15. Vigil

His eyes were what startled me most. It had been over half a century since I had last seen another of my own kind, and I hadn’t seen a newborn since my time in Italy. Even though I knew better, somehow I had imagined the boy with eyes like my own, as though he would wake from the change already outfitted with the same golden eyes with which I looked on him. But he didn’t, of course—nature didn’t work that way—and so it was the shocking crimson that greeted me when Edward finally opened his eyes.

It didn’t matter. His eyes would change—how fast, I didn’t know—and in the meantime, I would keep him safe. I gently released him from the embrace in which I’d held him for almost four days. As we both sat up, the sensation of Edward’s body in my arms did not leave; my muscles still responded to the ghost of the boy who now sat beside me on the bed.

Blinking a few times, he stared around the almost bare room, taking in the Spartan furnishings and the walls lined with books and art. Then he turned back to me, a puzzled expression on his face.

“You are so sad,” he said quietly. “Why are you so sad?”

“Sad?” I frowned. What made him think I was sad?

“Because you said so. I felt it—how did you do that?”

I gripped his now-muscled forearm. He was stronger than I and would remain so for some time. Perhaps forever. Fear sliced through me—what if I couldn’t control him? What if he ran away from me? What if the brothers stepped in to destroy us both? My mind began to race with the possibilities I was facing. Swallowing, I tried to affect my most comforting bedside manner. “I haven’t done anything, Edward,” I said quietly. “What is it that you’re hearing?”

“I don’t want to run away,” he said quietly.

Unbidden, Aro’s face swam in my mind, his black hair wild as he laughed at some detail of information he had gleaned from someone who was reluctant to give it to him.

I dropped Edward’s arm as though it were on fire.

He could hear me. The irony was palpable. I had left the man whose gift had invaded every ounce of my privacy. Now, over a hundred years later, I had finally succumbed to the desire for a companion only to have that companion manifest the same gift.

“I’m glad you don’t want to run away,” I said, letting my voice take on its most soothing tone. “I don’t want you to. You will be safer here with me.” Aro’s face appeared again, angry, as he ordered Felix to wrench the head off an unruly newborn. A newborn who happened to have a mop of unruly bronze hair…I cringed.

“Who did you leave? And what gift? Where am I? What happened?” The second I released Edward from my grip, he hit me with a barrage of questions, almost as though the loss of physical contact had induced a panic. He had folded upon himself, bringing his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms around them as though he had need of his own comfort. I wondered briefly if he had noticed how quickly his body had moved.

Or that he was still hearing me.

“You’re still talking. Of course I’m still hearing you,” Edward snapped, but it was fear, not anger, that I heard in his voice. “Dr. Cullen, what happened to me?”

Of course I’m still hearing you. I took a deep breath, recognizing the implications of Edward’s statement even more thoroughly than he did. He heard me without touch—my exact thoughts were rebounding back to me from his lips. There would be no way to hide myself from this boy I had just brought into my life. For over two hundred years, I had remained trapped in the privacy of my own mind. Now I’d prayed for a companion, and had been sent a telepath. It made so much sense I almost laughed.

“A what?” Edward’s eyes were wide, panicked.

Doing my best to calm my thoughts, I placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He stilled almost immediately as I began to speak.

“Edward, there’s much I need to tell you. But to begin, you should probably start calling me Carlisle.”

“Carlisle?”

Edward’s voice had a strange quality to it. It wasn’t the clear tenor appropriate for a young man his age, it seemed mixed with higher and lower pitches at once. I tried to focus on it.

“Carlisle?” This time the voice was just high—a woman’s voice. Then it broke into several voices that all seemed to be speaking at once.

“What happened?”

“What did you do?”

“Jasper, do something.”

“I’m undoing something,” a deep voice answered, sounding frustrated. “Carlisle? I’m sorry.”

The apartment on Michigan Avenue disappeared, my books replaced by polished log walls. The bed with its simple bedclothes became a wide leather chair and I was aware of pressure in my lap.

And Edward vanished, too.

The sound that tore from my lips was more wail than speech: “Edward…”

“Shhh, Carlisle,” Esme whispered. Her trembling hands went to either side of my face. “Darling, Alice is on her way to him. Alice and Bella both.”

Alice is on her way to him. The entirety of the last several minutes crashed back at once. I heard Jasper’s voice again in my head, his own speech strained and dispassionate as he laid down the facts as concretely as a general headed off into a deadly battle. Bella had jumped from a cliff. Alice had gone to Forks. Rosalie had called Edward. Bella was fine. But Edward…

I closed my eyes and Felix materialized again, only this time the bronze-haired man wasn’t a faceless newborn—he was the devastated, dark-eyed shadow of my son. I watched in horror as Edward closed his eyes peacefully as Felix’s hands gripped the back of his skull and twisted…

“No…” someone wailed.

“Jasper!” Esme’s voice rang out.

Oh. The wailing was still me, apparently. I shook my head forcefully, trying to come back to what I surmised was the present.

“I’m okay,” I heard myself say, and Esme’s hands stroked my cheeks.

I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment. Edward was gone now, his image erased from my consciousness for the time being. Then I opened my eyes again and looked around the room. It was back to how it had been: no longer the apartment in Chicago, but Tanya’s living room once more. Tanya and Kate were flanking a still-trembling Rosalie. In front of the couch, Jasper and Emmett were squaring off at each other.

“I’m doing my best,” I heard my oldest son growl.

“Yeah, well, you practically knocked him unconscious,” Emmett’s voice replied a bit too loudly.

“Well, it’s not easy!” Jasper’s feet thudded as he paced across the floor. The sound was painful. “It’s not like I have a lot of practice keeping someone together when his child is about to die!”

Guttural noises rose from both me and Esme at once.

“Oh, nicely put, dipshit.” Emmett rose and advanced on Jasper. “You have a way with words, you know that?”

For a moment, I felt Esme begin to shake against me before Jasper turned his gaze on us again and both our bodies relaxed once more. The room dissolved again as I closed my eyes, and Edward reappeared, laughing at me as he ran through the forest not far from the shore of Lake Michigan. His hair whipped behind him and his mouth was open wide as he laughed and ran, his bare feet leaving a trail of kicked-up leaves and snapped twigs. Sunlight filtered through the canopy, sending speckled dots over the forest floor and occasionally lighting up parts of Edward’s skin as he ran. He was still young, and very fast—I knew I could never catch him if he became captivated by the scent of a human.

“Oh, stop worrying,” he called back over his shoulder. “I promise I won’t run too far.” And he laughed again, a beautiful warm sound that I still hadn’t gotten used to in the weeks I’d known him. I watched his lithe form spring ahead of me, and a small prayer of thanks rose from my heart that my impulsive gamble had turned out so well. Edward’s company made my life richer a thousandfold. I loved him.

“What?” He stopped so quickly that dirt sprayed up around him and then he whirled to look at me. His eyes were beginning to shift already, or at least, that was my perception. I felt that I already saw a lessening in their bright red color; the hints of the gold that was to come.

“I didn’t say anything,” I teased, closing the distance between us quickly now that he was standing still. It had become a joke between us, when he read something in my mind that I hadn’t meant to divulge. With each passing day I was both getting better at keeping my thoughts from him and yet also feeling less and less the need to do so.

“No, but you thought—” His brow furrowed.

I’d thought the words I hadn’t dared say aloud. I studied his countenance as he continued to look downward. Was he upset?

“Edward?”

He scuffed his feet on the forest floor, seeming to study the dirt. It took him what seemed like centuries to speak, and when he did, his voice was meek.

“Is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“That you love me.”

There wasn’t much of another word for it, even as unpracticed as I was at having such feelings. In the centuries since my turning, the best I had managed were a few close acquaintances. But with Edward—already I felt like my still heart would rip if he were hurt. Every fiber of my being was now attuned to him.

Nodding, I waited for his reaction. Surely others had told him he was loved before. His mother, of course, and his father. Perhaps even a lady friend?

“My mother,” he answered, still frowning. “I don’t remember that my father ever did.”

