Carlisle had never found Aro's gift particularly nerve wracking.
Oh, perhaps at first, the idea that this man could see the closest thing to Aro's soul had been a little heady, but Aro's opinion of Carlisle had never changed based on what he saw. Aro, in general, did not allow his gift to warp his perception of individuals, merely inform them.
Carlisle had never seen him use what he gleamed to disparage another person.
In little time at all, it had simply become yet another facet of Aro's larger than life personality. Convenient, even, when there were too many thoughts to succinctly describe in a few words.
And after a hundred years of living in close contact with Edward the idea of his thoughts being private was almost a foreign concept.
This time though, this was a bit nerve wracking.
Aro had been holding his hand for a very long time, longer than he ever had solely to delve into Carlisle's thoughts.
It was understandable, it had been over three-hundred years since they had last seen each other. By comparison, Carlisle had been very young when he'd first come to Volterra, there hadn't been too many years to skim through back then.
However, sitting here next to a heavily pregnant Bella Swan in front of Aro's desk in the dead of night, after having sat in the waiting room under the watchful eye of the very dubious secretary (whose name, per Bella, was Gianna) for the longest half-hour of his life…
Well, he felt just as nervous, if not more so, than that first time he'd gone before the board to earn his medical license all those years ago.
Next to him, Bella sneezed, and that seemed to shake Aro from his reverie. He let go of Carlisle's hand to fold his own neatly on his desk. He looked across at Carlisle solemnly. For a moment, Carlisle waited in terror, recognizing that this man held three lives in the palm of his hand and all Carlisle could do was cling to the memory of a friendship and faith in the man he thought was his friend.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Aro burst into hysterical laughter.
Aro closed his mouth, held up a hand to stop Carlisle and Bella from saying a word, opened it and fell right back into his fit of mad laughter.
Carlisle felt himself at once relieved and filled with a sinking feeling.
This was a good sign. Were they about to be executed, he doubted Aro would be laughing. No, in that case, Jane would be with them already and there would be no talking at all. This, this meant that Carlisle, Bella, and the child were going to live.
And if they were going to live, it meant that they had Aro's, and thus the Volturi's, full support.
However, he also felt rising irritation, shame, and morbid embarrassment. The crisis was now averted, but now he had to live with the fact that Aro knew every intimate detail of the last month in excruciating detail.
And Aro would never let him forget it.
Bella, on the other hand, didn't seem to realize what, precisely, Aro was laughing at because her face, for once, was not a mortified crimson. By the look on her face, she simply thought that Aro had lost it, which…
That was probably better, she didn't need to know. That, and Aro was no doubt about to ruin any illusions she had anyway.
Carlisle could only hope that Aro took pity on her. Carlisle, at least, could take the merciless ribbing that was to come. Bella had been through far too much and was far too young to suffer such an ignoble fate.
"My Dear Carlisle," Aro said, wiping at his eyes, a half-forgotten human reflex to wipe away tears of mirth, "I have not laughed so much since—No, I don't think I have ever been so entertained. Oh, how I have missed you."
Carlisle tried to smile back at him and tried to think of something polite to say. He failed on both accounts, "I'm afraid we didn't come here for your entertainment, Aro."
"No, no, I can see that" Aro said, nodding towards Bella's stomach and her notable and far too accelerated pregnancy, "Yes, you have landed in quite the predicament."
Aro opened his mouth, closed it, then considered the pair of them thoughtfully, "You know, I actually think I'm at a loss for words."
Carlisle's not-smile turned into a full grimace.
"There's just too much," Aro said, waiving his hand at the air, as if it contained all the things that he could possibly comment on, "Where do I even begin? Do I begin with your wife running off with your progeny in petty vengeance for your stealing his wife? Do I begin with the scheme itself, that you not only agreed to service your human daughter-in-law but then actually did so? Do I begin with the intercourse itself which was spectacularly subpar and yet somehow overly sentimental? And Carlisle, that's only the past month, to say nothing of your very strange marriage and disturbingly strange progeny."
"Perhaps we could start with the pregnancy?" Carlisle said through gritted teeth.
Carlisle was fighting hard to remember that he had once been very fond of Aro. Even with the shadow of Victoria looming over them, when Bella suggested Volterra, he had agreed. He had agreed to come here, knowing it was likely the best option for them, and that if anyone could and would help them it would be Aro.
He had agreed to this for a reason.
"Yes, because it's just like you to unintentionally discover a brand-new species through the world's most foolish attempt to salvage your son's marriage," Aro said in the tone one reserved for commenting on the weather, "You do realize I have never heard of such a thing."
"The news doesn't shock me," Carlisle responded evenly.
True, he had never asked, but given Aro's propensity to talk about everything and anything, he suspected it would have come up. Especially given the immortal children that had then been in Volterra.
"I think you might just be the only man who would ever find himself in this situation," Aro continued without a care in the world, "Your Edward may have very well been interested, but he would have crushed her like a spider. Perhaps your friends the Denali coven, but alas, they lack the necessary equipment."
Thankfully, either having the intuition to realize that Carlisle was about to explode, or else feeling it was time to get to the point, Bella spoke up. She cleared her throat, looking at Aro, and asked, "So, can you help us?"
"Well, I shall certainly endeavor to try," Aro said with a pleased smile, "Any friend of Carlisle's is a friend of mine and—"
Here he did pause and looked unusually somber, "And despite how things appear, Carlisle, I am still very much your friend."
He shifted his gaze back to Bella, considering her with seriousness, "I cannot promise that drastic action won't be necessary. I cannot promise that you, Bella Swan, will live through this. However, if the child can learn control, if it can learn and respect the law, then the Volturi will make no move against them. Until a final decision has been reached, I will do my best to see to your safety and comfort while you remain in Volterra."
Carlisle let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding, "Thank you, Aro."
Aro just smiled, something fond yet sorrowful in the same moment, "No laws have been broken here, old friend, just strange circumstances with stranger consequences. I realize things—I realize that not all has been as it should be, but I do not persecute innocent covens. The Volturi was not founded on such a purpose."
Carlisle was sure that it also helped that Aro could see the coven had disintegrated.
Alice and Jasper were unlikely to return, certainly not to Carlisle and Bella in Volterra. Edward was unlikely to return at all. Those gifted coven members, their strength in numbers, there was none of that now that they had gone their separate ways.
It was easy to sound generous when the threat had disappeared.
However, he would not say as much, because despite his bitterness and doubt he truly was grateful. Aro could very well have said no and that he hadn't, that he offered his support no less, was far more than nothing.
When the chips had come down it seemed that Aro had pulled through after all.
Bella spared Carlisle a dubious glance, perhaps reading his thoughts from his expression, but she said nothing.
Instead, she looked back to Aro, "So, what now?"
He blinked at her, "What now indeed. Well, you'll both need quarters that much is clear."
He glanced at Carlisle then back to Bella, "Will you two be sharing?"
Carlisle spluttered and felt himself dying inside.
"Oh, don't give me that look," Aro said before motioning to Bella, "You traded your wife for her, after all."
"I did not trade my—"
"You'll find no judgement from me," Aro said, holding up his hands in defense, "I may not have traded in Sulpicia for another but we've both had dalliances here and there. Of course, she's also never loaned me out to please another, so you have gone above and beyond in that regard."
"You can put me wherever," Bella quickly interrupted, flushing violently.
Aro winked at her, "With any luck, we can have a room furnished within the week."
Then, smiling, he inclined his head towards her and noted, "By the by, I am actually a fan of the 'Carlisle Jr.' idea in case you needed a show of support. Though, of course, I am more than happy to scrounge up a list of names. I assume you're looking for something relatively modern and American?"
"We are not naming my child Carlisle Jr," Carlisle insisted.
"Oh, but it's such a fine name, I've always liked it," Aro said with no shame whatsoever. Then, glancing at Bella, he added, "Of course, I'm less keen on the Jacob aspect of the name. Friend of yours he might be, but he has shown the occasional alarming lapse in judgement."
"Yeah, Jake probably wouldn't be keen on that either," Bella said.
Aro clapped his hands together and grinned, standing from his seat, "Oh, this is so very exciting. This might be—well, I won't say it's the most exciting thing to happen in the last thousand years, but we're certainly making history here. I am very much looking forward to this."
Carlisle wondered just then how Caius and Marcus would react. He strongly doubted that they would be looking forward to any aspect of this. As it was, Carlisle imagined that Aro would have to do a lot of smooth talking to appease Caius.
He motioned for them to stand and began ushering them out the door, "And so much to do in so little time. We'll need to find you your medical equipment, start a search for other children (unlikely though it will be), and—"
He looked down at Bella, serious once again as he took in her appearance, "And figure out what it is, if anything, that you can keep down."
As soon as they were out the door, he herded them to an ornate room. One of the guest rooms, Carlisle recognized, rarely used and rarely needed but available none the less. The furniture, while still antiques, had changed since Carlisle had last been here as had the style of the room itself. Rather than reflecting the Renaissance it was now distinctly Baroque. There was no bed, of course, but there was a large and comfortable looking sofa.
"I'm afraid this will have to do for now, we don't often have human guests" Aro explained with a sigh as he took in the sofa, "In the meantime, I'm afraid it's imperative I head off Caius. Wish me luck."
And with that, he closed the doors behind him, leaving Bella and Carlisle standing there, staring at him.
Finally, Bella turned to Carlisle and asked, "Is he always like this?"
Carlisle could only sigh, feeling as if his life had just turned on its head yet again without his knowledge, "Yes."
Author's Note: Aro couldn't resist and neither could I.
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight