Bella was confused. Her heart ached with each beat, heavy with the weight of that night, three weeks ago, when she'd had that dream. And the events that had followed. She was only thankful Edward could not read her mind.
She was at home alone for once, since Edward and his family had left to hunt before the wedding. The wedding. The very thought made Bella shudder and not just because of her pessimistic view of marriage. How could she pledge herself to another, when her heart was torn in two? Grabbing her long brunette hair, she pulled at it, crying aloud in frustration. Why did this always have to happen to her ?
Bella sat bolt upright on her bed, brushing locks of hair from her face. She grabbed her jacket and walked out her room and downstairs. Charlie was still at work, thank God, so she could come and go as she wished. And right then, she needed to get out of the house. She ran to her truck, managing not to trip on the icy drive, and reversed quickly. She knew where she wanted to go, so she could think clearly for once.
The small town of Forks flashed past, as Bella cajoled her beaten up Chevy into doing over forty miles an hour. She slowed once she was past the Calawah river, past the turnoff to the Cullens' house, and into the wilderness. Edward had first brought her here, to tell her he was a vampire and show himself in the sunlight, and she hoped that there, in that misty woodland clearing she could find some clarity and see her way forward. She parked up and scrambled out, searching for the beginning of the path. Drawing her jacket closer around her to drive out the chill, she set off into the emerald canopy of the forest. Within seconds, Bella was already cursing beneath her breath. She had fallen twice within the space of five minutes, scraping her hand on the second. Gritting her teeth against the sting, she forged on through the clinging undergrowth.
"Carlisle?" Alice's sweet soprano voice trickled through Carlisle's fevered thoughts. They had been hunting and had separated into groups. He and Alice had just taken down a few elk.
"What is it, Alice?" he asked, jerking himself from his thoughts.
"It's Bella. She's gone off on her own, and I think you should go to her," Alice said solemnly.
"Alice…" Carlisle began, his eyes flicking to his favourite daughter uncertainly.
"Carlisle, I can't pretend I approve of what happened, but I know Bella and you are suffering. It's not your fault, but you need to sort this out, before Edward sees too much. I know you still love Esme, just as Bella still loves Edward, but you need to talk. You can't avoid each other for the rest of eternity," Alice interrupted him firmly. He nodded, and turned to run.
"Where is she?" he asked. Alice shrugged.
"Just follow your nose. I'll cover for you," she told him. Carlisle thanked her with a smile and began to run.
Bella finally made the clearing, the sun just managing to peek through a cloud bank, a single ray cutting through the canopy of green overhead, like a beam of gold. She remembered how Edward had stood in that beam of light, and shown his true self to her. How beautiful he had been.
"Oh Edward, I'm so sorry," she whimpered, a single tear beginning to trickle down her cheek. She had made a right mess of things, and now she could see no way forward. She wanted to die, she felt as though she deserved to die for betraying Edward. And yet she could not make herself regret the events of that night, nor the feelings that still rose every time she thought of Carlisle. She felt torn, and she didn't know what to do.
The tears welled up, as she crouched down and let the tears free, sobbing hard.
"Oh, Bella," his voice drove through the net of misery trapping Bella, as she lifted her head. Carlisle stood there, glittering in the very ray of sunlight that Edward had once stood in, looking like a Greek god. He was breathtaking. And the sight of him made her want him all the more.
"No, no just stay away from me," she warned, standing shakily and trying to back away. In true Bella fashion, she tripped, and would've have gone sprawling if Carlisle hadn't flitted forward and caught her. She was crushed against his chest, as she felt the breath leave her, her eyes on level with his chin. She gulped, as her eyes travelled upward over his inhumanly beautiful countenance to his eyes, sparkling ochre in the gloom.
"Belle, I….." he started, but she pushed him away.
"No, no. Carlisle, please just leave me alone." she begged him, as she turned and tried to run. She dodged between a tree she vaguely remembered, and found herself in a gap created by two massive, angular rocks, covered with emerald green moss. A second later, Carlisle was there, trapping her against the rock with his hands, pressing against the rock either side of her shoulders.
"Bella, you need to listen to me. We can't keep avoiding each other for the rest of eternity. We need to talk," Carlisle said, his sentences clipped and short. It was all he could do to keep his voice under control. Seeing her in so much pain was tearing him apart.
"That night shouldn't have happened," Bella whispered shakily, her eyes shut, so she didn't have to look at him. So she didn't have to tempt her shaky self-control.
"No it should not have done. But it did, and we need to deal with the consequences of that. We can't keep ignoring this," he said patiently. Bella could barely breathe, pressed as she was between his chest and the rock face. Her breath stuttered at the feel of his cool, sweet breath against her face, setting the nerve endings alive.
"Oh why did you have to be so wonderful," she sighed, her tears squeezing out from beneath her eyelids.
"Bella, look at me. Bella….look," he commanded gently, tilting her chin up. Bella reluctantly opened her eyes and looked into his golden ones, and felt such longing wash over her. "Oh, Isabella,"
Carlisle pulled her forward into his arms, holding her as she cried in his embrace, holding him close desperately.
"Why did you? I envy Edward his good luck at finding someone so amazing," he sighed against her brunette waves. She looked up with a tear-stained face, confusion in her warm eyes.
"But y-you love Esme," she choked out, still fighting down the sobs.
"Yes. Yes I do, but I can't help loving you too."
Bella shut her eyes. "Please don't say that."
"Why not, when it is the truth?" Carlisle asked, as she wriggled from his grasp. He pinned her against the rock again, leaning closer. Her fists curled on his lapel.
"Don't make this anymore difficult than it already is," she begged him, her eyes still shut.
"Isabella, I love you. With every particle of my being. I can't help it, I can't fight it although I've tried. Do you love me?" he asked her gently, yet ruthlessly. He needed to know.
"Yes….yes I love you. I love you so badly it feels like a physical pain when you're not there, the way it does with Edward. I can't eat, or sleep, or think without your image popping into my head. I can't live without you," she replied eventually, her words emerging in a rush, as though she couldn't get them out fast enough. As she spoke, she felt a release deep within her, like an open sore had been lanced. A catharsis.
"Nor I you. I can't bear to see you cry," he said, a hand cupping the side of her face. Bella froze when she saw the intent in his eyes, as her lips parted. He bent his head to hers, his body pressing on her body, as their lips met. And there was no caution, no tiptoeing around one another, just passion and pleasure as their lips moved together as one. Bella felt fire rise in her veins, as she let go of the rock face and slid her hands into his gold hair, relishing the silky hair beneath her fingers. Carlisle groaned and pulled her closer, all thought wiped from his brain.
In that misty, mossy little crevasse desire and passion ruled, held sway. The only thing that either of them knew was pleasure at the other's hands, as their lips fused as one. Together they loved one another in the only way they could, for when the moment would be broken, they would have to return to the outside world, and to the people they belonged to.
Bella gave him all of herself, as he gave her himself, holding nothing back. When Bella pulled away to breathe, oxygen deprivation making her dizzy, his lips slid down her throat, kissing and caressing the fevered skin. Remembering her dream, Bella tilted her neck to the side, offering herself to him. He took gladly, desire peppering his dry veins, holding her against him, desperate to feel every inch of her body. His teeth grazed her skin, cutting it slightly without penetrating the skin, and he stopped, dragging in a ragged breath. Bella froze, feeling the slight pain, her breathing stopping. Carlisle couldn't believe how easily he had lost control. He had nearly bitten her.
"Bella, I'm sorry. I shoul-" he started to apologise, but she halted him with a kiss.
"Don't apologise. Just kiss me," she breathed against his lips when she drew back. He obliged, crushing her closer, as their lips rejoined. He returned to her neck, planting a tender kiss against the slight wound on her throat, careful not to let the blood touch his tongue. If it did, he couldn't be sure what would happen.
Bella felt immense disappointment as Carlisle drew back, releasing her.
"We should get you home, before you freeze to death out here," he sighed, brushing one last, tender kiss across her mouth.
"I know." Bella whispered. Reluctantly she let him go, turning around and leading the way out of the crevasse.
The Chevy was silent on the way home, neither person speaking as he drove Bella back to her house. He pulled up on the drive, and she sighed, anticipating the end. When she stepped out that door, she would be releasing him, and he her, and tying herself to another for eternity. But it was like Carlisle had said; they still loved Esme and Edward. They could not hurt them. Just as she was about to open the truck door, Carlisle caught her hand. Bella turned back, surprised, before he brushed a chaste kiss across her fingertips.
"Goodbye, Isabella," he whispered. Bella hurriedly left the vehicle, fighting back tears. Carlisle watched her go with an aching heart.