Bella had not been in the house long, only a few minutes, but had already fallen deeply asleep.
She looked exhausted, as if she had been running on nothing more than fumes for days. From what she described, the lack of food she'd been able to keep down, the emotional exhaustion, that seemed to be the case. Even in the scant amount of time since the wedding she looked worse than she already had.
As soon as liquids had entered her severely dehydrated body she was out for the count.
Which left Rosalie, Emmett, and Carlisle.
"She's not looking good," Emmett said, the first to point out the obvious as always.
"No," Carlisle agreed solemnly.
Without Edward, Esme, Alice, and Jasper the house felt quiet. Quiet in a way that it never had even when it had only been Carlisle and Edward or Carlisle and Esme.
Some part of him kept waiting to hear the door open and one of them, any of them, to reenter.
Of course, they never would.
But, in a way, that was the least of Carlisle's worries.
A few key events had taken place in an extremely short amount of time.
First, Bella was in her current condition. Carlisle had only had a few hours to come to grips with it, half a day, but it had become clear very quickly that this was far more dangerous than an ordinary pregnancy would have been. Childbirth always carried risks, though modern medicine had made it far less grievous than it used to be, but now they were plunged straight back into the unknown with Bella's life on the line.
Old statistics of infant and mother fatality haunted him.
Second, Bella Swan had just disappeared under suspicious circumstances. She had left in a mad rush, one that probably seemed coerced to her father, with a flimsy excuse of running away to her mother. All this very reminiscent of the strange, erratic, behavior she usually took on Edward Cullen's behalf. She'd once used the same excuse in her attempt to escape James blaming Edward breaking up with her and her mad dash to Italy had been explained as talking Edward out of suicide at a moment's notice.
When she never arrived at her mother's, lost contact on the road, and Chief Swan also discovered Edward and half the Cullens missing…
Well, Carlisle would certainly suspect the Cullens had something to do with it. Ironically, Charlie would be right, just not in the way he suspected.
In ordinary circumstances, Carlisle and his family would disappear. Not simply disappear, either, but disappear in a manner they had never had to before. To his coven, picking up and moving just meant a new town and a new high school. Carlisle was always Dr. Carlisle Cullen, with his strange, adopted family and his beautiful wife. For all they complained, it was the same game every time with little variation, a tried-and-true routine at this point.
This time, there could be no Dr. Carlisle Cullen, not for at least ten years. Technology was not what it had once been, and these days it would be all too easy to look at Carlisle's face and compare it to his employee photograph on Fork's aging hospital website. If someone was actively looking for him, if the case achieved any publicity, which was all too likely with the scandal surrounding it, he imagined that moving across the country would no longer be enough. Moving to a different country might not be enough.
They would have to become nomads, wait for time to make the disappearance of Bella Swan fade into nothing more than an urban legend. One where Carlisle and his family simply looked eerily like the Cullen family who had once resided in Forks.
And yet, Carlisle could not simply disappear, because Bella was in no condition to be moved let alone moved off the grid.
Which brought them to the third point, their time limit was even more limited than that, as Sam Uley was undoubtedly coming. The wolves would be at their doorstep soon, Carlisle was shocked they weren't here already. When they arrived, it would only be the three of them with Bella to protect. The house would be essentially under siege and… Carlisle was not willing to kill or even injure them.
The Quileute were good, honorable, people who thought they were doing the best to protect their lands and the people who dwelled within it. They had come to their aid once before not only to save the people of Forks but also those of Seattle. Carlisle could not brush that aside.
More, the wolves were all terribly young, nothing more than boys, and though Carlisle had no doubt they would be out for his blood he could not force himself to wade through the corpses of children.
Yet, there would be a fight, and however inexperienced they were and however little they knew about vampires, they had only three reluctant opponents.
They could take Bella and run, move her immediately despite the risks, but she needed access to medical equipment and could not be taken to a hospital…
In short, Carlisle was in the midst of a perfect storm.
He ran a hand through his hair, feeling as exhausted as Bella looked, and tried to think of something to say. Rosalie and Emmett were both staring at him, clearly waiting for him to come up with a plan, some sort of strategy, or at least tell them what to do.
He wanted to scream at them that there was no plan. This, whatever this was, was the plan. He was out of ideas, if he'd ever had any to begin with, and now there was nothing to do but stick an IV in Bella's arm and hope that at least she was feeling better about all of this.
