A/N: I finally got my mojo back for Carlisle's brain. More than I planned, actually. :P
EDIT: The last 2,000+ words of this chapter were cut off somehow, but I added them back on.
jessah: Thank you beyond words! That was a very lovely response and one that definitely encourages!
Aromene: Ooh, violent are we? Maybe I can send you a Cullen punching bag set for Easter! XD
CarlisleLover1234: Ahh, fights may be in the future at some point. Not sure when, but don't count it out. :)
Tsukinoko1: Yes, I definitely plan to continue this story! It may not be rapid-fire updating, but it will be updated.
Thank you all so, so much for your moral support and for reading and reviewing!
Chapter 6: Emotion
How could my beloved family, loved and nurtured over almost a century, turn into a misshapen disaster in only one week? Into a wreckage of such disproportionate means? But I knew the answer without even allowing the thought to process in my mind. It could happen the same way one moment had wrecked this family for six months and continued to wreak havoc on it even unto the present time.
My office, which had so often been the sanctuary I turned to in times of strife and when in need of solitary contemplation, now echoed the empty yet dramatically stifling emotions coursing through my heart and mind. No amount of paperwork or literary consumption could possibly end the awfully unbalanced path my life and family was shaping into. I needed an out; a temporary distraction to perhaps straighten out my thought process. A hunt could never go amiss, I decided. And if needs persisted, I could run further than our typical routes and let my thoughts run free without worrying about Edward overhearing.
Standing with the silence of one without a real purpose, I instinctively headed up to Edward's room. He held Bella closely, as the dear girl had fallen asleep again. Staring for an extensive moment at my son and his beloved, I wondered where that dedication had gone missing in my own marriage. Where had I neglected Esme so deeply that she would feel incapable of confiding something in me?
Edward suddenly sat up, raking a hand through his unruly hair. The gesture of pure frustration echoed my lack of insight and reminded me all too keenly of the inadequacy I felt deep inside myself of late.
Still lost in my unhappy wonderings, I nearly didn't notice when Edward glanced back enough to recognize my presence. Tamping down the instinct to jump, I slowly stepped into the room.
"Are you well?" he asked concernedly.
Dim though the darker side of humor had always been in my disposition, Edward's question jolted a deep, untapped sense of morbid amusement. No, I could not honestly say I was well. But that was not something I would ever let show when he was already so troubled.
"Fine," I lied blankly, lacking the energy to put any true conviction into my tone. Something halfway convincing needed to be said, however. Edward would wonder if I gave him no reason for the choice to go for a hunt so abruptly, particularly as our own hunt loomed on the horizon.
"I am heading out for a moment. Just a short hunt nearby. My eyes... They are a bit… off-putting, shall I say?"
Reluctant though he sounded to accept so feeble of an excuse, Edward let it go. "All right, then. Be wary of the Quileutes, will you?"
Seeing my son shiver, I was reminded of the pack's anger at my supposed injustice. Yes, I would be very careful now. No matter how uncomfortable my life became, I could not throw caution to the wind and run pell-mell wherever I pleased. There was still a need to protect my family, even if they were upset with me.
"I will be." Forcing some awkward semblance of a smile on my face, I nodded once in agreement. It was kind of Edward to show his concern after the mistakes I had made lately. Of course, considering Bella's intense involvement on my behalf that night, I could understand why his concerns would be so prevalent. Looking at the young lady in question, I could barely withhold a glance full of gratitude, sadness, and some apprehension. What troubles might she face for her big hearted actions?
Keeping tight reign over my thoughts, I exited the room without responding further to Edward. Too many challenging concepts swirled through my mind to let it loose now. Every time we had spoken from Saturday until the present time, Bella had shown me nothing but kindness and understanding. And what had it led to? Arguing with Edward, battling Rosalie's hatred, buffering the strife between each of my family members… That was not the kind of relationship I wanted dear Bella to have with any of us.
The dilemma would not leave me alone, no matter where I ran or how fast I moved or what scenery I forced myself to look at. Even when, at the end of my tether, I began to drain a small doe – the first creature to cross my path since I had actually decided to feed – I could not suppress the ongoing fuss in my mind. Concluding that my attempts were in vain, I downed two more deer before reluctantly heading home at last.
As stealthily as I could manage, I opened the back doors, slipped inside the house on soft feet, and glided up to my office to think. Hopefully Edward would not be paying any attention, especially when my thoughts turned again to the depressing distance between my wife and I.
I loved Esme so dearly that I could hardly imagine doing anything to drive her away in this manner. Hard as I tried to think of a reason, my conclusions were empty ponderings with no meaning. Why? The question went round and round in my head, constantly beating my brain into submission. Had I been so harsh a husband as to lose her faith and trust when I needed it most?
So painful was this train of thought that my face contorted with the feelings it invoked. I wanted to stop, but I didn't know quite how to do so in any effective, normal way. The simplest way to stop was to empty my mind; to become blank and disallow emotion to twist my features. It was not normal, by any means, but it worked.
"Carlisle," came Edward's quiet voice, startling me by his sudden appearance. As it turned out, I was the one not paying any attention.
