17. The Fatted Calf

Esme’s hand snaked its way down my forearm as I pushed open the massive front door. Her fingers laced into mine, but she said nothing.

There were not words to be spoken.

The door swung open reluctantly, and we stepped forward into the huge room and its looming shadows. We had drawn the huge metal shades on the back wall before leaving for Ithaca, and the whole house was now sickeningly dark despite the mid-afternoon sun. I was reminded of a conversation we’d all overheard just barely more than a year ago when Bella had first set foot in this place: “No coffins, no piled skulls in the corners; I don’t even think we have cobwebs,”Edward had told her smugly. “What a disappointment this must be for you.”

The cobwebs were here now, hanging ominously from every join of wall and ceiling. A thick layer of dust had settled over every surface in the house—the bookshelves, the furniture, and the piano by the door. The lawn had overgrown and the driveway was nearly impassable for the weeds. For all its other appearances, the house might as well have contained coffins and skulls.

Emmett and Rosalie entered behind us, pulling a large suitcase in silence. Jasper was next, nodding as he regarded us and then quickly averting his gaze. He moved at a human’s pace to the living room, sank onto one of the couches, and dropped his head into his palms. I watched him go, recalling how he had brought us here.

Rosalie and I had stood at the window in Tanya’s home for almost an hour, saying nothing and staring out at the accumulating snow. A while later, our silence had been interrupted by the sound of a throat clearing behind us, and I had turned around to see Jasper standing there with a hard expression on his face.

“Carlisle, we need to talk,” was all he had said. And my son the soldier had led me out into the whistling wind, out of earshot of the others, and painstakingly laid out the cover story.

The need to cover our tracks was an inescapable reality of our existence, and over the years we had learned to do it well. If the last break had been particularly bad—a very public slip from Jasper or some such—we often split up and changed identities just to double the effect of disappearing into the ether. It was one of the most painful things about this half-reality in which we lived: the times we most needed to be together were inevitably the times we were forced apart. Usually the task of deciding on the cover story and the new identities fell to me. That this time it was Jasper who had needed to craft the story, did not escape me.

And the truly painful thing was that this time, the story was so close to the truth.

The tale was that Edward changed his mind about the breakup and ran away from home, and Alice came to Forks in hopes of convincing him to return. Not finding him, both she and Bella tracked him to San Francisco, and they all three had been on their way home via Highway 101 in Oregon when Edward fell asleep at the wheel and sent the car careening off the edge of the cliffs and into the frigid Pacific below. Jasper and I would find the car Alice had left at the airport and stage the accident, leaving enough debris to identify the car, but letting the wreck be pulled out to sea by the riptide.

So we had returned to Forks, at least for a while, under the auspices of coming after Edward and Alice. When the news came, we would mourn our children with Charlie Swan, and I would serve as the conduit for his anger. He would blame his daughter’s death on my son’s actions, never knowing how accurate his accusations truly were. We would stay long enough to show our worry and contrition, and then we would disappear—laden, as always, with the burden of the awful secret we carried.

But now, for the moment, we were in a holding pattern—waiting for news, or waiting just to wait long enough that we could be certain the news would no longer be good. I tried to meet Jasper’s eye as he sat in the living room. He had taken my place as the family rock, giving me the freedom to fall to pieces over Edward, and yet in doing so, had denied himself the opportunity to begin to grieve for the woman who had unlocked his soul so many years ago. Now that the decisions had been made, Jasper’s retreat back into himself was evident in his every motion, or really, in his lack thereof. He sat now in perfect silence, his hair falling forward over his temples as he bowed his head over his hands.

“We should go upstairs,” I whispered, my lips so close they brushed my wife’s ear with each syllable. After all he’d shouldered in the last day, the least we could offer Jasper was a little privacy. Esme turned her head just long enough to regard Jasper’s silent stillness, and nodded. I began to move us toward the stairs, but Esme pulled away from me. My arms empty, I watched as she crossed the room and laid a hand gently on the back of Jasper’s neck. His shoulders rose and fell as he heaved a sigh.

“Would you like me to light a fire?” she whispered.

Jasper shook his head almost imperceptibly. Esme nodded, giving Jasper a brief pat on the back before returning to my side. We ascended the stairs in silence, arms around each other’s waists.

