Author's Note: I'm not sure why FF decided to erase all my breaks, screw with my spacing around words in italics, and randomly change some of my em dashes to en dashes, but the version posted for the contest is messed up. The formatting issues have been corrected here.
"Bella? Can I please come in?"
I was worried. It wasn't enough that I had dragged my bride across two continents and nearly ground her into a pulp while trying to make love to her. Now she was face down in the toilet, being ravaged by whatever parasite had seen fit to make her even more miserable. This was one of the few times I despised Bella's humanity.
"O…kay?" she replied questioningly.
I threw open the door and glanced inside. Bella was cross-legged on the floor, staring into thin air as if hypnotized.
I kneeled before her, reaching forward to feel her forehead. "What's wrong?"
"How many days has it been since the wedding?" she whispered.
"Seventeen," I said quickly. "Bella, what is it?"
She gestured for me to wait, her lips moving silently as she ticked off each finger from left to right. She paused a moment, then began again with the left hand.
"Bella!" I demanded. "I'm losing my mind over here."
She opened and closed her mouth, swallowing hard. Wearily, she fumbled in the suitcase and withdrew a box of feminine supplies, wiggling them in front of me.
I was dumbfounded. "What? Are you trying to pass this illness off as PMS?"
Surely she couldn't expect me to believe that. Even without two medical degrees, I had been with Bella long enough to know the normal symptoms during her cycle.
"No," she said thickly. "No, Edward. I'm trying to tell you that my period is five days late."
I felt a bomb detonate inside my head.
"I don't think I have food poisoning," she said meekly.
How? How was this possible?
The drawback of telepathy was that my mind was rarely my own. Listening to everyone's thoughts made things...crowded. If not for the cognitive benefits of vampirism, I would have long ago descended into insanity. Time alone with Bella was like the first day of spring: throwing the windows open and letting the cool breeze rush in to chase away the old, stagnant air.
This—this was an avalanche. Every rational concept inside my head had been swept out to sea by the devastating power of her words rushing through me.
I sensed motion around me, but I remained still. A shrill ringing failed to stir me. Hands brushing against my pockets were irrelevant. Murmurings and shadows barely bumped against my consciousness. All I knew was the endless echo of her words, bouncing around the empty hallway inside my mind.
As the rubble of my thoughts slowly began to meld itself back together, I was aware of her mumbling into the phone.
My head snapped up and I watched her expression change from concern to relief. Snapping my hand forward, I gestured for the phone.
"Edward?" Carlisle questioned.
"Yes." My voice was flat.
"I think it's best if you come home. We can't deal with this from thousands of miles away."
"Agreed." I stabbed the "end" button and scrolled through the call history, quickly locating my next task.
"Who are you calling now?" she asked, clinging to my arm. I barely felt her.
"The airport. We're going home."
After arguing in three different languages and paying a fortune in rescheduling fees, I finally had our tickets back to Washington processed. Bella stood in the bedroom, her eyes following me as I paced circles through the house while I navigated the sluggish redundancy of human customer service.
Telling her to pack would have given her something to do, kept her from staring a hole in my back, but the thought of it had my teeth on edge. When I hung up the phone I reset the house at maximum speed, throwing out perishables and tossing our belongings into the suitcases with all the patience I could muster. She changed into the outfit I tossed to her and continued her staring, as if she were the one capable of mind reading.
I closed the house and hustled her into the boat, my manufactured calm beginning to splinter. I had to get her back to the mainland and on that plane before I fell apart.
I pushed the boat to maximum speed, and the whipping wind and harsh spray made conversation impossible. I stared ahead silently, pretending not to feel Bella's eyes surveying me from her perch in the bow.
Hurrying her across the dock and into the rental car, I pressed the pedal down firmly and felt the car shoot forward.
The plane was less than half full, and the lack of voices in my head was a relief. After enjoying days of peace thanks to Bella's silent mind, I was unprepared to return to the mental noise of society.
She had claimed the window seat and was snuggled up to my side, her head resting on my arm. She fell asleep soon after takeoff and I watched her, counting each slow breath and twitch of her eyelids. Her calm demeanor puzzled me. Where could we go from here? What did she expect of me? I needed answers, and yet forcing the questions past my lips was more than I could bear.
The cabin lights came up and the flight attendant announced our proximity to Seattle. Bella stirred beside me, her lips turning up gently as she opened her eyes and gazed up at me. Her hand moved to her stomach as if drawn by a magnet. I tried not to watch her palm moving gently over the tiny swell.
"Are you ready to go home?" she asked warmly.
I nodded, my throat thick. "Bella we need to talk about how we're going to handle this."
Her brow knitted. "All right."
"Do you..." I cleared my throat and tried again. "Do you want the father to be involved?"
She laughed sharply. "I would think so, Edward," she said teasingly, her hand moving up to squeeze my forearm.
"Okay," I closed my eyes and nodded. I can do this. I can be diplomatic. "I'm sure Esme can deal with it tactfully, if you give her his contact information."
Her heart. What was wrong with her heart?
"Bella?" I asked frantically. "What is it? What's wrong?"
