By midnight, there were so many stacks of papers and laptops and hard drives that they had moved it all to the basement so that they had enough space to make different stacks. By name, year.
While what the Cullens did was appalling, but Myriam couldn’t help but be impressed by the way that they documented everything. It was so tempting just to sift through it all and find Calypso’s files and to have Myriam’s team work through the night with the other files, but she didn’t think that was fair. No, she, Klaus and Kol would make sure every girl had their pile and anything unrelated to the girls but related to the Cullen’s business was on the other end of the basement.
Right now, the girls were a priority.
“I think I’ve found her,” Kol said as he walked over to his brother carrying the handwritten journals. “I’m pretty sure that I’ve found her because there are drawings of her inside these journals.”
Myriam sighed. Of course, Kol would drop everything after finding what was important to him. “Is it so hard to focus?”
“Yes,” Kol replied as he walked up the stairs. “I’ll be in her room, reading. And if she gets curious, I’ll have her read it as well. This is her life.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Well, I do.”
“Just give her the books, have her read them and have her tell you her story if she wants to.”
Kol scowled. “We’ll see.” He had a plan. The first thing was showing her that ‘contract’ of hers. And then burn it. Perhaps that would give her the freedom to tell him her name. It wasn’t so much of a contract; it was magically enchanted by giving her a set ‘tally’ of how many successes she had during her time with clients. It would go down if it was a success, but it may go back up in case there were negative reviews.
The contract was stupid. You cannot simply tell a person that they’d be free after serving out their contract. Sure, they were going up for auction and bought out (the thought alone unnerved him, this whole operation sounded more and more like slavery) but when the person who bought the girl dies, she has to go back and work for the Cullens again.
Had he, or his siblings who surprisingly used the Cullens’ services at some point, known this from the start, they would never have allowed them to proceed any further. They would have been able to stop more girls from being treated this way. More girls saved from Dr. Frankenstein.
Carlisle Cullen had documented everything quite thoroughly, a part of Kol was afraid of what he’d find. Of what Calypso would find. Her name wasn’t Calypso; it was Bella. The absence of her last name was curious, everyone had a last name, especially around the time she was born.
For now, he was going to go with Swan, as there was a swan imprint on the oldest journal. He knocked on her door before quietly getting inside, balancing the journals so that he didn’t bump into things or would drop them to the floor and set them down on the table; the oldest on top.
He stuffed the contract in his pocket, and when he turned around, he was surprised to see her wide awake. “Not tired then, huh?”
“I may not be a vampire, and I may have lost the gifts that Dr. Cullen had given me to restore me, but I don’t require a lot of sleep,” she replied, still wearing Kol’s clothes. “I see you’ve changed out of the pink?”
“I still have it, but I didn’t plan on sleeping,” he replied with a wink. “Too busy trying to organize all the paperwork Myriam’s team retrieved from the building you were staying.”
“I will go back, you know,” she said as she got out of the bed and sat down in the chair opposite of him, eyeing the mountain of journals. “Light reading?”
Kol shrugged. “I thought you’d be asleep still and I needed a quiet place to read. I do my best focusing when I’m alone.”
“Would you like me to leave?”
“No, darling,” he barked out a laugh. “If anything, I am the one intruding, I should go.”
“You can stay,” she said quickly. “You have a good heart, Kol Mikaelson; I’m sure your actions of this evening were meant well.”
“But I want to go back home. This isn’t my home.”
He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. He fought his desire to kill her; he needed to be patient, that’s all. “Darling, you don’t have a home anymore by the end of the night. We’re in the process of destroying the Cullens for everything they’ve done to girls like yourself.”
“You mean, treating them well?”
“You believe that if someone hurts you and uses you as a guinea pig that that means they treat you well?” Kol countered, causing the girl to shrug. “Listen, I understand that you don’t know any better, but trust me when I say that that’s not the way to show affection to a person.”
“That’s one way, yes, but not the most important way. It’s kindness. Warmth. Fun. Laughter. Certainly not poking someone with sharp objects causing them to bleed.” He took the contract out of his pocket. “I wanted to do this in the morning, but since you’re wide awake right now, we’re going to do this now.”
