Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. No infringement is intended; I'm just borrowing…
Author's Note: This is for those wonderful readers who have taken the time to tell me that they enjoy tender moments between Bella and Carlisle. This short, two-chapter story is set early in Eclipse.
The sight wasn't new, yet Bella still blinked in mild surprise whenever she entered Edward's room and saw the massive iron bed. She had cuddled with him on it many times, but now, without Edward's presence, the dark iron and deep gold linens seemed less welcoming, less warm than they had in the past. She felt a bit wistful for his old leather couch, where she'd curled up more than once during the long, tranquil days of summer.
But things were different now. She had spent six months without him, six months during which she had often believed she would wither away and die. She could still recall the profound ache that had clutched at her chest; even now, she felt an imaginary twinge when her thoughts drifted back to that dark time.
She had survived, and Edward had survived, and their feelings were stronger than ever. She was utterly smitten with him; he was absolutely in love with her. He promised he would never leave her again, would never rebreak her barely healed heart, and she believed him. Still, the memories persisted, although she did not dwell upon them.
Tonight, however, they had insisted on gnawing at her, leaving her vaguely chilled and weary. She sighed as she stood inside Edward's doorway, pausing for a moment before walking slowly toward the bed.
The evening had begun innocuously enough. Charlie's weekend fishing trip had prompted an invitation to stay at the Cullens' house, where her father believed she would be having a slumber party with Alice. However, her diminutive friend had already made plans to go to Vancouver with Esme and Rosalie for some sort of fashion event. Alice had enthusiastically invited Bella to join them, but Bella had declined. She was still partially grounded, and a weekend out of the country would not sit well with Charlie, she had reasoned. Alice had promised to pick up a few "darling" items for her human friend anyway, and Bella had tried not to think about the extravagance that would involve.
She had anticipated a quiet night with Edward, snuggled in his bed. They had spent a pleasant evening cuddled on the living room couch, watching movies with Emmett and Jasper. She'd permitted a yawn to escape her just after 11:00, and Edward, always concerned and solicitous, had insisted that she retire to his room. He had been escorting her up the stairs when Emmett called him back.
She had overheard just enough to know that Emmett wanted Edward to go for a short hunt. She caught a few snippets about bears coming out of hibernation, and recalled that this particular animal was among Emmett's favorites. Edward's voice was firm as he turned down his brother's offer to accompany him.
But Bella had noticed the dark smudges beneath Edward's eyes, and she knew that he would need to hunt soon. She was safe in the house; Carlisle was in his study and would be home all night. There was no danger here. And if she disappointed Emmett by preventing Edward from going, this could ultimately add fuel to Rosalie's animosity toward her. So she urged Edward to take a quick hunting trip with his brother.
"I'll just be sleeping," she finished. "If you return by dawn, I won't even know you're gone."
This last comment seemed to trouble Edward slightly. His brow furrowed as he replied, "But you sleep better when I'm with you."
She smiled gently and lifted her hand to his cheek. "I do. Being in your bed, though, is almost as good as having you there. I'm sure I'll sleep fine."
Emmett was waiting impatiently at the bottom of the stairs. "She'll sleep better without you ogling and groping her all night long!" he said with a grin.
Edward's glare did nothing to discourage his brother's booming laughter. Bella induced Edward one more time, and he relented, promising he would be back before she woke.
He kissed her tenderly then permitted Emmett to grab his arm and drag him away.
Bella didn't realize that Jasper had remained in the house until she saw him walk quietly into the hallway with a book in his hands a few moments after his siblings had gone. He glanced up at her.
"Oh," she exclaimed, slightly surprised, "you aren't hunting tonight?"
He smiled politely. "No. Alice and I went this morning." Without further explanation, he gave her a brief nod then slipped away with a murmured, "I hope you sleep well."
Bella made her way up the stairs, noting how quiet and still the house seemed. During those dark and terrible months when she was alone, she had often thought about coming here. She had imagined that the silence would seem deafening, oppressive, overwhelming… She pushed the images from her mind, absently resting a hand over her chest as she felt the remnants of the old ache there.
She shook her head to clear it then continued on to Edward's room. Once inside, she rested her hand on the solid coolness of the metal footboard then trailed her fingers over the raw silk duvet. Yes, things were a little different now; things had changed. But it was all right. She and Edward were fine, and she was adjusting to the new facets of their relationship. With one vaguely pensive glance at the couch, she pulled back the covers then hurried to get ready for bed.
Alone. She was completely alone, absolutely bereft as she stood at the foot of the stairs. The house was empty: silent and cold as a tomb. They were all gone. The family had left her, abandoned her just as Edward had. A sob tore from her, and the wound over her heart ripped deeper.
Bella sat up with a gasp, both hands pressed against her chest. The pain throbbed through her as her eyes searched the darkness for the familiar, beautiful, alabaster face. But he wasn't here; Edward had gone away, and she was alone again. Dream-like images still holding her, Bella struggled to free herself from the confines of the blankets. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe she could find him… maybe he was still somewhere in the deserted house.
"Edward!" she whispered hoarsely, her feet landing on the floor. She fumbled ahead, needing to find the door, because perhaps he was just beyond it. She reached out through the darkness, hands grasping at empty air.
"Edward!" she gasped again. He couldn't have gone; he wouldn't leave her alone again…
The ache in her chest was crushing her, and she stumbled. Her foot caught on something solid, her body twisting as she fell. It wasn't until her side connected with the footboard and her chin collided with the canopy post that the dream dissipated completely.
Bella yelped as real pain shot through her. She fumbled for something to grab, feeling herself falling even as she tried to stop her descent. She landed on her hip, an exhalation escaping her at her impact with the floor.
The voice was cautious, soft and deferential. Wan light seeped from the open doorway, and Jasper's long legs strode toward her. He took four steps then stopped abruptly.
"Carlisle!" he said, and she wondered at the urgency in his voice.
Bella took a breath to try to gather her wits, and then the smell hit her—tangy, cloying, and metallic. She was bleeding. She groaned in aggravation and pain as she became aware of the pulsing in her chin and flank. She reached up to wipe at the wetness against her lip. She tasted blood.
"Oh no," she moaned lowly, willing the sudden nausea to subside. She blinked, trying to breathe as shallowly as possible.
A breeze washed over her, clearing the air a little, and then she saw Carlisle kneeling beside her. He was looking between her and Jasper, who remained motionless in the doorway.
"…distressed. A nightmare I think, and she was feeling pain," Jasper was explaining softly.
"Before she got out of bed?" Carlisle's words were so rapid that she could barely comprehend them.
"Yes. She must have stumbled—she was on the floor when I got here."
Carlisle nodded, his blond hair an aura in the soft light from the hallway. "Can you get my bag?" he asked.
Jasper answered with a brief nod then vanished. Carlisle's full attention turned to Bella, who was struggling to sit up.
"What happened, sweetheart?" he asked, watching her motions carefully as he supported her with a hand at her back.
"Um… I think I tripped… on the footboard." Her voice sounded raspy, and speaking made her chin and mouth hurt even more.
She looked down at the blood slicking the hand she had swept over her face. Carlisle helped her to lean against the bed then dashed off to the bathroom to get a wet washcloth and a towel. He returned momentarily to crouch before her and gently dab at her mouth and chin.
The smell of blood surged again, and Bella closed her eyes so that the room would stop spinning. She heard a small sound as something was dropped to the floor near her, then Carlisle murmured, "You should wait outside. I'll let you know when I'm finished."
She knew he was speaking to Jasper, urging him to leave the house while the scent of her blood remained pungent and alluring. To her surprise, however, Jasper did not leave instantly.
Instead, he said, "The pain she was feeling—I think it was in her chest."
Bella opened her eyes to peer up at him. His expression reflected both concern and discomfort.
Carlisle nodded, then Jasper darted away. Some of the blood was gone now, and Carlisle turned the cloth to use an unstained corner to clean away more. Then he pressed a folded hand towel over Bella's lower lip and chin, asking her if she could hold it there while he helped her onto the bed.
She nodded, lifting her hand to keep the towel in place. He scooped her up carefully and set her on the feathery mattress. Two freshly fluffed pillows were instantly behind her shoulders, supporting and cushioning her as she leaned back against the filigreed headboard.
Carlisle perched on the edge of the bed, his bag open on the night table beside him. "What do you remember?" he asked, tilting her chin up and taking the towel from her.
His gaze moved down to study the damage, then he looked up again, his focus intent upon her eyes.
"I had a …bad dream," she said, sounding as though she were mumbling. Her bottom lip felt unusually thick. "I guess I tripped, like Jasper said?"
He nodded then gently ran his fingers over her head, checking her scalp for any evidence of injury. She was still a little dazed from the blood and pain, so she sat without complaint as he assessed her. His cool hands moved down along the back of her neck, pressing lightly. Then he pulled a penlight from his bag and checked her eyes. The brightness made her blink and flinch back a bit.
"It looks like your chin took the brunt of it," he commented as he began cleaning away the last remnants of blood with an alcohol wipe. It stung a little, and he offered a thin grin of apology. He probed delicately at the site then asked her to open her mouth so that he could look inside.
The action made her lip hurt more, but he was quick, running a finger along both the top and bottom rows of teeth to be sure she hadn't loosened any. Satisfied that she'd managed to avoid serious oral damage, he returned to the gash just beneath her lower lip.
Keeping his voice calm, he told her, "This needs a couple of stitches. It will heal much faster, and there will be less chance of scarring."
Bella nodded hesitantly, knowing he would do all he could to prevent her from feeling any pain. Unconsciously she rubbed at the soreness in her side.
Carlisle's sharp eyes did not miss the motion. Immediately he realized that she had sustained another injury.
"That seems painful," he said with kind concern, his hand already moving toward her flank.
"It's okay," she replied. "I just bumped it on the footboard."
Her hand rested over her ribcage, a delicate area in which seemingly minor damage could have serious consequences. He listened carefully to her breathing but heard no signs of significant respiratory distress, though her respiration rate remained on the high side. He needed to be sure that she hadn't fractured a rib, knowing such an injury could cause a pneumothorax.
"Let me see, Bella." His voice was gentle, yet his tone left no room for argument.
A light blush crept over her cheeks as she dropped her hand to the mattress. It wasn't the injury that embarrassed her—it was the cause. There was no good reason for her nightmares to continue; everything was fine now. Bella worried that the dreams showed some fundamental weakness in her emotional or psychological state. For just a moment, her chest began to feel heavy again.
She took several breaths to calm herself. Carlisle's face reflected renewed concern as he heard the change in her respiration. Jasper's words returned to him: The pain she was feeling—I think it was in her chest.
"Have you been having trouble breathing, sweetheart?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No, not really. I just… I guess I'm still a little shaky from the blood and everything."
Carlisle wasn't entirely convinced that she was being truthful, but he didn't question her. He simply resolved to evaluate her more thoroughly. Hoping to soothe her, he placed his hand over hers, rubbing his thumb lightly against her wrist. Smiling reassuringly, he waited until her breathing and pulse steadied.
Once she seemed to have calmed, he touched the bottom of her tank top, silently requesting permission to look beneath it. Bella gave a nod of consent, though her cheeks grew pink again.
He slid up the thin shirt to expose her ribcage. A contusion was forming over the ninth and tenth ribs. He probed the bones gently yet carefully, feeling for any irregularities. Relief swept through him when he confirmed that she had suffered no fractures.
"Nothing's broken," he told her, "but this will be sore for a few days. You're going to have a fairly bad bruise."
She sighed. "Of course I am," she muttered. "Stupid bed. I think it's out to get me."
Carlisle chuckled at this, but his amusement faded quickly when he noted the serious undertone in her voice. He tried to sound sympathetic as he replied, "Alice may have gone a bit overboard with this." He gestured toward the headboard. "As usual."
