A/N: Again, my thanks go to Bells, duskwatcher, katmom and valelf for their support of Alex's Lemonade Stand and the fight against pediatric cancers. This story would not be here without you! My thanks again to u2shay for her marvelous beta mojo and to anndeveria for her Italian assistance!

And here's the wrap… See you down below!


Chapter Six: Choices

Carlisle POV

Now that the immediate threat to Isabella had been handled, I could focus on the rapid-fire conversations being had upstairs, downstairs and outside. All while embracing Bella and endeavoring to reassure her.

The vampire mind is a marvelous thing in times of crisis.

"What is going on?" I demanded at conversational level so as not to frighten my dear girl further.

"The blood! I'm so sorry, Carlisle! Please – please make my apologies to her. I don't know what that was!" Edward's contrition came from the treeline, his voice projecting loudly enough for me to hear, but not for Isabella's ears.

"He's still growlin' and salivating," Jasper informed me at the same level. "Heh. Would you call that venomating? Doing my best to calm him down but it's not working so well."

Emmett's voice reached me next. "I felt like that when I – Oh, hell, Carlisle. Your lady friend in there is his singer!"

Emmett... We had a pact, he and I, not to ever mention that.

"Singer? What?" The question came from every member of my family save Emmett, the voices rebounding from the woods, the bath upstairs and Rosalie and Emmett's bedroom, where my blond sister was also muttering, "I told you so" under her breath.

"Carlisle?"

I realized only belatedly that in my interest in following the several conversations in and around the house, I had all but frozen, trapping my love in my arms. I loosened my muscles purposefully and swung her up so that our heads were level. "Isabella. Are you all right?" I scented adrenaline in her blood – she must have spiked it during her fright. Her abrasion from the night before was still bandaged – which was entirely a good thing – but there was blood on the sheets... That could not have been helpful to Edward.

I shook that off when Bella burrowed into the slope of my shoulder. "I think so? Are you all right? He really nailed you. That was Edward? The one you called your firstborn? The mind-reader?"

Sliding her back down so that her feet were on the floor again, I relished the heat her body gave off, the warmth she loaned me even briefly. "I'm fine," I murmured, inhaling her delectable scents. "He apologized, by the way. He was not quite himself. Normally, Edward is quite a gentleman," I added for his benefit. None of the rest of the family demurred. "Why don't you, ah, get ready to meet the rest of the family and I'll find out how he's doing? Don't worry," I said, rubbing the back of her neck with my fingers. "I can do that while staying here and making sure you're safe, all right?"

"Kiss me first. I think I need a kiss," she whispered. From the tentative nature of her look and voice, I suspect she thought she was being quiet enough to keep her request from the rest of the family.

I didn't disabuse her of the notion; she had been traumatized enough. Instead, I yielded to her and to my own wish to taste and touch her. To reassure her. "I love you," I murmured into the delicate curve of her ear. "My timing may be not be all that it should be, but please believe that I do."

Her heartbeat quickened, pounding into me as if to share its life with my own, undead heart. "I love you, too. You're the most amazing man."

Cupping her face tenderly in both my cool hands, I studied her eyes. Deep, beautiful brown. Warm and sweet and smiling for me. I sighed, sending my breath over her skin to ease and relax her. "Much as I'd love to delve into this with you," I went on, keeping my voice quiet, "I do need to talk to Edward. Get some things straightened out."

"He's not going to do that again, is he?"

I frowned over her head, out the window. I couldn't see Edward, but I knew he was there somewhere. "No. But if you hear me talking when you're done with your shower, it's because I'm talking to him. I'll be in this room at all times."

"All right," she said, speaking so that her lips slid over the bare skin of my chest as they moved. "I'll be fine. I'll just get myself put together."

"Don't be nervous about meeting them."

She pushed back from me a little, a droll smile curling her lip. "Don't you dare tell me they don't bite."

"Most of us don't!" Alice called from the suite she and Jasper shared in the other wing.

Bella's face bloomed with color. "Carlisle!"

Laughing, I swung her up in my arms and whisked her into the bath. "Fact of life in this house now, darling."

She eyed me through her lashes as I set her down next to the shower. "I should have taken advantage of you weeks ago, apparently."

