Chapter 3

Edward liked to read.

It pleased Carlisle, because it was something they could share. Over the years, books were often his only companionship, and he had sought out stories in place of either one of his own kind, or the humans with whom he couldn’t interact. To share reading with Edward, then, was to share this secret part of himself.

A well-placed letter to the landlord of the tenement building—along with a hefty cheque and promise of twice as much after the goods were delivered—had resulted in a shipment of Carlisle’s belongings. And so, once again, Carlisle found himself surrounded by books and art, these physical things which had been his constant companions.

At least, they had been before now.

“Which ones are your favorites?” Edward asked, one night as he lay on Carlisle’s bare chest on their couch. Being touched had quickly moved from foreign to comfortable, and Carlisle found he liked it—the feeling of Edward’s silken hair beneath his fingers, or the warmth of Edward’s bare skin against his own.

He could spend eternity like this, he thought, and it was the first time he had ever had a reason to think those words.

At this, Edward stretched like a cat, his muscles rippling so that Carlisle could see each individual contraction and release. “Am I that much of a distraction?” he asked coyly.

Carlisle laughed, and ruffled his hair, and at once, buried his nose near Edward’s ear. In a fraction of a second, Edward’s head turned and their lips met, in one of the short, searing kisses Carlisle was still only barely used to. When they broke apart, he found he was strangely breathless.

“You are the best kind of distraction,” he whispered.

Edward chuckled and buried his face back in Carlisle’s collarbone, pressing his groin into Carlisle’s leg and eliciting a faint whimper.

Edward only grinned.

They kissed often now. Edward’s bringing the secret to the fore meant that Carlisle was free to indulge. It had been awkward at first, and Edward was often the instigator, approaching Carlisle and catching him unaware. He might be sitting at his desk, reading or writing in his journal when suddenly in Edward would fly, and he would find himself showered with kisses. It was bizarre, to go from being so utterly alone to suddenly having nothing but constant physical contact. And yet it was nice, also.

A finger poked Carlisle’s chest.

“I asked you a question.”

Edward was kneeling now, straddling Carlisle, with his hair hanging over his temple. The style was for men to wear their hair slicked against their scalps with pomade, but Edward didn’t care for it, and it his bronze locks were beautifully untidy, youthful, and wild.

“You did,” Carlisle answered, a smile spreading across his face. “My favorites. Hmm. Robert Louis Stevenson, I suppose. And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Perhaps Austen? Shakespeare, too.”

Edward frowned. “Adventure and mystery and romance. You are unbearably wishy-washy.”

“Many things may strike my fancy in any given moment.” A quick jerk upward allowed him to brush a kiss against Edward’s cheek, and the returned kiss kept them both occupied for a few minutes.

“You should pick something out,” Carlisle whispered at last. “Perhaps Austen? You could use a lesson in romance.”

Carlisle found himself bopped with a cushion, and as he grabbed Edward’s shoulders, they both crashed off the couch with a loud bang. They were both laughing so hard their chests heaved.

“Don’t…tell…me…about…romance,” Edward gasped through his laughter. “I’ll show you.”

He jumped to his feet and sauntered to the bookcase, scrutinizing the contents with an exaggerated concentration. He’d failed to pull his suspenders back over his shoulders, and his trousers hung loosely, exposing just the top of his buttocks.

Carlisle swallowed.

“Aha,” Edward said at last, with a triumphant grin. He lifted a volume of Plutarch over his head like a prize. “This is what I’ll read.”

“The Moralia?”

“You disapprove?”

Carlisle shrugged. “I told you, I prefer Stevenson. But, to each his own, I suppose.” Next to the couch lay the copy of Anna Karenina which had been upended and abandoned in haste when Edward had attacked. Carlisle gathered it and settled himself back into a supine position, with one knee curled beneath him in hopes it would hide the hardness in his trousers.

As soon as Carlisle had the thought, he saw Edward’s eyes flicker to his pants. It truly was no use.

But Edward simply settled back in at Carlisle’s side, and said nothing as he opened the book and began to read.

The Moralia.

Well, it was probably not a bad thing for at least one of them to be considering what might and might not be immoral.

Carlisle nestled into the couch and resumed his reading.

~||x||~

Compared to the bustling streets Carlisle had known in Chicago, the streets of Ashland were a ghost town. The downtown consisted of a handful of low, simple buildings which barely obscured the view out to the vast lake beyond. A small school sat at the end of the main street, and as Carlisle made his way down the immaculate sidewalk, he smiled at the ruddy-faced children playing tether-ball and running and screaming on the small playground.

An automobile passed him, its driver a dark-haired man wearing a top hat and driving gloves. The man peered curiously at Carlisle, and Carlisle waved in what he hoped would be read as an expression of good cheer.

He knew he stood out.

It was part of their offense, Aro had told him once. All vampires were inordinately beautiful and sexually appealing. The better to attract their prey.

The idea had repulsed Carlisle, and he never questioned about it again. But it continued to haunt him; although he wanted nothing more than to be recognized and accepted as equal to the humans he saw around him, they always treated him as an outsider. Whether it was a matter of the constant flirtation he received from hospital nurses, or other men being distrustful of him, or even a stranger thinking that perhaps he was a silent film star, his appearance created distance where he didn’t want it.

Except with Edward.

The mere thought caused a dull ache in both his heart and his groin.

Edward was home this afternoon. They’d spent the morning tangled together on Carlisle’s bed reading, just limbs and skin and little sharp kisses that were more like pinpricks than anything. When they tired of kissing, they returned to lie skin-to-skin while they read.

Lately, he’d been encouraging Edward in his study of the ancients. It was one of the things Edward remembered; he’d been in his seventh year in the Latin school, and his reading skills were still sharp. Carlisle was grateful, for the language gave Edward something of his human life to cling to. Their kind had perfect memories—but only for the time after they were Changed. In a cruel joke, one was destined to lose all but the strongest memories of one’s humanity, and yet to be able to vividly relive every stultifying second of eternity as an immortal, which made the loss of the human memories every bit more excruciating.

And it had already begun in force for Edward. Carlisle saw the way he occasionally stared out the window as though completely lost in thought. Once, when Carlisle approached and asked what he was doing, Edward simply blinked, answering candidly, “Trying to remember my parents.” Then he walked to his room and closed the door.

Carlisle had known better than to follow. Edward emerged a few hours later.

Unlike Edward’s memories of his parents, however, Latin was something Carlisle could help him keep sharp. They’d begun with the Aeneid, and it wasn’t long before Carlisle found himself reciting bits and pieces of Homer as background. For his part, Edward seemed intrigued by the story, both in English, as Carlisle translated it to him, but also in its original Greek. He marveled at how much more quickly his enhanced brain could hold the new language.

So Carlisle had come into town to investigate the small bookshop, in hopes of perhaps finding an old Greek textbook, or even a catalog from which he could send away for one.

To get to the bookshop, he needed to pass the Ashland hospital, a low, two-story building made of a dark red brick. From the outside, it appeared indistinguishable from a large house, and it was only the sign in front that even let Carlisle know what it was.

He paused before the building, staring at the sign until its letters seemed to blur.

Once he had longed to stay inside a hospital all day, every day. It had only been a few short months…

He stopped and counted. When the armistice was been signed and the Great War finally came to its close, he and Edward were secluded in the woods of Wisconsin. At Christmas, Carlisle unstopped the chimney and they built a roaring fire. On Carlisle’s birthday, Edward had taken him for a spectacular hunt near a frozen waterfall. They’d celebrated May Day like the rest of the citizens of this cold tundra, by running outside in the sun and the very beginning hints of warmth. Edward’s eighteenth birthday had been spent buried under the quilt on Carlisle’s bed.

And summer had easily given way to fall, and the first nip of frost was already threatening to bite…

Carlisle hadn’t seen the inside of a hospital in nearly a year.

First it had been the necessity of training Edward, then the necessity of staying near him, then simply reveling in his company. But Edward was nearly a year into this new life, the time when he would naturally show more temperance.

After all, Carlisle had left him alone this afternoon.

When he heard footsteps, he simply assumed they would pass him by, and before he realized he was being approached, the woman was already looking him over.

“Something I can do to help you, son?”

Carlisle turned. Beneath her long coat, he could see the white tights and dress, and in her hand was clutched the hat which marked her profession.

Of course. It was late afternoon, getting toward twilight. The time when the night shift would be coming on.

The time when he himself had once arrived to work.

For the first time since Edward had come into his life, Carlisle felt an odd pang of sadness.

The nurse stared at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I was thinking.”

“A hospital is an odd place to stand and think.” She frowned. “Are you new to town?”

He nodded. “I live out closer to the county line, but yes. We—I came here a few months ago.” He offered his hand. “Cullen. Doctor Carlisle Cullen.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Doctor?”

“Er…” He began to backpedal at once, but before he had a chance to think about what to say next, she cut him off.

“We only have three doctors here now.”

Carlisle blinked. “Three?”

He’d worked at small hospitals before, ones that served tiny towns with one-room schoolhouses, where if an injury was at all serious, the patient would need to be carted to the real hospital some distance away. But Ashland was a port, with the population and business to match. It needed more than three doctors.

“Some of them got called up to the war. Others of them, they went into the war hospitals ’cause they pay more, and then they haven’t come back. And some got scared of the Spanish Flu, even though we barely got any up here.” She stared up at him, and for a long moment, neither of them said anything.

“We need doctors,” she said finally.

The day was overcast, but Carlisle could still see that the sun was dipping its way toward the horizon, lighting the clouds in an odd lavender hue. It reminded him of the sunset with Edward, a few weeks after they’d arrived in Ashland, when they stood on the shore of the lake, watching as the huge orange disc slowly sank beneath the lake water. His arms encircled Edward’s still-slender waist, and he rested his chin on Edward’s shoulder.

Edward had wondered that Carlisle wasn’t bored. Being forced to stay in one place, to spend his days watching over Edward, terrified that something would go wrong. Missing out on practicing medicine, when it was so obvious that it had been his passion for so long.

Carlisle laughed. “I’ve never had such reason to enjoy being in the same place,” he said. “You are everything to me.”

He’d meant it. He would give up medicine again and again for the perfect contentment he felt in Edward’s presence. Edward was everything.

But could there be room for everything and a little more?

Before he knew it, he was following the nurse inside.

~||x||~

Edward’s skin was warm almost to the point of burning as Carlisle ran his fingers up and down the bare spine. Edward shivered and giggled, burying his face in Carlisle’s shoulder, as Carlisle locked his arms around him in return. There was no end to his fascination with the way that he could feel Edward’s skin against his body. There needed to be nothing beyond this—lying with their legs entwined before a roaring fire, hands running over each other’s chests.

And Edward tasted amazing. If he admitted it, Carlisle wasn’t a terribly good kisser. He had no experience. But he and Edward figured it out together. That opening lips was a signal for tongue, that a tongue thrust deep into the other’s mouth could be exquisitely delicious, that a groan of pleasure muffled by locked lips could send charges of electricity down both their bodies.

So it was tonight, as Edward writhed under Carlisle, his body sending surges of energy that seemed to course straight to Carlisle’s groin. The shopping excursion had taken most of the day, and when he returned home with a tattered Greek reader, and the shopkeeper’s promise to procure an additional one, Edward had taken one look at the book, tossed it aside, and pounced.

That had been three hours ago. And of course, his shopping had been truncated by the hospital…

He shook his head. He wouldn’t tell Edward about that. Not yet.

“Where are you, Carlisle?” Edward’s voice called, at once bringing Carlisle back to the room and to the heat of the fire. He began to shower Edward’s face with tiny pecks again.

“I’m right here,” he answered.

“Hardly.” Edward laughed. “And what is it about the hospital?”

“Nothing,” Carlisle said, at once drawing an arbitrary connection. “The hospital reminds me of the hospital where I found you,” he said, and Edward’s face seemed to relax.

“Where you snatched me, you mean,” he said, but he was smiling.

Carlisle punched him in the shoulder, and they both laughed. “I save you from dying, and you call it snatching? I wanted you.”

“You only wanted me because of my mother,” Edward teased, stroking Carlisle’s hip and eliciting an odd, helpless whimper.

Carlisle pecked Edward on the nose. Edward’s face had once been freckled, but they had disappeared in The Change. His perfect memory recalled them, however, and it was to one of the now-vanished spots that Carlisle swept his lips.

“Your mother was a bright woman,” he whispered.

Edward smiled wanly. He didn’t usually tolerate discussion of his parents.

“Are you thinking of her?” Carlisle whispered.

Edward shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said quietly. “She wouldn’t…well.”

Suddenly, he sat upright, with his back to Carlisle. Like Carlisle’s, Edward’s feet were bare; this was the extent of intimacy that Carlisle would tolerate. They hunted without shirts, and so their first kiss had been that way, too; bare chest to bare chest, Edward tracing a pattern through Carlisle’s much thicker chest hair.

In the months since, their kissing had always been this way; without shirts, but with trousers firmly fastened, sometimes to the point of suspenders still slung over bare shoulders. Carlisle liked that best: nipping at the tender skin next to the suspender, kissing Edward’s collarbone, where his teeth had left their prints.

The one indulgence he allowed them was this other scant display of skin, from the toes to the ankle, and so as they lay before the fire each night, their bare feet touched and tickled and caressed.

In the firelight, Edward’s hair shone, the flickering light glinting off the red in his hair so that it glowed.

“Edward?”

“I remember my parents fighting, sometimes,” he said quietly, not turning to face Carlisle. “When they thought I wasn’t around them?” He closed his eyes. “My father thought my mother coddled me. That I would turn out…” he trailed off, but Carlisle knew what he was going to say.

Like this.

Edward abruptly changed the subject. “I’ve been reading,” he said.

Carlisle chuckled. “That doesn’t surprise me.” What else was there for him to do?

Even as he made the joke, however, Carlisle’s stomach wrenched. Edward had an insatiable intellect—a fact which as far as Carlisle was concerned, drew them together. In their first weeks, Edward had peppered Carlisle with questions about their existence: What did he know about older vampires? Were there ones older than the brothers in Italy? How old was Carlisle, really? What had it been like, coming across the ocean in a giant sailing ship? Before Boston had trolley cars?

It had been exhausting, but Carlisle lovingly answered each one. And with each piece of information, they’d seemed to grow closer.

But still, Edward ached for anything he could learn. When Carlisle went to town—which was rare, he hated being away from Edward—Edward would beg him for a newspaper. Current news, recent past, or ancient history; Edward wanted it all.

At some point, Carlisle knew, he would need to send the boy to a university. But the thought made his stomach wrench.

For the time being, he could pretend it was about the bloodlust.

Edward scooted himself around Carlisle’s head to reach the tome he’d left lying on the floor. The Plutarch, Carlisle saw at once. The firelight danced across the page as Edward opened the book to his bookmark. Carlisle smiled. Bookmarks were unnecessary for them, of course, but one day, Edward would move among humans. And when that day came, he would need to have made a habit of things like bookmarks. He leaned against Carlisle and pretended to read, though Carlisle guessed that Edward had memorized the passage.

Ye boys, who come of noble sires and beauteous are in face,

Grudge not to give to valiant men the joy of your embrace,

For the love that does the limbs relax combined with bravery,

In the Chalcidiean cities has fame that ne’er shall die.”

At this, Carlisle sat up, breaking their contact. He was breathing heavily, which was silly. Taking a steadying breath, he turned away.

“Surely you noted that the piece is called A Dialogue on Love, Edward,” he said, only barely managing to make his comment sound playful.

Edward rolled his eyes. “The counterargument is weak, and you know it,” he answered, flipping hastily to another page and reading another quote.

For sight seems to paint all other fancies on a wet ground, so soon do they fade and recede from the memory, but the images of lovers, painted by the fancy as it were on encaustic tiles, leave impressions on the memory that move, and live, and speak, and are permanent for all time. The Roman Cato, indeed, said that the soul of the lover resided in the soul of the loved one.”

Like a cat, Edward stretched himself across Carlisle’s body. “The soul of the lover resides in the soul of the loved one,” he repeated, laying his head on Carlisle’s collarbone. “So my soul resides in yours.” He leaned in, and at once, his overheated skin was against Carlisle’s, causing them both to harden.

“I love you,” he whispered.

Carlisle’s throat seemed to catch. He’d wanted to utter those words to Edward. How long had he meant to tell the boy, “I love you,” and he hadn’t for fear he would scare him away?

And now there the words were, and Carlisle found himself tongue-tied.

“I’ve taken a job at the hospital,” he blurted.

Edward blinked. “You’ve what?”

“You’re ready to be alone. You have the same self-control that I have. You can make it a few hours each day without my company. And they need me there.”

A cold shock hit Carlisle’s skin as Edward pulled away. For a long time, he didn’t answer. When he did, he addressed his words to the wall.

“What will I do without you?”

“You’ll read more.” He playfully ran a finger down Edward’s nose. “I’ll have to buy you more books.”

But Edward didn’t laugh. Instead, he pulled himself into a ball, his knees coming up to his chest and his arms wrapping around them as though for warmth. Which was of course unnecessary, as not only did he not need to stay warm, his skin was already near searing.

“Edward, come,” Carlisle murmured. “I’ll be home every day to lie with you like this. It won’t change. But people here need my help, and I’m trained, and I’m good at what I do. It would be uncharitable for me not to work.”

He reached out to stroke Edward’s hair, that sensitive, ticklish spot at the nape of his neck that so often caused the chin to tip upward and the soft lips to meet his own.

But before he could make contact, Edward’s bedroom door slammed, and Carlisle was left clutching air.

~||x||~

He was forced to knock on Edward’s door after a day and a half.

“I have to go to the hospital,” he said. “They’re expecting me.”

The bed creaked ever so slightly, as though Edward were shifting position, but Carlisle heard no feet coming toward the door. He knew Edward was still in the room—Carlisle heard the rustling of pages that told him Edward was reading.

Edward was safe, and at least Carlisle knew where he was. But his mind jogged ahead of him anyway. What if he was wrong, leaving Edward alone? What if he killed?

What if he left?

Carlisle pressed his forehead to the door, inhaling Edward’s scent where it crept over the threshold. “Please don’t leave,” he whispered.

There was no answer.

The Ashland hospital was so different from Cook County. Part of this was of course due to the influenza having subsided, but part of it was also the size. Ashland was a tiny fraction of the population of Chicago, and the three—now four—physicians served it easily.

On his first day, Carlisle treated two patients; a woman with bronchitis, and a ten-year-old boy with the measles. He’d expected it to feel strange, returning to medicine after almost a year, and after his own life had changed so completely. Wouldn’t it be different to practice medicine no longer as the outsider, but now as someone who had been humanized by the addition of a companion? He’d expected he would miss Edward, and crave the opportunity to get home and tell Edward about his day.

But instead he became lost in the medicine, in the diseases and the diagnoses, in writing down temperatures and pulses and observations. It was freeing. Carlisle felt oddly whole.

And that made him feel guilty.

He raced home at the end of his shift, and as soon as he crossed the threshold, went straight to the second floor.

Edward’s door was still closed.

~||x||~

“You have to hunt.”

Carlisle slumped against Edward’s bedroom door, his nose flattened as he pressed it hard against the wood. The door creaked and gave a bit in answer.

“Edward…”

The bedsprings creaked, and for a moment, Carlisle thought that perhaps Edward was getting himself off the bed and coming to unlock the door. But a moment later, the bed went quiet again. He could break down the door, of course, but it wasn’t an emergency, yet. It had been three days since their fight, and ten days since their last hunt. Longer than Edward had gone before, but not an impossible amount of time by any means. Edward was almost a year old now, and his thirst was more and more in control seemingly by the minute.

“Then leave me alone,” growled the voice from the other side of the door. “I’m fine, Carlisle.”

“I just don’t want you to”—be angry with me—“slip.”

“I won’t slip,” came the reply. And a split second later, “And you could’ve thought about me being angry with you before you took the job.”

The bedsprings creaked again, and Carlisle heard a shift in the position of Edward’s bedclothes that seemed to indicate he’d thrown a pillow over his ears. It wouldn’t help.

“I know it won’t. What would help is you going away.”

Carlisle sighed. He turned his back to the door and slid down until he was sitting on the floor, with his knees pulled up to his chest. He buried his head in his knees so that his hair fell forward over his forehead.

He’d ruined it.

Out of greed, he’d ruined it. Before Edward, there had been nothing but medicine. The long days and nights in the hospital sustained him, kept him sane. And the pang that shot through him when he saw the desolate hospital here was real.

He loved Edward.

He missed medicine.

“I don’t know how to have you both,” he whispered.

And though he knew that even behind the door and under the pillow, Edward had still heard him, no answer came.

~||x||~

Like his home, Carlisle’s new office at the hospital was nearly bare. He had two items that traveled with him from hospital to hospital—a small grandmother clock, and the painting from Childe Hassam.

He stared at it now, remembering the conversation he’d had with it—had it really been only scant months ago? The hospital here in Ashland was quieter than Cook County had been; street violence and cars and horses and the sheer crowding of people in Chicago meant that illness and injury were common occurrences. Not so, here. The occasional case of the measles kept a patient here; and sometimes women came in for childbirths, farmers and ship hands had minor accidents.

It was peaceful, and for that, Carlisle was thankful.

Two weeks had passed since the night when he and Edward had lain entwined on the rug before the fire. Sometimes, Carlisle would come home to find that the books had been shuffled around as though Edward had been reading them. He could smell animal blood in the entry; it seemed Edward hunted almost daily.

These things were all small comfort, but Edward still wasn’t speaking to him.

So when Carlisle’s door swung open, the last person he expected was Edward.

He shot to his feet, and at once cast around for any humans who might have seen him. And at once, he checked Edward’s eyes. They were a violent shade of gold.

“You hunted,” Carlisle breathed.

Edward only chuckled. “I’m not stupid, Carlisle.” He stalked across the room, his hips swinging with each step. It was sultry and it was attractive and it set Carlisle entirely on edge.

Carlisle took a step backward. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Already he felt his panic rising. He had long ago inured himself to the scent of blood, but Edward was still a newborn. And one who had barely been exposed to humans—Carlisle’s fault, of course.

“I came to see you.” Pushing aside some of Carlisle’s papers, Edward moved so that one of his hips slid onto Carlisle’s desk.

“You can’t be here.”

Edward shrugged. “I am here.” He leaned over the desk. “And I just hunted. I’ve been hunting every day, sometimes more than that. Aren’t you proud of me? I’m safe, Carlisle. I can be part of this part of your life, too.”

“Edward—”

“That was it, wasn’t it? You told me I couldn’t come here because of the blood. Because I would be tempted. But I’m not tempted. No more than you are.” He leaned across the desk, his breath lolling hot against Carlisle’s cheek.

“If you’re going to be away all day,” he muttered, “then I can join you when I wish.”

Carlisle shoved himself backward, hoping Edward’s eyes wouldn’t drift to his no-doubt noticeable arousal.

Of course, having thought it, he saw Edward’s eyes move there at once. A smile spread across his face.

“It isn’t safe for you here.”

“Why? Because of the blood?” He shook his head and laughed. “Carlisle, I’m fine. Besides, we’re in your office. No one here is going to bleed.”

One thing they could be thankful for. For a fleeting moment, Carlisle’s mind flickered away to fingernails, scraping their way down bare chests, to the sizzling heat of kisses licking their way up a neckline, of hands clutched at the napes of necks…

He blinked, at once beginning to recite the patients he’d seen today. James Callahan, twenty-five, a new father, sliced his hand open with a kitchen knife while his wife was nursing their baby. Temperature was ninety-eight point eight, wound required seven stitches to close. Clara Dunworthy, sixty-five, whooping cough caught from her nephew. Temperature was ninety-seven point six

“Stop it.”

Edward’s eyes were narrow and dark with anger as he leaned over the desk again. He was slighter than Carlisle, and Carlisle figured that with enough surprise, he could potentially forcibly remove Edward from his office.

“Really? You’d try to remove me?” Edward’s smile was bemused now. “And exactly how would you do that? Moreover, why?”

Carlisle stood, placing his hands on his desk and leaning toward Edward so that their eyes were level and they were nearly nose-to-nose. “Edward, you cannot be here. This is my place of work.”

Edward snorted. “As I recall, being in your place of work didn’t stop you initially.”

At once there was another set of lips on his own. Hot, moving against his, a tongue probing at the seam between his lips. And much to Carlisle’s embarrassment, he was kissing back, his hand reaching behind Edward’s neck and crushing him in closer, eliciting a loud groan from Edward.

Then there were footsteps in the hallway.

Carlisle jerked with such force he sent his chair flying into the wall; a bit of cinder block chipped off and rained dust to the floor.

“Who—” Edward started, but Carlisle shook his head.

The door swung open.

“Dr. Cullen, I—” It was another of the hospital doctors. Dr. Taylor, like Carlisle, had come from the city to Ashland, though in his case the city was merely Madison. He stopped abruptly when he saw Edward sitting in the chair. “I’m sorry. Am I interrupting a consultation?”

“No, not at all,” Carlisle answered, offering a quick and fervent prayer that Dr. Taylor would fail to notice that his tie was askew.

“This is”—he thought quickly—”my brother-in-law.”

A furious, wounded look crossed Edward’s face in a split-second before he settled his features back into a sweet, complacent smile.

The other man frowned. “I didn’t know you were married, Dr. Cullen.” Then he smirked. “The nurses will be devastated.”

“No, I’m—” Not able to think fast enough, that’s what. “She’s passed. In the Spanish flu.” He’d keep the lie close to the truth.

Edward’s eyebrows shot up. His chest was still; he’d stopped his breathing as soon as the other doctor entered. Perhaps he was ready for more human interaction, after all.

“Edward, Dr. Taylor.” He gestured to them both in turn. Edward gave a slight nod of his head, and Carlisle let a shy smile creep onto his face.

“My apologies, Edward has always been somewhat shy.”

Daggers.

“Well, I was just bringing by my notes on your whooping cough patient, Dr. Cullen. My apologies for interrupting your meeting.” He handed over a chart, and Carlisle thanked him. They both listened, utterly still, until the footsteps were far enough away that they knew he would be out of earshot.

Carlisle let out a shuddering sigh of relief.

Edward exploded.

“Your brother-in-law?”

“What did you expect me to say?” And for that matter, what were they? Sire and newborn? Friends?

Edward’s lip curled, and at once he shoved himself away from the desk.

“There is a name for it,” he snarled.

“Edward—”

He growled. “I’ll see you at home.”

The papers on Carlisle’s desk rustled as Edward fled the room.

~||x||~

It was snowing by the time Carlisle arrived home, the flakes sticking to his own frigid skin and piling up. It would all disappear the moment he crossed the threshold, he knew, but tonight, he didn’t open the door. He laid a hand on the knocker instead and dropped his head against it.

He hadn’t meant to anger Edward. And the younger vampire was right; there was a name for what they were doing.

Drawing the curtains.

Becoming nancys.

Being three-letter men.

He’d thought it was going to stop when Edward was turned. That once the boy was a vampire, Carlisle’s cravings for Edward’s body would disappear along with the cravings for his blood.

But they hadn’t. And though he was trying, it was impossible to keep things from taking the course they seemed to want to take. He couldn’t hide the way he grew hard when Edward kissed him, or suppress the groan when Edward touched him just further, he didn’t want to. He’d missed the last almost two weeks, of Edward lying with his legs entangled in Carlisle’s at night, of the long, slender, piano-commanding fingers snaking their way gently down Carlisle’s chest.

His mind drifted back to Childe, to the laughter they’d shared on the Boston Common. To the awful conversation when Childe revealed he was going away to Paris. To the letters that arrived when Childe returned; and which Carlisle answered, knowing he could never again resume in-person contact.

Now, life had granted him another companion. A friend who knew him, who could talk to him, who could lie beside him at night and run his hands over Carlisle’s chest. Someone he could shower with kisses and cling to in the dark. Someone to laugh with again.

As much as he hated to admit it, this last fortnight spent apart from Edward had been excruciating.

“I miss you,” he whispered to the frozen knocker.

The door swung open so quickly he stumbled, but a pair of strong arms caught him, and he found himself looking up into a pair of honey-amber eyes.

For a second, they stood there, Carlisle caught in Edward’s arms.

“You miss me,” Edward breathed at last.

The plaster rained down on his shoulders before Carlisle even registered that he’d been thrown into the wall. Edward’s lips were on his, hungry and insistent, searing into him as their bodies met.

They were the same height, but proportioned the same, too—long torsos and long legs, and it was such that their shoulders met at the same spot, as did their chests, and their groins…

Edward reached between them, grabbing at Carlisle through his pants and eliciting a helpless whimper. Carlisle slapped his hand away, but before Edward had a moment to react, suddenly it was Carlisle who had Edward against the wall, his hand mashed against Edward’s groin with such force it caused Edward to yelp and snarl.

But that Edward’s face resolved at once into a wide grin told Carlisle he was doing just fine.

“You miss me,” he said again, turning the words around in his mouth as though they were a completely novel utterance.

“Yes. I miss you,” Carlisle repeated.

He stroked Edward through his pants, causing a shudder so violent the wall shook and the chandelier swayed over their heads.

“I miss you.”

Another shove, this time, one which flattened Edward’s back against the wall as Carlisle flattened his own body against him.

“I miss you.”

Edward had foregone suspenders again today, and his trousers slid easily off his slender hips. That he had nothing on underneath should not have come as a shock—Carlisle knew Edward found union suits restrictive—but nonetheless Edward’s sudden nakedness was surprising and erotic. At once, Carlisle moved his hands to Edward’s bare buttocks, clutching him even closer, pressing Edward’s erection to his own. Burying his face in Edward’s neck, he left a burning trail of kisses from Edward’s jawbone to his collar before dropping swiftly to his knees.

What he saw startled him. Babies were born in hospitals these days, and so the procedure which had once been reserved for differentiating Jews from Gentiles had become commonplace for all men. To promote sanitation, argued the medical journals, and Carlisle had adhered to the new procedures as well, taking his scalpel to the tender penises of newborns before they were swaddled and returned to the women who’d borne them.

But the routine was still sufficiently new that Carlisle had rarely encountered a circumcised adult. Fascinated, he ran his fingertips over Edward’s member. It was smooth and silken and woodenly erect. He ran his fingers up to the head, finding the tiny spot underneath where the doctor had cut eighteen years before.

He touched the tip of his tongue to the scar, causing Edward to yelp. A moment later, Carlisle found both his ears clamped as though his head were in a vise, the tip of Edward’s member nudging urgently at his closed lips. Instinctively, he opened his mouth.

Edward reached his completion on his first stroke inward, slobbering a noise that was somewhere between a snarl and a whine. Sticky venom spurted onto the roof of Carlisle’s mouth and dribbled from his lips before he had a chance to even try to swallow, which he found to be a tricky maneuver with another man’s organ in his mouth.

Withdrawing and releasing his grip on Carlisle’s head, Edward whimpered and shuddered as he went flaccid and Carlisle stood.

“I’m sorry—” he began, but Carlisle only shushed him and pulled him close, entwining his fingers in the bronze locks and pressing Edward’s face to his shoulder. He swayed a little bit, as though he was rocking a baby, reveling in the feel of Edward’s naked body against him.

“I missed you,” he whispered again, his lips brushing Edward’s ear with each syllable. “I missed you so much.”

And when Edward followed him upstairs and tumbled naked into his bed ten minutes later, Carlisle knew his apology had been accepted.

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