My eyes moved from her chest up to her eyes, which had turned flat and dark. She simply stared at me, completely still.
"Nothing," she blinked. She turned her head away and extracted her arm from mine, leaning into the window.
"Everything," she whispered.
She did not move again until the plane was nearly empty. When the last few passengers had claimed their carry on luggage and disappeared into the terminal, she wordlessly grabbed her bag and shuffled towards the exit.
The family's thoughts hit me like a wrecking ball before we turned the final corner to the pick-up area.
...need an ultrasound as soon as possible. The growth is obviously accelerated, so the physiology might be different as well...
...definitely see the sex of the baby as soon as possible. I am NOT giving my sister a cliched yellow and green nursery! Wonder if Edward will want...
...a grandchild. We are so blessed.
I met their eyes and saw confusion, awe, and hope. I wanted to scream. Did they have to make this harder? I was obviously not what Bella wanted. Did they expect me to play house, to drag this out even more?
I could feel the maternal pride and protectiveness radiating from Esme as Bella walked directly into her arms. This was everything Esme could have dreamed of for her family. I could never ask her to give it up. I would have to go away and leave Bella with them in Forks.
Alice's eyes snapped to mine.
You're leaving? Where in God's name do you think you're going?
"It's for the best, Alice," I murmured below Bella's hearing.
So you knock her up and then disappear? I've never seen 'deadbeat dad' in your future, Edward, she silently sneered at me.
"Don't be ridiculous, Alice!" I burst out. "It's obviously not my child!"
All six members of my family turned towards me and stared, completely forgetting to blink or breathe. A human walking by might have wondered why a tiny brunette was posing with a series of mannequins.
Bella burrowed farther into Esme's embrace and let out a choked sob. "Mom," she whispered.
"Dear God, Edward," Carlisle said, stricken. "What the hell have you done?"
Bella's ride home was completely silent. Esme held her and stroked her hair, murmuring comforting noises until she dozed off.
My ride home was filled with the screaming thoughts of an irate family.
You are a complete piece of shit, Edward.
I have no idea what to say to you, son. I am so ashamed.
Her despair is crushing me, Edward. I can't take another hour of this. It's like being suffocated. How is she doing this to me, even in her sleep? Humans don't feel like this.
The only reason I haven't torn your arms off and beaten you to death with them is because my nephew is going to need a father. But if Bella decides to do this alone, you'd better run.
I've never met another person so intent on destroying their own happiness.
That was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? I didn't deserve Bella, and I didn't deserve her child. I'd made certain of it.
Carlisle had barely put the car into park before Rosalie had grabbed me by the neck and dragged me into the house. I could have fought her off, but there seemed no point. Everyone watched us with thoughts of approval, while Bella had yet to even lift her face from Esme's shoulder.
Rose pulled me into Carlisle's office and threw me into a chair in the corner. I hit the seat with such force that it tipped backwards and embedded the top rail in the plaster. Scowling, I yanked the chair free and set it on all four legs in its proper position.
Carlisle came flying into the room and closed the door sharply, his usual human mannerisms completely absent. He closed his eyes for a moment, seeming to center himself, then sat behind the desk. Weaving his fingers together, he stared into my face.
"So," he said coldly. "Explain yourself."
"Bella had been sick most of the day," I said, tugging my hands through my hair. "She couldn't keep any food down, and I was certain she'd gotten food poisoning or caught some kind of flu. When she pointed out that she was late, I just...shut down."
"That must be when Alice told Carlisle to call you," Rose said knowingly.
"I think so," I said. "I just sat and stared, like I was in a trance. When I came to and spoke to you on the phone, Carlisle, it was like everything crystallized. She was pregnant, I wasn't capable of having children, ergo, the honeymoon was over. There was no sense in playing pretend, so I closed the house and booked the flight. Anything to keep from standing still long enough to actually feel."
I put my hands over my eyes and dragged them downwards, as if I could actually rip the thoughts out of my head.
"I thought I was being logical. Even that first night..." my voice faltered.
"What?" Carlisle encouraged. His rage had fallen to a low simmer, but his eyes still glittered dangerously. I'd always known that he considered Bella a daughter, and I was his firstborn son—until now. At this moment, I was nothing more to him than the man who had hurt her.
"She didn't have..." I crushed my palms to my eyes again. "I felt nothing in the way the first time we made love! There was nothing there!"
Carlisle's eyes seemed to flatten as he realized what I was saying. Rosalie's eyes narrowed until they were all pupil, a shiny black glare that reminded me of the predators I pursued to quench my thirst.
"Are you kidding me?" she gritted out. "This isn't feudal England, you stupid shit! Have you never heard of a tampon?"
"I have been to medical school, Rose," I reminded her through clenched teeth. "That really doesn't—"
"It really does, Edward," Carlisle interrupted. His fists rested on the desk blotter, puckering the worn leather as he pressed downwards.
He stood, his fists now tucked into his sides. "Please tell me you are not that cruel. Tell me you did not deny the miracle of your own child because a clumsy, twenty-first century girl did not offer enough of a hymen to suit your Victorian sensibilities." He closed his eyes, yet his expression still pleaded with me.
I stared at the floor, silent.
"Edward," he demanded.
"It's not that I thought of it like that," I burst out. "It's just...seeing it in my mind didn't really prepare me for how it was going to be...and I felt like I was just waiting for everything to go wrong right from the start..."
"So you figured you'd hurry it along by accusing Bella of cheating?" Rose asked acidly.
"No!" I cried. "I didn't mean it like that! Maybe someone forced her, or—"
"And you don't think she'd have bothered to mention it?" Rose asked incredulously. "She's a terrible liar, Edward. You don't think you would have noticed if something that horrible had happened to her?"
"How could I have imagined this could happen?" I cried. "Could you?"
I turned to Carlisle. "In my place, would you automatically think that you were capable of fathering a child? Wouldn't you try to think logically, and draw the most simple and reasonable conclusion?"
His thoughts warred between sympathy and fury.
"I don't think so, Edward," he said sadly. "I can understand that you panicked, and that you tried to calm yourself by thinking rationally. I can even understand your medical training kicking in as you analyzed the situation."
He sat down again and recrossed his legs, watching me. "But the fact is, nothing about your relationship with Bella has been logical. Not the way she reacts to you, not what you've overcome to be with her, and not what you are capable of as a unit. Putting myself in your place, the only way I can imagine reacting is with awe and gratitude."
Rose looked at him sharply, but the sincerity in his face calmed her. Her presence irritated me. If Carlisle and I had been alone in the room, I could have dealt with this conversation at face value. With Rose present, I was on trial on behalf of my gender.
"So what do I do?" I pleaded with Carlisle.
"Nothing," Rose said snidely. "You've done enough. Now we have to pick up the pieces."
"She is my wife!" I insisted.
"There are plenty of fathers who contribute no more than you already have," she said with a smirk. "So, shoo." She waved me away with both hands.
Gritting my teeth, I glanced at Carlisle, whose face was expressionless. Apparently he saw no reason to contradict her.
"Fantastic," I sneered. "So that's how this is going to work? Rose gets to play mom at Bella's expense, you all feed into her delusion, and I get shipped off to Denali or somewhere?"
"Really, Edward—" Rose said with a condescending smile.
"I have an idea," I interrupted. I stalked across the room and threw open the door. "How about you butt out of my marriage and mind your own goddamned business?"
Rose growled, and a quick burst of wind told me that Emmett had appeared in the doorway behind us. His thoughts cautioned me to retain my temper. Even at her most obnoxious, Rose was still his mate, and he would defend her without hesitation.
"Emmett," I said with a nod. "Would you please escort your wife somewhere else, so I can handle my own personal business?" My emphasis was as subtle as an anvil.
Without speaking, he reached for Rose's arm and gently pulled her into the hallway. He silently warned me to make it quick—he wouldn't be able to keep her away for long, not with a baby involved. The bitter undertone of that last thought was quickly buried behind a medley of obnoxious pop songs.
Carlisle watched the two of them walk away, then turned to face me. "If you want to handle your own business, I suggest you figure out how to do so, and quickly. It's quite obvious that you haven't the faintest idea what you're doing."
Without another glance in my direction, he left the office and headed down the hall to his suite.
Esme had tucked Bella into my bed, and her burgeoning silhouette against the window left me breathless. I listened to her slow, even breaths to make certain she was asleep before I quietly entered the room.
I perched gently on the edge of the comforter and watched her dream. Her tiny form took up hardly any space on the king-sized mattress, yet her presence filled the room in a way I'd never felt before. My wife and child, sleeping in my bed—surely this wasn't reality.
The sun had nearly set before I felt her eyes on me. Lifting my gaze to her face, I was startled to see her cold stare cutting through me.
"What do you want?" she asked flatly.
I sighed. "To go back to yesterday and redo all of this."
"Not possible. Next option?"
I reached for her hand and brought it to my cold lips. "To spend eternity making this up to you."
She looked away. "Why? Because you actually want me around, or because you've screwed up so badly that seventy years isn't enough penance?"
"Bella," I admonished. "That isn't funny."
"No," she said without inflection. "It really isn't."
The uncomfortable silence stretched into a minute, then two. We stared at different points around the room until she pulled her hand away and swallowed noisily.
"I'm going to ask Rose to take me up to Denali tomorrow."
I was afraid to ask, and yet I had to know. "And when will you be back?"
"I don't know," she whispered. "I'll call you."
I wanted to pick up the bed and throw it through the window, but I just nodded. No matter how it grated on me, I could deny Bella nothing. Apparently Rose was going to be playing house, after all.
I had no idea how I had managed to stay away from Bella for months at a time, because each day since she'd left for Alaska felt like a decade. I had expected Rose to gloat over Bella's decision, but her thoughts were surprisingly compassionate.
I know what it's like to be betrayed, Edward. I can help her sort out her head, maybe even talk to her a bit more about Royce if I have to.
I nodded, my voice failing me as I watched Bella get into the car without so much as a glance in my direction.
Three days later, I was obsessing over my phone and making Alice insane.
"She hasn't decided when to call you yet," Alice insisted for the tenth time. "You know I can't see anything until she does."
I sat in front of my piano for hours on end, but couldn't find anything that seemed worth playing. At Alice's insistence, Jasper had dragged me into the forest, and after gorging myself on deer and pulverizing half a dozen fir trees I was desperate to return to the house. Maybe Bella had called the land line instead of my cell phone.
I was halfway across the front lawn when Alice called to me from her bedroom. "Edward—" The chime in my pocket interrupted her. With a grim smile, I dashed back to the solitude of the forest.
'Edward." Her voice was not as animated as usual, but it was better then it had been before she left. Carmen and my cousins must have been good for her.
"How are you, Bella? How is the baby?"
"We're both fine."
I swallowed. "I'm glad."
"Rose said you thought I'd been raped." That was blunt.
"Well, I wasn't sure whether—"
"Seriously, Edward?" Her voice was a contradiction, determined yet dead. "You honestly thought I didn't have enough faith in our relationship to tell you if I had been…attacked?" She paused, and I heard her breath hitch. She was crying.
"For you to believe that I would be able to keep something like that to myself, knowing what your family has given up to guarantee my safety so many times…it makes me feel like someone is standing on top of my chest."
My family. She used to refer to them as our family.
"It doesn't even make sense," she went on. "We haven't been away from each other for more than a day or two since we got engaged. You would have smelled it if I had fresh wounds."
"I know," I said bitterly. Why had I not been able to think this logically when it really mattered?
"Since I didn't have any new injuries, you must have figured—what, that I was a willing participant? Is that what you're really saying, Edward?" Her voice was nearly a whisper.
"I don't know, Bella!" I burst out. "All I knew is that vampires can't have children! That's it! That's the only thing I knew for sure!"
"Well, you were wrong. And so was I."
The dial tone in my ear seemed far away. My shouting had scared off all the birds, and the only noise for miles was a light footstep aimed in my direction. Alice's face soon appeared in my field of view.
"Carlisle told me to stay out of it, but you are obviously incapable of fixing this without me," she said as she grabbed my hand and squeezed reassuringly. "It's time you learned the fine art of kissing up to your wife."
Alice had mentioned that I would receive a call after the ninth bouquet of flowers. Given Bella's abhorrence of gift-giving and displays of wealth in general, I was surprised it took her that long. I didn't expect her forgiveness, but I hoped that forcing her to call me to tell me to stop sending gifts would give me the chance to beg her to see me. What Alice didn't mention was that it was actually Carmen calling on Bella's phone, begging me to stop the deliveries, while Bella sobbed in the background. Thinking I had hurt my wife yet again, I immediately canceled the gerbera daisies I had ordered for the next day.
What I would not find out until much later was that Bella had begged Carmen to call me off because she couldn't stand the lure of the blood. The last delivery had resulted in Kate dragging Bella back by the hair to keep her from lunging for the throat of the Fed Ex driver as the unsuspecting man requested a signature. Whatever kept Bella's mind silent to me must have also blocked Kate's gift of electric shock, because Bella had not even broken stride when Kate laid a hand on her shoulder. She made it within a few feet of the front door before Kate realized that strength and speed were the only tools at her disposal.
That night, they started hunting for Bella in shifts.
Many times over the years I had heard men lament that they could not read women's minds. I would have liked to have told them that nothing short of a fortune teller would do, because it was only Alice's step-by-step instructions that earned me a bitter call from Bella.
"You may as well come now. She's going to figure out how to have you wear me down eventually anyway. Let's save everyone the effort."
Based only on what I had heard in her voice, pregnancy was not agreeing with Bella. Or, perhaps, it was me. Bella spoke regularly with Alice and Carlisle, and neither of them mentioned her acerbic disposition. During the long drive to Alaska, I prepared myself for a multitude of groveling. I would earn her forgiveness, no matter how long she felt the need to punish me.
I approached the Denali cabin slowly, listening for Bella's heartbeat out of habit. The usual rhythm was off, and my thoughts began to race in concern.
Why is her heart going so fast? Is the pregnancy affecting her blood pressure?
After listening more carefully, I smiled, realizing the reason. Her heartbeat was the same calm, steady pulse I had come to recognize. The staccato beats interspersed with hers were coming from the fetus.
You might as well come in, Edward, Kate thought as I climbed the steps to the front porch. God knows you won't go away until you get what you want.
Entering the foyer, I was unsurprised to see the Denali sisters glaring at me from their positions on the sofa. They rose together, a united front against me. Their thoughts were hostile, though Tanya's were tinged with sadness. She stared at me, comparing what she saw now to her impressions of me over the past several decades. She knew as well as I did that our appearance does not change, and yet she couldn't deny that I looked different to her. After hearing of my treatment of my wife, she no longer found me attractive.
Her revulsion and pity made my eyes sting, and I looked at the ceiling as if I could see though it into the bedroom that held my Bella. Anything to avoid the look in Tanya's eyes.
"Can we help you?" Kate asked aloud, her tone sarcastic.
"I'm here for Bella."
"Bella has nothing to say to you," Kate responded. She has nothing to say at all, her thoughts corrected.
Through their thoughts, I watched as they remembered Bella during the past few weeks. Carmen had dressed her in a lovely white lace nightgown, and she stared into the wilderness from a window seat in the guest bedroom. She sat for hours without speaking, rarely blinking. Irina wondered if she even slept, if the baby had already begun to change her physiology. It seemed unlikely, but I was thankful yet again that Rose had a medical degree as she watched over Bella. If not for the rapidly swelling curve of her stomach, Bella's unnatural stillness would have easily passed for that of a vampire. The pallor in her face and the darkening shadows under her eyes didn't help.
"That may be, but I have a few things to say to her," I told them.
Kate narrowed her eyes. "Look—"
"Just let him go," Irina cut her off. "The sooner he gets to deliver his little monologue, the sooner he'll leave." She rolled her eyes.
"Fine," Kate hissed.
Rose appeared at the top of the steps, motioning me up. Her mind hurled insults even as her hand beckoned me forward. She met me at the top of the stairs and shadowed me to the guest room like a sentry.
I entered the room with heavy steps, making sure that Bella heard me. Her head tilted slightly in my direction, acknowledging my presence, but she didn't turn or speak. Everything I planned to say withered and died in the face of her stoic grief. I stood before her, a man awaiting sentencing. Minutes passed.
"It never once crossed your mind that this could be your child, did it?" Bella asked softly. Her gaze did not leave the tree line.
She nodded thoughtfully, as if confirming what she already knew. Perhaps she did know. It seemed that I struggled at every turn against inevitabilities that Bella just waited for me to accept.
'What's that?" I asked. A small leather-bound book rested near her feet.
"Oh," she said dismissively. "That's my journal, apparently. Carmen thought it would be helpful to write about my feelings." Her tone was carefully neutral, but the expression on her face suggested that the idea was idiotic.
"Are you using it?" I had vented my frustration to paper many times over the years, and I was curious whether Bella would take to it.
"No," she said firmly. "When I figure out what my feelings are, I'll be sure to let it know."
I resisted the urge to encourage her writing. In high school, Bella loved all things literary. This Bella did not seem open to such romantic notions.
"I agonized over what I did wrong, you know. That you could have so little faith in me," she said to the trees.
"But I think I've been asking the wrong questions," she continued as if I hadn't spoken.
"Okay," I said quietly. I waited for her to continue, but she stayed silent. I watched her stare at the woods, wondering what fascinated her.
"This isn't going to work, Edward," she told me. "It's time I stop fighting it."
Panic gnawed at my stomach. "Bella, I'm sorry. I love you."
"I don't doubt that," she said, smiling. "And I used to think that was the problem, whether you loved me enough."
"More than anyone or anything else I've known," I rushed to confirm.
"When Alice and I found you in Volterra, and you admitted what you had done, I realized that the problem was that you doubted whether I loved you enough." Her emphasis made me cringe.
"Now..." she sighed. "Now, I'm realizing that the problem isn't love. It's hate. It's how you hate yourself and refuse to believe that anything good could happen to you."
She adjusted herself gingerly on the window seat, tracing her palm slowly across her stomach without seeming to realize it. I flinched at the instinctive gesture. Finally, she turned to look at me. Her eyes were so liquid, sunk in the depths of her face. The fetus was pulling the life from her.
"We can't make this last, Edward," she said kindly. "Loving each other isn't enough. I won't raise a child with a man who loathes himself. I won't do it."
"Please don't take this from me, Bella," I pleaded.
"Once, you claimed to love me enough to leave me," she pointed out. "Now, I'm asking you to leave until you love yourself. Come to terms with who you are—the man and the vampire both. If you can do that, then we can be a family."
She turned back to the window, her message delivered.
"Bella," I gasped. How could I suffocate, when I had no need for air?
"I've told you what I need from you, Edward. I don't have the luxury of waiting out your insecurities anymore."
"Girls," she called softly. Rose and Kate appeared beside me, their thoughts softer but still angry.
"You're done," Rose said pointedly. "She needs to rest."
I let them lead me back downstairs, my mind whirling with Bella's words. When we reached the living room, my eyes met Tanya's pitying gaze again, and my composure vanished. I fled from the house as if chased by demons. As I ran for the trees, Bella's eyes burned a hole in my back.
"Told you," Irina said smugly.
I should have felt at home in the dead white tundra, but all I could feel was the absence of Bella's warmth. I sat for days on a pile of boulders several miles from the cabin, staring at the rainbow of lichens that painted the surface. Their beauty made me bitter. How could these microorganisms coexist in such a barren wasteland, creating art wherever they grew, and yet I could not get one thing right in my own relationship?
You seem pensive, I heard from behind me. I turned, barely interested. Carmen was making her way to my perch, her steps light and deliberate.
I attempted a smile. "Actually, I was just comparing myself to fungus."
"As we all do, at one point or another in the day," Carmen replied with humor. She debated whether or not to press, but decided to wait for my lead. Her thoughts showed me clips of Bella throughout the past few days, but it was clear she was editing.
"What aren't you saying?" I wondered aloud. She shifted, and a clanking sound at her waist drew my eye. An old army canteen hung from a canvas strap at her belt.
"What on earth do you need that for?" I was flabbergasted.
Her eyes refused to meet mine. "We hunt for Bella now."
"You do what?" I hissed, jumping into a defensive crouch.
Carmen spoke with compassion. "She craves blood, Edward. She can barely stand human food any longer."
I pressed my knuckles to my eyes. Had I set this in motion with my faithlessness? Was the child determined to prove its parentage even from the womb?
After minutes of silence, Carmen stood with determination. "I need to go."
"Let me do it." The words were out of my mouth before I had processed them.
"I can't do that, Edward," she said firmly.
"Please," I pleaded. "At least let me come with you. She doesn't even need to know I was there."
Her gaze shifted. "I've stayed upwind of you for this conversation. If we hunt together, she will smell you on me. I don't know if she will drink it."
Dear God. Human senses could not distinguish among individual vampires. She was changing, right in front of them.
"All right," I said in defeat.
"Carlisle will come soon. Rose is working on book knowledge, and she isn't comfortable being on her own for the delivery. Based on how the pregnancy is going, Bella might not survive it human."
Fear rushed through me. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll turn her if I have to."
"And what if she doesn't want you there?" Carmen asked delicately.
If Bella doesn't want me there for our child's birth? The thought squeezed my chest like a vise.
"Have Carlisle bring syringes," I said. "I'll give him the venom to turn her."
"I can do that," Carmen promised.
Her strength is already unheard of, Edward, she told me silently. Eleazar cannot even imagine what she will be capable of once she is turned.
"Strength? She's wasting away," I said incredulously.
"No," Carmen murmured. She showed me Bella's near-attack on the delivery man. Before the incident, none of them had even considered that the baby would need blood.
"Jesus," I whispered. "Is there any of Bella left?"
"She is always going to be your Bella," Carmen said warmly. She put her hand on my arm for a moment, trying to earn a smile. I barely managed a small twitch.
"She may always be Bella, but her being mine is still up for debate," I said sadly.
With a sympathetic upturn of her lip, Carmen turned and made her way south towards the taiga. My gaze returned to the orange and yellow blooms on the rocks. It took everything I had to avoid running back to the cabin and attaching myself to Bella's side.
It was only a few days before Carlisle appeared, bringing the rest of the family with him. Emmett wouldn't be separated from Rose any longer, and Alice hoped her visions would be more helpful if she could see Bella firsthand. Jasper was nervous about Bella's blood lust, but felt obligated to try to help her gain more control.
I stayed in the vicinity, feeling like a stalker as I waited for the tidbits I could dig from the minds of the family as they passed me on their way to hunt.
Rose and the Denali sisters actively blocked me, but Carmen and Esme took pity on me and thought about Bella's progress when they came outside. My eyes pricked at the sight of her stomach round with our child, her face a healthy pink now that the blood had been added to her diet.
Carlisle barely noticed my presence, he was so caught up in the scientific oddity that was our child. His mind was a flurry of measurements and calculations as he thought and rethought his assessment of Bella's progress.
Jasper was deeply troubled by Bella's blood lust. He had reached out to some nomads he knew from the Southern Wars, and they had shared frightening folklore about hybrid children in South America. Peter and Charlotte were aghast to hear that my human wife was pregnant, and they promised to run south immediately and gather all the information they could. I was touched by their concern, but it turned out to be too little, too late.
The next morning was unseasonably cold, even for Alaska. The snow squeaked underfoot, and the sky was heavy with a coming storm. Having an extra seven vampires in the area was hard on the local wildlife, and Eleazar had asked us to start going further out to hunt. I hated being away from Bella longer than necessary, even though I wasn't actually in the room with her.
Several times Emmett had brought me what he called "take out", dragging a deer back from their extended excursions. He seemed to enjoy the challenge of carrying a live animal more than he cared about being supportive of my needs, but the result was the same so I didn't comment. Rose finally put a stop to it when the last animal panicked and kicked sideways, knocking a bracelet from her wrist after breaking the clasp with its sharp hooves.
I was returning from my own hunt when panicked thoughts reached my range of hearing.
Edward! It's time! Bella's water broke! Irina was frantic.
Logic flew out the window once again as I raced for the cabin. I barely dented the snow as I pushed myself until the landscape streaked by in blurs of white and brown.
As we neared the house, Jasper ran towards us, his face frantic.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, his mind babbled. Can't do it. Too much pain. Can't do it. I wanted to help, Edward, I swear I tried, I don't understand how women can deal with it...
"It's okay," I said in what I hoped was a soothing voice. "I understand. I'm sure there will be blood. Just go."
He nodded gratefully and shot off into the landscape, blending into the stark surroundings before I had even turned back to the cabin.
Irina dragged me through the door and upstairs into the guest room, which was now fitted with what looked like a small hospital's inventory. Bella was panting as the fetal monitor in the corner brayed an alarm. Carlisle was studying the readouts, his thoughts racing.