I was still laughing when she dashed from the bathroom to retrieve her backpack.

Once she was in the shower, I flashed to the window where I could see Edward, Emmett and Jasper. They all lifted a hand in my direction to let me know they were prepared for this rather unconventional conference.

"Edward. Have you heard of the the phrase la tua cantante?"

"The Singer? Yes. Emmett used that term. What is it? What is she?"

They were on this side of the stream, but he could still hear me when I opened the window a little. "She's just a human who smells particularly good, Edward. But to you, she is your singer. Let me – let me show you what I know."

I slipped into my memories and let them flow through my mind so that Edward could see them and share with his brothers. Our brothers. They would need to know because I would need everyone's help to protect my Bella.

[+]

I was in Volterra, Italy in the year 1727. Technically, Italy was ruled by Austria at the time, but in Volterra, the only voices that truly mattered were the ones belonging to Aro, Marcus and Caius. The Three, I tre fratelli Volturi as they were called, were the most powerful vampires in the world and they cultivated gifted vampires that they met or heard about through their connections. They regarded me as a harmless, inquisitive oddity that eventually became a friend so I was allowed to linger with these "civilized" vampires for many years.

A human had been found by the huntress of the day. A human who had seemed to sense the danger imparted by the vampire who was assigned to catch the humans for feeding. Such a sensitivity was something Aro had trained his minions to seek so that he could gather more "gifted" vampires into his coven. Emilio was just such a man.

He entered the round, cavernous chamber with wide eyes and faltering steps. Yes, he sensed the danger presented by the vampires. There were only four, including myself. The Three and Jane were gathered together, wearing dark clothing as they usually did for these "audiences."

"Welcome, Emilio," Aro began, stepping forward with his hands extended as if in greeting. Of course, he did this to gain the advantage over the other person, making sure he could read their thoughts before they knew what he was doing. "So kind of you to –"

A feral growl ripped through the room. It was low but distinctly feminine. Before Caius could stop her, before Marcus could do more than gasp with sympathy, the tiny pain-wielder had run across the chamber and thrown herself at the hapless human. I was appalled at the savagery she displayed and turned away. Normally a neat drinker, Jane was bestial in this feeding.

Obviously incensed, Aro would have torn her from the young man but she directed her malevolent gaze at him and he cried out briefly. "Caius!"

"No. Let her be," Marcus whispered, hands in fists at his sides. "She couldn't help it. I could see the bond immediately."

"Bond? What bond!" Aro demanded.

"La tua cantante, brother... He was her singer and she could no more fight his call than I could..."

I approached Marcus privately later. "What did you mean, about The Singer?"

He leaned against the stone wall of his private chamber, steepling his fingers together as if his hands contained the mysteries of a cathedral in their stony recesses. "They are very rare, young Carlisle. We do not speak of them because it would be too tempting for the average vampire. Too tempting to seek out a singer. We risk exposure, you see, if we do so. As you saw with Jane earlier, there is no controlling the instant need to drain the Singer of all life."

"I saw, but why?"

"We are born with a burning thirst," he went on as if I hadn't spoken. His voice was brittle, like parchment, but he spoke with heavy wisdom. "A thirst that will not abate in our entire existence. How you, with your unusual diet, do not go mad I don't know, but the burn is there for us all. There is only one way to slake it in a lasting way and that is to drink the blood that has been grown for the vampire. The one true fragrance, taste - however such things are measured, I do not know. But it can happen that the call of the blood of such a one is uniquely powerful to just one vampire. And if he drinks of the blood of his Singer – the one whose blood truly reaches to the innermost predatious part of the vampire – the burn is vanquished. Quenched. We suffer with it no longer."

I was dumbfounded and looked it, I knew. "But how?"

A minute shrug. "I know not. I only know that – that I met my Singer long ago. She was an old woman. She was working the fields and her blood sang on the breeze. I ran to her, fed from her and was amazed that, days later, I had no burn. No real desire to feed. I do, of course. I do need to sustain myself but you might have noticed," he said, a sly smile on his lips as he finally met my eyes, "that I am not ravenous. Nor do I feed on more than one human at a time. Really, Carlisle, you are perhaps the only vampire I could tell this to without the fear of exposure."

[+]

"Did you ever meet your Singer, then?" Jasper asked. I could hear the yearning in his voice. Out of all of us, he would perhaps be the most blessed by his Singer. And I would probably be more inclined to overlook it if he encountered that unfortunate human in a dark alley somewhere...

"I did. I met il mio cantante in New York City in 1804. And no, I did not drink from her. I ran. I ran west and didn't stop running for three days." I smiled through the opening in the window. "And for the next sixty years, I refused to return to the Atlantic coast." Sixty years of knowing I could extinguish the fire in my throat. Sixty years of knowing my work as a physician would be many times easier. Sixty years of feeling a pull to where she was...and ignoring it.

Sixty years... The number would haunt me, now. Bella's life would be so short... I refused to mourn for her already though, so I tucked the phrase away and tried to lock it behind an iron door in my mind.

The shower shut off. "I will have to take Bella home, Edward. Go hunting. We'll meet back here when you're sated. You know where she lives, all of you. Steer clear of Forks entirely, all right?"

They nodded and disappeared beyond my sight within moments.


Bella POV

Bliss. Sleep. Dreams surpassing anything ever. Memories flirted with imagination as I lay in that hazy state between awake and dreaming. The cool wonder of Carlisle Cullen slipped away and I whined about it, but his lips sent the whining away...

His lips. I never would have thought that such cool perfection could make me so hot. But he didn't remain cold all night, no. He explained, as he nuzzled me, how my heat transferred to him much like the sun's did to the boulder. "So I'll absorb it carefully," he had teased, beginning at my ankles and then the backs of my knees... I never knew that was an erogenous zone! He purred as he pressed his nose and cheek up my inner thighs. But he didn't go for the easy thrill... Or taste, for that matter...

"Am I bleeding? Is it - hard for you?" I whispered as he held me firmly motionless to the mattress. "I can go clean up?"

His purr vibrated the entire bed. The man purred and it was the sexiest thing ever. The first time it had happened while we got rather carried away in the driveway after the movies. I don't know if he did it on purpose that time, but he had been demonstrably pleased with my response to it and the purrs commenced whenever he was seeking to elicit another response like that in me. Hot and bothered was the term my mother used, in her first "sex talk" with me when I was eight. It was pretty damned accurate, considering!

Carlisle had proceeded to demonstrate, with a most intimate in-bed manner, just where the strongest scent-points were on my body. He murmured them to me in French, which was just dizzying and sexy and amazing. His lips slid over my skin, his tongue skimming likewise. "You have the most wonderful taste," he murmured. "Salt and sweet and floral and musky. I can't describe it but my senses," he had added with a flirtatious smile, "are acute."

I could hardly breathe as he painlessly devoured me and then...he came to me again, more slowly than our first time. Watching me, his eyes burning gold in the shadows of his room. Holding me, showing me how to move with him without hurting my soft skin against his hard musculature.

He had growled and groaned my name, rattling the windows. I had screamed his, in surprise and fulfillment.

Three times.

Later, he rose to clean up and I heard him go, preferring to remain in my half-sleepy state. It was dark but I felt morning coming even so. Charlie would be freaking out...or not...

I had every intention of laying about as the sun rose, hopefully with my vampire lover. Sounded like something out of a clichéd novel, but there it was. There I was.

Until a door slammed downstairs and I heard a growl.

Someone had broken into this house! Carlisle's house! Someone had broken in! I knew, as a cop's kid, that most home invasions took place between two and five in the morning.

And then I heard a sound like rushing wind downstairs and was terrified.

"Carlisle!" I ran, managing somehow not to fall down, and met Carlisle at the bathroom door just as the invader crashed into the bedroom and the newcomer – a pale man like Carlisle, with hair a strange shade of red-gold-brown as the bathroom light hit it – half-shouted, half-growled something about trying to outrun him.

And then there was a fight and now I was finishing my shower. A strange morning, before the sun even warmed the sky.

"I would rather not wake up like this again," I muttered as I combed my hair out in front of the mirror, "if it's all the same to you."

He knocked softly on the bathroom door. "Edward's gone hunting with Jasper and Emmett. I should take you home."

I studied my face in the mirror. No more fear lingered in my eyes, but I felt that I looked older, somehow. Older and wiser and ... Even without the sex hair, I felt like last night was on display for everyone to see, there in my eyes. Well. I knew what I was getting into! I just hadn't expected the morning to go the way it had.

"Come in."

He did, and I could see the morning light filtering into the room behind him. "Feeling all right?" he asked, coming behind me and wrapping his arms about my torso to hold me against his chest. We eyed each other in the mirror, his expression hopeful and thoughtful as different ideas crossed behind his eyes. "You know you're safe now, right?"

"I know, and yes, I'm fine. I love you," I reminded him, smiling and hoping to make him smile, too. Ah, there it was, the smile I was looking for. The one that made the golden glow shine so brightly in his gaze. "So what now? The awkward meet the family moment?"

He shook his head and stepped away a little before taking my hand and leading me from the bathroom. "No. I need to get you home. Your father, Charlie –"

"Will understand. I mean, he may not be ecstatic," I elaborated with a smile, thinking of Charlie's probable facial expressions, "but he's not going to go all shotgun-wedding, either."

Carlisle chuckled. "Well, that's a relief. I'd hate to have to fake a bullet wound." Then, he sobered. "I wanted you to be home and safe while Edward is hunting far away from Forks. Then, we're going to have a meeting, my family and I."

I saw that he had collected my articles of clothing and left them in a neat pile at the foot of the now-stripped bed. "About what happened?" I inquired with what I hoped was delicacy. Edward was Carlisle's "son" or "brother" and I didn't feel that saying, "About how to keep your brother from drooling venom on me in the future?" was very nice. "You said I'd be safe, now."

"For now, yes, but the...situation isn't going to go away, Bella. It's...well..." He appeared very uncomfortable, his face tightening and his brow furrowed. "I'm glad I'm off today. It could take some time to figure out what to do."

I was growing irritated at this Left in the Dark feeling I was getting. "Carlisle. Spill it. I have a right to know."

He sighed heavily and nodded. "You're right. Call your father, if you would, so he won't be worrying about you. I'll tell you everything and you can join us in our meeting. None of my family would gainsay your right to have all the facts."

I heard something crash somewhere in the house but – other than exchanging a dubious look with the patient and incredible doctor who was fishing my cell phone out of my bag for me – didn't say anything.

I punched a number into my phone. "Dad?"

"Bells! You okay?" Some clomping sounds. "Ah, hell, hon. You didn't even come home?" He sounded disappointed in me and I winced. Carlisle brushed the back of my free hand with his lips and looked apologetic.

"Carlisle's family got in, Dad, and everyone was catching up and stuff. They arrived days earlier than anticipated." I managed to sound regretful. Because I was, dammit!, but also because it would distract Charlie a little.

It worked. I could hear him chuckle. "That must have put a kink in your plans for the evening?"

"Ew! Dad! Let's just – just not, okay?"

He sounded much less disappointed when he agreed. "You will be home for dinner, right?" he asked. As much to tell me he'd really rather I stay home that evening than to find out if I was cooking, I was pretty sure.

"I think so. I'll call, okay?"

"Okay. Later, Bells."

"So tell me," I demanded of Carlisle once I had taken care of that business. "Tell me what happened with Edward."

Regret flared in his eyes. "Bella... I don't want you to be frightened. To feel like you have to live in fear. I just – I feel terrible. And there's nothing I can do about it." He moved to sit in the middle of the bare mattress and beckoned to me. I crawled over to him and settled myself on his lap. "It's your blood, sweetheart. You are a rare woman, calling to my heart and to Edward's – appetite."

That squicked me out and I shifted uncomfortably within Carlisle's marble arms. "What? What kind of appetite?" My mind flew over the possibilities. Edward was secretly not a vegetarian and he wanted to drain me dry. He was a member of the Volturi that Carlisle had told me about and he wanted to take me to them for some unknown reason. He was nursing some deep abandonment issues with his grief over the loss of a family member and wanted me dead...

"You're his Singer, Bella." At my blank expression, he curled himself even more closely around me and explained all about it.

"I met the Volturi in 1720..."


