This is for all those who read my two-shot, "True Mate", and requested a longer story about what might have happened if it had actually been Carlisle who came back in his car to check on Bella in New Moon, not Alice.
" I still search for you in crowds,
in empty fields and soaring clouds.
In city lights and passing cars,
on winding roads and wishing stars."
~ Lang Leav, Lullabies
CHAPTER ONE: HEART'S RETURN
For the first time in forever, Edward Cullen was completely absent from my thoughts.
My heart was beating weirdly in my chest. My breathing was fast and shallow. My proximity to Jacob and his heat, our closeness, our near kiss... it was so heady...
I closed my eyes. Happiness, of some form, washed over me.
My eyes snapped open. The deep, aching hollow inside of me slowly returned, pouring that cold, familiar darkness back into my bones, until the hole was fully and brutally carved back into the centre of my heart once again.
Somehow... this just wasn't right. It could never be right. I pulled away, and went to open the vehicle door. I had been so stupid, thinking this would go some way to filling that emptiness, that void he... they... had left.
Jacob reached across me with sudden ferocity and forced the door shut, causing me to visibly jump.
"Wait!" he cried, and the strange urgency in his voice gave me pause; the questioning rebuke that formed in my throat rose and then died.
"What is it?" I asked, absorbing his alert state, heart hammering again.
"Vampire," was his stony response. My heart rate went up another notch.
"How do you know?"
"I can smell them," he all but snarled. I looked around frantically... looking for red. Where was Victoria? Would she be upon us any second?
Only darkness. Silhouettes of cars, houses. Stillness. Silence.
Slowly, my eyes fell not upon danger, but something very familiar. I blinked, focused.
Something comforting. Impossible. But... so very real. My breath hitched.
"That... that's Carlisle's car..." I breathed incredulously. How could this be? Yet, it was.
My mind whirled, gripped with the irony of it... I had finally experienced a fleeting glimpse of hope, those first moments of absence of him from my thoughts... wondering if perhaps it was possible for me to one day be free of them... but now my senses were flooded with him, again. With them. With all of them.
"Bella..." Jake warned, but I was already halfway out of the car.
"It's okay Jake, they won't hurt me."
"What if it's a trap?" he cried, frustration brewing in his tone. His muscles tensed as he exited the car and rounded it to face me.
"It's okay, I know it is..." I insisted, though I of course couldn't be sure that it was.
"If a Cullen is here, then this is their territory. I can't defend you on their land," he protested, begging me with his eyes to stop and think about this.
But I couldn't stop to think. The only thought that filled my mind was that at least one of them was here. Right now. In my house.
"Jake, please. It's alright," I said gently, pushing away his hands that were suddenly somehow gripping me. "They won't hurt me."
Reluctantly, he let me go. Returned to the car, growling out his frustration. I turned, and all but ran up the steps to the door. For a fraction of a second, I paused before opening it, breathing a shaky breath.
Who would I find inside? Carlisle? It was his car... but it could be any one of them who had driven it here. Alice? She would be the most likely. Had she had a vision? Was there some development with Edward, or Victoria? Had she somehow, finally, read my emails?
Who did I want it to be? My mind filled for a brief moment with Edward's face, but then the vision inexplicably faded to blond hair and a blue shirt...
I blinked in surprise. Shook the image away. Pushed open the unlocked door. Stepped into the darkness...
I stood inside for what seemed an eternity, before moving further inside, slowly. I should have reached for a light switch, but my body wouldn't let me. Part of me was terrified of seeing Victoria's face illuminated before me, and the other part of me was terrified of seeing no one at all.
In the moments my thumping heart and racing mind were taking to calm down, a breath ghosted across the back of my neck.
I started so hard I almost fell back into him. Cold, strong arms surrounded me, keeping my body upright, and I span to look into the eyes that I knew would match that beautiful, calming voice.
Blue shirt, honey gold eyes, vanilla, spices. Compassion, calm...
"Carlisle," I breathed, eyes wide in wonder. My heart almost exploded with joy, I was so happy to see one of them, any of them, here again, proving to me that they were real, and hadn't been a figment of my imagination. Little more than a split second passed before I flung myself against him, throwing my arms around him and letting out a breathy sob into his chest.
"You're really here," I managed to choke out, as I felt his body tense, hesitate for a moment, and then relax, as he brought his arms around me and held me close. So close. One of his hands rubbed across my back and then swept up to cradle my head, the other pressed tight against my spine.
Cold. Hard. Freezing marble embrace... I had missed this...
"Bella," he sighed into my hair. "You're alive..."
I pulled slowly away to look at him, my hands reluctantly sliding back from around his torso, but fisting the front of his shirt instead, unable to fully let go. He reached out to the side of us, flicking a switch to turn on the light. It lit him up in all his immortal glory, his kind and beautiful face gazing back at me with some kind of wonder in his gentle, golden eyes.
"Yeah...?" I replied, suddenly all my awkward self again. "Why wouldn't I be alive?"
"Because Alice had a vision of you jumping from a cliff," he breathed out, "And then she saw nothing beyond it. We thought..."
He trailed off, closing his eyes and swallowing thickly. "We thought you were dead, Bella."
The way he said those last words, it was as if his entire being were in anguish at the very contemplation of it. But there was too much racing through my brain for me to pay too much attention to that.
"Why Isabella?" he asked, softly and sadly. "Why would you try to kill yourself?"
His eyes... they were so sorrowful. Anguished. Realisation dawned at how it must have looked to Alice in her vision, and my eyes widened, and I shook my head violently, biting my lip.
"No... no! It wasn't like that. I... I was cliff diving. Into the water. For fun?" I trailed off momentarily as Carlisle looked at me like I had two heads. I vaguely had a recollection of Edward telling me that when Carlisle was first turned, he tried every way of killing himself, including jumping from cliffs... of course he would find this insane.
"Like the boys from the res do?" I attempted to explain. "It was... exciting... exhilarating! But... me being me... I kind of had an altercation with a wave, and it knocked me under. I think I hit my head against a rock... I guess I passed out and started to sink... but Jacob pulled me out, and revived me. I was fine... I am fine. Honestly. I'm sorry to have made you worry, and come all this way..."
Carlisle interrupted me with a snort of amusement. "Only you, Isabella," he murmured with a smile, shaking his head. A little of the hurt and worry slipped from his eyes, replaced momentarily by a flash of mirth, but then it was gone again. "Why on earth... why would you do something so reckless? Especially with your... history?"
I bit my lip again. Should I tell him? No, I couldn't... and yet when I looked into his eyes, I had an overwhelming and inexplicable urge to do just that. It was as if my soul connected with his and in that moment, I could not, could not ever, lie to him, or keep the truth from his ears.
"I... I wanted to see Edward," I mumbled, knowing full well how crazy I was sounding. "Something happened a while ago that was dangerous, and he appeared to me. I would... see him. He would talk to me. Like, he was there but not there. Like a vision, warning me. It only happened when I was doing something reckless, like he told me not to do. So I kept seeking out those moments... so I could..."
I trailed off, no idea if I was making any kind of sense. Carlisle had closed his eyes, his face pained.
"You sought them out so you could see Edward."
I swallowed. "Yes."
Edward. Gone. Seeking him out so desperately. Everywhere. Everywhere I looked. Memories. Pain. Visions. Clinging on. Forever looking. Gone.
"Because you missed him."
"Yes. I missed him... I missed you. I missed all of you. So much."
I breathed in a painful breath as he opened his eyes again, and hit mine with their pain. My head swam, my mind swamped with memories, all of the painful memories, all of the painful months. Tears pricked my eyes, and Carlisle's seemed to almost mimic mine, as though venom was starting to pool in them, along with his own pain.
"You disappeared," I faltered. "It was so... I couldn't... I just..."
I couldn't find the words, but I didn't need to. He knew. He gathered me up in his arms and hugged me close, whispering in my ear over and over.
"I'm sorry, Isabella. God, I am so, so sorry..."
Edward. Gone. Unwanted.
"It's not your fault, Carlisle, it never was..." I heard myself replying, as if offering him as much comfort as he was offering me. "You had to leave because people were suspicious of you... you did what you had to, and Edward didn't want me to come... didn't want me at all... I wasn't good for him, he was very clear about that. So why would you not leave me?"
Carlisle's head snapped up at that, and he stared deeply into my eyes for some time, searching for words. I gazed back at him, drowning again in my own misery.
"Isabella," he said at last. "I didn't... I had no idea. No idea that's what he said to you."
He shook his head, a flash of fury flickering briefly across his face. He took a moment or two to compose himself, before continuing.
"Edward did love you, Isabella... still does."
Damn, why does he have to keep calling me by my full name...
"He left because he thought he was protecting you. I'm guessing he thought that telling you those things would mean you wouldn't try to follow him... I am so sorry Isabella. I felt it wrong to leave, I should have fought him on it, I should have said no. I wanted to, but he insisted, and I thought..."
He trailed off, and he looked genuinely broken. "I was wrong. No, I was more than wrong, I was a fool. Isabella..."
Shit, why do I like him saying my full name so much?
"I did try to follow him," I heard my voice reply. "But I couldn't find him. I got lost in the woods. Laid down. So cold..."
His eyes widened and his arms were surrounding me again.
"My dad searched for me, they all did. Assembled a whole damn search party. Sam found me."
"Sam Uley. From the res. They're... Jake is... they're all..."
I felt Carlisle stiffen and sniff the air.
"What is that stench... like wet... dog?"
I smiled, despite myself.
"That's probably Jake."
Carlisle looked at me with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah... he is... Sam is... they are..."
He embraced me again, for I was shaking.
I started, not expecting to hear Jacob's voice in the room. He had silently entered behind us, and as I turned to look at him, I watched his face crumple into distaste and fury, as he drank in the sight of Carlisle's arms tight around me.
I broke away from his embrace, but my hands lingered on his arms, for I still could not seem to bring myself to remove his touch entirely.
"It's okay Jake," I warned, seeing the anger rising in him. "Alice had a vision of me jumping from the cliff. She saw nothing after it, and so they thought something bad had happened. Carlisle came back to..."
I faltered, as I realised the truth of it.
"You came back to see if I was alright?"
I finished off the sentence as a question, and an incredulous one at that. Had he really come back all this way, from wherever it was that they had gone, to make sure I was okay?
"I did. I had to know you were alright, Isabella." He smiled, and it lit up the entire room.
Jacob half cleared his throat, half scoffed. "Please," he muttered. "Like a bloodsucker ever really cared about anyone." His eyes roamed over the two of us, taking in the way I was gazing at Carlisle. He snarled.
"Bella may be taken in by your bloodsucker glamour," he spat at Carlisle. "But I'm not. I don't trust you. Not one bit."
Carlisle straightened, and for the first time I took in his full form. He was wearing what looked like a hastily pulled on jacket, crumpled over a dishevelled blue shirt, and his hair was mussed up, and his face looked tired and strained, even though he couldn't really be tired.
Christ, Bella, is all that angst in him because of you?
"I'm sorry for the distress my family has caused Isabella," he said quietly and calmly to Jacob. "And for the... difficulties that we have caused yours. I know it is the presence of our kind that... turns more of you."
Jacob scowled and looked away.
"I promise you, I mean Isabella no harm. I wish only to stay and ensure she is well, and to make some kind of amends for the distress my son has caused her."
Jacob snorted with derision.
"Please. You don't have to offer your formalities to me, Cullen. We all know he's not your son, anymore than any of the others are anything to you, other than people you once turned."
I felt Carlisle physically flinch at the words. I suddenly felt a wave of unbelievable protectiveness.
"You can go, Jake," I said forcefully. "Carlisle isn't going to hurt me. Please."
"They all hurt you, Bella! None of them are good for you. All of them left you, to the mercy of that redheaded bitch."
Carlisle's head shot up to look between me and Jacob.
"Victoria is here?" he pressed. I nodded.
"And Laurent... was. The wolves..."
"Did what you couldn't be bothered to stay around and do. Clear up the mess you started," he finished for me savagely. Carlisle looked down, pained.
"Alice didn't see any of this..." he muttered. "Why..."
"Cleared up your mess, protected her, kept her from falling apart. Where you abandoned her, I brought her back from the depth of despair! When she finally came back from that, I didn't leave her side. Unlike all of you," Jacob continued to rage, half to himself.
Realisation dawned on Carlisle as he took in his words. "She cannot see through the wolf pack," he breathed. "So long as you are with Isabella, Alice cannot see her present or her future."
"Good," Jake snorted. "Remind me to ensure we keep with her at all times, then!"
"Jake!" I cried, annoyed at his incessant hatred of them. "Please. Respect my wishes, and go. I am safe here with Carlisle."
Jacob went to rebuke me, but the words died on his lips and he thought the better of it, when he had taken in my steely glare. Muttering under his breath, he turned on his heel, pausing on his way out the door only to glance back and speak bitingly to Carlisle.
"Harm one hair on her, bloodsucker, and I'll tear you apart myself."
He stormed to the car and got in. We stood in silence until he had slammed the door, angrily revved the engine, and roared off into the night.
Eventually, I remembered to take a breath.
And then, it hit me fully. Carlisle was here, they cared about me, and I was back in their world in some form, and they were back in mine.
But in what capacity, and for how long?
I felt a shiver flood through me, and realised Carlisle had taken my hands in his. And in that moment, it hit me.
He was here. He was back. But though I knew not how, exactly, I knew that everything, absolutely everything, had somehow significantly changed.