It was a warm spring day and we were flying—hurtling through the forest at unbelievable speed, and I was like a dog with his head out the car window, the wind whipping in my face and hair.
Charlie had finally decided to un-ground me, so we were on our way over to the Cullen’s, after I dropped my school things off at home. It was my first real day of freedom since our return from Italy, and my first visit back to the Cullen’s after the vote that decided the fate of my mortality.
Edward burst through the last trees and emerged on to the front lawn of the big white house, and lowered me down from his back with a curious expression on his angelic face. As I stood watching him, he leaned over and put his hands on his knees, looking very much as a human would if they were winded from exertion. His eyebrows were knit in confusion, which suddenly morphed into shock as his eyes widened. He glanced up to find me watching him intently, and he immediately straightened up.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, not really concerned with the bending over, only with the look on his face. Vampires didn’t get winded, so it must be something else.
He looked at me critically, as if he was making his mind up about something, and glanced over my shoulder toward the house. “I…need to speak with Carlisle,” he muttered distractedly, which only made me more nervous.
“I’ll come with you,” I told him, putting my hand in his and leading him toward the house.
We found Carlisle in his study, reading from a very old-looking book that was laid out on the heavy oak desk. He looked up at our approach, and narrowed his eyes just slightly as he looked at Edward.
Edward got right to the point—I assumed that Carlisle had already asked him what was wrong, just not out loud for me to hear.
“I just ran over from Bella’s”, Edward paused to think over his next words, “and…I think I’m tired,’ he finished uncertainly.
I stared at him in disbelief, about to explain to him something he had told me once —that vampires don’t get tired, until I saw his eyebrows rise quizzically as he stared at Carlisle.
“What did you hunt this weekend?” Carlisle asked, and I could see that his demeanor had changed from Carlisle the vampire to Carlisle the doctor.
“Deer, and then mountain lion—a special treat,” Edward replied, still gazing intently at Carlisle.
For my benefit, Carlisle asked aloud, “was there anything different about this particular lion?”
“I don’t…think so,” Edward murmured, “do you really think it’s possible?”
“I know it is,” Carlisle responded gravely, “because I’ve seen it before.”
I had about had it with the one-sided conversation, because all the interesting bits were apparently going on inside Carlisle’s head. Impatiently I asked, “is what possible?”
Carlisle acknowledged me with a slight smile, but spoke to Edward instead, “we’ll need the animal. Do you think your brothers can find it?”
“I can find it,” Edward replied indignantly, but Carlisle shook his head.
“No, I don’t want you to go anywhere until we know for sure,” he said, his eyes softening as he gazed at his adopted son.
What little patience I had had was now gone. “What is going on?” I demanded, shifting my gaze rapidly between the two of them.
Edward turned toward me, his liquid gold eyes holding me as he responded softly, “Carlisle thinks there’s a chance that I may have fed on an animal that had rabies this past weekend.”
I stared at him in confusion. “What does that mean…for you?” I asked, as my brain rapidly went through everything I knew about vampires and found nothing about sickness ever affecting them.
Carlisle stepped around the desk and stood before us. “I saw this happen once before, during my time with the Volturi.” I flinched at the sound of the name—that memory was still too close and vivid.
Carlisle continued, “one of the guard fed on a human with rabies—in the 1720’s it was much more common for humans to contract the infection. It’s the only case I know of where a vampire became tired, and then weaker, other than from thirst.”
“What happened to him?” I breathed, hoping that I wasn’t about to learn about the second way that vampires could be killed.
“He experienced episodes of intense pain as the virus attacked his nervous system. Rabies works through the nerves rather than through the blood,” he explained, “so we are still susceptible to it.”
“And?” I prompted, glancing sidelong at Edward and fervently hoping that there was a happy ending to this story.
“And he grew weaker with each episode, but eventually he was able to fight off the infection, and he recovered,” Carlisle finished quietly, but I could tell that he was sparing me a good bit of the details.
Carlisle glanced toward Edward, and smiled warmly as he clasped his hands together. “But first we need to find the animal so I can run some tests, and in the meantime keep Edward close and watch for other symptoms.”
Carlisle squeezed Edward’s shoulder as he walked past, presumably going to find Emmett and Jasper and send them on the hunt.
Edward gave me a reassuring smile. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said confidently. “Jazz and Emmett will find the lion, and that will be the end of it.” He looked a little concerned, but not overly so.
I closed the distance between us and put my arms around him, and he lowered his own around me in a solid embrace, resting his head gently on mine. I raised my eyes to gaze at him, and to distract myself from thinking about the possibility of Edward getting sick, I stood on tip toe and kissed him gently just below his lips. I could feel him smile against my skin, and he leaned down until our lips met. My heart began to race, as usual, but just as I was raising my arms to twine my fingers through his hair, he pulled back gently. Carlisle and Alice had entered the room.
Edward kept his arms firmly around me, but he lifted his head to acknowledge them.
Carlisle looked at us with an unreadable expression, and I thought I felt Edward tense slightly as he returned the gaze. Carlisle shook his head as if to clear it and said, “Jasper and Emmett are on their way to the mountains—hopefully they’ll return by tomorrow. In the meantime, Edward, I think you’ll be taking a sick day from school.”
Edward smiled ruefully. “Well, that will at least help my cover.”
I heard Alice snort, a smile spreading across her pixie-like face. “Bella can bring you your homework”, she teased, but I could tell that she was concerned about what was going on. I wondered if she’d seen anything.
“Edward,” Carlisle said, “I’d like to talk to you a little more about the hunting trip, and anything you might have noticed since then. Would that be alright?”
Edward looked down at me and sighed. “Well, so much for our first evening free of your living room.”
“It’s okay,” I replied casually, “we’ve got a lot of evenings ahead of us.” I couldn’t stop myself from imagining that that might not be true, but thankfully I didn’t have to share that with him.
He measured me for another moment, and seemed to believe me. He released me from his arms, but caught my hand in his.
Alice stepped forward and volunteered, “why don’t I drive you home, Bella?”