“Your contract. To be honest, it’s not a contract, it’s merely a piece of paper that makes you believe you had a choice with the Cullens, which you hadn’t.”
“I know, there was no way of escaping them. Katherine said as much.”
He smiled at that. “There you go. Using the word ‘escape.’ Bit odd to use that word when you said they were treating you well, isn’t it?”
She was quiet for a long time then, as if she was discussing this further inside her head. Her brow furrowed as she thought about his words and he thought that was adorable. “I understand you mean me no harm, Kol, but why this particular interest in me? As you said, more girls have come back from the building, and yet, here you are, with me.”
“Because it all started when you crashed my mother’s ball.”
“Tell me, did you ever get paid for your services over the last 150 years?”
“I was being taken care of; I didn’t have a need for money. Besides, the Cullens needed it to take care of us all. Money doesn’t matter,” she got off the chair to grab the contract out of his hands. “Give me that; I’m going to need it.”
“Why? As I said, there won’t be any business by the end of the night,” he got to his feet and climbed on top of the couch where it would be out of her reach for sure. “I wanted to do something else with this. Set you free was the first thing came to mind.”
“No!” the girl joined him on the couch and was now jumping to try and reach the contract that he was holding above his head. While she had a panicked expression on her face, Kol was laughing as she kept jumping. “Stop it!”
“Isn’t it fun? Jumping on the couch?”
She stopped jumping and her look changed from panicked to determined. A cheeky grin appeared on her face as she kneed him in the groin, causing him to double over and lowering the contract. She snatched it out of his hands and jumped off the couch, running to the bed.
Oh, perhaps it was silly that she had done that. She had hurt him in order for her to get her hands on her contract, but it was her life that he wanted to end. If everything he had said was true – and she felt like it was, Kol felt sincere – then the contract was the one thing that was keeping her tied to the Cullens.
Kol spoke the truth; she could feel it, and no doubt that everything she had learned had been the truth too; her memories that had been unlocked by Circe had been real. The pain was real. Dr. Cullen had hurt her immensely in the past week. “Are you confident that people don’t hurt each other when they are treated well?”
“Well, from my experience I can tell you that the people you love will end up hurting you once or twice,” Kol said after he had composed himself from her knee to the groin and sat back down on the couch. She felt grateful that he didn’t go after her. “For example, you’ve met my family, right?”
“I know you all intimately, yes,” she said with a small smile. “Apart from Klaus and Finn. Does that disturb you?”
“It was your job,” Kol said, dismissing it with a wave of his hand. “I don’t judge and neither do my siblings, however, we all care for each other. But we still hurt each other because we’re siblings. We’re a thousand years old, and we have a lot to squabble about. Sometimes conflict works as a catalyst to think clearly.”
“There was no conflict at the Cullens. Dr. Cullen explained everything to me, what he was going to do. He was very calming.”
“What about his son, Edfart?”
She tried hard not to burst out in laughter. Edward would have tried to kill her if she’d ever call him names! “Edfart,” she winced before skittishly looking around to see if this was some practical joke and he’d storm in and hurt her for insulting him. “He uhm… he wanted everything to be perfect and predictable. He didn’t like me broken.”
“Were you his after you were done working?”
She nodded slowly. Why was she feeling shame?
“Did he feed on you?”
“My blood is my own.” Edward’s venom hurt, the memory that Circe had unlocked hurt. She remembered most of the feedings now, and it hurt. She’d been made to feel the pain but to ignore it, but she knew that if she’d allow herself, she’d feel the pain.
“But did he?”
Hugging the contract as she sat on the bed, she nodded again. “He was the only one who was allowed to feed on me. I can’t die, you see. When he was a newborn, it was the most painful experience ever, but now that he’s older, he occasionally feeds when he’s too lazy to go out and bite an alligator or something.”
“You didn’t like it.”
“I didn’t like a lot of things that I’ve allowed myself to be put through, but I did it because I knew it was appreciated.” She was quiet then, feeling the change in Kol’s mental state but she couldn’t figure out what it was. It wasn’t anger or any other negative feeling, nor was it the feeling that made her feel at ease. “Which is why I want to go back, why I need to go back. Dr. Cullen can make me forget it all. He’s made a life for me and to think that you’re ruining him and his family… What will become of me?”
Kol made his way over to her and sat down next to her. “Well, you can start to shape your own life. Live the way you want. Do what you want, and not what someone else tells you to do.”
“But I don’t know how.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” he smiled at her. “If you’d like, that is. I could show you the wonders of being able to live with no one forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“Like us making pies tomorrow or later today just for the heck of it?”
“Yes,” Kol grinned and pointed at the contract. “Contracts are useless.”
It wasn’t as if she could read what was on it anyway. She’d never been taught to read as that would make her too smart for her own good, according to Dr. Cullen. The contract was useless, and she had a feeling that she could trust Kol. She remembered how lost he had felt when she was with him at his mother’s ball. How he felt alone in his family and not appreciated. She appreciated him; he was making an effort – a calm effort – to make her see that it was alright to try something new, how scary it may be.
Sighing, she ripped up the contract. There was no turning back now. She didn’t have to be scared anymore. From now on, she was going to be brave. “My name is Isabella Marie Whitlock.”
“Nice to meet you, Isabella Marie Whitlock,” Kol smiled brightly at her. She liked that smile. It made her feel all warm inside. “Now, let’s celebrate your freedom by making those pies! I’m sure everyone would love a slice for breakfast!”
She giggled, then. If she had to be honest with herself, it felt strange to have ripped up that contract and spoken her name out loud. She had always feared that the moment she’d do that, hell would rain down on her and now nothing was happening. “Bella.”
“Bella it is,” he said as he picked up the pieces of the contract. “Let’s burn this to make sure it disappears for good.”
He was going to hate himself for this, but he had to compel her just a little bit to make her feel at ease, open to change. Of course, he had told her to forget that he had given her a nudge and she seemed to be doing fine. It was only a minor adjustment. Once he was confident that she wouldn’t do stupid things, he’d remove the compulsion.
He took a dingy looking pot from one of the cupboards in the kitchen and tossed the bits and pieces of the contract in there before finding some flammable alcohol and doused the papers with them. “Ready?”
Bella was dancing around him to see what he was doing, but she had a goofy smile on her face. “Are you really going to set fire to it?”
“Near a water source. Don’t worry; I won’t set the building on fire. We’ve had enough excitement today.” Kol transferred the pot to the sink before using a match to set the contents on fire. He could see the sparks of magic coming off of it and was disappointed that it looked like a simple spell that had been placed on it. Even if they hadn’t been able to get all the girls out, a short spell would have easily broken all the contracts for good.
They both watched it burn in fascination, and when the paper had turned into ash, he opened the faucet to douse the flames and then rinsed the pot out. “How does that feel?”
“Great,” she smiled as she turned away to gather her cooking supplies. He was surprised to see that she was still wearing his clothes, she had tied the belt quite tightly to make sure his pants weren’t slipping off her hips, and she had made herself comfortable in his shirt.
“Don’t you need to change into something more fitting?”
“Why? Does my appearance disturb you?”
“No, but those aren’t your clothes.”
She looked at him, narrowed her eyes at him and then this big smile appeared on her face. “They are now. Stop talking about my appearance. It doesn’t matter.”
He sat down on top of a counter and watched her work. Eventually, he started to tell her about his family, and he was curious if she’d remember anything about her life or if the meddlings of Carlisle Cullen had ruined her memory. Memory in itself was a fickle thing, because compared to the life span of vampires and other immortals, the brain was tiny and quickly filled up.
Most Cold Ones didn’t remember much of their life before turning unless they were in the habit of journaling their life. Regular vampires like himself only wrote down what was important, in case they forgot, of course. He wondered what it was like for Bella, and that was why he talked to her about his family, what they did and what they had done. Perhaps it would make her feel comfortable enough to share.
Of course, shouldn’t she remember anything, he’d just go to her room and grab the first journal that was written by Carlisle Cullen. He kept everything on her.
It was only after she put the first three pies in the oven and started to clean up to make room for another batch that she spoke up. “I had a grandmother who taught me how to cook. They had an eating establishment or something. I remember it being very crowded. Funny thing is that I remember having a grandmother, but I don’t remember what she looked like or what her name was.”
“What about your parents? Did you have any siblings?”
