Checking his watch, Carlisle verified it was time for him to conduct a visual inspection of Bella's wounds and change her bandages. It had been several hours since he'd spoken with Edward. He had spent those hours beside Bella, just as he had promised Edward. In that time Bella had slept peacefully, her heart rate and breathing measurably improved.

Standing up, he flew into his office to gather the required clean bandages and ointment. Then, back by Bella's bedside, he set the items on the nightstand. Gently, he picked up her hand and began rubbing the back with his thumb. "Bella, Sweetheart, time to wake up" The pain medication wouldn't wear off for a few more hours so it took several attempts to bring her around.

"Ca…Car..lisle?" Bella groggily asked.

"It is time to check on the head wound and change your bandages. But first I have a very important message for you."

"Edward?" She asked.

Smiling now, Carlisle said, "Yes, Edward requested I tell you he loves you. The whole family is on their way home to you."

Bella didn't quite have the energy for her own smile, but Carlisle saw her eyes brighten, "love him too."

Squeezing her hand he replied, "I will tell him. Now it is time to check that beautiful brain of yours."

He waited for her to nod before he held his finger in front of her eyes, repeating the earlier test. He was relieved once again to see no negative indications.

"Alright Sweetheart, you don't have to stay awake for the rest."

She mumbled a sleepy, "k" and her eye lids immediately slipped closed. He wasn't surprised to feel her hand go lax within moments.

Reaching up, he gently peeled away the bandage on her forehead. The wound was angry, swollen with severe bruising. Yet the stitches were holding and there was no sign of infection. Smoothing on a layer of antibacterial ointment, he recovered it with sterile gauze and medical tape.

Pulling the covers down to reveal Bella's abdomen, he took more time with this area. Palpating confirmed there was no sign of renewed internal bleeding. Satisfied with his examination, the bullet holes and surgical laceration both received the same treatment as the cut on her head.

Content she was on a positive track for now, Carlisle tucked her back in, and laid a kiss on her forehead before slipping his phone from his pocket and heading for the kitchen.

Edward answered on the first ring, "How is she Carlisle?"

Carlisle could hear the engine whining in the background. It was a sure bet both cars were being pushed to their limits. "She is doing well son. Still stable, no sign of sepsis or other infection. Her neurological exam is still normal and she is able to wake on command despite the heavy pain medication. I am fixing her both an ice pack for her head wound and a hot water bottle to keep her temperature from dropping. My hope is to ease some of her future pain by reducing the swelling."

After a pause he continued with the update, "After we spoke I determined an additional transfusion was in her best interest along with supplementary oxygen. Both her heart rate and breath rate have responded favorably. There is no sign of renewed internal bleeding, so long as that holds true I see no reason she will need additional units."

"Thank you God for that," Edward said.

"How far out are you all?" By now Carlisle was back with Bella, placing the ice pack against her head and tucking the warm bottle against her uninjured side.

"We are making good time, should be there around daybreak," Edward responded.

"Bella is awaiting your arrival. I passed your message on and she said 'love him too' in reply. She was too weakened to manage a smile but it was there in her eyes."

After a pause, Edward gently said, "Thank you. Are you sitting with her now?"

"I am firmly ensconced by her side. I assure you she is sleeping peacefully, in no pain. In a few more hours I intend to try her on some broth before her next medication dose."

"Is she ready for that? What about secondary damage?" Edward immediately worried.

"I did a through visual inspection of all surrounding organs and tissue after the splenectomy. You know I cannot assure you there was no interior damage, however the externals all proved normal." With his medical degree, Edward understood that meant Carlisle had found no visible damage to Bella's other organs.

"There is no reason to suspect she will have issues with food, but I intend to start her slowly anyway. Broth will provide her with much needed nutrients for now. Assuming that goes well, she will likely have a second meal prior to your arrival." Bella needed sustenance sooner rather than later if her body was going to recover.

Carlisle heard Edward's sigh through the phone, "I know you'll make the best decision for her care Carlisle. I wasn't questioning that…I just…I don't think I'll relax until I see her breathing for myself."

"I understand son, I have been sitting by her side for myself as much as for you. I find I need the constant reassurance that she is safe."

