 

Alas, he was not that upset with Carlisle Cullen.

 

“Is this something you must confess to now?” Marcus finally asked.

 

“Yes!” Aro cried.

 

Marcus waited, then waited, then made a small motion for Aro to speak and kept waiting.

 

Aro only kept staring right ahead, opening his mouth, and then closing it.

 

He opened it again, drew breath–

 

And closed it yet again.

 

Finally, his eyes closed in pained resignation. “It seems all I am these days is weak.”

 

Marcus took that to mean Aro wasn’t going to give his grand confession after all.

 

This was too bad, as Marcus knew that Aro would be back to do the same thing whenever he next gathered his courage. This could be as little as a few hours.

 

“I see,” he said after a long moment.

 

Aro gave a weak smile, and got up slowly from the bench.

 

“I think– I think I am going to take Carlisle up on his suggestion. I– don’t wish to be alone with my thoughts, and– who knows, I might even feel better.”

 

Oh.

 

Oh no.

 

Oh, if Marcus were Caius, if he had any hope that such shortsighted solutions would work, then he wouldn’t be bothered either way. Unfortunately, Marcus was not Caius, and he could see very well where a desperate desire to drown oneself in meaningless short-lived distractions would lead Aro.

 

And it certainly wasn’t to a path that would allow him to let Carlisle Cullen go.

 

And that wasn’t even getting to Carlisle Cullen, imploding under their roof, because he’d made very bold statements and put on a very brave face and was not at all prepared to face the consequences.

 

And through their mutual, desperate, unhappiness and jealousy both of them would inevitably confront the other and they would choose to do so at the most dramatic and worst possible moment.

 

And adding a third idiot to the equation? One who inevitably would believe they had suddenly become far more important than they were?

 

It would be a disaster.

 

The Volturi could not afford disasters. Nor could Marcus’ head, for that matter.

 

Surprising himself with his own agility, he all but pounced off of the bench.

 

“Which one?” he asked first.

 

Aro blinked, “Which one? What do you mean–does it matter? Oh gods, that’s–that’s not a good way to think of it, is it?”

 

So, any of them, the first one Aro stumbled across in the hallway. And if Marcus talked to one then Aro would just go to the next who looked a little more willing.

 

If he was to stop this, he would have to stop Aro.

 

Except, any attempt to tell Aro not to do this would– not go well.

 

Sending him up to the tower wouldn’t do either, he would only talk to Sulpicia, who was also heartbroken over Carlisle, and then it would be both of them sleeping with some random blond with a bright smile.

 

He couldn’t distract Aro with purpose, either, not when Alice was watching his every decision, making it so that Caius was the one calling the shots. Caius, for that matter, would be no help at all, he’d be delighted by this news and run out to grab someone for Aro.

 

Which meant Marcus would have to come up with something else.

 

“The girl wanted to watch a film this afternoon,” Marcus said, the words out of his mouth before he even had a chance to think on them.

 

“She did?” Aro asked in confusion, “She–she understands that she doesn’t have to see you until tomorrow, doesn’t she? I don’t expect things to move that quickly, especially when they’re not distracted by, well, you know–”

 

Marcus had no idea what Aro was referring to, nor did he care.

 

“She knows,” Marcus lied through his teeth, “She suggested it. She–wanted to see a film that might explain her parents.”

 

She did not.

 

She did, however, often puzzle over them and especially her mother. Carlie Cullen very much wanted to know how and why her parents had gotten together and just what the human Bella Swan had been before she had become Bella Cullen.

 

Aro’s eyes widened. “She said that? With you?”

 

He held out his hand, wanting to see the interaction, and– Marcus stepped back.

 

“Alice is watching you, Aro. It might be best you don’t know everything.”

 

“Shit,” Aro cursed, dragging a hand through his hair, before noting, “That’s not how it works. It’s–she can’t see me receiving information, only if I start making decisions.”

 

“No, but she can see actions you might consider, and that will be informed by the data available to you,” Marcus retorted, his mind spinning.

 

Oh, oh, he– could barely remember his human life, but something about this entire situation was bringing back the sensation of running when he had no energy left, something that had been so intrinsic to the human condition that it seemed it was still a part of him.

 

“Are you saying I wouldn’t be able to–goddammn you, you’re right, I wouldn’t be able to help myself,” Aro said with a sigh, “Fine, fine, I will sit here, helpless in the dark on the very real chance that Alice will feed information to Edward.”

 

“Indeed,” Marcus agreed, feeling oddly rushed, as if at any moment a beautiful man might walk in and then Aro would link his arms with him and say toodledo to Marcus. “There is, however, the matter of deciding which movie we show to the girl. I was hoping you could help us choose one.”

 

He idly wondered how on earth he was going to convince the girl to agree to any of this.

 

He– would figure something out.

 

He’d have to.

 

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Aro asked, “I mean, I don’t mind you spending more time with the girl but–oh Marcus, any film I can think of involving anything close to her parents is… It could be very traumatic.”

 

Probably.

 

But it was a necessary sacrifice.

 

More, it was one of those experiences that might, in fact, help the girl as she could change the narrative in her mind surrounding her own history and her family. Carlie Cullen’s world was one of shallow puppets and filtered information, her family had been very careful that she had never been shown anything ugly.

 

And now that the world had proved stark and terrifying she had no idea how to reconcile herself with how it could be anything like what she’d once believed.

 

It wasn’t that her mother never loved her, never cherished her, it was that her mother had never had it in her to recognize what it was she was loving.

 

Aro then paused, considered his options, and then sighed, “Oh Jessica Stanley, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there is always Phantom of the Opera. That at least–yes, it’s not graphic, there’s some very nice musical numbers, and the Bella Swan of the day leaves with the nice love interest that never appeared in her life.”

 

“Will you watch it with us?” Marcus asked, not caring one whit what the opera ghost film was about.

 

Aro laughed, “Oh, now I know she doesn’t want me in the room for this and–oh that will be painful. That and American Psycho, not sure I can ever watch those again after all of this.”

 

“The girl has endured much,” Marcus pointed out, “and while she may despise you, you can give her answers no one else can.”

 

Provided, of course, that she didn’t rip Marcus apart for suggesting this first. Somehow, in spite of her having no fighting experience whatsoever, being half human, and lacking full use of three out of four limbs, Marcus had the feeling she would win that fight.

 

“We really are making this an educational venture, aren’t we?” Aro asked dully, “And I suppose you’re going to say Carlisle can’t as he’s too–vulnerable himself to give her the answers she needs. And I imagine he’d be quite upset with you for agreeing to any of this.”

 

Aro grimaced, “I’d say he’d be upset with me but, per him, our relationship can’t sink any lower.”

 

He shot a look at Marcus, then, and that look of devastation came back on his face. “There’s a positive for you. In Carlie I shall have a companion who has despised me since she was merely a few months old, and who thinks I’m a scoundrel and a villain. Finally,” he gave a half-hearted maniacal laugh, “someone in my social circle who isn’t– in whose regard I can’t sink any lower.”

 

Marcus wondered if Aro was purposefully forgetting Caius, who would not care if Aro were, in fact, a scoundrel or a villain. Of course, Caius could and did view Aro as rather pathetic in his love life, but that too didn’t seem to count.

 

Marcus opened his mouth to invite Aro to see Carlie right away when he realized– he needed to speak with her first, in private.

 

Which would give Aro time to– dally.

 

Hm.

 

He stared at Aro, and felt that headache grow as he struggled to think of a way to keep him occupied.

 

Maybe he could smash some of Aro’s potteries. This garden was full of antique ceramics, masterfully crafted fine things that Aro had lovingly protected for centuries if not millennia. Marcus could figure out a way to accidentally smash one of them, and then Aro would be spending the afternoon with tweezers and glue.

 

Or he would be too depressed to be productive and Marcus would only have given him another reason to go distract himself.

 

The aunt.

 

Yes.

 

“You should talk to the daughter,” Marcus said.

 

“Rosalie?” Aro asked in disbelief, “Why?”

 

“She’s loud,” Marcus noted, Aro wincing but not disagreeing.

 

“It’s really not–”

 

“No one else is speaking to her,” Marcus said, “Her family seems quite happy to let her make those phone calls daily. They must stop.”

 

“Oh, they’re not so bad–” Aro said only to stop, he said nothing else.

 

Finally, he said, “I suppose I can’t ask Carlisle to do it, can I?”

 

Marcus didn’t bother to answer, the answer, after all, was obvious.

 

Aro deflated. “Fine. I’ll speak with Rosalie.”

 

“Try to charm her. If she develops a positive relation with the symbol of the Volturi, she will feel less alien in Volterra, enabling her to form relationships that will in turn eradicate the need for Emmett Cullen in her life. She holds on to him because she has no one else.”

 

This, of course, was going to end in disaster.

 

Rosalie Hale was a very proud woman, one who had always had to be her own pillar of strength, and rarely allowed herself to be emotionally vulnerable even with those she was closest to.

 

Aro di Volterra confronting her to tell her that the Volturi found her arguments with her ex-husband entirely too loud would be the greatest of humiliations.

 

As an afterthought, Marcus noted, “Bring Renata.”

 

Renata didn’t think too much of their hostages yet, but she did feel for them, and had tentatively started viewing the women as those she could and perhaps should be friends with.

 

Aro pursed his lips. “I don’t suppose there is time for–”

 

“You should do this right away, because Carlie wanted to watch the film as soon as possible,” Marcus snapped.

 

“As soon as–” Aro asked, “She has nothing but time! None of them have anything but time here!”

 

“It’s what she said,” Marcus lied shamelessly.

 

Aro said nothing to that, simply held Marcus’ gaze for a moment, then threw his hands in the air.

 

“Fine. Fine, we’ll watch the damn movie.”

 

Good.

 

That was done. Consoling Rosalie Hale would be no easy task and would not leave Aro enough time to do anything else.

 

As for the movie–

 

He was going to somehow have to convince the girl.

 

And as soon as the movie was done, Marcus was going to have to find something else for Aro to do.

 

Which meant–

 

Until Marcus could think of anything better, he was going to have to rely on Carlie’s help.

 

And in terms of Carlisle and Aro’s relationship, the girl was not on his side.

 

He would need to come up with some fib to get her on board with this.

 

A lie and something to motivate her, something that Marcus could offer her that no one else could.

 

As Aro linked their arms together and started leading him out of the garden, Marcus walked as slowly as possible and saw before him a future suddenly full of lies, more lies, so many lies he wouldn’t be able to keep track of them.

 

The headache wasn’t going away anytime soon.