Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight :)

"I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way,

that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Life is about not knowing, having to change,

taking the moment and making the best of it,

without knowing what's going to happen next.

Delicious Ambiguity.

- Gilda Radner -

Fleeting Moments

That night I slept better than in ages. The talk with Carlisle hadn't just cleared the air but it had also cleared my thoughts, making me realize that maybe his sudden return wouldn't turn my world upside down.

Despite the shadow of threat hanging over my head, I tried to carry on with my days as usually, waking up early in the morning and swilling down way too much coffee before walking to the bookstore to get everything ready for another day. The momentary recession that had seemed to hit the store a few weeks ago disappeared little by little, and I was glad to notice that my days passed unnoticeably quickly with all the customers keeping me busy.

But with the customers also came the rush. While the days grew shorter, my working hours grew longer. Every night I was more than tired after spending the entire day constantly on my feet, and when I finally closed the store and walked through the park to my apartment, I just wanted to go to bed and fall asleep.

I saw Carlisle every now and then, but only briefly, mostly in the evenings when I got back home. We didn't talk much, only exchanged a few quick words - if even that. I was simply too tired for deeper conversations. But it was rather easy to notice that I wasn't the one who was being deliberately distant. Carlisle seemed withdrawn and remote compared to the night when we had talked in the park. I nearly thought I only imagined it, because it was so uncommon of him to be that way. But still, most of the times when I managed to catch a quick glimpse of him when I got home from work, he only nodded at me from a certain distance, that same seriousness in him than on that night when he had come to see me for the first time. And after that he usually disappeared, the place where he had stood only a second ago echoing his absence.

I figured he just wanted to give me time to get used to everything, just like during the first days after he had returned. I wanted to believe my own reassurances, but truthfully, I was beginning to wonder if something was wrong.

My peaceful dreams changed into restless nightmares, and instead of having a good night of sleep, I spent my nightly hours trying to run away from dark figures with red eyes.

Four or five days after our walk in the park, I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night. At first I didn't know why, but then I heard the sound of raindrops bombarding the window of my bedroom. It sounded more like a flood than an average rainfall. An image of Carlisle huddling somewhere under a tree appeared to me.

"That's it," I muttered and pushed myself up, deciding that the sulking had to end now.

The floor was cool under my feet as I stood up and began to search for a pair of socks. After finding them and pulling them on, I draped a black robe around me and padded my way through the quiet house.

The front door opened with a screech as I peeked outside. It was difficult to see because it was so dark. Only the lights of the street a few dozen yards away illuminated the dreary scenery. I began to clear my throat, wondering if I should just call out for him. I knew he'd hear despite the noise the rain was making.

The loud sound of raindrops rattling against the roof was the only thing I heard as I slipped my feet into a pair of sneakers, taking a step outside. I had to go back and fumble for the light switch, and after spending a moment or two to curse the energy saving lamp that lighted up so slowly, I took a step into the rain.

The small front yard bathed in the dim light, and I looked around me, a shiver rippling through my frame. It was freezing.

I didn't have to call out Carlisle's name. Nearly as soon as I had taken the first step on the wet pavement, he appeared from the shadows, the raindrops glistening on his pale skin and golden hair.

"Bella?" he said, sounding oddly alarmed. "Is something wrong? Why are you awake at this hour?"

Water trickled down his face and neck as he neared me. He stopped a few paces away from me, his brow slightly creased from worry. I noticed that his usually golden eyes were a shade or two darker. It made me wonder if he needed to hunt soon. Or maybe his eyes were always darker during the night, reacting to the lack of light. I'd have to ask him about that some day.

"Yes. Something is wrong," I stated, giving him a gaze that I hoped to be fierce. "And it's you. Standing out here in the rain. I can't stand it."

Carlisle frowned, shaking his head. "The rain doesn't bother me," he insisted.

"But it's cold."

"The cold doesn't bother me, either. My body temperature is so low."

My teeth began to chatter, causing Carlisle to take a step forward. He began to guide me back inside. I suppose he was afraid I'd get pneumonia or something.

I knew he was probably honest about the body temperature-thing, but it couldn't mean that it was too comfortable for him to stand all night long in the rain. He was just too stubborn to admit it.

"Wouldn't you come inside?" I asked as he led me to the door. "You'd be much more comfortable there. If you have to watch over me without a break, there's no reason why you couldn't do it from indoors."

Carlisle shook his head. "Don't worry about me, Bella," he answered and actually smiled. It was the first smile I had witnessed from him during the past five days.

I sighed, stepping over the doorstep into the warm air. "If you don't come inside for yourself, could you even consider doing it for me? I can't sleep when I know you're out here sulking and... moping around."

Carlisle quirked his brow. "I am not sulking," he disagreed.

"Right," I murmured, not really believing him. I wrapped the robe more tightly around me, casting a determined look at the man in front of me. "Look, either you come inside or we both spend the night in the rain. Is that what you want?"

Carlisle ran a hand through his wet hair. He sighed, giving me a look that was somewhat amused. I knew he was about to give up, and so I turned around and walked to the living room, switching on the lights as I went. After a second or two, I heard him stepping through the door and closing it behind him. He looked around him in the apartment as though he had stepped inside for the first time.

"You're very kind to ask me in, Bella," Carlisle said, "but it truly isn't necessary."

I ignored his words, making my way to the bedroom to grab a towel for him and for myself. My hair was almost completely wet even though I had been outside only for a couple of seconds.

