The guard are simple beings, for the most part. Ready to gorge themselves sick on the same spoils which have driven humans for millennia—wealth, power, control. If Aro metes these things out in controlled enough doses, they remain content, even happy. Their thoughts stay uncomplicated: the next hunt, besting another at a show of strength, being commended for their usefulness or dedication. They are vapid, predictable, almost boring.

Carlisle Cullen is anything but.

The first time Aro touched the golden-eyed one, it actually hurt. Aro has felt others’ pain, many tens of thousands of times over. But this strange, gold-eyed blond—so quiet, so unassuming—is consumed by an emptiness so complete it threatens to suck Aro in. Like the rest of the guard, he hungers, but not for power. His thirst is to know, and to be known—a thirst Aro finds much more difficult to appease.

The Englishman moves as easily among humans as Heidi, but Aro doesn’t dare ask him to perform the duties that she does. For that is the most curious, fascinating thing about him—he has never tasted human blood. He wishes to study medicine—to become a physician!—as though that is a normal, simple thing for their kind to do.

So Aro tests him. Bringing humans close to his chambers so that Carlisle will hear them screaming. Leaving a trail of blood from the hallway to the meeting hall. And two weeks ago, an arm, left outside Carlisle’s door, which was hurled into the courtyard with such force it shredded against an olive tree.

Despite how different he is, or perhaps because of it, the blond is well-liked. He is affable, slow to judge, unswervingly fair. And though the rest of the guard rib him, they accept him. He has even made friends with Marcus, who hasn’t laughed in the better part of three centuries, and yet from whom Carlisle manages to occasionally coax a smile.

It is an overcast day and the blond has been out, somewhere, harvesting herbs, working on medicines that he is putting together from the texts Aro has amassed. So when the door to the meeting hall opens, Aro is not surprised to see him, a flopped bag over his shoulder and a stomach-churning, floral scent floating around him.

He strides to Aro and holds out his palm. This is what they all do upon returning, a gesture of allegiance. Carlisle is nothing if not obedient.

But Aro waves him away. “Was your trip fruitful?” he asks.

“Very,” Carlisle answers, patting his bag.

Caius, sitting beside Aro, has stopped breathing. Carlisle seems to notice this too, and nods toward them both. “I will take these away,” he says, gesturing to his bag, but he’s smirking. He backs away from Aro and Caius, and moves toward the hall.

What Aro is expecting, he isn’t really certain. But he listens as the footsteps disappear, the heavy door opens, the leather bag and all its contents plop onto the cold stone floor. And then…nothing.

Caius stares.

“Did you—”

Aro puts a finger to his lips.

It is no more than seconds before the blond emerges, but it feels like an eternity. His eyes, golden from his recent hunt, flash dark. His visage is grotesque: his forearms covered in dark, sticky blood, which drenches his shirt, dripping onto his breeches and splattering his boots. For the first time, Carlisle almost looks like one of them.

But his lips, Aro notices at once, are clean.

Carlisle trembles as he holds the bleeding body, killed so freshly that its heart continued to pump blood even as Chelsea dragged it into Carlisle’s room. For a fraction of a second, the Englishman’s lip curls in disgust just enough that Aro sees Felix’s muscles tense, sensing an imminent attack. Aro steadies Felix with his hand.

Sure enough, just as quickly as it came, the snarl dissolves into a placid, emotionless expression. There is a loud, slapping thud as the body lands on the floor.

“It seems you left this in my quarters,” the blond says flatly.

Then he turns on his heel and is gone.

The meeting hall falls so still that it is easy to make out the sounds from Carlisle’s chambers. The whisper that is clothing falling to the floor; the splash of water from the pitcher hitting the washbasin so that the blood might be cleaned from the smooth arms.

Aro and Caius stare at the body. It was a man, brutish and menacing. The choice was deliberate to not choose a child or a woman—it would be too easy for the young one, with his compassion, to muster extra resolve. But Aro admits to himself that he’d expected this test would be passed, too, and even though he is slightly in awe, he is not surprised.

“And you still don’t think he’s dangerous,” Caius mutters, using the ancient language the Brothers share.

Aro thinks of the abyss that is the loneliness he feels every time the blond touches him. He thinks about how steadfast and resolute the other man is, the way he listens patiently, does not judge. How even here, where he is so different, he has managed to draw others to him. One day, Aro thinks, that abyss will grow too deep. One day, this stranger will seek companionship. That day, he will begin to build his coven…and it will be built on a foundation that Aro knows he himself does not have.

“I don’t think that he’s dangerous,” he answers carefully, looking at the tangled limbs and the mess of untouched blood.

“I know that he is.”


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