“If I had any siblings, don’t you think they’d probably be dead by now?” She mused as she started to hand wash the mixing bowls by hand. “I know you’re trying to make me talk about my past, see what I remember and all, but it doesn’t matter. What’s important is what is happening now.”
“Yes, but a whole lot of who we are is who we were in the past.”
“True,” she said simply. “Consider me a blank slate then. We’ve established that my name is Bella and that I don’t like pink but I like to cook, and I like comfy clothes.”
“Although that belt doesn’t look that comfortable.”
“You’re not wearing it,” she said as she dried off the bowls and started to prepare for her next batch. “During my time at your ball in Mystic Falls, I did a bad thing,” she eventually said. “It’s likely that I need to apologize.”
“Elena,” she replied softly. “Katherine egged me on, but I was mean to her, and I don’t want to be mean. I don’t think I’m a mean person. Katherine wanted me to hurt her, and then I guess a part of me wanted to warn her about her involvement with vampires.”
Kol blinked. That was surprising to hear. “You went against what you were hired for? Trained for? Oh, aren’t you a little rebel!”
“I don’t know what happened. After the second encounter that I had with you… with you showing genuine interest in me, not because of what I was or what I did, but me, as a person, I was a little rattled, I have to admit.”
“I never get rattled when working. In a way, I’m glad that things developed like they have because I do not think that Dr. Cullen would have liked my behavior.” Bella curiously eyed him. “You do have a way with people, Kol. You’re gentle, and I believe not a lot of people have seen this side of you. It was enough to make me think.”
He felt all shy all of a sudden. He didn’t do shy very well. It was a sign of weakness. Something his siblings could exploit. “What happened?”
“After our encounter, I had Stefan. He… well. I thought your brother Elijah was quite wild, but Stefan was worse. I was frustrated with him, and Katherine decided to abuse that into me taking Elena to the stables and… well, I didn’t hurt her, but I got angry. I’m not supposed to be showing negativity towards my clients, and truthfully, I think my behavior towards her was uncalled for.”
Kol barked out a laugh. “I assure you, Bella, the little harlot had it coming.”
“No, you don’t get it. It was wrong. She’s a human girl. I could have taken her to the barn without stripping her out of her clothes and stringing her up. I could have spoken to her like a normal person, not someone…”
“Whose life got ruined by a bunch of vampires?”
“I wouldn’t call it ruined.”
“And I wouldn’t worry about it, Bella. Elena probably didn’t listen anyway. If you look in the dictionary what trouble means, it’s likely you find her name there,” Kol replied with an amused smile on his face. “Besides, even if you’d call her to apologize, you’ll only feel worse. She’s more trouble than she’s worth.”
“Trust me on this, okay?” He smiled at her reassuringly. “And what do you mean by Dr. Cullen not liking that behavior of yours? What would have happened if he’d found out?”
“As I said, I wasn’t instructed to show negativity towards my clients. Only when their essence wanted me to. I was talking badly about my experience, my own subconscious frustration with having ended up with the Cullens… I-”
Kol then realized something. “Wait, you knew that they were sick people?”
She smiled at that then. “No, Dr. Cullen and his family were lovely people. It was just that the work they had me doing wasn’t particularly nice towards myself, but I did it because they were all so proud of me.”
“Yes, Dr. Cullen changed me. Yes, Dr. Cullen made me do things for him that I didn’t particularly like, but I did it because he was proud of me for doing it. You have to realize, Kol, I was with them for 150 years, it was my normal life. My normal. Your normal is to have fun, feed on people and trying to prove you’re more than a monster to your family and my normal was doing what I was told. Having sex with people and using my gifts. Making those people feel better about themselves or even worse about themselves.” When she saw the surprised look on his face, she sighed. “I don’t know how I worked, exactly. But sometimes the gifts gave me the power to destroy a person.”
“A few times, yes,” she looked so sad then, even more broken than she had appeared before. “I’m not proud of what I’ve done. It’s not me.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know how. Not really. It was all instinctual, I suppose. I drew strength from whomever I was with or my handler, and I just did it. I did what I was told. What I was given from my client’s head.” Bella then jumped a few times, shaking her hands and legs. “Can we please change the subject and resume baking? What about pecan pie?”