"Sit down," I suggested as I got back, casually throwing the towel across the air toward him. Carlisle grabbed it effortlessly, glancing down at his wet clothing. He was completely drenched.

"I'd better not," he answered, probably worried that he'd ruin my furniture.

"Oh for crying out loud, Carlisle," I huffed. "It's just a couch."

I didn't know what made me so snappy. I guess it was because the past few days had been so busy and stressful, and that combined to the lack of sleep was just enough. I thought about the dark shadows with red eyes that kept haunting me in my dreams, and I realized that maybe I was more bothered by Alice's vision than I liked to admit.

Carlisle sat down wordlessly, patting the marble skin of his face with the towel. He casted a curious look at me, almost like waiting for more reproaches.

I sat down in the armchair close to him, sighing.

"I apologize if I've kept you up," Carlisle murmured softly. "It was not my intention."

"I know," I answered. "And it's not your fault." I peeked at him under my eyelashes, watching the dark circles under his eyes. "Is there any news?" I asked, deciding that the small talk was the best way to get rid of the tension that seemed to be present for some reason or another. The distance Carlisle had been keeping for the past days confused me.

"Not much," Carlisle answered, shaking his head. A sudden frown appeared to his face as he glanced at the floor for a short moment. "Alice and Jasper stopped by yesterday," he revealed.

I thought about the petite woman with raven black hair. A sudden feeling of longing filled me as I thought of her. Even though the time I had known her had been so short, Alice had been one of my closest friends. I had never had a sister, but during those short months in Forks, Alice had really felt like one.

Then I thought of Jasper. My last encounter with him had been less positive, but I realized I bore no ill feelings towards him. That incident on the night of my birthday had been unfortunate, and nothing more than that. Just unfortunate – it had been simply bad luck that I had cut my finger and caused that reaction in him, reaction that was only natural for their kind.

I felt a sting of guilt, realizing I had rarely considered how the incident might have affected him. Had he blamed himself for eveything that had happened? I didn't know.

"How are they?" I asked, tearing myself away from the memories.

Carlisle began to fiddle with the towel in his hand. "They are well," he answered, giving me a swift smile. But then he frowned again, a pondering expression coming to his face.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

Carlisle raised his brow, almost as though my words had surprised him. I suppose he was so deep in thought that he hadn't payed attention to his facial expressions.

"Everything is well, considering," he reassured. He wetted his lips, searching for words. "I only hoped that when Alice stopped by yesterday, she could have been able to tell me if something in her vision had changed," he explained. "But she wasn't able to do that."

"What do you mean?" I asked, beginning to dry my hair with the towel. "What did you expect to change? And why?"

He didn't meet my eyes at first. He stared at the wooden surface of the coffee table for a while before raising his gaze to meet my eyes. "We had hoped that the vision Alice had of you would change once we got here," he explained. "I hoped that by coming here to watch over you, we could get an instant confirmation about your safety. Alice has been observing your future ever since she had that vision of you, but so far it has stayed exactly the same."

"You mean that she still sees me after someone's attacked me?"

Carlisle tilted his head, looking like he wanted to shake his head instead of nodding. "Yes," he said. "I had hoped that perhaps only our presence here would have an effect on the future, causing the vision to disappear or change into something else."

"But it hasn't."

Carlisle shook his head. "No."

I pondered about it, shrugging. "There's no way to know which events will lead to the moment that takes place in the vision," I mused. "I suppose that makes it quite difficult for anyone to prevent it from happening." I frowned, beginning to fold the towel in my hands. "Can she tell when it's going to take place? Or where?"

Carlisle shook his head. "No. It troubles her – usually she can easily determine the time, but not now. She explained to me that something makes the vision clouded, almost like the moment is still very far away. Apparently there are too many variables on the way, preventing her from seeing clearly."

"Maybe it doesn't only seem that it's still far away in the future," I suggested. "Maybe it really is."

Carlisle declined his head. "It is a possibility," he admitted. On the outside he seemed calm as usual, but I had to wonder how frustrated he was on the inside.

"Which means that you're possibly going to have to be here for a very long time," I stated, watching his reaction. It vexed me that they had to go through all this trouble because of me. Of course they had all the time in the world – that was one of the pros in being a vampire, I guess – but what also troubled me was that by helping me, they also risked their own lives. It still wasn't certain whether or not there was a hostile vampire involved, but if there was...

Carlisle studied me with his golden brown eyes. There was nothing but sincere kindness in them. "Time doesn't matter to us," he murmured. "We don't care how long it takes, but we're going to ensure your safety. I promise you that."

And what happens after I'm safe?

Shaking the silent thought away, I gave Carlisle a small smile. "I appreciate it," I answered quietly. "But I can't help but worry. Not for my own safety, but for yours. What if there is a vampire involved? We've already gone through all that with James all those years ago. And it was fortunate that none of you got hurt at my expense."

Carlisle shook his head. "You have no reason to worry about us. And I have to remind you that even with James, in the end it was only you who got injured. You ended up with broken ribs and a broken leg, not to meantion the venomous bite. That is why I guarantee you that none of that will happen this time. We will make sure it won't."

His words were so heartfelt that I had no choice but to believe him. And I knew I would have known all that even if he hadn't said anything. My fingers sought the crescent-shaped mark on my inner wrist where the skin was always a bit cooler. A reminder of my past, something that had always linked me to the Cullens, to the life I once could have chosen. Or would have chosen, if that choice hadn't been taken away from me. If that choice had been only mine to make.

"I know all that," I murmured as an answer, wanting Carlisle to know that I trusted them. "But I hate that you have to put your lives at risk for me. It makes me kind of hope that Alice's vision is about me after getting hit by a bus or something." The joke was bad – I knew it before the words left my lips.

I raised my gaze to see Carlisle watching me with a cool expression on his face.

"Okay," I admitted. "Not funny."

Carlisle leaned his elbows to his knees, holding my gaze. "No, Bella," he agreed. "Not at all amusing."

I stayed silent for a while, letting the tension pass. I had to wonder what time it was – it didn't feel like night at all. Even though I should have been sleeping, I noticed I was completely alert.

"So," I said, clearing my throat and deciding to change the subject. "If Jasper and Alice are here – well, not in Buffalo but nearby – does it mean that the rest of your family will arrive as well?"

Carlisle crossed his fingers, staying silent for a moment. "I'm not entirely sure about their location, to be honest," he confessed, surprising me rather efficiently. I quirked my brow at him, wondering how he couldn't know something like that. The Cullens had always been so … united, I guess, and it baffled me to hear that they had gone on their own ways for some reason or another.

Carlisle began to explain, apparently not wanting me to end up with wrong conclusions.

"Emmett and Rosalie are assisting Edward with something," he said. He suddenly seemed to battle with himself whether or not to continue. "They are attempting to find out what Victoria has been up to during these past years. Where her current location is and so on." His tone was a little too casual as he spoke, and it didn't cause the desired reaction in me.

"They are after her?" I asked, my voice slightly high-pitched. "But..."

"Not after her, per se," Carlisle reassured, gesturing with his hand in a calming manner. "It's not what you think. They are only gathering information and nothing else. They are trying to find out about her recent activities in order to know whether or not she has something to do with Alice's vision."

I let out a breath, but otherwise found it impossible to relax. "What if they find her and discover that she's involved with this? What if they'll try to – "

Carlisle shook his head, giving me a reassuring smile. "They'll inform the rest of us before taking any measures," he assured. "They won't act ill-advisedly." He gazed around the room, looking so calm that I had no choice but to have trust in his words.

"Have you heard from them?" I still had to ask.

Carlisle nodded. "They are in contact with Jasper and Alice from time to time. By now it's starting to seem unlikely they'll manage to find Victoria after all these years. Alice hasn't been able to see much of her future. To be honest, I'm beginning to wonder if she's even on this continent any longer."

I didn't know if he only said it to set my mind at ease. His expression revealed nothing – he was either a very good actor or then he was being honest.

I took a deep breath, trying not to get all flustered about everything. The Cullens seemed to have everything under control, and I honestly couldn't understand why I kept worrying about them constantly. Did it mean I didn't have trust in them? I frowned, gazing at Carlisle who had reached out for the pile of books sitting on my coffee table. He began to study them, curiosity in his golden amber eyes.

I knew the answer to my own question. It wasn't about trusting them, because I did. I just couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to them because of me. Before that incident on the night of my birthday, the Cullens had always been so wonderful to me. Rosalie might have been the only one who'd had difficulties to accept me, but otherwise I had gotten along with them very well. Better than I had gotten along with anyone else, including humans. It was ironic.

Especially Esme had always been so supportive. In her presence it had been so easy to forget that I was spending my time with a group of deathly predators. There had always been something very human about Esme, about the way she interacted with everyone. I suppose it was her human past that caused that certain softness and delicacy in her nature...


I frowned, casting a confused glance at Carlisle. Why hadn't he said anything about Esme's whereabouts? Didn't it bother him to be separated from his wife? Or had he asked her to stay wherever the Cullens had lived before Alice'd had her vision, wanting to keep her safe?

Carlisle sensed my stare, raising his gaze from the backcover of the book he was studying. I should have known the books would catch his interest sooner or later. If my memory served, passion for reading was something we both shared.

"It's seems like an interesting novel," he noted, lowering the book back on the table. "Have you read it?"

I shook my head distractedly, frowning again. "Um, not yet. Can I ask you something?"

He quirked his brow, linking his fingers again. "Certainly."

"Where is Esme?" I asked, deciding to be straightforward. "She didn't go with Rosalie and Emmett, did she?" Worry filled me at the thought.

A guarded expression came over Carlisle's face. "No," he answered. "Esme is elsewhere."

Silence fell in the room. I tried to read Carlisle's expression as he gazed at the coffee table in front of him. The look in his eyes was mostly pensive, but also a little wistful. I had to wonder what caused it, especially while speaking about Esme.

I cleared my throat quietly. "Is everything all right?" I decided to ask, even though I didn't wish to pry. But something in his expression compelled me to ask. The look in his eyes confused me.

Carlisle seemed to wake up from his ponderings. "Of course," he answered, giving me a quick smile.

Lifting my feet from the floor, I bent my legs underneath me. I leaned my elbow to the arm of the chair, resting my chin on my palm. "Does it bother her to be separated from you such a long time?" I asked. "You've already been here for two weeks."

A smile that was more or less rueful began to curve Carlisle's lips. His voice was gentle as he spoke, but the earlier wistfulness returned. His every word exuded it.

"Esme will be fine," he stated quietly. "My absence won't trouble her. Try not to concern yourself with it, Bella."

A frown made its way to my face. There was something conflicting about the way Carlisle acted. The gentle tone of his voice, the smile on his lips that was a little sorrowful... I couldn't understand what was going on with him.

Confused words were playing on my tongue, but before I could form them, my eyes caught the movement of Carlisle's hands as he crossed his fingers again. Almost by accident, my gaze landed on his left hand.

Empty. The ring finger of his left hand was empty.

I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I was so confused and even shocked that for a moment I couldn't utter a word.

Carlisle noticed my stare and the way my eyes were fixed upon the finger where the silver ring had once been. He met my gaze as I finally looked at him. I struggled to form words - I struggled to form thoughts.

"What's happened?" I asked, having lost all the discretion. "Where's your ring?"

Carlisle offered me a small smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "It's a long story," he murmured, a quiet sigh leaving his lips.

I waited in silence, too dumbstruck to say or ask anything else. And I didn't even know if he wanted talk about it in more detal. I was sure that the subject must be unpleasant for him.

I thought about Esme and Carlisle, the unbreakable bond they had shared. The thought of them suddenly not being together was simply impossible to understand. And I had to ask myself: if their love hadn't lasted, what would?

Carlisle observed me as the range of emotions passed on my face. He didn't seem uncomfortable or unwilling to talk about it as I had expected. I was actually quite surprised to see how openly he seemed to relate to the matter.

"I can understand your confusion," he stated softly.

I nodded, fumbling for words. "Yeah," I murmured. "It's difficult to comprehend. I mean... I'm sorry," I eventually stuttered, having no idea what to say.

Carlisle's smile was soft. "Don't be, Bella," he answered. "It happened a long time ago. I've made my peace with it. We both have."

I kept staring at him, unable to understand how he could take it so calmly. The word neither or us had said out loud was too common to describe all this. The word divorce – it sounded so ordinary and even plain in my ears. It had no way to define whatever had happened between them. Define the ending of something that was supposed to be constant. Everlasting.

Carlisle's demeanor was calm and serene, but I couldn't help but remember that odd seriousness I had sensed in him a couple of times. Now I had an explanation for it, for that quiet sorrow that passed in his eyes every now and then. And how could he not be sorrowful – after spending several decades with someone, after loving that person year after year, decade after decade, it was impossible not to mourn the loss of it.

"It's... I can't wrap my mind around this," I heard myself mumbling. "I'm sorry," I said again.

Carlisle's smile was sympathetic. "I once was as well," he said softly. "But the feeling left me a long time ago. And not everything has changed between Esme and me. Some things have, but not those that really matter."

I frowned. "What do you mean?"

Carlisle gazed around the room, his eyes landing on the row of photographs on the table under the window. "I mean that Esme and I are on good terms. And we always were – that particular thing never changed."

Now I was really confused. I couldn't understand how that worked. How could you experience the ending of a relationship with someone and be on good terms with that person the entire time? I though about me and Adrian. Even though we were good friends now, it didn't mean that the end of our relationship had passed without any negative feelings.

Carlisle sensed my confusion. I guess it wasn't that hard not to since I was still frowning profusely, trying to wrap my mind around everything he had told me.

"Perhaps I should start from the beginning," he suggested.

I hesitated, not wanting to force him to talk about it if he didn't want to. But Carlisle seemed approach the subject very openly, not seeming at all reluctant to tell me more. I knew I couldn't have been able to relate to the matter so effortlessly.

"About six years ago, we lived in Alaska for a short period time," Carlisle began to explain. "We have friends there, a coven similar to ours. Did Edward ever mention the Denalis?"

I pondered, shaking my head. "The name is familiar, but that's about it." I shrugged, wondering how many things I had forgotten along the years.

Carlisle nodded. "They are our close allies. Or family, more likely. They share our view when it comes to protecting humans and refraining from our natural diet."

I raised my brow, surprised to hear that there was another family of vampires out there who fed on animals instead of humans.

"In any case," Carlisle continued, leaning against the back of the couch, "Esme and I traveled there after receiving a request to aid them with something. I contacted Edward, and Rosalie and Emmett as well. They were somewhere in Russia at the time. Had I been able to reach Jasper and Alice, the situation that awaited us in Alaska possibly wouldn't have surpised us that much." He gave a dry laugh. There was little joy in the sound. "Alice could have been able to warn us, perhaps."

"Where were Alice and Jasper?" I asked.

"Traveling around Africa," Carlisle answered. I had a sudden image of Jasper dangling from a liana somewhere in the depths of a rainforest.

"I don't know if Alice already knew about the unexpected situation that awaited us," Carlisle continued. "She probably did, but she was unable to communicate with us at the time."

"What was the unexpected situation?" I asked cautiously.

Carlisle drew in a breath, leaning his elbows to his knees. "On a hunting trip, the Denalis had encountered a nomad vampire somewhere in the mountains. He was rather uncivilized – untamed – even though he wasn't that young."

"Young?" I asked. "You mean, like a child?"

Carlisle shook his head. "No. I mean that he wasn't a newborn – a vampire at the very beginning of his new life. The thirst is at its worst during the first months, even to the point that it is nearly uncontrollable."

"But the nomad wasn't like that," I stated, making sure I had understood correctly. "A newborn."

"He wasn't," Carlisle confirmed. "But even so, he was having difficulties to control himself." He fell silent for a while, staring at the wall across the room and evidently reliving those moments that had taken place six years ago. "An untamed vampire like him could have been dangerous," he explained quietly. "For us and the Denalis, but above all, for humans."

"What happened to him?"

Carlisle met my gaze, giving me a reassuring smile. "The Denalis had a reason to believe that even though this nomad had been living his life without an ounce of control over himself, he hadn't been doing it out of evilness. He just hadn't known that there was an option to the way he had been living."

"That's why the Denalis asked for your help?" I guessed. "To teach the nomad about other ways to live?"

Carlisle nodded. "When dealing with a vampire who is more or less erratic, it's always safer for all concerned when there are enough other vampires present to control the situation. Even though the nomad was eager to learn and grateful for our help, there were a couple of times when the situation could have ended very badly. Luckily Jasper and Alice arrived to help us after some time. Jasper's ability to control moods proved to be helpful, not to mention Alice's visions. "

I nodded, trying to picture everything in my mind, only to realize that it was pretty difficult. I didn't know anything about teaching vampires about self-control. It was a pretty challenging thing to imagine.

"Did he learn eventually?" I had to ask.

"Yes," Carlisle answered. "It was mostly because of his own determination. He had never wanted to harm people – it was just something he had gotten used to doing. He was very relieved to learn that there was another way to live, and his positive attitude towards the matter made the task a lot easier. It took over a year, almost two, but eventually his self-control began to improve. He's still unsure about himself around humans, afraid that he might harm them. But he's come a long way, I have to admit."

In my ears the story seemed to have a happy ending, but I still had a feeling it wasn't completely over yet. And I still didn't know what it had to do with Carlisle and Esme and their decision to go on their own ways.

Carlisle reached out for one of the books on the table, but I noticed he didn't focus to look at it more closely.

"Did the nomad decide to stay with the Denalis?" I ventured to ask after Carlisle had been silent for a while.

He raised his gaze, but his eyes were fixed upon something over my shoulder. "For a short moment," he answered, speaking slowly. "But eventually something compelled him to leave. Because it wasn't the Denalis he was destined to spend his life with."

I frowned. "What do you mean?"

Carlisle met my gaze, wetting his lips before continuing. His voice was quiet. Strong, but very quiet. "I mean Esme," he stated softly.

It took a while for me to understand what he had said. And a while more until I managed to put everything together. But it still didn't turn out more understandable. I played over his words again, trying hard to comprehend what he was trying to say.

My head began to hurt. I didn't know if it was because it was the middle of the night and I was supposed to be sleeping, or was it because I was sitting in my living room with a nearly four-hundred-year old vampire who just told me that his wife had ditched him because of another man.

"Oh," I heard myself murmuring.

Carlisle waited patiently, observing my expressions as his words sunk in.

"But..." I shook my head, unable to understand. I had never thought that Esme could do such a thing – to Carlisle of all people. When I had last seen them, they had been happy and very much in love, even after all that time they had been together. I had always thought that time couldn't affect the Cullens the way it affected other people. That love between them was something that didn't fade as the years passed by. That it only got stronger with time. Not weaker.

That's what I had thought.

A mental image of Esme, a frail memory blurred by years, rose to my mind. I remembered those few times when I had seen her interacting with Carlisle, and I couldn't doubt the fact that they had shared something rare. Something most people never managed to find. How was it possible that something like that had changed?

I knew sometimes you were a slave for you own heart. You didn't choose the person you fell in love with – it was something that couldn't be decided rationally. Because love wasn't rational. But still, the thought of Esme falling in love with another man seemed almost inconceivable. What baffled me even more was the way Carlisle seemed to take it. He might have already dealt with it and moved on – that's what he had said. That he wasn't sorry about the things that had happened.

But still... Could anyone ever go through something like that and survive unscathed?

I met Carlisle's eyes; he was still watching me.

"I'm curious of your thoughts," he stated with a soft voice. "You look like you are shaken to the core."

I cleared my throat, biting my lip. "I guess I am," I stated, shrugging. "I don't understand how Esme..." I paused, shaking my head. I didn't want to sound judgemental, but at the same time I wondered how else to react.

"What you have to understand, Bella," Carlisle began quietly, "is that Esme never had any intention to cause me sorrow. She was equally helpless in the situation as I was. As anybody else would've been."

I frowned. "What do you mean?"

There was patience in Carlisle's golden amber eyes; kindness. I couldn't understand where he got that.

"These things sometimes happen among vampires," he explained. "Some live through centuries, even milleniums without experiencing it. But those who are fortunate enough to encounter it... Well, it's needless to say that they should feel extremely blessed for finding it."

"Finding what?" I asked, not sure I understood. "Love?"

A curious expression came over Carlisle's face. "In a sense," he answered, searching for words. "I'd say it's something more complex than love. Not that I am willing to understate love and the meaning of it," he added, rubbing his chin with his fingers in a pondering manner. "But what happened between Esme and that nomad wasn't just love. In that instant when they saw each other... there was just something that passed between them, something the rest of us may have witnessed but only Esme and Miguel truly felt. Experienced."

"Miguel?" I asked, realizing it was the first time Carlisle spoke the nomad's name.

He nodded.

"I'm still a little lost," I confessed, mulling over his words. "What is this thing, exactly? Why does it happen between vampires? And why is it more complex than love?"

