Hi everyone! Once again, sorry that this update took so long, but...being late is pretty much my superpower at this point. (I can be on time for work, but that's about it.) At least this chapter turned out nice and long though. :)

This chapter focuses on Carlisle trying to help a newborn extricate his human family from a particularly difficult situation, and how they attempt to cover their tracks. Thanks for your reviews and your truly phenomenal patience, and I will see you again soon! (Now that I've finally wrapped up Eternity, I think that's actually true—I'm hoping to update this fic at least once a month, though there are less than ten chapters left...)

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer, not I, is the author of Twilight.

1846: A Free Family

Carlisle was walking home to his little cottage in the woods, a library book under his arm, when he smelled it. It was just after dark, and the woods and fields were heavy with the scent of recent rain and growing things. But above it all, a faint taste of vampire on the breeze was unmistakable. Carlisle kept walking—it was only one vampire after all, no one he recognized, but still: if someone wanted to ambush him, they would have taken more care to stay downwind.

Besides, he was always interested in speaking to his own kind; he often went weeks, even months without detecting a trace of another vampire, and he might go even longer without speaking to one. Usually, the conversations he did have were very short, and usually involved the other vampire threatening to kill him if he set foot in their territory again. Still, a terse chat like that was preferable to total solitude, and Carlisle wondered what tonight's visitor might want to discuss.

Carlisle found the vampire he'd smelled standing just outside his cottage, looking up the road as he waited for Carlisle to approach. Though he was pale in death, Carlisle could see that his skin had once been dark, and his eyes were bright red, but his expression seemed more uneasy than fierce.

"Excuse me," the man said, then stopped. "Are you..."

"I'm like you, if that's what you were going to ask," Carlisle said gently. "My eyes sometimes puzzle people."

The man nodded. "Yes. They're...why aren't they red? Don't we all have red eyes?"

"Not all of us," Carlisle said. "Our eyes reflect...what we drink."

The man flinched a little at that. "You don't...drink blood?"

"Animal blood," Carlisle said. "Not human."

The man considered him for a moment, then nodded slowly, his expression crestfallen. "I didn't know...ever since this happened to me, I've been..."

"Why don't you sit down?" Carlisle said gently, motioning to the chair he kept in front of the cottage—weather permitting, he liked to read outside most nights. He slipped into the house and carried another chair outside, then sat down himself as the other man collapsed into his seat, his expression haunted.

"I was alone after it happened too," Carlisle said, after several moments of silence. "No one explained things to me for some time, and it's hard that way. Whatever's happened...I'm sure you've done your best."

"I was so...thirsty," the man said at last. "...and angry. Angry at the one who killed me, but...even more angry at the people who sold me, and owned me. Who let me die in such a way...and who still have my family. So...I found them. Some of them. In their houses in town. The people who sell slaves, who get rich on our suffering. Then...the overseer, on my first plantation. I couldn't believe he was still alive, couldn't believe he could still exist...to hurt people...but then what am I now? If I can kill them so easily...drink their...their blood...they were monsters...but what am I if I can kill them?"

"I don't know," Carlisle said quietly. "My name's Carlisle Cullen. What's yours?"

"...Timothy," the man said at last. "Timothy Jones."

"Mr. Jones, I don't know you," Carlisle said gently. "And I've always tried not to hate people—to forgive them. But I've lived a long time, and I know that my suffering is nothing compared to what slaves have to endure. My life has been lonely, but at least it's been my own. And if I were you...I think I would hate the men you've killed too. I won't tell you that killing is the right thing to do, but in their case...well, I can't bring myself to tell you that it was wrong either."

Timothy, who'd been sitting with his head bowed, finally raised it to look at Carlisle. He smiled sadly.

"I suppose that's the Christian way to look at it, Mr. Cullen."

"Just Carlisle, please," Carlisle said, smiling. "We're both dead. I don't see any reason to be formal."

Timothy smiled. "Carlisle, then. I've never talked with a white man like this."

Carlisle chuckled grimly. "I think that one advantage of dying is...well, it brings us together. The differences that matter to humans don't matter to us."

"You're the first one I've spoken to," Timothy explained. "The other...when he found me, I was already bleeding. Maybe even dying—he just...sped things up, I suppose."

"I'm sorry," Carlisle said quietly. "I understand that it usually doesn't happen that way. I was changed by accident too, but most of our kind choose to turn specific humans. It's very difficult, apparently, to stop feeding and let the change happen."

Timothy nodded. "I think it would be impossible to stop."

They were both silent for a few moments. Carlisle thought of the sonnets, symphonies, and countless books that could be written on the subject of a vampire's thirst, and the myriad emotions it inspired. He wondered how many such things had been written, and maybe even published, unbeknownst to humans.

"I'm sorry," Timothy said at last. "In life, I wasn't such a morbid guest."

"Well, I wasn't such a morbid host. And in spite of our topic of conversation, it's always nice to meet someone new," Carlisle said, smiling at the thought of a new friend. "Many of our kind are...rather territorial. They defend their hunting grounds jealously, and you'll need to be careful not to draw attention to yourself when you hunt."

Timothy frowned. "I'd heard stories of creatures like us before. But I never really believed it, and you're the first I've met since...since the one who caught me. I know what the sunlight does to our skin, and for my family's sake, I've not wanted to get caught, but what about others like us? What makes them live so secretly?"

"A sort of family, though I hesitate to call them that," Carlisle said slowly. "They live in Europe, in an ancient town in Italy, and they're called the Volturi. They're careful to make sure that our kind aren't noticed by humans. If they knew we existed, it could make hunting more difficult, for one thing. When I was young—and alive—many people still believed in vampires. Though they couldn't kill us, they could cause a great deal of trouble by burning us out of our homes. The only way we can truly die is if we're ripped apart and the pieces are burned, but fire still isn't something to take lightly."

Timothy's eyes widened. "I suppose it doesn't surprise me that we can be killed—in stories, there's always some way to defeat a monster. And I suppose there might not be any living people left at all if there were too many of us."

"That's something else that the Volturi keep an eye on," Carlisle explained. "To the best of my knowledge, there are only a few thousand of us in this world. Territories are jealously guarded by their covens, and too many of us...well, if there's too much competition, or if one of our kind hunts too conspicuously, the Volturi destroy them. I don't agree with their methods, but I can't deny that they seem necessary to our continued existence."

Timothy nodded and was silent for a few moments. Carlisle sympathized—it was a lot to process, and though Carlisle had had two hundred years to adjust to this new life, it was still strange at times, contemplating the secret world of which he was a reluctant part.

"...where did you come from, Timothy?" Carlisle asked. "We're a few hundred miles north of any slave state."

"Georgia," Timothy said. "I was born in New York actually—but after my father died, my mother and I left to live with relatives, and we were captured in Virginia. I was trained to be a house slave, and I've been a servant in several houses since then. Some people don't mind if their slaves can read, but others..."

Carlisle smiled. "I suspect some people might be uncomfortable, realizing they own a man who's smarter than they are."

Timothy chuckled grimly. "I think that's very likely. But my wife, well, she's even smarter than me. She's always been a house slave, but the old woman who owned her first didn't just make sure she could read, so she'd have someone to talk to about books and whatever else she took an interest in—she made sure Hannah had opinions too.

We met after Mr. Rawlins bought us both a few years ago. His father had died, so as the new man of the house, he wanted more servants so he could throw more parties and show everyone how well he was doing. But according to the other house slaves, Mr. Rawlins didn't have the head for business his father did. He's fared badly lately in several ventures, and about a month ago, my wife overheard from his wife that he was planning to sell me.

We talked about it, and though it was a terrible risk, I decided to take my chances and run away. My plan was to get off Rawlins' land on my own, then come back for my wife and children after I'd found a safe escape route. But when I was running from the dogs, I tripped and sprained my ankle. The men who caught me beat me within an inch of my life, then left me in a ditch. That was when…well, I guess you can imagine what happened next.

After...well, after I disappeared, and started going after men I'd known before...it seemed wise to get away for a while. I could hear people starting to whisper about it. Some said that it was my vengeful ghost, going after the people who'd wronged me in life. But others thought there was some secret slave uprising going on. I can't bear to endanger my family, but getting strangers hurt or killed is no better. I don't want anyone else to die for what I've done."

They talked for the rest of the night—about their lives, before and after death, and though Timothy seemed shocked at first at Carlisle's age, he liked hearing about all the places he'd seen and other immortals he'd known. Carlisle had to leave at dawn to go to work, and Timothy needed to hunt, but they met again the following night. Carlisle learned that Timothy, like his friend Liza, was particular in his choice of prey.

"There's a prison about a hundred miles from here," he explained, looking more relaxed (or rather, less thirsty) than the night before. "Prisons are the first place I started going to look, after I ran out of slavers I knew. I still have to pick and choose though—not every man's in there for murder."

"A friend of mine does that too," Carlisle said, smiling at the thought of the old vampire woman.

He and Timothy met and talked for several nights. Carlisle would go to work at dawn, and at dusk, he brought his new friend books and newspapers so he'd have something to do during the day; Carlisle distinctly remembered that any distraction from the thirst of the newborn was welcome. Timothy was clearly an intelligent man, and Carlisle wished he could introduce him to some of the doctors he knew who believed that race alone determined intellectual prowess. But of course, that would be impossible. Timothy was rightfully concerned about his ability to get close to humans without killing them. Though he seemed relieved to have someone to talk to, it was clear that there was something on his mind, something worrying him that was worse that thirst.

"I think there's something bothering you," Carlisle said, a week after they'd first met. "I mean, aside from the obvious. Whatever it is, I'd be happy to listen, if you want to talk about it."

"...I need to get my family away from there," Timothy said, his expression grim. "That was my hope, the first time I...when I killed a man in town. It was a kind of test, to see if I could get near people at all without killing. I jumped out the window with him—I had no quarrel with his wife and children—but forcing myself to leave them be was...a terrible struggle. It's so hard, just being close to people."

"The fact that you've been able to hunt specific people is itself a sign of considerable self-control," Carlisle said thoughtfully. "Of course, you're still very new to this life, and it's still dangerous for you to go too long without hunting."

Timothy shook his head. "I know. It would be so easy to make a mistake. I smell people, and...the wicked smell the same as their innocent children do. I don't want to kill people who aren't killers or worse themselves. So I'm afraid...if I were to go back for Hannah and our children..."

Timothy shuddered, and Carlisle could easily imagine the worst. He would be going to save them, but in doing so—just by being near them—he would doom them. The fragile self-control of the newborn couldn't bear carrying three humans away from bondage. No matter how much Timothy loved his family, he would be the death of them if he got too close.

"I understand," Carlisle said. "What would you like me to do for them?"

Timothy looked at him, startled, then quickly looked away. "...I wasn't sure how to ask. Carlisle, when I first spoke to you...I admit, it was because I knew I needed help. And I knew that only another vampire could do this. But since then, I have come to consider you a friend. I wouldn't ask you to take this risk if there were any other way."

Carlisle patted the man on the shoulder—he'd been human recently enough that he guessed the physical contact wouldn't be as strange or unwelcome as it would be to an older immortal. "Timothy, I consider you a friend as well. That's why I'd be glad to do what I can to help your family. What do you think would be the best way to get them to safety?"

"...steal them," Timothy said, after a pause. "Honestly, it'll be risky no matter what. I have money—we could arrange for you to buy them, but it would seem suspicious. And Rawlins...he doesn't like to sell particular slaves. That's just his way of throwing his weight around. He sells who he wants, and if a buyer asks for someone particular, then he'll set a price on them far too high for anyone to pay."

"Money doesn't worry me," Carlisle said firmly. "Between the two of us, I'm sure we'd have more than enough. But you're right: a public sale would attract attention, and neither of us needs that. I can carry a woman and two children away in the dead of night easily, but would there be problems after the fact?"

"Yes," Timothy said, looking both sad and furious. "That's something else that's been worrying me. If they disappear without a trace, Rawlins will take it out on his other slaves. He'll think someone helped them escape. Even if you were to leave money, and a note explaining that you took three slaves on a whim...well, that would all sound very far-fetched anyway."

"Where does your family live on Rawlins' property?" Carlisle asked.

"In a small cabin, near the road leading to the fields," Timothy said.

"Is the road used only by people from Rawlins' household, or do others use it too?"

"Sometimes, on Friday nights, wagons go by," Timothy said thoughtfully. "Families coming back from town, or young men going to dances use it as a shortcut."

"All right then," Carlisle said, smiling faintly. "Here's my idea..."

The following Friday night, Carlisle stood outside the Jones' family cabin in Georgia, two letters in his hand and glass bottle in his pocket. He could hear dogs in the distance—presumably, they roamed the grounds of the plantation to encourage slaves to keep to their cabins at night—but Carlisle wasn't worried about them. Dogs always gave him a wide berth the instant they caught his scent.

When he knocked on the door, Carlisle wasn't sure what to expect. The family was probably asleep, and though he came as a friend, he had no doubt that the people inside would be frightened of him at first, and only slightly less so when he told them what he could of Timothy. After a few seconds of movement inside, the door opened a crack.

"Yes?" a woman whispered, fearfully meeting his eyes.

"Mrs. Jones, my name is Carlisle Cullen," Carlisle said, keeping his voice very gentle and quiet. "Your husband Timothy asked me to visit you."

At the mention of Timothy's name, his wife opened the door, but her expression was still guarded.

"Do you know where he is?" she whispered.

Carlisle handed her the first letter he carried. "Yes. He asked me to give you this."

Mrs. Jones opened the letter and read it quickly. Carlisle knew the basics of what it said—Timothy hadn't dared tell his wife exactly what he'd become, but he'd wanted to assure her that he was as well as could be expected, and that he would send money to her and the children as often as he could. The letter also urged her to go with Carlisle, however strange he might seem. (Carlisle had been grateful for the addition of that part. After all, this woman had no reason to trust him, and only her husband's word—in a letter—and her certainty that this was really his handwriting, would convince her to leave her home in the dead of night with a stranger, her two children in tow.)

Finally, Hannah Jones met his eyes. "He says...you're a friend."

"Yes," Carlisle said. "I'm here to help you and your children get away from here, and resettle somewhere safe."

Mrs. Jones looked stunned. "...how?" Then she glanced behind him, into the darkness outside. "You don't have a horse or wagon—did you come on foot?"

"Yes, ma'am," Carlisle said, impressed that she had noticed. As a doctor, he'd often found occasion to knock on doors in the dead of night, and in his experience, usually people took him at face value. They needed his help, or they were worried about the news he might give them, so they didn't think to ask why he hadn't ridden a horse to their home way out in the country, or how he had managed to arrive so quickly. Hannah Jones clearly wasn't that sort of human though—she noticed when something was off.

"But then...why didn't the dogs..." she stammered, and then she glanced from the letter Timothy had written and back to Carlisle. He guessed that the letter contained some allusion to the fact that there was something strange about him.

"Please, come inside," she said quietly. "This is a shock, but it's—it's a welcome one. After Timothy disappeared, I was afraid...I thought we would never see him again."

Carlisle tried not to wince. After all, she probably never would see her husband again—it might be years before he could control his thirst enough to safely approach humans for anything other than hunting. And even then, it wouldn't be safe to reenter his family's lives. They could never know what he had become, and though Carlisle believed that Timothy understood this, it would still be hard, knowing Hannah would be on her own, and that his children were growing up without him.

"Mama, who's—" a little boy started to say, his voice sleepy.

"Shh," Hannah said gently. "This man's a friend. He knows your daddy."

"You know where daddy is?" an even smaller girl demanded, pulling a thin blanket away from herself and running over to the adults in a much-mended nightshirt.

"I do," Carlisle said. "He asked me to take you someplace safe. If we leave now, I can have the three of you in Cincinnati in about nine hours."

"But how are we going to travel without a wagon?" Mrs. Jones asked.

Carlisle smiled. "That's one of the...unusual things about me that your husband's letter was referring to. I'm strong enough to carry the three of you. And I'm fast—very fast. Shall I demonstrate?"

Mrs. Jones gaped at him for a moment, then nodded slowly. "I…suppose so..."

Carlisle opened the door and stepped outside, and Mrs. Jones followed him, her children peeking out from behind her back. Carlisle took off running, picked up a boulder that sat on the other side of the nearest field, then carried it back in less time than it took Mrs. Jones to wonder where he'd gone. She stared at the boulder that he held in one hand.

"Whoa!" the little boy shrieked. "How did you—"

"That rock's bigger than a horse!" the little girl cried.

"Shh!" Mrs. Jones said quickly. There were other cabins only about twenty yards away.

"How fast can you run?" she whispered.

"With passengers, I think about fifty miles per hour is as fast as I dare run," Carlisle said, returning the boulder to its original place after Mrs. Jones and her children had stared at it for a few seconds. "Let's go back inside for a moment."

"We'll need to leave this here," Carlisle continued, handing a second letter to Mrs. Jones. "Timothy and I thought that this might prevent Mr. Rawlins from taking his anger out on the other slaves when he realizes you're gone."

Hannah Jones read the letter quickly, amazement slowly growing on her face:

Dear Sir,

I do not know you, but last night, my brother and I were coming back from a party when we passed by this cabin, and my brother took it into his head to destroy some of your property. We live in Atlanta, and for reasons that will soon become clear, I do not wish to volunteer our names, but as you can probably gather from the state of this place, my brother is a mean drunk. I myself was quite intoxicated as well, and it wasn't until a friend of ours passed along this same road and saw our wagon that the situation was contained.

The slaves inside this cabin, a woman and two children, were killed by my brother in some mad fit of drunken rage. I believe the mother was taken by surprise and died before she could even scream, and her children were similarly terrified into silence, because no one in the cabins nearby seemed to notice any commotion. After he'd killed them, he simply sat in the middle of the room, his anger apparently exhausted by his efforts.

When our friend and I realized what had happened, we were able to master ourselves enough to remove my brother from your land, and though he went willingly, we restrained him in the wagon until such time as he became sober again, for our own safety. We wrapped the bodies in some blankets and took them away with us in the hope that we might avoid any unpleasant legal proceedings, and enclosed with this letter are sufficient funds to compensate you for your loss.

My sincerest apologies for any inconvenience this situation may cause. My brother is not in his right head, and is not allowed alcohol under ordinary circumstances. Our father died a few weeks ago, and as such, we have been lenient with him, but please rest assured that we will not pass this way again, nor will I allow my brother such freedom in the future. Please understand that I make restitution in such a secretive way not for my own sake, but for that of my family. My dear mother can never know what my brother has done, and should it ever come to light, I fear it would break her heart.

Yours truly,

An apologetic traveler

"There's...the money in the envelope is enough to pay for us. But...but how will we make it look like..." She trailed off uneasily and looked at Carlisle, who produced a bottle from his pocket.

"Blood," he explained. "From a deer," he hastened to add when Mrs. Jones jumped. "I went hunting last night and collected this. Because of what it says in the letter, you can take blankets with you, but not much else."

Hannah Jones smiled wryly. "We don't have much else to take."

After Hannah and her son and daughter had gathered the blankets off their pallets and piled them near the door, Carlisle began drizzling deer blood around the room in odd spatters, to simulate a scene of recent violence. The children watched him raptly, so he offered the boy, the older of the two, the bottle to hold.

"Want to try?" he said. "Just dump it on the floor and on your pallets, so it makes a mess."

"Is it really okay, mama?" the little boy asked, looking at his mother like she'd lost her mind.

"It's fine, baby. We're going to trick some people."

"I wanna make a mess too!" the little girl said, so her brother handed her the bottle, and they took turns dripping blood all over the room. It was macabre, certainly, but the children thought it was all a game, and Carlisle decided it was better to play at such a thing than to stay here and risk real violence as a cruel man's property.

"Wrap the blankets around yourselves," Carlisle said, helping Mrs. Jones to get the children ready. He could hold one effortlessly in each arm, and then Mrs. Jones, after tying a blanket around herself like a cloak, hesitantly climbed onto his back. Carlisle then tied a rope around her waist, and that of each child, and tied them to him, just to be safe. (They'd be at best badly hurt if they fell off while he was running at top speed.) "We can only travel by night, so as not to attract attention. Ready?"

"Yes," Mrs. Jones said quietly. Carlisle guessed from the flush on her face that she was embarrassed to be clinging to a strange man's back, but it was clear that any chance to get her children safely away from this place, no matter how unusual, was worth taking.

As Carlisle started running, he contemplated the family's situation. He could send them money, and as Timothy learned to better control his thirst, he too could learn some trade that would allow him to send aid to his wife and children. They would be alone in a strange city, and though Timothy would doubtless risk exposure by sending them letters, words on paper were a poor substitute for a living man.

But Carlisle was optimistic. After all, he had a new friend, and that friend's human family, while perhaps not in enviable circumstances, would at least be free now. Carlisle had accepted long ago that he couldn't save every life, couldn't help every human in need who crossed his path. But tonight, he could help these people: he could carry them to a better life, and as soon as they were safe, he would disappear. First though, he would run until sunrise.