After a moment of deliberation, his mind cleared, and he looked up sharply. Rose met his eyes from beside Bella's bed.
"Breech, right?" she asked tentatively.
He nodded. "I think so, but it doesn't really matter either way. Everything we've heard suggests we can't allow the child to start the labor process. We have to extract it manually before it tears through the womb."
"You don't know for sure?" I asked skeptically.
Carlisle looked over as if he had just noticed I was there. "You've heard me think about how the uterine wall rejected the ultrasound. It's infused with something similar to vampire skin. I've been estimating the size of the fetus and the positioning based on measurements."
"She did seem to drop a few days ago," Rose pointed out.
Bella nodded. "It felt like I could breathe easier, but then I was in the bathroom even more than before." She groaned, then let out a slow whistling breath.
"Our teeth are the only thing that can cut vampire skin, other than werewolf claws," Carlisle said to Bella, putting his hand on her forehead. The trust that filled her eyes when she looked back at him was enough to strangle me.
"I don't see any wolves," she said, looking around in an exaggerated fashion as another pain gripped her. "You'd better have at it."
He smiled gently at her, then his face smoothed out as he adopted his professional persona. He and Rose set up the room quickly, his even tone instructing her with precision.
In minutes, they had Bella shaved and prepped for surgery. She kept her eyes on Carlisle's face as he talked her through every step. I couldn't decide if she was trying to be brave, or just trying to avoid looking at me. She had not spoken one word in my direction since I'd come in.
Carlisle bit down, and the sound of his teeth slicing through her stomach made me wince. Once he got past her delicate skin, the abnormal state of her pregnancy was obvious. The tissue of her uterus had developed a faint pearlescent sheen that reminded me of our skin in the sunlight, and it resisted cutting in a way that human muscle could not.
After a few moments he had sliced a neat line, and Rose carefully suctioned out the amniotic fluid. With a warm smile, he reached down and emerged with a wriggling form.
"Your son," he said with joy, holding him high enough for Bella to see over the screen. Rose wrapped him in a towel and placed him in the curve of Bella's arm. She smiled down at him, and he gazed back at his mother in wonder. Our son.
"Aren't you beautiful," Bella whispered, running a finger down his cheek. His eyes fluttered in response, and his lips pursed.
We were all so mesmerized by the scene, no one heard the pounding feet on the stairs. Alice burst into the room.
"Edward, take him!" she cried, her eyes wide. "He's—"
As she spoke, I watched my son lean in and bite his mother's finger.
"—venomous," Alice finished, her voice mournful.
"Oh!" Bella squeaked, startled. "Sweet pea, that isn't..." Her eyes started to dull. She blinked once, twice, then started to shake.
Rose rushed forward, pulling the baby from Bella's embrace as the tremors increased. She shoved him towards Carmen, who had just appeared at the doorway, and I watched as my son disappeared from the room.
"It won't be enough," Alice told Carlisle sadly. "He barely nicked her, and I'm not sure if she can complete the change without more venom. She keeps flickering in and out."
I watched in horror as Alice's visions flipped across her mind like a deck of cards. Bella with red eyes. Bella dressed in white, lying in blue satin. Bella with gold eyes. Me, slumped over a gravestone, rain dripping under my collar.
I should have known that I would never have let Bella die a mortal death. I have no idea how I fooled myself for so long. Seeing it in Alice's head was enough to make me bite her a thousand times, if that's what she needed to survive.
Stepping forward, I grasped Bella's hand gently and lifted it to my mouth. Kissing her palm, I pulled her arm out straight and positioned my teeth above her wrist.
"No," she choked out. "Stop."
"Bella?" I asked, panicked. After everything I'd done to her, had she changed her mind?
"Dad," she whispered.
"Carlisle, I think she's asking for Charlie." For the thousandth time, I wished I could see inside her head.
"No," she said more firmly. "Dad." Her eyes met mine and then deliberately swept across the room to meet Carlisle's.
He stepped forward, grasping her other arm. "Tell me what you want, sweet girl."
"You do it. Dad," she gasped. "My second father."
I dropped her arm and staggered backwards. She wouldn't even let me give her my venom. And even though it felt like she'd stuck a knife through my stomach, what did I expect? Carlisle had never let her down. Charlie had always been there for her in her human life, so why wouldn't she want her infallible immortal father to bring her into this one?
"Of course, Bella," Carlisle said gently. "I would be honored to be your sire as well as your father."
I stumbled down the stairs and out the front door, half-blind with agony and self-loathing. I didn't stop until I found myself surrounded by evergreens. Dropping to my knees, I screamed in rage and pain, clawing the dirt like an animal.
I must have watched the moon rise and set twice before I pulled myself together. Standing up, I surveyed the tatters of my clothes in dismay. Alice would have a comment or two when I showed up looking like I'd been through a meat grinder.
Turning around, I ran for home with a new sense of calm. I had to stay hopeful. I could make us a family again.
The house was quiet as I approached. There were no heartbeats. Where was my son?
Esme met me at the door. "Edward," she said smoothly, her thoughts jumbled.
I stepped into the foyer, smiling at the family as they stared back at me. "I have to be formally introduced to the new man of the house. Where is junior?"