This comment elicited a hint of a smile from Bella, but the effort made her wince.
Touching her chin lightly, he said, "Let's get this taken care of."
"Okay," she agreed. The injury was throbbing, and, much as she disliked needles, she was actually looking forward to the numbness that would soon ensue.
Carlisle prepared the necessary materials quickly. She didn't watch as he set out the suture supplies or readied the syringe with Lidocaine. When he suggested that she close her eyes, she complied immediately. She felt the sharp pinch of the needle, then her chin and lower lip grew blissfully numb.
Bella considered keeping her eyes closed while he worked. The last thing she wanted was to see any more blood. But her eyelids insisted on fluttering open to watch Carlisle's beautiful face as he focused on her chin. She did not permit her gaze to move to his hand; she could glimpse the flash of metal in her peripheral vision. Instead she studied his fine features, noting the perfectly sculpted bones of his cheeks and delicate set of his nose. A few strands of fair, silken hair hung over his forehead, a hint of imperfection amid flawlessness. She decided she liked the tiny mussing; it made his appearance more human, reflecting the deep humanity of his character.
He felt her gaze upon him and looked up, concerned that she was experiencing discomfort. His golden eyes searched her face for a moment. The ethereal beauty of his deep gaze left her calm and serene. Her eyelids lowered again.
She heard a tiny snip, then he said, "All finished."
He gave her cheek a quick, reassuring caress. She opened her eyes again to find him putting items back into his bag.
"Thanks," she said softy. "And sorry."
He turned his head to look at her. "Sorry? There's no need to apologize, dear."
She shrugged and waved a hand toward her face. "I'm sure you had more enjoyable things to do tonight than this…"
His response surprised her. "Tell me about your nightmare, Bella."
She blinked and took a sharp breath. "Oh—it was nothing—I can barely even remember it." Her cheeks flushed anew at the lie.
"Jasper felt you were very upset," Carlisle responded quietly. "He thought you were in pain, too. Can you tell me about that?"
Her hand moved to her chest in automatic response to the memory. "No—I mean it was just a dream, just something I remembered feeling once." But the ghost of pain flickered through her again, and her hand pressed a bit harder over her sternum.
"It's still hurting you," he said gently. He could hear her heart beating quickly now.
She shook her head. "No, not really."
"But it did hurt at one time, didn't it?"
His voice was so kind, and so completely without judgment, that Bella could not suppress the truth.
"When he left," she began, "after you were all gone—it was like there was a hole here, and it got bigger and deeper, and it hurt—" She blinked against the hot tears forming in her eyes. "It really hurt, Carlisle, like real pain, in my heart."
"And it returns sometimes, doesn't it?" he asked.
She nodded almost guiltily. "When I have one of the dreams about that time…"
A tear streaked her cheek, and he wiped it away with his cool fingertips. He was struggling to find the proper words to say to her. He wanted to tell her that it was all right, that she would never be alone again, but that sounded trite, and perhaps she wouldn't believe him.
"Do you think," she began hesitantly, almost afraid to ask the question but needing to know the answer. Quickly, she continued, "Is there something wrong with me?" Her hand curled into a fist, and the weight in her chest increased.
Bella's utter fragility and complete trust in him touched Carlisle deeply. For a few moments he could not speak. Tenderly he cupped her cheek in his hand, seeing the vulnerability in her eyes. She needed an honest answer from him, objective proof that she was not flawed.
"I don't think so, sweetheart," he replied, "but let's be sure."
He reached into his bag for his stethoscope. He supposed Bella knew that he could hear her heart and lungs quite clearly without the device, but he felt that going through the motions would comfort and reassure her. And in this case, he preferred to err on the side of caution. The amplification would allow him to hear even the most subtle irregularities in her coronary or pulmonary function.
Bella's expression remained anxious while he rested the instrument over her heart and listened intently. His face revealed nothing to her; all she could discern was concentration. He shifted the bell upward for a few seconds then listened at her back, instructing her to take several deep breaths. She felt he spent a long time assessing her, and her anxiety soared again.
He sensed it, of course, and soon he removed the stethoscope from his ears and set it aside. He lifted her hand and squeezed it softly.
"Everything sounds fine, Bella. I don't detect any abnormalities in your heart or lungs; they're very healthy."
She could scarcely believe him. She'd been worried for so long… "Really?"
He nodded. "Yes."
He heard her relief in the slow exhale she gave. She smiled at him.
He returned the smile. "I wish you'd come to me sooner, dear." There was no chastisement in his voice, only regret. "You know you can talk to me about anything, anything at all that's troubling you."
Now she lowered her eyes. "It just seemed so ridiculous, so silly."
"Bella, grief is a very real emotion, and the physical effects can be powerful. I'm so sorry that you went through that. If I'd known how much it would affect you, I would have tried to help—"
She shook her head. "It's not your fault. It just happened, and I don't want to dwell on it. I want to move on, to look forward to all of the good things to come."
"That's a wonderful attitude," he agreed. "But sometimes it takes a while to leave a difficult time behind. You're still having dreams—"
"Not as much," she interjected quickly, "and usually not when Edward is with me. This was the first one I've had in a couple of weeks."
"And this is the first time Edward has left you alone for an entire night, isn't it?" Carlisle questioned gently.
She nodded, her eyes flicking over the room.
"What else, Bella?" Carlisle prompted.
"It's silly," she began, but his nod of encouragement told her that he would not make light of anything she might say. So she continued, "This bed… It's different, a change, and I know it's one for the better, but I guess sometimes I just want things to be the way they were, back when I thought everything was perfect."
"There can be different kinds of perfection," he suggested kindly. "I'm not sure it's a concept that should remain static. Situations change, but hopefully as they do, we change, too. In the end, I hope that we're all better for it." He thought for a few moments before finishing. "We can't erase the past, and I'm not sure we should even if it were possible. Those experiences make us who we are here and now—a little stronger, a little wiser, a little more understanding."
Bella listened to his words, all spoken softly yet sincerely, and when he was finished, he drew her into his arms. She burrowed up against him, her head tucked beneath his chin as his hand stroked her back comfortingly. Tears slipped silently down her cheeks, but they were not borne of bitterness, anger, or sadness.
Carlisle murmured soothing words to her without condescension or judgment. When her tears finally ceased, he helped her to lie back against the pillows then wiped her cheeks with a warm washcloth.
He planned to get ice for her chin, but when he returned from the bathroom he found her eyes closed and her breathing deep and even. He brushed a few strands of hair from her forehead then tidied up the room.
Jasper's familiar scent crept over him, and he turned to see his son standing in the doorway.
"I'm sorry," Jasper said quickly, "I know I should have waited for you to call me, but I was worried about Bella. When I came back into the house, I didn't smell any fresh blood…"
Carlisle nodded. "It's all right, Jasper. Everything is cleaned up now. I appreciate your concern."
Jasper took a small step into the room, his gaze moving to rest upon Bella. "She feels calm now, at peace," he reported. "She's not in as much pain, either."
"Thank you," Carlisle replied. "I think she was able to get a great deal of her anxiety and fear out of her system tonight. She's held in a lot of her feelings about the last few months…"
Neither man needed to hear the specific words; both accepted blame for Bella's suffering. They watched her in silence for a few moments, then Carlisle took his bag and stepped out into the hallway. He glanced back at Jasper, who remained in the room.
"She'll probably sleep for some time, son," he said.
"I know. But I'd like to stay with her for a little while, if you think it would be all right."
"I think it's a fine idea," Carlisle responded with a smile of approbation. He knew that Jasper would monitor Bella's emotions and keep her tranquil throughout the rest of the night.
Jasper moved a chair into the far corner then sat down. He closed his eyes and focused his thoughts and feelings on the human girl he had grown to treasure.
To be concluded...