Edward's voice was shaky as he asked, "It was truly that close Carlisle?"

"Beyond any doubt," came Carlisle's quiet response.

Edward didn't say anything to that. Carlisle decided it was time to steer the subject to safer territory.

"Has Alice seen when Charlie will arrive?"

"Yes, she sees him getting home in the early afternoon. He'll call to check on Bella shortly after," came the answer.

"Then we will have time to plan a suitable response after you all arrive. Thankfully he warned Esme that they would be out of contact, so he will not think it strange we did not reach out sooner."

"Emmett and Jasper have been brainstorming cover stories as we drive."

Knowing Emmett as he did, Carlisle chuckled, "Any useable ideas so far?"

The exasperation in Edward's voice was plain to hear as he said, "Only one or two." Then, clearly not to Carlisle, he scolded, "No tattoo!"

Flat out laughing now (though not loudly), Carlisle questioned, "tattoo?"

Sounding like he was forcing it through a clenched jaw, Edward said, "Emmett is under the impression that a tattoo would be the best way to hide Bella's scaring from Charlie."

"I see. Yes, I can see how Charlie might find that less offending…" Carlisle spoke with sarcasm, "I would recommend Emmett not inform Bella of his suggestions just yet – I am certain she is not ready for such abdominal shifting as occurs when a human laughs."

"That is the crux of the problem…" Carlisle envisioned Edward pinching his nose at this point, "Alice doesn't exactly see Bella discarding the idea."

Looking at the girl in question, Carlisle raised an eyebrow, "That is…unexpected".

"She never fails to surprise me…" was Edward's response, "Alice warns me I'm about to lose reception. Watch over her for me Carlisle."

"You know I will son."

Carlisle hung up the phone and then chuckled again. Speaking to the sleeping Bella, "A tattoo huh? In all honesty, I am not certain which a father would find more disconcerting to unexpectedly see on his teenage daughter…"

It felt good to laugh after the terror of the evening. Hopefully, soon Bella would be up and laughing along with them.


Two hours later, Bella was still resting comfortably with no signs of complications. Carlisle would need to administer her next dose of medication soon, so dropping a kiss on her cheek, he said, "I will be right back, Sweetheart. It is time to go fix your meal." It was more for himself that he did so, obviously she couldn't hear him.

Flashing down to their kitchen, Carlisle found himself frozen in place on the exact spot where Bella had almost bled out. Staring at the hole in the wall where the bullet was still embedded, he had an almost irresistible urge to paw it out of his house and crush the offending piece of lead. Leaning his forehead against the wall, he reached a shaky hand out and held it flat over the hole, preparing to do exactly that. Then he closed his eyes and forced himself to focus on the sound of Bella sleeping upstairs. Breathing, heart rate, pulse, blood flow. Everything his hearing bared to him, he did a medical assessment on. Bella was fine, she was safe and recovering in his room. Forcefully backing away, he left the offending object where it lay. It would be easy enough to hide from unsuspecting human eyes with some strategically placed décor; he felt it important Bella be given the chance to determine its fate. It was possible seeing it would hold some therapeutic meaning for her, then again, she may not wish anything to do with it.

Other than an open door, Carlisle had found the walk-in pantry untouched by the thieves. Esme was known for canning her own food, most of which she then used for the batches of soups, stews and other dishes she donated to area soup kitchens. Reaching up, he selected a quart jar of her homemade chicken broth. Testing the seal of the lid to ensure the jar wasn't a rare bad one; he set it on the counter. Then he selected an appropriately size sauce pot, washed it to be sure it was clean and then set it on the stove. Popping the lid on the jar, he poured the contents into the pot and set the gas burner on low.

Next he set about washing and drying a serving ladle, and soup bowl. Finding a soup spoon proved to be challenging as Esme's silver set was clearly currently loaded on the reprobates' truck. Stepping back to the pantry, he found a new box of the plastic utensils that were part of their camping props. One of those spoons would have to do. He also grabbed a straw at the same time. Checking on the broth, he gave it a stir. Letting it heat a bit more, Carlisle took the time to prewash another glass, bowl and plate. The task gave him something to occupy his mind with other than the horrendous reminder in the room. The bowl and plate he set in the dish drainer for later use, while the glass he filled with fresh water for Bella.

