It was a warm spring day and we were flying—hurtling through the forest at unbelievable speed. Bella was on my back, and I was basking in the exquisite feel of her warm skin against mine as we engaged in my very favorite activity.
Charlie had finally un-grounded Bella, so we were on our way over to my house after dropping Bella’s school things off at her home. She had not been there since the night after our return from Italy, when she had treacherously convinced my family to vote on the fate of her mortality. I was still stewing about that, but today was our first day of real freedom together, so I was determined to enjoy it.
As I cleared the treeline, I almost stumbled—all of sudden I could feel the weight of Bella on my back, and my legs felt heavy. This was odd. Other than the delightful sensation of Bella’s skin against mine, I usually couldn’t tell that she was on my back at all, and I never felt any different, whether running or walking.
I slowed to a stop and lowered Bella from my back, trying hard to analyze what I was feeling. The minute she touched the ground, I unconsciously leaned over, my hands on my knees. I realized that I was out of breath, as if from exertion. What the hell was going on? The curious heaviness remained in my legs, and I could feel it in my arms a bit, as well. I concentrated on slowing my breathing while I ran through a catalog of memories, trying to figure out if this had ever happened to me before. I reached back all the way to my vague human memories, and suddenly the answer hit me like a ton of bricks—I was tired. But how…? Before I got any further on that particular thought, I realized that Bella’s eyes were on me, so I straightened up. After all the adventures we’d had over the last few weeks, the last thing I wanted to do was to worry her about anything.
“What’s the matter?” she asked casually, her brown eyes filled with more curiosity than concern. Good, then she couldn’t tell how unsettled I was at the moment—best to keep it that way until I had a better idea what had just happened. I shifted my gaze from Bella to the house behind her, idly wondering if I could talk to Carlisle from here in the low, swift cadence of vampires, and have him answer me in his thoughts without Bella taking notice. No, I decided, she was too perceptive for that, and I was too distracted by the strange sensations I was still feeling to delay discussing this with Carlisle, or to come up with a decent excuse to separate myself from Bella to talk with Carlisle alone.
“I…need to speak with Carlisle,” I replied, trying to sound as normal as possible. I didn’t think I quite succeeded.
“I’ll come with you,” she said firmly, putting her hand in mine. Yes, I had failed at feigning normalcy. She definitely knew that something was amiss. Still thinking hard, I allowed her to lead me toward the house.
We found Carlisle in his study, reading from his copy of ”The History of Italy” by Francesco Guicciardini—a gift from Marcus. He looked up at our approach, and narrowed his eyes at me in concern. What’s wrong? he asked me in his thoughts. I wondered what my expression had told him--I wasn’t really bothering to control it, focused as I was on what I was feeling.
“I just ran over from Bella’s”, I said, pausing to choose my words carefully, “and…I think I’m tired,’ I finished uncertainly.
Carlisle’s thoughts flew immediately into the past, and I caught a brief glimpse of a man writhing in pain before he cleared the memory from his mind. He didn’t clear his thoughts, however. It could be rabies… It’s the only thing I can think of, and now that I AM thinking of it, I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened to one of us before now, with all the game that we hunt…
Rabies? Vampires could get rabies from animals? How could he possibly know that, since this had never happened to one of us or to the Denalis and we were the only ones who hunted animals and not humans? I stared at him in shock, my eyebrows raised skeptically.
“What did you hunt this weekend?” Carlisle asked aloud, switching smoothly into his “bedside manner” mode.
“Deer, and then mountain lion—a special treat,” I replied.
Yes, that would be the most likely culprit. Considering Edward’s fondness for them, I’m surprised that we haven’t run into this before…I should have warned them all, but it honestly never occurred to me… Continuing with his line of questioning, Carlisle asked, “was there anything different about this particular lion?”
“I don’t…think so,” I murmured, still digesting his thoughts, “do you really think it’s possible?”
“I know it is,” Carlisle responded gravely, “because I’ve seen it before.”
Carlisle’s thoughts returned to the writhing man, and I watched through his eyes as the poor fellow experienced periods of pain, and seemed to lose all strength. In Carlisle’s last mental image, however, the man appeared to be back to normal.
Bella glared at both of us in turn and asked impatiently, “is what possible?”
Carlisle favored her with a smile, but he was still intent on his train of thought. He turned to me, saying, “we’ll need the animal. Do you think your brothers can find it?”
Now wait just a minute! Nothing was truly wrong with me right now, and this whole discussion was just a theory in Carlisle’s head. “I can find it,” I replied indignantly, but Carlisle shook his head.
