4. The One Option Left

Fighting. Carlisle and Esme were fighting. I had seen them disagree before, but never like this. It had been Carlisle’s growl that drew me downstairs; I knew the three of us were alone and I was worried that perhaps there was an intruder. I never would have imagined that I’d find him ready to attack Esme. He’d recovered himself with his usual speed, but that didn’t change the fact that he’d been prepared.

How could I have done that to my father? Or rather more importantly, how could I have done that to my mother? Too lost in my own misery, I had not heard what incited the near-altercation that I’d witnessed. But based on the ensuing conversation, I had deduced that Carlisle’s ferocious reaction had its roots in Emse’s suggestion that I leave.

Esme wanted nothing more than to keep our family intact—even Emmett and Rosalie traveling was only acceptable to her because it was a necessary element of the charade that her children were growing older. I knew; I had heard in her mind how much my withdrawal from the rest of the family was causing her pain. But clearly I had grossly underestimated its degree.

I wouldn’t be winning any “son of the year” awards; that was for sure.

My feet slowed beneath me. Light was breaking through the woods maybe two miles ahead—there was some huge opening in the forest. The faint rays bounced wildly, and it took me a moment to recognize that the sun was bouncing off a large plane of water— I’d run all the way to the shore of Cayuga Lake. I stopped myself, coming to complete stillness in the dark. There might be people on the lake; early-morning fishermen, or tourists. Better not to risk being seen in the sun. The last thing I needed to do was to force my family to relocate again; I had no doubt that given the opportunity, Esme would march everyone straight back to Washington.

Leaning against a tree, I turned my thoughts to what to do. My presence was causing pain for everyone around me; there was no denying that. Even Carlisle this morning had taken me by surprise—the force of his emotion was so unexpected that I had at first not recognized it for what it was. When I’d finally unearthed the pain that lay beneath his love and worry, I had been startled to realize that my father was grieving for me.

Was this what I was doomed to? Hurting Bella, hurting Carlisle and Esme, hurting Jasper?

A roar of frustration slipped past my lips, and I uprooted a small fir tree with one hand, throwing it like a javelin through the forest. The sound reverberated as it struck a much larger tree, which snapped in two with a satisfying crash.

“Was that really necessary, Edward?” a bell-like voice called from above me.

I snapped my head upward just in time to see Alice spring from the branch thirty feet above, where she clearly had been waiting for me. I had been too lost in my own thoughts to hear any of hers. She landed delicately before me, a faint smile playing on her lips.

“How long have you been here,” I grumbled.

“Since right after I told Esme that Carlisle was going to call.” She stepped around me cautiously. You look awful.

I rolled my eyes. “Thanks.”

Alice tilted her head. What Esme said hurt you. I thought it might.

Hurt me? “I didn’t even hear her ask,” I admitted. “I only figured it out from the rest of their—conversation.”

She caught the word I’d stumbled on. You saw them fight. Her concerned look bore into me.

I shook my head. If they had been any other set of people, what I’d witnessed would barely deserve the word. Carlisle hadn’t once raised his voice; Esme had just barely done so. But I’d never seen them so completely at odds. Even when they were having what might be termed an argument, they could never keep their hands off each other. It was weird, actually—they’d be having some heated disagreement while holding hands and looking soulfully into each other’s eyes. Yet that was the norm in our home, and that was what I was used to. So to come down the stairs to find them squaring off at each other in the living room was beyond disquieting.

“All I really caught,” I answered, “was Carlisle telling Esme that he wouldn’t ask me to leave.”

Alice cocked her head. Carlisle can be so stupid when it comes to you.

“So you’re with Esme on this one.” I rolled my eyes. I started to walk away, but her hand caught me.

“No, Edward. What I mean is, sometimes he lets what’s best for him color his decisions about what’s best for you. You know that. He can’t bear to see you go.”

“But you think I should leave.”

I think you should do whatever is best for Bella. Her mind flickered to the same image that it had shown me for the better part of a year, now—her arms around Bella, Bella’s around her, both sets pale white and granite-hard. Bella’s eyes were a deep crimson…

“No!” I cried, pushing Alice away. “That is not what I want.”

Calm down. “I know that’s not what you want. I’m not showing it to you because I think that it’s what you should do.” This vision hasn’t changed. Nothing you’ve done so far has had an effect. My sister’s eyes were full of concern for me.

“So—it’s still going to happen.”

“As of right now, yes.” Alice laid a hand on my shoulder. “If you want to change it, you’re going to have to work harder.” Your being here isn’t doing what you wanted it to do.

I sank to the forest floor, putting my head in my hands. What was I missing? I couldn’t imagine turning Bella into a monster. The very thought made me want to tear myself apart. So who would do it? Another frustrated growl slipped from me; Alice didn’t flinch.

“How do I stop this?” I asked her.

She shook her head. I haven’t got a clue. She hopped to the ground next to me, putting an arm around my shoulder. “I miss her too.”

“But you want—you want her to be—”

Happy,” my sister answered forcefully. “I want you both to be happy.” She’s your Jasper. Only you waited even longer for her. I don’t care if she’s a vampire or not. But Edward, right now she’s not happy. And she’s not going to be. An image of Bella, curled into a ball on the bed we’d both lain in for so many nights. She was asleep, but her slumber was fitful. And she wasn’t mumbling in her sleep, no, she was screaming…

“For God’s sake, STOP!” Her vision made the gash within me stretch even wider, and I involuntarily threw a hand across my midsection.

I’m sorry! Alice’s arms came around me. I can’t help it…I don’t mean to hurt you.

I answered through clenched teeth. “Then don’t look for her. I told you not to look for her!”

I don’t mean to see her. But you made me look after her so closely for so long…I just can’t help it.

“She’ll get over it.”

Yeah. The way you’re getting over it?

Ouch. “Sarcasm doesn’t become you, you know.”

Alice rolled her eyes, but she moved her hands to my shoulders. “Look. I’m not going to tell you what to do. Or, really, I’ve already told you what to do, and you’re not going to listen to me, so I’m just going to be here and support whatever else it is you decide to do. But if I were in your shoes—”

“You’re not,” I growled, and she held up a hand.

“If I were in your shoes, then I would do whatever I could to make sure that Jasper was safe and happy. That’s what I’d do. That’s all I’m saying, Edward.” I’m here for you whatever you do. She stood and inhaled deeply. Carlisle is about a mile away. I’ll leave you two alone.

“What?!”

She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Edward, did you think he was just going to sit at home and twiddle his thumbs?”

I, too, inhaled. She was right; my father’s scent was growing steadily stronger along the path that I had taken. From the scent—and the sound, as I could hear him now, too—it appeared he was running at top speed. Nevertheless, I could outrun him easily with this much of a head start.

Alice frowned as she saw my decision flicker in her mind. Don’t. Carlisle just wants to talk to you. He’s not going to force you to stay.

She was right, of course. Carlisle had never forced me to do anything, and I knew he wasn’t about to start. At that moment Carlisle’s mental voice broke through to me, repeating over and over, Edward. Please don’t run from me. Not yet.

I sighed and nodded to Alice. She squeezed my shoulder and whispered, “I’m behind you, Edward. Whatever you decide to do.” Then she leapt back into the trees and was gone.

Turning back toward my trail, I planted my feet and said, “I’m right here, Carlisle. I’m not going anywhere.”

Thank God. A second later, my father was with me.

He looked disheveled, not at all his usual composed self. He was still dressed in his light-blue scrubs and was barefoot. Etched in the lines of his face was a deep worry that looked out of place for his impossibly youthful features. He stood back from me a moment, appraising me as though he were afraid to move forward and touch me.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I didn’t mean to worry you.” Would he realize that those words were meant to cover the entirety of the last month, and not just this morning?

Carlisle exhaled sharply and audibly. His eyes bore into my own, but he chose to keep the topic light. Where’s Alice?

“She just left.” I gestured to the trees. “Back to Jasper, I suppose.”

He nodded, and cocked his head downwind. We should hunt before you go.

I tasted the air myself. There was a small herd of deer maybe two miles away. I nodded, and the two of us sprang off at a run.

If there was one thing I could always appreciate about Carlisle, it was that he never pushed a conversation. It was his nature to be quiet, patient and watchful. I had never appreciated my father’s introspection more than I did now. We ran together in silence, his strides matching my own. His thoughts were a mess. Concern for Esme, who was back at the house blaming herself for my outburst. Worry that I was going to take off without telling them where I was going. Some strange man and woman in tears at the hospital; Carlisle’s voice telling them that he had done all he could…

Oh. No wonder he was so distraught.

“I’m sorry, Carlisle,” I whispered. “You didn’t need this.”

Even as fast as we ran, I caught the thoughtful expression that passed over his face. Maybe I did, came his answer. He flashed quickly back to preparing to fight Esme, then to holding me in my bedroom. Holding me had made him feel…happy? How strange. All I had perceived from him was pain and worry. But before I had time to ask him about this, we fell on the deer.

Carlisle’s style of hunting always set me a little on edge. Hunting was actually the wrong word to describe it—he appeared, and his prey suddenly died. There was no chase; there was no fight, and there were certainly none of the long, playful battles that Emmett preferred. For Carlisle hunting was not at all enjoyable. It made him feel detached from his humanity, and so he liked to have the act over with as quickly as possible. And after three and a half centuries of practice, he killed with terrifying speed.

It was a very good thing that my father did not hunt humans.

He had methodically struck down all but a large buck by the time I even realized he had gotten started. I lit out after the buck; bounding away from Carlisle as he began to drink. It had six points; a human hunter would have had his head on a trophy. Perhaps I would leave the carcass in case someone else wanted to take credit for the kill.

When I’d finished with the buck, I returned to Carlisle. He had drunk from only two of his kills; leaving the remaining three for me. This immediately recalled his earlier worry that I would not have strength enough to hunt.

Amusing. Carlisle was trying to feed me.

To humor him, I drank from a second and third deer, and then beckoned him to help finish the last. Both fully sated, we sat in the grass amid the carnage as the sun rose over the lake in the distance. Carlisle seemed intent on not speaking until I spoke to him; but his thoughts made him impossible to ignore.

I want what’s best for you, he thought fiercely. But I also don’t want you to leave again. His mind drifted back to the years I had abandoned him and Esme, filling his thoughts with anguish. I sighed. There was no winning this. No matter what I did, someone I loved was going to end up in terrible pain.

Carlisle caught my expression and knew its meaning immediately. I’ll survive, he assured me. But I will never stop missing you. He lifted a hand, running it through my hair again as he had done a few hours before. His fingers on my scalp felt nice, and I unconsciously leaned into him, eliciting a contented sigh from him as he put his arm over my shoulders. I love you more than you understand, Edward.

My own mind shifted back to my first memory of him, when I had still been deep in the clutches of the venom fire. How tortured his thoughts had been then—he had spoken aloud to me of his life, of time in Italy, France, the United States, but behind it all was an excruciating loneliness which he did not voice. When I had awoken, and allowed him to embrace me and console me, our bond had been sealed. His happiness had been unadulterated; I was his rescue from two centuries of melancholy. His love for me, born out of that pain, had a desperate edge to it, and I knew that although I understood him better than anyone, I would never fully comprehend where he was coming from without having experienced that pain.

Although, I realized with a start, I had to be coming incredibly close with Bella. She had altered my world permanently and completely. I felt human and whole around her. I wasn’t the same Edward that I’d known before. She was the light and life in my existence. I was not Carlisle’s mate, of course, and I had not changed him in that way, but perhaps I now understood better where he was coming from.

“Do you know where you’ll go?” My father’s voice startled me.

I shook my head. I’d figured I would probably strike out somewhere on my own; establish my own homestead. Perhaps I could return to Chicago.

What about Denali? This would, of course, be preferable to Carlisle. Having me with Tanya and her sisters would be the next best thing to my being with him. But I knew that I couldn’t handle Tanya’s wistful thoughts of being my mate right now. Plus, Laurent had moved to them when he left James’ coven. And the last thing I needed was a reminder of James…

The realization was so powerful I shot to my feet. Carlisle was with me in an instant, his posture immediately defensive.

What is it, Edward?

“Victoria,” I hissed, my voice dark. If I were in your shoes, then I would do whatever I could to make sure that Jasper was safe and happy, Alice had said. Wasn’t this the key? Bella would remain in danger as long as James’ mate ran free. That was what I had to do.

Carlisle looked understandably confused. Victoria? James’ mate? Here?

“No,” I answered, “She’s not here. And she won’t be. Nor will she be anywhere near Bella.”

Comprehension dawned on my father’s face and his posture relaxed. You’re going after her.

I nodded, my mind already beginning to race. I knew next to nothing about tracking; obviously I would follow her scent, but how to continue from there, I didn’t know. She and James had followed Bella to Phoenix based on her school records; no records would exist for Victoria. Maybe flight records? She would undoubtedly travel under an assumed name…

But she did have to hunt. That was a start. If she was being at all incautious, I could catch her trail from her victims. That was what I would have to do.

“I’m going to track her,” I told Carlisle quietly.

And then I would destroy her.

The house was silent when Carlisle and I arrived home, but I had heard Esme’s panicked thoughts nearly a half mile away. She was berating herself for what she had suggested to Carlisle, blaming herself for my running away, worrying that Carlisle was angry with her, and then starting over with the berating.

I was a terrible person. How could I possibly apologize for putting someone as pure and gentle as Esme through this?

Carlisle shot me a questioning look as we entered the house, and I understood him at once.

“She’s a mess,” I whispered. “Go to her.” He disappeared before I finished speaking.

I watched through Esme’s eyes as Carlisle entered their bedroom. She was perched on the spot where I had lain only shortly before, running her fingers absently over the bedclothes. Carlisle took her into his arms, kissing her. She did not return the affection.

Is Edward angry?” she asked. I never should have said anything. I am his mother. How could a mother have thoughts like that? Unforgivable.

Carlisle’s answer was gentle. “He’s not angry. He just needed to think.” We put so much pressure on him; seeing as he can’t tune out our thoughts…

There was a long pause. Do I even ask, Esme thought. I don’t know that I want to know the answer…

Her voice, when she mustered up the courage to ask, was too quiet for me to hear downstairs, but I heard in her thoughts that she had asked the question. “Is he leaving?”

Carlisle’s face twisted. “Yes.”

She wrenched away from Carlisle and began berating herself again. What kind of mother throws out her child? What kind of wife hurts her husband like this? When did I turn into such a monster? “Carlisle, I didn’t mean to—”

He laid a finger over her lips, and when she was quiet, he kissed her again. “It’s his decision. He was coming to that conclusion on his own. You didn’t cause him to leave.”And I think—I hope—that being away will be good for him. He rested his chin on top of Esme’s head. Watching them, seeing the incredible love that passed between them, made me realize how I could soothe my mother.

As I opened the keyboard of the brand-new piano, I was struck by the sameness of its smell. Although it was unquestionably new, the same scents swirled before me: the brass of the strings, resin of the keys, the polished wood of the body. The familiar scents were calming, and I inhaled them deeply before I began. Placing my hands over the keys, I plunged into Esme’s favorite piece, the tribute I had written to her and Carlisle.

The very first bars of the piece drew both of them downstairs in an instant. At first they stood back from me, and I could see myself in their eyes as I played. A moment later, though, I felt hands on my shoulders; one from each of them. Esme stroked my hair fondly.

Thank you, Edward, she thought, and I smiled. She understood.

On my other shoulder, however, Carlisle’s hand began to tremble forcefully, causing my left hand to falter. He removed his hand, but I stopped playing anyway, twisting on the bench to get a good look at him. It wasn’t just his hand that shook—Carlisle’s whole body was quaking; the hand that had not been on my shoulder was balled into a fist at his mouth. Esme looked from him to me, her eyes filled with sadness. I rose to my feet, my arms meeting Esme’s as we both put them around him.

Together Esme and I embraced Carlisle as he sobbed.

Three hours later found all five of us at the train station in Syracuse. We had decided that it would be best if I traveled as humanly as possible for as long as possible; that way if Victoria somehow caught on that someone was after her, she might be confused about the identity of her hunter. The train would take me down to New York City, and then I would catch the first plane out to Washington, where I would begin my hunt. My parents and Alice and Jasper stood by, arms around each other, two perfectly matched couples. I gritted my teeth. To stand like that, with my love, was an impossibility for me now. But I could and I would make sure that Bella was safe.

The clock on the wall indicated that I had a little over fifteen minutes to board my train. I figured I had better start with Alice and Jasper—perhaps I could spare Esme and Carlisle a breakdown if I didn’t say goodbye to them suddenly.

Jasper was the easiest, so I started with him. “Hey, listen, Jasper. I’m sorry it’s been so hard,” I began, but he cocked his head nonchalantly.

You can’t help it, Edward.

“Nevertheless. I appreciate you putting up with me.”

He nodded. Take care. I’ll be rooting for you.

I turned to my sister next. “Alice,” I said quietly, taking her hands. “Thank you for earlier. I wouldn’t have known what to do without you.”

She squeezed my hands in hers. Of course, Edward. Take care of yourself. And take care of Bella.

“That’s what I have in mind.” I studied her face carefully, dropping my voice to something lower than the humans around us could eavesdrop. “Any changes?” I didn’t want to inquire after the vision I hated so much, but I had to know.

Alice bit her lip, and then shook her head.

A cold rage flushed through me, but I managed to suppress it, packing it deep to draw on in the future. “Okay,” I answered quietly. It just meant there was more to do. I would make that vision change. Taking a deep breath, I made one more request of my sister. “Can I ask you not to look for me?”

She nodded; she’d been expecting this. I’ll do my best. Her mind flashed quickly to Bella, but she the image only flickered for a moment. And if Bella…gets hurt?

Realizing what she was asking, I felt my jaw clench. Don’t do anything reckless or stupid, I’d asked Bella. My one condition. She loved me enough for that, right? She loved Charlie enough for that. I could trust her.

“Bella promised,” I hissed. “Don’t be looking for her future either.” The last thing she needed was to be visited upon by our family again. Bella needed her life; her glorious, soul-filled human life. She didn’t need to have to rip herself from me and my sister again.

“We’ve done enough damage,” I added, and Alice nodded.

After a moment of awkward silence, she suddenly threw her arms around me, kissing my cheek. If I had been human, I would have blushed.

“Take care, Edward,” she said, her voice echoing the worry I heard in her mind. I’ll miss you.

Behind me a chime sounded and the loudspeaker announced that the train to Grand Central Station was leaving in ten minutes.

Carlisle untwined himself from Esme and beckoned to me. Together we stepped away from the other three for a moment.

I need to give you some things, he told me. Do you have your wallet?

I gave him the most withering look I could manage, and he actually smiled.

I’m sorry. Of course you do. May I have your wallet? I handed it to him, and he removed my driver’s license and my credit card.

“Hey—” I protested, but he put a finger to his lips. From his own wallet he withdrew a dark card, and handed it to me. It was an American Express Centurion card. Its jet black face glimmered as I turned it in my hand. The name on it read Edward C Cullen. I raised my eyebrows. Since when was my middle initial not “A”?

In answer to my unasked question, my father handed me a second card. This one was a New York State driver’s license, listing our address in Ithaca and my name as Edward Carlisle Cullen. I stared at it a moment, puzzled. Carlisle had never taken the liberty to change my given names in any of the times he’d created paperwork for me.

“I know you want nothing of ours to take with you,” Carlisle murmured as I continued to stare at the driver’s license, “but I need you to have a tangible reminder that I’m behind you. I will always be wherever you need me to be as soon as you ask.” When you come back to me safely, I’ll change it back to Anthony, he added.

I turned the card in my hand. Would I return safely? Edward Carlisle didn’t sound too bad. “I kind of like it,” I admitted. “One name from each of my fathers.”

Carlisle swallowed audibly. He pulled one last thing from his back pocket. This was a dark blue US Passport, also listing me as Edward Carlisle. If you find the need to use this, he thought forcefully, please call and tell us where you’re going.

I nodded absently, looking over the inside cover of the passport. I knew about document forgery; it was a task at which we were all reasonably skilled. He couldn’t possibly have created all of these in the mere hours since we’d come in from the forest; the credit card alone must have taken weeks to procure. “How long ago did you do all this?” I whispered.

He looked down. When we moved here. Meeting my eyes, he added, I wasn’t sure that you would stay.

“You know me too well.”

Of course.

I turned the passport over in my hand. What would he have done if I had actually taken off as I had this morning? “What if I had run away?”

At this his face broke into a small smile once again. They were in your bag, he answered, nodding to the knapsack on my shoulder. Alice never saw you leaving without it, so I figured you’d take it and then you’d find them.

I actually laughed. I didn’t give him enough credit; he had been a step ahead of me the entire time.

“Thank you, Carlisle,” I said softly. He nodded, and together we returned to the others.

Another chime. Five minutes.

Esme threw her trembling arms around me, kissing my cheek. Edward, please don’t go, she thought urgently. I’m so very sorry about what I said. Stay with us. Let us all go back to Bella. We can take care of her together.

I smiled. She was unbearably sincere, but she didn’t understand. This wasn’t about me; this was about Bella. I wasn’t safe for her. “This is best, Mom,” I whispered back. “I’ll miss you. I love you.”

We love you too, Edward. She gazed at me sadly as she reluctantly let me go.

Carlisle laid a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. His thoughts were effusive: I love you so much. I can’t bear to see you go. But he merely said, “We should get you on this train.”

I nodded. I adjusted the pack on my shoulder, and gave them one last wave as I headed for the door to the car.

Edward. It was Carlisle. I turned to face him. His eyes were full of sadness; the lines of his face displayed an unspeakable grief at seeing me go.

I raised my eyebrows.

When? It was just one word, but the pain behind it bore witness to centuries of loneliness. For a split second I reconsidered everything. Maybe we could all stay together. We should. What kind of a son was I to do this to Carlisle? Then James’ face swam before me and my resolve returned. I had to keep Bella safe…from Victoria, and from me.

Shaking my head in dismay, I shrugged in response to Carlisle’s question. He knew full well that I had no idea when I would see him again. And he knew that this was something I had to do.

He nodded, his face further creasing with his worry. I love you, son.

“I love you, too, Dad,” I mouthed, as the train whistled.

My choice of addressing term caused a riot of emotion in his mind, and I could hear that it was taking all he had not to physically prevent me from boarding the train. His jaw flexed as he gritted his teeth. I waved to all of them once more, and swung myself up into the car.

I chose a window near where my family stood on the platform so that Esme could make sure for herself one last time that I was okay. She stood in Carlisle’s arms, his body turned so that she could see me easily. They were both waving. I waved back.

The train lurched, and my mother’s waving became more frantic. I forced a smile so that she wouldn’t break down. As the train began to move, I briefly took my focus off my family for a moment, just enough time to let in all the other thoughts of the people on the platform.

I should have told her to take her vitamins.

Two million dollars. Really? I’ll be glad to see the end of the negotiations with these jokers.

Bye, bye, Grandma!

And the last one I recognized clearly: I just wish I knew for sure that he was coming back.

Pressing my forehead to the cool glass window, I gave my father one last look as the train picked up speed and cleared the platform.

I wished the same thing.

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