This evening’s near-death experience started with a paper cut. Humans got them all the time, and a girl as graceless and accident-prone as Bella was certainly no exception. However, it was only in a house full of vampires where such a seemingly innocuous injury could cause serious bodily harm. The scent of Bella’s blood seeping through the tiny slit in her skin awakened Jasper’s primal nature. Though Edward and Emmett moved quickly enough to save Bella’s life, they were unable to prevent her from serious injury. The force of their struggle with Jasper propelled her into a crystal centerpiece, shattering it into hundreds of pieces—many of which were now lodged in her arm.
As Carlisle carried Bella to his study, he was grateful he ordered Edward out of the house. Jasper was bound to feel awful, and though Alice, Emmett, and Rose could offer him their support, only Edward could offer him absolution. Carlisle could only hope that Edward would be gracious enough to do so.
Deciding not to concern himself with that at the moment, Carlisle turned his attention to Bella. He gently sat her on top of his desk, before gathering the supplies he would need to remove the shards of crystal from her arm. Under any other circumstances, he would have been grateful for the opportunity to talk to Bella privately. He knew very little about her, outside of the fact Edward claimed that if he were to operate on the assumption he still had his soul, Bella would be his soulmate. Carlisle found Edward’s belief more than a little problematic. Though his religious beliefs made it impossible for him to verbalize or act upon his feelings for Edward, Carlisle believed Edward was his bashert. Given Edward and Jasper’s unique gifts, Carlisle was certain his desire for his first son was not a secret. Therefore, Carlisle could only conclude that Edward chose not to acknowledge his love because it was unrequited.
Needless to say, Carlisle’s feelings for the trembling child before him were more than a little complicated.
“I never wanted to have a party,” she muttered, more to herself than to him.
Despite the fact Bella was Carlisle’s unknowing romantic rival, he didn’t want her to blame herself. Carlisle harbored no ill-will toward Bella—in fact, quite the opposite. Edward was in love with Bella, and Carlisle was in love with Edward. Bella had brought Edward back to life—for this, Carlisle would always be grateful. Having located everything he needed to tend to her arm, Carlisle turned back to Bella. She was staring at her lap, blinking back tears. He approached her hesitantly, knowing that though he was more than capable of treating her wound, he’d never be able to soothe her longing. After all, he’d never been able to soothe his own.
“This will numb it.” He injected the anesthetic into the perimeter of her cut, adding when she flinched, “I’m sorry my hands are cold.”
“That doesn’t bother me; I’m used to it.”
Carlisle felt like a fool for not realizing. “Edward’s hands.”
“Yours, too. I mean, you’ve treated me before.” Bella smiled at him nervously.
Truth be told, Edward’s hands almost never grazed her bare skin. Here she was—an eighteen-year-old woman who craved physical contact so badly, she was enjoying being touched by her boyfriend’s pseudo-father. Despite what the gash in her upper arm would imply, she wasn’t nearly as fragile as Edward liked to think she was, nor was she as vestal as his upbringing would lead him to believe. She was young, alive, and made of flesh. As such, she was not exempt from wanting to experience the joys thereof. She wondered if her propensity for accidents wasn’t a subconscious manifestation of her need to be touched—to feel skin against skin—through any means possible. After all, she was normal even if Edward was not. She looked to her side and saw Carlisle’s hand on her shoulder. Her lower lip protruded slightly in a small pout when she realized she could no longer feel his skin against hers; whatever was in the syringe must have taken effect.
“My arm is numb.”
Carlisle nodded and gave her a second injection into the cut itself, before helping her to her feet. She leaned against his desk as he stood before her. When he was certain she no longer felt the sting of her wound, he placed the hand of her injured arm on the side of his chest. Bella blushed, and he felt compelled to explain himself.
“It will be easier for you to keep your arm still if you hold onto me.”
As Carlisle went to work removing the shards of glass from her arm, Bella’s breathing became shallow. He briefly worried that he was hurting her, until her scent changed and he realized he was doing anything but. Though he had no personal experience with vaginal secretions, his study of human anatomy made him more than aware of what their presence implied. Edward had apparently been telling the truth when he claimed he’d barely touched this girl. Her body was responding to a medical procedure performed by her boyfriend’s father as if it were foreplay; surely the extent of her physical frustration had no parallel.
Except Carlisle’s own.
He knew women found him attractive—the nicknames given to him by the nurses at various hospitals over the years assured him of this—but he’d never before seen one respond so earnestly to such innocent touches. His body reacted in a way previously reserved for Edward, and Carlisle hoped Bella was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to notice the bulge in his pants.
In case she wasn’t, he decided to distract her with conversation. “It’s not your fault. Jasper hasn’t been away from human blood as long as the rest of us.”
“How do you do it?”
“Years and years of practice.”
“And you didn’t even choose it.”
Carlisle dropped a piece of blood stained crystal into the bowl beside her. “Very few of us choose to become vampires.”
“Still, it must have been hard,” she insisted.
“Like everything else in life, I just had to decide what to do with what I was given.”
“Did you ever think of just doing it the easy way?”
When Carlisle was satisfied he’d removed all of the glass from Bella’s arm, he began to clean the wound.
“No. I knew who I wanted to be; I wanted to help people. It brings me happiness, even if I am damned regardless.”
“Damned?” Bella flinched as if she was in pain. “Like hell?”
Carlilse looked up from Bella’s arm briefly; the expression on his face was all the confirmation she needed.
“Carlisle, you couldn’t be damned.” She shook her head. “You couldn’t; it’s impossible.”
“Thank you, Bella. You’ve always been very…gracious about us. By all other accounts, though, we are damned. I hope—maybe foolishly—that we get some measure of credit for trying.”
As Carlisle began to close her wound, Bella felt nothing but a painless tugging. She angled her head slightly to the side, so she could watch Carlisle. He was every bit as beautiful as Edward, and though she no longer doubted his soul was every bit as tortured as Edward’s, she was unwilling to concede that either of them were damned.
“Do all of you think like this?” she asked.
“Edward doesn’t believe there’s an afterlife for our kind. He believes this is our afterlife—that in exchange for this limited immortality, we’ve lost our souls.”
“So that’s it?” Bella asked in disbelief. “That’s why he won’t change me?”
“Imagine the situation in reverse—if you believed as Edward does, could you take away his soul?”
“But you took Edward’s.”
“He’s never been able to forgive me. He fears if he changes you, once you realize what this life truly means, you’ll view him with the same level of contempt with which he views me.”
“Edward doesn’t look at you that way,” she asserted. “He loves you.”
“You of all people should realize that love is never that simple.”
Bella remained frozen in place even after Carlisle was finished bandaging her arm. Carlisle made no attempt to move, either. Instead, he concentrated on the heat of Bella’s hand through the softly-woven cotton of his bespoke shirt, and the scent of her arousal which was just as pungent as ever.
“Maybe not simple,” she said finally, “but certainly worthy of sacrifice.”
She stepped forward, sliding her hand from his side to his back while wrapping her free arm around his neck. Though Bella’s embrace was firm for a human, Carlisle could have easily broken free from her arms if he so desired—but he didn’t. Much to Carlisle’s surprise, he liked the feeling of her against him. Even through the scratchy taffeta of her dress, the soft heat of Bella’s flesh brought Carlisle both spiritual comfort and physical pleasure. The former he’d gained only through prayer and meditation; the latter he’d experienced only in the presence of Edward and never on purpose. Carlisle was amazed that in the span of an hour, Bella (however unintentionally) provided him with both.
“You sacrificed your soul for Edward,” she whispered, her breath hot against his neck.
“I had no soul.”
“You did,” she insisted. “Why wouldn’t you?”
“Vampires feed on human blood.”
“But you didn’t until you changed him.” She pressed herself more tightly against him. “And you changed Edward to save him. If in drinking his blood you damned yourself, one could argue you gave your soul for his life. ”
Carlisle remained quiet. Though Bella’s statement was not untrue, there was more to it than that. Carlisle’s decision to change Edward was born of centuries of loneliness, pure love, and intense lust with which Carlisle had never come to terms let alone acted upon.
“You love him enough you wanted to be with him, and didn’t care about the consequences. I love him the same way.” She took a small step back, and angled her face so she could see Carlisle’s. “Exactly the same way.”
“Familial?” Carlisle was not at all comfortable with her implication.
“Perhaps on his end. He doesn’t touch me.”
“He’s afraid he’ll break you.”
“Maybe, except he doesn’t touch you either. Don’t deny it; I’ve seen the way you look at him. He looks at me the same way—like something he wants desperately, but knows he can’t ever have.”
Carlisle didn’t recognize his voice as he spoke. “He could have me.”
Bella sighed, dropping her arms to her side. “He could have me, too.”
One needn’t have Jasper’s gift of empathy to identify the emotions Carlisle was feeling—despair that his relationship with Edward would never be what he wanted it to be, comfort in the newly formed bond he had with Bella, and wonder at the intense desire her innocent touches evoked in him.
Knowing Edward was approaching, Carlisle put all of his thoughts beside his genuine concern for Edward’s emotional well-being from his mind; he was all too aware of the damage Edward’s ability to read his thoughts could have on their already strained relationship.
Bella was also thinking of Edward’s gift, more grateful than ever she was immune to it. Edward would never know she’d felt his father’s erection pressed against her stomach, that she enjoyed it, that even though she had no idea how to pleasure a man, she would have fallen to her knees and taken Carlisle into her mouth. That she refrained, not because she didn’t want to, but because she didn’t think Carlisle liked girls that way. That Edward’s sexual repression masquerading as fear of hurting her had done such a number on her self-esteem, she no longer thought she was attractive, nor did she believe that Edward truly loved her. That she was wondering if Carlisle could be convinced to touch her that way even if her anatomy lacked what he needed most. Most importantly, that she was seriously asking herself if she would be better able to accept a non-sexual relationship with Edward if Carlisle was willing to offer her emotional support through commiseration and maybe occasional mutual masturbation.
She was most thankful Edward would never know the extent to which this appealed to her.