Setting the glass on the counter, he stepped back to the stove and found the broth at just the right temperature. Turning the burner off, he utilized the ladle to fill the bowl then covered the pot with its lid.

Once again picking up the water glass, he went back to Bella. She was still sleeping but starting to show almost indecipherable signs of restlessness. That was as he wanted it, so that she would not be in pain while she ate. Placing her meal on the nightstand, he made a fast trip to his office for her medication. It too was placed on the nightstand.

Crossing to the closet, he selected two spare pillows for the purpose of propping Bella up. Back at her bedside, he left the pillows on Esme's reading chair and placed his palm over Bella's hand. Starting a smooth, caressing motion, he called to her, "Bella…Sweetheart…time to wake up." It took several attempts before she began to stir.

"That is it Sweetheart, open your eyes for me." He watched as she fluttered her lashes a few times, before opening her eyes fully. "Good girl. Follow my finger again." Once again he gave her a neurological exam, then checking her pupils, he saw no reason for concern.

"Alight Sweetie that is done. I am going to sit you up so you can try some broth. It is Esme's homemade – quite tasty I am told." He waited for her to nod in acknowledgement, then he slipped his arm behind her shoulders, gently leaning her forward. With the other hand, he stacked the extra pillows behind and then lowered her down.

"Is that comfortable for you?"

"Yes…water first?" She requested.

"Sure Sweetheart, just remember to drink slowly." He brought the straw to her lips, she reached up to take the glass, but it was clear from her shaking hands that she wasn't ready to hold it alone. After a few sips, she pushed the glass away, indicating she had enough.

She closed her eyes, so he started speaking to give her a reason to stay awake. He deliberately slipped into an older dialect – it was a bit of a game he knew she always took interest in, "I spoke to Edward again whilst thee slept." Sure enough, her eyes opened, filling with a spark of curiosity.

"How is he?"

He brought the bowl of broth to her, dipping the spoon and bringing it to her lips. Obediently, she accepted the offering.

"Edward worries for thee. He was gladdened to hear of the sparkle in thine eyes when thoust heard his message." He let her think through that one while she had several more spoonfuls.

She smiled sleepily when she made the connection to their earlier conversation. "When will he…" she didn't seem to have the energy to finish the question so he did so for her.

"When will Edward arrive? Tis what ye tis asking?"

She nodded, then swallowed the next sip he gave her. "The family hurries with all haste to return to thee. Edward estimated they wouldst arrive around dawn. I guess Rosalie willst have some repairs to make on thee carriages. The engine noise was quite thee growl."

Bella took another sip and then smiled, "Maybe was Edward?"

"Ah, thoust tis getting cheeky! Ye must be on thee mend. Think ye this old vampire cannot tell thee difference?" Carlisle teased her back.

Bella blushed and pushed the bowl away to indicate she'd had enough. Looking at what was left Carlisle said, "Half the bowl is a pretty good start Sweetheart. Would you like some more water?"

When she nodded yes, he traded the bowl out for the water glass. She drank several more sips. When she was finished, he set it on the nightstand and slipped his arm back behind her shoulders, "Let's get you laid back down and you can go back to sleep." Supporting her, he removed the extra pillows and lowered her to rest again.

Smoothing a hand across her cheek, "Sleep tight Sweetheart." Her eyes fluttered closed and within seconds she was fast asleep. He laid a kiss on her brow then turned to the nightstand. With the speed of his kind, he had the IV port cleaned, the pain medication injected, and the fresh antibiotic and saline bags hooked up and dripping.

Moving the pillows to the window seat for use later, he collected the used bowl and garbage and headed downstairs. Once there, he made quick work of storing the leftover broth in the fridge, and cleaning the pot and bowl. Filling the now cleansed pot with water and putting it back on the stove to heat, he selected some simple white rice from the pantry. He precooked several servings worth, then stored them in the fridge for Bella's next meals. Rewashing the pot and leaving it to dry in the dish drainer, he returned to Bella's side.

Taking a seat in Esme's chair once again, he focused in on the sounds of Bella's breathing. There he sat for the next few hours, taking simple comfort in that sound.