Esme and I looked down on our children who were busying themselves in the living room, preparing to greet our guests. It was Christmas, and we’d arranged to share the holiday with Bella’s family in our Forks home. The doorbell rang, and Jasper answered it as we made our way downstairs.
Renee and Phil arrived first, and Bella rushed to help her pregnant mother over the threshold. “Mom, you’re not supposed to be carrying anything heavy,” Bella scolded as she took a large shopping bag from Renee’s arm.
“I still have three months to go, so just relax, okay?” Renee didn’t complain when Bella guided her to the nearest couch, though. I smiled at her, hearing the faint flutter of her unborn baby’s heart. “You look beautiful, Bella. You seem to be glowing tonight,” she said.
Renee had also commented on her daughter’s appearance when Bella had picked her up at the airport yesterday. Bella had explained that she just wasn’t getting outside enough, being a new college student and a newlywed. Amazingly Renee had accepted the explanation completely, surprising everyone… except Alice.
“How did the ultrasound go, Renee?” Esme asked, smiling widely.
“Very well, thank you.” Renee paused as everyone settled in the room again and Phil took her hand.
Bella looked at the two of them expectantly. “Well?” she asked.
Phil grinned. “You’re going to have a baby brother, Bella!” he said with glee. A small round of applause erupted, and I glanced around at my family. Alice looked smug, having known for months the sex of the baby. Jasper mussed her hair, clearly basking in the happiness that filled the room.
Emmett smiled at his tiny sibling, but then turned his attention to Rosalie, who was sulking in the corner. My heart ached for my oldest daughter; I knew how hard it was for her to watch others celebrate what she wanted most, but could never have. Emmett whispered in her ear, but her expression of sadness didn’t change. Bella’s razor sharp perception picked up on Rosalie’s distress, and she moved across the room to stand next to her sister. After a moment she stood on her toes and whispered in Rosalie’s ear.
I still had trouble believing the talent that Bella had acquired during her transformation. As a human she had always been so perceptive; we’d all been shocked when she had discerned Victoria’s intricate plan to murder her so long ago. As a vampire, that ability had multiplied a hundred-fold, and her understanding of the world around her was daunting. It was impossible to lie to her, and though she couldn’t see the future like Alice, she could predict the outcome of any given situation with unerring accuracy. Though she couldn’t read minds like Edward, a person’s body language gave her nearly the same information. My three children in combination were incredibly powerful, easily rivaling the former strength of the Volturi.
When a smile flitted across Rosalie’s face I wasn’t surprised; of course Bella knew exactly what to say to cheer her sister up. What was surprising was when Bella took Rosalie’s hand and led her to Renee. Esme tensed next to me when Bella leaned down and spoke to her human mother.
“Sure, Rosalie, give me your hand,” Renee said. Rosalie glanced at Bella who nodded encouragingly, then placed her hand on Renee’s large belly. “Wow, you do have cold hands!” Renee exclaimed, but carefully slid Rosalie’s hand to the side. “He won’t like that, I’m sure.” I heard the baby’s heartbeat speed up, and then Rosalie jumped. “Did you feel it?” Renee asked.
“Yes, I did.” The sadness on Rosalie’s face slowly began to fade and a genuine smile replaced it. “I think he’s going to be a strong one, Renee, thank you,” she said sincerely.
As Rosalie returned to Emmett, I gazed at Bella in wonder. In all my years knowing Rosalie, I would have never thought that feeling a baby’s kick would help her. Bella’s ability to work miracles continued, and as Edward collected her in his arms, I looked upon her greatest miracle of all.
Edward’s face shone with such light and joy that I caught my breath. Everyone around me was chatting happily, discussing the baby’s future, but I was caught up in the sight of my son overflowing with love. For so many years I’d watched him live his solitary life, finding some solace in his music, but never finding - or perhaps never looking - for true happiness. He existed, supporting our family, protecting us, but never focusing on his own needs. He had found a kind of peace in that existence, but I had always worried that he never really found life. When Bella turned his existence upside down, that all changed.
“They are so perfect together, aren’t they,” Esme whispered to me. Her face was radiant, and I put my arm around her.
“Yes, they are,” I said, giving her a gentle squeeze. “How are you, my dear?” I wondered for a moment if Renee’s condition upset Esme in any way.
She wrapped her arm around my waist and looked up at me with her lovely golden eyes. “I’m wonderful. The trials of the past are over and our family is now complete,” she said with a contented sigh. I kissed her hair, thankful that she was as happy as I was.
Trials – such an inadequate word. Trials may have described the wedding… Tanya’s unexpected visit had caused Bella and Edward a lot of unnecessary stress, but her visit was nothing compared to what was to come.
“He’s here!” Alice moved quickly to the foyer, and I knew that the last of our visitors were arriving. She threw the door open so hard that the knob dented the wall behind it, and Esme groaned.
“Charlie,” Alice screamed, and moved so quickly she seemed to vanish. Luckily Renee and Phil were otherwise occupied; they were the only ones who were unaware of the true nature of the family around them. Moments later Charlie and Alice came in, arm in arm, and Bella and Edward met them at the door. Though Alice accepted me as her father, she’d found a true ‘Dad’ in Charlie, and I’d been amazed at the warmth and love that Alice gave him. She and Bella had become sisters in every way.
“Merry Christmas, Bells,” Charlie said warmly, and hugged his daughter tightly. He didn’t even flinch at her cool body temperature. Reluctantly he released her and turned to Edward. “Son,” he said, and hugged him as well. Again my heart grew uncharacteristically warm in my chest.
Charlie had found out about our world in the worst possible way. He waved tentatively to Emmett with his deformed hand, and I felt a pang of guilt as I remembered seeing the terror on his face; his fear of me. He did not look in my direction.
I watched with a heavy heart as Charlie went to Renee’s side and listened intently while she and Phil brought him up to date on all the happenings in Florida.
“Carlisle, it wasn’t your fault,” Edward said softly, and put his hand on my shoulder.
In his mind it was, and perception is often stronger than truth, I responded in thought. Charlie had many reasons to hold me responsible for the horrors he’d had to endure, not the least of which was the damage to his hand. I had betrayed him: as father, as a professional, as a man. Everything he had come to believe about me had been completely dispelled, and when I had so easily accepted Bella as my daughter, my vampire daughter, the betrayal was complete. When I put myself in his place, I could easily understand his hatred.
“Perceptions can change, Dad,” Edward said softly, then returned to Bella. His use of the word ‘Dad’ demonstrated the truth of his statement and I sighed, turning my attention back to our visitors.
Bella was standing at the door to greet Charlie’s fiancée and future stepson. “Sue, Seth, we are so glad you could make it!” she said as hugged Sue Clearwater gently. “How is Leah doing in Hawaii?”
“She’s fine. Kevin is teaching her to surf,” Sue said.
When life with the pack had become too much for Leah, she had gone to visit Jacob’s sister Rebecca. ‘Kevin’ was a friend of Rebecca’s surfer husband, and Leah had recently taken a keen interest in him. Seth winked at Bella, confirming my suspicion that Leah had finally found her mate.
Bella released Sue and smiled before giving Seth a high-five.
“Hey, step-sis, you stink,” he whispered with a grin.
“So do you, step-bro,” she replied as Seth shook Edward’s hand. Seth and Edward’s bond had been forged during that fateful battle to protect a then human Bella, and had only strengthened through the intervening months. Seth had become our official liaison to the pack, coordinating the pack’s activities with ours during the fight that nearly killed us all. My thoughts returned to Charlie again when Sue sat on the couch and slipped her hand into his.
It had been such a shock when we had received the call from Seth telling us that Charlie had been kidnapped. We had been in Alaska for only a week, and Edward and I’d been at Bella’s side. Edward had just bitten his new wife, and she writhed silently on their bed.
“Why doesn’t she cry out?” Edward had demanded, the pain evident in his voice. “Did I do something wrong?” He had been desperate to minimize Bella’s suffering as much as possible.
I think everything is fine. You know that everyone experiences the change differently - you cried out very little. Bella twisted again, but Edward reached down and stroked her face and she calmed slightly. See, she knows you are here, Edward, and that knowledge strengthens her. She is fine.
“I can’t stand to see her in so much pain…” he said. I put my hand on his shoulder.
This maybe the last pain she ever feels. Take comfort in that. Edward looked up at me with love and trust in his eyes.
“Thank you, Carlisle,” he said. That was when the phone in Edward’s pocket rang. He quickly fished it out and handed it to me.
The greeting was dark. “I have very bad news,” Seth said solemnly. “My mother was at Charlie’s house for dinner a few hours ago, and several vampires showed up. They took Charlie.”
Edward’s eyes reflected the shock I was feeling. “How is your mother, Seth?” I asked quietly.
Seth took a ragged breath before answering. “She’s okay, but shaken up. The younger vampire, a female, questioned Charlie then somehow tortured him. Mom said she didn’t touch him, but he screamed in pain.”
“Jane,” Edward whispered, and stroked Bella’s hair. Her face turned to toward his, though her eyes remained tightly closed.
“There’s more,” Seth said. “Before they left, they told Mom that Edward, Bella and Alice had a week to make an appearance or Charlie would die. They didn’t say where - do you know what they meant?”
“Yes, Seth, we understand what they mean. We will do everything we can to get Charlie back,” I said. I looked down at Bella, who had rolled over and was shaking now. She would be like this another 3 days… then to have to fly to Italy? How can we protect her from the humans we would not be able to avoid?
Edward looked up at me sadly. “I don’t know,” he said.
“One last thing.” Seth took a breath, and I cringed, wondering what else Jane and her henchmen had done in Forks. “After this happened, I phased to contact Sam and the rest of the pack. Jacob found out what happened. He said something about Italy then phased into his human form. We haven’t heard from him since.”
“Where was he, Seth?”
“In Alaska.” Seth’s voice was quiet, and Edward shook his head.
“I can’t hear him,” he said. “But we should be prepared. Go tell the others Carlisle, I’ll stay here.” Bella rolled again, inching herself closer to Edward. What would she do when she found out about Charlie?
I didn’t see Bella’s initial reaction. Edward told me later that she had nearly broken his hand off when he told her, she was so upset. Edward’s hand was none the worse for wear …unlike Charlie’s. Charlie struggled with the bow on his present; though his index finger and thumb remained on his right hand, they were severely weakened when the other three fingers had been lost. Sue was the only one allowed to assist, and she gently reached over and untied the gold ribbon.
As I watched the adoration that flowed between Charlie and his fiancée, my thoughts drifted back to the past. After meeting with the rest of the family, I had decided that I should go immediately to the Volturi and explain the situation. Alice had seen that I wouldn’t be able to convince them, but she had encouraged me to go none the less. “You’ll need to take a passport for Charlie anyway,” she said. She could see that the Volturi were not holding Charlie in their castle, but rather in the city jail in Volterra proper, under the pretense of having been in a fight and of possessing no identification. “I can see you comforting him, Carlisle. He needs you,” she said.
“What about you… and Bella and Edward?” I had asked.
Alice frowned. “I don’t know. The future is clouded. Either some necessary decisions are yet to be made or…”
“Werewolves are involved,” Jasper finished. “Jacob must be close.”
Esme pleaded with me not to go alone, but when I considered other options, Alice could only see Charlie’s eminent, painful death. Somehow my presence extended his life for at least a few days, so with great sorrow I kissed my true love and said goodbye to my family. During the flight I thought about my last conversation with Aro centuries ago, and how he had been so sure that I wouldn’t last a year without turning to humans for sustenance. The Volturi’s guard was small then, only a handful, and I wondered how many there were now. Alice could see at least ten; a lethal force that could easily overpower our family. If only I could convince Aro to leave us to our own ways.
When I arrived in Volterra, it was Aro who saw me and greeted me pleasantly. “It has been a long time, my friend. You not only proved us wrong with your survival, but have thrived, building a coven that rivals our own.” His tone was friendly, but also wary.
“We are not your rivals, Aro, and thrive through peaceful means. Can you not respect that and release Chief Swan? We are not a threat to you.” I said.
Aro’s reply came without hesitation. “We do respect you, Carlisle, which is why the human still lives. As for being a threat, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it,” he said firmly. "How is Bella?”
“She was in the midst of changing when I left. Surely you understand that she will be in no condition to travel for some time. Please let Charlie go, and you have my word that she will make an appearance as soon as she is able.” I tried to sound confident, but Alice had already seen that my pleas would be in vain.
“No, she will come now. Perhaps exposing her to human blood might influence her future,” he said, his ghostly features embodying an evil satisfaction. “I will let you attend Charlie for now, however. He would enjoy your company.” With a wave, Aro dismissed me and I was taken to the jail without seeing any of the other Volturi, and very few of the guard.
When Charlie saw me his face filled with relief. “Carlisle Cullen… I can’t believe it. What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to do what I can to help, Charlie. How are you?” One of his eyes was swollen shut, and I could see hand-shaped bruises on the exposed skin of his arms.
He straightened himself up with a wince, and I was struck by the strength he showed in light of the circumstances. “I’m alright. Is Bella okay?”
“Yes, she’s fine, as is Ms. Clearwater,” I said, anticipating his next question.
“What do they want with my daughter? They kept asking me over and over about her – and then that girl looked at me and smiled… I’ve never felt such pain. How did she do that to me?” Charlie spoke faster than I’d ever heard him speak before, and I could see signs of shock starting to appear in his countenance.
“They want to meet Bella,” I said simply, looking away.
“Who are ‘they,’ Carlisle?” He moved closer to the bars that separated us and lowered his voice. “What are they? Those red eyes, and their strength – the big one, Felix? He threw me thirty feet with as much effort as if I were a baseball.” He rubbed his forehead with his hand. “I’m not crazy,” he said softly before forcing the next words out. “They aren’t human, are they…”
As I looked into his brown eyes, I could see that Charlie was realizing the truth. “No, they’re not,” I said softly.
“Dear God,” he whispered. “And they want my Bella…”
I spent the next days with Charlie, sitting with him in the jail. While we waited, Charlie slowly learned about the immortal world. I didn’t volunteer information, but answered his questions one by one. When he learned that the Volturi were vampires, he sat silently for an hour absorbing the concept. Amazingly, he didn’t seem to associate me with the vampires. On one hand I was pleased that he didn’t see me as threat; on the other hand he would find out eventually… and learn that his daughter was now a vampire, too. I could hear his heart labor with each new piece of information he learned; the shock of discovering his friends and family were part of the world he feared could literally kill him. I tried to prepare for that fateful question, but it never came.
We heard nothing from the Volturi, and time passed slowly as we conversed. On the fifth evening I received a text message from Edward. He didn’t call on purpose… this message would be for my eyes only, hidden from the sensitive ears that guarded the jail from the outside.
We are here. It will be over soon. Have faith.
The message sent an icy tremor down my spine. The words carried so little information, and yet so much. This was the final confrontation, and I wouldn’t be a part of it. My family was facing the Volturi without me, and I feared for them. Charlie was preparing to go to sleep in his cell, and I’d stepped out to maintain the illusion that I required food. I looked toward exit door of the jailhouse lobby and fought the urge to find my family, to join them, and possibly die with them. My throat closed at the thought of losing even one, and my chest ached at the idea of losing them all.
It was clear that I was not to stand with them, though, and Edward’s message was carefully crafted to convey that fact. Faith was a word that he had only recently added to his vocabulary, and he knew that by using that phrase that I would trust him. Reluctantly I returned to my chair outside Charlie’s cell, having only blind faith to carry me through these dark hours. Protect my family, O Lord, I prayed over and over.
A few excruciating hours after Edward’s message, an angry Felix burst into the jail. “Get him out of here,” he commanded , and pointed at a groggy Charlie. Surprise filled both our faces as we looked at him, unmoving. “NOW!” he commanded again. As we hurried through the city, Felix growled to himself. “Werewolves near Volterra…” he muttered.
I later learned that the meeting between my family and the Volturi was anything but civil. The wolves had sent a small contingent, including Jacob, to provide a distraction outside the city and divide the vampire guard. Aro and Caius were already on edge when my family entered the castle, but it was Bella’s grasp of the volatile situation that had led to a collapse of the Volturi hierarchy.
According to Edward, when Aro again requested that he, Bella, and Alice join the Volturi, Bella had stepped forward and asked for more details about his offer. Edward was shocked at her apparent interest in joining the ancient family, but then read in Jane’s thoughts what Bella had already perceived. Jane and Alec were planning to take over control of the Volturi, and had the support of several of the guard. When Jane saw that Bella may be willing to join Aro, she decided to initiate the coup right then and there.
Edward and Bella weren’t the only ones aware of Jane and Alec’s plans though, and when Jane turned to torture Aro, it was Marcus who took out Alec. It was the first thought he’d had in a thousand years that wasn’t centered on the loss of his mate – and it turned out to be his last. Marcus had died shortly thereafter at the hands of his own guard in the ensuing melee, and I wondered if that had been his plan as soon as he realized what was happening. Marcus had not lived since his mate perished, but no one would grant him his wish to end his existence.
When the fighting finally calmed, only my family was left intact. Alec and two of his supporters had been killed, along with two of the loyal Volturi guards. Three more guards had been lost outside the city, thanks to the wolves decimating the Volturi’s ranks. With a subdued voice Edward explained that Jane had also been killed – by Bella, who was still immune to her. Edward had watched Bella become his greatest fear – a lethal, inhuman killer – and it disturbed him for a long while afterward. But I didn’t learn all this until much later…
It was Jane’s death that affected Charlie and me as we left Volterra. Felix escorted us to a remote city gate and without a word pointed toward the forest. When Charlie started to question him, I touched his arm, silencing him. Felix was not one to be trifled with, and I wanted to get away from him as fast as possible. We’d almost made it to the edge of the woods when I heard Felix scream behind me and then sprint toward us. I reached for Charlie, trying to throw him ahead of me, but I was milliseconds too late. Felix managed to grab Charlie’s fingers, and they were torn off as I pulled Charlie away.
His scream was nearly as loud as Felix’s, but it ceased as I turned to face our pursuer. “Carlisle, NO!” Charlie yelled, not yet understanding my true nature.
“I will hunt down your entire family,” Felix snarled. “Jane will be avenged.” He lunged at me then, driven by pure rage. When I managed to avoid the attack and flip Felix back over my head near the city wall, Charlie gasped. I glanced over at him, now frozen and nearly as pale as I was. He was starting to understand.
Felix came after me again and again, and each time I managed to avoid his grasp and send him flying away from Charlie. Each attack was becoming more and more focused though, and I knew that I could not win this fight. Charlie would undoubtedly follow me in death, and my soul mourned for the loss Bella would have to endure. Finally Felix charged and I wasn’t able to throw him off; he pinned me to the ground, preparing to finish me. Esme, I love you, I thought.
“You are a weak…” Felix began to taunt, but was interrupted when a russet-colored wolf raced from the forest and crashed into him. Jacob…
Felix and Jacob rolled together across the grassy field, their jaws snapping at each other. The surprise attack caught Felix off guard only for a moment, and he soon began to overpower Jacob. That’s when my teeth found Felix’s neck.
I decapitated Felix swiftly, and then stood back, waiting for Jacob’s reaction. He scrambled to his feet, and I took a step back, trying not to provoke him. His dark eyes gazed into mine for a moment, then focused on Charlie. Slowly I turned my head and saw him shaking uncontrollably. His heart was pounding hard, and I feared for his health. Our eyes met, and his face contorted. “Not you, too,” he whispered, before collapsing into unconsciousness. Those were the last words he’d ever spoken to me.
I checked on Charlie as Jacob finished dismembering Felix and built the pyre. I bandaged Charlie’s hand, and made him as comfortable as possible until we could get him back home. Once he was settled, I reached for my phone, but froze when I heard Esme’s voice behind me. In a blur she was in my arms.
“Thank God you’re all right,” I said, holding her tightly.
“Carlisle, I was so worried! Alice saw that you were fighting Felix, and when your future disappeared…” her voice broke, and I turned her face to mine.
“I’m yours forever, remember?” I whispered before pressing my lips to hers. Time stopped as I kissed her, thankful that she was safe and amazed at how lucky I was. It was Emmett that finally interrupted us.
“Carlisle, please, you’re making me blush,” he said, poking my back.
“Ha!” I smirked when I released Esme. Quickly my eyes found each of my family, and relief washed through me. When my eyes rested on Edward, my mouth fell open. If I’d had a pulse it would have stopped.
“Carlisle, can you check her?” he said, nodding his head at the dark haired human unconscious in his arms. Her cheek was stained with blood, but I didn’t see any other injuries. “This is Gianna. She was the Volturi’s receptionist and was injured in the fight.” Edward took a breath and glanced at Bella, who calmly stood next to the bleeding human. “We thought it was best to get her out of there.”
The smell… doesn’t Bella feel the thirst? I thought. My eyes widened as Edward shook his head with a silent ‘no.’
I looked at Bella and she gave me a knowing smile and glanced toward the trees. Jacob had reverted to his human form and was approaching with Embry and Seth.
Gianna was breathing normally, and I gave her a very quick physical. She was stable, and as I examined her head she started to come around. “Where am I?” she whispered.
“You’re safe. Nothing will hurt you now.” The deep voice came from behind me, and I turned to see Jacob Black staring down at her intently. Jacob slowly knelt down next to Gianna and took her hand. She seemed fascinated by his face, unable to look away. “How do you feel?” he said softly.
She replied quietly, and Bella touched my shoulder. “Can I speak to you, Carlisle?”
“Of course.” We moved toward Charlie. “Your father is going to be alright, though the damage to his hand cannot be repaired, I’m afraid. I’m so sorry Bella,” I said.
She put her arms around me, the first of many tight hugs I was to receive. “Thank you, Carlisle, for saving his life. He may have been hurt, but without you he would have been killed. Thank you, so much,” she said.
We’d made it back home safely, Jacob and his new imprint Gianna having taken a commercial flight on their own. The next days were incredibly hard – Charlie didn’t speak to anyone for nearly a month. His new reality eventually took hold, thanks in large part to Sue and Bella, and one by one he had accepted each member of my family – everyone but me.
I blinked my eyes, focusing again on the present, on my family. As I pushed away the memories of so much pain, I realized the room had grown quiet and that Charlie was walking toward me. I stood, unable to fathom what he would say to me.
“Merry Christmas, Carlisle,” he said tentatively.
“Merry Christmas, Charlie,” I said, smiling carefully. “We are so happy you could join us this year.” Charlie shifted his weight uncomfortably, apparently struggling with his words as his eyes drifted down to my shirt.
“Carlisle,” he started, but paused. I waited, hearing his heartbeat accelerate. I glanced at Edward, and he was beaming. Charlie took a deep breath and brought his eyes back up to mine. “I want to apologize. I have treated you very poorly since…” he paused again, and took another breath. “…since you saved my life. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today, here with my family. So… um… thank you.” He stepped toward me and opened his arms awkwardly.
I hugged him gently and quickly, amazed at his display. “You are quite welcome,” I said, before releasing him. His forgiveness for my actions was the best gift I could have hoped for this Christmas.
Sue now wove her arm around Charlie, and he looked at me again. “There’s one other thing…” he said, then squeezed his fiancée. “Since Billy will be performing the ceremony, um, I was wondering if you would be my best man.”
If my heart still had life, it would have stopped, then raced upon hearing Charlie’s words. “I would be honored, Charlie.”