“Your father loved you,” I told him. “I’m certain of it.” I remembered how devoted Elizabeth had been to her husband, how distressed she had been about Edward losing his father. Looking at Edward’s despondent face, I was again reminded that even though I had snatched this young man from the jaws of death, his transformation made him no less an orphan.

“Nevertheless.” He scuffed the ground with his toes again. Edward preferred to run barefoot, and as I had taken him away from the city to keep his cravings in check, it only made sense that he be allowed to run without his shoes here where no one would see him. He said nothing for a long time, and I found myself wishing that I were the telepath.

“He never said it,” he answered quietly. “At least, not that I remember.” He didn’t have to finish that thought for me to know its conclusion—remembering was getting harder with each day. It had happened to all of us.

I approached cautiously until I was standing close enough to him that I could feel his labored breathing—it was bizarre how it happened for him still out of habit, as though it were possible for him to be short of breath. We stood there for a moment, neither of us saying anything or moving. I didn’t know yet how Edward would want to relate to me—I was still just barely over the fear that his bloodlust would drive him away and be the destruction of us both. And I was well aware that the pain of his parents’ deaths had not even begun to abate. We were friends, and that was asking for enough for now. But if he wanted to take me as a father…I would never let him go without hearing those words again.

Laying a reassuring hand on Edward’s thin shoulder, I said quietly, “He loved you; I know it. You changed his life, as you’ve changed mine.” I squeezed his shoulder gently. “I do love you, Edward.”

It was the first time I had spoken the words aloud.

His hand crept its way to mine, and he placed his palm against the back of my hand. He said nothing, just left his hand resting there atop mine. For a brief moment he flashed me a shy and brilliant smile, and then he twisted from under my hand and bounded away.

“Catch me, Carlisle!” he called, beginning to laugh again as he flashed through the woods. I tore off after him, his laughter ringing in my ears and my own bubbling up to match it.

“We’ll go,” said a deep voice, and the forest disappeared, replaced once again by the honey-colored log walls of Tanya’s living room. Trapped deep in the recesses of my mind, Edward ran on.

Jasper had stopped pacing, and was facing a determined Rosalie and Emmett.

“To Italy?”

Emmett nodded. “Somebody else has to go. If there’s a fight” —Esme moaned again— “Alice and Bella don’t stand a chance against the Volturi alone.” He pounded his fist into the palm of the other hand. “I’ll take these jerks. If they hurt my little brother…”

His growl echoed off the walls.

Jasper gave Emmett a quizzical look. “Edward is sixteen years older than you.”

“Yeah, well, as long as he does dumb stuff like this, he’s little to me.” Emmett set his jaw. “How far do you think we could charter a flight? Anchorage? Seattle?”

The pacing resumed, and the sound of Jasper’s feet against the floor was nearly painful. “I could join you…perhaps if I could control them…”

Emmett said nothing, but sent a worried look from Jasper to me and back again. Jasper nodded, and sighed.

“It’s going to take you a full day to get there,” he said. “By then it might be too late.”

“Then we need to go now.” Emmett turned to Tanya. “Can we borrow the Land Rover?”

Tanya nodded, standing. “I’ll go get the keys.” She disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared in the same instant, pressing a keychain into Emmett’s palm.

“Rose?” It was Esme’s voice

Rosalie shook her head. She had stopped her tearless crying some while ago, and her expression was now the resolute calm for which I knew her best. “We have to go,” she said, answering Esme’s unfinished question. “I’m the one—” She stopped.

“Rosalie, this is not your fault,” Esme whispered, her expression still one of absolute panic. “Please…”

Our daughter’s lips were set in a thin line. “No, it’s not my fault. Edward is a melodramatic little freak, and he always has been.” She put her hand on Emmett’s arm, and the car keys glinted as they changed hands. Rosalie gazed down at the key ring, arranging the three keys in a little fan in her palm, and then she shot Esme an apologetic smile.

“But just because he’s stupid doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop him.”

Esme let out a low moan. I closed my eyes again, and Edward’s laughing face swam before me once more.