Carlisle's shoulders rose to a shrug. "Nature works in mysterious ways," he mused. "Even with our kind."

"So," I paused, straightening my form in the chair and trying to improve the blood circulation in my feet. I had been sitting down for too long. "So basically what happens is that you see this certain person and just instantly fall in love?"

"In a sense," Carlisle answered, hesitating. "I've been told that you feel this indescribable pull towards that person who is your mate. And I've also been told that the feeling is difficult to describe with words – that you have to experience it to know. But I suppose you could say that in that moment when you meet your mate, an instant bond – or a union – is formed."

"And that's what's happened between Esme and that Miguel guy," I stated, causing Carlisle to nod.

"Yes," he answered softly.

"And it's not like... voluntary in any way?" I asked. "This mate-thing...It's sounds cruel that your entire fate is decided during one fleeting moment."

A small smile tugged at the corner of Carlisle's lips. "I suppose life can be that way sometimes," he murmured. "Those things that happen in that one short moment can sometimes seem like cruelties. But they can also be blessings. It depends on how you are looking at it."

His words were wise, and I found myself admiring the way he saw the world. Even after everything that had happened.

"So you're not at all resentful?" I asked. "About everything that happened?"

Carlisle shook his head. "No," he answered. "Of course I was sorrowful, at first," he admitted. "And I felt like I lost a vital part of my life, of my very essence, to someone else. But I could never resent Esme because of what happened. She was choiceless in that situation. And she felt guilty about it – for a very long time. But when I earlier said that nothing has truly changed between us, I was being honest. The love between her and me hasn't gone anywhere. It has simply changed into something else; friendship."

I nodded in silence, not sure what to say. I still felt a little off balance, trying to absorb everything he had told me.

"So this mating bond-thing happens only between vampires?" I asked.

Carlisle nodded. "Yes," he answered. "Those stories among humans that tell about soulmates aren't completely unfounded, I suppose."

"Soulmates," I muttered, nearly scoffing. "And here I thought those things happen only in books."

A small smile made its way to Carlisle's lips. The twinkle in his eyes was almost playful. "Do you not believe in soulmates, Bella?"

"I believe when I see it," I stated, giving him a wry smile.

It was silent again. Only the sound of raindrops pattering against the window was heard. I looked at the darkness outside, covering my mouth with my hand as a yawn escaped my lips.

Carlisle glanced his watch, nearly grimacing. "I've kept you up way too long," he apologized, rising up from the couch.

"Don't worry about it," I brushed it off, also getting up and dropping the moist towel in my hands on the coffee table.

Carlisle made a move towards the door, apparently intending to go back outside into the rain.

"Why wouldn't you stay?" I suggested, gesturing towards the window. "It's still raining out there. You don't have to go back outside."

"I don't wish to disturb you any more than I have," he answered, running a hand through his moist hair. "And you're wonderful to ask me to stay, but - "

"You're not disturbing me," I insisted, cutting him off. "But of course if it makes you uncomfortable to stay..." I challenged him and fell silent, quirking an eyebrow at him.

A small laugh left Carlisle's lips. "Of course it doesn't," he stated.

"Then stay," I insisted.

Carlisle seemed to run out of excuses. He gave me a consenting smile, nodding his head.

I was just about to bid him goodnight and go to my bedroom when an idea popped into my head. I gestured for him to follow me, suddenly knowing how he could make his hours pass more quickly.

Carlisle followed me after a short moment of hesitation, a confused expression on his face.

"I don't want you to die of boredom or anything," I said dryly, leading him past my bedroom to the end of the short hallway. Opening the wooden door ahead of me, I revealed him the room that was possibly the dearest place to me inside this house.

The room wasn't huge, but it was bigger than my bedroom. All the four walls were covered with shelves, and every corner and available space was filled with books. There was a small couch resting in the middle of the room, a rectangular wooden coffee table situated in front of it.

"It's my library," I told Carlisle, turning to see his reaction. "I know it's a little tiny, but..."

Carlisle was gazing around the room, a small smile playing on his lips. "I should have known you have one," he murmured almost as if to himself, ignoring my latter sentence. He didn't seem to think little of my collection of books, even though I knew he probably had twenty times more himself.

"Knock yourself out," I smiled at him, turning to leave. "I'm sure you've read most of them during you long life, but maybe you'll find a few you haven't seen yet. Like one or two, maybe."

Carlisle smiled at my jest. "I'm sure there is something I find intriguing." His eyes were already scanning the amount of books, a look on his face that was very familiar to me. It was the look of enchantment, one that only books could induce in certain persons.

"This is wonderful," he turned to say before I left. "Thank you, Bella."

"Think nothing of it," I answered, turning to leave. A pleased smile played on my lips as I made my way to my bedroom, crawling under the covers. I suddenly wondered what I'd have said if a month ago someone had told me that there'd soon be a vampire wandering around in my tiny library. I probably would have laughed and not believed it.

To be honest, I still had trouble believing it.

The enticing aroma of coffee drifted into my nostrils, gently arousing me from sleep. My eyelids were heavy and it took a while until I managed to open them. Suppressing a tired groan, I pushed myself up from the bed. Only the strong smell of coffee made me do that – without it I probably would have just thrown my alarm clock out of the window and continued my slumber.

As tempting as the smell of fresh coffee was, I teetered my way into the bathroom first, rushing through the shower. After putting on my clothes and trying to solve the tangles in my hair, I made my way to the small kitchen that was attached to the living room.

