"He'll be back," Edward said confidently.
Edward had been back for an hour now.
Bella wondered what he was doing here.
So far, he'd only ever shown up when she was breaking her promise to him to stay safe. It was the reason why she started fixing the motorcycles with Jake and she'd searched so hard for the meadow. It was the only way she might see him.
Edward didn't show up simply to hang out.
Yet, that was exactly what he was doing now.
He was sitting opposite her, perfect as always, though a small frown marred his brow. It was the expression he always wore when he was so concerned he couldn't even manage a pleasant facade.
"Soon," he promised as she looked at him, his voice filled with a confidence he didn't seem to feel. As far as figments of her imagination could feel anything, that was.
Bella didn't even doubt it, doubt would mean she thought there was a chance Carlisle might come back.
"Do you have a plan B?"
"We don't need one," Edward assured her.
Bella sighed. "Alright," she said. Edward would see soon enough that she was right, so there was no point in arguing.
At least it had stopped raining.
She wondered how long she would have to wait for death.
"He'll be back," Edward insisted yet again.
Bella couldn't help sighing even louder, "Edward, even I don't think he's coming back. We both know you're not real, so stop saying things I know aren't true."
Edward huffed, as if Bella was the one being difficult. "You'll see," he said, and with that, he seemed to be done talking.
The sky grew darker, and Bella started shivering. It really was cold out here.
Wherever "here" even was. She hadn't really been paying attention, desperately trying to hobble after Edward, but she didn't recognize anything out here. Bella wasn't an avid hiker, but she and Edward had been all over these woods for months.
And there was still no sign of any search parties.
She huddled up into an even tinier ball, and tried to will herself to be less cold.
There was a loud thump on the grass next to her, the sound of something falling.
Bella's eyes snapped open, and there, just inches away from her face, was a dirty, wet, and disgusting jacket. If you could even really call it a jacket. It looked like it served the function of one, but it was this awkward length, a little too long to cut off at someone's waist but a little too short to reach their knees. It also looked vaguely like a poncho or a cloak, too loose and not form fitting at all. Even the buttons were strange, they were large and brass, unlike any she had ever seen before.
And it was in terrible condition. Whatever color it used to be, it was now a stained, greyish brown, with the seams torn in several places and mud, grass, and other, unidentifiable substances rubbed into the fabric to the point where it would never be clean again.
And was that dried blood on the sleeve?
It was what Carlisle had been wearing, she realized.
He was taking Renfest way too seriously.
"Told you!" Edward told her smugly, although his smile looked a little strained as he took in the torn and ruined mess his father had been wearing.
"Um," Bella said out loud. She wanted to thank Carlisle, she should, but this was just weird. Did he really hate her so much that he couldn't even bear to get her out of the woods? Throwing a jacket that he had clearly put a lot of work into was nice and all, but he could also just take her home.
Still, Bella didn't want to burn whatever spindly toothpick bridge she had left with the guy.
"Thank you, Carlisle," she called out, knowing he would hear. Unless he was out of range already. "This is great," she said, holding up the jacket.
"Alright, then," she muttered, and put it on.
It was awful, the very feeling of it on her skin made her shudder, but it did weirdly smell like him. It wasn't that familiar Edward smell, not exactly, but it was something distinctly vampire that overpowered whatever mud or grime had sunk into the thing.
"It would be nice if you came and talked to me," she called, feeling like she was trying to lure in a rare animal. "I'm not asking for anything, just… it would be nice."
She didn't even care about being rescued, she just wanted to see his face again.
She wanted desperately to ask if the others were here somewhere. She could feel the questions burning on her tongue. Was Esme with him? Was Alice here? Was-was he here?
That they hadn't made an appearance so far seemed like damning evidence, that one of them hadn't sent the search party her way even more so, but-
They could all be hiding, playing dead in the woods wearing period piece costumes, he could still be out here somewhere.
"Please," she added weakly. Her voice quivered, and she had to swallow back the tears suddenly burning in her eyes.
Well, he'd heard her now, either he was coming or he wasn't.
"He is coming," Edward helpfully piped in.
For the first time since he'd appeared in her life, this desperate memory of Edward, she wanted to smack him.
The jacket was warm, at least, so that was something.
She curled up again and spread it over herself, making it a blanket, and closed her eyes.
She must have fallen asleep, because when she opened her eyes again, it was pitch black. A black she'd never seen before, she couldn't see the forest only a few feet in front of her.
Up above, the stars shone more clearly than she could ever have imagined, more like a NASA star chart than something she should be able to see with her bare eyes. Was this what Edward saw every night with his vampire eyesight?
She sat up, intending to look more closely at the night sky, but just as she did something warm, wet, and heavy hit her right in her face. It hit her with such force that she was actually thrown backwards with her head smacking against the ground.
"Beg your pardon!" she heard Carlisle yell in the distance.
Bella tried to look at the thing he'd hit her with. Easier said than done, it was so dark she couldn't see a thing. Holding it up against the night sky, she could only guess at its shape.
It smelled like steak, she realized.
Not beef, exactly, but definitely not chicken or pork either. If she had to go based on smell (and god this was weird) then she'd say it was probably of the red meat variety.
Had Carlisle Cullen really just thrown a slab of steak at her face? Again, this felt more like something Emmett would do. She was now distantly surprised that Emmett had never actually done this before.
He'd sounded sincere, too. Weird, but sincere.
Edward came up next to her. Somehow she could still see him clear as day. One of the perks of him being a hallucination, she supposed.
He looked even more confused than she was.
She looked at the slab of meat again.
She was hungry, she supposed…
And she didn't hate steak. He could have thrown her trail mix or maybe a protein bar or something, but, she guessed this was better than nothing.
Still, eating steak, just steak, that Carlisle Cullen had thrown at her, with her bare, unwashed fingers in the middle of the night, in the middle of the woods, was… not something she would ordinarily do.
She didn't exactly want to be rude and ask why he hadn't just carried her to town or brought Charlie and the search party over, but it was starting to get really hard not to ask.
At first she'd assumed he was just leaving her to die, but he seemed to be putting in some amount of effort into keeping her alive.
She supposed it made sense. Carlisle was all about preserving human life, so even if he disliked her, it did make sense that he didn't want her to outright die either. Except, she felt like there were easier and faster ways to do that. If he wanted her out of his hair, wouldn't he have just directed the search party here?
And then there was the weird apology. He could have just said sorry.
Maybe she'd misheard him, but she didn't think she had.
Eventually she shrugged, and bit into the steak. As expected, it was tough going. For one thing, he'd gotten as close as he could to burning it without actually charring it, and it was what Bella would call very very well done. This would be hard to cut through even if she had a steak knife, with just her teeth, she was pretty sure she looked like a rabid dog chewing at a toy bone.
Then there was the absence of any spices. Not even salt. It tasted like whatever animal it had once been. Which, even biting into it, wasn't immediately recognizable as anything other than "maybe beef".
This was a steak cooked by the likes of Charlie Swan, who had never even heard of a spice rack and thought enchiladas were exotic.
It was the worst steak Bella had ever had.
She knew vampires, traditionally, couldn't cook. Esme seemed to have made it an avid hobby, and was always delighted when Bella sampled her latest and greatest creation. However, as far as she knew, the other Cullens didn't bother with it.
Still, Carlisle had always seemed so competent, the kind of person who could probably build a spaceship in his garage if he wanted to. She'd expected he'd at least know basic cooking.
Or maybe this was another Renfair thing. Maybe he'd been walking around with medieval steak on hand just to appear more human. Maybe uncooked potatoes would be next.
She chewed silently as Edward stared at her. He had that look in his eyes from when he was trying very hard not to look disgusted, though she'd usually seen it directed at Mike Newton.
Eventually, after what felt like at least half an hour of chewing, chewing, and chewing, she was done. Thank god.
"Thanks," she said, in case Carlisle was still listening.
"And it's fine that you threw it in my face," she added. She'd just sat up, after all. It had probably been a mistake on his end.
Even if Edward now hated her, she imagined he'd be mortified if he hit her in the face with a slab of meat. She couldn't imagine gentle, doctor, Carlisle feeling any differently. And he had said sorry, sort of.
"Totally get it, you're talking to Miss Clumsy here," she continued, hoping to put him at ease. She felt a bit silly talking to empty air, but, either he was listening and she wasn't talking to empty air, or he wasn't and no one would ever know.
She fell asleep again soon after that.
She woke up as the sun rose.
Well, it wasn't quite the sun, as it was still over cast. But the sky was bright again, so she figured the sun was out there somewhere. Typical spring day in Forks.
She had been lost now for nearly an entire day. Charlie would be out of his goddamn mind.
At least Edward was still there. He somehow looked even more beautiful than he had the day before in the misty morning light. It lit up his face and his hair like the light was coming from within him, even as it refracted off his crystal skin.
And the real Edward, she knew, would somehow be even more beautiful than this.
The hole in her chest burned, but she couldn't take her eyes off him.
Dimly, Bella began to realize just why Edward was here and why he'd stayed with her so long. It was because this time, there was no need to give her any warning. This time, Bella wasn't getting out alive.
"I'm going to die, aren't I," Bella said. It wasn't a question.
He shook his head, a soft, gentle motion as if he didn't want to scare her.
"No," he said, his voice a whisper on the wind. As if her survival was a certainty, as sure as the sun behind the clouds.
She looked down at her ankle, even more of a swollen mess than it had been the day before. Bella had been in enough accidents to know that she'd twisted it very badly.
"I don't believe you," she said quietly.
Edward just smiled at her. "You'll see," he told her, sounding almost amused.
It was a shame that the figment of her imagination would die along with her, because Bella would quite have liked to see him eat his words. Of course, if she died she wouldn't be there to see him eat them, but it was the principle of the matter.
She supposed the real Edward was out there somewhere, living his new life, in his new fake high school, no longer distracted by trifles like human girls, and she should take some comfort in that.
Something landed in the grass next to her.
It was large, green, and heavy. Bella frowned at it, and picked it up.
It was another steak, this time wrapped in a big leaf.
She was starting to wonder if Carlisle had lost it.
But then, he was nearly four hundred years old, and lugged his father's old crucifix around the world. Perhaps some eccentricity was to be expected. Maybe it was just Esme that kept him in line and acting at all normal.
Praise be to Esme.
Shaking her head, she raised the leaf-covered steak above her head in a salute. "Thanks, Carlisle," she yelled. Then she unwrapped it, and started eating.
It tasted exactly like last time.
She wondered if he was taking requests.
But, she didn't want to push her luck. If he hadn't brought her back to town yet, then it seemed she should be grateful he was chucking meat at her.
Shortly after Bella had finished that steak, a new problem made its unwanted appearance.
She needed to pee.
On any other day, in any other situation where she wasn't alone in a clearing having Carlisle Cullen throwing clothes and steaks at her, the problem would have been the absence of bathrooms. It was still a problem, very much so, Bella was not an outdoorsy person and prided herself on her refusal to become a savage within hours of leaving civilization.
That, and with Edward right here, she didn't even have to imagine the look on his face if she tried.
Now, however, she was cold, her ankle was more swollen than ever, and the treeline was several hobbles away. Not to mention, while Carlisle was out of sight, she might not be out of sight for him. It'd be just her luck if she happened to hobble right where he was hiding and dropped her pants.
And now she could never unsee that: Bella Swan dropping her pants to pee in the woods right in front of Edward's vampire dad.
This could never, ever, happen. She would honestly rather be eaten by Charlie's giant bears.
"I'm going to have a human moment!" she yelled in warning.
Then, painstakingly, she pulled herself up, and hobbled towards the nearest trees. Her breath hitched with pain each time her foot came down and she put weight on it, and she squeezed her eyes tightly to keep from crying. It didn't get easier, either, with each step her ankle only got more painful.
Edward, thankfully, stayed where he was, sitting in the clearing, looking impossibly beautiful.
When she had finally made it to the treeline, she nearly fainted from the effort. She collapsed next to a big birch tree, gasping for air.
A few minutes later, the ugly deed was done, and Bella could only hope the search party would come soon. She was wet, she was cold, she was wearing a disgusting, muddy jacket, and she had just embraced her inner Grizzly Man.
Charlie would be proud, not of her getting lost in the woods again within four months, of course. But Bella embracing nature, yeah, he'd be all over that. Not that she would ever tell him, but he would have been if she did.
With a sigh she looked back the way she came. Maybe she could just sit here. But no, better to be in the clearing where she was more visible. And Edward was waiting for her. Probably, she hoped to god he hadn't vanished into thin air again. Regardless, he hadn't followed her over here which meant he was more likely to still be over there.
Back to the clearing it was, then.
She got up again and hobbled pitifully back, collapsing in a miserable pile in what was quickly becoming Bella's new home. She wasn't sure she could call it even that, given it was just grass, but, well, she'd been here for a day now.
She stared up at the sky: a dull overcast gray. Typical, really, a common early spring day in Forks. It rarely got sunny until summer, and even then, you were lucky if you got a crystal clear day. God, she may have gotten more used to Forks, but she hated the weather.
Time passed. She started to feel drowsy again.
She wondered if the search party had given up.
It felt too soon, it hadn't even been a full day yet, and she felt like they normally spent at least a few days searching for people before they gave up. Hikers got lost in Forks sometimes, didn't they normally look for a week?
Still, the fact that she hadn't heard anything yet, nothing besides Carlisle, felt like a very bad sign. Maybe Carlisle told them he found her body at the bottom of a cliff or something. Maybe she was such a nuisance to Edward, that it was just easier if they left her in the woods to die.
Probably tied up a few loose ends.
Maybe that was why Carlisle was here, to make sure Bella stayed out of Edward's life for good. Although that didn't explain the gritty Renfest look or the steaks.
Maybe he was waiting for the bears to get her, and didn't want her to die hungry or bored.
That was nice, she guessed.
She wondered where she was.
Had Laurent carried her somewhere and then dumped her? That would explain why no one had found her yet, he could have covered a lot of ground. That didn't quite feel like it could be it, she'd have felt him holding her and the wind on her face, but it was the only thing that came to mind. Maybe he had some kind of power he'd kept from them that displaced people, but that didn't make a lot of sense either. He could have just killed her or, hell, picked her up and thrown her as far away into the wilderness as he could.
Eventually, the sky started getting darker again.
When a voice rang out over the clearing, it was like a bell had struck. She jumped and sat up, she had gotten so used to the sounds of nature and distant animals.
"How do you know me?"
Bella looked around, trying to locate Carlisle.
Finally, she spotted him.
He was high up in one of the trees, balanced precariously on one of the narrow branches nearly at the top, in one of those physics defying moves only a vampire could pull off.
He looked as rough as he had the day before, if not more so. He'd obviously lost his jacket, thrown it down to her. His shirt, if it could even be called a shirt, was this loose grayish-brown thing that had probably once been a more pleasant color, and was in the same terrible condition as the jacket. His pants were distinctly darker in coloring, going to just below his knees. He had no stockings, allowing a glimpse of bright white skin, and his leather boots had definitely seen better days.
That was to say nothing of the look on his face.
She'd gotten so used to his gentle, kind demeanor that it had seemed as much a part of his face as his nose. Imagining any other expression on his face would have been like imagining Jacob wearing tweed, only even more ridiculous.
No, Carlisle was looking at her with suspicion. There seemed to be curiosity in there as well, and maybe a dash of fear, but for the most part he looked like he had a particularly low opinion of everything Bella Swan represented.
It was in painful contrast to how she remembered him.
She wondered if Esme had had a similar change of heart. If Alice had. That would certainly explain why she wasn't answering any of her emails.
He… he had looked at her like that when he first met her. He'd done it again when he left.
She should be upset with him, she had every reason to be, she was lost in the woods and in pain and all he'd done to help was throw steaks and jackets at her, and now he was looking at her like she'd-how had Mike put it? Murdered his puppy.
But even now, despite everything, she was still glad to see him.
So her face lit up the brightest smile she'd had since before he left.
"Told you he'd be back," Edward told her smugly as he vanished.
And then Carlisle's words caught up with her.
And he'd said it so weirdly too, like he was doing some sort of accent she couldn't identify.
"How do I know you?" she repeated dumbly. She made sure to annunciate the 'h' in how that he had for some reason decided to drop.
Carlisle's lips thinned. "Yes. I'm certain we never met." He rolled each of the r's deliberately, not like they did in Spanish class (which Bella had never mastered), but something disturbingly close to it.
She raised her eyebrows.
He was definitely doing an accent. Just… It sounded like he was one of those ten-year-olds who was convinced he could fake a Scottish accent brilliantly but in reality sounded like an idiot.
At her dubious expression he added, "Carlisle is no common English name and I have never been mistaken for another."
Now he was mispronouncing his own name. She also caught maybe half of that.
"Well, Carlisle," she said, trying to exaggerate the 'r' like he had but failing, Bella had always sucked at rolling her r's in Spanish. She'd always done better writing and reading than speaking.
"I don't know why you're doing this, but honestly, I just want to go home. So, if you could drop the Renfest for a second," she gestured with a vague hand towards his… well, his everything. He looked down on himself, looking very confused. "And get me back to my dad then that would be great."
Carlisle stared at her.
"Beg your pardon?" he asked, looking dreadfully confused, "Might you rip ate that?"
It took her a second to realize that rip ate was supposed to be repeat. This was not funny at all.
"Get me home, Carlisle," she sighed.
He nodded slowly, clearly thinking hard. "Where do you hail from?"
"Are you serious?" she asked dully.
He looked very serious.
"What, are you not allowed to break character until the DVD commentary is done?" Bella couldn't help but ask.
Carlisle just looked at her with utter stupefaction, like she was the one who'd been throwing steaks and doing Renfest all day.
A few hours ago, she would have been nicer, a few hours ago she was overjoyed to see Carlisle Cullen in the flesh and would never have talked to him this way. Hell, Bella would never have talked to Rosalie this way.
But something inside Bella was fraying apart and she just couldn't hold it in anymore.
"You know, I respect you, I like you, I think you're great. But this, whatever this is, throwing steaks and jackets at me when Charlie is looking for me, he must be worried sick, and all you want to do is stand around in trees doing a bad accent!" Her voice had risen by the end there.
She tried to calm herself back down. It wouldn't do for her to scare away the only person who could help. Even if that help was limited to projectile steaks.
"Could you at least get down here?" she asked, craning her neck up to continue looking at him, "It's exhausting talking to a tree." She was glad his hearing at least meant she wouldn't have to yell.
Although at this point she supposed she should be grateful he wasn't pretending to have human hearing on top of everything else.
Carlisle actually pressed back in the tree, looking frightened, like she'd threatened to bite him, "No."
"'tis not vase," he added, a look of terror and discomfort spreading across his face.
His lips curled, and he struck his hand in front of his mouth, making an odd, moaning sound. His eyes squeezed shut, and then he was gone.
Just like that.
"Carlisle?" she tried.
Oh god, she didn't think she'd actually scare him off.
Also, vase? Well, not vase, he'd said it more like vaze if that was even a word. Maybe he'd meant vice. Or maybe ways? Wise? That one would make more sense. Had he forgotten how 'w' worked? Had he forgotten how English worked?
Why was he acting like this?
"Carlisle!" she tried again, trying to get up on her feet only to fall back with a pained yelp as she'd forgotten about her ankle.
"I didn't mean it," she yelled, even though she knew, she just knew that he wasn't listening.
No one was.
"He'll be back," Edward said next to her, suddenly there again. He didn't look as sure as he sounded, though, a small frown crossing his face as he looked at the branch Carlisle had just vacated.
Bella just shook her head.
At this point, she could only hope he'd keep throwing her steaks.
A/N: For reference, neither of us are linguists but we have done our best with online resources to try and make Carlisle's gibberish as historically accurate as possible. We won't bore you with the details, suffice to say that we're taking this more seriously than we should.
Go big or go home.
To Bella, Carlisle now sounds like a cross between a drunk Scotsman and a ten-year-old insisting they can do a Cockney accent the way all ten-year-olds insist they can do a Cockney accent. He drops his h's, rolls his r's, pronounces the '-ed' in 'enclosed', generally pronounces things more like the way they're spelled, and plenty of other fun stuff.
To Carlisle, Bella sounds like a cross between a drunken sailor and a woman who speaks in tongues.
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.