Catch me, Carlisle!

And then Jasper’s voice replayed in my mind:

A full day.…By then it might be too late.”

Too late.

I had never been able to stop them. How many times had I begged Aro to spare the life of some wayward creature, only eventually to retreat to my chamber to try to block out the keening wails and the sick, metallic ripping sound of one of my own kind being destroyed? Again, unbidden, I saw Felix, standing over Edward as Edward knelt, looking serene, as though he were about to receive some sort of blessing. But when Felix reached for his head, suddenly it wasn’t Edward’s neck he bent toward, it was first Alice’s, then Rosalie’s, then Emmett’s…

The front door opened and slammed, and then there were only five of us.

This time it was Esme who wailed.

Evening had descended an hour or so earlier and although I could smell the air quality changing, I’d been too distracted to take note of the approaching storm. It was only a fraction of a second before the thunderous downpour had begun, unleashing its fury on the roof and walls of our small home. A perfect Vermont spring rainfall: beautiful, cleansing, and tempestuous all at once.

“The upstairs windows,” Esme said simply, and she and I raced to close them together before the water entered and ruined her furniture. It had been raining for no more than two or three seconds before we had the house closed like a drum. Then the two of us returned to the front window at a human’s speed. Esme stood in my arms as we looked out at the immense yard in front of our house—the yard the product of the land deal we’d made, the house created by Esme’s own hands. As we stood holding each other, the water pounded on the roof, echoing through the hallways and in the stairs. It felt as though it were raining all around me, within me.

Perhaps it was within me. It certainly seemed that way.

We stood listening to the rain in silence for a long time.

“We’ll have to move on soon,” I whispered finally, my lips brushing my wife’s ear. “It’s been too long.”

Esme’s chest expanded and contracted in my arms. She, like I, had the unnecessary habit of sighing. She did not respond, however, preferring instead to watch the droplets of water as they raced one another down the smooth window and pooled on the sill. I stared at them with her.

It wasn’t as though we hadn’t discussed moving before. At one time or another, each of us had broached the topic. For the first year, it had been out of pain. One or the other of us would suggest we move, as though a new home would somehow make it more difficult to notice the absence. And then inevitably one of us would stare into Edward’s room, or I would see myself shirtless in a mirror and touch the scars left by Edward’s attack, and we would reconsider. But now our choices were growing few. We had stayed longer than I’d ever felt safe in one place before. It had been one thing to pretend to have sent Edward off to Harvard; it was another for me to claim an age only a stone’s throw from forty.

But neither of us could force ourselves to leave.

“I’ve heard that there’s a need for physicians at the new hospital in Rochester,” I murmured. “We could go there.”

Esme turned to face me, her eyes wide. “And leave him?”

Another clap of thunder shook the house, seeming to reverberate through our bodies. My wife moved closer to me, as though thunder or lightning posed her a threat. I tightened my grip on her torso and pressed my lips to her hair.

It had been nearly three years since we’d seen him, and I had been living each day in the midst of my very worst nightmare. How many times had I worried that one day Edward would run off? From the minute he’d awoken, every moment with him, every time I hunted, trailing behind his incredible speed, my love for him was tinged with the dark understanding that he could leave at any moment. And after nine years, he had done just that. He had rejected my lifestyle.

He had rejected me.

Yet he was not alone in his choice, I reminded myself for the thousandth time. We were the odd ones. Edward now lived as he had been intended to, the life the brothers in Italy had called me to and which I had renounced at every turn.

“There are other wanderers,” I said, but my own words cut me deep.

Esme was out of my arms so fast even I barely had a moment to notice, and she spun to face me, her eyes flashing darkly.

“Edward is no wanderer.”

In response, I reached my arms out to her, but she shook her head and moved further away. When she was facing the window, I heard her gasp.

A stroke of lightening sprayed brilliant light over the lawn as I turned to the window. But even after its momentary flashes had faded, I could still see him standing there, maybe two hundred yards from the house, his arms wrapped around himself as though the rain might cause him chill. His hair, so wet it looked black, dripped over his face. His clothing was plastered to his body, making him look emaciated, even though his frame had not changed in twelve years. His eyes were dark black, and deep rings showed beneath them. He stared at the front window, his gaze following our every move.

I threw the front door open so quickly it ripped from its hinges. The pine floorboards and furniture were forgotten, exposed to the downpour as Esme and I shot across the lawn.

My arms met my wife’s as we threw them around him, pressing his soaked body between ours. Crying and laughing at once, we let the rain and our thoughts speak for us. Droplets raced down our faces, substitutes for the tears of joy and regret that we were unable to produce.

“I’m sorry,” Edward said in response. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” He was trembling, and repeating his words feverishly, like a mantra—for us, for him, I wasn’t sure. It didn’t matter. I pulled him close and let my mind flood with a mantra of my own in reply:

I’ve missed you…I love you…

The phone rang, and I turned toward the house, recalling simultaneously that we didn’t have a phone and that it certainly didn’t ring with an electronic chime. The rain faded, and Edward’s body disappeared.

I realized that I had been hearing Jasper talk to Tanya, Kate and Esme. Overlaying the rainstorm in my head had been a conversation about the best course of action for the three of us. Did we stay in Denali? Go back to Ithaca? Go back to Forks? Tanya and Kate were worried about leaving us, but Esme felt it would be better to be wherever Bella was. Jasper had been the one who had suggested that we go back to Ithaca and stay out of things as much as possible.

Assuming he got Alice back.

It was she who was on the other end of the phone The phone itself made it difficult to hear her end of the conversation—it failed to put the words out far enough that we could pick them up, although I still heard quite a bit.

“I keep seeing him do different things; he keeps changing his mind.” Her voice was rapid with her frustration.

“Like what?” Jasper was cradling the phone with both hands as though he could somehow keep his wife safe as long as her voice stayed near his ear.

She murmured a long list of things in response, and my stomach dropped a little with each one. Lifting a car, attacking the guard…a killing spree.

I was unable to suppress the moan.

“We can help,” Jasper replied. “Emmett will fight them.”

“No you can’t,” Alice answered, and then her voice became even quieter. I heard Emmett’s and Rosalie’s names mentioned.

“But more of us would be better.”

“Think about it, Jasper. If he sees any of us, what do you think he will do?”

Jasper’s jaw flexed and he looked over at me and Esme, still in the chair we’d been in when we’d received the news. He sounded defeated as he answered, “He’ll just move faster.”

In my arms, Esme shuddered and let out a short cry.

“Exactly. I think Bella is the only chance—if there is a chance.”

Jasper’s voice was hard, frustrated. “Alice…get him out of there.”

“I’ll do everything that can be done, but prepare Carlisle; the odds aren’t good.”

Prepare Carlisle.

Suddenly Jasper’s voice seemed like it was far away, and Alice’s even farther. Although I heard them both as Alice reassured Jasper of her safety, it wasn’t their voices on which I was focused, it was Edward’s once more, his face twisted in a deep despair as he stood in my office, panicked, frightened. I had wanted to take him into my arms and shield him from whatever was causing him such pain but he would hardly let me touch him. My hand recalled the feel of his shoulder sliding through my palm as he flinched away from me.

“Have you ever…has there ever been a time—” I watched as his eyes flickered with the light in my office as they darted nervously around the room.

“Has any one person ever smelled better to you than the rest of them? Much better?”

My face fell, a response I knew would hurt Edward and yet which I could not mask. I pressed my keys into his palm and urged him to go. I put a hand on his arm again, and this time I moved with him when he recoiled. “Do what you must to resist, son,” I told him. “I will miss you.”

He had moved out of my office quickly then, and I’d heard the distinct sound of the Mercedes pulling out of the lot as he sped away –toward Denali, as Alice would tell me later. The image of his slumped shoulders as he left my office had hung with me for days until he returned. His whole body had seemed to bear the weight of the problem he faced.

And I had been utterly powerless to help him shoulder it.

I sunk my head into my hands, simultaneously remembering the feel of Edward’s shoulders under my palms that day in my office and also now registering the familiar lines of my own jaw. From that first moment that Edward had first dashed away from me on a hunt, when I knew that there was no way I would ever catch him, I had been helpless. I could guide him, but always from afar. He had always been free to turn away. To run.

To die.

The snap of the phone closing drew my eyes to Jasper. His bottom lip was sucked between his teeth and his brow was furrowed.

“Jasper?”

“Alice promised me she’ll get out,” he mumbled. His hand balled itself into a fist and then released as he turned to me with the most sorrowful expression I’d ever seen cross his face. He moved to the chair opposite us and sank, dropping his head into his palms. I watched as he settled into the chair and began to study the floor.

“That’s the first time she’s ever lied to me about something this important,” he said finally.

We sat in silence, Jasper staring at the floor, Esme still shaking against my chest, Edward’s voice still whispering in my ears.

“Carlisle?” Jasper’s voice interrupted the quiet after several minutes.

“Yes?”

“The Volturi…”

“Yes?”

“Is there any way?” His voice sounded hoarse. “The phone? The computer?”

Under any other circumstance, his question would have been humorous. “Jasper, I last saw them in the late eighteenth century. I don’t exactly have Aro on speed dial.”

Jasper’s shining eyes met my own. He, too, had hunted recently, before Alice had left to retrieve Bella, and we looked on each other, gold upon gold. He raked a hand through his hair. “So if Edward manages—”

Esme’s choked cry stopped him mid-sentence, and his expression changed to one of apology. We continued to stare at each other in silence several minutes more before he squeezed his eyes shut.

When the question came at last, it was meek.

“They’ll kill them all?”

My mind took me back to the eighteenth century as easily as though it had been hours ago. Single transgressors, a newborn who had run out of control, one member of a small coven who had revealed too much. I remembered watching the dark gray cloaks swirl, the pleas for mercy, the claims of innocence, always followed by the screaming, the ripping, the sickeningly sweet smell of burning venom.

Again. And again. And again.

I swallowed, meeting Jasper’s eyes as he reopened them. But when the voice answered him, I barely recognized it as my own.

“Yes. They’ll kill them all.”

“She’s going to be just fine.”

Edward grunted, not looking up. His cheek lay on Bella’s pillow, his nose resting millimeters from her neck. I marveled at the change from just two months before, when the hint of her scent had been enough to send him packing to Alaska. Now his lips were so close to her skin that his breath disturbed her hair, moving it away from him and back in a gentle rhythm.

“She wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for us,” he replied.

I moved to him and laid a hand on the back of his neck as I looked over them both. Bella’s leg was immobilized in a large brace, the sutured wound from her fracture and surgery covered with a white dressing. Her breathing, aided by an oxygen tube, was shallow, undoubtedly her involuntary reaction to her cracked ribs. Her visible skin was dotted with contusions, some as small as a dime, others larger than my fist.

She had gone to James to protect Edward. To protect all of us. On one hand, her foolishness had revealed how frighteningly little she understood who we really were, what level of evil one of our kind was truly capable of. On the other hand, that she had flung herself so willingly into harm’s way spoke volumes about her feelings for Edward. But getting him to recognize that was always a tricky proposition.

Edward snorted, not lifting his head from Bella’s pillow. “You see me just as unrealistically as she does.”

For a moment I studied him again, watching as his chest expanded and contracted with each breath. I had a perfect recollection of James’s hands around my son’s neck. I’d moved without thinking, barreling at the blond vampire with my teeth bared. I had thrown Edward to the floor behind me with some force—the floorboards had shattered from his fall—and then locked arms with the evil creature. It had been only an instant before Jasper and Emmett were with me, but their absence hadn’t mattered. James had been trying to hurt Edward, and that knowledge had constituted my entire world in that moment. If he had posed a threat to me, the risk hadn’t registered.

Blindly laying our lives down for Edward’s was something Bella Swan and I would forever have in common.

“We both love you,” was all I said.

The door swung open with a quiet whoosh. In my memory, the woman who entered the room was Bella’s attending nurse.

In Denali, the woman who entered the room was my daughter.

Esme shot out of my arms. “You’re safe,” she blubbered, embracing first Rosalie, then Emmett. “You’re both safe.”

Emmett grunted as he returned Esme’s hug. “We were in the airport,” he answered gruffly, his voice tinged with annoyance. “What were you expecting?” But it took only one quick glance into Esme’s panicked eyes for him to realize exactly what she had been expecting.

“What’s happened since we left?”

Jasper shook his head. “We’ve been waiting.”

The remainder of us had spent the evening in the living room, shifting around one another in absolute silence. Tanya lit another fire and a few candles around the room, and we all watched them, the flickering light playing across five pale faces and five sets of golden eyes. Every now and again one of us would walk to the wall, and stand by ourselves for an hour or so. Esme and I had spent the bulk of the night in each other’s arms in the wide leather chair. If my wife had been able to cry tears, I was certain that by this hour, my shirt would be soaked through. It was one of the unexpected curses of perfection—our bodies did not tire of sobbing any more than they did any other activity. Esme had been shaking against my shoulder for five hours straight.

Emmett and Rosalie took their places on Tanya’s wide couch once more. Esme moved to join them, clasping her hand in Rosalie’s. Without her in my lap, I suddenly felt empty. I stood, planning to join them at the couch, but instead I found myself walking toward the back of the house alone.

A brief movement of the couch springs couch told me that Esme had stood to follow me.

“No, let him go,” Jasper’s voice said, and I was grateful to hear my wife sit back down.

Esme had helped Tanya with the remodel on the ski lodge, and so the southern wall of their house had also been mostly removed in favor of thick plate glass just like our home in Forks. It was here that I walked, off the superfluous dining room, and pressed my palm to the cold window. A winter storm had risen in the hours we’d sat silent and the flakes were swirling in a mad tempest, the wind whistling under the eaves of Tanya’s home.

As I closed my eyes once more, it wasn’t Edward I saw this time, but another smiling boy, cracking jokes at me even hours away from death. Kurt and Anne Mason had waited, too, hand-in-hand, gazing down at their beloved son. I remembered the brave resolve with which my patient’s parents had stood over his deathbed. They would give him up after such a short life—less than sixteen years. A length that seemed to be only mere moments to me.

Edward had been my companion for eighty-eight years. Almost no human parents ever knew their children that long. My son was almost ninety years older than the Masons’. And yet—had he lived as full a life? “You did everything in your power,” Kurt Mason’s voice echoed in my head. Then it abruptly shifted pitch and became the desperate voice of Elizabeth Masen: “Everything in your power. What others cannot do, that is what you must do for my Edward.”

Had she truly known? And even if she had, was this what the beautiful green-eyed woman had wanted for the son she loved so much? Eighty years of pain, followed by the briefest glimmer of hope and happiness that was destined to be snuffed out in one misunderstanding?

I wanted Edward to be free. He had every right to make choices that would take him out of my life. The Masons had made the same choice for their son—when the pain of his disease had grown unbearable, they had let him choose to leave this world.

Placing a hand against the glass, I sighed deeply. How many thousands of times had I delivered the news to a family that their child had died at my hands? Even that very morning, the last morning I had seen my own son, hadn’t my last act been to give just such news? I had thought myself to be a man of almost superhuman compassion. I had thought I understood.

I knew nothing.

I was supposed to be invincible, to experience physical pain only at the hands of another of my kind. Yet my chest was heaving, threatening to rip to pieces. Was this what it felt like? Was this what Tony’s father had felt? And if so, how had he kept standing? I recalled how the Masons had looked: sad, but content. Kurt Mason had even thanked me for all I had done for his son. Tony’s parents had been at peace. And now I found I didn’t understand how that was even possible. How was a father supposed to accept the death of his son?

Again I barely recognized my own voice as it rose against the howling wind:

“Edward…”

“Carlisle.”

Startled out of my thoughts, I spun, catching the glint of my daughter’s golden hair.

Rosalie came to the window beside me, pressing her palm to the glass. Like our own home in Forks, Tanya’s family’s home had a spectacular view of the mountains. The snowstorm would obscure the view to human eyes, but we could see right through the flakes to the amazing vistas beyond. We stood side-by-side, staring out at the frozen tempest. Drifts were piling against the side of the house, and she and I watched the snow accumulate in the darkness.

I knew why Rosalie, of all my family members, had come to my side. In the quiet recesses of my mind, I heard again the words I’d slung at her so unthinkingly. “If you think you can succeed where I’ve failed, then by all means do it.” Of course, the problem was she had no sense of whether or not her action would succeed.

But would you have known any better? the voice from within me piped up. Given the information I had now–the pain, the worry, the fear—it was too easy to say of course I would have behaved differently. Naturally, I would have flown down to Rio to deliver the news in person so that I could collect Edward into my arms as soon as he heard. It only made sense that I would have waited to hear from Alice in Forks before taking any action. But I had been gone, and Rosalie had called because I’d all but asked her to. If Bella had jumped just a day earlier, if we hadn’t been gone…would anything have changed?

Or would it have been my phone call that sent Edward running to his destruction?

Rosalie and I stood in silence, watching the snow. Our breath, warmed by the heat of the house, made little uneven circles on the cold windowpane. Rosalie ran a single, perfect fingernail down the middle of hers, slicing it into two crescents. The displaced condensation dripped down the window and I watched as a single droplet rolled its way slowly to the floor.

With a soft thunk, Rosalie dropped her forehead to the window. “The whole time we were driving—Emmett and I, I mean, down to the airport—I was making all these deals with myself,” she said. “Like how I’ll help him with the cars if he comes back. That I’ll be best friends with Bella, like Alice. That I’ll stop fighting with him.”

“Bargaining is part of grief,” I said simply, and she nodded. She was, after all, a trained physician also, albeit one without practical experience.

“Not to mention that I don’t think Bella likes you very much,” I added. “I don’t think she’d take to you the way she does to Alice.”

The smile that spread across Rosalie’s face was almost imperceptible, and it disappeared as quickly as it came.

“She’ll like me even less if they all make it out of this.”

I stepped behind Rosalie, putting my hands on her shoulders. “I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that. If Edward makes it home—I find it hard to believe that Bella will hate you.”

She said nothing for a long time and together we watched as hundreds of little flakes collected on the glass, melting quickly into tiny droplets as warmth radiated from the house.

“And if he doesn’t?”

I swallowed, squeezing my eyes closed. The grey cloaks moved across the square that I had known so many centuries before. A part of me knew that now it would not be full of ox carts and donkeys and merchants, but that was nevertheless what I saw in the surrounds as three painfully familiar faces looked up to the demons in terror. Pale hands reached forward to grab them…

When I opened my eyes, I forced myself to make my voice as steady as possible before I answered:

“If he doesn’t make it home, none of them will.”

Rosalie choked and I felt her shoulders begin to shake under mine. Gingerly, I turned her to face me and put my arms around her back, tightening my grip little by little, expecting her to spring away at any moment as she usually did. But instead, her body continued to shake, wracked with the tearless sobs that were all that was left of her human ability to cry.

“I’m sorry, Carlisle,” she whispered finally. “I only wanted him back.”

Resting my chin on my daughter’s head, I nodded.

“I know.”

The snow in the window turned, becoming Edward’s nose, his lips, his face, his hair, as he stood there on the train platform in Syracuse six months ago. Fear, determination, sadness—his turmoil was written so plainly on his face.

When? I begged in my mind, hoping for a reply that I knew wasn’t coming.

He shook his head in reply, his bronze hair fanning out as he did so. Maybe two days. Maybe months.

Maybe never.

I love you, son, I thought at him forcefully.

Edward’s smile was pained. “I love you, too, Dad.”

Then the Edward in my memory boarded the train, his black backpack the last part of him to disappear. I raised a single hand in farewell as I watched him leave for what I now knew was the last time.

And as I joined Rosalie in tearless sobs, I watched the Edward in the snow break apart into a thousand flakes, like ashes swirling away into the wind.

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