XiS

Edward.

I waited for the dread that should have filled me when finally presented with the mysterious owner of that name. But I felt none.

Instead, I felt… relieved. It might have been irrational. I was, perhaps, too emotionally exhausted to feel fear for myself. But the fingers that twisted in my own- while distinctively cold, hard, and foreign- were applying a pressure that belied the damage I knew they were capable of. I had expected the very worst from this creature behind me. And yet, sitting with his back aligned to my own, I couldn't bother to recoil from his touch. I didn't feel threatened by his presence. I couldn't even imagine that he meant me any harm at all.

"I've been saved, for you," I finally whispered.

"Yes," came his sad-sounding reply.

My fingers tingled under his touch. When I should have been moving away, I felt a pull toward him that I could not understand. The electricity between us should have repulsed me. But I only felt fascination.

"Why?" I asked. His hands moved slowly, and his thumbs started lightly stroking against the sides of my fingers as he held them.

"You are pure," he explained, quietly. "Un-touched. Some of us believe that innocent… virginal blood… tastes sweeter than any other."

I swallowed hard around the lump that formed in my throat, but still perceived no threat in his softly spoken admission.

"And… will you kill me now?" I asked when my throat felt less constricted.

How calmly I could sit, discussing my own demise!

"No." Edward spoke clearly and there was a hard edge to his voice. I felt his back straighten behind me. "I meant what I said. I want to take you out of this place."

That hope, again, burst through my chest, blossoming brightly and warming my skin. I heard Edward inhale deeply and I squeezed his fingers in silent appreciation of his pledge before his hands slipped away from my own. It scared me that he moved away, and I spun on my rear end and grabbed the bars that he had been resting against.

"Now," I pled. "Please… take me now. I can't… I can't stay here. I can't survive!"

"You must," Edward spoke again. His voice was further away. I tried to make out his faint shape in the darkness, but it was no use. "We can't leave now. Three of them together are too strong. If they tried, they could stop me."

"I don't understand," I said, feeling miserable once more.

"I have a plan." I pulled my head up, eager to hear his next words. "Soon, there will be a meeting in the city. A convergence of several covens of our kind. My family will want to go. If I can convince them that I want to stay with you… we will be alone and free to leave this place."

"Where will we go?" I whispered.

"That will best be saved to discuss later… after a few more details are made clear to me."

We sat for a while in the dark. He was so silent, that I was afraid he might have gone. But still, I spoke to the darkness.

"Edward? Why am I here? Why… are they so cruel, while you are not?"

He sighed deeply. This time, I heard as the door of my cage opened. I moved up to sit on my knees. Though I could only make out his faint outline, I could tell that Edward had mimicked my pose and knelt in front of me.

"It's a horrible truth that I am about to share," he murmured. "It will sound callous. But many vampires simply get bored after just… existing for so long. We seek ways to entertain ourselves. To put it simply… vampires like to play with their food."

"I'm a toy, to them," I stated bitterly. He didn't reply. "And this… is their playroom? This cage is a toy box."

"Your words, not mine," Edward said quietly. "But, yes."

"You didn't answer the rest of my question," I pointed out, sad and sickened by my revelation. "Why are you different?"

"I don't want to be a monster," Edward sighed.

"Yet… they've saved me for you." I couldn't keep the tremor from my voice.

"They are hoping to tempt me."

I closed my eyes, and unintentionally flinched when I felt the barest sensation against my face. I concentrated on holding still as soon as I realized that Edward had reached forward and was drawing his finger lightly down my cheek. He retracted his hand almost immediately.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. I couldn't reply.

My unsteady breaths were the only sound between us. But I still felt him there. In this dark place, in the deepest desperation I had ever known, he provided a light of hope that I clung to like the final shreds of my sanity. I needed to believe these whispers in the dark. I needed to believe his song.

"Bella? I have to go now," Edward murmured. "But I need you to do a few things for me."

If he really planned to deliver me from this nightmare, I could certainly not deny him any requests he was about to make. But I also couldn't allow myself to swear my willingness or ability to do ' anything'. That promise, made earlier, had nearly been my mind's undoing.

"I'll try," I finally allowed. Already, I felt my optimism ebbing, simply by knowing that I would be alone again soon.

"You'll meet me, with my family, later today," Edward said with a hushed voice. "I need you to not show any signs that we've met before. Truthfully, my appearance may alarm you. And so, it shouldn't be hard for you to pretend fear. I might say things to aid the deception. But I do not want you to believe what you hear when I am with them. I want you to remember what we've talked about, here. Just… don't let my family know that we are acquainted already."

"I can do that." I nodded. It was a simple request. Edward's appearance mattered little to me. But I knew, when faced with his family again, that I would have no problem showing the very real fear I felt in the threat of their presence. They were savage killers. I could never forget.

"I also need you to please… do everything you can to keep Jasper's attention away from you while I am away."

"What do you mean?" I asked. Edward sighed, and I felt him move away.

"The best I can compare Jasper to," Edward murmured. "Is a child who enjoys pulling the wings off insects to watch them kick around before they die."

A wave of nausea hit me hard, and I sank back to sit on my bottom again, dropping my face into my hands.

"I'm no more than a bug to him," I whimpered.

"He can't resist a spirited fight," Edward said without apology. "The more a victim screams, runs… fights back… the more he enjoys the game."

"Game," I whispered with malice. I remembered Emmett's game with perfect clarity. He obviously liked to play a more silent, and subdued version. Tears sprang from my eyes again and I considered Rosalie's strangely frozen features while Emmett took her life. I was strangely happy then, that Emmett had taken her, and not Jasper. I could not fathom the gruesome cruelty he would be capable of, or that Edward hinted was his preference.

"Just… let him see you meek. Remain quiet and complacent. He might be curious, but he'll leave you alone if he thinks that your spirit is broken."

"That won't be hard to fake," I muttered.

"I have to go," Edward said, and I heard reluctance in his voice. I wanted to reach out to him. But I knew it was an irrational urge best left ignored. I pressed my hands into my lap and waited. "Please," he urged once more. "Stay quiet. Make yourself invisible until I return. Be safe."

"I will," I swore. I could promise that much. My life depended on it.

The room stayed still. The darkness remained dark. The silence remained silent. But something in the air had changed. I could feel that he was gone.

I moved back in my cage again, feeling blindly for the corner. Once settled into my nook, I turned my face in the direction in which I assumed that tiny window to be. I counted my heartbeats, for they were dear to me now and I didn't want to take them for granted any longer. And I waited for telltale signs of light to sneak through the murky glass. While I waited for day to break, I hummed Edward's song and wove it around me like the rope I would eventually use to climb away from this place.

I did fall asleep again, and I was glad for it. My mind needed the healing oblivion and it helped me to pass the time. When I awoke, light filtered weakly into the room from the basement window, giving further indication that hours had passed. Hours that brought me closer to my freedom, if I could hold on to my sanity until then. I sat there, and rubbed my eyes while I awoke. But then my spine tingled with the eerie recollection of the noise that had brought me from my slumber.

Feet on the stairs drew my face in that direction. Soon, I saw Carlisle slip into view. He had a small body draped limply over his shoulder. He didn't speak, but his strange eyes watched me speculatively when he opened the lock at the door. The deceptively handsome man simply moved in to join me then, and lowered the body he carried into the corner opposite me, as though he were dropping a bag of flour. I winced as her head knocked loudly against the hard floor as she landed.

I could see that she was a girl. She moaned, letting me know that she was, for now, alive. I took a deep breath of relief. Carlisle's eyes flew back toward me when he heard the sound. But then he left as silently as he had come. I remained sitting in the corner of the cage, and watched the girl who laid unconscious in our shared cell.

Who was she? How did she come to be here?

I wouldn't have to wait long for my answers. The girl started to stir almost immediately. Groaning, she rolled to her stomach and pushed herself weakly from the floor into a crawling position. Her arms gave out initially, and she fell back to her chest with a muffled curse and a moan of pain.

I glanced up at the stairs nervously, before scooting toward her. With one hand, I grabbed her forearm and tried to help her rise again. This time, she managed to achieve a sitting position and she jerked her arm away from me right away.

"Where am I?" She asked with a high-pitched, girlish voice that did not match the irritation on her face. She was not as young as I would have guessed, by her physical size alone. Now that she sat, I could see that she was definitely a mature woman, wrapped in a very petite package. She shook her head, and her short, dark, layered hair fluttered against the sides of her striking face. She was lovely. And she was angry. Very angry. As she slowly gained lucidity, her pretty and delicate features twisted with righteous indignation. "Where the fuck am I?" She scowled at me, waiting for me to answer.

I had promised Edward that I would remain quiet. I might have been taking it to extremes, but I didn't want to draw Jasper's attention to the basement with any sort of commotion that he might find unable to resist. I shook my head at the girl, and pressed my finger to my lips, trying to let her know that she should lower her voice.

"Don't ' shhh' me!" The girl sneered. "Who are you? And what the fuck is this place?"

"Please," I whispered. My eyes nervously flickered back to the stairs before I looked at her again. "We need to stay quiet. Please…"

"Are you nuts?" The girl was practically yelling now. In an instant, she jumped to her feet. "HEY!" She screamed as she launched herself halfway up the bars at the front of the cage. Her hands and feet helped keep her grip as her voice tore through the silent space around us. "HEY!" she repeated again. "Can anybody hear me? My name is Alice! I'm trapped down here! LET ME OUT!"

I felt frantic in my need to convey the danger that she was putting herself in. I scrambled from the corner and grabbed her ankle, trying to bring her back to the floor and warn her about Jasper.

"Be quiet!" I hissed in an urgent whisper. "He'll kill you. Please… you have to stop yelling!"

The girl named Alice turned and kicked my hand away from her leg. With misplaced ire, she put two hands on my chest and pushed me backward.

"You useless cunt!" The harsh word spat with her child's voice only let me know how terrified she was. She was lashing out. "You should be helping me get out of here! Are you fucking stupid? Why in the hell are you just sitting there?"

She was still yelling at me. I shook my head and parted my lips, ready to explain the warning that I had been given. But my head snapped to the side when I heard the basement door open at the top of the stairs. Self-preservation over-rode my urge to protect this irate stranger. I hastily slid back into my corner while she screamed at me in fear and anger.

"What in the hell is wrong with you?" Alice's voice was hoarse already, from screaming. And I knew that the only affect her vocalizations had on anyone, was going to be her downfall.

His creepy sing-song voice came ahead of him on the stairs. Alice and I heard it at the same time, and the furious and frightened girl silenced her tirade when she turned to the front of the cage again to see who came with the voice.

"Mary had a little lamb… little lamb… li...ttle… lammmmb…"

I bit my bottom lip and held my breath, as Jasper sauntered down the steps. With an impish grin and a nursery rhyme on his twisted smile, he raised one arm and pulled the chain to turn on the bare light bulb over his head. The entire basement was flooded with faded yellow light, and I cringed against the unaccustomed brightness. The bulb swayed above him, and I blinked away the ache from my eyes. I wished to God that he had left the light off. I had a feeling I would prefer total darkness for what was to come.

"Mary Alice Brandon," Jasper spoke. His eyes were cast down at the open wallet that he held in his hands. His long fingers pinched the corner of a rectangular piece of plastic that he read from. "Black hair. Blue eyes. "Weight? Buck-five. Height? Five foot nothing. Nice." He raised his eyes, appraising the woman whose description matched that on the identification card. Then he carelessly flicked the plastic to the floor.

"That's my wallet," the girl announced redundantly. She spoke through gritted teeth, and Jasper ignored her for a moment, casually pulling additional cards from their organized compartments.

"Aww… you're certified to perform CPR." Jasper's eyebrows were raised. "You're trained to save lives! That's… so cute."

"Give me my stuff!" The girl raised her voice in anger, and I trembled in the corner, knowing that this was all going to end very badly.

"Oooh, and look," Jasper continued, grinning at the little pink piece of paper in his grasp. "You're a member of the Victoria's Secret Panty Club! Buy just one more, and get another free! That's hot. Whatcha got on under there, Mary Alice? Thong? Boy shorts?"

"Listen, you sick fuck," Alice said with a growl. His rude perusal of her personal items obviously made her bold. "You better let me out of here! Or you're dead. Do you hear me? Dead!"

"Too late for that, Princess," Jasper hissed.

Her shrieked threat was cut off abruptly. In a blur of movement I would have missed had I not expected it, Jasper had flung open the door to the cage and was standing inside with us. His fingers gripped the back of Alice's head, and he lifted her from the floor by a handful of hair at the nape of her neck. Her toes barely skimmed the floor while she dangled there at the end of his arm.

"Ow! Mother-fuck!" The girl screamed and brought her hands to her head, trying to alleviate the pressure on her scalp while Jasper grinned and held her like she weighed nothing. I saw the pain and fury on her face while her legs swung uselessly in the air. Then with an easy twist of his wrist, the girl flew backward and hit the bars at the back of the cage with a loud thud.

It must have knocked the wind out of her lungs, because she was quiet for a moment while she struggled to get back up on her feet.

"My boyfriend," she gasped. "He… he only left to get a spare for the car. He'll be back soon. And… he'll come looking for me!"

"Imagine that." Jasper chuckled and looked over to where I sat, frozen with fear and determination to not make a sound. "Another flat. So many flat tires on this stretch of highway. Why… it almost seems like someone planned it that way!"

When I realized the meaning of his words, my eyes tightened in an automatic reaction to the anger I felt. It was all a trap! I saw a spark of excitement on his face at my unintentional change of expression, and quickly fixed a blank look at him. But it was too late. He had seen and taken note of my internal struggle to remain passive. A harsh laugh came from his lips and he turned his attention back to the small woman who stood on weak legs beside me. He stepped forward and she raised her fists to fight him off. He was taking absolute delight in her resistant attitude. I couldn't even hope to protect her now. I just pulled myself into a tight ball, and hoped he would be quick about it. I felt horrible for even thinking it… but if this girl was beyond saving, at least her death might keep him sated for as long as I needed to ensure my own survival. What kind of a monster did that make me?

With my legs pulled up tight to my chest, I began to rock back and forth on my tail-bone. I shut my eyes tightly and tried to reduce the sounds of the carnage beside me, by covering my ears and by humming Edward's song quietly to myself. It had become an anthem to me, a reminder that I would see a day beyond this one. It was my hope to cling to, and my peace in the madness.

A piercing scream tore through the song in my head, and I pulled my arms and legs in closer… folding in on myself…trying to make myself invisible. My fingertips pressed so painfully against my ears, I was afraid I would draw blood. But I couldn't keep the grizzly sounds of her death silenced. I heard it anyway. Despite my efforts, I heard her cries. I heard the tearing of her clothing, and the audible ripping of flesh. I heard the snapping of bones and cartilage. It sounded as though he were butchering her beside me. Jasper grunted and made slurping sounds. He sighed and moaned with lustful satisfaction. I could tell he was feeding from the girl, and I struggled to shrink further into my corner to escape her flailing limbs while her body shook in death spasms.

When her body became still, I heard him chuckle in evil amusement.

"Resuscitate that, bitch!" His words were brutal and completely said for his own sick pleasure. I shuddered at the malicious cruelty of it all.

And then, blissful silence returned. My own harsh breathing was the only sound in my ears. I was afraid to open my eyes. I didn't want to see what he had done to that poor girl. And I could feel that he was still crouched beside me, watching for my reaction.

"Look at me," he ordered. His face was so close to mine, that I could smell the blood on his breath. "LOOK AT ME!" His voice thundered, and something cold and wet splattered on my face and on my exposed wrists and hands. It had a numbing effect, like a topical anesthetic, and I finally blinked my eyes open as he had instructed me to do. I saw his spit spattered on my skin. Thick, and white, and tinged with the girl's blood. I wanted to wretch. I wanted to scream and claw at his disturbing fiery eyes and kick him away from me. I wanted to wipe the evidence of his cruelty away from my hands. But I sat like a statue and stared blankly ahead. He might kill me now. But I would not give him the reaction he hoped for. My death could be unsatisfying for him, and I would have felt the victor for dying silently.

"Jasper."

The harshly uttered name spoken by someone beyond the cage made the man who lurched above me freeze with the silent order that it implied. My eyes flew quickly around his form to find the owner of that velvet-voice. Unfortunately, this also brought the image of the mutilated corpse beside me into vision. The girl's chest was ripped completely open. Broken pieces of her rib cage twisted away from the bloody cavity of her chest, like the defeated slats of a white picket fence around a deserted home.

But I couldn't concentrate on that. I couldn't let it be real. I needed to focus on the voice that stopped Jasper from delivering me to the same fate. It was Edward. He had come, as he promised he would.

"Get away from her," the voice ordered. Jasper growled lowly and his fingers dug into the floor. He stared at me with hate and defiance in his eyes. I was almost convinced that he might ignore Edward's orders and kill me anyway. With obvious reluctance, he finally tore his eyes from mine, and turned to leave the cage.

"Take that with you," the voice ordered with distaste. I still hadn't raised my eyes beyond knee level of my savior. But I tried not to look as Jasper picked the ruined body of Mary Alice up from the cage and carried her away from me.

I kept my eyes trained to the floor, and bit the inside of my cheek. I had to remember what Edward had told me. I needed to hide the fact that we had met. Surely, the gruesome murder I had just witnessed would aid in my deception. I didn't even feel like myself. I shook in the terrorized aftermath of the event, and in my own relief of having been so narrowly rescued from receiving the same brutal treatment.

"So. This is what I come home to?"

The voice was familiar, but cold. I heard that Carlisle had joined him, when his voice added to the conversation above me.

"She's pure, Edward. She's perfect for you."

"She's filthy. And she smells like piss."

I flinched under his harsh words, and tried to remind myself that this was the same person that had promised to take me away from here. He had showed me extraordinary kindness. I needed to remember that he was not like the others. I needed to trust him, now.

The door squeaked on its hinges, and I felt a gentle touch under my chin. My breathing escalated in fear, and I finally lifted my eyes to look at the face in front of me.

Edward knelt before me, looking deep into my eyes. The swirling red depths of his irises pulled me in, and made me feel whoozy. I trembled, and he pursed his lips with a small frown.

"What's she thinking?" I recognized Emmett's voice now. "I've been dying to know what's in her head."

"I don't know," Edward continued to stare into my eyes. "She's silent to me."

"Well, that's something new," Carlisle chuckled. "Don't tell me you aren't dying to crack that mystery, at least."

The corner of Edward's mouth pulled up in a small grin, and I was sure he was trying to reassure me. I was held immobile by his gaze. And at how absolutely, and devastatingly handsome he really was. He said he looked like the others. His strange, red eyes were the only connective feature I could find. He was beautiful, and I sighed. But his features hardened, clearly a reminder that I should not appear comfortable around him. He stood and walked out of the cage, away from me.

"She's nearly broken," Edward said with disdain. "What am I supposed to do with her?"

"Leave her for me," Jasper shrugged. My eyes flew open in terror, and Edward spun around so quickly that I gasped. He pressed Jasper against the wall with his forearm shoved against his throat.

"I don't share," Edward warned lowly. Jasper chuckled and didn't seem at all put-off by Edward's possessiveness. The men separated, watching each other warily. I sat, waiting to see how it would all play-out.

"Decide if you want her," Carlisle finally sighed. He sounded bored. Edward turned his head and seemed to consider me for a moment.

"I do," he finally said. My heart picked up speed when I heard his declaration. I was closer… closer… "But she needs to be cleaned up. I'm taking her upstairs."

"You know we keep them down here," Jasper pointed out. Edward rounded on him with his fists clenched.

"She's mine, and I'll do what I want with her!"

Carlisle put one hand on Jasper's chest and held his other palm out toward me. Edward moodily turned and flicked his fingers up in my direction. "Come with me," he said icily. While it was what I was waiting for, I couldn't make my legs move. Somehow, these bars had begun to provide a feeling of safety for me. They kept me separated from the men that all stood outside, watching the interaction between Edward and myself.

"Get up," he ordered through gritted teeth. With his back turned toward the men, I saw a pleading look on his face that was obviously meant for only me, before he lowered his brows again. I had a feeling that I needed to move quickly. And so I blindly reached for the bars beside me, and used them to pull myself up onto shaky legs. I took one step forward, and nearly fell. Edward frowned, and then he stepped forward and pulled me up into his arms.

I closed my eyes wearily, cradled against his chest. Under other circumstances, the position might have felt romantic. But I could only focus on not looking at the faces of the monsters that Edward took me away from. The gentle rush of air told me that Edward moved with surprising speed. And in a moment, I was being lowered to my feet once more. We were in a hallway I didn't recognize, presumably on the second floor of the cabin. Edward looked over his shoulder warily, and then opened the door in front of us before ushering me inside.

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