"Oh," was Bella's first word on entering through the doorway.
Carlisle, who had been supporting her despite their vast height difference, paused. In the excitement of her arrival, he had almost forgotten Jasper and Alice's packed bags.
Bella's eyes lingered on them and it was clear that even at a glance she could recognize what were clearly Alice's belongings. The bag themselves were too chic to possibly belong to anyone else, each a matching, pristine, white with golden buckles.
Perhaps summoned by Bella's thoughts, or more likely by the sound of her arrival, Alice appeared at the bottom of the stairs with Jasper lurking at a careful distance behind her. It was, Carlisle realized, a recreation of when Bella had first visited the Cullen household with Edward years ago.
Carlisle had stood right where Alice was standing, ready at a moment's notice to step in should Esme have lost control…
Regardless, he'd stood right there with Esme in front of him, wearing a strained smile for the human girlfriend Edward had sprung on them with only a few hours' notice. Back then, Bella had been more a concept than anything else.
First, the distant idea of Chief Charlie Swan's estranged daughter. Then, the girl that Edward might very well devour out of a misplaced sense of pride. Not long after that, the innocent girl his family conspired to murder for having witnessed Edward's superhuman abilities when he saved her from the van. And then she'd been the human being responsible for taking small spark of life in Edward and fanning it into a flame.
She had not only inspired Edward, brought music and life back to him, but she had made him a better person in a way Carlisle never could. Through Bella, it had seemed, Edward finally understood the importance of human life, not as this abstract concept, but as something that embodied every soul on this planet.
That strange enigma, a girl who had done so much in so little time, was the one who Carlisle had first and very briefly met that day.
Now, their positions were reversed.
It was Carlisle who entered this house with Bella, feeling like a stranger in his own home. His family, this coven he had created, felt like distant ideas to him. Concepts he had once known well but grew estranged from without even noticing.
Bella, on the other hand, had suddenly become the one thing he felt he knew.
Alice looked devastated.
All her carefully maintained human mannerisms were gone. She was far too still, unnaturally so. She was nothing more than a marble statue, one with wide painted eyes and her lips held open with the smallest 'oh' of sorrow.
Bella stared back at her with an expression that could best be described as numb.
"You're leaving?" Bella asked.
Alice twitched back into life, taking a step forward, only to hesitate.
"I don't want to," Alice said.
"Then don't," Bella replied, oddly calm, ignoring the way that Emmett and Rosalie hovered warily behind her, perhaps deciding whether or not it was worth it to make their exit before the fight began.
"Bella, it's not—"
"I can't make you stay," Bella interjected, "I think I've finally come to terms with that. If you're staying, stay, but if you're going then go."
Bella paused, took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut, when she spoke again there was finally a trace of pain in her voice, "Is it the wedding, Edward, or is it the baby?"
Here Alice actually did stumble forward, steps unusually unsteady, lacking all of her innate grace, "Bella, it's not like that—"
"Well, it's something, isn't it?!" Bella snapped, "Or are you trying to tell me, after all that work, after all these years that you're thrilled this is happening?! That's why you've packed your bags, right?! Because you're so thrilled!"
"Bella, I can't see it!" Alice said, motioning desperately to Bella's stomach, "It's like the wolves, Bella. I can't see it, or you while you're carrying it and—And Jasper is worried about the Volturi, you know I only ever see flashes for those outside the family. Bella, if I can't see you, if I can't see anyone here then—"
"He is not an it!" Bella shouted back, hand fluttering to her stomach in a protective motion.
At her own words she looked stricken, taking in Alice's devastated face, nevertheless her hand did not leave her stomach.
"Alice, I'm—" she paused, seemed forced to search for her own words, but Alice beat her to it.
"You're not giving it up," Alice finished for her with a sad smile, "I know, I—I can't see a future where you give it up. I mean, I can barely see you at all but—if you could give it up, I think that future would be crystal clear."
Alice shook her head fervently, as if shaking away her own thoughts, "I can't see what it is, what it will be, or anything that might happen but—I know, Bella, and I'm not going to try."
"What do you mean what it will be?" Bella asked quietly, but Alice just shook her head and looked back at Jasper, perhaps wondering if he would be the one to tell her.
Jasper said nothing, just looked pointedly away from Bella. Finally, after a moment, he said, "I truly am sorry we cannot stay. Afterwards, if—all goes well, Alice and I will return."