The wall leading up the stairs bore a typical familial display—we had, over the decades, amassed a collection of family photos. I felt a slight tug on my midsection when Esme stopped to look at one.

It had been taken not long before we’d moved to Forks, by Tanya when she and her family had come to visit our house in Nome. The house had a wide driveway and the previous owners had installed a basketball hoop over the garage. Within a week of our moving there, Esme had relocated the hoop to the third story, and for a few years, basketball had supplanted baseball as our family’s sport of choice. We lived far enough away from civilization then that we could eschew the formalities of human appearance, and at the time of the photo we had been playing three-on-three in the driveway, shirts against skins (bikinis, in Alice’s case), in sub-zero weather. Emmett had just rebounded the ball from a missed shot by Edward, and Tanya had captured the ball in motion in Emmett’s casual bounce-pass in my direction. Jasper’s hand was a millimeter from Alice’s waist as he ran a perfect man-to-man defense against his wife, and Esme, our perpetual referee, had a bemused expression on her face as she no doubt chastised Emmett for some sort of foul. All seven of us were laughing—siblings jeering at each other, wives egging on their husbands.

Esme stared at the photo for some time, eventually reaching out to stroke the glass with a single finger. I tightened my hand on her hip and pressed my lips to her neck, saying nothing. When Esme spoke a moment later, she startled me.

“We’re splitting up again.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” I murmured. It was the last thing Jasper and I had discussed—we were far harder to trace as three young married couples than as one unconventional family. Esme and I would go wherever I could find work. We would suggest that Rosalie and Emmett move within a few hundred miles, but of course that would be up to them. And Jasper…

“We’re going to lose Jasper,” my wife whispered.

I closed my eyes and exhaled. Esme could read me as surely as Edward when she needed to.

“Yes,” I sighed. He hadn’t said as much, but there was no need for him to. Alice was his rock, his only tie to our family. It had been she who had seen them together and seen them with us, and while I knew he enjoyed our lifestyle, without Alice, there was nothing to hold him here.

Esme pulled away from my body. For a moment I stood frozen, unsure if she was angry. But a half-second later she was in the living room, sitting down on the couch next to Jasper. Without saying a word, she placed a hand on his knee. Jasper’s head bowed further over his hands in understanding of her gesture.

A sick feeling crawled back into the pit of my stomach as I watched her with our son. I’d hoped immortality would spare Esme the pain of ever losing a child again. Now, that pain was to intensify four times over. How soon would Jasper leave, I wondered. Would he be gone right away? Would he stay until we split from Rosalie and Emmett? And, most importantly, knowing what he did now, would he stay with this way of life that gave him more spiritual peace? I hoped he would. I hoped that somehow, some bit of the man I’d watched Jasper become over the half-century I’d known him would remain—that the bellicose vampire would permanently give way to the genteel philosopher who laughed easily and whose eyes sparked in the presence of his wife.

His wife who was at this very moment likely inches from her death.

Something gave way under my hand and I realized that I had accidentally squeezed a nickel-plated door handle into a twisted lump. Sighing, I relaxed my grip, pressing open the door to the place I hadn’t realized I’d been moving toward.

As in the rest of the house, a thick layer of dust had come to settle on the shelves in Edward’s room. The shelves themselves were mostly empty—Edward had insisted on leaving almost every one of his possessions in Forks, but Esme had wandered in and packed his music collection and stereo without his permission. The records, cassettes, and CDs were still sealed in their boxes in Ithaca.

Along the edges of the shelves sat Edward’s other possessions, lined up neatly according to date of acquisition. Edward kept items the way I kept words and artwork—as my art and my journals told the story of my life, so his collection of oddities told his. I recognized some of them—a sand fulgurite formed one night when he and Emmett were out hunting in a storm on Lake Superior, a diamond heart that had once belonged to his mother. And there were things whose origin I did not know—an ordinary metal bottle cap, which sat on the end with the most recent items.

I picked this last item up, letting it catch the light of the sun streaming through the window. The words “Nantucket Nectars” were stamped into the top, but beyond that I had no clue as to its origin. There was so much about Edward’s mind, about what was important to him, that even after ninety years I still didn’t know. So much that I would never know.

Gripping the shelf with a shaking hand, I worked my way down it little by little. I picked up each item and turned it over in my hands, removing the dust and polishing each one with my sleeve. At the end of the shelf, my hand closed around a flat, silver prism. It was simple, with a finish worn by over a century’s worth of tarnish. But as I turned it over, I saw that the monogram carefully tooled there was almost as clear as it had been the day I had gone to recover this trinket from the intake desk at that hospital in Chicago: E. A. M. Edward Anthony Masen. Senior.

I had barely known Edward’s father. Although Elizabeth Masen’s was a face I was sure I would have remembered even without my mental capacity, her husband’s was merely one of thousands I saw that terrible fall. Edward resembled him only a little—the lines of Edward Senior’s jaw were carried in his son’s, and Edward shared his father’s height and lean figure. But the rest of Edward’s features came from his mother. She had spent far more time with him than had Edward Sr., taking him to piano lessons, seeing to it that his Latin and Greek were up to par. Edward did not remember his father well at all. But I had the crystal-clear memory of his mother asking for her husband’s effects, and her feeble stumbling to her son’s bedside as she laid them beside him.

“He will live,” she had told me matter-of-factly when I had kindly reminded her to go to bed. “He should have his father’s things.”

And so Edward did have—his father’s rings, his life savings, and the Tudor house on the north side of Chicago. And this lighter, which I had not known until now was among Edward’s collection here. In the early twentieth century, nearly all men had smoked, and a well-bred gentleman always carried a lighter to aid himself and his friends in their habits. That Edward Sr. had it in his possession when he died was not surprising.

Rotating the metal rectangle in my hand, I stared at it. Edward Masen had known nothing of what might become of his son. He had been delirious on admission and had never regained enough consciousness even to know that his wife and son had also fallen ill. And then I had inherited the mantle worn by this man who was Edward’s father in all the ways I couldn’t be. I had raised Edward out of adolescence, shepherded him into adulthood, and walked him through a life he had never been meant to live. Yet, when it came down once again to this moment, I was as powerless as the febrile Masens had been to save their son.

My finger ran across the initials on the lighter. “I am so sorry,” I whispered.

The bedroom did not answer.

The living room, however, did.

A shrill scream erupted from the direction of the staircase, followed by a choking sob. My ears registered the delicate timbre of my wife’s voice at the same time that my feet carried me from the bedroom to the landing. There was a sickening boom as Emmett’s solid frame collided with my own, and one of the stairwell windows cracked from the reverberation. All three of us slowing at once, Emmett, Rosalie, and I stared down from the landing into the living room below.

Esme was doubled over, her face buried in her palms and her shoulders shaking with such force that the feet of the couch rattled against the floor. My feet were moving me down the stairs before I registered Jasper’s voice. The heels of his shoes clicked against the floor rapidly in time with his speech—he spoke high, quiet, and fast, but I could make out the questions he was firing at the person on the other end of the phone call. “How long? When? What happened? Is Bella okay?”

Is Bella okay.

My brain, even capacious as it was, struggled for a moment to process that statement. There was only one person who would know the answer to that question and that was—

“Alice?” It was Rosalie’s astonished voice that finished my thought. Her hand rose to her mouth, and Emmett’s comforting arms immediately closed on her midsection.

Jasper nodded hurriedly, still listening to his wife’s voice—I could hear her now, too, in little bursts cut off by the inadequate speakers of Jasper’s phone:

“She won’t sleep….looks awful…Atlanta, then Seattle…Fourteen hours.”
Fourteen hours.

I met Jasper’s eyes carefully. He had only asked about Bella…

“All of them?” I said quietly, and he nodded.

They’re all fine, he mouthed.

Something seemed to snap, or perhaps it was the world coming back together. For a moment I wasn’t sure if I had fallen accidentally or on purpose. But when I found myself on my knees on the floor of our living room, I knew that my body had simply reacted as it had been trained to so many centuries before. And the words which came from my quivering lips were the deepest, simplest prayer:

“Thank you…”

Then my wife’s gentle arms closed around my shoulders, and my body was subsumed along with my wife’s by what I knew now to be sobs of joy.

And like that, it was over.

When Alice said fourteen hours, I had expected it to be the slowest half-day of my existence. But it seemed like only minutes later that the five of us piled into Jasper’s car and headed for Seattle. And so it was that almost half a year of gut-wrenching worry and two days of agonizing grief ended with three of us standing in a run-of-the-mill airport baggage claim at the break of dawn as though we were merely waiting for a few vacationers returning on the red-eye. Others milled sleepily around us, reacting unconsciously to our unusual appearance by giving us a wide berth. On any other day, our family would mimic their state, pretending as well as we could that we were just as tired, that we had awakened at the same ungodly early hour. But this morning, to do so was impossible. None of us made any attempt to mask our alertness as we stared deep into the hallway where the new arrivals appeared.

It felt strange to stand waiting. I found myself searching the faces of the people around me for some sign that they knew that my life had just changed. My whole being felt raw and exposed–as though I was wearing a sign on my chest that read, “My children almost died today.” But no one seemed to notice. Some merely shuffled slowly through the line for the metal detectors, others stood half-asleep while they waited for luggage to tumble out onto the carousels.

Rosalie and Emmett had gone off to scour the parking garage for Alice’s scent so as to find the Mercedes. Esme had been crestfallen at this decision, but when Rosalie had murmured to her that she didn’t want to be the first person Edward and Bella laid eyes on, my wife had reluctantly agreed.

A few yards from Esme and me stood Jasper. His whole body was tense in anticipation, and his hands rolled themselves into fists and unrolled again at a pace almost too fast for the human eye. Every now and then I would see his eyes flicker to the huge LCD screen labeled “Arrivals” and search out the status of the 5:32 flight from Atlanta.

Suddenly, I saw Jasper’s shoulders relax, and my eyes flew to the board. Where a split-second before it had read “ON TIME” it now showed “ARRIVED.”

Esme started to shake in my arms, but she was smiling. “Darling, you have to calm down,” she whispered, and I realized that it was actually my trembling body that was shaking hers.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered back. “I just—” I just what? There weren’t words to describe this feeling. My son was going to walk down that hallway and back from the dead. For the second time in a century, I was being handed back this gift, as though I were a child being gently rebuked for misplacing a favorite toy. “This time, take better care of this,” the universe seemed to be saying.

I had every intention of doing so.

“Just be gentle,” my wife said quietly. “Don’t overreact. They’ve been through hell.”

For the first time in days the edges of my mouth turned up into a smile. “You mean to tell me that when all three of them appear over there, perfectly unscathed, there is a category of reaction that you would classify as ‘over’?”

Smiling, Esme kissed my cheek and whispered, “Well, it’s just that having several vampires barreling directly at her might not be so helpful for Bella right now.”

A tiny bubble of laughter escaped my lips.

“I can’t believe either of you can joke,” said Jasper under his breath, so that the humans around him couldn’t hear. His eyes remained fixed on the hallway through which passengers stumbled groggily toward waiting family, drivers, and the taxi pool. Nodding to Jasper, I, too, put my attention on the hall, but the smile still danced at the corners of my lips.

He was right. We had made jokes in the last six months, and we had laughed from time to time. We had teased each other. But it had rarely simply slipped out as it just had. Perhaps the world was truly righting itself. I rested a hand gently on Esme’s hip, and her own hand came across her body to lay on mine.

Then, among all the humans and their deodorant, their laundered and dry-cleaned clothes, their breath mints and hand sanitizer, I caught three distinct, and very familiar, scents. A sharp, sweet vampire perfume, almost like peppermint; beside it a human who smelled of sweat and tears and whose blood was tinged with something floral. And engulfing the human, the scent I knew best—earthiness and spice. Each of us smelled slightly different to the others, and I had once made the error of comparing Edward’s scent to nutmeg. He had refused to speak to me for several days afterward.

But nutmeg or no, it was the scent I caught now. Esme’s hand tightened over mine, and I squeezed her waist as our eyes searched anxiously through the throng which was pressing through the narrow hallway toward us.

I saw Edward’s hair first. It caught the fluorescent lights and I could see the shine of red amidst the light brown. His body was hunched over—to protect Bella, I realized.

I couldn’t see his face.

My throat closed, cutting off the cry threatening to rise. Every muscle in my body tensed, and the sounds of the baggage claim became one dull buzz in my ears. We all retained the fight-or-flight response after the change—if anything, it intensified many times over. My entire being focused with a strict intensity on the young man now walking slowly toward us.

I couldn’t see his face.

“Alice…” I heard from my left, and I vaguely registered the grace of the dark-haired woman as she broke through the throng and flitted to her husband’s side.

The crowd wouldn’t move away fast enough. They lumbered in a tight knot in front of Bella and Edward, obscuring both of them from my sight. I stared at the crown of his head, my body at alert, willing him to look at me, but he didn’t seem to hear me. The panic increased. Had Aro done something to him? Was he unable to hear me any longer? Terrified, my racing mind finally fell back to something far more primal:

Edward!

And, finally, he looked up.

In that instant, my world exploded. He was there. Not the wisps of memories I could barely grasp through my pain, but solid. Unharmed. Alive.

My son.

His eyes were pitch black, with deep purple circles beneath them. He looked exhausted and weakened, as though either of those were possible. His pale face was drawn downward, pain written in its lines. As he lumbered towards us, every minute of his hundred and four years of age showed itself in his gait.

Bella stood wrapped in his arms, shuffling slowly forward as they approached, half-asleep but seeming content. However, as Edward bent repeatedly to press his lips to her head, no smile appeared on his face.

He was still in pain.

Six months of agony, his and mine, both, and here he was, standing before us with Bella, unhurt, in his arms. And everything about his sad expression, the way his shoulders slumped, the slight tremor in his arms as they kept a firm hold on the girl who had so changed his life—everything screamed that nothing had changed from that cool October morning when I had found him lying lifeless on the couch.

Whatever it was that he had been through, Edward was still hurting.

His head rose again and he met my eyes, blinking once.

“Don’t.”

It was a whisper, just barely loud enough for me to hear, but his raspy, tired voice was enough to arrest any forward motion I might make. His eyes cast themselves downward once more as he trudged forward a few more steps.

My breath caught. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. They were supposed to rush at us, and we at them—we would embrace and kiss, and try to look as though we were capable of shedding the tears that should accompany such a joyous homecoming. I wasn’t supposed to be standing here, frozen, while Edward stood only feet from me—alive, well, but avoiding my eyes.

Esme didn’t seem to notice. Ignoring Edward’s expression and demeanor, she began to fuss over them both. I watched numbly as she threw her arms first around Bella, then around Edward, thanking Bella and chastising our son. When Esme meaningfully jabbed me in the ribs with her elbow, I heard myself mumble some noncommittal platitude in Bella and Edward’s direction. My gaze, however, did not waver from my son’s despondent face.

I put out a hand to rest it on his shoulder, but just as I did, he was suddenly rushed away from me. Esme had wrapped her arms awkwardly around Bella and begun to march her toward the sliding glass doors. Edward did not loose his grip on Bella’s body, and so he walked swiftly beside her. Bella stumbled sleepily along between them both.

The three of them moved hurriedly down the wide expanse of the baggage claim area and disappeared into the dim orange haze of the parking garage, the automatic doors hissing closed behind them. For a moment, I stared blankly at the spot where they had vanished.

Then I closed my still-outstretched hand, shoved it into my pocket, and followed.

The decision to move to Forks had always been a sound one, as the degree to which we were all able to move about during the daylight hours made all our lives seem almost normal. That I was now standing outside this little white house in the middle of the day bordered on a miracle.

That I was about to climb through the bedroom window of the police chief’s eighteen-year-old daughter bordered on lunacy.

By the time I had reached the parking garage at the airport, arrangements were already being made for Edward and Bella to ride with Rosalie and Emmett, and it had taken a fair amount of force from Esme to move me toward Jasper’s car. Naturally, as soon as Rosalie had informed me of Edward’s whereabouts, I had come after him.

Now I stood beneath the huge spruce that grew directly outside Bella’s window. Edward’s scent was strong here—for some reason, he had needed to use this particular entrance to Bella’s room not long ago.

I sighed. Carlisle, you could be arrested for this.

Well, it would be grist for the gossip mill, at least.

I leapt, causing the tree to tremble as I sprang into its branches. The jump felt odd—I rarely allowed myself to move to the fullest extent of my abilities unless I was hunting. Springing twenty feet into the air was an unusual occurrence for me.

Settling on a branch that led toward the window, I walked along it until I came within a few feet of the sill. Edward was inside—I could hear his breathing, which hitched when he heard me spring.

Less than a second later, the sash flew open.

“Carlisle?”

I crouched on the branch, bringing myself face-to-face with my son. His eyes were still as dark as they had been—he clearly had not left the house in the few hours since we’d all returned.

“Hi,” I offered.

He didn’t respond.

“May I come in?” I asked quietly.

Edward backed up a few feet and gestured toward the room. I swung my body through the window—it was a tight fit; Edward was of a slighter build than I—and landed quietly on the weathered wood floor.

For a moment, we stared at each other. Edward’s new shirt was rumpled from the flight, and his hair was tousled and filthy. As I started to contemplate ways to convince him to return to the house for warm bath and fresh clothing, he cut me off.

“What are you doing here?”

I recalled the painful image of him at the airport six hours ago—his eyes dark, his gait slow, his shoulders slumped.

“I needed to talk to you.”

He winced, then fired back, “Why didn’t you come in the front door?”

“I didn’t want to have to break the lock.” Remembering the strength of Edward’s scent on the tree and the windowsill, I added, “And you came in the window because…?”

His gaze dropped to the floor. “Charlie threw me out. He’s afraid I’ll hurt her.” He drifted backwards toward the bed, where Bella, still fully clothed except for her shoes, lay tangled in the bedclothes, her hair fanned out over the scrunched-up pillow. He ran a hand over her head, stroking her hair out of her face.

“He’s right,” Edward mumbled a moment later.

“Charlie?”

He nodded, not taking his eyes off Bella’s face. “I’ll hurt her,” he croaked. “He knows I’ll hurt her.” His lips trembled as he kissed her forehead.

Yet the fact that he was sitting here next to her, as thirsty as I knew he must be, said something very different. I moved toward the bed and gestured to the empty space next to him. “May I?”

He shrugged, and I sat down. The old bedsprings creaked, and for a moment Bella’s body shifted toward both of ours, pulled downward by my weight. Edward reached with one arm and moved her into a more comfortable position, pressing his lips against her jugular as he did so. I felt a sense of awe. I had forgotten this, how comfortable he was with her. I had been so worried at first; we all had been. For as Rosalie put it, we had left rumors behind before, but not eyewitnesses. If he slipped—and at first, Alice’s visions had not been clear—we would all be in danger.

And yet now—after Phoenix, after he had tasted her blood and still left her alive and human—now it was almost impossible to remember a time when the chance of Edward hurting Bella had even been on the table.

My son gulped, his face screwing into an expression of sheer agony. “I could never hurt her that way,” he whispered. “I would die if she were hurt.”

At Edward’s words, Jasper’s face swam before me. His expression was resolute and his voice dispassionate, laying down the facts as though we were going off into battle. “Alice saw Edward before the Volturi. He’s planning to ask them to kill him.” And then there was screaming…

Edward’s head snapped up. His jaw had gone slack and his lips were slightly parted. He blinked a few times as he stared at me.

“About that,” I managed to choke, and the bedsprings suddenly recoiled beneath me as Edward launched himself to a standing position. He stalked to the window and dropped his forehead against it with a loud thunk.

“Edward,” I began, but he cut me off with a look that was equal parts fire and pain.

“Don’t you think I know?” he whispered forcefully. “Her, you, Esme, Jasper—don’t you think I know what I’ve done?” His hand balled into a fist at his side. “I almost killed her! And even if I hadn’t, I left her here! With werewolves and Victoria…” He shook his head in disgust. “And as if that wasn’t enough, she and Alice almost died, and now—”

There was a loud crack as a chunk of the windowsill he was clutching snapped off beneath his fingers. Bella stirred, mumbling something about grand theft auto.

Edward dropped the piece of wood to the floor and looked away.

On the car ride home, Alice had talked us through all she’d found out in Forks and Italy. Esme and I, of course, remembered the werewolves. Someone like Ephraim Black did not get lost among centuries of memories. A statuesque young man just barely out of his teens, he had been one of the most striking humans I had ever laid eyes on. But what had impressed me more was his devotion to his family, his pack, and by extension, his tribe. I had been exposed to the culture of the Indians only by anecdote, and the picture painted in the years of settling the West had been anything but good. It still embarrassed me to admit that I had been surprised to find that the Quileutes were men of integrity, peace, and loyalty. And it had been this which had finally brought us to agreement after many failed attempts and my own family’s near-destruction; there was something about our family and our ties to one another that had resonated with Ephraim’s own sensibilities. We would be granted our part of the land in Forks, provided we abided by our diet, and more importantly, provided I was in charge. For however long we, too, lived in peace under a strong leader, we had the tribe’s permission to stay.

Now the werewolves were back, and there was no treaty which bound Victoria. I understood my son’s worry.

Edward’s teeth ground together as he channeled this last thought, and I looked up to where he stood at the window.

“No matter what I do, she isn’t safe,” he spat, a little too loudly. Bella rolled over, her fist clenching over her pillow.

“Edward,” she mumbled.

He turned to look at her, his face still drawn downward. Her face scrunched again, and she mumbled something about Italy. For a long moment we both stared at her, at the little streaks of daylight that filtered through the yellowed lace curtains and danced across her face and body as the clouds moved outside. Her sleep seemed at the same time both peaceful and troubled, as though she was fighting to recover from her ordeal and yet reliving it at the same time.

“She won’t talk to me,” Edward finally said. “The whole way back—she won’t talk to me. I don’t know what she’s thinking. I don’t know if she wants me. I don’t know if I’ve hurt her so badly it can’t be fixed…” His hands formed themselves into fists at his side. He was trembling, his jaw working frantically, even though no words were coming out. I knew this expression, the moment at which his anger with himself teetered on the verge of a tempest.

Timidly, I stood. “Son—”

Before I could move forward, however, Edward had thrust his hands out in front of himself. He turned his head ever so slightly, so that he was staring out the window instead of at me. A spring breeze pushed the branches of the spruce so that they swayed back and forth slowly. I watched them as I heard Edward begin to speak.

“I was coming back,” he said, his voice flat and eerily detached. “When Rosalie called. I had just picked up the phone to get a flight back to Washington. I couldn’t stay there any longer. I wasn’t surviving without her.”

That explained his terrible appearance. I found myself imagining the lifeless being I’d encountered in October, lying not on his couch in Ithaca, but on a bed in Brazil…

“We were coming to get you,” I heard myself answer. “Esme and I. We had decided that we were going to Brazil before we came back to Tanya’s and got the news.” For a fraction of a second I remembered the terror of walking up to the doorstep, not knowing why the house sat silent. And then the memory of Jasper’s news resurfaced.

Edward’s gaze shifted over to the small bed and the girl lying in it. “I can’t live without her,” he said, his voice sounding strangely hoarse. “I had to go.”

I swallowed, closing my eyes for a brief moment. Edward and I were alike in many, many ways. In fact, I frequently marveled at how, given the short time I had known him, I possibly could have selected a companion who was so like myself. But this was one area in which my years changed my outlook in a way that my son couldn’t appreciate. For a moment, the little bedroom in Forks disappeared, and I felt again the rush of the wind as I’d tumbled off the cliffs at Dover, shattering not my body but the boulders beneath me when I’d hit ground. Then I recalled the weight of the anvil-filled trunk tugging my body down beneath the English Channel. I’d sat there on the bottom, sucking water in and out of my lungs and praying I would drown before for roughly five hours before I’d given up.

“I know what it is to want to die, Edward.”

No answer came. Perhaps he had forgotten in the mess of this, and in his own emotions, that he was the son of two would-be suicides. It was not a moment I was proud of, although I was glad to have been strong enough to try to take my own life before I took a human’s. But all that had been before I’d discovered a way to live, and others worth living for.

“Yes, but you don’t have to worry about losing the people you love,” he said, his lip curling in response to my thought. “My world came to an end when I thought she was gone.”

His shoulders slumped as he stared over at the bed. Three days ago, I would have agreed with him. I hadn’t had to worry—I had been arrogant enough to think exactly this, even as I consoled hundreds of grieving parents over the losses of their children. But now I knew all too well what it was like to stand helplessly by, knowing your child was on his way to a certain death. The pain gripped me again now, even standing feet away from him.

“Edward,” I managed, “are you really so naïve as to think there is no one who feels that way about you?” And stupidly, too abruptly, I moved toward him.

My son stepped back and growled.

The sound reverberated in the little room, and my feet seemed to be cemented to the wooden floor. As though there was any man-made substance that could hold them there.

But it was enough. Edward’s growl pulled me back to another, uttered on a crisp October morning in Ithaca, when I had suddenly found myself prepared to attack the woman I loved. Edward’s body became my body, his growl became my growl. And suddenly, standing there in the dim bedroom, watching Edward’s heaving silhouette illuminated by a halo of muted daylight from the window, I understood. This wasn’t anger.

It was fear.

Edward feared losing Bella. I feared losing him. And we both had fallen victim to these anxieties, letting them drive us away from the people we loved, instead of toward the one we didn’t want to lose. For a brief moment, I allowed the last six months to flash before me: my fight with Esme, Rosalie’s accusations of my absence, Jasper’s quiet company, Alice pondering her history at my side, Emmett’s hug. I relayed these things to my son, letting him in on the life he’d missed, on the things had brought me here.

And finally, I showed Edward a dark-haired boy, laughing—with me when he could, at me when I needed it. The memory of the moment just hours before he had breathed his last, when I had asked him if he was afraid—and he had answered he was. Then he had squeezed my hand, declared me an angel, and quietly slipped away. A fifteen-year-old, who lived and died in the presence of the fear of losing everything, and his parents who thanked me even though their own worst fears had come to fruition.

I was a fool.

A teenager, and a young teenager at that, had known better how to live his short life than I had, even with my centuries of experience. And Edward, guided by my injudicious permissiveness, knew even less than I.

I had nearly lost Edward; I had nearly lost myself. Tanya’s words returned to me—had it really only been a few days ago that we’d talked? “He needs you to show him the way.” It had taken six months—really, it had taken eighty-seven years—but I was ready to step up to that plate.

Edward saw my intention to move toward him, and his teeth bared. Instinct overrode his mind, and he dove at me—exactly as I had intended.

When my arms closed around him, the world shifted as surely as though Jasper had just stepped into the room. My mind finally accepted what my eyes had been trying to tell it for hours—that my son was real, that he was whole. This one, the one I had chosen first, the oldest and youngest member of my unorthodox little family, had been returned to me, intact. Edward’s body began to shake violently as soon as it came in contact with mine, and mine trembled in answer. It had been decades since we’d cried together—I cried rarely, Edward even more so. The last I could remember had been that rainy night in Vermont, when Esme and I had thrown our arms around our prodigal son and welcomed him home with open arms.

And now that moment repeated itself, three thousand miles and eight decades away, in the little bedroom of the girl who had changed Edward’s life forever. In the shadows cast by the cloud-covered sky and the drawn curtains, Edward and I stood, father, son, brothers, the chosen companion and the one who’d chosen. Two broken men, brought together by our all-too-similar faults.

“I’m sorry, Carlisle,” Edward finally choked. “I’m so sorry. For everything.”

Lifting my hands from his back, I placed them on his temples, tipping his forehead toward me. “It’s alright, Edward,” I whispered, brushing my lips against his brow. “You are forgiven, son. Always.” I swallowed once, and added, “I love you, son.”

A strangled noise came from Edward, and it was a moment before he answered, “I love you too, Carlisle.”

Behind us, the bed creaked once more. Bella thrashed violently, and for a moment I worried she would awaken and catch me standing here. But then she turned back onto her stomach, clenched her fist again, and mumbled, “Love…”

We both turned to look at her as deep sleep overtook the features of her face. “You know, I think she may be smarter than you,” I teased, when we were both sure she was still asleep.

Edward nodded slowly, breaking from my arms and returning to the bed. He gazed down at the sleeping form of his mate, and then ran a hand over her cheek, tucking a wisp of hair behind her ear.

“I know that she is,” he whispered.

And at last, I saw him smile.

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