I excused myself from a conversation I didn't really want to be having anyway as my cellphone rang. I murmered an apology and turned away, trying to keep the relief out of my expression. I didn't really want to hear the other doctors complaining about the trivial difficulties they were having with their children and families when mine was falling apart in spite of everything I could do.
Emmett and Rosalie were in Europe. It wasn't unusual for them to travel, but the timing was terrible. Admittedly, Emmett and Rosalie needed a break from everyone, especially Edward, anyway, but it was at a time when their absence would cause pain for the rest of the family.
Alice was often away, researching something, but things were better when she was home, if only marginally. She would manage to distract Esme for small amounts of time, and would even manage to get Edward talking again, if only to argue about hunting. At least it was something, I supposed. He had scarcely spoken to the rest of us, save to swear at Jasper and tell him to back off when we had first moved here.
Jasper had, I supposed, taken offence and cleared out. He had been making use of the university nearby, and spent most of his time there now, hardly bothering to come home. Since Emmett had left, he hunted with Alice. Periodically she would inform me that she was dragging him off to hunt, and would check back in upon their return, though usually Jasper stopped by the university and did not accompany her home.
It seemed Alice was trying to make up for everyone else's problems: Edward's absolute agony, Emmett and Rosalie's departure, Jasper's avoidance, and Esme's fear and worry. She stayed determinedly cheerful, acting as if nothing were wrong, though she had also made it clear exactly how she felt on the matter at the beginning, and dropped it from there.
Edward was all but dead to everything, buried deep in his agony and misery. He stayed in his room, ignored anyone but Alice who tried to speak with him, and refused to hunt. I didn't know what to do with him.
Esme was terrified for her family, terrified for her children. She worried about Edward, and Bella, and Jasper, and all of our children, really. She was trapped, watching her worst fear slowly come true. Our family was falling apart.
And here I was, with all this on my mind, politely listening to one doctor complain that his child was slacking off in school- she had a B- in one of her classes when she was a straight A student, and another complain that his son had no interest whatsoever in going to college and his daughter was spending too much time on her part-time job and not enough with the family, while his wife was hassling him about redecorating the living room.
I raised the cellphone to my ear. "Hello?" I said softly.
"Sorry to call you at work." It was Esme. Before I could panic, she continued. "Nothing happened." She reassured me. "Nothing's changed. I just thought maybe you might stop by the university on the way home, and see if Jasper-"
If Jasper would come home for the evening. He hadn't been home for a week and a half, spending all his time at the university. It was a wonder he hadn't been noticed yet.
"I'll stop by." I told her.
"Thanks." She said tersely. She needed to see her son. Needed to be certain that he was alright. Out of all of us, Esme probably suffered the worst, next to Edward. She had to stand by and watch as we left one of her children in Forks, as two more left, as one drowned in despair, and another might as well have left with the other two. My heart ached for all of them, but it was a knife in my already still heart, if such a thing still could affect me, to see her in such pain.
She ended the call, and I put away my cellphone, an unspoken 'I love you' lingering on my lips. I turned back to the doctors, who had moved from education to neatness to criticizing their childrens' friends. I stifled a sigh and checked my watch. I was ready for this shift to be over.
I found Jasper in the library of the university, in a dark corner among shelves of old and dusty tomes, where he would be less likely to be disturbed, immersed in the large book he was reading. I waited for a moment, out of courtesy, before calling his name.
"Jasper." He looked up from his spot on the floor, his back against the wall, and focused his dark eyes on me. He set the book aside.
"Carlisle." He replied. "May I help you?" His brow creased slightly, perhaps picking up the nervousness I felt at asking him to come home. I was worried he might refuse, and guilty for coming here after him, as if he were some errant child, when he was so clearly not. "Did something happen?" He asked, concerned.
"Not exactly." I replied, wanting to calm him, but not wanting to lie. Something had happened. "Esme called me at the hospital. She was wondering if you would come home for the night."
His expression smoothed out, and his eyes were guarded. He was trying to decide what to do. It hurt me to realize that he didn't want to come home, didn't want to be with his family. He also didn't want to hurt us, I realized as he picked up on my pain and winced.
"Sorry." We both apologized at once. He almost smiled as I fell silent. "It's not that I don't want to be home, Dad." He used the word for emphasis, and it sent a torrent of emotion through me, one that he picked up on and ducked his head in acknowledgement of. When he looked up, his eyes were normal again. "I've gotten a bit carried away here, I suppose." He said bashfully, and I was immediately struck with the thought that he was trying to appease me. "I've been forgetting my family. I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to avoid everyone." I briefly had the feeling he was lying to me, but the feeling was gone in less than a second.
He spent the drive home asking me questions about what he had missed; and though I knew it was an obvious invitation to get some of my worries off my chest, and knew he would be subjected to my feelings about it all, I selfishly took the opportunity to relieve my self of all the unspoken thoughts and feelings I had about all of this, of the stress and fear and frustration I was going through.
He listened calmly, quietly, and by the time we reached the house I was feeling minutely better; Jasper had left my emotions alone. He offerred me a smile as we got out of the car and headed inside.
Alice shot Jasper a baleful look as we entered the living room before instantly transforming into her usual sunny, for these days, self. Esme was out of our room upstairs and down here in a flash, wrapping Jasper in a hug, nearly shaking and sobbing as she did so.
"Shh." He whispered quietly, allowing her to hold him, as uncomfortable as it was for him with her in this state. He wrapped his arms around her. "It's okay, Esme. It'll be alright."
He let her cry, or whatever the vampire equivalent is, for several minutes before shifting back enough to lift her head off his shoulder and look her in the eyes. "I'm sorry I haven't been here. I might have helped you, at least." He said gently. "May I?"
She nodded, and relaxed slightly under his influence. We all settled in the living room in awkward silence.
Gradually, Jasper stirred. He sat beside Alice, her hands in his, his body tense. "How long did you say it's been since he hunted?" He asked.
"I'm not going." Edward muttered darkly from his room. "You can't make me." At least he was talking again, and to someone other than Alice.
Alice sighed. "You need to hunt, Edward." She replied. "You can't keep starving yourself."
Edward's only response was a low growl.
Jasper swallowed wearily. "If I'm staying, you have to hunt." Esme gasped at the declaration as Jasper continued. "And I'm staying, so you are going to hunt."
"You can't make me." Edward snarled at him.
Jasper shot me an apologetic look before calmly retorting, "Actually, I can" and marching up the stairs. Alice was beside Esme in a second, trying to reassure her.
"It'll be alright." Alice said. "Neither of them are going to be hurt." Physically, the flicker of her eyes to mine said. We heard Jasper haul Edward up and shove him across the room. We heard the scuffle as Edward tried to fight him off and failed, and another noise as Jasper shoved his brother down the stairs.
Edward was furious, and Jasper was tense, as if ready for a fight. Edward snarled as he tried to break away from him, but Jasper quickly moved to intercept him and pinned him, shoving him to his knees.
"We can do this the hard way or the easy way, Edward." Jasper hissed. "You can go with me freely, or I can drag you off in search of prey and let your instincts do the rest. Your choice."
Edward scowled at the floor for several seconds before Jasper released him. It was as if some unspoken conversation had occurred between them, Edward reading Jasper's thoughts, and he reading Edward's emotions. Jasper offered him an unnecessary hand to help him up, and they were off.
"They'll be back by morning." Alice assured us. She didn't say nothing would happen, or that everything would be fine, but Esme was reassured, so I let it drop.
They were back at dawn, eyes golden, faces drawn. Edward retreated back into his room as Jasper addressed me. "He's going hunting weekly. If no one else wants to take him, I will." Tact was not high priority today, it seemed. Esme flinched at the coolness in his tone as he said it, and he forced a smile. "His words, not mine." He reassured her gently.
He was game as Alice tried again to distract us, obliging her when she insisted that he still had not finished the book they were reading, and so we spent about an hour listening to him read A. A. Milne's When We Were Very Young. Alice had decades ago shown a preference for children's stories, and he often read to her, though the poetry that crept in seemed to be him. It was always an intriguing thing to behold him reading to her.
Jasper began reading, his voice clear, yet soothing, as if he were reading her a bedtime story. It did have a relaxing effect on those of us downstairs.
"Sir Brian had a battleaxe with great big knobs on.
"He went among the villagers and blipped them on the head.
On Wednesday and on Saturday,
Especially on the latter day,
He called on all the cottages and this is what he said:
"I am Sir Brian!" (Ting-ling!)
"I am Sir Brian!" (Rat-tat!)
"I am Sir Brian,
"As bold as a lion!
"Take that, and that, and that!"
Sir Brian had a pair of boots with great big spurs on;.
A fighting pair of which he was particularly fond.
On Tuesday and on Friday,
Just to make the street look tidy,
He'd collect the passing villagers and kick them in the pond.
"I am Sir Brian!" (Sper-lash!)
"I am Sir Brian!" (Sper-losh!)
"I am Sir Brian,
"As bold as a Lion!
"Is anyone else for a wash?"
Sir Brian woke one morning and he couldn't find his battleaxe.
He walked into the village in his second pair of boots.
He had gone a hundred paces
When the street was full of faces
And the villagers were round him with ironical salutes.
"You are Sir Brian? My, my.
"You are Sir Brian? Dear, dear.
"You are Sir Brian
"As bold as a lion?
"Delighted to meet you here!"
Sir Brian went a journey and he found a lot of duckweed.
They pulled him out and dried him and they blipped him on the head.
They took him by the breeches
And they hurled him into ditches
And they pushed him under waterfalls and this is what they said:
"You are Sir Brian -- don't laugh!
"You are Sir Brian -- don't cry!
"You are Sir Brian
"As bold as a lion --
"Sir Brian the Lion, goodbye!"
Sir Brian struggled home again and chopped up his battleaxe.
Sir Brian took his fighting boots and threw them in the fire.
He is quite a different person
Now he hasn't got his spurs on,
And he goes about the village as B. Botany, Esquire.
"I am Sir Brian? Oh, no!
"I am Sir Brian? Who's he?
"I haven't any title, I'm Botany;
"Plain Mr. Botany (B.)"
The feeling of normalcy faded as he finished, leaving tension and stress and worry in it's wake. But Alice was ready again and was pulling the book out of his hand even as he shrugged apologetically. She set it on the table and whipped out of the room to set some music on, music that made Jasper roll his eyes, but he was standing and ready as she dashed back to him and pulled him into a waltz.
Again he obliged her, pulling her closer and murmuring softly in her ear as they danced. Esme slipped her hands into mine.
I hesitated. This wouldn't change anything, I knew. And it seemed heartless, or at least, out of place, to dance with her amongst everything that was happening to us.
Jasper's eyes met mine as he spun Alice around. His face was as drawn, his body as tense as ever. He found no relief from this, I realized. But Alice had relaxed. She needed this, and that was why he was doing it. She needed this break, however small, from the anxiety and stress and tension.
Esme needed this too.
I took her in my arms, and we began to sway slowly to the music. She rest her head on my shoulder and let out a sigh, and I could feel the tension start to drain away for a little while.
Jasper began spending more time at home, though I still saw little of him. He would usually arrive as I was leaving for work, and depart as I returned. And once a week he showed up to take Edward hunting. He still spent most of his time at the university.
Esme was doing better with Jasper's increase in visiting, as I had begun to think of it, which seemed to be his main concern anyway. I got the idea he was keeping her from worrying too much when he was there, and for that I was grateful.
Alice, on the other hand, seemed to be getting worse. She worried more, smiled less, and spent more time staring blankly into what I could only assume was not Bella's future since Edward had not shouted at her for it again.
She had snapped out of the vision and had just begun to cringe when Edward's voice split the silence. "I told you not to pry into her future, Alice!" He all but snarled.
"I'm sorry!" She replied miserably. "I'm not doing it on purpose, Edward! You know that! I can't help it if something slips through!" She had drawn her knees up into her arms and hidden her face from view. It was the only indication that she was unhappy that we had seen, and I had dismissed it as sorrow for causing Edward further pain by what he had seen in her mind.
But now her hand flew to her mouth in that agitated way that usually meant she had just seen something unpleasant in Jasper's future. I was instantly wary, but she noticed and smiled reassuringly.
"It's okay, Carlisle." She lied smoothly. We had been doing a lot of that lately, I realized. "Jasper and I are just going to leave for a while. There's something that I want to look into, and I'd like to take Jasper with me." I must not have looked convinced, because she darted upstairs and came back with a folder.
"I've been using the information we got from James-" We both fought off a shudder at the name- "to try to find out more about who I was. I've found the asylum, Carlisle. I want to go there, talk to people, see if I can find some information."
I nodded, though I hated to think of letting two more of my children go. She continued softly, carefully. "Jasper will be torn between going with me in case I need him or staying here in case you or Esme need him." She hesitated, biting her lip. "And I can't let him stay here, Carlisle."
I stared at her in surprise. I couldn't form the words to ask for an explanation.
Alice sighed, looked up at me with eyes lacking their usual spark. "I don't want to hurt you, Carlisle. Or Esme. I know you're both hurting, and I know that if we both go it's only going to make you feel worse. And I know that Jasper would stay with you both while I went if I told him it was best, though he would worry about me th whole time."
She took a deep breath. "But Jasper's hurting too, Carlisle. And I have to look out for him. I can't leave him here alone with you and Esme and Edward, where he has the choice of avoiding the three of you or suffering your pain." I opened my mouth to speak, but she interrupted me. "You aren't so bad, Carlisle, you don't allow yourself to indulge in your misery, and at least Esme lets Jasper help her, but Edward won't let him do anything, and it's killing them both. And Jasper's been barely managing to hide how much pain it causes him, but that isn't going to last much longer. He's going to snap if I don't do something."
I nodded. Alice knew Jasper as well as she knew herself. I didn't doubt her word, and I didn't doubt that she was telling the truth. But the thought of losing two more of my children now was nearly unbearable.
But I couldn't be selfish. "When?" I asked, a feeling of helplessness sweeping over me.
Alice forced a smile. "Tonight. And it isn't forever, Carlisle. We'll be back. You're family." She stood from the couch and closed the distance between us. I pulled her into my arms, hugging her tightly, an unusually physical for me, though my children all knew I loved them. Esme was usually the one touching people.
"Take care of yourself, Alice." I whispered fiercely. "I love you."
"I love you too, Dad." She replied, burying her head in my chest. We stood like that until Esme found us several hours later.
She understood instantly. "Jasper too?" She asked. I nodded, and released Alice so Esme could embrace her daughter, nearly sobbing already. "I'll miss you, Alice." She told her. "Come back to me."
"Of course." Alice assured her. Jasper arrived then, perhaps sensing his wife's decision without her even needing to tell him. He stood patiently as Esme threw herself at him, waiting for her to move, for her to be ready to release him. When she finally did, he slowly stepped back and turned to face me.
I noticed for the first time how his eyes, rather than sharp and focused, as if prepared for a battle, as was usual for him, were dull and blank, devoid of any emotion. His jaw was clenched, his muscles tensed, his expression carefully unreadable, as if there were something he didn't want anyone to see.
I couldn't help but pull him into a hug, and was surprised when he didn't resist me. His expression shifted as I let him go, for less than a second, but it was enough for me to see for myself that Alice spoke the truth.
They left then, without another word. Esme and I stood there in silence, absolutely miserable and without the slightest idea of how to fix any of this. There was the sound of someone stirring upstairs, and ours eyes met, Esme's wide and fearful expression most likely matching my own.
"I'm leaving." Edward said tonelessly. "I've put everyone else through enough torture. Don't worry, I'll take care of myself, make sure to hunt, all that. And I'll call. Maybe."
"Where?" I managed as he disappeared out the door.
"To hunt down Victoria. Make sure she's leaving Bella alone." He replied, and he was gone.
Esme retreated into my arms, her entire body trembling, her face a picture of despair. I wrapped her in my arms and led her to the couch before we both collapsed from the grief we were feeling. In the back of my mind, I was glad Jasper had left.
We stayed on the couch for what seemed like an eternity, both too frightened and miserable to do anything else, worried for our children, and for our family.
A sort of numbness set in as we realized there was nothing we could possibly do.
Disclaimer: As always, neither Twilight, nor its characters, nor anything else associoated with it are mine. This does start to get old after a while, doesn't it?