Aro must have told Heidi to come back sooner than planned. She was back by mid-afternoon of the next day, with twice as much blood as Carlisle had been expecting and only half of the medical equipment.
Carlisle dully wondered what hospital she had stolen all of this from and how, exactly, Aro planned to get away with this.
He would, somehow, Aro hadn't been around this long and kept his own law without having a few tricks up his sleeve. The man, even beyond his intimidating gift, was also intimidatingly clever. However, Carlisle didn't envy the position he was in. Even Carlisle, had he been able to stay in Forks with access to the hospital, would only be able to take so much equipment and blood without someone noticing and asking questions.
This time, rather than have half of Volterra watching, Carlisle had insisted on giving Bella some privacy and slammed the door in their faces. The guard could indulge their morbid fascination elsewhere, or even another time, but they did not need to watch the first time Bella had to consume human blood.
That was not something she needed a live studio audience for.
The effect was almost instantaneous.
In one moment, Bella was gaunt, clammy, and a shade of white unnatural even to her. The next, there was color back in her cheeks, her skin was almost glowing, and she no longer looked quite as thin as she had.
It was different, of course, but it almost brought venom to mind: that miracle elixir of life that could heal broken spines, close wounds, and raise the near dead. That was what consuming human blood seemed to do for Bella now.
Bella eagerly reached for the next bag, only just heated in the microwave Aro had gleefully installed in Bella and Carlisle's shared room earlier that morning, looking as if she was barely even processing what it was that was happening and what she was drinking.
Or, perhaps, as usual, as with everything in her life, she had accepted it with relative ease.
Hadn't she been the same in the hospital the first day he'd met her? He'd ascribed it, then, to the shock. Bella had very nearly lost her life, had witnessed Edward do the impossible, the calm and clarity she seemed to feel in that hospital bed was surely only temporary.
He knew her better now. He imagined Bella had been in full control of her faculties from the moment the truck nearly hit her to that moment she watched a vampire in a lab coat approach her in a hospital.
This was simply the way she was. So different from himself, where he always felt as if he was flailing in the stunned aftermath of whatever disaster had occurred. She had lost everything so quickly and look what she was able to accomplish. When would Carlisle have thought to take her to Volterra? If he had, would he even have suggested it, knowing what the Volturi had done and failed to do, and the position Bella could be in if they went.
Perhaps it was no wonder Bella had survived this much already, Carlisle was beginning to believe that girl could survive just about anything.
Watching her mindlessly reach for another bag, he found his mind wandering, over everything that had happened and what could have been.
It was hard to imagine, now, the world in which Bella and Edward did marry, the world that Alice claimed to have seen so clearly.
However, Alice had seen it, had fought for it, so it must have existed.
What would they have been to each other there?
Carlisle would still have been blissfully married to Esme. How long would that have lasted? They had lasted decades already, would they have somehow remained obliviously infatuated, driven on only by inertia for a hundred years? For two-hundred? Had this never happened, had Edward not come to him and Esme with his proposition, or had Carlisle not somehow conceived a child with Bella, would Carlisle have considered himself in love and in a happy and healthy relationship?
Would he or Esme ever truly realize they had married strangers?
And Bella—Bella would have been married to Edward. Would she have realized that she married a man she didn't know? Would Carlisle have realized that Edward, the man he'd always thought he knew, was in fact a stranger? How long would their relationship have possibly lasted? Would she have fallen into the same trap Carlisle had and was that truly what Alice had wanted for her?
Most importantly, though, what would he have thought of her and vice versa?
Carlisle wanted to say he couldn't guess, couldn't know, but he did. It was easy enough to see where their lives were heading. He would be a distant authority figure to Bella, not her own father, but Edward's father, something of a father-in-law as well as the head of the coven. To him, she'd simply be Edward's wife, and a daughter in a distant sense. They'd share polite conversation now and then but keep a healthy distance from one another. Their relationship would center only on how each of them related to Edward, nothing more.
And for all that had happened, for all the consequences, Carlisle couldn't regret that they were not walking that path. It was more painful, yes, but they would be living a ghost of a life. Himself, Bella, and even Esme and Edward for all they might not wish to admit it, wherever it was they were now.
Carlisle—he would choose to believe Aro in this, over Alice, now that he knew what he knew—he would not have chosen that life.
But where they went from here—well, that was a different question entirely.
"By George," Bella exclaimed looking at the now empty bag in her hand and grinning at Carlisle, "I think we've got it!"
He forced himself to smile back at her, to discard his train of thought, and assured her, "You already look better."
"I feel better," Bella mused, looking down at her hands in wonder, "I—hadn't realized how badly off I was."
She looked at him again with a smile, "You know, I think with this, we really just might make it."
How confident of her.
Between the child's rate of growth and the C-section Carlisle would surely have to perform, they had a long way to go. However, he allowed some of her confidence to bleed into him. If he believed it, if they had made it this far, who was to say they couldn't?
Bella just had this way of making everything seem possible.
And in that moment, staring at her, he truly did believe that.
Both Bella and the child would survive, that child, his child, would be something wonderful if only because Bella believed he or she would be. Perhaps not human, but not an immortal child, and not something that broke Aro's laws by merely existing.
And he would be a father, the father he had never aspired to be, never truly thought of himself as, but a good father all the same. He and Bella would learn together, for however long it took, just as all ordinary parents did.
One day, they would leave Volterra together, all three of them. They would meet up with Rosalie and Emmett. And as for him and Bella—
Perhaps it was too soon, far too soon given Edward and Esme, given the shattered aftermath of all the lies all of them had lived. However, in time, or perhaps in no time at all, Carlisle imagined that that would work out as well. They, somehow, would work out as well.
He would tell her how he felt.
Not right this second, perhaps not even tomorrow, but soon he would tell her.
And from there, the world was filled with possibilities. Doors had closed but windows Carlisle never knew existed had opened.
Perhaps there would be no more Dr. Carlisle Cullen, not for another ten or twenty years at least, and not in America, but there was more to the world than that. Perhaps he would never see Edward, Esme, Alice, or Jasper again, but then again, perhaps he would. Perhaps, in time, things would change, and they would all understand one another and the choices they had each made.
Perhaps Esme and Edward had been right, that day in the kitchen when they'd agreed to Edward's mad scheme. Perhaps, one day, all of them really would look back and laugh at it.
In this moment, sitting here in this over decorated room with a recently purchased refrigerator filled with blood bags as well as a microwave, in the palace of a man that not a week before Carlisle had thought he would never see again, there was a glow to the world that Carlisle couldn't remember there ever having been before.
An endless hope and possibility that, until now, he had never truly believed in.
Everything would be fine.
He knew that now.
Smiling at her, knowing she didn't have a single inkling of the mess that had just run through his head, he took her hands in his, "You know, I do think you're right."
She didn't flinch at the cold, but instead, tightening her hands around his and grinning, said, "Hey, and I might have thought of a name. What do you think about—"
Author's Note: Fin.
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