"You want to talk about it?" Rosalie asked quietly. It was unusually gentle. Sympathetic, despite how much contempt she currently held him in
He couldn't help but look at her as if she'd gone completely mad.
"Esme," Rosalie clarified.
Ah yes, his wife running off with Edward. He hadn't necessarily forgotten about that but, well, Carlisle had bigger problems. No, that wasn't right, he simply had more immediate problems.
That his and Esme's relationship had been on the rocks was apparently not news. It was something that had likely been building for decades until it finally all crashed to pieces. The problem was not suddenly new just because Carlisle had been too dim to ever notice its existence.
And what was he supposed to do about it?
The way he saw it, he and Esme had had decades to work through the issues he'd never noticed. They'd certainly had weeks to work through it when it had finally dawned on him that maybe, just maybe, something wasn't right in his marriage. That she left without even saying goodbye, without even daring to sit down and talk with him about any of this, had made it all too clear that there was no running after her and begging her to say.
And, more damningly, Carlisle did not wish for her too.
As upset as she was with him, something in him was just as broken. Even if she came back, even if she wanted him back, he didn't think he could do it. They would never be what they were. No, perhaps they would, considering that it had all been illusion. However, they would never be what Carlisle had thought they were.
Carlisle couldn't want that, whatever joke he and Esme had had. Even if it meant having nothing at all.
To Rosalie, he simply said, "There's nothing to talk about."
"Carlisle," Rosalie said, her mouth falling open and her eyebrows lowering, "Your wife just left you!"
"Yes," Carlisle said simply.
"And you're just going to let her—"
"Yes," Carlisle said before she could finish, "If it's reached this point, Rose, then we were already finished."
Rosalie didn't look as if she understood. Of course she didn't, Carlisle thought with a smile. If Emmett had tried to leave her, she would have torn after him, demanded answers and demanded that they work through this.
She would have expected Emmett to do the same.
But Rosalie and Emmett had a functional marriage, Carlisle apparently did not.
"So, you're just giving up?" Rosalie finally asked.
He felt the answer should be yes. Certainly, some part of him was just too tired to try anymore. But…
No, he didn't think he was giving up.
He found himself thinking of what he told Bella, that day when all of this started. She'd been ready to give up on hope for love, she'd told him that what she and Edward had must have been it for her. He had not agreed.
Some part of him thought Esme was it for him. Given his diet, his eccentricities, there would never be another. For all that he had many friends among vampires, despite their difference in diets and philosophies, he did not think he could marry someone who saw the world so differently than he did.
More, after Bella, he would never again turn another human. He had learned his lesson from Rosalie. For all that she would have died a miserable, meaningless, death filled with suffering, she did not ask to have been made a vampire. Even if a human were to give their consent to him, they would have no understanding of what they were asking for.
Even Bella, who had seen so much of them and become so entangled in their lives, did not truly understand what she would become. She simply no longer had a choice in the matter.
And Esme herself was never coming back. Even if she did, he could never go back to that.
Given all of that, given the three-hundred years he had spent alone, how could there ever be another?
And yet, all the same, eternity was such a long time. Once, Carlisle had never believed he would find a coven, in despair he had wondered if he could convince anyone to forsake devouring human beings, and he had certainly never thought he would be married. Yet, all of this had happened and more.
Perhaps it hadn't lasted forever, but it had happened.
Forever was a long time. In all that time, surely, he could find something again. No, not just something, but something real.
So, it was with a smile that Rosalie undoubtedly did not understand, that Carlisle said, "No, no I have not given up. Esme and I are finished, but I have not given up."
"Sure," Emmett said dubiously, his dark eyebrows raising as he glanced at Rose as if to see if she was inside the sanity lifeboat with him, "That makes sense."
Carlisle just kept smiling. Somehow, despite everything, he was in a better mood. He hadn't realized that all he'd needed was a little internal pep talk.
"We're going to have to leave," Carlisle said, standing from the couch, "Rosalie, I'll need you to pack and secure the most vital medical equipment."
Sadly, some of it was going to have to stay. All that preparation, all that work, and here Carlisle was going to have to abandon his built-in medical facility. And only a few minutes ago he'd been so very proud of his foresight.
Ah well, the best laid plans of mice and men.