"No, Edward," Rose said, shaking her head.
"No what?" I asked, puzzled.
"No Edward," she emphasized. "He isn't a junior."
"Oh," I said, realization dawning. "What name did she choose?"
Carmen and Esme glanced at each other so quickly, I almost missed it. "Charles David," Esme responded, her voice full of love.
"Charles David Cullen?" I closed my eyes. "Please tell me that my child does not seriously have the same initials as the Center for Disease Control."
Silence followed my sarcastic request. I had hoped to lighten the mood with my quip, but instead I sounded like an obnoxious brat. Concentrating, I found thoughts of parts catalogs, decorating magazines, and Italian plays. Everyone, blocking me.
"What?" I demanded.
After a long pause, Carlisle spoke reluctantly. "Swan."
"Swan?" I repeated.
"His name," Carlisle confirmed quietly. "Charles David Swan."
My vision blurred. "No! I have to fix it!"
"How do you plan on doing that?" Jasper asked curiously. He silently noted the embarrassment that soaked through me at my moronic outburst.
My mind leaped, paging through possibilities like file folders. "He has a legitimate birth certificate, correct? I can petition to have it—"
"Don't be ridiculous," Rose hissed at me. "Bella wanted her son to have a real identity, and now he does. Your interference will only cause us more trouble."
Her choice of pronoun did not go unnoticed. "Our son deserves to have his father's name!"
"What he deserves is a father who doesn't accuse his mother of being a whore!" Rose shrieked, her tone rattling the windows. Underneath her rage, her thoughts flowed like syrup. She had spent many hours daydreaming of her duties as an aunt, desperate to play an integral role in my son's life. As she watched our fractured family unit, she felt her vision slipping away.
"I have to make things right," I said desperately.
"And how do you plan on doing that, exactly?" Rose went on. "You know a paternity claim requires a DNA sample. How is that going to go? Here, lab monkey, please verify that I fathered this child, but ignore the fact that my gene map is from another planet. How long do you think it will take until men in Kevlar show up to drag us all away?"
Esme had remained quiet, her thoughts flickering between her few glimpses of Charles and images of her own son. Finally, she spoke.
"Enough," she demanded quietly. Walking to my side, she put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I flinched. It was not truly painful, but the contrast between it and her usual affectionate gestures was clear. This was a side of Esme you did not cross.
"You have torn Bella and this family apart," she said simply. "You will stop. You will stop bailing this sinking ship, and you will fix the hole. You will start by respecting Bella's wishes for once in your life. Chief Swan is a kind and loyal man, and you should feel honored to have a child named after him."
"Okay," I said firmly. "Okay. I can do this. Now, please, where are they?"
Carmen and Esme were glancing back and forth again, communicating with their eyes.
"Tell me!" I demanded.
"She's gone, Edward," Carmen said, stepping closer and lifting her arms in defeat. "We're sorry. We couldn't force her to stay."
"What? How?" I spluttered.
"You were gone for five days, Edward," Rose said viciously. "Once again, you left her alone. She woke up with you nowhere to be found. What did you expect her to do? Hang around to see if you felt like dropping by?"
"I wasn't gone that long," I protested.
"Five days," she confirmed, nodding firmly.
I dropped to the couch and put my head in my hands. I had been certain I would be back before Bella woke, and yet I had been out of my mind out there in the woods. How had five days passed without my knowledge?
Abruptly, I stood up. "Did she go back to Forks?"
More glances. "We don't think so," Carlisle said slowly. "She implied that she needed to...get lost, so to speak."
Alice reached into her jeans pocket and withdrew a folded sheet of lined paper. I recognized the delicate scent from the journal Carmen had given Bella. Her scrawl was etched into the paper with a heavy hand.
He will never leave me again, and I will never give him the chance to leave Charles.
Panic began to rise in my throat. "Her phone?"
"Still here," Alice confirmed.
"In her room."
The paper fluttered to the floor as grief welled up in my chest.
This curse of immortality, this endless scourge of open eyes and unbroken consciousness, is now the only thing that gives me hope. Bella's thoughts have always been lost to me, and with no physical limitations I can only imagine the ends to which she will go to make sure I lose the rest of her.
I have to believe that I will find her. I have to believe that when I do, she will once again forgive the arrogance and cruel stupidity that have plagued my every act towards her.
Because I believe, I have taken her journal. Because I believe, I have taken Charlie's birthday gift, the camera she reluctantly appreciated but had little motivation to use after my sudden departure last year. I will look for her in every place my feet can reach, and when I find a place I know she would wish to see, I will create an entry. The writing and photographs will show her what I have missed without her, what splendid emptiness the world holds for me without her by my side.
If I am once again lucky enough to earn her mercy, I will take her back to every place I find, and revel in the swell of life her presence brings to every corner of this Earth. If she will not have me, I will press the journal to her beautiful hand and ask that she still seek them out, that she find for herself every striking landscape and heartbreaking sunset the pages have to offer. If nothing else, I can give her that. The wonders of the world, right there waiting for her, and enough lifetimes to chase them all.