The golden-haired deity was standing in front of the window with his back towards me. When I arrived, he turned to give me a small smile.

"Good morning," he greeted.

I mumbled something incoherent back at him. Apparently even the shower hadn't managed to wake me up properly.

Carlisle gave me a confused smile, gesturing towards the coffee maker. "I took the liberty to make you some coffee," he stated, taking a step closer to the counter to pour me a cup. "It seems my effort wasn't entirely pointless."

I wondered how tired I looked. Our little chit-chat last night was really taking its toll.

"Thank you," I sighed, accepting the coffee he offered. I could have hugged him because he had bothered to make it, but I chose not to. It'd be inappropriate. "It was sweet of you."

Carlisle didn't respond, only gave me a small smile.

I sat down at the small table under the window, nursing my coffee and looking outside. It was still dark.

"The rain stopped," I noted, still not able to say anything more constructive.

Carlisle was leaning casually against the kitchen counter, his arms crossed over his chest. "Yes," he answered. "Approximately around five." He searched me with his gaze, an apologetic expression coming over his face. "You seem tired. It was foolish of me to keep you awake last night."

I shook my head, brushing off his apologies. "It's fine. It was nice to talk."

He nodded, hesitantly pulling himself a chair opposite of me. A small frown furrowed his brow as he sat down. "You've seemed to be more tired that usually," he noted cautiously. "Not just this morning, but during the past days as well."

I quirked my brow at him, wondering how closely he had been observing me. It was difficult to know since I had barely caught a glimpse of him in several days.

"I've just been busy," I answered honestly. "With the bookstore and everything."

Carlise nodded. "Yes, I've seen you going there. For some reason I wasn't that surprised when I heard that you work in a bookstore," he stated, giving me a small smile.

"Actually," I sipped another mouthful of coffee, enjoying the strong aroma. "I'm not just working there. I own that bookstore."

Carlisle couldn't hide his surprise. His eyebrows nearly hit his hairline, but then a warm smile began to curve his lips. "That is wonderful, Bella," he said, seeming genuinely happy to hear it. "I wasn't aware."

I shrugged, giving him a smile. "Neither was I when I first came to Buffalo. I had never even fathomed the idea of owning a bookstore. It was something that had never come to my mind. It was a bit crazy to buy it after the previous owner retired, but I haven't regretted it one bit."

He smiled, a glimmer in his eyes I couldn't quite decipher. "How long have you owned it?" he asked.

"A little over a year," I answered. "But I had already worked there for a long time before buying it. So becoming the owner wasn't really a jump into something unknown."

"How is everything going?"

I shrugged again, giving him a small smile. "Okay," I answered. "The money is sometimes tight, especially when it's really quiet and the customers are scarce. But luckily it never lasts too long. I'll always manage, somehow."

I drank the rest of the coffee, rising up from the chair to pour myself another cup. Carlisle was one step ahead of me, standing up from his chair to reach out for the pot. I thanked him quietly as he refilled my cup. As I sat down again, I gave him a curious look.

"You know," I stated casually, "for someone who doesn't drink coffee at all, you're pretty good at making it."

Carlisle gave a small laugh, also sitting back down. "One tends to learn a thing or two over the long deades." He turned his gaze at the window, looking outside into the darkness. The warm smile on his lips began to fade slowly, a pondering frown appearing to his face. I wondered where that sudden change of mood came from.

"Is everything okay?" I asked.

Carlisle gave me a surprised glance, the expression on his face smoothening. "Everything is well," he answered. "I was only contemplating the situation." He was silent for a moment, turning to meet my questioning gaze. "Alice called last night," he revealed.

I quirked my brow. "Did she have any news?"

Carlisle shook his head. "Not much. Edward, Rosalie and Emmett still haven't found a sign of Victoria. They are beginning to consider whether or not they should continue the search."

"So it's beginning to seem unlikely that she's got something to do with this," I stated.

Carlisle nodded, hesitating. "We can't be sure about anything, but perhaps it's time we begin to consider other possibilities."

Frowning at my coffee cup, I wondered if there was anyone else who would go through all the trouble just to get rid of me. It seemed unlikely that even Victoria would suddenly want to do it after all these years.

"What are these other possibilities?" I asked, still wondering why I wasn't scared out of my mind. If some bloodthirsty vampire was planning to end my life in one way or another, logically I should have been a little more worried than I was. Maybe I just didn't know how to fear anymore – I had to admit that it was a dangerous quality considering how accident-prone I was.

I glanced at the clock, cussing quietly before Carlisle managed to answer my question. I knew I probably shouldn't have worried about being late from work since there were more urgent matters to be discussed, but Carlisle gave me an understanding glance, promising to tell me more about it later.

"Although, I don't have much to tell," he admitted, a frustrated expression passing on his face. "For weeks we've been trying to find out more about the situation, but we aren't much wiser than when we began. All we can do is make assumptions."

I went to my bedroom, grabbing my coat and a couple of papers I needed today, and then made my way back to the living room. I pondered Carlisle's words, thinking that there had to be something mysterious about everything if even the Cullens had difficulties to make heads or tails of it.

"Maybe things will sort themselves out," I said, trying to stay positive and not worry about it too much. "They have a tendency to do that."

"That is true," Carlisle admitted with a smile, but he didn't sound too confident. He began to make his way to the door as I put out the lights and switched off the coffee maker.

"I'll walk you to the store," he offered as we stepped outside and I locked the door behind me. The day was slowly dawning, but it was still a little dark. I had to admit it felt nice to have someone walking with me. It was only then when I realized how lonely I got sometimes. Loneliness had never bothered me that much, and I had gotten used to it very quickly after Adrian had moved out. But now I had to admit that Carlisle's company was welcome.

The cold wind permeated my clothing as we walked through the silent park towards the busy streets. Though it was still early, I saw a few people milling around the streets, some of them carrying steaming cups of coffee.

"I was wondering," I began, breaking the comfortable silence, "if you've been constantly keeping an eye on me even during the daytime and seen me going into that bookstore, how come you've never come inside?" I gazed at him as I walked, watching his reaction.

He met my gaze, his shoulders rising to a small shrug.

"I considered it," he admitted. "But I didn't wish to disturb you. I saw how busy you were."

I gave a small and maybe even a little relieved laugh. "I already began to think you're avoiding me or something," I confessed.

Carlisle raised his brow. "Why would you think of such a thing?" he asked, evidently confused.

I shrugged. "For the past few days you've just seemed like you want to keep your distance."

A small frown furrowed his brow. We walked a couple of steps in silence before he answered. "I suppose I have," he admitted eventually. "But only because I had no wish to be of disturbance. I can ensure your safety and watch over you from distance without interfering your everyday life. I feel that it is enough of interference that I had to let you know of my presence."

I tried to read his tone, trying to find out if he said what he did for my benefit or his own. Did he want to keep his distance so that once this whole situation was over, it'd be easier for me to go on with my life like nothing had happened? Or did he say that so they could go on like nothing had happened? It was almost like he was drawing a line, stating that all this was just about keeping me safe and nothing else. Maybe it was.

Or was he giving me the chance to draw the line, allowing me to decide where it should be?

I knew I couldn't draw it. Not right away, at least. And it was silly, because I had known this topic would come up sooner or later – I knew I should already know how I felt about everything.

Trying to solve my thoughts, I eventually decided to speak my mind. Honesty was the best policy. Wasn't it?

"I'm still trying to grasp at the fact that you're back," I confessed, searching Carlisle's eyes. "And I'm still going through all that stuff you told me in the park a few days ago. About the real reason why you left Forks, and... everything. It's not easy to instantly change the way you think about something if you've believed everything to be entirely otherwise for several years."

Carlisle nodded. "I understand." He gazed down at the pavement so I couldn't see his expression.

"I still may be confused about everything," I continued, causing him to glance at me again. "But I know that I have nothing against you being here. I'm just not sure how you feel about it. I don't know if you're apologizing for your presence because you aren't sure how I feel about you being here, or are you regretting the fact that you have to be here. And it makes this even more confusing." I paused, looking into Carlisle's darkening amber eyes. "And if you feel like you want to watch over me from distance and not interact with me... that's fine. This doesn't have to be about anything more than that if you don't want to."

I took a deep breath, beginning to run out of air.

Carlisle listened to my outburst without a word. He ran a hand over his face, an apologetic expression coming over his face. We reached the bookstore, stopping in front of the display window near the door.

"I did not mean for my words to sound that way," he murmured. "I've been keeping distance only because I feel guilty about causing this interference in your life. Not because I've tried to avoid your company." He paused, holding my gaze for a moment. Then he glanced at the small building that was my bookstore, gesturing with his hand towards it. "I look at the life you've built for youself, Bella. And I cannot help but admire it – admire you. But I also fear that by our presence, we will ruin everything you've worked so hard for." He turned to look at me again, searching my eyes.

I took a step closer, on an impulse reaching out to take a hold of his cold hand. "You came here to warn me about danger. You didn't come here to ruin the life I've made for myself, but to preserve it. You came here to make sure I was safe. Am I right?"

Carlisle didn't say anything. He stood still for a moment or two, eventually nodding wordlessly.

"Guilt is a useless feeling," I continued. "And needless, especially when it comes to this matter. So don't waste your energy on it." I tightened my hand around his, only then realizing that I was actually holding it. Letting the smooth surface of his skin slip from my grasp, I took a step backwards. Because holding his hand was inappropriate. Wasn't it?

Carlisle smiled softly, nodding at my words again. "Thank you, Bella," he said quietly.

I gazed at the display window of the store to avoid his intense gaze. I didn't know why I felt the need to to do that. Looking into his eyes suddenly felt too intimate - too inapproriate - just like holding his hand had been.

My eyes landed on the row of books I had arranged behind the window several days ago. Destined, it read on one cover. For what? I wondered to myself.

Shaking my head to get rid of the thought, I began to search my pockets for the keys. I turned around to go to the door, unlocking it and giving Carlisle a questioning glance.

"Stop by in here whenever you feel like it," I suggested. "It must be boring to sit out here all day long. Wherever it is you hide all the time."

He gave a soft laugh. "I will," he promised.

I gave him a swift smile, stepping inside and turning to glance at him one more time.

But the place where Carlisle had stood was empty. I searched the streets with my gaze, watching the groups of people strolling around the sidewalk on their way to work or to school. But the man with pale skin and fair, swept-back hair was nowhere to be seen.

I closed the door behind me with a smile. And as inappropriate as it was, I suddenly remembered the feel of his cool hand in my own.