"Leave?" Rosalie asked, looking over at Bella passed out on the couch, "Bella can't be moved—"
"I'm afraid we have no choice," Carlisle said, "If Sam Uley is coming then we should have left hours ago."
"We can take them—" Emmett said but Carlisle just shot him a warning glance.
"It's their land and they have a right to defend it," Carlisle said, "More, there is no reason to fight. We would have been leaving soon regardless."
"But where will we even go?!" Rosalie asked, hands out wide.
"Well, in the short term, one of the Cullen properties is probably fine," Carlisle said, "But as soon as Charlie Swan begins the investigation into his daughter's disappearance, I imagine we'll have to move to a seedy motel."
A seedy motel or a cave, but the former at least had electricity.
"You can't be serious!" Rosalie cried out in exasperation, "What about the Denali?"
"Would you risk their lives along with ours?" Carlisle asked with raised eyebrows, "Should worst come to worst, if the Volturi do decide the child's a mindless monster, would you have them murdered for aiding and abetting us?"
Once, Carlisle would have thought Aro would be lenient or at least make some effort to understand. He would have thought Aro would destroy only those he had to, that it would be a reluctant and unwilling action at best.
After Victoria, after the callous murder of Bree, Carlisle wasn't sure what to think.
Perhaps, some part of his friendship with Aro had survived. Perhaps that had somehow, miraculously, been Caius acting alone with Aro's hands tied in the aftermath. Perhaps Aro was still his friend but…
Would he be willing to risk others' lives on such a bet?
Not to mention, the Denali had had their brush with immortal children before, and they had proven themselves fair weather friends.
They would be very wary with Carlisle bringing such a thing to their doorstep, they were already contemptuous of Edward's longstanding relationship with a human. Given their refusal to aid them repelling the newborn army only a few months prior, Carlisle could not imagine them opening their door to any of this.
Being the only other animal drinking coven Carlisle was aware of, he cherished them deeply, but he had learned the Denali were never to be relied upon. Not in something like this.
"Painting," Bella suddenly said.
Carlisle, Rosalie, and Emmett all stopped and turned to Bella.
Her eyes were still closed, her breathing still even with sleep, but the word had been very clearly spoken.
Ah, right, hadn't Edward said she talked in her sleep?
"Carlisle's weird painting," Bella spoke again, a furrow now on her brow, as if in her dream she was confronted by a very perplexing problem.
Before Rosalie could ask which of Carlisle's many strange paintings Bella might be referring to, Bella's eyes snapped open. She took the three of them in, seeming dazed for a moment, before glancing at the IV in her arm.
"Are we still in Forks?" she asked, her voice still raw from her confrontation with Edward.
Carlisle, Rosalie, and Emmett all glanced at each other sheepishly. The way Bella said it, she'd been expecting to wake up in a car.
"Ah, yes," Carlisle finally said.
Bella just looked at him dully, then, after a moment said, "You realize Jake's out for blood, right?"
"We were just about to leave," Carlisle said, and with false cheer added, "Your being awake will make this much easier."
Bella just kept staring.
After a pause she asked, "So, where are we going?"
Well, hadn't she just asked the question of the hour? Carlisle felt the words "seedy motel" die on his tongue. Somehow, that just didn't seem like the right response to give.
"We have nowhere to go, don't we?" Bella clarified, again, apparently swiftly seeing to the heart of the matter.
"Well, there's always—" Rosalie stopped, probably about to say, 'The Denali', only to hold her tongue, "No."
"Right," Bella said, nodding to herself, still staring at them all.
Well, wasn't this awkward? Carlisle felt he should say something reassuring, but nothing was coming to mind.
"So, just to make sure I get all this," Bella said as she sat upright, "The problem's not just Jake and the gang coming to—well—kill us all. It's also that I'm a yummy human, so we can't really call in anyone else, and because the Volturi are probably going to come and kill me because I'm still a yummy human who is now also pregnant."
Carlisle wouldn't have put it quite like that but that was the crux of it.
Bella looked to all of them, but none of them responded. She didn't seem to need them to, as she nodded to herself, "Alright then, I guess there's only one thing to do."
"There is?" Carlisle asked, as he had certainly arrived at no obvious solution.
"Looks like we need to bite the bullet and get it over with," Bella said, "Let's go to Italy."
For a moment, Carlisle almost asked what was in Italy, and then he realized what she meant.
"Bella," he said with growing fear, "That is a terrible idea."
