Chapter 19: Debts to Ephraim
On the surface, it seemed our lives went back to normal. With the help of two forged transcripts from the Los Angeles Unified School District, Edward and Alice reenrolled at Forks High and prepared to graduate from high school yet again. Rosalie and Emmett discontinued their globe-hopping, and Rosalie jumped headlong into another full rebuild of Emmett's Jeep. Jasper continued his march through the works of the great ethicists with the aid of Alibris.
Forks Community Hospital took me back with delight, having never found a suitable replacement willing to relocate to such a small town. I returned to my old office at once, and one late-night unpacking session at vampire speed had the place looking as though I'd never left it at all.
Esme busied herself turning the house in Forks back into a home. She made two trips to Ithaca, the first to coordinate the shipping of the few belongings we wouldn't sell—my art, Edward's music—and the second to sell the house.
The house sale was a first for our family, and I had been surprised when Esme had suggested it. "Are you sure?" I'd asked. "We could find a property manager." We had over a dozen, spread throughout the northern US and southern Canada, each taking care of one of the homes we had bought over the decades. It was inevitable that we would need to return to those places, and not needing to buy a house when we did made it much easier to make our sometimes sudden relocations.
Esme had shaken her head. "I think it would be good to sell this one," she'd answered quietly.
"But you put so much work into that house. What if we need to move back?"
For the expression my wife gave me, one would have thought I had slapped her. It took her only an instant to break down into tearless sobs. Confused, I took her into my arms to comfort her, kissing her face as I asked her what was wrong.
Several minutes passed before she composed herself enough to reply. When she did, her voice was so quiet only I could hear it.
"Carlisle," she'd whispered into the folds of my shirt, "Ithaca will always be the place we almost lost our entire family. I don't ever want to live there again."
We closed on the house two weeks later.
Life in Forks shifted slowly back to some semblance of normalcy, and we moved around one another uncomfortably as the wounds of the past seven months healed themselves. Edward spent every early evening and every night at Bella's, and we saw neither hide nor hair of her—grounded, Edward explained, which I thought was a more than appropriate response on Charlie's part. That Bella's father was allowing Edward to visit at all seemed to stretch the definition of "magnanimous" to its breaking point.
Thus I was taken completely by surprise when one afternoon a timid knock came at the door of my office at the hospital. I recognized Bella's scent at once.
"Come in," I called.
The door creaked open, and in crept my son's mate. Her eyes darted first to me, then to the wall behind me. She approached my desk cautiously, and I gestured for her to sit in one of my chairs.
"Hi, Carlisle," she said quietly as she sat.
"Are you all right?" I asked. "Where's Edward?"
"I haven't hurt myself, if that's what you're asking." A tiny smile appeared on her face. "Although, I guess that's a fair conclusion, seeing as that's the only time I ever see you here."
I chuckled. "Yes, it would seem. And Edward?"
"Thinks I'm at work. Mrs. Newton needs to cut hours and so she asked if I would be okay with taking the day off."
"Why didn't Alice send him?"
"Because she saw me deciding to ask to speak to you alone."
I wasn't quite able to hide the smirk. Bella was a quick study. It had taken most of us years to learn how to make an end run around the Alice-Edward connection.
"Well done," I muttered.
Bella gave me a shy smile, then gazed at the wall again. I had replaced in its usual position the painting I'd had in this office before our move, an original Hassam that Childe himself had given me—a view of the Boston Common, where the young painter and I had often played chess. Bella was silent as she studied it.
"Do you like it?" I prodded.
She nodded. "Edward told me that the artist is famous or something?"
"Childe Hassam. He was an American impressionist who lived at the turn of the last century. We were friends, and he painted this for me in 1890 before he moved to Paris. It's of the park where we used to play chess."
For a moment Bella said nothing. Finally she frowned at me. "I still have trouble wrapping my mind around that."
I turned a little and gazed at the painting. The Boston Common of course still existed and looked remarkably as it had at the turn of the last century, when the painting had been completed. Certainly the fashions of the people had changed, but beyond that, the setting was still the same—serene, green, idyllic. For a moment I remembered my old chess partner's laugh as we fought our slow, calculated battles on the gloomy Boston days.
Childe and I, of course, had gone our separate ways—he to Paris; me to Maine—and after a few years had passed, I had no longer been able to see him for fear he would see my unchanged features and guess at my secret. But he had left me with the painting that was behind me now, to remember our chess-playing days. It had been gifted before he became famous, and although many visitors to my office recognized his style, few actually guessed the painting to be genuine.
Turning back to Bella, I answered her statement. "You have trouble wrapping your mind around…"
"The fact that you played chess with the artist of that painting in 1890." She looked at me. "And that you were already two hundred and, what, thirty? At the time?"
"Two hundred and forty-six."
She swallowed, but said nothing, her eyes shifting back to the painting as her brow furrowed. The ventilation unit turned itself off with a shuddering thud, and restarted a moment later. Bella continued to watch the painting, as though she were expecting it to come to life.
I decided to prod. "You didn't come here to talk about Hassam, Isabella."
"No," she said quietly, smiling. She heaved a sigh, and then her brown eyes met my own. It was still striking to look on her, to think of her as Edward's mate, and yet to see by the color of her eyes and the flush in her cheeks that she was so wholly different from the rest of our family.
But that would be changing.
Bella picked a pen up off my desk. She twirled it between her fingers, watching as the faint glow of the fluorescent ceiling lights sent a beam across my desk. At last she said quietly, "Jacob Black showed up yesterday."
Jacob Black? I recognized the name at once—Ephraim's great-grandson, one of the wolf pack. The one who, as Alice had told us, had been there for Bella in Edward's absence.
My surprise must have registered on my face, because Bella went on.
"He came over to talk about the treaty," she said meaningfully.
"The treaty." My voice was flatter than I intended it. I recalled the first time we had encountered the giant wolves, how the stench had sickened us all, how their hair had stood on end as they growled at us, ready to tear us to pieces. That moment had been the first time—and until a few weeks ago, the only time—that I had honestly feared the loss of my wife and children.
Most of the pack had been more than eager to kill us on sight. But Ephraim, their leader, had studied us with a calm curiosity and called his brothers down. They'd had no reason to trust us, but somehow, when they had seen Esme in my arms, Rosalie's hand in Emmett's, Edward's nervous glances as he refused to move too far from any of us, something had stopped Ephraim dead in his tracks. Edward said that the word he'd used was in a language Edward did not understand; Quileute, I had always assumed. However, even though Edward was unable to understand the word, he was able to read the feelings that surrounded it—Ephraim Black had realized that we were a family, and this realization had given him pause. It had taken over a year for us to gain their trust enough to sign a treaty, but Ephraim's realization had been enough to buy us the time.
And now it was all coming back to haunt us once again. Edward had told me last year that Bella had heard about us from Ephraim's great-grandson, Jacob, who had technically committed a serious violation of the treaty even in telling her about us in the first place. That he had come to bring it up again—I wasn't sure what this meant.
"Jacob came to talk to you about the treaty?"
"Yes." Bella looked at me carefully. "He said"—she swallowed—"He said the terms of the treaty said that the truce was over if any of you—"
"Bite," I finished for her.
Her eyes widened. "You know?"
I frowned. "Bella, I was the one who signed it."
She took a deep breath. "So…"
I sighed. The Quileutes, it seemed, had had every reason to doubt us. Seventy years ago, I had been certain I would never turn another. In fact, I had sworn it off after Rosalie. It had never occurred to me that in doing so I would condemn her to an eternity of bearing the burden of a night whose terror should have been erased by a swift death. But then Emmett had come along, and the look of absolute peace that hid behind her worry as she looked on the broken body of this handsome young man had changed my conviction at once.
Bella Swan had been just as unforeseeable, and the change she wrought in Edward every bit as absolute. I didn't want to go back on my word, but for Edward's happiness, I would.
I looked across the desk at Bella, and spoke quietly. "We're going to need to have a cover story for your…death any way you look at it. If I'm going to change you, we'll be leaving before I do." To say nothing of the need to keep her away from civilization for a few years while she got her thirst straightened out.
Her mouth dropped open in surprise. "But you—"
"Won't be able to come back?" I nodded. "That's simply going to be part of the package, I'm afraid."
Her face screwed up, her bottom lip pulling itself between her teeth. For a long time she said nothing, continuing to spin the silver pen between her fingers and watch the light dancing across my desk. For a long moment, she said nothing, but finally she shifted her gaze back to my face. She stared at me hard for a long moment, her brow still pulled.
"Carlisle?" she asked finally.
"Why did you change your mind?"
I raised my eyebrows.
"In September. When I cut myself? You said you would leave it up to Edward. But instead you voted against him. Why?"
What a question. I sat back in my chair, and for a moment simply studied her, not answering. I had never thought to picture the girl that Edward would fall in love with. But then, who ever knew these things? I'd met Esme for the first time when she had been just shy of Bella's age, and all I knew was that I found a joy and peace in her presence—even at sixteen—that I'd never known. It was only later that I discovered that peace had come from the balance that I'd sensed even then—that my weaknesses were her strengths, my faults, her attributes. We were, at our cores, fundamentally suited for each other.
As I looked at Bella, sitting here in my office, her face pulled into a deep frown, I remembered the calm young woman who had commanded a dinner table full of vampires as though it were her everyday audience. I saw the unabashed resolution of the girl who had been the first of my family to agree with me about our kind and the afterlife. I saw strength; I saw serenity; I saw love—a boundless love that, given time, I was sure my son would learn to accept.
Isabella Swan was Edward's balance.
In September, I had understood this, but only vaguely. I had suggested to Edward what my own pain would look like were I to be separated from Esme, but I had, in the end, let him decide our trajectory, and in doing so I had let him decide Bella's as well. And we had all suffered for it.
"Bella," I said quietly, "I made a grave mistake in September. And I owe you an apology. I let Edward make decisions not only for us, but for you. I let him decide what was best for you, instead of asking you what you wanted. We"—I gulped—"we went through a lot this year. As a family. It wasn't easy. And I can't come to any other conclusion but that all the pain was because we were missing a member."
She nodded knowingly. "I can't imagine what it must have been like for you to lose Edward again."
"I was referring to you, actually."
It took a few seconds for my comment to register on Bella's face. When it did, her face colored, and her gaze fell to the floor. Somewhat unsurprisingly, tears welled in her eyes, and I was on the other side of my desk and handing her a tissue the same instant I saw her eyes begin to water. She accepted it gratefully, and for a few minutes the only sound in the room was her sniffling.
"Thank you," she said finally, crumbling the tissue into a ball and shoving it into her jeans pocket.
There was no reason for her to thank me. This was the state of affairs—the state of affairs which I had been far too slow to catch hold of. "Bella, you made a choice. And I'm no longer willing to stand idly by and watch that choice be taken away from you." I thought back to her earlier comment about her worries about the treaty and added, "Now if you change your mind, that is quite a different matter."
She shook her head quickly. "I've made up my mind."
"Then I'm behind it." I laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it. "I'm sorry I wasn't before. I should have known better."
Bella twisted in the chair and looked up at me, frowning.
"What?" I asked.
"You're like Edward, you know that? Both of you—you think you need to be perfect. You made a mistake, Carlisle. You fixed it. It's done."
I stared at her, my mouth falling slightly agape. Was it possible that it was really that simple? Bella, smiling slightly, stood from her chair, and wrapped her arms awkwardly around my torso. I stood in shock for a few seconds. The most Bella and I had ever exchanged was a handshake or two. Her heartbeat raced as I returned the embrace.
"It's done," I muttered.
"It is." Bella pulled back from me and grinned. "Besides, really, at this point, Emmett is going to wind up the only Cullen male who doesn't feel dreadfully guilty about something he did to me. You guys have got to let up on yourselves."
Much to my surprise, I laughed.
Bella glanced up at the industrial-issue clock over my office door and sighed. "I should go…I thought it'd be fun to surprise Charlie with dinner, but that means I have to go grocery shopping."
I nodded. "You should do that." There was only so much time that she and Charlie would have together—it was important they use it well. I did not dare speak this thought, however. Bella turned back to the chair, gathering her jacket from where she'd shrugged it onto the chair back. She was still frowning a little as she put her jacket back on.
"And the treaty?" she asked.
Ah yes. There was still that problem. Well, as I'd said, we would need to get Bella away from civilization as it was. And if the violation meant we would never again be welcome on the Olympic Peninsula…well, we could cross that bridge when we came to it. Seventy years ago we'd struck a treaty which had been unlikely in the first place—perhaps there would be room for negotiation.
Although I doubted it.
I sighed. "We'll figure it out," I said. "It will work out…somehow."
For a second, Bella looked confused, then a smile crept over her face and gradually became a grin. She said nothing, just stood there grinning at me.
"What?" I finally prompted.
"That's exactly what Esme said. A year ago. On the baseball field, that day. Word-for-word." She grinned. "You two are like, completely on the same page."
It figured. "We frequently are." Giving her a gentle smile, I added, "You and Edward will be too, someday."
Her brow furrowed once more. "I hope so," she said quietly.
"I know so."
She looked down at the floor a moment, and I saw her cheeks flush with color. But when she looked back up, she was still smiling.
"Always. And thank you." I nodded to the door. "Now go surprise Charlie."
Bella grinned. For a second she made a motion as though she was going to hug me again, but then shrank back a little awkwardly and shrugged. She gave me a little wave instead.
"A pleasure, Bella."
She disappeared. As I listened to her footsteps in the hall, I sat back in my chair in wonderment. On my desk were five 5 x 7 photos, one of each of my children. They were the standard portraits that it seemed every American teenager had done their senior year of high school, although my own only participated in the ritual at every other high school they attended or else whenever the fashions in the previous set were out-of-date.
Four of the photos depicted smiling faces, gazing into the camera. The fifth, however, was in black-and-white, and showed Edward, looking pensively upward from his perch on a plain artists' stool. His face was taut, and his eyes were distant, pained. It was a haunting photograph, an excellent portrayal of my oldest son, but so excellent only because it perfectly captured the pain in which he'd lived most of his life.
For six months he had been happy, and we all had rejoiced with him, even as tenuous and fraught with danger as his relationship with Bella had turned out to be. And then the rug had been pulled out from beneath us all. But now things had been set upright again, however precariously.
In the parking lot arose the deep, throaty grumble of Bella's ancient truck, its brakes squeaking in protest as she backed out of her spot. I picked up Edward's photo and turned it once in my hands, gazing at it. After a century of life, Edward had found joy, and as I listened to Bella rumble her way toward home, I vowed to keep it that way.
The evening found me sorting through the day's bounty at the desk in my study. Somehow in a house filled with people with perfect recall, it seemed Esme and I were the only two who ever managed to remember to get the mail. There was the usual assortment of magazines: Car and Driver for Rose and a second for Edward, since they were incapable of sharing a copy, Architectural Digest for Esme, GamePro for Emmett, and my usual daily dose of medical journals. I subscribed to almost every medical journal in the US and Europe, which meant that on average, I got two a day. Beneath these were a slew of bank and credit-card statements for accounts held in all our names and pseudonyms. Beneath this was a small manila envelope addressed to Mr. Edward Cullen, with a return address in Seattle of Jason Scott, Esq. Puzzled, I laid this aside. I would ask Edward about it later.
I was just reaching for The American Journal of Psychiatry when I recognized Edward's footfall on the stair. Each member of my family had his own gait, which meant that we could tell one another apart even without any senses other than hearing. The lilting pace up the stairs and the earthy scent told me Edward was home for his nightly recess. He appeared on our doorstep each night when Charlie threw him out promptly at nine-thirty, and then disappeared again to join Bella once she'd turned in for the night. She had to be the only high-schooler in the country who religiously went to bed at eleven.
I expected Edward's footsteps to turn immediately toward his room as usual, but they did not. Instead they approached the door to my study and suddenly came to a halt. For several seconds he simply stood there, breathing in and out on the other side of my door, neither entering nor walking away.
When he'd stood there through a full rotation of the second-hand of my watch, I focused my attention on the door and thought that he should come in.
The door nudged itself open, and Edward entered. As was customary these days, he walked as though he was in constant pain, his shoulders curved forward and his head dropped a little.
We hadn't really spoken since the vote. He had stormed out that evening with Bella, and when he'd returned a day later, he had shrugged off all of our attempts to discuss the vote and its consequences. Between getting us settled back into our home, and the increased workload at the hospital that was a direct result of my nearly seven months of absence, I hadn't really managed to cross paths with him long enough to force the issue. The two times he had hunted in the past few weeks, he had gone with Emmett, both while I had been on shift at the hospital.
Although to be honest, I didn't want to scratch off the scab that so tenuously held our relationship at the moment any more than he did. I knew he was angry with me and hurt by my vote. So I had accepted his avoidance, knowing that eventually we would speak. We always did.
"I'm not avoiding you," Edward answered my thoughts quietly. "At least, not on purpose." He cocked his head toward my desk. "What were you doing?"
"Opening the mail," I replied. "And then I was going to write awhile." I gestured to the leather-bound book that lay face-up on the desk.
Edward swallowed audibly, and his gaze floated to the journal. I didn't need his gift to know exactly what he was thinking.
"You are beyond forgiven for that, you know," I said gently.
On the night of his return, Edward had told me about his ordeal in Rio, and what had become of the journal I had gifted him. It was of little use to attempt to mask one's reaction from Edward, and so I had let myself fully feel the anger and the hurt for a few moments. Even though I recalled every word written in that journal, that chronicle of the first year with Esme had been one of my most treasured mementos. To imagine my words lying in shreds in the streets of Rio was painful, to say the least.
Edward, listening to my thoughts, had begun to cry as we sat together on Bella's bed. I'd put an arm around him and reassured him that he couldn't anger me simply by destroying one of my journals. He'd shaken his head furiously, but had accepted the hug nevertheless.
A shuddering breath drew my attention back to my study, and I looked up to see Edward, his fist clutched to his mouth, his face pulled taut.
He swallowed noisily, looking down at the floor. "Could you stop thinking about that please?"
Nodding, I studied him carefully. He still looked extraordinarily shaken, an expression to which I was getting more and more accustomed. Although my interactions with him over the past several weeks had been brief at best, it was impossible not to notice that he hadn't returned to the state he had been in before Bella's eventful birthday. There was an air of anxiety about him always, as though he were expecting the entire world to fall to pieces at any moment.
Although I couldn't blame him, seeing as for both of us, it very nearly had.
Edward snorted at this thought, but kept his eyes fixed on his feet as he mumbled, "Bella went to your office?"
Ah. So this was why he wanted to talk. "She did," I said carefully. "You two spoke?"
He nodded, still frowning. "She's worried about the treaty, Carlisle. And so am I."
The treaty. I sighed. I didn't have any good answers for that. We were bound by the agreement we'd made, and said agreement was quite specific. I suspected that, were we never to return to the Olympic Peninsula again, we would be fine, as the wolves were concerned first and foremost with protecting the tribe and its lands. But if I bit Bella, the terms of the treaty would technically allow the wolves to kill any of us wherever they happened upon us. Although it was true that we outnumbered them at present, and would outnumber them further once Bella was turned…
Edward blanched. "Are you honestly suggesting that we fight them?"
"I am forced to consider the possibility."
My son's hands balled into fists at his side, and he began pacing back and forth before my desk.
"I don't want to fight them, Edward. I would do everything in my power to make sure that this doesn't come to that." Years ago, we had been able to negotiate with Ephraim—surely we could negotiate again?
A snort. "I have my serious doubts."
"And you're welcome to them." I stood and moved to the other side of the desk, laying a hand on Edward's shoulder, from under which he unsurprisingly twisted away. "I will, of course, pursue the most peaceable resolution to this as I am able."
Edward said nothing for a long moment and instead strode purposefully past the desk to the windows. It was a dark night—the moon was new, and the inky sky was littered with stars. My son stared out at them, his jaw set. Every muscle in his body was held taut—I could see in the carriage of his shoulders that he was upset. He didn't speak and I didn't either; he simply watched the night sky, and I watched him in turn.
A slight thunk signaled Edward's head dropping gently against the windowpane.
"Edward?" I called in a whisper.
For a moment, he didn't answer and his shoulders heaved slowly as he breathed in and out. When he turned to me, his face was twisted with anger and pain.
There were some things about living with someone for almost ninety years that simply became second nature. Yes, Edward could read my mind, but there were times that I didn't need the privilege of his gift to read his. His face was pulled into a gruesome expression by his pain, which caused my own stomach to wrench violently.
"Because it's time, Edward," I told him quietly, remembering the resolute young woman I had seen in my office just a few hours before. She wanted our lifestyle, she knew us for who we were and yet had never run. She had thrown herself into a den of lions to save Edward from a certain death while still believing that he didn't love her. Bella Swan loved my son as he loved her, and that was enough for me. Bella had risked her life for him. More than once. Surely he had to see at least that.
Edward's hand flew forward so quickly I didn't see what had happened before there was a loud crash and shards of glass began to rain to the floor. He and I both watched the little bits of glass trickle their way out of the window frame and onto the floor, piece by piece, each quietly falling onto the worn wood. Edward said nothing as the pieces fell, only opening his mouth once every shard was settled.
"She's almost died more than once because of me."
The wind whistled in through the now-empty window frame, whipping the tails of Edward's shirt as he stood. His hands clenched and unclenched themselves at his side, and the room filled with the sound of his ragged breathing as his shoulders heaved unevenly up and down.
I stepped forward, placing my hand on his shoulder, my fingers curling slightly over his collarbone. This time, he didn't flinch.
"Edward," I whispered, "you have to let that go."
He grunted something inaudible but made no effort to move away. We both stood before the empty window, listening to the wind as it howled its way into my office and rustled the papers on my desk. As we stood, my mind traveled from my small study to a night over a year ago, when I had been a passenger in Edward's Volvo as it raced its way through the darkness on the sweeping curves of Highway 101. I remembered the tight grip of his fingers on the steering wheel, the unnatural stiffness of his posture. But most of all, I remembered his control. Edward, my son who had once been the darkest avenging angel, was now driving back not to kill, not to maim, but to let me settle the whole issue peaceably. Humanely.
That night, as I stood there in the darkness watching my son as he sped away on foot back towards our home—or not our home, but rather Bella's, I had realized fully what a change this otherwise ordinary young woman had wrought in my son. I had watched the terrible pain cross his face as he listened to the twisted mind of the man whose life he had so very nearly taken just hours before. But because of Bella, he had stopped himself. And so it had been I, and not Edward, who'd lurked in the shadows that night, waiting for prey. When the man had stumbled out of the bar, I'd leapt on him and dragged him into the blackened alley, for the first time in three centuries closing an arm over a human's body and clamping a hand over his mouth as I went for his jugular—not with my teeth, but with fifteen units of propofol.
As the man had fallen as dead weight against my body and I had spirited him easily away to Edward's car, I hadn't been able to stop myself from marveling. In the face of his nature, in the face of wanting to protect Bella with everything he had, he had instead run with Bella, and left this man alone. He saw himself as her protector, and at the time, I had merely been grateful for the control and compassion that had shone through him. But as long as they remained unequal, I knew my son could never let himself fall from his position as protector, and thus would never fully know the love Bella had for him.
The muscled shoulder beneath my palm trembled, heaving itself upward with Edward's every intake of breath as he processed everything he heard in my mind.
Edward gulped, but his gaze dropped to the floor as his jaw clenched again.
"You want this too," I said after a moment.
"Yes, and it makes me selfish." He turned to me, in one quick motion sliding out from beneath my hand and squaring his body to mine. His eyes were a perfect ochre, but they flashed darkly as he regarded me once, and then resumed staring at the floor.
"No," I answered carefully, approaching him. "Edward—son—that makes you human."
He snorted again, not lifting his eyes. "I am not human. None of us are."
One stride closed the gap between us, but Edward made no attempt to meet my eyes.
"Look at me," I commanded gently.
His eyes flickered to mine, uncertain.
"Son," I began quietly, "you asked me to take out a man who posed harm to Bella, instead of striking him dead where he stood. You tracked a beast over a thousand miles to make sure that he would never hurt her. You moved our entire family across the country because you feared for Bella's safety, yet you nearly wasted away from your pain. You spent half a year trying to make sure that a threat you weren't even sure existed was extinguished, and then when you thought it had all been for naught, you ran to Volterra. Putting aside the fact that it scared me half to death"—my voice was rising, and my lips trembled a little—"these are not the acts of a man who has lost his humanity. A demon doesn't know sadness, or loneliness, or heartbreak. A soulless being doesn't experience that kind of pain."
My son's jaw flexed, and he opened his mouth as though to say something, but I took a deep breath and cut him off.
"And he definitely does not experience love." I took my eyes from Edward's face for a fraction of a second, and his gaze dropped to the floor again at once as I went on.
"I am certain that I have a soul, Edward. And I know this because of you. If I had no soul, there would be no part of me of capable of loving you as I do. There would be no part of me to love Esme, and Rosalie, and Emmett, and Alice, and Jasper, and Bella. Demons don't have families. They don't love. And, more importantly, they certainly can't accept love from others. Bella loves you, more than even I was willing to admit. And you love her. You wouldn't be able to do that if you had no soul. I promise you that. But you have to be able to accept her love in return. You must be equals.
"And it took me all year to figure that out," I whispered. Well, it had taken most of the year, at any rate. Six months of pain, anger, sadness, helplessness in the face of first the death of my patient, and then of my child. "But you asked why"—I drew a shaking breath— "and that is why."
Edward let out an audible gulp and backed up a stride, saying nothing. I watched him, at the way his eyes darted again to the floorboards, and wondered if he had understood me.
He nodded, looking a little thunderstruck. Finally he drew a deep breath, and uttered only three words:
"Thank you, Carlisle."
And much to my surprise, he closed the gap between us in a fraction of an instant, and his arms closed around my body. I stood there in shock, not moving, before I finally returned the embrace.
"Always, son," I whispered.
Edward drew a wavering breath, then stepped away from me awkwardly. We both hesitated a moment, as though unsure what to do. I watched as the wind through the window whipped through Edward's hair, snapping it around his tense face. I wondered if he was still angry with me.
"No," he answered, but this time his voice was softer, pensive. "I'm—still angry." He shot a glance toward the broken window. "But I'm not angry with you. I'm just angry."
"Can I do anything to help?"
He gulped and shook his head. "I don't think so." He slunk quietly across the room toward the door, but stopped abruptly, looking away toward the window.
"I just still don't want her to do this," he muttered.
"I know you don't," I said gently, resuming my seat at the desk and gazing across its expanse toward Edward. "But it's the path she's chosen, and I will respect that."
A growl rose from Edward's chest, but he suppressed it almost at once. He cleared his throat, looking away. "I'm going to go downstairs," he announced a moment later. "I'll play for a while until I go back to Bella's."
Play for a while, I thought. Esme had dusted the grand piano in the foyer immediately upon our homecoming, and we'd had it tuned a few days later. However, it had taken two weeks before Edward had truly sat down for more than just a quick run over the keys. The improvisations which came out now were more melancholy than they once had been, slower in tempo, more in minor keys. Rosalie complained about him never playing anything cheerful, and Jasper and Emmett teased him about the racket. But somewhere deep, I knew that they, like I, were grateful that the terrible stillness that had plagued our home in Ithaca had fallen away.
I nodded. "You should do that," I answered. "I have a few things to finish up here. Then perhaps I'll come down and listen. Oh, and speaking of which"—I reached to the desk—"you have mail."
My hand closed on Edward's magazine and the letter at once, and I tossed them to him. He looked them both over quickly, his head nodding with recognition when he saw the letter.
"Who's Jason Scott?" I asked.
Edward shrugged. "Oh, that's the formal name that Jasper's guy in Seattle uses. Since we didn't have the library up and running when we got here, I thought I'd have him do my new driver's license instead."
I frowned. The library was our euphemism for the top floor of our house, where we kept the equipment for the occasional record forgeries and database doctoring that were a necessary evil of keeping our family solidly underground. Some of the equipment had traveled with us to Ithaca, and so it had taken a little while to have it all back in order. But we hadn't changed anything about our identities in our move—we were all claiming the same ages and roles as we'd had when we'd left.
"Did you…misplace…the old one?" The question was absurd.
For a fraction of a second, Edward chuckled. "It's right where I left it," he answered. "But it's not accurate any longer." In an instant, he sliced open the envelope with a fingernail and thew a small piece of plastic directly into my hands. My eyes flew over the text, searching first our address, Edward's photo, the fabricated birth date set nineteen years earlier for something on which I might have made a mistake when I had manufactured the previous one. Finally my eyes worked their way to the top line, and my breath caught.
CULLEN, it read. EDWARD CARLISLE.
My jaw went a little slack. When I looked up, Edward was smirking. I swallowed over the lump which seemed to be fast forming in my throat and tossed the tiny document back to him. He caught it between two fingers and shrugged.
"Like you said," he muttered, "it's a good reminder." He shoved the license into his jeans pocket and turned toward the door. He was nearly to the doorframe before I regained my voice.
"Edward," I called, and he stopped, turning to appraise me over his shoulder, his eyebrows raised.
"I love you."
My son looked down to the floor a moment, and when he lifted his head, the tiniest smile had spread on his face as his eyes shone in the darkness.
"I know, Carlisle," he answered quietly, his fingers grazing the pocket where he had just stashed the license. "Trust me, I know."
Then he gave me a nod, and was gone.
A fraction of a second later, I heard the piano bench scrape across the parlor floor, and soon music began to wend its way up the staircase from the foyer. I sat still a moment, listening as Edward's fingers made purchase on the keys, sailing over arpeggios, striking chords, flying through scales and glissandi as he wove his concerns into a tortured melody. The music was as haunting as it was beautiful, twisting in a dark, minor key, but with the slightest hints of some happier counterpoint buried deep beneath its phrases. Edward's music wound its way over itself frantically, and as I listened, I knew it to be coming to his fingers straight from within.
From his soul.
Pulling my eyes away from the empty door frame and back to my desk, I turned to where my journal lay open, a few pages having turned themselves backwards on account of the wind that still blew through the window. Bringing my body a little closer to my desk, I picked up one of my fountain pens, turned the pages forward until I reached one which was blank, and began to write.
April 12, 2006
When a patient is released from the hospital, you release him with discharge orders. Don't move too abruptly, you may tear your sutures. Exercise this amount on these days, increase little by little as you feel comfortable. You may feel nausea for a few days. Some bleeding is normal. Take Ibuprofen for pain. Make a follow-up appointment with the nurse.
For physical problems, there is a route to take. Directions to follow. A way to healing.
When your family has been to hell and back, there are no such orders. You walk around bruised for a while, trying not to move so suddenly that you'll tear open the wound. Some things don't function quite the way they did before. You find that in the absence of a clear path, there is nothing to be done to hasten the healing.
And so you simply wait.
We aren't finished healing yet—not by a long shot. Edward's every action insinuates that we cannot go back to how we once knew each other, and while the thought worries me, I suspect it is his own quiet wisdom. I see things as I wish they were, or would like them to be, but through his stubborn resolve, he reminds me to respect the way things simply are.
I lie to myself if I don't admit that I am fearful—that Edward's anger will not abate; that he will not see eye-to-eye with Bella, and that I will be forced to change her against his will. And I fear that either way, we will go back on our word to those who made possible the continued existence of our family so long ago. But in the end we are still that family, however wounded and uncertain. And I find that faced with a new chapter, I am still hopeful that whatever has brought us this far—Love? Fortitude? Dumb luck?--will carry our family through, however this may end.
I am grateful to be a father and a husband. I am grateful for each member of my family, for the ways they have each pulled me from my own lonely existence, and for the support they give me simply by being. And, while at least on one level I wish I could bury and forget these horrific seven months spent in Ithaca, I am grateful for them and for the lessons they have taught me as well.
And of course, I am grateful for Edward, my son…my friend. For him, I will always do all that it is in my power to do. He may be the one considered stubborn, but I find I can no longer stand by idly when his joy is so near at hand. I am firmly convinced that despite all that has occurred this past year there will nevertheless be a happy ending for my beloved son.
There simply has to be.
So, this brings us to the end. I thank you for your readership and support, and I hope you've enjoyed it. This chapter, and the work as a whole, wouldn't have come to fruition if it were not for the generous support and hard work of my betas and friends, Julie, Sarah, Kerstin, and Vika. Thank you, ladies--it's time for that celebratory happy hour, on me. This chapter also received some special canon-checking help from KittandChips, for whose intrepid word-searching I am eternally grateful.
To the rest of you, my unending thanks for your audience. I haven't been perfect about answering reviews of late (although I refuse to admit defeat and you will likely hear from me unexpectedly), but I will absolutely answer all reviews left for Chapter 19 and I encourage you to leave your thoughts. I would love the opportunity to receive and respond to your feedback, positive or negative, and to thank you personally for reading.
Many of you have asked if I have plans for future fics. I am presently writing a fic commissioned by AnjieNet for the Support Stacie Author Auction, and she has been rather gracious as to not take my head off while I've kept her waiting. After that, I will be launching into Stregoni Benefici, which will take us pre-Twilight to Carlisle's formative years. I also have an idea and an outline which involves that hot mess that is Book 4. :) I make no promises, and I need a break from writing a perfectly parallel book first, but you may want to keep me on author alert if you're interested in that project.
In the meantime, you'll find me in any number of locations. I have recently been made a VIP author at A Different Forest. Head over there to find my first updates on planned projects, and general good conversation. adifferentforest(dot)com. I can also be found on the twilighted boards, and gChat and twitter (as gisellelx), or on my website, gisellelx(dot)com
And, as a final thanks, the entirety of Ithaca is Gorges is available in PDF, for any of you who wish to have it to keep. You can find it at my website, www(dot)gisellelx(dot)com/Ithaca. Happy Reading!