Carlisle POV:

The scene sliced at me with poignant memories, for it was all too familiar aside from the one important difference. Sitting in the living room, on neutral-hued sofas and chairs, my family looked to me and to the woman who sat beside me, tucked under my arm. Edward was holding the remains of Bella's sweater that he had scented on his hunt. I had forgotten it, but fortunately his brothers were with him.

Are you sure you're all right, Edward? I inquired silently.

"The sweater helps," he murmured in a voice so quiet that Bella could not hear him. He did not wish to distress her further. "Jasper's keeping an eye on me."

My own focus went to Jasper, who sat within reach of Edward. Alice sat next to him. The pair were a powerful duo. Alice smiled at Bella, her face alight. "It's so good to see you, Bella! I've heard so much about you!"

Bella smiled, her tone wry when she said, "I hear you've also seen a lot about me, too."

Alice giggled and stretched her legs to wiggle her feet. "I have! We need to have a girls' night out!"

Jasper laughed and kissed his wife on the top of her head. "Watch out, Bella. Alice has been very eager to meet you."

"Girls' night," grumbled Rosalie. "Look, Bella Swan. I have nothing against you personally. I don't even know you, right?"

Under my arm, Bella stiffened, her heart speeding up in response to Rose's hostility. "So what's the problem?"

"You're human. You don't belong with Carlisle. Nothing personal."

"Species profiling?" Bella snapped, huffing loudly.

I didn't want to allow this rift to grow, so I shot a look at Rosalie. "Enough," I said beyond Bella's range of hearing. I pressed Bella lightly into my side to reassure her. "All right. We have a problem," I said in a more normal tone. "What are our options?"

"What kind of alternatives did Marcus give?" Alice wondered. Her gift only extended into the future, not the past.

I shook my head. "None. That I ran from my Singer would appall him, I'm fairly certain."

Edward's eyes went black immediately and I could sense the sharp spike of tension in the room. Bella's adrenal level kicked up several notches as well. I smoothed my fingers on the heated skin of her bare arm but kept myself from artificially affecting her mood with any of my known vampire techniques.

"I can't run for sixty years, Carlisle," my long-time companion informed me flatly.

"Marcus only gave the opportunity of – Sorry, Bella – killing the Singer. I refuse to accept that."

Bella chuckled. "Thanks for that. I appreciate it." The family laughed softly in appreciation of her. Except for Edward. He winced, clutching the sweater in his hands and tearing holes through it with his fingers. Bella continued. "Okay, so no killing the human. What else can we do?"

"What about turning her?" Emmett suggested, his expression open. He deliberately did not look at Rosalie. "Take the temptation away, you know?"

"Turn me? Make me a vampire?" Bella stilled in the curve of my arm, her heart stuttering in her breast as she slowly, slowly brought her eyes to meet mine. "Seriously? That'd be the only way? But...that's a world of pain, you said so yourself. And...and I'd have to, like, hunt house cats because there's no way on earth I could hunt like you," she said, disbelief edging her words.

Rose jumped to her feet, her legs thirty-inches apart, her hands balled into fists. "No! Don't even think it, Bella. Better to die than wind up like this!"

Emmett rose to her side, pulling her tightly against him with both arms. I don't know if he was trying to get her to stop or thinking to protect Bella or what was on his mind. "Rosie. Come on. Carlisle loves her and she loves him. Shouldn't everyone have a chance to love someone like that?"

Rosalie tossed her head and pulled herself out of Emmett's arms. Crossing her own, she glared at Bella. "She can find love somewhere else. It's not like she's his mate. Esme was his mate."

Bella cringed visibly and I instinctively drew her up on my lap. As with Emmett, I didn't know if I was protecting her or myself or some vague sense of the situation. "You're not helping," I informed my sister.

"What are our options?" Edward demanded. He was growing visibly more agitated. Suddenly, a soothing sort of invisible blanket seemed to cover all of us. Edward blew out a breath. "Thank you, Jasper. So. What are they?"

I brushed Bella's temple with a kiss. "She doesn't wish to be turned, so that limits us. We either keep you away from her or keep you under some sort of guard until..." I couldn't say it. I loved her and even knowing she was human and believing she should remain human, I couldn't utter the words that would hint at the ending of her life. Not now.

Bella's voice was cool and distant. "Until I die? That's not a good option for any of you."

I inhaled deeply of her. "I could stay with him, Isabella. We all would. The preservation of human life is paramount."

"But what about me?" She didn't even turn to look at me and I felt as if she were pulling away from me, even now. It hurt, deep in my chest.

"Alice?"

She was uncharacteristically subdued, her elfin body curled in on itself. "I can't see anything. No one's made a decision, yet. Not even Edward."

Jasper met my gaze and grimaced before saying rapidly, "Bella's withdrawing, Carlisle. Like her emotions are hiding or something. It's not something I've ever felt before."

Edward? What is she thinking? I hadn't thought to ask before, with all that happened.

"I can't hear her," he rasped. He directed his entire, black-eyed focus on Bella. "Why can't I hear you?"

"Isabella?" I whispered. "Darling, where have you gone?"

"Away. You're leaving, aren't you?" She didn't move, her hollow voice barely carried from her lips, but we all heard her.

"We could just let Edward drink you," Rose muttered. "He'd be happier."

"Enough!" the family shouted. Even Edward.

"She's not Carlisle's mate! It won't hurt him like it did, before. That's all I care for. My family!" Rose stomped her foot hard enough to crack the floor through the carpeting before taking off at a blurred speed through the house and out the back door.

Bella slid from my lap, rising to her feet with an isolated dignity I had never before seen in her. "Take me home please, Carlisle. I – I need to go home."

Could a vampire feel sick to his stomach? I thought it might be possible as I moved to comply with her request. We had to discuss this, but I could understand that it would be overwhelming for her in front of the family. In heavy silence, we went through the house to the garage. She refused to even look at me as I drove slowly down the drive and out to the main road.

I could not let the silence be all there was between us. "What is it? Bella, love, I need you to talk to me."

After a tiny shudder passed through her body, she whispered, "I'm not your mate. I know that. I knew that, too. I did." Her eyes closed so that her wet lashes rested on pale cheeks.

It wasn't the Singer issue that was distressing her. Depressing her too, if I knew anything at all about the manifestations of that condition on the human physiognomy. The rigid way she held her lips contrasted with the slackness of her Masseter muscles, which was a problem, combined with her uncharacteristic disquiet of spirit.

"Bella, would to heaven that I could lie and tell you differently. I am so sorry that Rosalie's notions and her method of expressing them were so caustic. I would never want to hurt you."

She shook her head with a tiny motion and I pulled off the highway on a private drive. No one had used it for months, by its appearance. I willed her to look at me, but she didn't. She just kept her eyes shut. I could see and smell the tears that slid from under her eyelids, though. "You didn't hurt me. It's just the way things are, I guess. I was stupid."

"Never!"

"But I was. I had this idea that – never mind." Abruptly, she shivered and opened her eyes. "I don't want to live forever without you."

"I love you," I reminded her, taking her hand in both of mine. "I do. Bella..." I waited for her to glance my way. She did, eventually; her curiosity overpowered her pride, I imagined. "Isabella, I want to spend the rest of your life with you, don't you know that? I want to watch you hang your shingle in some tiny town somewhere and be the kind of doctor you want to be. I'll join you. For as long as you'll have me, as long as you live. I could leave you, if you insisted, to keep Edward away from you, but I'd prefer to watch over you from a much closer vantage point." With the last four words, I moved nearer to her in the confines of the car.

The color returned to her skin. "So...you don't want to leave me? I mean, I know I've got college and you're here in Forks and that's all human and fine and everything, but..." She tentatively touched my face with her fingertips. They were cooler than normal, but I imagined that was normal, considering her distress. "You'll let me be human and stay anyway? Blood and all?"

"There's not a question of letting you stay human, sweetheart. You are human. It's how we are all intended to be, unless tragedy strikes."

"What about when I get old?" Her laugh was broken. "Or I guess if I bore you, you could always call Edward..." She laughed again, more freely this time. "Or not?"

I breathed more easily and leaned in even closer to nuzzle her hair and whisper kisses along the side of her face and neck. "You will never bore me. Trust me. And as for getting old...?" I waited until she swung her gaze up to meet mine and then I smiled. "Isabella, I am three hundred and seventy years old. I think that says it all."

"But wrinkles and gray hair and..."

"And wisdom and beauty and a lifetime of memories. You will always be beautiful to me."

"So I guess we better figure out a way to take care of Edward and deal with my blood."

I pressed my lips to her skin one final time before pulling back out onto the highway. The morning sun was hidden behind a high cloud cover as we drove to Bella's house. The Chief's cruiser was not in evidence. Just as I keyed off the engine, Bella turned to me with an incandescent smile.

"Come in! I just had an idea!"

"What?"

"About the blood thing," she said, rolling her eyes as if it were the most obvious topic in the world. "I just need to look something up."

"At the risk of sounding like the cock of the walk," I offered as I handed her out of the car, "why don't you ask me?"

She tugged me by the hand and tossed me another brilliant smile. "Because I want to look it up myself. And then if I'm wrong I don't have to tell you... You're not the mind-reader in the family!"

That she had been able to bounce right back and tease me about just this topic astounded me and left me in something close to awe as we entered her home. I followed her up the stairs and into her bedroom. I couldn't help but measure the bed with my eyes immediately, thinking seriously that I wanted her to have something larger and then just as swiftly realizing her small room would not hold a queen-sized bed, much less a king. Just as well. It would make me uneasy to make love to Charlie's unwed daughter under his roof.

Why was it better under my own? I was master of my own home, of course. And it just...felt better.

"All right! Now, where's the calculator," Bella was saying. Propped up against the headboard of her narrow bed, she had her laptop angled between her abdomen and thighs. Her eyes glowed as she tapped lightly away on her keyboard. I did notice she hit the space bar rather harder, as well as every key with the smallest finger of her right hand. She was maneuvering well, considering her recent incapacitation in that arm.

"The suspense is killing me," I remarked, coming to perch at the foot of her bed. "What are you doing?" I refused to cheat and speed up and back to peek; I wanted her to tell me what was making her so happy.

"Three hundred and ninety two days!" she all but shouted in her personal triumph. Closing her computer, she beamed at me. "You said the only way to quench the burn is to drain the Singer, right? And the average human carries around eight pints of blood. So what if he had access to eight pints of Vintage Singer Bella Swan?"

I was horrified and jumped abruptly to my feet. I had to pace. The idea just made me so uncomfortable I could barely think straight all of a sudden. "No," I ground out. "I can't let you do that. No."

She laughed lightly and rolled awkwardly from the bed to cross the small floor and embrace me. Her hands slipped under my shirt and pressed firmly against my stomach. I felt myself relax, all unwilling as she spoke into my back. "Carlisle, listen. I can have my blood drawn by the Red Cross once every fifty six days. You know my blood type, right?"

"AB positive. One of the rarest."

"I know. The Red Cross loves me, but my weight is right on the edge of eligibility for public donations. Still. I can donate and you could store the blood, couldn't you? Somewhere? It would be three hundred and ninety-two days from the time I donated the first pint until I donated the last. My body would replenish itself and no harm would come to me. Edward would be able to drink a full body-weight of blood. And his thirst would be quenched, right?"

I saw the possibilities as she offered them and turned them over in my mind. "Isabella," I whispered, turning in her arms to take her in mine. "That's brilliant. I don't know why it wouldn't work..." I was uneasy but couldn't think of why that might be. Perhaps because Bella's blood was such a precious commodity and I hated to have her even thinking about giving it up to the craving of a vampire. Even one as dear to me as Edward.

"Do you want to do it?"

I laughed lightly and rested my chin on her hair. An entirely human gesture, it came naturally to me when I was with her. "Yes. I think I'd have a hard time trusting anyone else. Do you trust me to do it?" I teased, knowing the answer.

She smoothed her hands over me until they were clasped behind my neck. "I trust you with my life, Dr. Cullen. I thought you knew that."

"I love you." It was a sentence that could not be said too often in the short span of a human life. As I melded my mouth to hers, taking in the living, breathing heat of her, I imagined the life we would have together. For however many years we were given. It would be beautiful. Short and vibrant and dynamic in its every hour.

"I'll love you for as long as I live," she assured me. "And maybe even longer."


Epilogue: Changes

Bella POV

My idea was an utter failure. I should have known it would be – such an easy solution could not serve for such a complicated need. Carlisle did some judicious testing and discovered that freezing my blood damaged it and made it unpalatable. Even a gradual reheating process was unsuccessful. He tried separating it, red blood cells from white, platelets, plasma...

Edward came into Carlisle's home-lab and got a whiff of Vintage Singer, 2010 and tore off in a frenzy. I discovered that he is faster than any of the others in the family. A family I consider my own.

I have to consider them as my own, now. I am one of them.

It happened in the middle of the night, when vampires were awake and busying themselves with one thing or another. Carlisle had taken me back to school after a long weekend in November and was staying with me in my solitary dorm room. I hadn't allowed him to lease me an apartment, so he pulled strings with the housing administration on campus to garner me a corner room without a roommate.

I didn't complain. There were many worse things in life than having a handsome, energetic man spend the night!

He had taken the latest pint of blood with which to experiment – they were experiments at that point, rather than actual storage options – and we were back in Seattle. In my bed, deliciously spent. I was exhausted; Carlisle was luminescent in the light from the moon that shone on his beautiful skin. A bar of Lindt chocolate rested on my nightstand; he had presented it to me earlier with a sexy grin that made me tingle.

"I could get used to this," I told him.

He rolled me onto his stomach and pushed my hair off of my face. His expression was expectant, but serious. "If you'd marry me, you could grow very used to it."

It was such a casual proposal from such a formal man that I didn't believe it at first. But then, he whisked out a ring from his pants pocket on the floor...

Celebrating us took precedence over anything else that night and into the dark hours of the morning. Which was why, I believe, Carlisle didn't hear Edward coming. There was no fight to speak of. Edward was a vampire in pursuit of his Singer and he wasted no motion in obtaining what his body craved. I understood that and didn't hold it against him. Not when he tore me from Carlisle's arms. Not when he caught a sheet in one hand and leapt from my window with me in his other arm. Not when he ran off with me into the dark, somehow wrapping me up to cover my nakedness as he sped through the misty pre-dawn of morning.

"He's coming for you, but he won't be here in time. Not quite."

I felt my eyes burn with hopeless tears. "I wanted to say goodbye, Edward. He just asked me to be his wife."

I guessed we were in some kind of private park or something, because it was entirely silent where we stopped. Without relinquishing his grip for a moment, Edward settled up against a tree. "I'm truly sorry, Bella. I am. I know you tried."

While I burned, I came to realize through Carlisle and Alice that Edward had done his best to save me. He ran slowly enough to allow Carlisle to catch up to us before he ravaged my neck. He spoke to me, containing his fierce desire for my blood, to give his sire time to reach us. Edward wanted to give me a chance.

But not enough to refrain from drinking. I was whispering Carlisle's name over and over as long as I could once Edward's teeth cut through my skin like a hot knife through soft cheese. It didn't even hurt at first. It was just so final. I felt so hopeless. All I could hear was my heartbeat and Edward's desperate, feral growling against my skin. I was dying, dying. My life was passing into the body of a vampire and all I could do was cry fruitlessly as my heart fought to keep beating.

Until the voice of an angel – an angry angel who could have been Kenneth Branagh in another time and place, maybe – called into the darkness. "Isabella! God, help me! Edward. You must stop!"

Then it was that Edward made his choice. He started exchanging my blood for his venom at the very last moments.

Carlisle told me that Edward ran faster than the wind to get me back to Forks. I don't know. I do know that my change took a mere forty hours. Unheard of. But it was also unheard of for a vampire to change his Singer, so I give Edward full marks for restraint.

Yes, really.

Studying anatomy with Dr. Cullen is much more interesting than any college class, though I'll have to go back to school eventually, when I can. For now, I am learning of all the muscles in the human anatomy. I can trace them with my tongue on the model of his perfect, quartz-like body.

"Isabella..." Carlisle moans when I pass these "pop-quizzes." "You will be the death of me."

"I'd rather be your life, instead."

On that, we are in perfect agreement.

The End.


Yes, this is the end. It was originally going to be a one-shot of seven thousand words but it grew…! Thank you so much for reading and rec'ing this auction fic. I had a terrific time with it. ~LJ