Disclaimer: The characters and their world belong to Stephenie Meyer. Any mistakes I have made interpreting them are, of course, my own.


December 25, 2003

Our new living room appeared to have been hit by a tornado. A very peculiar tornado which had hit only a single target—a wrapping paper store—before flinging its detritus around our living room. The recently-refinished floor was all but obscured by red, green, gold and silver and the signs of our joyous gift-opening session littered the furniture. I could sense my wife's unease with the mess even as she beamed with pride watching our children enjoying the gifts they had received and given. She shifted in my lap toward the direction of the kitchen, where we stored the garbage bags.

I leaned in, pulled her back, and pressed my lips to her neck. "Don't," I whispered. "Let it be. Enjoy this. It's Christmas."

Esme rolled her eyes but laughed and relaxed back into my chest. "It's a miracle that you and Edward weren't living in utter filth when I joined you."

"Oh, we were just fine," Edward's exasperated voice piped up from where he lay on his stomach in front of the fireplace, paging carefully through his gift from Esme and me: a first edition manuscript of Mozart's Piano Concerto in C. I had an excellent source for rare books in Portland who had been thrilled for the challenge I'd set him to find Edward a suitable Christmas present. And to my joy, Edward seemed in love with it. He hadn't even been out to the garage yet to assess his other gift from us: a new silver Volvo, to help assuage his worry that our usual fleet of ostentatious cars would draw too much attention in our new hometown.

Cars were a popular and traditional gift in our household, although by some strange arrangement, this Christmas had seen only the Volvo as far as new cars. Emmett had given Rosalie a 1976 Jaguar XJ-S to rebuild, but other than that it had been a remarkably light Christmas on the automobile front. Instead there had been many gifts of diamonds, the traditional shower of new clothing picked out by Alice (and straight from the runways), new video games, and rare books (mostly for Edward, Jasper, and me). Edward and Alice had done a remarkable job of staying silent about everyone's gifts this year, and Esme and I had even managed to surprise Edward with the music by keeping our Christmas-related thoughts confined to the new car. It was delightful to catch him off-guard about something every now and again.

Alice and Jasper sat playing chess in the corner. Jasper was trying valiantly to make last-minute decisions about his moves but was nonetheless being destroyed by his wife despite his best efforts. Rosalie and Emmett were off sitting on the couch, Emmett anxiously and carefully opening his copy of Resident Evil 4, which Rosalie had gone to great lengths to get her hands on two weeks early. I was surprised—Rosalie generally disapproved of Emmett's addiction to the graphically bloody games. But Christmas was one of those times to set that aside, I guessed.

"Emmett, you're not putting that in! Not on the big TV! No gruesome games on Christmas!" Esme almost leapt from my lap, and I chuckled, keeping my hands on her hips. She hated it when the boys got playing some game that detailed the spraying of blood and body parts.

Emmett turned to her, raising one eyebrow and smirking. "Esme," he said slowly, "you do realize that this whole house is, well, you know…full of vampires?"

We all laughed. This argument was familiar, and so was my wife's response.

"It's not the same," she said stubbornly, and I laughed. She addressed Emmett again, this time more firmly. "Not on the big TV, not on Christmas. You can play it tomorrow. Or upstairs."

"Mmm. Upstairs," Emmett repeated quietly, raising his eyebrows at Rosalie. She smiled back at him and took his hand. This caused Alice, Jasper, and Edward to all groan aloud.

"Oh would you two get a room?" Edward complained, not looking up from his music.

"Really," Alice added. Jasper rolled his eyes at Emmett and then flicked over his king as Alice laughed.

"That wouldn't be any fun," Emmett said innocently, grinning. "If we weren't here, how would we ever manage to make you all uncomfortable?"

Alice snorted and rolled her eyes.

Esme and I both laughed. Again, Christmas was proceeding quite normally for our household. Certain levels of emotion were somewhat hard to hide from our three gifted children and although the rest of us tried not to burden them, it was sometimes difficult to conceal. Leaning in again, I gently swept my lips against Esme's collarbone, letting my thoughts drift a little.

"Carlisle—" Edward said warningly, and Esme shot me a dazzling smile.

I laughed. "Just thought that perhaps a reminder was needed that Emmett and Rose aren't the only married couple in the room." Winking at Edward, I quickly shifted my thoughts back to how delighted I was watching him lying there so blissfully, and how much I loved him.

He groaned again. "Thanks, that's almost worse."

Emmett grinned again. "Yeah, Carlisle," he said, making a lewd gesture with his hips.

"Emmett." Esme and I voiced our disapproval in unison, and our son let out his booming laugh.

It was Alice who literally jumped in to fully cut the tension, however. "I know something that Carlisle can think about that won't bother Edward," she said, leaping back into the main part of the living room. She gave me a knowing smile.

Edward rolled onto his back, propping himself up on his elbows. "Oh?"

She nodded, winking at me. "There's still one more gift to be given."

I smiled back at her. Alice had been very gracious—she had neither told any of the others about this last gift, and she had also managed to push it from her mind while in Edward's presence. She was the only one who knew about it, and she had been patiently sitting on that information all afternoon.

Edward and Esme both shot me very curious looks, and Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper looked bemused.

I nodded to Alice. "Would you go get them? They're on my—" she zipped upstairs to my study and was back in the same instant "—desk," I finished.

"Here." She dumped the pile of small packages into Esme's lap. I had packed them simply, in neat silver boxes, with no ornamentation and only an envelope on top with each recipient's name.

"Do you want to—"

"—Hand them out? Yes, I will." Alice scooped the packages back, save the one labeled "Esme." I watched her as she flitted around the room like a dancer, finally coming to rest again next to Jasper. Each of my family members looked at the little package with amused confusion.

I suddenly found I was a little nervous. The idea had come to me only a few weeks earlier, while standing in front of Forks' only jeweler's shop. He had displayed in his window an assortment of pieces all adorned with his family's coat of arms. I had found my mind immediately pulled to a dull, human memory from nearly four centuries ago. In the home of my paternal grandfather, whose face I could not bring myself to recall, I had stumbled across a ring with peculiar symbols. I had asked my father about it, but he had told me that to wear such a thing was to put one's family before God, a sinfully prideful act, and that I was better off with the simple wooden cross that he whittled for me to wear shortly thereafter.

"Carlisle?" Edward was no doubt reading my thoughts. His expression of bewilderment was beginning to be replaced with a small smile as he put together what he might be holding.

I cleared my throat. "This is an unusual gift," I said quietly. "It's not showy; it's not expensive; and I think you'll all be sort of surprised by it..."

"They're going to love them, Carlisle," Alice said, beaming. "I know I do."

"Shhh," I answered, but her comment put me more at ease and I continued. "It's easier, sometimes, to not say everything aloud. And I found as I was preparing these that there was a lot to say and I wanted to get it all right. So I wrote a letter explaining this gift—it's in the envelopes."

My family stared at me.

I gestured to the boxes as if to say "open them," and they all complied. There was the sound of rustling paper across the room as the six of them opened their envelopes and began to read. I looked over Esme's shoulder as she unfolded her own letter.

Christmas 2003

To my beloved family:

The sheer fact that I can use "family" where the rest of our kind might use the word "coven" stands as testament to that which I celebrate today. For over two hundred fifty years I sought any others who might be willing to embrace the humanity shrugged off by so many of our brethren, who might be willing to see one other than their mate as an appropriate recipient of affection and love. In 1918 I acted on this searching desire, and while I will never cease questioning the rightfulness of that act, I find I cannot take anything but joy in its result. For it was in turning Edward that I began a chain of events that led me here—to a joyful Christmas morning surrounded by those that I love.

I have wondered for a long time how to mark this deep connection, beyond simply continuing to be here for one another as we have been. The thought of some physical token of what our family means to me, and what I hope it means to each of you, has crossed my mind many times over the years. But it was our move here and a moment I had in the town center here that led me to this gift.

The name Cullen (O'Cuilinn) is Irish in origin, from the word for 'holly,' a plant which our Druidic ancestors considered a symbol of eternal life. My own ancestors likely emigrated from Wexford, Ireland to England sometime in the fourteenth century. At that time, it was common for families to identify themselves in a number of ways, one being the coat of arms.

The coat of arms of the family Cullen traces back to the twelfth century. Its heraldic symbols are intended as representative of the qualities befitting those who carry the surname Cullen. It however seems appropriate that these symbols are also signs of what makes our family strong, and my wishes for each of you as members of it.

The chevron is a sign of protection. This is emblematic of what we do each day in standing against the core of the nature of who we are so that those around us might continue living the way they know. It is my wish that this conviction to protect the humanity around us and within us continues to burn within each of you.

The trefoil is a sign of perpetuity and longevity, a reminder for us that we should make use of this, the most unusual of our gifts. Although I know that it is easier to view eternity as a burden, and that the thought of the peace of human death crosses all of us periodically, we have an obligation to ourselves and one another to use this endless time for good.

The hand is the sign of faith, sincerity, and justice. I see these ideals acted on each day in the way that each of you choose to live the vision that guides this unorthodox family we share. It is my fervent hope that these qualities continue to dwell in each of you as our years together go on.

The last, the sheaf, is the symbol of the harvest, and stands for the achievement of hopes: both my wish that you achieve the hopes of your hearts, and the fact that the presence of each of you in my life is the realization of mine. It is because of you that I can finally call this existence of mine a life; you are the fulfillment of dreams I never realized I had. For this I shall be forever grateful.

I am proud to call you my family Cullen. For all that each of you are, for your presence here, for all that we share and will share together in the time to come, I thank you. Accept these as tokens of my love and appreciation for you all; and my pledge to you to uphold all that this family stands for, regardless of what might face us in the future.

Merry Christmas!

--Carlisle

As they each reached the end of the letter, my family members in turn looked up at me in shock, except for Alice, who was beaming.

"I don't know what to say," Jasper mumbled.

Rosalie was just shaking her head, her lips pressed together.

"Jesus, Carlisle," whistled Emmett. "Didn't know you were so sentimental." I saw his lips mouthing the words "fulfillment of dreams I never realized I had" as he looked down again at the letter.

"Oh, open them already!" shrieked Alice. I shot a glance her direction and smiled to see her package already open, the silver charm on its choker already around her neck. She grinned back at me, fingering it. I love it, she mouthed, and I nodded.

Around me I could hear the rustle of boxes being opened, and happy sighs as each removed the piece I'd had made for them. Still in my lap, Esme opened her box slowly, smiling at me as she did so. Revealing the two rings within it, she gasped and turned to me. Our lips met in a tender kiss, and she whispered, "I love you."

"And I you," I answered. I took the smaller gold ring and slid it onto her right ring finger, then held out my right hand so that she could do the same. She didn't break our kiss as she placed the larger silver ring on my finger. Esme pulled away from me a moment to admire her hand.

"It's beautiful," she whispered, and I kissed her again.

"Wow, Carlisle," came Emmett's voice, distracting me from Esme. "Thank you."

Rosalie looked up, and nodded, giving me a rare and beautiful smile. "Yes, Carlisle. Thank you." She was turning her pendant over in her hand, gazing at it.

Jasper nodded as he let Alice tie the leather band on his wrist. "Unexpected," he said quietly, "and amazingly thoughtful, Carlisle. Thank you." I smiled and nodded to him.

Edward still lay silent on the floor, his own wristband in his hands. As I caught his eye and wondered if he was happy with the gift, he nodded slowly, pushing up his sleeve so that his right wrist lay bare. He silently crossed the room and held his arm out to me.

My fingers graced his warm arm as I put the band on him; his whole body had absorbed the heat of the fire and was now radiating its warmth back at me. I rubbed the back of his hand gently, and he briefly closed his eyes as he whispered, "Thanks, Carlisle."

Sliding out of my grip, Edward slipped over to the piano and began a piece. I recognized the opening arpeggios at once: it was a beautiful modern carol called "This Christmastide," and one of my favorites. I shot a smile in my son's direction and whispered, "Thank you, Edward."

He smiled back.

Several hours later found Esme and me finally cleaning up the detritus in the living room, she taking care to group each of our children's gifts together and run them to their respective rooms, and me lobbing wrapping paper balls into the fire, which blazed bizarre colors as it burned the different dyes. Rosalie and Emmett had long since disappeared to the third floor, and Alice and Jasper were on their third or fourth rematch of their chess game, Jasper still losing miserably.

Esme descended the stairs one last time. She wrinkled her nose as she appraised the fireplace.

"Did you throw all the wrapping paper on the fire?" she asked accusingly.

I raised my eyebrows. "Who, me?"

"Yes, you. And I know your guilty look, Dr. Cullen." She smiled and muttered, "It makes you very handsome."

I laughed and grabbed her into my arms before she had a chance to react. She let out a little squeal of a giggle. "The better to sweep you off your feet, Mrs. Cullen," I answered, grinning.

Esme took advantage of our embrace to kiss me gently, but then she moved her lips to my ear and whispered quietly so that Jasper and Alice wouldn't overhear. "Edward is out on the porch. You should go see that he's okay."

I looked past her and to the entryway. Sure enough, Edward's pale figure shone in the moonlight as he stood staring out at the lawn.

Setting my wife down, I nodded and was out the door.

Moonlight shaded across our porch, turning Edward's and my skin pure white. Beyond the trees thundered the Sol Duc river, its waters not stemmed by the insufficient ice we had seen so far this winter. For a brief moment I was able to see my own breath before my body acclimated to the outside temperature and the air coming out became as cold as that coming in.

Silently I moved to Edward's side, resting my forearms against the railing. He gave me a brief glance and laughed.

"What?"

He gestured to my arms. "That. You do that so easily, you know. The human thing. Acting like you need to try to be comfortable."

Oh. I straightened my posture. He was right; for me the act that I put on had fully become second nature. I never even thought about it anymore—humans leaned on railings; so did I.

"It's not a bad thing, Carlisle," he said quietly. "Not wanting to be a monster."

Was that what was troubling him? He was again worried about being a monster?

"No," he answered, still staring out at the lawn. He clutched his right wrist with his left hand, moving the wristband around slowly.

The crest. He had been so silent about it; I had wondered if he were somehow bothered. I began to ask him this, but he cut me off.

"It's not this that I'm bothered by," he said quietly, meeting my gaze with his golden eyes. "I like this. It was very thoughtful of you. And very heartfelt. Thank you."

"Always, Edward," I answered, still puzzled. What was he bothered by, then?

He sighed, shifting his eyes back to the lawn.

"Do you really question your decision to turn me?"

So that was the problem. How did I answer this? On the one hand, yes. The one thing that I felt unsure of in my whole existence was my decision to turn four members of my family. Physicians were always warned not to play God, and what was more playing God than snatching people from death into possible damnation? The guilt I felt for these acts could be crushing. On the other hand, standing here in the darkness next to this strong and compassionate man who considered himself my son brought me such joy. The two feelings were inseparable from each other.

Edward nodded, having channeled the stream of my thoughts. He said nothing for several seconds, but continued absently twisting the band on his wrist. When he finally spoke his eyes shot upward and he addressed the heavens in a voice that was nearly inaudible, even to me:

"I wonder if I will be lonely for two hundred years, too?"

I closed my eyes. This was the way these conversations with Edward always went, with me being forced to unravel his thoughts one level at a time until we slowly got to the root of things. And of course this was the source of the problem. Living with three perfectly, blissfully matched pairs was such a burden on my young son. Esme worried constantly about the lack of interest he had thus far shown in others of our kind; although Tanya had tried her best, Edward had rebuffed her gently at every turn. I supported Edward, but I would be lying if I told him that I didn't share his concern.

He sighed. "That's what I thought."

"Edward," I answered, placing a hand over his, "you won't be unpartnered forever. I know you won't. It's just…not time yet."

He raised his eyebrows. "Yeah…but 'time' could be in two hundred years."

"Or two. Like Rosalie."

Edward let out a bark of a laugh. "It's already been more than two."

"Two from now, then."

He rolled his eyes.

Not wanting to further antagonize him, I chose my next words carefully. "Honestly, Edward, no one can know the timing. And I know that you know that. But happiness will come for you. This universe owes it to you." Heaven knew that if I could give it to him, I would move mountains to do so.

"You already tried that route," he said ruefully.

I laughed. "Yes, I did, I suppose. And while I love Rosalie—I think this time around I'll leave it up to the universe to intercede."

Edward did not laugh, but he did shoot me a wry smile.

"I guess we'll see," he said finally a moment later.

"We will." I slid an arm around his waist, turning us both back toward the house. "And in the meantime, you have the rest of us."

At long last, a grin broke on my son's face. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?" he teased.

I cuffed him on the shoulder, but I was laughing. "Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too, you ingrate."

Edward's face dropped into a gentle smile. "Merry Christmas, Carlisle," he answered quietly. And together, we walked slowly back into the house.

~Fin~


Chapter End Notes:

Everything in Carlisle's letter is actually true of the surname Cullen, although it is unclear from the genealogies in exactly which century Irish Cullens might have first immigrated to England (so I chose one of the possible ones). I also had to make a choice about the crest itself, as the one used in the movies replaces the sheaf with the lion, a heraldic symbol of courage. While I like the choice as an extra symbol unique to the Olympic Coven, I decided that Carlisle probably wouldn't have changed his family crest. So the one described in this story is the real Cullen family crest, pressed into use in about the twelfth or thirteenth century.

"This Christmastide" is a real and beautiful modern Christmas carol and served as the soundrack to this piece. There are several fantastic recordings of it out there. I personally prefer the instrumental settings to choral ones, although its lyrics are wonderful in their own right and also speak to this story: Peace and Hope and Love abide / This Christmastide!