Surprising though his entry was, I kept my features schooled into a carefully neutral expression based in the emptiness of my mind, praying my safeguard was effective. "Yes, Edward?"
"Is there anything you need?" A strange question, really. It did not seem to coincide with the current situation.
"Why should I need anything?" I asked, still blanketing my every emotion with emptiness.
"No reason," he shrugged slightly. "You seem highly distracted. I just wondered."
"Oh..." Again, this did not coincide with anything. Edward had never inquired in such a way during my other times of distraction. As a matter of fact, more often than not Edward left me well enough alone when I felt distracted. Much of the time that was the best way to handle it. Oh… No, I could not let myself feel curiosity. Even a mild curiosity could bring my whole façade crumbling down on my head and leave me contorting with feelings again. It took a long moment to bring myself under control once more. Finally reaching a sufficiently blank plane again, I continued, "No, I need nothing. Is there something you wanted?"
"A bit of advice, perhaps," was Edward's reply, almost bored it seemed.
"Advice?" I wondered aloud. Internally, I could hardly imagine what advice Edward would want on a random day of the year when there was no school, Bella was fast asleep, and the rest of the family was out of the house.
"Yes." He drew out the word as if I was a rather slow child, but I did not let it bother me. I could not allow emotion through, after all.
"For what?" was my simple prompt.
"I want to do something for Bella," he answered, almost flippantly shrugging off the magnitude of his suggestion. "Something she would appreciate. I haven't done much like that for her since..."
Without the tight control I had over my features and thoughts, I might have given away more information than I ever wanted to about our family's time in Ithaca. About our time without Edward and Bella… Yet I remained neutral, empty.
"Well, I think she needs something special," Edward hurried onward, obviously hoping to redirect both of our minds. "Bella deserves... a sort of reminder I'll take care of her and she's important."
Oh! Well, this I could work with. If emptiness was not a viable recourse for burying my painful feelings, then focusing on happy emotions certainly could be. I had found over the years that keeping the best memories at the forefront of my mind was an excellent method of banishing my loneliness somewhat. Thinking of helping Bella in such a sincere, heartfelt way buoyed my spirit. Besides, maybe this was a way in which I could make up for the unfortunate path her relations with my family had taken.
"That is a very good idea," I concurred much more brightly. "Do you have any inkling what precisely you wish to do?"
"No, none," Edward admitted, shaking his head. "I seem to be coming up blank."
It amused me that, as charming as my son could be with most ladies, when it came to the woman he loved, all of his reactions were a mass of confusion. "Well, you know she is not fond of you spending a great deal of money on her..."
"Yes, I'm well aware," he rolled his eyes, sounding quite frustrated.
"At any rate," I continued, tapping my lips in thought.
What could my son do for Bella that would be acceptable within her monetary limitations and yet still meaningful? A CD was no good, since Edward had already done that for her birthday. He also played for her whenever she might wish him to, so that was out as well. No trips, as they cost a lot of money and might anger Charlie… Bella would never accept any more gifts like books or music, as that was money she did not want spent. I tried to think of any human routine that Edward might make easier for the love of his life, but came up short. Everything cost money. Food processors, laundry aides, a dishwasher… they all cost something.
Wait… Bella had to eat, didn't she now? If she let the rest of us cook, I had little doubt she would let Edward do so, too. That was it!
"Why not make breakfast for her?"
Edward might have swallowed the blood of a fish for all the enthusiasm he showed. "I can't cook... at all."
Well, I had not counted on that. "Have you never watched Es– your mother?" I started, stumbled uncomfortably over my wife's name, and tried to rephrase before Edward noticed, but my flinch was a bit too obvious. I just couldn't think of her without hurting. I wanted so badly to fix things between us, but I knew not how.
"No, I'm usually sitting with Bella whenever... Esme is cooking."
Edward may have felt cool and casual in using his mother's name, but it was all too easy to see what he was doing. Nevertheless, I winced in reaction before I could help myself.
"Unless you have a chef crash course somewhere in those bookshelves," Edward waved an agitated hand towards my bookshelves, plainly sarcastic, "then I believe this is out of the question."
Although I had a very good idea of how my son would cook Bella's breakfast, I knew it was likely not a wise decision on my part to reveal my experience so easily. So I schooled my face into blankness once more and tried not to feel nervous.
"I... could show you how." Ah, but the nerves belied my calm exterior to the point of my fidgeting in a very human way.
"You... you cook? Since when? And why?"
Had I not been so nervous, I would have laughed at Edward's wide-eyed disbelief. No, I supposed I did not appear to be the cooking type. Bella had been my inspiration, however, and when I thought back to that time where she was not with us… It was unhappy to say the least. Adding Edward's absence had been a doubly powerful blow.
"Only because of Bella," I muttered beneath my breath, praying my son would be less than perceptive as to my discomforting memories.
"Right," he responded perfunctorily, and some part of me chuckled at his forceful head shake. "So... you can show me?"
"Certainly," I agreed with assurance. I certainly knew how to cook now, as I had done for Bella all that weekend. Surely Edward would perform admirably, too. "You should pick it up rather quickly, actually. Seeing as it's for Bella."
"I guess we should get started, then. But… uh… Carlisle?"
Edward looked stoic, but discomfort radiated from his stance and tone. What was so troublesome now? Pausing mid-rise, I prompted him, "Yes?"
"You may want to clean up first."
Blanching at the insinuation, I waited until he was downstairs to examine my appearance. Sure enough – to my disbelief – blood and dirt stains spattered my clothing. Running a hand through my hair in agitation at this revelation only revealed further dishevelment, in the form of twig pieces, leaf debris, and other bits of nature. Such… uninhibited mess was completely unlike me. Trying in vain to ignore the growing distraction I felt, I hurried to change into a less hassled outfit and combed my hair, then headed downstairs to teach Edward about the kitchen.
I found myself smiling, chuckling, and feeling marginally happier the longer I stayed in Edward's company. Of all my children, only Edward could manage to make me feel better when Esme and I were somehow at odds or far apart from each other for days at a time. While I loved the others, Edward was the only one who had been there with me when Esme was not. I had already experienced a time with just Edward and I. But I had never faced a time with my other children, without Esme at my side.
Shaking myself from those awful thoughts, I barely tuned into my surroundings to hear Edward murmur, "She'll wake soon."
Nodding once in adherence, I allowed Edward to throw away his less… comfortable… creations and moved to set out all of Edward's mastered endeavors and clear the trash.
After a while of working at a typical human speed – something I found soothing at times – I turned to face Edward, intending to give him once last piece of advice about timing the different parts of Bella's meal while he cooked. The words caught in my throat when I saw the expression of absolute terror on Edward's face. Whatever color was in my skin left it instantly.
"What is it?" I questioned him quickly, almost fearfully.
"It's nothing," Edward said, to my utter disbelief. A face like that could not be based in nothing. "Just... overreacting. I'm sure I am. Don't worry."
Now he was admitting a so-called weakness? Something was dreadfully wrong. I just wished he would tell me what it was. Surely I could help him to fix it?
"Carlisle, please, it's nothing to be troubled over," he continued firmly before I could speak. "I jumped to conclusions about our visitors last night. I'm sure you can understand why. Worrying about the person behind it repeating their actions, with only the two of us and Bella here..."
Heavens above, was that all? Not that I blamed him for being worried about Bella and our family being watched, but really... We had covered all of this the previous night.
"I do wish you could warn me before you get such a look on your face." I attempted a chuckle, awkward though it felt.
"I'll try to remember that the next time I panic unnecessarily." Difficult thought it was to ignore the half-grimace on Edward's lips and the uncomfortable way he spoke, I knew he would tell me nothing more on the matter.
"I should go up to the hospital," I sighed uneasily. "To retrieve my paperwork."
"Yes, I suppose so," Edward agreed a bit reluctantly. Did he need me to stay?
I had to constrain myself before I said the thought aloud. Instead, I asked him, "You feel that is safe, then?"
Another reluctant moment and then he said, "Of course."
"Then I shall return in a short while."
Edward nodded again, retaining that infernal hesitance, and I knew my thoughts would be uneasy the entire time I was gone. Not that they were exactly wonderful in the first place, but at least I had been able to clamp down on them. This was too disconcerting to accept calmly, though. I just left, as I had intended, umbrella in hand for when I exited the car at the hospital.
Try though I may, the ride was as bad as I feared. The rain was too heavy to see the scenery in as much detail as would be required to distract me – not that it would, but that was not the point – and to my astonishment, I neglected to bring a jacket with me. The questions would be awkward and at least one person would be suspicious of my lacking such an integral piece of a human wardrobe.
Yet in spite of my worries over suspicion being raised… nothing in this world – not the rudest and most flirtatious of nurses as I entered the hospital, nor Stephen Bailey's secret sneering as he handed over my paperwork, nor even a kind thank you from a patient of mine as I left – could tear my mind away from the struggle of immense proportions which overshadowed my loved ones and I. Particularly the despair of my wife's estrangement from me. Every minute was another battle to restrict my brain to less painful topics. Leaving Edward so worried had not helped. The difficulties would have assuredly overwhelmed me at last as I entered my home for the third time that day, had I not received a phone call which startled me completely out of my strand of thought.
I recognized the same number that belonged to the Beaver Police Station. Charlie Swan had luckily called me just before I arrived at the hospital. The situation could have turned exceptionally awkward if I arrived without him having informed Stephen of Bella's current circumstance. Why he was calling now bewildered me.
"Doctor Cullen?" Charlie Swan's continued use of my title might have caused me to chuckle in a better mood.
Edward's lean form appeared quite suddenly on the staircase, again surprising me. If I had not realized Edward could hear me answer the call from upstairs, I probably would have thought he somehow routed my mental blocking in order to hear my thoughts. My son said nothing, but gestured up at the ceiling from ahead of me and murmured, "She's awake."
"Doctor Cullen?" Charlie repeated concernedly into the phone, bringing me back to the matter at hand.
Shaking myself mentally and following my son right up to the door of his room, I replied familiarly, "Hello, Charlie."
Sure enough, when we arrived in the room a split second later, Bella was sitting up. She looked so surprised at my arrival that I truly grinned for once since this whole mess began to depress me so. Bella had that effect on us all.
"I was going to call Bella, but she didn't answer the cell," Charlie explained, sounding as though he would be annoyed under other circumstances, but held back in accordance with his daughter's stress and worry. "Is she awake?"
"Yes, she's here," I answered.
"Can you let me speak at her for a minute?" he asked, as though I would even remotely consider refusing.
"Of course," I assured him firmly, trying to convey the obviousness of my answer.
Bella took the phone almost gingerly from me as she began to talk with her father and although a few moments of pleasant chatter filled my mind, and a grin crossed my face once, it could not deter the growing unhappiness inside me. Charlie's praise for me and Bella's proud smile, while vaguely pleasing, merely increased the feeling of unhappy inadequacy to such an extent I became incapable of looking towards my son at all by the time Bella ended her call. Surely Edward did not agree with such praises at this point in time. Occasionally glancing from the corner of my eye, I felt my certainty upon that idea grow exponentially. Never once did Edward acknowledge my glance.
The awkwardness of Edward's distance, combined with Esme's avoidance, was one large chasm I could not hope to cross on my own.
"Well," Bella finally spoke, looking as awkward as I felt, "no Charlie and no school. Must be my lucky day. Or maybe my lucky weekend, period."
Assuming she meant to cheer us up, I forced a quiet laugh that sounded nothing like me and then reached out to take the phone from her outstretched hand. "I'll be in my office."
Exactly as I'd said, I settled into my office… miserably. Paperwork seemed all I had the energy to do, and for some time I tried restlessly to force my mind upon that and nothing else. It was not to be, however. Esme's pinched face continued to crop up in my thoughts at every moment. It was challenging enough to deal with Edward's agitation and Rosalie's anger, but to add into the equation my wife's reticence was to double the hollow, aching feeling in my chest.
No longer could I sit aimlessly in my office grueling over pointless paperwork when my mind was so ill-occupied. It seemed all I was capable of doing lately was running away. Regardless what Edward thought of my behavior, I needed to leave and try my hardest to detract from the emptiness in me. I only hoped he would let me go without any explanations.
'Edward,' I thought specifically for him, 'I will be back shortly.'
As I had feared, my eldest son could not let me go easily, appearing before me instantly with a face that was as concerned as it was confused. "Where in the world do you need to go now? You just hunted this morning, Carlisle. And with the way you looked after that one, don't tell me it's beneficial in any way, because I won't believe it."
"I'm going in our territory only," I tried to hedge, not wanting to discuss my overwrought senses and faculties. "There won't be a problem with the Quileutes."
"I believe that much. That's not my problem. It's the why that bothers me," he argued sternly, reminiscent of his human mother's forceful nature.
"Edward, if I must begin explaining my reasons behind a simple run…" I argued back, letting the thought trail off warningly. Trying to put off the argument would only make my eldest son fight harder, so I had to fight back instead.
"Now I know something's wrong," was Edward's blunt statement, a deep frown crossing his face. "You don't argue like this unless you want to escape."
"Then kindly let me do so," I snipped uncharacteristically and my son's face stiffened marginally in response.
"Maybe that would be best, then," he murmured carefully, stepping back to allow me a clear path out of the office. "Just please, as I said, be wary of the wolves."
"I will be, Edward," I sighed, regretting my previous snub, but unprepared to apologize without a thorough explanation, which was something I could not yet do. Wordlessly, I left my office and headed through the back door of the house once again. Avoiding the now obvious gray area of the treaty, I made my way around treetops in a haphazard fashion, in a vain attempt to throw my mind off track.
Running was, as I found out, probably the worst mistake I could have made. All it afforded me was a momentary respite until the strange leaps and turns became monotonous and useless to my true purpose – to avoid Esme's actions. But what could I have been thinking? She was my wife, my mate, my other half; her entire life was my utmost concern. Without it, my own would be pointless, a half life.
Sighing with utter desolation, I returned much more slowly to our home than I had left it. Though I took out the paperwork with a gloomy air, my arrival did not leave me isolated for very long. Edward and his beloved were talking in his room and while I could hear every word, it made me quite happy when Bella decided to tell me herself that they were leaving for a little while. On the other hand, Edward's behavior seemed a complete world apart from his earlier concern. I knew I had not done anything since then, so I could hardly imagine bothered him so. And from their words, it was plain Bella had not yet described the previous weekend to him in any detail.
Hearing Bella's footsteps come closer, I shook myself and focused. "Come in, Bella," I called calmly before her hand could reach the surface of the door.
"Hey. Sorry to interrupt," she greeted apologetically, only her head peeking in. "I just wanted to let you know we were going over to Charlie's house for a little while."
"You are not interrupting anything, my dear," I made sure to reassure her with a slight smile. "Thank you for telling me. Please put on something dry and warm when you get there. This weather is clearly rather nasty. I do not want you falling ill."
"I will." Her laughter was wonderful to hear after how worried she had been about Charlie. "And I'll throw on a blanket, too, if you want."
Bella's humor drew a deep chuckle out of me, something I thought was a bit beyond my talents at the present time. It had to be the fact that the poor girl had nothing to do with the situation Esme had put the two of us through. Waving her off, I returned to my paperwork and my hurt with a nigh-inaudible exhale.
Startled from my work only moments later, I could only feel alarm at the tone Edward had just taken with Bella. For some reason, my concentration did not allow me to comprehend precisely what was being said, but it could not be good. The roaring replies my son gave a minute later only served to confirm that much. Rushing to the top of the stairs, I finally perceived exactly what Edward was saying.
This was not a place for me to intervene really. But in my haste to leave and allow the young couple their debate, I inadvertently revealed my presence anyway. Then began the worst stream of rambling I had taken up since Edward first lived with me. Bella's presence increased my embarrassment tenfold.
"I did not mean to intrude," I began ridiculously, mouthing nothing before I swallowed with great difficulty and went onward senselessly. "Edward was rather… boisterous. I was worried and rushed down, but as I stepped onto the stairs, I actually listened to what you were saying… It was a bit late to back out at that point, however. You… you heard the noise… I…"
What nonsense! Where on earth I had picked up such mindless drivel was beyond me entirely. Edward's baleful expression did not help matters any, that much I could freely admit, and with the addition of the warning growl emanating from the depths of his chest, I thoroughly understood myself to be out of his graces once more for another unfathomable reason.
"Edward," Bella cut in before either I or my son could speak, "Don't. You. Dare."
So I was not the only one who recognized my son's morbid mood. Thank heaven for that, at least. Unfortunately, the look which Edward next gave me was one I felt all too familiar with and one I had little wish to examine any further.
The glowering jealousy which burned in my son's eyes cut me to the core. Yet as to what made him jealous, I was again incapable of understanding. Everything began to feel quite useless after so much discord. To fight seemed without purpose, without meaning anymore. Every time I fought the oncoming chaos within my family, the more that came our way as result. Resignation crept into the very marrow of my bones; there was no point to arguing a battle that was already lost.
"Finish the damn oath," was Edward's angry command towards Bella, eyes perched upon my own with terrible displeasure therein. As intended, the acidic expression hurt greatly.
Sensing Bella's disgust and fury over this attitude did me no good; the support of that impeccably strong young woman could no longer refute the pain of losing my son over and over again in this emotional free-for-all.
"Fine…" Bella continued to recite the vow she required of her love, "do you swear on my soul that no matter what, you will hear out everything I have to say, discuss your feelings about it all with me, remain by my side until I feel you are no longer bad-tempered, and not attack Carlisle for telling me?"
"That one's new," said Edward venomously, eyes glittering. Every single ounce of my strength was necessary to hold back from flinching in response.
"Do you swear it? All of it?" Bella demanded worriedly.
How mockingly Edward replied, "On your soul." Still his eyes were frozen on me, and never did he cast his beloved a look. No more could I even look upon my son's dark gaze.
To my satisfaction, bland though it was, Bella took it all in stride and turned to me instead of arguing further. "Carlisle, I want to talk to you whenever I get back. Is that okay?"
Casting a slight glance of acknowledgement her way, I answered gently, "Yes, of course, Bella."
Nothing more left my lips as I escaped back to my office to… to what, exactly? To sit in silent dejection and wonder when my family would forgive me for my failings? Perhaps to dwell on all I had done wrong? There was no other path to tread. Not for me, not in that moment. Alice was wrong earlier that morning. I had lost that much with all of them.
A mess of noise infiltrated my ears suddenly, sounding rather like Bella walking quite fast and tripping one too many times. Where was Edward to stop her from falling, I wondered?
But Edward spoke with much sarcasm moments later, "I thought this was important."
"Not so important that you drag me around like a puppet!" Bella exclaimed, and then clearly tried to pull away from something… or someone?
Please, Father in Heaven, don't let it be Edward forcing her along with him. That would be more than I could tolerate from him; discord between us or no, it mattered not. Hadn't Esme and Rosalie been enough of an example of why such behavior was unacceptable? Releasing myself from the restraint of staying upstairs, I rushed down to the main level just as Bella snapped.
"Knock it off!"
To see Edward – gentlemanly and courteous and protective Edward, who had begun his rebellious years so as to defend women like his mother and sister from the abuse of monstrous and forceful men – dragging his darling Bella out of our house in so harsh a manner was horrifying. Furious beyond even my own guilty conscience over recent events, I did not even imagine stopping my self from reprimanding my son.
Allowing every ounce of reproach into my words, I called out, "Edward!"
When he ignored me entirely, I had no choice but to disassemble his arrogance in my thoughts, allowing my emotions loose and finally freeing up some of my mind for him to listen to. The shock of hearing my internal voice after so many weeks and months halted Edward too quickly for Bella to catch up to and she tumbled off of his much stronger body as easily as water off a stone. Still distracted by my inward lecture, Edward paid no attention to his young love, leaving it to me to catch her before she fell. The hold was awkward with Edward still gripping the girl's arm, so instead of simply righting her I was forced to hold on until the position changed for Bella's ease.
To my utter disbelief, not only did Edward not show any shame for his actions, he had the audacity to offer me a deeply incensed expression because of my intervention with Bella. No doubt he would have contended my interference somehow, but I was up to my limit. I could think of no way to show my son his error, except to remind him of the aggressive handling which had so injured his mother and sister in their human lives. His figure turned rigid within less than a millisecond. In an even shorter time than that, Edward released Bella's arm with the same instinctive reaction as one pricked by a needle, and ran straight to the Volvo as though the devil were on his heels.
"Damaging the car won't fix anything," Bella remarked distantly as Edward slammed the door of the car, damaging it rather severely in his haste to escape. For all my anger over his behavior, I knew there would be hell to pay in his conscience once he thought through it all. My son was nothing if not easy to impression with guilt.
Turning my concern to Bella, I set her safely on her feet as I inquired concernedly, "Are you all right? You're arm?"
The poor girl's mouth moved, but emitted nothing at first. She thought for a moment more, then answered, "I'm fine. Just… just…"
Still Bella's thoughts remained elusive, evading her tongue entirely. Words, however, were completely unnecessary once I smelled the salty moisture forming in her eyes.
"Bella," I exhaled quietly, guiding her to the nearest sofa cautiously. "Sit down for a moment. Let me… I… Shall I try to call him back?"
Little else was possible for me to do, save attempt it. For Bella, though, I would do that much. A shake of her head was all the reply I received as I guided the young woman to sit. Brown eyes rooted to the floor was the most I saw from Bella until some thought sent her facial features into a mixture of mild dread and deep concentration.
"He was on the phone with someone," she uttered after a time, bewildering me.
"When I was dozing," she went on, sounding all too empty for my liking. "I thought I was dreaming, but… He must have talked to someone and… And what? What could have made him act like that, Carlisle?"
Pityingly, I caught her gaze at last, saying little of consequence. "I do not know. I wish I did. Truly, I do."
Useless words in a helpless situation. That was all I had to ability to conjure up as consolation. To make it worse, all I could do afterward was sit with Bella in equal misery, waiting for something, anything to happen. I certainly hoped my other children were not at odds within their marriages as well. Four dysfunctional couples under the same roof was a terrible place to be while trying to heal.
Minutes later (or maybe even days, for all I knew), Bella and I sat side by side in our own worlds of pain and confusion, when I noticed the sound of tires on the road towards our home. My head snapped up in wild and irrational hope of Edward or Esme returning. Bella, too, turned to stone in anticipation. Perhaps…
But no. We were not that lucky. Not by a long shot.
"The jeep," I let Bella know, sighing deeply in disappointment. "It must be Alice."
"Maybe she knows something that can help," was Bella's weak try for optimism. Merely nodding doubtfully with a very unhelpful smile and a pat to her thin shoulder, I waited for Alice to enter the house with one of her usual knowing remarks on Edward's stupidity.
Sure as the sunrise, Alice shut the door behind herself and commented in a tone made of pure ice, "Well, the idiot has truly done it this time."
To my tiny daughter's appearance on the opposite sofa, Bella's reaction was to turn and face her knees. Recognizing that this must be related to Alice's strange behaviors the past day-and-a-half, I decided to keep neutral until the issue was outed. My interventions otherwise had only produced ill-will so far; I saw no purpose in cutting in again, perhaps to the detriment of another relationship.
Alice sighed exasperatedly and grumbled almost inaudibly at vampire speed, "Of course he was right about telling her. Now I know why Emmett calls him a know-it-all."
A vague semblance of chuckling escaped me for this reminder of simpler times in our lives together. Without further adieu, Alice popped onto the very issue that was troubling her friend "Bella, I have a confession to make."
When the girl in question did not reply, I guessed she required some moral support after feeling rejected by her near-sister since the previous afternoon. Squeezing Bella's hand in reassurance, I prompted my daughter, "Go on, Alice."
"Everything that happened on Wednesday with Rosalie…" Alice started very tentatively, unlike herself, but abruptly exploded with the truth of the matter. "Oh, forget tact! I planned it, Bella. I thought it would give you both some time to build up a better relationship with Rosalie, but then it didn't work out how I thought it would. I'm still not sure why it didn't, but I may never know."
Yes, that all sounded quite like Alice to do something to ease her sisters together. The ignored phone call was another story, however; one which she thankfully went on to explain.
"And you honestly picked the worst time call later that night," she said in frustration, more with herself than Bella. "When Jazz called, I was still outside the forest, but I didn't answer your phone calls because I was dealing with that damn wildfire at the time and… and… oh…"
Had I not heard her so clearly, I would have thought myself rather out of touch.
A fire. Alice was dealing with a fire. A vampire, whose only method of death was through fire – and whose mate would lose his mind upon her loss – and still she was handling a fire. A wildfire. On her own. No… not on her own. She worked with Rosalie.
Good Lord. My Esme putting out wildfires. My wife and daughters in the middle of the biggest vampire death trap imaginable!
Suddenly, more suddenly than the speed at which my body was capable of moving, everything since the night before made perfect sense.
As I regained awareness of my surroundings, I realized my eyes had widened and my jaw had fallen open quite magnificently. Alice gaped across the space between us, mouthing wordlessly against her slip of the tongue, while Bella risked glances at either sofa, waiting for some kind of breakthrough.
Once the shock was gone enough for my mouth to work sufficiently, I began to splutter, vocal chords caught in the grip of a metaphorical stranglehold. "Are you telling me…"
I shook my head back and forth in denial of such idiocy for a number of minutes, until the knowledge forced my brain into complete recognition and acceptance of the facts. Groaning almost obnoxiously over the situation, words came back to me in a rush of frustration. "Esme, Rose, and you… You silly… You foolish, irresponsible… Urgh!"
Furiously distracted by all the objections I could think of, in regards to my wife and daughters' behavior, I smacked a hand to my forehead out of pure vexation. Never had words failed me so spectacularly. Not even when I found Esme again, nor even the day of our wedding, had I been so powerless in speech as I was in that moment on the sofa staring down my daughter, whose features took on all the nuances of a toddler who had been put in time-out.
The staring contest ended with exceeding abruptness when Bella began to laugh – a particularly disturbing laugh, easily distinguishable as questionably genuine. Only after she folded forward over her our joined hands did anyone speak through the shock.
"Um… Bella?" Alice questioned her friend frightfully, echoing my sentiments exactly. "Are you okay?"
Bella squeezed me hand several times with all of her frail human strength, plainly attempting to control herself. The only thing it accomplished was escalating her laughter into tears. Well, that and our understanding of the emotions she was feeling. Sighing at the same time as Alice, I whisked Bella into my arms and held her comfortingly under my chin.
"Sweetheart, please calm down." I tried to bring the poor girl out of her personal abyss, rubbing her back and rocking us as well as I could, but it did not work nearly like I hoped it would.
Meanwhile, Alice moved slightly out of range of Bella's human ears and ripped out her cell phone viciously. Through virtue of the sounds each button made, I determined she was dialing a very familiar number.
"What, Al—?" came Edward's distant voice over the line, sharp and impatient.
"Do you even know what you've done?" Alice cut him off entirely with a cold, harsh voice .
"The only thing I've done is realize something I should have immediately after this past weekend. After what Rosalie said—"
What did Rosalie say and what did it have to do with what occurred not long before?
"—I heard what Rosalie said, and I don't care," was Alice's incensed retort. "How ridiculous can you be, to believe her after what happened just a few weeks ago? After what you know of her character and her personality? The only thing she's ever thought through completely was her revenge against Royce King!"
I winced at the memory of that grisly time, when I sat waiting with Esme in disappointment and worry for our newest family member to perform what she considered justice and risk exposure for us all.
"Yes, because you thought so thoroughly through your plans about Rosalie and Bella!"
That was uncalled for; Edward was being fulsome in the extreme.
"How dare you—!" Alice exhaled in surprise and anger.
"Now I know precisely what you've been doing since we came back, and especially this week," Edward spoke over his sister, words hard and cynical. "You've been trying to change my mind about Bella's transformation. You're using my relationship with Carlisle and my guilt to do it!"
"Oh, I see, you suddenly understand everything perfectly," Alice sarcastically replied. "I must have wanted everyone to turn against Carlisle so you would feel the need to ease up on him and forgive your difference of opinion over Bella's future. I must have hoped and prayed that Bella would break down over all of our problems and make you even guiltier than before. Yes, Edward, that's exactly it."
Indignantly, Edward tried to intercede, "Now listen to me—"
"No, you listen!" My daughter snapped back, at a breaking point Edward should know well. "I am so sick of you acting like an infant over the tiniest and most unreasonable things! You're worse than Rosalie!"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" was her brother's angry comment.
"The melodrama you bring to every situation is insane! Bella is overwhelmingly confused and hurt right now, thanks to you!"
Nothing could refute that, as Bella was still crying in my arms. My rocking had become nothing more than a repetitive motion with no meaning while I split my attention between the unaware young woman and the conversation between two of my children.
"Why doesn't Carlisle just tell her another story and fix everything? She only seems to care about what he has to say!"
My jaw dropped open for the second time that day, my rocking stopped entirely, and Alice and I locked stunned gazes for the barest of moments. I didn't even have the energy to flinch.
"Bella is in hysterics right now," Alice growled heatedly when she returned to the phone call, "and all you can do is insult Carlisle!"
"Well, he's the only one she trusts anymore, isn't he!" Edward remarked extremely loudly, this time forcing a wince out of me. From the expression on Alice's face, I could tell Edward had crossed a definite warning line with her patience.
"It's YOUR FAULT, you stupid fool!" she half-roared into the receiver, startling me and somehow making Bella cry harder than ever before. The crumbling of Alice's cell phone was a mere afterthought to the entire situation, really.
"Carlisle, let me use your phone," came Alice's growling voice over Bella's crying. It was just shy of a command, but I knew better than to think she meant it that way. Frustration was the catalyst of my daughter's tone.
"My office," I replied gently, again rocking Bella and rubbing her heaving back as soothingly as possible. Seeing the uselessness of the gestures, I asked Alice, "Bring my bag down, please."
Nodding understandingly and allowing her anger to begin seeping away, Alice rushed upstairs and then back down, opening my bag to dig through its contents. "Purple label?"
Of course she would have seen which drug I had used to sedate Bella after that terrible ordeal with the painting. I had truly feared for Bella when it happened; her heart was racing to the point of a mild heart attack at the rate she had been hyperventilating.
"No," I sighed, admitting honestly, "I prefer not to risk addiction. I only used that on Sunday because I feared she would enter cardiac arrest. The blue label will do, it is very mild."
Taking the pills from my daughter, I looked down to find Bella with her eyes tightly shut. She must have been expecting another injection. Feeling only slightly amused by her conclusion, I asked, "Bella, can you take this pill?"
Feeling sorry that she so often faced medical situations around our family, I kissed the top of her head with apology.
"Only the one, Bella," was Alice's smooth reassurance as she took Bella's hand in her own. "Jasper will be able to help you soon enough."
Face still disparagingly wet with tears and body still heaving with mild gasping sobs, Bella lifted her head and allowed me to help her take the small pill in my free hand. It went down much too hard, but at least it would help her to find ease somewhat. I did not want another hysterical incident to force my use of a sedative. "How far is he?" I asked Alice to fill the silence.
"Fifteen miles. After I saw Edward leave, I knew Jasper would probably be needed. I called him on my way here. Peter and Charlotte were a little annoyed with him anyway." In spite of her delicately unconcerned shrug, Alice's frown spoke volumes of her disapproval of their attitude. "There was a bit of trouble with the hotel manager where Jasper was staying. They explained their eyes as costume contacts, but he wasn't too sure, so they were going to… well, you know…"
Wincing at the implied suggestion of killing the hotel manager, I nodded my understanding. Quickly, Alice moved to reassure my displeasure, "Jasper smoothed it over instead, but they didn't much like his inaction."
"They are not use to choosing human life over vampire in those situations," I mentioned uncomfortably yet understandingly. Not all vampires entered this existence with the strong aversion to traditional diet as I had brought to my own life. "It must be hard for Jasper to keep tensions low when he is with them."
"They can keep their tensions," she countered, gritting her teeth tightly with clouded eyes. Whatever vision overtook her, Peter and Charlotte had just lost a bit more respect in her view. "Just because Jasper has a moral code now."
Trying to divert my small daughter's mind from her unhappiness, I brought up something mediocre in interest and kept up trivial conversation until Jasper's ability slowly permeated our emotions with the antithesis to Bella's upset. The sobs had thankfully stopped after the pill took effect, but with Jasper everything halted almost entirely.
Alice sighed gratefully, "Thanks, Jazz. We all needed that, I think."
The instant effect of my son's gift took hold of me when he touched mine and Bella's joined hands. I was only too relieved to see Bella's tears cease completely and hear her calmly say, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Jasper nodded down at the young woman, a small and unhappy smile overcoming his features before he turned to his wife. "What now?"
"We wait," the two of us chimed in synchronization, sharing a look of amusement, small though it was.
"For what?" Bella inquired, sounding exhausted.
"Whoever comes home first," was Alice's grim response, turning my stomach unpleasantly. Noticing her unfocused eyes did nothing to ease the discomfort I felt. Clearly Bella agreed, if her groan and turn of head were any indication.
"I hate this." Her muted words struck true with my own feelings exactly.
"So do we, Bella," Alice agreed, sighing again. "So do we."
To watch the tiredness play out on my daughter's features, I knew the oncoming encounters would be most unpleasant. Thinking of Bella's emotional upset encouraged me to suggest something I guessed she would not enjoy. "Knowing your distress, I hate to bring this up…"
Her probable dislike of the idea stopped me from completing the sentence, but Bella insisted, "Go on."
"Whatever occurs later today will not be an enjoyable experience for anyone," I took up the suggestion with resignation, pulling irritated fingers through my hair, "but if you're exhausted after the argument with Edward today, I think you will feel even less inclined to it than that."
"In other words," Bella summarized with a heavy sigh, looking up into my face finally, "you want me to sleep again?"
"Very much so," I admitted with some concern, yet apology as well. "I find it hard to believe you have not worn yourself down considerably after your outburst."
"I don't know if I can," she spoke so softly I barely heard her. Sympathy filled me for her troubled situation. Our poor Bella.
"I could help," Jasper added seriously, though his eyes sparked with mischief not a second later. "If you don't yell at me like the last time I tried, that is."
Yell at him like the last time…? I wasn't certain I even wanted to know what he was talking about. Bella appeared confused at first, but recognition crept in. "Oh. Sorry. I was… well, I guess you know as well as I do."
"Yes, I suppose I do know." Hearing Jasper chuckle with genuine humor was very pleasant for a change.
"I don't mind this time," confessed Bella. She owned up to her weariness, at least.
Saddened though I was by her resignation, things would be easier if she were asleep throughout the worst of the confrontations we had yet to face in our divided family.
A/N: Aha, the truth has been revealed. Here comes trouble! ;)