To Carlisle's infinite, dumbfounded, shock, Esme agreed to it.
It was two weeks before Bella's wedding.
He, Edward, and Esme were sitting at the kitchen table. Edward had timed it for when Rosalie was conveniently out of the house. Well, perhaps convenient was a little harsh, these days Rosalie tended to give the house wide berth.
She'd made her opinion on Bella's upcoming marriage, her upcoming transition into becoming a vampire, quite clear.
Given Alice's extreme involvement in the wedding planning, there was no escaping it in any corner of the house. As a result, Rosalie had decided to spend the weeks between graduation and the wedding in one of their many cabins, Emmett gleefully escaping Alice's wedding warpath and keeping his wife happy by going with her.
Still, if Rosalie were here to hear this discussion, she'd probably slowly tear off their limbs one by one and roast them over an open fire. Rosalie, while she harbored very strong opinions and an unhealthy vindictive streak, was at least sane.
Still, with any luck, all of this would be over and done with, nothing having actually happened, by the time she came home. She might still rip Edward's arms off for his sheer nerve, but Carlisle thought he'd be able to talk her down.
In the meantime, he was a little too busy gaping at his wife.
"Esme, are you sure about this?" Carlisle asked, unable to help the look of horror on his face, "I promise, I won't do anything without your explicit consent."
(He wouldn't do anything even with her consent, but Edward didn't need to know that yet.)
Esme didn't look at him, was carefully observing the wood patterns in the table, but slowly nodded, "I know how important this is for both Bella and you, Edward. My marriage as a human was—well, I never had the kind of joyful intimate memories Bella is looking for. I think it's important she gets to experience that as a human. I think it's very thoughtful of you to think about what she and you both need like this. And if she can't with Edward then—"
"Esme," Carlisle said, placing his hand over hers, looking to her eyes and almost begging her, "You don't have to do this."
She looked up at him, offered that sweet smile he'd fallen in love with so long ago, "I don't mind, Carlisle. This isn't about us; this is about Bella and Edward. They've gone through so much already. Shouldn't something go their way?"
Carlisle wasn't sure Bella would agree with naked Carlisle popping out of a birthday cake in place of her fiancé being "something finally going her way". Edward, however, was grinning in relief over at Esme.
"Thank you so much Esme," he said, "You have no idea how much this means to us."
"Us?" Carlisle balked, "You've talked to Bella already?"
Carlisle would have thought it'd be obvious if he told Bella or not. Surely, there'd be some sort of fight over it. Or, oh god, maybe Bella accepted it as easily as Esme just had. Maybe Bella and Edward really were on the same page, somehow, and Carlisle was going to have to tell her, "So, I didn't actually intend to sleep with you. How about you enjoy my high-speed internet connection and browse for porn to your heart's content?"
… He was also going to have to avoid eye contact with Bella for the next three hundred years. There were things you just didn't want to know about your future daughter-in-law.
Edward looked away, probably would have flushed if he was human, and sullenly answered, "No, not yet, but she's made it very clear how much sex as a human means to her."
"Carlisle," Esme chided, turning her head to glare at him, "Edward just wants to make her happy."
"I know that—"
"He's waited nearly a hundred years to find love," Esme continued, "And don't say that you waited three-hundred—"
"You know how lonely it's been for him," Esme motioned to Edward sullenly looking down at the table, the personification of brooding loneliness, "You know it was almost like—like a miracle, when Bella came into his life. Bella shouldn't have any regrets walking into our lives. If this is the way to ensure it then I'm more than happy to give you away for a weekend."
A miracle, yes, it had seemed like a miracle, hadn't it? For almost a century Edward hadn't simply been alone but brooding, ill at ease, and frankly depressed. As their coven grew with more and more mated pairs, as the decades passed by, he became increasingly isolated.
He lost interest in everything. He grew contemptuous not only of mankind but of his own family. Even after so many years he still viewed Rosalie with disdain and Jasper with caution. Carlisle had watched him fade into himself and all Carlisle could picture was Marcus in Volterra, whose spirit had left his body long ago but was still condemned to remain in this world that had nothing to offer him.
Even when Edward had left him and Esme, when he'd struck out on his own determined to enact vigilante justice and take his payment in blood, he'd had so much more of a spark inside him than he did just two years ago.
Then, suddenly, Bella was there. Edward wasn't just alive again, he was happy. He was curious about the world around him, invested both in it and his own future, he played piano again, composed again—
For all that Edward had visited Volterra because of Bella, Carlisle wouldn't hesitate to say that Bella had saved his life.
But Esme was making it seem like this was a gift to Bella. As if this was repayment for all she had done for Edward and for their family.
Carlisle didn't think Bella was looking to be repaid. Nothing she had done, for any of them, was something she would think required gratitude. More, he didn't think she should be looking for repayment. Love, compassion, were not things you bartered and haggled over.
More, even if she was, was this what they imagined she was looking for?
"You agreed to do this, Carlisle," Edward pointed out, "Don't tell me you're having second thoughts."
"No, no," Carlisle quickly assured, "I said I would."
"If Esme, you, and Bella," he gave Edward a very pointed look at that last name, "Are in agreement I will—"
Perform? Do his best? Show up? Fuck her blind? How was one supposed to put that?
"I will do what is asked of me," he weakly finished.
Edward seemed satisfied enough. Not thrilled but satisfied. Then again, Carlisle liked to think that Edward would be put out if Carlisle was eager to have Bella in his bed. He hoped Edward would be put out if Carlisle had agreed with even the slightest enthusiasm.
It made him wonder just how Edward had expected this to be received. Clearly, he wasn't completely happy with the way things were going, had he expected Carlisle to be more understanding? Had he expected Carlisle's reservations to disappear?
Carlisle honestly didn't know. Weeks after Edward proposed this and Carlisle finally worked up the nerve to agree, and he still had no idea what he'd been thinking.
Except that he seemed to want to get married no matter the cost.
If Edward caught that last thought, he didn't show it. Instead, he seemed almost relieved that everything was coming together just as he hoped.
"Bella and I appreciate it," Edward said with a smile, and at Carlisle's dull look amended, "I appreciate it, but Bella will."
"Yes," Carlisle said distantly, "I'm sure she will."
"Well, so it's settled then," Edward said, lacing his hands together and grinning at both him and Esme, "Bella and you will spend our honeymoon on Isle Esme."
"Oh," Esme said in genuine delight, "She'll enjoy that."
"What?" Carlisle blurted, "No, no, not your honeymoon, Edward."
Edward and Esme turned as one to look at him. They were looking at him as if he'd just announced he was an alien and wished to speak with their leader.
"Edward, I will not stand in for you on your honeymoon," Carlisle insisted.
"Carlisle, that's what we agreed to," Edward said slowly, "Bella and I can't have a wedding night—"
"Yes, you can," Carlisle insisted, "Just not now. And that's fine, wait for your wedding night—"
"The wedding night's an important human tradition. The honeymoon, is an important human tradition," Edward said, ochre eyes flashing with growing anger, "It's a tradition Bella expects, one she deserves—"
"With her husband!" Carlisle interjected, throwing his hand down on the table and wincing as he cracked the wood.
He removed his hand, fighting the urge to curse, and started again, "I agreed to have—to have sexual relations with Bella Swan, if she wants it. I did not agree to do so on your honeymoon or your wedding night."
Edward's face grew livid, "Then what did you agree to?!"
"I agreed to give her a human experience," Carlisle stated, "An experience the pair of you have deemed absolutely vital, that you cannot provide her. But I won't—I won't take these important moments away from you. Edward, the wedding, the honeymoon, it's not just about sex. Go with her to Isle Esme and just spend a little time with her—"
"Edward, Carlisle," Esme hissed, looking between the pair of them, "Please!"
Edward paid her no mind, stood from his chair and shouted, "Then what's even the point of this?!"
"The point is to make your fiancé happy!"
Carlisle was standing now too, had moved out of his chair without even realizing it. He and Edward were nearly matched for height, though Edward would always be smaller and leaner than him.
Slowly, Carlisle sat back down and quietly said, "Before the wedding."
Edward sat down as well, cautiously, eyes on Carlisle as if waiting for a sign of attack.
"If Bella agrees, we do this before the wedding," Carlisle clarified, "If she's amenable, if it goes well, then we can discuss your wedding night and honeymoon. Does that sound fair to you?"
There was a second of tense, moody, silence. To a human it would have been nothing, the blink of an eye, to a vampire it was almost an eternity.
Finally, Edward nodded, "That's fair."
Fair, because he thought Bella would agree to all of this. If the trial run went well, then Bella could have the honeymoon and wedding night she'd dreamed of, just with the father instead of the son.
There was no hiding Carlisle's thoughts now.
He was emotionally exhausted in a way he hadn't been since—
No, Edward had been emotionally exhausting him for the past two years. Every other day there was some terrible crisis, a moment of helpless waiting and wondering if it could possibly all work out, and Carlisle just had to wonder if the merry-go-round ever stopped.
The last time he'd felt like this was that night Edward, Alice, and Bella had miraculously returned from Volterra. He'd thought it was over then, that the danger was passed, and then Bella had made them put it to a vote because Edward refused to turn her.
And Carlisle had looked at him and realized that he had to betray everything Edward believed in for the safety of Bella Swan, his family, and Edward himself.
He felt tired in a way he didn't know vampires could feel tired.
"Carlisle?" Esme asked carefully, as if he was fragile and just on the verge of shattering.
He sighed, "It's fine, I'm just—it's fine."
He looked over at Edward and forced himself to say it, "Edward, you do understand what's important in marriage, don't you?"
"Of course," Edward insisted, before asking with an almost relieved smile, "Is that what you're worried about?"
He motioned to Carlisle and Esme, "I may be inexperienced, but look how many role models I have."
That they had just finished a discussion where Esme gleefully pimped out her husband as a stud to her future daughter-in-law did not seem to occur to Edward. Truly, in this moment, he and Esme were the picture of a perfect couple.
"No, Carlisle," Edward assured him, "It's a little unconventional but we are a little unconventional. We're a family of animal drinking vampires, when have we ever done normal?"
"Sex isn't marriage," Edward continued with confidence, "You've taught me that. Bella and my relationship is stronger than a little physical intimacy. I can't do this for her personally, but I can help her have this experience, I can help her understand what's best about being human—"
Carlisle held up a hand, forcing himself to smile as he said, "You mean well."
That was the best he could offer.
He stood from the table once again, feeling as if fifty pounds had been added to his shoulders, "I'm glad we could discuss this so—easily. Edward, I trust you'll let me know the time and place."
"This weekend, of course," Edward said, standing from the table too swiftly, too eagerly, "If we're doing this before the wedding then we don't have much time left. Esme and I will ensure everyone's out hunting and you will have the house to yourself."
"Wonderful," Carlisle couldn't help but say.
Would they be doing it in Carlisle and Esme's marriage bed or in the bed Edward had so charitably purchased for Bella during the whole Victoria fiasco?
He nearly walked away before he stopped, turned, and looked at Edward, "And you will tell her beforehand, won't you?
"Yes, of course," Edward said, grinning ear to ear, "Thank you, again, Carlisle for doing this for us. Neither of us will regret it, I promise."
"And I won't regret it either," Esme said, standing from her own seat and patting Edward lovingly on the arm, looking every inch the proud mother.
Esme had always had a soft spot for Edward, their oldest and most troubled surrogate child, but Carlisle had never realized just how far Esme would go to console him before.
"I'd say it was no great trouble," Carlisle said slowly, "But you'd know I was lying."
Edward had the gall to laugh, Esme joined in with him, shyly giggling behind one hand. Yes, this was all something they were going to laugh about for years to come, wasn't it? They'd look back and say to each other, "Remember that time Carlisle agreed to sleep with Edward's wife?" And Bella and Carlisle would sheepishly look at each other, doing best not to remember a lost weekend in time, while Edward and Esme laughed just as they were doing now.
Suddenly, Carlisle wished he was human enough to drink.
"I need some fresh air," Carlisle heard himself saying.
He didn't wait for a response, instead he left Esme and Edward to their own devices and walked out of the kitchen then out of the house altogether. He imagined they'd spend the rest of the night discussing this, perhaps discussing exactly what Edward thought Bella was looking for or how to best arrange the house for this coming weekend.
This coming weekend, at once it felt too far away and far too soon. By this weekend this wouldn't be theoretical anymore, Bella would know, Bella would be brought into this ridiculous scheme and made to face the fact that—
That Edward seemed content to watch her life from a distance.
He'd said as much, once, hadn't he? That he would spend the rest of his life watching Bella Swan from the shadows. He'd watch her marry another man, have the children he couldn't provide her, and lead an ordinary human life without him.
Carlisle had thought, when Edward said this last fall, that it'd been out of despair. Bella had nearly died due to their carelessness, due to what they were, and Edward's own reaction had shocked him to the core.
Forcing Bella into a human life had been an act of utter desperation and despair.
Yet, here they were, and some part of Carlisle wondered if Edward would still be perfectly content to watch someone like Carlisle marry Bella in his place. As if he could live vicariously through Carlisle, appreciate Bella's happiness from a healthy safe distance, but never get close enough to touch it himself.
Some part of that was undoubtedly his self-hatred, still so strong after all this time, but there was something very odd about it. Even if Edward was concerned about the sex, even if he wanted Bella to remain human so badly, should he be picturing her future with him inside it?
"Carlisle," a cheerful, familiar, voice interrupted his thoughts.
Carlisle looked up to see Alice standing in the woods next to him, beaming up at him and looking for all the world like a faerie out of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
"Alice," he said with a fond smile, "I feel like I've barely seen you since you started planning the wedding."
Every other day Alice seemed out of the house, buying this or that decoration, meeting with this or that caterer, and when she was in the house she was seating and reseating the wedding guests, finding the perfect venue, and putting it all together.
It was good to see her out and about though.
Good to see someone who wasn't embroiled in this madness.
"Weddings don't plan themselves, Carlisle," Alice chided, "In fact, I am still very busy."
"At this time of night?" Carlisle asked, glancing at the full moon above their heads.
"Of course," Alice said, her bell like voice ringing like little door chimes, "Everything has to be perfect for the big day."
Perfect, right, somehow it was going to be perfect.
"Speaking of," Alice said, looping her arms into his and guiding him deeper into the forest, "There's something I need to talk to you about."
"Oh?" Carlisle asked.
He had no opinion on Bella's wedding. Carlisle had long since learned to stay out of Alice's way when it came to things like this. Hell, he'd given up on picking out his own damn clothes.
He couldn't think of anything he could personally add. Not unless Bella had a dying need for a centuries outdated Anglican priest.
"Don't," Alice said, "Bella's not very religious and if you get up and go full Carlisle Cullen, misplaced vampire priest, she'll just about die of embarrassment."
"Oh," Carlisle repeated, "Alright then."
"Not that you can't officiate," Alice said, "But if you do please keep the 'thous' and 'our hallowed lord and savior Jesus Christs' to a minimum."
"No, I needed to talk to you about something else," Alice said carefully.
She then gave Carlisle an assessing and rather knowing look, "You may not have noticed, but I've been pointedly absent in a few major decisions the past few weeks."
At first, he didn't understand what she meant, and then he came to a dead stop, staring into her ocher eyes as she stared back.
"If I talked to you too soon, before you or Esme said yes, it'd get—needlessly messy," Alice said carefully, "But now—"
"Now all that's left is Bella," Carlisle finished for her and Alice nodded.
Each waited for the other to speak first.
"Carlisle," Alice started, "I want you to listen to me very carefully and don't interrupt until I'm finished. Remember, Carlisle, that I see many futures and that, while I am fallible, I do my best to guide us towards the best possible futures."
She waited for Carlisle to interrupt, perhaps interject, but he didn't. When Alice had first arrived, he hadn't been sure how much faith to place in her visions but in time he'd learned that Alice's counsel was unwise to ignore. Sometimes, often, she kept knowledge to herself. Sometimes she manipulated events behind the scenes, however she always did so with the best future in mind.
To ignore her advice often led to disaster.
When they'd left Forks, left Bella, in the fall at Edward's urging they had each studiously ignored Alice's advice. She'd told them exactly what would happen to Bella when they disappeared, told them it would only lead to suffering.
For a moment, Carlisle had almost refused to leave, but then Esme had sided with Edward and—
Well, Carlisle had been reminded that one should always give Alice her say.
And he was curious as to what she'd say about this.
"Carlisle, you need to sleep with Bella, but you can't talk to her."
Carlisle felt as if a pit had just opened up beneath his feet and swallowed him whole.
Alice held up a hand, "No interrupting, remember?"
Carlisle closed his mouth, swallowing his words desperately, and pleading for Alice to continue and—and—somehow explain.
"I know that you want to talk to Bella about her and Edward," Alice continued, "I know that you mean well, that you're trying to do the best you can for both Edward and Bella. Don't."
She threw her hands out wide, "You're just going to screw everything up, everyone will be upset, and the coven may even fall apart over it."
"The coven will fall apart?!" Carlisle blurted.
"I can't go into details," Alice said, "Trust me, you don't want me to go into details. Just understand that trying to play counselor for Bella and Edward leads to disaster."
"Oh but sleeping with her won't?!" Carlisle asked, throwing his arms out as well.
"No," Alice said calmly, "It won't. In fact, now that Edward's steered our little ship into this rocky harbor, you have to sleep with her. If you don't sleep with Bella, she and Edward will completely fall apart."
"If I don't sleep with her, they fall apart," Carlisle parroted with a bitter, hysterical, laugh.
Alice held up her hands in defense, "Don't shoot the messenger."
Alice sighed, "I know it sounds—absurd, but trust me, if Edward and Bella don't end up together—"
She cut herself off, put her hands on her hips, and looked around them as she searched for inspiration, "Bella and Edward are the golden path. If they end up together, if they can make it, everything works out. If they can't make it, whether it's because you put ideas into Bella's head, because Edward kills her in the bedroom, or because Bella becomes bitter over empty promises then we're all in big trouble."
"Are you saying—" Carlisle cut himself off, tried to think how to put it, "Are you telling me I should lie to her?"
"No, not lie. Just, downplay it. If you pretend that it's not a big deal then—"
"Downplay it?" Carlisle asked, "Alice, I can't—She deserves to know. God, this girl, somebody has to make time to talk to her."
He started pacing, "How many times now have we left her out of the loop, pushed her to the side, or just waited for someone to talk to her for us? She's only nineteen, Alice, nineteen and recovering from a deep depression and clear abandonment issues. Edward is using everything he can to convince her to go through with something neither of them understands nor is ready for."
"They'll have time later, Carlisle," Alice interrupted, "They'll work it out, I promise, but now isn't the—"
"Then when is the time?" Carlisle asked, "We've all just been waiting for the right time, waiting for Edward to sit down and make time, and clearly we've missed the opportunity. I should have talked to Bella two years ago but now I have to make the most of the time we have."
Alice was shaking her head in horror, "Don't do it, Carlisle."
"If I don't do it who will?" Carlisle asked.
Alice didn't respond, couldn't, because he was sure that no one else would.
Esme cared too much for Edward's happiness to intervene like this. Rosalie had tried and failed to make Bella aware of her concerns and wouldn't bother trying now. Jasper was too skittish after Bella's accident. Emmett too at ease with Bella's future in the family. Alice—Alice would only do so if her visions dictated it.
Apparently, her visions dictated anything but talking to Bella.
"They'll figure it out," Alice said, "I promise, they either figure it out or—If you work with me, Carlisle, they can get through this."
He stopped in his tracks and looked up at the moon. Funny, wasn't it? The moon and the stars were exactly the same as they'd been three-hundred-fifty years ago. They'd be the same in another three-hundred-fifty years.
For all that time stood still for vampires, they changed more than the heavens did. There was immortal, and then the things that were truly immortal.
Once, Carlisle had been unbearably alone.
For many years he'd wandered without companionship. More, when he'd found culture and companionship among the Volturi, it had been with those who would never hold his beliefs.
How many times had Aro pressured him to drink human blood? He'd thought what Carlisle did was unnatural, unhealthy, that one of these days he would walk in on Carlisle's emaciated corpse. God, surely in creating the vampire, intended for him to drink without guilt from his natural food source.
And Carlisle couldn't begrudge the many vampires who failed to walk his path.
Because it wasn't simply unpleasant, it was a test of unimaginable endurance, but of loneliness as well. Sometimes, Carlisle wondered if there wasn't a layer in Hell named after him. If Hades hadn't created a punishment for some misbehaving mortal, something called Carlisle, in which the man had to eat dirt for eternity while tempted by a great feast. He could eat from the feast anytime he liked with no consequence. His friends would enjoy themselves over meat and wine, beckoning him over to join them. The test would be never-ending, and the banquet would never become less tempting.
Yet, Carlisle, in three-hundred-fifty years had never chosen the easy path.
Not once had he given into not just the thirst but the aching loneliness.
Carlisle had been a part of a like-minded coven for almost one-hundred years now. He'd watched them grow and come together, tried to help guide their path, and encourage them to see the world as he did.
He had a brother, son, and companion in Edward. He had a wife in Esme. A friend and confidante in Jasper. An advisor, fond nuisance, and cheerful spot of sunlight in Alice. A baleful yet compassionate daughter in Rosalie. A playful son in Emmett. Now, soon, he would have yet another daughter.
But nothing lasted forever, not even a coven, and Carlisle could not bend in the wind.
There were some things he simply could not do.
"Carlisle," Alice said in despair as his decision solidified and narrowed their possible futures.
"I'm sorry, Alice," Carlisle said, "But I have to talk to her."
Author's Note: Carlisle's surrounded by aliens, can't seem to compromise his morals, and Alice diehard ships Bella/Edward. Next up, despite being talked about nonstop for two chapters Bella finally shows up. I like to think that's very well done on my part as many of the issues stem from everyone talking about Bella but nobody talking to Bella.
Thanks for reading and reviewing. Reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilgiht