Most Dangerous Predator

Bella is forced to reflect upon the upcoming shift in her relationship with Mother Nature and she teaches Carlisle an important lesson. ExB.

This one-shot is set a few weeks after Eclipse. CPOV.

11:32. Bella will arrive soon. I considered carefully what I wanted to discuss with her today. Ever since she brought Edward back from Italy and negotiated herself into being a full vampire member of this family I thought it would be best to explain some of the deeper aspects of being a vampire to her. Most of the family thought this to be a pointless exercise, Bella would not remember very many human memories after she became a vampire. It would be enough to hope that she remembered her most important memories of her mother and father. The likelihood of Bella remembering my, admittedly rather dull, lectures was unlikely. I hoped nonetheless that this preparation would have a positive impact upon her difficult first year. Everyone in this family underwent the inferno of the venom for three days without knowing what was happening, and waking up disoriented in a strange place among strange people. That experience, everyone agreed, was extremely frightening. Anything I could do to mitigate that fear I would do to the nth degree.

Edward agreed to these lessons for a different reason. He clearly hoped that if Bella better understood what she was getting in to, she would put off the change for a few years, realize she wanted to experience some things as a human, more than the one she already asked for...

I heard Edward pacing in his room, impatiently waiting for Bella's arrival. Charlie had decided to give the fish a reprieve from his fishing lures this morning and asked Bella to join him for a leisurely brunch. Since Bella's time with her father was now rather limited Bella had jumped at the chance to spend some quality time with him. Edward had confirmed my suspicion that even Charlie's "quality time" involved more grunts and chewing than eloquent speeches of love or intricate discussions of world affairs, but Charlie and Bella both found companionship in the silence of merely being in each other's presence, and too soon Charlie could no longer have Bella present with him to share in his silence.

The sound of the pacing in Edward's room was becoming more agitated and I sighed. Edward, directing my thoughts firmly towards the source of the agitation, she will be here soon, it's now only three minutes past the time she thought she may arrive. I heard the pacing stop and the gentle rustle as Edward laid down upon the bed in his room. The same bed that, I was certain, was the location where many of the decisions affecting the plans of the next few months were made.

I paused to consider the present arrangement of Bella's future which that bed surely played a role in. I had been more than willing to perform the act of transforming Bella into a vampire, but Edward had balked at the idea. More than not wanting to see Bella give up her humanity for him, Bella was clearly already Edward's mate. The incident in Italy at least forced him to acknowledge that fact, just as it forced me to realize I could not just let Bella grow old and die knowing that this would cause me to also lose my first son and companion. If there was one thing certain to make a vampire terrified was the idea of letting another vampire's teeth anywhere near their mate's neck. Bella's human neck was especially vulnerable to the teeth of a vampire, and while I knew Edward trusted me fully to not kill Bella, Edward understandably had a hard time overcoming the innate protective instinct he felt for Bella. Therefore, once he had accepted that Bella would become a vampire he desired to be the one to enact the transformation. Bella, surprisingly, had been in complete agreement, whether because she harbored romantic notions of being bitten by a vampire or because she was already beginning to realize that she should only really trust her neck to her mate, I did not know. Nonetheless, I did know that I would soon have to guide Edward through one of the most difficult times of his life.

Realizing where my thoughts were going, I switched to thinking in the Italian vernacular I had learned when I lived in Volterra. Edward knew modern Italian fluently, but the eighteenth-century century Italian which I first learned was different enough to keep my thoughts private from Edward. I knew that Edward never tried to pry into the private thoughts of the family, but I also knew that Edward could not help but overhear every thought nonetheless, and sometimes my own musings should not be heard by Edward. They would only serve to make him worry even more.

I began by contemplating the members of my family, and the circumstances of each of them joining this family. It was an old topic of thought which Edward was tired of overhearing, but it was a topic which I needed to occasionally wrestle with. Was it right for me to change Edward, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett into vampires? There was some comfort in the fact that each were at death's doorstep when I made the decision to introduce my venom into their bloodstream. Each were too young to die, they had unaccomplished hopes and dream, and I hoped that this second chance at life was a measure of mercy. Whether each of them perceived my action as merciful or not had led to many a heated discussion over the years.

Such discussions were a tender subject for me, but it did not compare to the much larger conflict I felt about creating my family. This was a conflict I did not think about very much and did not discuss at all, not even with Edward or Esme, though Edward had probably guessed that this was one of the subjects I thought about only in my antiquated Italian. I knew that my family revered my control and the fact that I had never satiated my thirst with human blood, but what they did not know, and what I was loathe to tell them, was that I considered myself guilty of killing humans.

When I changed Edward I thought I had made the perfect choice. Edward was controlled, meticulous, and sensible. Edward carefully absorbed my instructions on how to control his thirst and drink only the blood of animals. Edward never lost control, he never killed a human in a fit of bloodlust. I grew to consider my action to turn Edward into a vampire to be resoundingly successful. I had created a companion for myself who could live this existence with me without harming any humans. It was the fulfillment of my dreams. So when I came to Esme, barely hanging onto life in the morgue, I thought I would be successful again, and changed her into a vampire almost immediately. Dear Esme, sweet gentle Esme. It was hard to picture Esme with her teeth sunk into a man's neck, greedily drinking his life out of him, but she did. Granted, she was a newborn, and the man was bleeding. To expect her to behave any differently than she did was impossible. Esme had grieved for days over her actions, but her guilt could not be compared to my own. I was the one who had decided to create Esme into the sort of creature who, when faced with a bleeding man, did not run to get bandages but instead sucked all his remaining blood out of him. That man died because of what I did. I did not taste his blood, but I had nonetheless drained it out of him.

The incident raised for me existential questions which I had long thought were behind me. For Esme's sake, and Edward's, I found comfort in asking God's forgiveness and praying that God may have mercy on the dead man's soul, and then sought to move my family forward. It was an unfortunate incident, but as Esme grew out of her newborn stage I thought we could move past it and never have to deal with that situation again. But then Edward grew uneasy with our way of life, and my greatest fear, that if I turned someone I would simply be increasing the number of brutal and thirsty nomads who hunted down humans like they were little more than cattle, was realized. Granted, Edward was still Edward, controlled and meticulous. Given his gift and the capacity of human depravity, I could understand why Edward did what he did when he left. Perhaps he had saved the lives of many innocent humans, but he had also killed numerous others. Their blood was on my hands as well. I never asked Edward how many he killed and he never told me. But by simply calculating how many days he was gone, and how often nomads his age fed, the number easily topped three hundred. I did not ask God's forgiveness, I was too ashamed.

Then there was Rosalie. In a sense she was a failure, a testimony to my foolish idea that I could choose a mate for Edward. Bella only served to prove how very wrong I was. But she was also my greatest success in a way. She had never even tasted human blood. Even when she killed those who had killed her, she was controlled and meticulous, just like Edward. But her rejection of human blood was not caused by compassion for humans, just self pride. Perhaps a circumstance would arise which would teach her this compassion. Bella had already caused a bit of a shift in Rosalie, perhaps that would be enough.

Then there was Emmett. Dear Emmett. His Scots-Irish family in Appalachia was nothing if not large and loyal. The concept of family honor still held strong for them and so when Emmett woke as a vampire his concept of familial loyalty was simply transferred to me and his new family. He accepted the idea of drinking the blood of animals because that was simply the way of his new family. To choose to act otherwise would be shameful, a betrayal. Yes, hunting animals wasn't his own idea, but he would defend this method of feeding with his life as long as that was the way of this family. Yet he had struggled with control, and the eight innocent lives he had taken were also on my hands. My prayers for God's forgiveness grew began again, and grew longer and more contrite.

But then there was Jasper and Alice. Alice had learned how to hunt animals simply from her visions of me and the family. If she had not had these visions she said that she would have become a total savage. From the look on Edward's face as she replayed her various futures in her mind the possible carnage must have been horrific. She found Jasper and brought him with her to me, asking me to help her teach Jasper how to hunt animals instead of humans. Jasper struggled, but each week that went by that he drank animal blood was a week when another human life was spared. Perhaps Jasper and Alice were God's way of providing me with penance. I accepted my task in obedience and humility. If I placed Edward's number of kills at a simple three hundred, then added Esme's and Emmett's kills, and Rosalie's as well, the total came out to three hundred and sixteen. Jesus said one should forgive four hundred and ninety times. Three hundred and sixteen times four hundred and ninety was one hundred and fifty-four thousand, eight hundred and forty. Had I saved one hundred and fifty-four thousand, eight hundred and forty humans from the bloodlust of Alice and Jasper? Not yet. But we were making progress.

But now there was the matter of Bella. Since Edward would be the one who changed her he would now be the one the bear the full weight of responsibility if she, like Esme, lost control and killed a human. I knew Emmett and Jasper had a bet going on how many people Bella would kill as a newborn, and I knew Jasper was betting high, but as macabre as this bet was, I knew it was little more than a coping mechanism for them. In this life of constant repetition and monotonous routine gambling gave them a way to create anxiety, trepidation, and surprise. Though Jasper was betting high I knew that he would never shirk from his duty of keeping Bella from killing a human. Bella would be well watched over by everyone in the family as she struggled through her newborn years. But the unwritten laws of the vampire world dictated that Bella would be under the direct care of Edward. Her success would also be Edward's success. Likewise, an epic failure on her part would bring the condemnation of the law upon Edward as well. Her kills, if any, would be Edward's kills as well. Edward, who had never killed an innocent, would come to realize the full weight of my own secret guilt. How would I lead him through the anguish without burdening him with how much he caused my own guilt? My faith had helped me find forgiveness, but could that also help Edward who was still so unsure about whether God would even hear his prayers?

I was pulled out of my musings by the sound of the rumble of Bella's truck in the distance and heard Edward rise off his bed in excitement. 11:45. Bella was only a few minutes late. Bella's truck was slowly make it's way up the driveway when I heard Alice gasp in alarm and Edward's immediate response of running out of the house at his top speed, nearly breaking the front door, and racing down the driveway to Bella's truck.

"Carlisle!" Alice called frantically, "something is wrong with Bella!"

Alice ran into my office a moment later, looking horrified.

"What Alice? What did you see?" If I knew what her injury would be in advance I could be better prepared.

"I don't know," Alice said quickly. "I just saw Bella driving and then it looked like she was having a seizure. She started shaking and grabbing her clothes and screaming, and then she bent over with pain in her chest."

I tried to picture what Alice described, but I was confused. Seizures were not normally followed by screaming or specific areas of pain, and I had never seen anything in Bella's thick medical file which would indicate her having a propensity for seizures.

"Edward is bringing her here," Alice continued, her eyes glassing over as she searched the immediate future for more information. "He is going to insist that you treat her in the kitchen," Alice ended with a questioning tone.

I was now even more confused. Edward knew all my medical equipment was in my office, why would he take Bella to the kitchen?

"Alice, I'm headed out back, come find me when it's all clear," Jasper said softly from the doorway. He didn't want to be near an injured Bella. Not again.

"No Jasper, she's not bleeding," Alice interjected, sounding very puzzled by this information too.

I heard Edward running up the driveway. His gait sounded a bit different, he was probably carrying Bella cradled in his arms. Since I had all the information I could get from Alice without a clear diagnosis I rose to meet Edward in the kitchen.

Sure enough Edward arrived a moment later carrying Bella, who was white and trembling and pressing the skin just under her left clavicle with her right hand.

"Rosalie," Edward called to where she sat in the living room, "can you please go get Bella's truck from the driveway and pull it up to the garage, it's still running."

"Remember that you have to double pump the clutch," Bella reminded in a strained voice.

I heard Rosalie give a soft sigh and start down the driveway muttering something which equated Bella's truck to a crippled horse which should finally be put out to pasture, if not just turned into glue immediately. "Edward, what happened?" Alice's vision confused me.

Edward gave a small snort. "Bee."

Bee? Oh. Oh! That would explain the "seizure," I thought with a chuckle.

"Bella, are you allergic to bee stings?" I needed to quickly rule out the most threatening side effects.

"Bee sting? That's what I saw? I didn't see a bee. I thought maybe you were about to die from going mad," Alice exclaimed.

Bella laughed weakly. "No, I'm not allergic, and people don't just die from spontaneous bouts of madness Alice."

Edward carefully laid Bella out on the kitchen island and stood on her left side, gently caressing her left hand. Emmett and Jasper had cautiously come to stand in the doorway of the kitchen. They were concerned about Bella, none of us liked to see her hurt. But both had taken the precaution of not breathing, this was Bella after all. If anyone could cut herself on the perfectly smooth surface of the kitchen counter Bella could.

I stood on her right side and tried to carefully pry her fingers off her skin. "Bella, I know it hurts, but let me take a look." Bella lifted her hand and I pushed the top of her blouse aside to look at the actual location where she was stung. Swelling and irritation had already spread down towards her chest and I would need better access to her skin to treat her. Edward, I directed thoughts as I looked up to meet his eyes on the other side of the island, I am going to undo the top two buttons of her blouse. I had already had to treat most areas of Bella's body, but it was best to warn Edward before his instincts had a chance to become territorial.

I unbuttoned the two buttons and pushed the top corner of Bella's blouse over her shoulder at vampire speed, hoping that would avoid causing her any embarrassment. While I did this Edward looked away towards Bella's feet where Alice stood, still looking perplexed.

"Alice," Edward asked, "can you please mix some baking soda with water to make a thick paste?"

As the reason why Edward brought Bella to the kitchen to be treated appeared in her precognition Alice nodded and eagerly went to the cupboard, happy to have a part in treating Bella. But now Emmett and Jasper became both perplexed and incredulous. "You want to spread human baking products on Bella's skin?" Emmett exclaimed. "That's really weird."

Edward rolled his eyes. "Yes Emmett, maybe you should read a First Aid book sometime."

I carefully manipulated the skin of Bella's left chest and shoulder and with my sharp eyesight was able to see the remnants of the stinger lodged in the epidermis. Removing it would ease Bella's discomfort and slightly speed her recovery time. Edward, can you please hand me a butter knife?

Edward nodded and chose a butter knife from the silverware drawer on his side of the counter and handed it across the counter to me.

Bella watched this exchange with wide eyes, and then looked quickly from my face to the butter knife, to my face again, and then back to the butter knife.

"Ha!" she suddenly exclaimed. "Ha!" She started laughing uncontrollably, making her whole body shake.

I looked at Edward, wondering if he had any idea what had made her laugh. He just shrugged and placed his hand on Bella's bare shoulder. "Bella? Bella, Carlisle just wants to scrape the remains of the stinger out of your skin. You have to stay still."

"Oh" Bella gasped, her body calming down to small vibrations. "Right, sorry," she gulped, trying to stop her laughter and still her body.

Cautiously, I began to raise the butter knife over her. She watched me carefully, and then suddenly began laughing again. "Sorry! Sorry," she squeaked, fixing her eyes firmly upon a spot on the ceiling above her and trying to freeze her body into stillness, but her muscles were still rolling from involuntary contractions.

Edward sighed. "Bella, what do you think is so funny?"

Bella's eyes shot to Edward's face and she gave Edward a big smile, but then she set her face in a mask and looked back at the spot on the ceiling. "It's nothing Edward."

"If it's nothing, then why are you laughing?" Edward inquired patiently.

"I'm not laughing," Bella shot back, trying to keep her mask in place, but the corners of her mouth were curling, and her chin was quivering in mirth.

"Bella, Right now I would really like to know what you are thinking."

"Would you really?" Bella giggled. But then she grew serious. "Nope, I don't think you want to know."

"Yes Bella, I really do. Please tell me what you think is so funny. Please." Edward was practically begging now. I was startled. I had never heard Edward beg before. I wondered if this new characteristic had anything to do with the series of decisions which I suspected were made on that new golden bed upstairs.

"Alright," Bella agreed, "but you probably won't find it funny it all."

Edward grinned. "Try me."

"Okay," Bella started. "See it just occurred to me that here I am, a human, in a house full of vampires, and I'm spread out on the kitchen counter and one of those vampires is coming at me with a butter knife. I mean, it's like a scene out of a really bad B movie, or something worse than a bad B movie, like a C movie, or D..." she trailed off laughing.

All of us were frozen by her words. I knew that Bella occasionally liked to joke around about us being vampires, but the scene she described was not in a movie, it was real, and she just referred to herself as our food. Either she was crazy or she had absolute and complete trust in us. After the events of her birthday party it seemed improbable that it was the latter, but I didn't think she was crazy.

"Or a really bad F movie," Edward responded in a disapproving tone. "Honestly Bella, that's not funny at all."

"Oh, come on Edward," Bella said, clearly exasperated. "It was at least a little funny." Her smile became mischievous. "Don't tell me I don't look delicious."

Edward sighed and raised her hand that he was holding, twisting it so that he could kiss the inside of her wrist. "Delectable, as always, love. Now can you please stay still so Carlisle can finish treating you?"

Seeing Edward kiss Bella's wrist like that was almost enough to make me forget that Bella was his singer. In fact, it was almost enough to make me forget that we were vampires. But Bella's scent and her jokes were always good reminders of reality.

"Oh right, of course." She looked at me and the butter knife in my hand and grinned. "Bring on the butter knife."

"Would this be better if I went and got my scalpel?" I asked. Maybe if I took the eating instrument out of the equation she would stop seeing the humor in this.

"No!" Bella gasped, eyes wide, adrenaline pumping. "No scalpels."

"Okay then Bella, please stay still." After she nodded I reached over and stretched her skin and then quickly dragged the tip of the butter knife across it, puller the stinger free. "Okay, it's out. Alice, do you have the baking soda ready?"

"I'll apply it," Edward said quickly and took the bowel from Alice. It looked like Alice had mixed the whole pound of baking soda.

Bella flushed slightly and I realized it could only be because she wasn't accustomed to Edward touching her while she was only half-clothed. To hide her embarrassment Bella looked over at Emmett and Jasper in the doorway. "Hey guys, it seems I won't die today."

Realizing that Bella probably wouldn't start spontaneously bleeding, Emmett and Jasper began to relax. Jasper now just looked shell-shocked, probably still trying to process Bella's joke and her apparent trust.

"Yeah, Bella, only you would manage to be unlucky enough to die from a bee. At least I went out with style with a bear. If Rosalie had found me dying from a bee sting I think I'd go live underneath the most remote iceberg in the world out of embarrassment," Emmett chortled.

Bella laughed, but then her face grew serious and her eyebrows pulled together. I recognized it as the face Bella makes when she's figuring something out.

"What is it Bella?" Edward asked, rubbing baking soda onto Bella's skin a bit more slowly and sensuously than was required.

"Well..." Bella said softly, looking at Edward thoughtfully.

"Yes?" Edward prompted. I wondered how long it would take before Bella could make Edward beg again.

"What if..." she started again, glancing over at me.

"Yes, Bella?" Now she had me curious. Could Bella make me beg as well? Perhaps. I thought I heard Edward chuckle under his breath.

"Well I was just thinking that, you know, when I become a vampire I'll become, what, the world's most dangerous predator?" She looked at Edward for confirmation, who simply gave a small nod in response.

I rose an eyebrow. Had Edward already discussed our predator attributes with her? I had been contemplating how to bring that topic up with her without either destroying her innocence or making her relive some of the most horrific things she had witnessed in the past year.

"So what if," Bella continued, "well, somehow Mother Nature knows that? Knows that I'm about to move even higher up in the food chain, so she thought that maybe she should try to take me out before that happened."

"A preemptive strike?" Jasper asked, clearly intrigued. "An interesting theory, but why would Mother Nature send a bee?"

"Well," Bella pondered, "maybe Mother Nature wanted to send a mountain lion after me, but all the mountain lions were too afraid to come," she smirked at Edward. "And maybe sending a bear was discussed too, but that resulted in the opposite of the desired outcome before," she said with a nod towards Emmett. "And all the other animals too were afraid as well. But the bee wasn't afraid of vampires, so he volunteered."

"But most species die after they sting," Jasper said thoughtfully, stepping further into the kitchen.

"A suicide mission then," Bella said, looking at the place where she was stung, now pasted with baking soda, with new seriousness.

"Yes," Jasper replied, eyeing the baking soda. "But suicide missions are pointless unless they have a very high chance of success. This bee obviously did not come close to killing you. You didn't even bleed from his attack. So what was the point?"

"Maybe Mother Nature was hoping I was deathly allergic to bee stings. Or maybe there was a reason why the bee waited until I was coming up the driveway to sting. Maybe the plan was that my reaction to being stung would cause me to wrap my truck around a tree and die that way?"

"That's a possibility, but you don't drive nearly fast enough up the driveway to wrap that hunk of metal around anything," Jasper said doubtfully.

"Yeah, but what does Mother Nature know about torque and antique trucks?" Bella shot back. "Not much I think, so I can safely say that after the first round the score stands at Bella – 1, Mother Nature - 0."

"Do you think Mother Nature will try to launch another attack?" Jasper asked.

"Of course. I mean, wouldn't you? All the Bambi's in the world are shaking in their hooves in fear of the day when Newborn Bella hunts them down. They're quickly running out of time to fight back." Bella nodded seriously. "Yes, I think the attacks will only escalate."

I looked over at Edward, who was looking at Bella with shock. "Bella," he exclaimed, "do you really think that the entire Animal Kingdom is plotting ways to kill you before you become a vampire?"

Bella looked up at Edward and apparently misunderstood his incredulous tone as fear because she immediately tried to reassure him. "It's okay Edward, I'll just have to be more careful."

"More careful?" Edward gasped. "Bella, that's absurd."

"What? Do you want me to be less careful? I could have died today, and even if you were able to change me in time, it would have been really embarrassing, like Emmett said."

Rosalie, who had resumed watching television in the living room, started laughing, breaking the tension in the kitchen. Emmett joined in loudly, followed by Alice and Jasper.

"What?" Bella cried, "it's not funny!"

"Yes, it is Bella," Edward said firmly, shaking his head, his shoulders shuddering with quiet laughter.

"No, it's not," Bella insisted, looking at me. "Carlisle, do you think this is a laughing matter?"

"No Bella, of course not," I said as sternly as I could, swallowing my own chuckles. "Alice, can you please keep an eye on Mother Nature and see when she is planning another attack against Bella?" Alice nodded seriously, though her eyes continued to dance with laughter. "And Emmett and Jasper will run patrol on your usual routes on occasion. You're right, the fresh scent of vampire should keep away larger animals." Emmett and Jasper also took on serious expressions. Emmett even saluted.

Bella's eyes narrowed, figuring out that she was being humored. "Well," she huffed, "that takes care of that then."

"It sure does," I answered with a smile. "Now, how do you feel?"

"Ugh. My chest burns, and my left arm feels sore and tingly."

"Those symptoms should disappear in few hours. Would you like some ibuprofen to ease the swelling?"

"Yes, please," Bella requested.

Edward procured a glass of water and the ibuprofen within a few seconds and helped Bella sit up to swallow the medicine.

"There may be a silver lining to this," Bella said after she took the medicine. "I can't do any wedding planning injured. I mean, look at this gloop." She gazed happily at the clumps of baking soda caking her chest.

"That's okay Bella, you can still talk to me, if you feel up to it," I proposed. World's Most Dangerous Predator. I was eager to talk this through with her.

"Sure, but would you mind if we went somewhere where I could lay down?" Bella asked.

"No, that's fine. We can go to Edward's room" I suggested, looking at Edward for permission.

"I'll carry you up," Edward said, scooping Bella up off the counter and carrying her up the stairs.

As Edward carefully situated Bella on the bed I went to stand at the window, gazing out at the wilderness which provided for most of my family's sustenance. Bella's comments about Mother Nature made me consider again just how delicately balanced our relationship with this world was.

"Edward, you may stay, if you wish," I invited. It was his room, and his vulnerable mate was laying in bed. I could not ask him to leave, not without tapping into the authority of a coven leader, the authority I had long since disavowed.

I saw Edward struggle briefly between his instincts and his trust in me. Apparently choosing to trust me he kissed Bella softly on her forehead and excused himself.

I sat on the sofa and looked at Bella. "How was breakfast with Charlie?"

"Good," Bella replied simply. "He asked me if I actually want to get married and I said yes," she said with a shrug.

I nodded. Yes, there was little drama between Bella and her father other than her relationship with Edward.

"Bella, you said earlier that you would become the world's most dangerous predator as a vampire. Did Edward discuss this subject with you?"

"Well, it was just something he said last year right after we started dating. He wanted me to understand exactly who he was, so demonstrated some his abilities to me."

Edward shared his nature with Bella in order to prove to her that he was a dangerous predator? I knew Edward struggled with accepting the aspects which made him a vampire, but to cast himself as little more than a predator indicated that he was even more self-loathing than I had thought. Though with Edward's gift and his speed, if he so chose, he could be a very dangerous predator indeed, even more cunning and sadistic than James, but he did not choose to be that way. Bella was insistent that Edward was a good person who had a soul which could be worthy to be deemed righteous, and I hoped that Edward would someday come to agree with her. "And which abilities, exactly, did he demonstrate to you?"

"Speed and strength, of course. And then the other things, like enticing appearance and fragrance."

"Can you think of any other predator aspects which vampires have, Bella?"

Bella thought carefully. "Well there is always the super-sharp teeth, and the sense of smell, I can't ever forget those."

No, she made a mature vampire run hundreds of miles away to get his teeth away from her scent. She couldn't forget those.

"What else, Bella?" I prompted.

"Well, there is also the superior eyesight, and being able to remember things perfectly. Oh, and the hard skin."

"And how would those things be predator attributes?"

Bella looked uncertain. "Well, I suppose so you can see prey better, and you can remember where you are in the forest so you don't get lost. And so you don't get hurt while hunting."

"Are you thinking purely in terms of hunting animals, Bella?"

Bella furrowed her brow. "Umm, yes, I suppose I am. Is that wrong?"

I paused for a moment, considering how I wanted to discuss this with Bella. I was certain that the concept of limiting her diet to animals would persist with Bella past her transformation. It was this diet which made the relationship between her and Edward possible in the first place, and she had seen the whole family come and go on enough hunting trips to make this concept ingrained in her psyche. But she still needed to realize the reasons why humans would be her natural prey as a vampire. I was loathe to try to force Bella to push beyond her natural human aversion to the cannibalism of drinking human blood, but the more I taught her now the better prepared she would be to avoid giving in to the impulse to do exactly that.

"It's not wrong Bella, but let's hypothetically suppose that we were to hunt humans. How would those attributes serve us in that situation?"

I saw Bella's nose crinkle in disgust so quickly that I was sure it was completely involuntary.

"Do you really want me to imagine a scenario where I am a vampire and I'm wandering around Seattle trying to pick which human I want to suck the blood out of?"

I nodded, internally cringing. I hoped this exercise did not make her nauseous.

"Okay, well, since I suppose I don't want the Volturri to come tear me apart I guess I would have to be careful. I wouldn't have to use the sense of smell really to find anyone, since there are tons of people in Seattle. And I suppose strength would come in handy to pull the person I chose down a dark alley. And then the sharp teeth would be useful." Bella grimaced with disgust. "And then I guess speed would be nice to run away quickly. But-" Bella broke off, thinking.

"But what, Bella?"

Bella looked at me with her eyebrows pulled together in question. "But Edward told me that when he hunts he runs purely on instinct. It just seems to me that all the predator instincts are better suited for hunting animals. I mean, if I was a vampire in Seattle I couldn't just feed on instinct, everything would have to be controlled, thought through."

"What are you suggesting Bella?"

"It's just that according to the principle of evolutionary adaptation only characteristics which contributed to the higher survival rate of the species would be retained. So why would the nature of vampires include an instinct which, in combination with the characteristic of bloodlust, create almost total destruction of the primary foodsource unless that instinct was almost completely reigned in?"

"So why do you think the hunting instinct exists, Bella?"

"Well, it just makes me think that what you guys do in hunting animals may be more natural. I mean, the vampires in Volterra were so powerful and strong and everything but they didn't do anything all. I mean, it's like me picking up the phone and ordering a pizza to be delivered. Yes, I would eat, but I would hardly use any of my natural attributes to do so."

"So you think that the way we hunt makes us more natural vampires than the ones in Volterra?" I asked. As intrigued as I was by her line of inquiry I was also amused, in all my discussions over the years about drinking animal blood nearly everyone, including some members of my own family, thought it to be fundamentally unnatural.

Bella looked up at the ceiling and thought for a moment, pursing her lips. "It just seems that, as prey, humans are pretty easily overwhelmed by a vampire predator. Even considering my scenario of hunting a human in Seattle I wouldn't have to tap into nearly any of my strength or speed, would I? I mean, it would be nothing like running after lion, or wrestling with a bear, right? So it seems that, in actuality, the predator attributes seem to be designed to hunt animals, not humans."

"Making animals then our actual intended prey, Bella?" I asked. She nodded slowly. "That's an interesting theory, and I can see why you would think that, especially considering how it would explain the fact that Mother Nature is presently launching an all out attack upon you," I said smiling, "but while I see a certain logic in your reasoning it is negated by the simple fact that human blood entices us most strongly, and only human blood truly quenches our thirst."

I saw the corners of Bella's mouth turn down as she contemplated this information. "I believe Edward has explained to you the fact that animal blood never actually quenches our thirst, yes?" She nodded again. "You have to understand Bella that even for me human blood tempts me."

She turned her head and looked at me with a puzzled look. "I realize that the rest of the family consider me to be pretty much perfect and infallible, but I tasted their blood when I turned them. I made a bit of a mess with Edward, since I wasn't certain what I was doing, and ended up drinking some of it." I saw Bella's eyes crinkle as she looked back up at the ceiling, the thought of Edward's blood must be rather foreign to her. "The taste, the flavor, even the texture of it, appealed to me, even after over two centuries of rejecting it. I control the appeal it holds over me, but there is no escaping the fact that as I am sitting here smelling your scent and hearing your heartbeat that I feel thirsty. I don't think about it and I am completely confident that I won't act on it, but that doesn't make the feeling go away."

Bella was quiet for a long moment before she turned back to look at me again and asked, "So how would you explain the fact that the predator attributes of a vampire so far overwhelm the weakness of human prey?"

"You need to know, Bella, that even during the time I've been alive the human race has undergone a fundamental shift. A population explosion, growth of technology, ease of travel. When I was a new vampire in England the nomads would normally hunt humans in the forests. Living and hunting in cities could be easier, but had the problems of not having many good places to hide on sunny days and cities were much smaller then, making kills much more noticeable. So most vampires preyed upon the small number of humans who would travel between towns. It was dangerous to journey then, even if one did not meet a vampire, so when the traveler never reached his destination no one was particularly suspicious. Not many humans would travel because of the danger, so all the predator abilities you spoke of, smell, speed, strength, and especially alluring looks and fragrance," I paused to smile as I saw Bella blush, "were all necessary to be able to hunt humans."

Bella gave a small sigh. "Yeah, I suppose so. That's what Victoria would do. Quite a few hikers and campers were killed when she first started venturing after me last fall."

I nodded, "Yes, and I believe that this is the most natural form of hunting for us."

"And the way you hunt animals imitates that, yes?" Bella insisted.

"Yes," I answered slowly, "I suppose I took the most natural form of hunting and turned it on its head, so to speak."

"And see, now you're planning on teaching this alternate form of hunting to me, that's why Bambi is so scared."

I laughed. We were back at poor Bambi again. "Yes, I suppose since they can't take retribution against me anymore for coming up with this method they will attempt to prevent you from learning it as well, and for that, Bella, I am very sorry."

Bella laughed as well. "That's okay Carlisle, it's not your fault."

Her words hit me like a load of bricks, dumping into my private thoughts and swirling up all of my private thoughts from earlier in the morning. I quickly pushed those thoughts away and tried to compose myself.

"Carlisle?" Bella asked, concerned. She was quite observant, and managed to notice my moment of discomfort.

"It's nothing, Bella. Perhaps Edward should come and put fresh baking soda on your skin."

Bella rose up on her elbows and faced me, dumping some of the dried baking soda on her shoulder onto the bed. "No Carlisle, please tell me what you're thinking."

"I'd rather not, Bella," I said with a soft smile.

She gave me a suspicious look and laid back down on the bed with a huff. "You know when I was eleven I came to Forks for my two week visit with Charlie. He usually saved up his vacation time for my visits, so he could spend time with me and take me fishing," she rolled her eyes. "Well, this time he got called away to deal with a domestic disturbance somewhere out on the edge of the county. The woman didn't want to press charges, but Charlie could have taken the guy in overnight anyways. He was eager to get back to me though, so he hoped that just the fact that he came by would be enough to make the guy think twice before he started up again. Well, the next day Charlie got called back to the same place, and he found out that the woman had a eleven year old daughter who had stayed hidden in the back room the day before. She had tried to protect her mother that morning and the guy threw her – straight through the front window of their trailer home and she broke her neck."

I stood up and looked back out the window. Bella was too observant, too intuitive.

"Charlie was a mess afterwards, obviously." Bella continued. "But I remember that after he got done crying into his Vitamin R at the Black's that Billy just reamed into him. Telling him that he couldn't hold himself responsible for the actions of others. Telling him that he shouldn't double-guess a decision which could have just as easily been the right decision to make. Telling him that the death of that girl wasn't his fault."

I heard Bella take a deep breath and could feel her gaze on my back.

"Carlisle, just as you have never killed anyone, neither has Charlie. Nothing I do will ever change that."

"Of course, Bella," I agreed. In theory she was right, but that didn't ease the guilt.

Bella was again too observant, for she pressed her case. "I realize that I'm about to become one of the most powerful and efficient killing machines on the planet. Mother Nature is right to try to assassinate me while she can. Heck, Charlie should lock me up tonight just on the basis of harboring homicidal intent. But that doesn't change the fact that my mistakes, if I make any, will be no one's fault but my own."

I sighed deeply and went to sit on the edge of the bed, taking Bella's warm life-giving hand into my cold one. "But that's just it Bella," speaking barely above a whisper, "you won't be yourself. You'll be what Edward makes you into, what I've made Edward into."

"I will always be myself, Carlisle, because I'm me."

Bella's response was not particularly philosophically obtuse, but it held a simple logic. Yet still... "Bella," I started, shaking my head.

"I know that for the first year I'll be thirsty and irrational, but whatever I do or don't do will only be a mark on my soul, because I'm me," Bella insisted.

I continued to study Bella's small hand, so fragile, and yet so sturdy.

"Carlisle, I wouldn't ask to be a vampire unless I knew that Edward and you and everyone else would be doing everything they could to keep me from killing anyone. But I also know that a perfect record is hard to come by. If I do end up making a terrible mistake–" she gulped "-and kill someone, the guilt is just mine, only mine."

I looked up and saw Bella's brown eyes intensely staring at mine. Dare I follow her logic which offered me the absolution I longed for?

"Just promise me one thing, Carlisle," Bella whispered so low I could only just hear her, gripping my hand tightly, "if I do, if I do kill someone, please pray for me? Pray for my soul?"

I stared at her, frozen in shock. Over the years I took all the blame upon myself and prayed for my own absolution, but did I ever pray to God that he would have mercy upon the souls of my wife or my children? No, I had let them try to wrestle with their guilt and seek absolution on their own. Even in my piety I had been selfish.

"Yes, Bella," I whispered, gripping her hand as firmly as I dared, feeling her pulse pump beneath her skin, vibrating my hand with each beat. "Yes, I swear, I will pray for your soul, and for the souls of the dead."

"Thank you, Carlisle. And one more thing. If you ever see Edward feeling the way you did because of something I've done, promise me that you will tell him what I have told you today?"

"I promise, Bella."

Bella smiled. "You're a good person, Carlisle. Really, you are."

"So are you Bella, truly." Edward thought her to be an angel, come to tempt him, try him, destroy him, and tease him in turn. Surely, she was an angel, but only because she touched everyone around her with light, life, and love.

"I think this completes the lesson for the day," I said, giving her hand another squeeze and standing, "I'll send Edward up."

"Great, can you ask him to bring me something to drink?"

"Is Coke okay, Bella?" Edward asked as he entered the room.

"That's great," Bella answered, sitting up, dumping more baking soda on the sheets.

Edward sat on the edge of the bed in the place I just vacated and handed the Coke to Bella, then turned and gave me a confused look. I realized that my thoughts were still a jumble of my love and admiration for Bella. Snapping my thoughts into focus I looked at Edward. She's wonderful, Edward. She's a beautiful person, and she will be a beautiful vampire too. Edward gave me a wry smile in response before turning his attention back to Bella.

I excused myself quietly from their presence and walked back down to my study. Bella had given me much to think about, and while I very much doubted that Edward would overhear my thoughts at the moment, especially with Bella lying on that golden bed, I began thinking again in my antiquated Italian.

While I had long ago decided that I wanted a family, not a coven, and had thus eschewed the absolute authority of a coven leader, I was still the father-figure of the diverse people who came to make up this family. I had thought that one of my responsibilities as a father was shouldering their guilt. But now Bella had made me reconsider. I could ask God's forgiveness for initiating a chain of events which led to the deaths of so many of his children, of course. But I could not take the individual guilt off of their soul and onto mine. All I could do for them was to pray to God that he would be merciful. I felt a tremor of fear run through me. What if Rosalie never came to feel remorse for her crimes? Would God still be merciful? I gasped under the uncertainty. It was far easier to take all the responsibility upon myself. At least I could be sure of myself. But to leave the fate of my wife's or children's soul in their own hands? Frightening.

I heard my name mentioned upstairs. "Bella, can you tell me what you two talked about which made Carlisle suddenly start thinking in medieval Italian?" Edward had asked.

"I don't know, I just told him that he doesn't need to feel so responsible for things which aren't his responsibility," I heard Bella answer.

I barely registered Edward's confused response as I adjusted my thinking. I would pray for my soul and for the souls of my wife and children. I could do nothing else.

This is the first fiction I've written in over ten years. Please review and leave me constructive criticism!