"Hear me out," Bella said, holding up a hand, "None of us know anything about half-vampire babies, right? Carlisle, you didn't think anyone could get pregnant, right?"
"Right," Carlisle said slowly, not sure where Bella was heading with this.
"If anyone in the world, and I mean anyone, knew about this little guy, then it'd probably be them, right?"
Well, that wasn't wrong in theory, but Aro had never brought up any of this either and they had certainly discussed immortal children at length. Aro had talked about everything and anything for the decades Carlisle had lived in Volterra, he imagined that vampires impregnating human women would have come up at some point.
But yes, if anyone would have heard of this, it would be Aro.
Bella must have read his answer, however reluctant, on his face, because she kept going with growing confidence.
"Part of the issue is that these guys are going to come, be completely blindsided, and either think one of us turned a toddler or just—I don't know, eat me because they feel like it."
That was not how Carlisle would have put it.
"So, why don't we just get that part out of the way? Why don't we just go now? Go, 'Hey it's a miracle, Bella's pregnant with the new vampire baby Jesus, please don't eat her!' and either they say, 'No, Bella's a stupid yummy human and we must eat her' or 'Sure, but Bella has to join our super vampire club' or 'Wow, neat, a half-vampire baby, I've always wanted one of those!'"
Carlisle was beginning to wonder just what kind of impression the Volturi had left on Bella.
"Yes," Carlisle said slowly, "But Bella, they may very well decide to kill you and your child. In fact—"
"The white-haired dude, sure," Bella said, clearly meaning Caius, "But what about Aro? He seems—Edward says he likes shiny, new, things. This is the shiniest, newest, thing that ever shined."
She motioned to her stomach, in all its glory.
She then looked at him, "And all the guy did when we were there was talk about you. It was Carlisle this, Carlisle that, my dear friend Carlisle, and even 'Edward, you remind me of a very angry Carlisle'. I think, if we tell him its yours—"
Oh, oh no.
Oh, that would be a disaster beyond imagining.
Aro knowing Carlisle slept with his son's teenage, human, bride to be? At his son and wife's behest, no less? Aro witness to their horrible love making? Aro being direct witness to any of it, as he undoubtedly would demand to be?
Carlisle would never live it down.
Carlisle could hear Aro now, telling Carlisle that it was the most positively 'Carlisle' thing he'd ever heard since he caught Carlisle eating rats in Volterra's sewer. Caius would then sneer in disgust and even Marcus would get that strange, befuddled, look that he often threw in Carlisle's direction.
Not to mention that, after Victoria, Carlisle was no longer certain how far his friendship with Aro extended. He did not think it meant as much as Bella was implying.
"I'm just saying," Bella said, holding up her hands placatingly, "That if we stay here, then Jake and the rest are coming and it—won't be good. We apparently have nowhere else to go, I'm not doing so hot, and—Well, there's a chance they won't kill me. I think I have to take that chance."
She looked at each of them, suddenly nervous, "If you don't want to come, just send me on the plane by myself. This is all on me, anyway, that way if they decide—"
"I will come with you," Carlisle said before she could even finish. He took her hand in his, sighing, and allowed the plan to solidify in his mind.
In a few hours he and Bella would be on a plane to Italy. Just him and Bella, if he had anything to say about it. If it came to the worst, then Carlisle wanted Rosalie and Emmett kept out of it. He doubted Aro would bother to track them down, given their only tangential involvement.
So, it would only be Bella, Carlisle, and the unborn child at risk.
Which, all considered, all the obstacles they now faced and the stakes raised, was a chance he was willing to take. Even if it meant walking to his own execution.
He smiled at Bella, and couldn't help but ask, "Why must you always take things head on?"
"I don't know," Bella said with a small shrug, "Seems easier, in a way. Less waiting and wondering, I guess."
That was one way to look at it, one Carlisle had never considered before. Perhaps that was the secret behind Bella's dauntless courage, that to her, it just seemed easier to always confront things immediately than let them fester.
It was why she had discovered her and Edwrad's marriage was doomed long before Carlisle had recognized the end of his marriage with Esme.
Perhaps, then, she was right.
"I suppose I can't argue with that," Carlisle said, "Alright, you and I will head to Volterra."
As always, Bella's plan is to run directly to the danger and ask what it wants. Somehow, this seems to have worked out for her so far.
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight