3. Paternity

Esme met me at the door. Walking to my car at a human’s pace had been excruciating; so, too, had been driving through town. Forks had been so nice with its remote roads—now it took me twenty minutes to get clear of the city before I could comfortably floor the accelerator. Not that I was actually in danger of hitting anyone, but the car was sure to be noticed. So I’d driven home slowly, my panic rising with every second that passed.

I took my wife into my arms, kissing her face. Her usually gentle countenance was marred by worry, making my stomach turn. It was horrible of me to leave her all night alone with Edward’s misery. I knew how it pained her not to be able to do anything that seemed to help him. Our son, this beautiful young man we both loved—he was wasting away before us, and Esme had no break from his pain.

“How is he?” I murmured, not releasing my grasp.

Esme shook her head sadly and I felt my body tense.

“He’s gotten worse,” she said. I must have looked surprised at her volume, because she shrugged and added, “He knows exactly how we’re feeling—there’s no reason to speak quietly.” I caught her meaning immediately—he knew how we were feeling and yet did nothing. It was wholly unlike Edward not to try to placate us with at least some semblance of normal behavior.

“What do you mean by worse?”

She gestured to the stairs. “He’s in his room. Go see.”

I climbed the stairs with trepidation and at a human’s pace. Edward had spoken to us only a handful of times in the month we’d been in Ithaca so far. Emmett and Jasper had managed to get him out hunting once, a couple of weeks earlier, before Emmett and Rosalie left for Europe. The rest of the time he spent cowering in the corners of the house, curled up into a ball. When he moved, he went so silently through the house it was as though he were a ghost. The piano—a beautiful baby grand I’d had delivered the day we’d closed on the house—sat silent; the boxes of music were still sealed beside it. Even Edward’s vast audio collection had gone to no use, as far as I could tell. Could there exist a gradient for this level of sorrow?

I entered Edward’s unlit bedroom. A human would have had trouble making out his shape on the couch, dressed as he was in a black hooded sweatshirt and dark jeans. The hood of the sweatshirt was pulled up over his hair, and he lay on his side in the fetal position with his hands jammed into the front pocket of his sweatshirt. He wasn’t breathing; his eyes did not move. He was behaving, for all intents and purposes, like the dead man he believed himself to be.

Esme was right. This was worse.

“Edward,” I called softly, but he made no acknowledgement of my presence. “Edward. Edward, son, please.” With each word I took a step toward him, landing finally on my knees before him. He did not look at me—his pitch-black eyes stared blankly forward, unfocused.

I choked on my incoming breath, and reached forward to him. Gently, I pushed the hood down from his head, expecting him to grumble and replace it. He did nothing. I ran a hand through his thick hair—again, nothing. As far as I could tell, he hadn’t moved at all. I continued stroking his hair, feeling each strand race its way through my fingers.

My relationship with my son did not very often manifest itself physically, and when it did, it was usually in the form of a pat on the back or a hand on his shoulder. Even embraces were rare—with his gift, much love was expressed between us without anything overt on either of our parts. But seeing Edward lie there, his face frozen, his body unmoving—I couldn’t bear it. And so, before I even really knew what I was doing, I did something I’d not done since that night in Chicago so long ago: I picked him up.

Hooking one arm under his knees and the other under his shoulders, I lifted Edward to my chest. We were the same height, and I could gauge he was just shy of my weight. Yet he might as well have been an infant, so natural it felt for me to be cradling him. I sat out of habit, and Edward sank into my chest, shifting his position so that his head lay on my shoulder. The action brought back that moment, eighty-seven years ago, when I last had held in my arms this young man who would become my beloved son. He had been so light in my arms as we raced together over the rooftops, I would barely have registered his presence if it hadn’t been for the unnatural heat of his raging fever as he lay against me.

The flat I’d lived in then was on Michigan, in a sixth-story walk-up, three miles from the hospital. I’d lived sparely then—my home was little more than repository for my books, with one wall given over to the modest art collection I’d built, and a small bed that I’d bought in case a neighbor ever happened to peer in. It was there that I laid Edward as I recreated the injuries I’d sustained in the attack that should have ended my life centuries before. Even now I felt the need to pull him close out of contrition for the unnecessary pain I’d caused him then. Now I knew better—by the time I’d turned Emmett I’d figured out the physiology of it all. Edward’s turning took considerably longer than my own because my inexpert administration of my venom meant it took a long time to reach and strengthen his influenza-ravaged heart. We spent four days there in that bed, my arms tight around his strengthening torso as he thrashed in pain. I stroked his hair and told him about the only thing I could think of—my life, my offer of a pitiful explanation for why he was going through this.

Unbeknownst to me, the venom had reached his brain in fewer than twelve hours, and so he had quickly become privy not only to the words I was speaking, but also to the internal monologue that ran parallel to the story I told him. I unintentionally laid myself bare to Edward as he was being changed, revealing to him my deepest emotions: the crushing pain of my loneliness, my terror that he would despise me for his entire existence, my fervent hope that he might someday know me as a companion, perhaps even as family.

By the time he awoke, Edward knew me better than I did. And then he quietly stepped in to fill the void he saw in my still heart.

So to stand by him now, in the depths of his hurt, was the least I could do to repay him for eighty-seven years of each day of my life being better than the last. I had no idea how much he was allowing himself to perceive, but I filled my thoughts with my happiest memories of my years with him just in case. Private conversations, hunting together, sitting beside him on the piano bench while he composed, him at my side as I bound myself to Esme in marriage. The unmitigated joy I’d felt receiving Alice’s revelation, shortly after Edward had returned from Denali, that he had found his mate.

Paternal love was a strange animal. Romantic love was simple, or at least it was for a vampire. One moment I had looked at Esme and found that my entire being was flushed with an undying and immutable love. Eighty-four years later, it was still like that every time I laid eyes on her, even if I’d looked away for only a fraction of a second. My love for Edward was completely different, intermingled with a whole host of feelings: regret, pride, worry, admiration, fear. Esme was no more capable of hurting me than I was her. But Edward—it was possible for him to stalk out the door carrying the chunk of my heart he’d claimed as his. He’d done that to me once before. Now he’d done it to Bella.

I understood, at least on one level, where Edward was coming from. He was a great danger to Bella; even I couldn’t disagree with that. Alice had made that clear to all of us. But on the other hand, if he did hurt her, he would irreparably damage himself in the process. I felt this was protection enough for Bella. She had a greater danger from others of our kind than she did from us, and she deserved our protection. And moreover, I had faith in my son. He was far stronger than he gave himself credit for—wasn’t the very fact that we were three thousand miles from his mate proof enough of that?

My arms began to vibrate and I realized that Edward, hearing my thoughts, had begun to growl quietly. I shifted thoughts back to him, running my hand once more through his hair. Well, that was good; at least I was generating some semblance of a response from him.

“I’m sorry, son,” I whispered. “Just because I disagree doesn’t mean I don’t support you wholeheartedly. I will try to think about something else.”

He growled again, but this time it was quieter. I continued to stroke his hair. I didn’t know yet if Edward had indeed made the right choice. That would have to play itself out. But I was nevertheless floored by my son’s resolve. He was so strong. We had all discounted his worry for Bella as overprotection, as his usual tendency toward pessimism and theatrics. But his decision to move away from her, despite whatever pain it might mean for him, proved us all wrong.

A scent from the doorway caught my attention, and I looked up. Esme was standing in a rectangle of cool moonlight, her concerned expression haunting and yet perfectly beautiful at once. She smiled sadly as she took in the sight of me with Edward in my arms. Esme got away with far more physical affection with our children than I; there had been many an afternoon when I had found Edward at the piano with Esme behind him, caressing his hair or rubbing his shoulder. She was pleased to see me in such a loving embrace with our son.

I raised my eyebrows at her, and she understood.

“I heard him growling,” she explained in a whisper.

Ah. It was no wonder she looked anxious. Esme lived in a constant and misplaced fear that at some point her family members might literally tear each other apart. Whenever Emmett and Jasper got going in a wrestling match, she would inevitably put a stop to it out of her concern for their personal safety. I found her worry endearing; our sons largely found it annoying.

“We’re fine,” I answered her, pulling Edward a little closer. “He’s okay.” He may not be pleased that I didn’t agree with his course of action, but he certainly wasn’t going to attack. I wasn’t entirely sure he could attack in this state. That was something I would have to think about. Edward hadn’t hunted in several weeks, and now it seemed it might prove difficult to get him to perform the actions necessary to feed himself. Perhaps I could kill for him, and then let him drink—we would have to see.

Esme nodded, appraising Edward’s utter lack of movement. She then mouthed to me, We need to talk. Her golden eyes were sad. In the time it took me to nod and shift my gaze back to Edward, she was back downstairs.

I stood again, keeping our son in my arms, and crossed the hallway to my own bedroom. Esme always insisted on dressing our bed in the most luxurious linens she could lay hands on that were in keeping with the character of the house. I never failed to indulge her, although frankly it made no difference to either of us—we could just as soon be intimate on a bed of nails.

Today, though, I was thankful for the softness as I pulled back the down comforter and laid Edward between the silken sheets. He gave me a brief surprised look, and I smiled. At least there was a little acknowledgement. I pulled the covers up to his shoulders and replaced the hood of his sweatshirt on his head. “I’m going downstairs for a bit,” I whispered to him, “but I will be back to check on you.” I briefly rubbed his back and he grumbled something that sounded like overprotective.

I smiled. If he was all the way back to criticizing me, things were looking up. “Yes,” I replied coolly. “Like father, like son.”

Esme paced the length of the living room before me as I sat cross-legged in the middle of a paint-spattered canvas drop cloth. It made me tense to see her this worried. She so far had said nothing; I would have to draw her in.

“The sitting room is looking terrific,” I said, and I meant it. She was in the process of making it look exactly as it must have in the 1640s when it had been built. There lay a thin layer of plaster dust over the cans of paint stripper and the stepladders, the result of tearing down the false ceiling that had been imposed over the original beam work some two hundred years earlier. Now she was carefully stripping the paint from the beams, intending to use some replication stain that she had ordered from a museum supply to restore their original color.

My comment had its precise intended effect. Esme dropped to the floor beside me, laying her head on my shoulder.

“Carlisle, I don’t know what to do about him anymore,” she murmured.

I sighed, putting my arm around her. “Nor do I.” I could sit and hold him every day; there was no problem with that. I would quit my job if necessary. But I just wasn’t sure it would actually help.

Esme sat silent beside me for several more minutes. When she finally spoke, it was in a voice so low only a vampire could possibly have heard it. “I’m ashamed of what I thought today,” she said. “He was sitting by the radiator in the hallway—you know, that spot he keeps going to—and he wasn’t moving. It was before Alice and Jasper went down to the university, so all three of us were here with him.” She drew a shaky breath. “He’s killing Jasper, Carlisle. You should have seen him there.”

I closed my eyes briefly. I knew this. It was hard to miss that Jasper did everything he could to avoid his brother these days. Edward had asked Jasper not to alter his mood and Jasper, ever the Southern gentleman, had agreed. But of course that put Jasper squarely in the force of Edward’s despair. “Is that why they aren’t here.”

My wife nodded. “Alice wanted to do some research, and Jasper thought he’d read up on Kant.”

“I thought he was reading Aristotle?” Most improbably, Jasper had decided to take up the study of ethics while we were living within reach of such a great university. I wondered what he drew from the texts after his century of warring. Studies of virtue must speak in a very different way to him than they did to me. He seemed to be enjoying his studies, however. I made a mental note to spend some time talking to Jasper about his readings; philosophy was a subject I enjoyed almost as much as medicine.

“You’re trying to change the subject,” Esme said. “You know better than I how Kant and Aristotle fit together.”

She was nothing if not sharp. “I’m sorry. So the three of you were here, and Edward was in the hallway.”

“He started moaning, and I tried to hold him—that’s why I was so happy to see you with him; I thought he might never let us touch him again—and Jasper and Alice came downstairs. Edward just blew us all off and went up to his room.” She gestured to me. “Then he got into the state you found him in.

“Alice told me you would call and you would come home when I asked you to. And that you’d get him to come back around a little. But—” she cut herself off, as though she couldn’t think to say the next few words.

“What?” I probed quietly.

She shook her head sadly, leaning into me with more force. “Carlisle, what would happen if we suggested…that he leave?”

I felt as though I’d taken a blow to the gut. I had been gone a lot since we’d arrived here, between working nights and the Epidemiology seminar that I’d been roped into teaching at Cornell. I had been negligent, grossly negligent, in caring for my family. Seven months ago, when Edward had suddenly disappeared to Denali for only a few days, my wife had been beside herself. For Esme to even reach the point where such a thing had crossed her mind—I felt terrible for putting her in a position whereby she had been caused that much pain.

Yet even as I registered my incredible sadness and guilt, another emotion crashed over me. I had just spent nearly an hour cradling my son, wracking my brain for any solution to his unending grief. Esme was my mate, my soul, my heart. My love for her was undying. But it had been Edward who was first responsible for permanently ending my own sadness almost a century ago. If it weren’t for him, there would be no Esme, and I certainly would never have been in any shape to love. I was bound to him. I promised him that I would help, that I would support him in this, whatever he decided. I would not go back on that word. I could no more ask him to leave than I could tear myself to pieces.

My feet were beneath me before the idea to stand occurred in my mind, and an unforgivable growl ripped from my throat. I realized in an instant that I had jumped into a crouch, ready to spring, and Esme, despite her perfect, beautiful human nature, had instinctively mirrored my action. Her expression was a mixture of confusion and fear, and it was the panic in her eyes that swiftly brought reality crashing back down upon me.

Oh, my God. Had I really just prepared to attack my wife?

Collecting myself, I stood straighter. “Esme, my love, I’m sorry,” I said immediately. “You caught me off-guard.”

She straightened more warily, appraising me cautiously. “I thought this might be your reaction,” she said slowly.

Of course it would be my reaction. “We’re not—” I paused, swallowing. “I promised him. He’s my son. My oldest son.”

“And our youngest,” she added, quietly. “But he’s not our only child. We have five. Nearly six. We have to think about them all.”

Six. I frowned. Esme had mated Edward off the moment Alice had her vision, and the last several months had been the happiest of her existence, seeing Edward so unguarded. But to consider Bella as our child—that was a place I simply couldn’t handle allowing my mind to go at the moment. If I had to worry about Bella as well…God only knew what she was going through right now. I couldn’t bear to think about it.

“We shall not ask him to go.”

Esme’s response was immediate. “Then we should go back to Forks.” Aha. I recognized her preferred solution at once. She thought we should take Edward back to Bella and reunite him with her missing daughter. All would be solved.

I shook my head. “This is Edward’s choice.” I had spoken my piece; he had made his decision. I wasn’t going back on my word.

My wife rolled her eyes. “For heaven’s sake, Carlisle! Edward all but invented the concept of the overreaction! And he’s in love! Don’t you think that his decision-making abilities might be a little clouded?”

I opened my mouth but found I had nothing to say. She was right. Hadn’t I just been doubting Edward’s decision a few hours earlier? Unable to argue, I stupidly dug in my heels.

“He will not leave this home,” I said firmly.

“Oh, yes I will,” a voice growled.

We both whirled. Edward stood at the foot of the stair, looking monstrous. The hood of the sweatshirt cast his face into shadow, and his black eyes shone in the early morning light as they darted back and forth between us as he breathed, his nostrils flaring. For a split second it was I who briefly wondered if our son might attack.

Before either of us had time to fully form a coherent thought, however, he shot past us and out into the dawn.

Forward
Back

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>