Bella looked up at him, searching his face for sincerity, then asked in a raw voice, "You promise?"
"Yes," Jasper said with a small nod.
He stepped down the stairs slowly, carefully, as if bracing himself against Bella's scent. When he reached Alice, he stopped to look at Bella, an expression of grim determination on his face, "Alice and I will dispose of your car, we can do that much for you."
"It'll be fun," Alice added with a forced, chipper, grin, "On our last road trip, Jasper and I never got as far as Florida."
Bella smiled weakly back.
Alice and Jasper, sensing this as their cue to exit, made their way past Bella and towards the door. The pair lifted Alice's bags with ease, despite how much had been stuffed into them and how much each weighed.
Bella turned her head to watch, "Will you at least call this time?"
Alice stumbled for a moment, as if she'd been hit, but when she looked back, she smiled, "Of course, Bella, that was—those were very different circumstances."
And just like that, with the sound of Bella's truck roaring back into life and making its way slowly out of the driveway, the pair were gone. For now, driving south and east, afterwards God only knew where.
For all of Jasper's promises, Carlisle remembered Alice's word of warning about the breaking of the coven, and wondered if he or Bella would see the pair again. For all that Rosalie and Emmett often went on their own, Jasper and Alice too, this somehow felt more final.
As if, after this, his coven would never be the same.
"That went well," Bella remarked once the truck was out of her human hearing.
Carlisle couldn't help but glance down at her with a raised brow. She sounded oddly matter of fact, almost pleasant even. There was no trace of sarcasm or bitterness anywhere in her voice.
"She promised to call and said goodbye this time," Bella explained, "I mean, with you guys one never knows when you'll all pick up and vamoose, part of me expected this place to be completely empty when I drove in."
He wasn't sure if he should be horrified or else insulted that she thought so little of his coven. Then, of course, he remembered that every word out of her mouth they had earned ten-fold thanks to their actions half a year prior. Not to mention, of course, that Alice and Jasper had indeed just lived up to Bella's low expectations and abandoned her a second time in short order.
Abandoned her now, when perhaps her need was greater than it had ever been before.
Put like that, there was nothing Carlisle could say in any of their defense.
Perhaps, more damningly, Carlisle found he no longer wished to say anything in their defense.
"And they'll be back," Bella said, as if she were the one reassuring him, "They promised they would come back, they're not gone forever just until… Well, for a little while. It's not like I've broken up the family or anything!"
Rosalie, Emmett, and Carlisle said nothing to that. Undoubtedly, each was thinking of Carlisle's earlier admission, that he no longer was certain where he stood with Esme. Bella, however, didn't seem to notice that their silence wasn't for a lack of words but instead perhaps too many of them.
Bella instead looked around the foyer, "Are Edward and Esme nearby, so we can rip this band aid off and move onto the next one?"
Carlisle was suddenly inordinately grateful that he had seen neither Esme nor Edward for hours.
"Perhaps we had best get you situated first," Carlisle said instead, resuming his and Bella's progress towards the living room.
"Right," Bella said, "One should be comfortable when telling one's ex-fiancé that they were knocked up by his dad."
Carlisle nearly fell over, Rosalie having to take up the task of supporting Bella from her other side, "Focus Carlisle!"
Carlisle, for the record, thought he was handling all of this admirably given it had not been even twenty-four hours since he'd been made aware of this situation. If all the implications had yet to fully sink in, well, he'd get there soon enough.
With no further trouble, they quickly maneuvered Bella over to the sofa, where she stretched across it with a loud contented sigh, "This is nice, it's been… a day."
Wasn't that an understatement?
Bella glanced over at Rosalie and Emmett, large eyes assessing them. Rosalie didn't flinch under the look, but she did straighten ever so slightly, jutting out her chin as if she was just daring Bella to say something.
"Thank you," Bella said instead, "For staying and supporting me."
Rosalie blinked back in stunned surprised. Quietly, she said, "Of course, we may have our differences but… Bella, I do understand."
"I know," Bella said with a smile in turn, "It's why I called you first."
Rosalie's eyes widened in realization, it seemed she hadn't quite put together just why Bella would have called her before this moment. She seemed as if she wasn't quite sure what to do with this information and settled for sitting across from Bella in one of the love seats.
Emmett quickly joined her.
They remained there for a moment, much as they had before Bella's arrival, Carlisle, Rosalie, and Emmett entirely unsure what to do with themselves. Now that Bella was here, they should be getting her food and liquids, should be gauging the health of both Bella and the child, yet all Carlisle could seem to do was stand there like an idiot.
"So, Bells, you got knocked up by the most strait-laced vampire in the universe," Emmett summarized after a beat, "How do you feel?"
"Fat, hungry, and very nauseous," Bella responded evenly.
There was no one, Carlisle was starting to realize, who handled a crisis quite like Bella Swan.
"I'll go get the medical equipment ready," Carlisle said in lieu of a response, best to make himself useful.
He was glad that his paranoia had gotten the better of him. Ever since their return to Forks, after Bella's birthday disaster, he'd decided to finally put all that money rotting in investments to good use and buy himself his own personal ER for Bella Swan.
Given her nearly daily brushes with death, her constant stream of absurd injuries and broken bones, it was only a matter of time until she ended up in the ICU, and he'd had this sinking feeling that the next time circumstances wouldn't allow her to be taken to a true hospital.
That premonition had turned out to be right, though he hadn't anticipated her becoming pregnant with his own hybrid vampire child. He very much would have lost that bet.
As he entered the room which had become Bella's unofficial operating room, he reassured himself that he was, perhaps, the most prepared out of anyone in the world to deal with this. No human doctor could tend to her, given the rate of her pregnancy and what she was carrying, and even if they could they'd face the same lack of expertise he himself did. Worse, in fact, as vampires would be completely unknown to them.
Carlisle had unsurpassed knowledge of human anatomy among vampires as well as many human doctors. He was not an OB-GYN by trade, but he had studied human physiology in depth and what he didn't know he could quickly learn. He was an expert surgeon, had strove for centuries to understand what he could of venom and vampires' strange, altered anatomy, and even had the Volturi had knowledge of this they likely still would have called in Carlisle as a consultant.
If it had been Edward's child, if Edward had actually slept with his wife instead of pushing it onto Carlisle, then Carlisle would still be in this room right now.
He could do this. Perhaps, in some strange unwitting way, Carlisle had been preparing for this for a hundred years. Ever since that moment he first decided he would spend his immortal life masquerading as a human doctor.
Just as Carlisle made for the ultrasound machine and the IV drip, intending to wheel them to Bella, he heard the front door open to the sound of familiar footsteps.
It seemed that Edward had returned.
Carlisle closed his eyes in growing dismay and frustration. Could he not have waited even a few more hours?
The conversation between Bella and Emmett abruptly cut off on Emmett's end as he noted Edward's presence first. The question he'd had revolving around Bella's sordid sex life died on his lips and Carlisle could almost picture him, Rosalie, and Bella all turning towards Edward as he made his way into the living room.
Even across the house, even as Carlisle moved the equipment back to Bella, Edward's footsteps were deafening.
Carlisle arrived just as Edward came to a halt in front of Bella. Like Alice, his learned human mannerisms seemed to have abandoned him, and he stood statue still in front of her, staring down at her visibly pregnant stomach in revulsion.
He didn't so much as glance at Carlisle, not even as Carlisle strode past him. He did, however, take a moment to sneer both at the ultrasound as well as the IV drip.
Bella glanced away from Edward to the IV with a grimace then a half smile, "Needles already, Doctor?"
"You said it's been a day since you've kept anything down," Carlisle said, smiling back, as if Edward was not standing behind him oozing an air of menace.
"Couldn't we push it to two days?" Bella asked.
"I'm afraid not," Carlisle said, watching as she rolled up her sleeve for him, already knowing this routine by heart, "We're tempting fate enough as it is, Bella."
"Tempting fate," Edward said contemptuously, "Is that what we're calling this needless, dangerous, exercise?"
"Edward—" Rosalie started, standing up even while Emmett tried to hold her back.
"Carlisle, haven't you told her what she's really carrying?" Edward asked, now looking directly at him.
Carlisle didn't stop his movements, instead continued to prepare the IV, while he silently dared Edward to go ahead and say whatever it was he had come to say. Clearly, there would be no peace until Edward said it.
"And you think there'll be peace afterwards?" Edward sneered, "For any of us?"
"Edward," Bella said slowly, her voice wobbling ever so slightly as she looked across at him, as if the very sight of him was breaking something inside her, "This isn't your decision."
"No," Edward said, finally looking back at her, "You and Rosalie have made that very clear. I wasn't the sperm doner, therefore I have nothing to do with it. I, after all, am only your husband."
Bella bit her lip, shaking her head slowly, "Edward, we're not married—"
"I love you!" Edward insisted, kneeling down before her as if he were a knight seeking supplication, "We may not have traded vows yesterday but for all I'm concerned I gave my vows to you the day we first met! I love you Bella, and I will never love another."
Edward motioned violently to Carlisle, "Can he say that much?!"
"It's—" Bella paused, glanced at Carlisle for an instant, eyes swimming with conflicting emotion, before looking back at Edward, "It's about him, it is his baby, but it's not about him either. Edward, I didn't leave you for Carlisle. I didn't leave you for anybody, I left you for you, for us. Because we're not right for each other, Edward, you don't—you don't love me."
"Why are you so convinced you can tell me what I do and do not feel?!" Edward asked in turn, hands moving towards her. They stopped short of her though, trembling, as if he could not dare to truly touch her.
"I'm not telling you what you feel—"
"You're trying to tell me that my love isn't good enough—"
"I'm trying to tell you that you're in love with an idea!" Bella shouted back, and it was as if her words broke something, the house almost echoed with them, "Edward, what do we even know about each other?"
Edward scoffed, rolling his eyes despite the devastation on his face, "Bella, we've been through this, I know—"
"My favorite color is an icebreaker, Edward," Bella interjected with a short almost imperceptible glance to Carlisle, as she took the words he had once given her, "Asking me twenty-questions at lunch for a few days… That's not me."
"Edward," Bella sat up slowly and placed her hands on top of his, "I'm not the person you think I am. I'm selfish, I'm short-sighted, I—look what I've done to Charlie, look what I've done to your family, to you. I got myself pregnant with your dad, of all people, and I'm making you all deal with it. I'm not above acting for myself and I can't bring myself to regret it."
Bella closed her eyes, clenched her hands tighter around Edward's, "You're always saying I'm like a saint or even an angel, that I only ever do things for others, just because I politely turn a few guys down for a dance with the world's lamest excuse. But I'm not, Edward, I'm just an ordinary girl who goes to an ordinary high school and once lived an ordinary life. I held onto you for so long even though—Even though I always knew you didn't love me. That's not the girl you're in love with, Edward, she'd have let you go the second she laid eyes on you."
"But it is," Edward insisted, "Don't you see? You're trying to let me go now, thinking it's in my best interest, and if that's not—"
"You're in love with someone who doesn't exist," Bella insisted, tears now in her eyes, "Edward, she's out there somewhere, but I'm not her and I can't—I can't pretend to be her."
For a moment Edward said nothing and Carlisle, Rosalie, and Emmett were left to stare at each other and wonder whether or not they were supposed to leave the room. This was not a conversation he should be witness to. Much like many moments he found himself in Bella and Edward's company in the past two weeks, he felt the unintentional voyeur.
In any other circumstance, Carlisle would have left by now.
However, he found his feet glued to the floor, not so much out of stunned amazement at the scene in front of him but out of a fear he scarcely dared to acknowledge. Some part of him would not leave her side, had even cast aside setting up her IV drip, while Edward was so close to her. Some part of him, something instinctual and growing with every second, insisted that Edward was a threat.
Once, not so long ago, he'd wanted to think the best of Edward. He'd think that surely, no matter how devastated Edward was, he wouldn't resort to using force against Bella. Edward, while troubled, had been the most noble of them all. A gentle, artistic, spirit who inhabited the body of a demon.
Now, he was not so sure.
Edward was a man who seemed convinced that Bella's will was inconsequential when compared to his own. That any disagreements they had could be settled in the aftermath. He was someone who had given away her wedding night to his father without batting an eye. He was someone who insisted Bella marry him despite her trying to call it off multiple times.
And Edward was often driven to recklessness when in dire straits.
Were Edward convinced it was in his best interest, which he was, and if he was certain Carlisle would not perform an abortion, then Carlisle wasn't sure what Edward would do.
And there was this air about him, a palpable barely contained rage, that had the hairs standing on the back of Carlisle's neck.
Edward looked up at Carlisle slowly in contempt, "So, this is what you truly think of me then? After all these years."
"Edward—" Carlisle started but Edward held up a hand and stood.
"Bella, that thing you're carrying is not human," Edward said without any emotion.
Bella flinched at his words and her hand once again moved to her stomach protectively.
"It's not even half-human," Edward sneered, "It carries our venom in its veins which means it can only be one thing."
"Edward—" Bella started in warning, but he just smiled down at her.
"You are kind, Bella, kind and courageous," he said, awe in his voice as it always was when he spoke of Bella Swan's positive qualities, "You give pity, love, and adoration to monsters. This one though, Bella, this one will devour you from the inside and then—Have I ever told you of the immortal children?"
"Edward—" Rosalie said but he held up a hand.
"There are many vampires who long for a child," Edward said, "Some, however, become so desperate that they turn a human child themselves. A toddler, usually, and they have this angelic thing that never grows up. All it does is hunger, and thirst, and feed until entire towns are demolished to sate it. It has no control, no sentience, and is nothing but a cannibalistic ghoul."
Edward motioned to her stomach, "Jasper fears that thing in your womb is an immortal child, if not something worse, that's the real reason he and Alice left. The Volturi could come any minute, would surely execute us for that, but mostly he doesn't want to stay to see it. To be forced to dispose of it on your behalf. Alice doesn't either. And I'm supposed to watch you die for that monster inside you?"
"You don't know that!" Rosalie cut in, stepping towards Edward and catching his hand in hers, "You don't know any more than we do, Edward! This baby is a miracle, something we didn't think was possible, and you have no say in what happens to it!"
"And neither do you," Edward spat back, "Or do you really think that this child could be a replacement for the ones you never got to have? Perhaps, it will have golden hair not so different from your own, inherited from dear Carlisle. Perhaps, Bella will die in childbirth, and then the child would be yours—"
Emmett punched Edward across the face, throwing him down onto the floor.
Edward looked up at him, stunned, as if he'd never seen Emmett before in his life. A pale hand went to tentatively touch the cheek where Emmett had just hit him.
"Leave Rose out of this," Emmett said.
Edward stood, keeping Emmett warily in his line of sight, but addressed Bella, "Bella, the wolves will never stand for it. Even now, Jacob Black is revealing your condition to them, and they will come to murder us all. Take action, before it's too late."
"Then I'll leave," Bella said, "I'll leave Forks, the pack will never abandon the land. But Edward—I won't do it. I'm keeping him."
"No," Edward said quietly, "I will leave."
He took a deep breath, seeming to savor the very taste of the air, "Bella, I will not stay to watch you destroy yourself."
His baleful gaze then moved to Carlisle, "And I can no longer abide standing under his roof, pretending to be a member of his hypocritical joke of a family. Family, we called it, as if it weren't just another coven."
"If you do not dispose of it," Edward continued, "Then I will leave, and Esme will leave with me. Neither you, nor Carlisle, nor any who willingly stands in this house will ever see either of us again. If nothing else will convince you, Bella, then let this."
He didn't look at her as he said it, instead resolutely stared at Carlisle. Carlisle, though, he looked at Bella.
Despite everything, Carlisle thought she did love Edward. Perhaps it was a young love, something with room to grow, something in need of time and maturity, but she had loved him none the less.
She loved him even now.
"You said you would never leave unless I told you to," Bella said, her voice breaking over her words.
"And you did," Edward assured her, "You told me you did not wish to marry, that you wished for me to move on. And now, it seems, I am. Unless, of course, you change your mind."
Bella opened her mouth, closed it, and her hand settled on her stomach once again. Her lips twitched into a wobbling, tearful, and so very human smile.
Edward looked stunned, as if he hadn't truly expected that answer, as if he had thought this would be enough for Bella. For a moment, he just looked at her, his face a mask of agony.
Then, with little more than gust of wind, he was gone.
More, despite everything, despite years of marriage, Carlisle did not disbelieve that Esme would leave with him. Without a word to Carlisle or to any of the rest of them, as if neither she nor Edward had ever existed.
Edward had always been her priority, since the very beginning, it was only that Carlisle had never forced her to choose until now. In a single breath of air, the sound of an opening then closing door, a marriage that had lasted decades crumbled into dust.
As if it had never existed in the first place.
"That—" Bella said to the empty space Edward had just occupied, "That was a lot worse than Alice and Jasper."
She let out a tearful, hiccupping, laugh and looked at Carlisle, "So, about that IV?"
Carlisle forced himself to smile, and as gently as he could, inserted the needle into her skin.
Author's Note: The funny part of this chapter is that since Carlisle ran off with Edward's bride, Edward has now run off with Carlisle's in petty revenge.
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight