We had just finished hunting when the phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket much slower than I used to, hanging on to the moment's hope I shouldn't have had. Maybe, maybe it was Edward calling. It was an impossibly long shot, as he called so rarely these days. Once a week, if I was lucky, and those times hurt more than they helped really. The pain in his voice was agony for me, but not hearing his voice at all…that was worse. The longer I took to look at the screen, the longer I could keep that hope. It rang four times before I held it up, let my eyes fall on the lit window.
Jasper. Not Edward. Calm down, Carlisle. I sighed, felt the half-anxious hope fade, and answered on the fifth ring. "Hello?"
"Father…" My hand shot out to grab onto the closest tree, leaning more heavily on it than I should have. That was something I hardly ever heard from Jasper, though it wasn't what made my body freeze. The tone of his voice… He sounded almost wildly desperate, barely under control of his own emotions. That never happened.
"I…maybe you should come home, first, I can tell you-"
"Jasper, please…" I could hear his breath, heavy and uneven. Absently, I heard the soft whirr of wind and barely stirring leaves that marked Esme's return to my side. Still, he had said nothing. "Is Alice…?"
"She's…she's…it's not that. Carlisle, Rose called Edward. She says she only wanted him to come home." His voice was different now, harder, but I could hardly notice the anger. Edward, Edward, my son… "She told him that Alice saw Bella jump, and she told him…" His next breath sounded more like a growl, though he recovered quickly. "She told him Bella was dead, that he should come home because it was over. She didn't think, she never thinks…" Another growl, and I could see in my mind exactly how he would look, shaking off the anger. "He…Carlisle's he's gone to Italy."
"No." In my mind, I screamed it, but in reality it was almost too soft for even my ears to pick up. I could feel Esme press against my side, her arms wrapping around my waist. There was an unbelievable sort of numbness to it. Italy. Volterra. Edward. No, no, no…
"Alice has Bella, and they're on a plane right now, I just spoke to them. They're going to try to head him off, but they don't know if they have time, Aro's turned him down and his plans keep changing. If they can reach him in time, Alice thinks Bella's the only one he'll listen to. Emmett left for the airport to get us a flight, and I was going to pick you up and follow but Alice told me to tell him no, and I'm chasing him down now….she says if he…if he sees us…"
He couldn't evens say it, and he didn't have to. I didn't want him to. "No, no we can't. I…" I what? What was I going to do? What could I do? Nothing, clearly. Bella was the only hope, and she was already in motion. There was nothing, not one thing I could do. My son was in the darkest hours of his life, and I was powerless. I could not even go to him, and though I had feared losing him many times since last September, I had never imagined it would feel quite like this. "We'll meet you at the airport. We can…wait for them together."
"Alright." He hesitated, and I waited, knowing there was something else he wanted to say. "Carlisle, his…their chances…"
I clicked the phone shut before he could finish, though I immediately felt a wave of guilt. I had never hung up on him before. And I knew, logically, that he was trying to help, to…lower my expectations. I couldn't bear to hear it, and I hoped he understood.
One look down at my wife told me she had heard it all, and I couldn't help but wonder if my eyes were that same mixture of terrified agony. "Edward…" Her voice shook, and I crushed her to me in a tight embrace, her own arms clinging to me with equal frantic desperation. The need to feel her, to keep her locked tight against me was so deep that for a long moment I could not let go, even to run. I could feel the almost wild desperation in the shaky way I buried my face against her shoulder, the feel of her uneven breath on my chest through the thin material of my shirt. "Carlisle, do you think…maybe if he saw me…maybe I should…"
A sharp lance of pain shot through my chest at the thought of her there in Volterra, in the same place as the guard, standing against them… My grip tightened further, muscles tensing. No. I could not let her go, not there. Not even if I went with her. I knew Edward as deeply as I loved him, understood him as only a father could. He had become Bella's, wholly. He would not live without her, now. If it had been anything else, she might have been right. Like all good men, he avoided at almost any cost causing his mother pain. Seeing her like this might have done it, if only it had been anything else. But Bella? No. It hurt to think it, to think that her words, her sorrow could do nothing to change this. If I was being honest with myself, it hurt even more to think that my words would be equally powerless, that he would not even stop to listen. Still, I knew it was true. "No. We can't, Esme. He…he wouldn't…he's made up his mind, now. Nothing will stop him except for her. He wouldn't stop long enough to listen, to even see us. The minute he heard our minds…" I shut down that line of thought before it could go any farther. "No. We can't."
She shuddered, a soft sob escaping her. The sound pulled at my chest as it always did, but I could hardly comfort her in the state I was in now. She took a deep breath, pushed against me gently until I reluctantly eased up on my grip. Without breaking contact for a moment her fingers slid down my arm, her hand fitting tightly into mine. "We should-"
"Wait." It was stupid, pointless. I knew it wouldn't work. Still…I pulled the phone out again, my thumb flying over the familiar numbers. Esme squeezed my hand tighter, leaned her forehead against my shoulder. Please, Edward, please, please…
"Hello, you've reached Edward Cullen. If you have a message for me, please leave it and I will be certain to get back to you as soon as I can."
I slid it shut slowly, the soft click echoing in the quiet. I was right. It had been stupid. Pointless. So why had I not been able to stop myself? The desperation seemed beyond all reason, the need to talk to him so strong it was undeniable, physically impossible to keep myself from trying every avenue. No matter how unsuccessful I already knew it would be. "I…"
I felt her head shift, her lips press against my shoulder. "You had to try, of course. I know."
Without another word, we began to run.
The corner of the airport we were in was fairly quiet. I had watched Jasper pace for the past 15 minutes, but he had give up, for the time being. He was, at the moment, slumped against the wall, statue still with his head in his hands. He had given up trying to soothe us when he knew he couldn't even soothe himself, and had instead settled for a sort of uneasy calm. Nothing felt as bad as it should have. Mostly, we didn't feel like anything at all. Numb was preferable, though, all things considered.
Emmett had given up on comforting Rose as well. She had been crying when we got here, and though she had let me hug her, she would not talk to me. Emmett sat beside her still, his arm around her shoulders. She was as unresponsive to him, though, as she had been to me. She wanted to speak to no one.
Which, of course, did not stop Esme from trying. The love of a parent for their child goes so far beyond reason, it had not occurred to either of us to be angry with Rosalie. I would, certainly, speak to her about her actions later. It was impossible, however, to take anything out on her when she was hurting. If there was anyone to blame, it was her, but she already knew it, and that had hurt her enough. No matter what she did or didn't do, I knew she loved her brother, and I knew this was the last thing she had wanted.
At the moment, Esme wasn't trying to make her listen, wasn't even trying to speak at all. She simply sat on her other side, holding her hand, stroking her hair every time she pulled out her phone to check it compulsively. A tick we had all acquired, it seemed. Worthless, really, because we all knew Alice would call Jasper, and Aro…Aro would call me, if he called at all.
I leaned back, shutting my eyes against the glare of the fluorescent lights. It didn't help. I could see his face clearer this way, as clearly as only one of our kind could. My son. I loved them all dearly, beyond anything I could have ever described, and though it could never be said that I had a favorite, I was closest to Edward. It was only natural, really. He was my 'oldest', my first. My love for him went back so far it seemed foreign to remember a time without it.
And I had never been as terrified as I was today, not even when he had left before. It had been different then. Then, I had always known he would come back. He had, of course. Sooner than I had really expected, but far longer than I had hoped. Four years, four long years of not knowing where he was, not ever hearing word of him from anyone. Four years, after which he had appeared as suddenly as he had vanished.
I had been listening to the rain on the roof for the past two hours. It was Sunday, and Esme had left for awhile to go hand out quilts to some of the families on the streets and on the poorer side of town. We had not been effected by The Depression, but even if we had I knew she still would have been giving whatever she could away. It was second nature to her, as easy as breathing.
But that left me home alone, and the clinic was closed. I was just contemplating which book I might want to reread when I heard the knock on the door. By force of habit, my chest tightened at the sound, but the feeling was far more reflex by now than it was true anticipation. I knew it would be one of the neighbor's at the door, or perhaps a patient. It was rather nasty out, there could have been an accident.
I was so lost in those thoughts that when I pulled open the door, I barely noticed at first. He was looking down, his hair soaking wet and dripping water onto the deck. His shoulders were hunched slightly, muscles tense, nervous. Quickly, his head rose, pleading eyes boring into mine. "Carlisle, I…"
I stepped forward, pulled him to me fiercely. There was no thought behind the action, nothing but instinct and the desire to feel him in my arms, to know that this was really Edward, really my son come home. He returned the embrace with equal strength, a deep uneven breath slipping from his lungs.
"Carlisle, I'm sorry."
As if he needed to apologize, now. He was here, and that was all that mattered. Slowly, I released him, stepped back and clapped a hand on his shoulder, unwilling to let him go. He seemed solid enough, but I still couldn't help but wonder if I was somehow hallucinating. If that were possible.
"I don't know. If anyone is, I am. It shouldn't be this easy." He smiled, though it was only a flicker, a tenth of a second. His eyes had been locked with mine, but he dropped them, studying the porch. "I'm sorry. I should have waited a few months, been hunting properly before I came to see you but I couldn't wait, I…" His voice dropped, feather soft, almost non-existent under the roar of rain on the tin roof. "I wanted to come home."
He should have known me better than that, known my love for him better. I didn't care what color his eyes were, so long as he was back. They could change later. Right now, I didn't care how red they were. Just so long as he was home to stay.
I stepped backward, motioning for him to follow me inside. He hesitated, his eyes rising to meet mine once more.
"Father…" He took an uneasy breath, sorting his words out in his head. I paused in my movements as well, though I did shift slightly closer to him. Whatever he had to say, he needed to know that everything was alright. "You were right. About everything. I was…young, and arrogant and…I'm so tired of killing, Carlisle. I hate it, and I had to do it to know how much. And I'm sorry that I did, that I couldn't be…" A pain he couldn't mask twisted his features for a moment before he pulled it under control. "I'm sorry that I couldn't be more like you. I wish I could have been, I wish I was good enough to be, but I'm not. I am, however, sorry now, if it means anything. And I know you were right, and I know I can't go back, but I can do things differently now. From now on, I do things right. I wasn't sure if you and Esme would take me back but…I had to try."
Oh, my son. He knew me well, certainly, but he didn't see anything clearly that related to himself. And in that respect, he had so very much to learn. I loved him far too much to ever let him go, no matter what he ever did. "Edward, how could you ever think we wouldn't want you to come home? Do you have any idea how we've missed you? How life has been without you? How long your mother spent crying after you left?"
He flinched, and I clasped his arm, steadying him. He didn't need to beat himself up about that, either. She would be fine. We both would be, now that he was home. I stepped back, let him go and moved into the hall, feeling him follow me in, the door shutting softly behind him.
"Thank you, Carlisle."
No, I wouldn't hear it. I had done nothing for which he should thank me. "This is your home, Edward. For as long as you want it."
I heard him swallow hard, and when he spoke the emotion that choked his words was thick enough to feel. "Always.'
The memory was still so beautifully clear. I could remember watching him that day, seeing the smile slowly start to creep back into his eyes. She had latched onto him the moment she came in the door, and by the time he sat down at the piano with her arms still around his shoulders, he had seemed almost himself again.
Everything was different, then. Then, we were the only thing it would have hurt him to lose. Bella had changed everything, and I wasn't sorry, not in slightest. I was only sorry that he had handled it as only Edward could, sorry that he had brought all this on himself, on both of them. I would have given anything to fix it for both of them, to take away the past six months and give him another chance to make the right choice, the one he had thought so wrong at the time. It had taken me years to realize that right and wrong never fit hard and fast descriptions, their definition changed depending on the situation. Sometimes, Edward couldn't see that.
I heard a shift, soft footsteps on the floor. Esme. My eyes snapped open, watching her. She had, finally, given up on comforting Rose and was drifting onto the same path Jasper had paced. I could see the panic in her eyes, and I realized then how very little comfort I had been able to provide her. Automatically, I held my hand out to her and she took it, let me pull her in close. I tugged her down and into my lap, wrapping my arms tightly around her.
She tensed, almost pulling away. "Carlisle, we-"
"Shh." My hand came behind her head, cradling it against my shoulder. I didn't care where we were, who was watching. It didn't matter. "Ignore them." There weren't that many humans, anyway. And why should we care? Why should it matter, now, what they thought? I kissed her forehead as I felt her relax against me, her hand loosely gripping the front of my shirt. She buried her face against my shoulder, and for a long time we were frozen in that position, almost all traces of humanity gone in our absolute stillness.
I took a deep breath when she spoke, the feeling clearing my head. Almost as if I had been asleep. "Hm?
"If he…if they don't…" Her voice wavered and she gave up on that sentence, knowing I understood. "What will you do?"
What would I do? What could I do? Nothing would be able to save him, at that point. It would do no good to go see Aro myself. Edward had asked for this, as much as I didn't want to admit that. And even if I could have told myself that killing Aro was vengeance, Renata would never let us get close. Still, I knew Emmett, at least, would insist on trying. Jasper would probably be with him, even under normal circumstances. And if Alice… The thought of losing her, too, was almost unbearable, and for a moment my mind rebelled against it. But if we did, then Jasper would certainly be with Emmett. Rosalie would go with her mate, and we would not let our children go alone. Not the answer either of us wanted to hear, and I couldn't bear to say it. "I don't know." But I could hear the difference in my own voice, the cold acceptance of a decision already made. I knew she had to be able to hear it too.
Her hand on my shirt tightened, and I could feel her shrink closer to me. "Please tell me you won't go." A soft sob interrupted her words, and I instinctively nuzzled against her, kissed her closed eyes. "Please. I can't imagine losing him, Carlisle, and it's killing me but losing you…"
Her words were hurried, jumbled. Terrified. It hurt to hear it. I brushed my lips across her forehead, stroked her cheek gently until she looked at me. "Esme, love, I promise I won't leave you. I will never leave you." I could feel Jasper's eyes on me, boring into me like knives. I could never lie without a heavy weight of guilt, especially not to her. Even if it wasn't directly a lie, it wasn't entirely the truth, either. I could never leave her because she was always with me, always part of me. But neither could I leave my sons to go against the guard alone. Even if it was a fool's mission, I could not. As equally as I could not tell her that. I would not upset her more, now.
She reached up to me, gripped tightly into the hair at the back of my neck. I let her move me, pull me down for a soft kiss. I could feel her trembling. "Carlisle…"
"Shh." I kissed her again, gentle, calming. "Don't think about it anymore. Edward-" it hurt more than I had expected to say his name, and it took a moment for me to recover from the way my chest ached at it. I could have sworn my ribs were broken. "Edward will be alright. Alice knows what she's doing, and Bella will do whatever it takes, I know she will. They'll be alright." I wanted to comfort her, even more desperately than I wanted to convince myself. It seemed to work, marginally. She calmed enough to lay her head down against me again, her grip a little less panicked.
Jasper was still staring steadily at me, and I finally raised my eyes to meet his. His gaze was serious, pained, worried, a handful of emotions. I could feel each one, rather radiating out from him or because I simply had them all as well I wasn't sure. He broke the connection, pulling out his phone and smoothing his thumb across the screen. I could tell by the look on his face that there was still, of course, nothing. We all would have heard it ring.
Emmett's watch beeped and we all jerked, the reminder of the time as startling as it was unwanted. 3 AM, a fact that meant it was noon in Volterra. Alice had said that one of his plans involved stepping into the light in the square…
I shuddered, and I could feel Esme tremble. If they succeeded, it might not be that long before she could call. Maybe. I could feel my nerves try to edge up, though they were kept in place by Jasper's careful control.
I could see the square, in my mind. I had been there so many times. I could see the sunlight, the clock tower. My Edward.
Please, God, please let them not be too late…
I had originally thought to carry this on until Edward, Bella, and Alice landed, but I thought it would lose the tone of worry then, and I decided to keep it this way…