“No, I don’t want you to go anywhere until we know for sure,” he said, the concern plain on his face.
Bella had reached her limit, and I realized that she had no idea what had just transpired between Carlisle and me, since most of it had occurred inside Carlisle’s head. “What is going on?” she demanded, shifting her gaze rapidly between the two of us.
How much should I tell her? This was just a theory after all, and I didn’t want her to worry needlessly. On the other hand, it was the only theory we had, and I had promised myself that I would strive to tell her the truth whenever possible, after the horrible lie I had told her to convince her to let me go last fall. Yes, the truth, but softly.
I turned toward her, and met her gaze steadily as I replied, “Carlisle thinks there’s a chance that I may have fed on an animal that had rabies this past weekend.”
Her eyebrows knit in confusion, and I could almost see her mentally scanning through all her knowledge of vampires. “What does that mean…for you?” she asked, but I had no answer for her. I glanced at Carlisle.
He stepped around the desk and stood before us. “I saw this happen once before, during my time with the Volturi.” I saw Bella flinch as Carlisle said the name, and I was assaulted by a fresh wave of guilt for ever putting her in a position to meet the Italian vampires.
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?” Bella whispered, hanging on Carlisle’s every word, just as I was.
“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?” she prompted. Carlisle glanced over at me. How much should I say aloud? he asked mentally. I thrust out my chin, giving him permission to continue.
“And he grew weaker with each episode, but eventually he was able to fight off the infection, and he recovered,” Carlisle finished quietly. There was more to it than that, I was sure of it, but I’d ask Carlisle later when Bella wasn’t with me.
I could see the tension settle in Bella’s shoulders as she processed the information, and the worry followed quickly on its heels.
Sensing the need to lighten the mood, Carlisle turned toward me 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 my shoulder as he walked past, don’t worry, son, it’s probably nothing. Maybe you’re just having an off day, and need to go hunt again. I’ll send Jasper and Emmett to find the lion and we’ll put an end to this.
His words didn’t particularly reassure me, but I realized that they might be enough to reassure Bella. I gave her my warmest, most endearing smile. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” I said confidently. “Jazz and Emmett will find the lion, and that will be the end of it.” I did my best to affect a complete lack of concern. It seemed to work, because suddenly she closed the distance between us and put her arms around me, and I lowered my own around her in a solid embrace. The burn in my throat intensified as I rested my head gently on hers, inhaling her sweet scent through her luscious hair. She raised her eyes to gaze at me, and I smiled against her skin as she stood on tip toe and kissed me gently just below my lips. She was trying not to push me too far now, but the thought of something happening to me that might separate us even for a short time had pushed me past the point of caution for the moment. I leaned down until our lips met, and I kissed her passionately. Her heart began to race as her arms slowly slid up my back, and I knew in that moment that I would have let things go much further, but I could hear Carlisle and Alice approaching. Reluctantly, I pulled back from the kiss and let my lips linger closely for just a moment, inhaling her delicious breath as my throat seared in renewed flame.
I did not release her as they approached, but I lifted my head to acknowledge them.
Please let this turn out to be nothing—I just couldn’t bear to lose him, Carlisle thought, but he caught himself as he saw me tense in reaction. I’m sorry, Edward, please ignore my woolgathering, he directed at me, shaking his head as if disappointed in himself. Aloud, he 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.”
I smiled ruefully. “Well, that will at least help my cover.”
Alice snorted, and grinned at me playfully. “Bella can bring you your homework”, she teased. Maybe she can play doctor for you too… I shot her a look of exasperation.
“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, I’ll drive her home, Alice thought at me, all seriousness now. I promise I won’t share anything I might see with her. I nodded my head almost imperceptibly at her.
I looked down at Bella and sighed. “Well, so much for our first evening free of your living room.”
“It’s okay,” she replied casually, “we’ve got a lot of evenings ahead of us.”
Was she really not that concerned about this? She seemed to be taking it very lightly at the moment…but that just didn’t seem like her. I looked into her eyes, but they were unreadable. For the thousandth time, I cursed the fate, angel or hag, who had seen fit to keep me out of the one mind that I most wanted—needed to read. Well, she wanted me to believe that she wasn’t concerned, so I would go with that for now.
I reluctantly removed my arms from her waist, but caught her hand as she stepped away, so that she would know I wasn’t happy about this.
Alice stepped forward and volunteered, “why don’t I drive you home, Bella?”