Chapter 24: Epilogue
The white Alaskan snow sparkled on the hard, packed earth as Edward stood motionless, staring up at the great stone house. The world around him was still, as frozen and peaceful as the frosty arctic chill that had settled so quickly and suddenly over the land. The sky was an inky blue—the same shade of cobalt he'd seldom seen over the smoggy cities of Beijing and Shanghai. The evening was cloudless—he could see the stars just beginning to peek from the seemingly endless chasm of the twilight sky, and though the warm, tawny glow from the house's vast front window illuminated his face in buttery light, the silver pinpricks were not diminished. The moon was behind him, her great, silvery face sending the tops of tree-shaped shadows stretching across the ground. The night was quiet and clear, and if he craned his neck just far enough to see past the eastern wall of the homestead, he was sure he could see the green glow of the auroras.
"Emmett, be a dear and bring this up to the back room. It's Bella's, but I'd hate to wake her so soon after she's fallen asleep. She's just worn out from all the travelling…"
His mother's voice—so soft and sweet even though she was far away—made Edward smile.
"Sure thing, Ma." His brother. "Give me that one, too…"
"You're a peach. Thank you."
"Esme, what do you think of taking the third floor spare for the schoolroom?"
"I think that would be lovely..."
"I know we usually keep it open when he's not here, but it's got the most space, and I think Bella would really enjoy it up there. It's got great light…"
"I quite agree, my dear. It's a wonderful idea. It's nice and big, and Edward always says it has excellent acoustics."
"And what would you say if I stole that bookshelf we've got up in the attic? It's rather old, I know, but it's got great bones. I could have Emmett spruce it up… sand it down and give it a nice coat of varnish. I know she'd love to have her own bookshelf. She was so upset when we told her the built-ins back in Washington couldn't come with us."
"Of course, dear."
"I'll grab it, babe." Edward was pleased to hear Emmett's easy acquiescence. "I'm sure I saw it up there somewhere. Maybe back in the corner…"
"Oh, if you're heading up now, would you take this?" Edward heard the rough sliding of a heavy cardboard box against the hardwood. "It's all of Carlisle's old medical files…"
"Why does he cart those around, Esme?" That was Alice. "Every time we move, the poor man packs up the boxes from the old attic and drags them to the new house, and then he has to cart them out again to put them in the new attic…"
"Because," his father sounded amused, "they might come in handy."
"I doubt it."
Carlisle simply laughed.
"We should have everything in order by tomorrow, I think," he said. "That is… if she doesn't wake up in the middle of the night."
Esme was cut short when Alice let out a gasp. Edward saw the images flashing through her mind like a film.
Himself, standing as he was now, on the edge of the treeline surrounding their remote, northern home.
His father, wrapping him in a warm, welcoming embrace.
His sister, taking him by the hand and leading him into the familiar space, through a maze of boxes and detritus.
His eyes darkening as the scent—her scent—filtered through the open door of the upstairs bedroom.
Her little, white face scrunched in sudden discomfort, her lavender eyelids resolutely closed as she kicked her blankets away…
His lips, ever so gentle, on the sleeping child's cheek.
"What is it, Alice?" asked Jasper. "Did you see something?"
"Oh…" His sister came back to the present with jubilant and ecstatic glee. "Oh, yes!"
"What is it?" chuckled Jasper. "I haven't seen you this excited since…"
"Go look outside." Through Esme's eyes, Edward watched Alice point a long, talon-like fingernail at their father. "Go now."
"Why?" Carlisle was immediately suspicious. "Is there something wrong?"
"No," said Alice quickly, leaping gracefully over an upturned crate. "No…"
"Go outside!" she chirped again, and even through the closed doors and windows, he heard her clap her hands together.
"Hush!" Esme chastised. "You'll wake Bella!"
"Oh, go on, Carlisle!"
"If this is some sort of trick…"
"Have I ever been known to trick you?" demanded Alice, shoving a pair of loafers she'd fished from a nearby box into his hands. "Go! I promise you won't regret it!"
"You're loco, Alice." Emmett shook his head before turning to his wife. "Come upstairs, babe. We can get our stuff set up…"
"Oh, no you don't," said Alice at once. "Stay right there."
Through the window, Edward saw Emmett's silhouette freeze. At the same moment, he saw the front door swing open, the rippling heat from the house distorting the tall, leonine figure haloed in welcoming light. As soon as the door swung shut, Edward heard his father take a long, deep breath, and as the northern wind blew from behind him towards the house, he saw his father freeze.
"I'm here," said Edward softly. His father's thoughts, as always, were full of gentle kindness, and Edward, moving out of the shadows, took a careful step into the circle of light.
We've missed you.
"Welcome home." The words and thoughts hit him at the same time, and though he took slow, careful steps towards the vast house, Carlisle met him long before he could reach it.
And just like in the vision, he was wrapped in a familiar, strong embrace.
"Thanks, dad." Though his voice was subdued, Edward could not mistake his largest brother's curious, impetuous face peering out from the front window. He could only be nervous for a moment—the wide, cracking smile that split Emmett's face was enough to put him off his guard, and when his brother came outside—barefoot and laughing—Edward prepared himself for the ensuing chaos.
"You came home!" he chuckled, snatching him away from their father and into a bone-breaking hug. "Good on you, bro. How long you staying?"
"Not long," admitted Edward. Emmett thumped him on the back. "I just came to check in."
"Well, I'm sure mom will be glad to see you."
"I hope so."
"Oh Edward!" Esme stood in the doorway.
"Hello mom," he said easily. He made it to her in a blur of colour and embraced her heartily. "You look well. How are you?"
"Never mind me," she said, pulling back to peer at him with a scrutinizing gaze. "How are you?"
"Quite well," he replied. The warm air from the house beckoned him inside. "May I…?"
He gestured silently towards the open door.
"Of course," Esme said, stepping cautiously aside. "Are you sure you'll be okay…?"
"I'll be fine," he assured her. "I am fine."
"So long as you're sure."
Edward said nothing but stepped inside and took off his wet shoes—they were a little worse for wear after his run through the woods. He set them gingerly by the door.
The wood felt warm on his bare feet.
"Everyone is in the living room. Except the little one, that is. She's asleep upstairs. The poor dear was completely worn out after the day we've had…"
Edward dawdled in the entranceway.
"She was upset when we left," said Esme lowly, ushering him away from the door. "She knew we were leaving, but I don't think she really understood until we packed her into the car and drove off…"
"The poor thing cried all the way to Canada," said Rosalie softly, and Edward glanced up, careful and calm, at her stoic, but not unhappy, face. "And that was only yesterday. We drove all the way in one shot to cut down on our travel time and when she woke up on a highway in The Middle of Nowhere, British Columbia, the whole production started all over again."
"I'm sorry to hear it," he said gently.
"So were we," she returned, and to his great surprise, it was she who offered him a careful, welcoming hand.
"Come into the living room," she said. "Everyone's waiting."
And so he did.
Boxes and crates were strewn about the room, looking for all intents and purposes as if a hurricane had torn its way through. Edward knew that his family was used to moving—the mess would not burden them any longer than was necessary—and Edward knew then that he must have just caught them. Had he arrived a few hours prior, as he had originally planned, he might have missed them altogether.
Or worse still, he might have been met with her.
And he could not—would not—cause her any more distress. He sent a silent prayer of thanks to whoever had inspired his last minute hunting trip—it had not been strictly necessary, but it was, nevertheless, a blessing.
"Come through," said Rosalie, her long, thin fingers held tightly to his own. He let her lead him—it was so rare that Rosalie was so forthcoming with any kind of affection—and he watched in a half-amazed, half-wary daze as she directed him to the sofa.
Are you well? Her thoughts expressed all the concern she refused to show to anyone else. If it's too difficult for you, we can move outside…
He gave her one, discreet nod.
Very well. She sat down next to him. If at any time you can't handle it, no one will think any less of you if you have to take a break.
"Oh, stop hogging!" squealed Alice, her shrill voice earning her a soft "shush!" from Esme.
All seven of them held their breath as the child upstairs—oblivious to Edward's arrival—tossed in her bed.
"If you wake her, Alice…" Emmett was suddenly grumpy. "Let the poor kid have one night."
"Sorry, sorry…" Alice's tiny arms wrapped around his neck. "I've missed you, brother…"
Edward chuckled, patting her spiky head.
"Has she not been sleeping?" His question was thrown to Emmett.
"Nah," he shrugged. Edward did not miss the way he leaned against the banister, putting himself between Edward and the staircase. "She's been upset ever since we started shipping some of our things up here. Crying in the car is just the tip of the iceberg. She's been up at all hours, worrying and fretting…"
"And for no good reason." His mother was suddenly put out.
"She was afraid," said Jasper gently. "I've said it before. We might have adopted her and she might have taken our name, but in her heart, I still think she thought we'd leave her behind."
"Not ever," sniffed Esme, turning her back on the group to fish a shiny bauble from its paper wrapping. "I'll make her see it…"
"She will see, darling," said Carlisle. "Just give her time."
Esme set the bauble on the mantle.
"Well…" She stood up straight. "Never mind that just now. She's safe, and asleep, and I daresay, exhausted. I don't think she'll wake before morning."
"I don't see anything out of the ordinary," said Alice at once. "I've checked."
"But you can't see her," chimed Emmett unhelpfully. "So even if she were to wake up…"
"Oh, hush," Alice tossed a cushion at him. "She'll be fine."
"I know she'll be fine," said Emmett. "What I'm saying is that she might wake up."
"Regardless," Carlisle cut in, "she's asleep now, and I'd like to keep it that way. Please, keep the noise to a minimum."
Emmett, always the prankster, sealed his lips with an invisible lock, throwing the make-believe key over his shoulder.
"How long are you here, son?" Carlisle directed his attention to Edward instead.
"I don't know," admitted Edward. "Not long. I just came to check in."
"It's still quite…" Edward took a deep, solitary breath, feeling the discomfort deep in his throat and chest. The scent was muted—the distance and barrier between him and her made it easier for him to control his thirst—but still it burned. The smouldering, red coals of predatory need flared up into licking, orange flames the moment he breathed her in.
"…pungent," he finished lamely.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm perfectly fine," he said quietly. "That child is in no danger, I assure you."
"I know that," dismissed Carlisle. "My concern is for you."
"Don't worry about me, Carlisle," chuckled Edward. "I assure you—I'm fine. I'll be fine."
"I'm sorry it's hard for you," he said gently. "Did you want to come upstairs…?"
"Not yet," said Edward quietly. "I'm not keen to test myself just yet."
"Just yet?" Rosalie spoke up, a note of concern in her voice this time. "What's that mean?"
"Nothing," Edward shook his head. He was thinking of the vision—of that sweet, open face deep in slumber, resting so gently on her blue pillows…
"He's fine, Rose." In Jasper's mind, Edward could see the unique and fascinating way Jasper's gift presented itself—it amazed Edward how intuitively his brother read these strange signs. In that moment, Edward saw the family as Jasper did—Alice, snugly ensconced in a haze of deep and resonant purple, Esme in a flurry of blue and green, and Carlisle, as always, a steady and radiant yellow.
And when Jasper looked at him, he saw himself encased in a kaleidoscopic cascade of hues—joyful violet, serene yellow, comfortable green, frustrated orange, a hint of blue worry and even a dash of coral excitement… but none of the black rage or scarlet lust that marked him as a threat.
The colours almost made him dizzy.
"Don't think I'm being a jerk," Emmett cut in, speaking once again from his place by the banister, "but why'd you come up here?"
"Just to check in, like I said," he repeated. "I have no intention of staying."
He saw his mother's mouth turn down.
I wish you'd reconsider.
"I can't, Esme," he said softly. Though his mother hadn't spoken her thoughts out loud, Edward knew that the rest of the family could devise her meaning just the same. "Maybe someday… but I won't risk it just now. I'm a danger to her, and I don't trust myself not to make things worse."
"There is no worse," said Esme at once. "Things aren't bad to begin with…"
"She's grown fonder of me, I'll admit," The letters she had written to him in her childish, chicken-scratch scrawl provided ample proof of that, "but I don't doubt that if she had to face me again, she'd be afraid."
"No…" Esme shook her head and turned her back again. "No, she's not afraid…"
"Regardless." He held up a hand. "I can't risk it… I won't risk it."
"Then where will you go?" asked Alice softly. She was watching him in that knowing way—the way she always did when she could read him like an open book.
"I'm thinking Europe," shrugged Edward. "Maybe Scandinavia. Or London. I haven't decided yet."
"We're taking Bella to London," said Carlisle quickly, flashing a grin at Edward, whose face was a mask of shock. "I'm going to check out the old homestead—or what's left of it, anyways—and see if I can't give it a new start."
In all the years Edward had known Carlisle, he had never—not once—been back to the old home his father had left him back in England. Of course, according to the deed, the land had originally belonged to Carlisle's long-removed grandfather, but with the help of some less-than-honest legal council and a few well-placed dollars, the property—which was on the verge of being declared a heritage site—still bore the Cullen family name.
"That's… wonderful," said Edward, fishing for words. "Do you think she'll like it? What made you change your mind?"
"Oh, I think so." Even in his mind, Carlisle had nothing but hope for the trip. "I've shown her some old artifacts and pictures from my study, and she's been more than happy to help me dig up some research on the place."
"And as for what changed my mind…" His father blew out a long breath. "I suppose it's time, that's all. Some archaeologists are interested in taking a look through to see if there's anything left worth preserving, and I can't deny them that. It's history, after all, but I have to go first to make sure there's nothing… sentimental left."
"I suppose there'll be something leftover—assuming no one's pillaged it before now. Pages from father's bible, perhaps, or some of my sister's dolls…"
A slender, blonde girl, no older than twelve, flashed through Carlisle's mind with blurred edges and darkened corners—the hallmarks of frail human memories.
"I'm sure the child will enjoy it," said Carlisle finally. The girl in the memory morphed all at once—her light hair turned dark, her legs grew shorter and when she turned, Edward saw the sweet face of the child upstairs instead of the mystery face of the girl from a time long gone.
The grin Carlisle imagined on the child's face made Edward feel warm.
As the hours rolled on, Edward helped as his family worked. Together as a unit, they made quick work of the boxes in the living room, and they had the kitchen set up before the antique grandfather clock in the downstairs parlour struck two. They were tireless, just like they always were, and only as the first hints of blue replaced the black on the eastern horizon, did they sit back down in the living room.
The house was spotless.
"It's going to be a clear day, I think…" said Esme, glancing carefully out the window. "We'll have to draw the shades."
"She doesn't know?" asked Edward, his eyebrows raised in surprise.
"No," admitted Esme. "We haven't found the right time to tell her. She's too young to understand, and if she were to tell anyone else…"
"Anyone," said Carlisle solemnly. "Aro is a long-time friend of mine and he's been quite lenient with me in the past," he glanced subtly around at the six family members he'd acquired over the years—the Volturi were not fond of large groups of potential rivals, "but I don't want to provoke him by spilling our secret to a human. It would do nothing but put her in danger, and I won't have that. Not yet…"
He shook his head, resolute.
"I'd never risk her safety. Perhaps when she's older and can decide on her own which option to take, especially if she's given an ultimatum…"
"What do you mean, ultimatum?" Rosalie's voice was waspish.
"I mean nothing," said Carlisle quickly. "Nothing yet. And maybe nothing ever."
His sister pursed her lips, sitting back in her chair with a renewed stiffness.
"We can't take her future, Carlisle."
Carlisle shook his head.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"We won't come to it," said Rosalie again. Her eyes bore into his with an unnerving intensity. "I mean it. She's going to have a wonderful, beautiful, long, human life. She's going to grow up, go to college, marry some man who will never be good enough for her, have lots of beautiful babies…"
"That's all anyone wants for her," said Carlisle gently, the sudden fear in Rose's eyes anchoring his resolve. "And so, in order to achieve that goal, we must remain discreet."
Five nods—one from each family member besides Edward—were the only reply.
The first cracks of dawn—a weak, pale yellow seeping in through the eastern window—made Edward stir.
"I should get moving," he said regretfully, his heart full of sudden sadness. "Before it gets too bright and she wakes up…"
"Oh, surely not…" Esme glanced anxiously at the clock. It flashed 5:02. "She won't be up for hours yet, Edward…"
"All the same," he sighed. "I don't want to risk it."
I'm sorry, Esme.
"You must come to visit," she said, pulling him into a tight and fervent hug. "I mean it. It's not the same when we're not together…"
"I know." He really did.
"Christmas isn't too far off."
"I'll be here," he promised.
"And maybe we can meet up in Europe," said Esme again. "If we meet someplace outside, it's bound to be easier for you…"
"I love you."
"I love you too, mom."
When Esme let him go, Edward was ashamed at the sight of her bright, liquid eyes.
He hated disappointing his mother.
"Wait!" Alice jumped up from the sofa. "You have to say goodbye…"
"No. I mean…"
She glanced significantly at the staircase, before which Emmett once again stood sentry.
"I've seen it."
"I won't risk it."
"You'll be fine," said Alice quickly. "I mean it, Edward. Go."
"I'll wake her."
"I'm not to be trusted…"
"We'll be with you," she said softly. "Jasper, Emmett, Rose, and I. And Carlisle is right downstairs if anything happens."
Edward did not look at his father, but when he sensed no fight or protest from him, he glanced nervously at the long, towering staircase.
"Just for a moment," he said. He would appease his sister. "But at the first sign of trouble…"
"I'll drag you out myself," she said cheerfully. "Trust me, Edward. Go."
And in a blink, he and his siblings were hovering on the landing at the top of the stairs.
The scent was richer.
"She's just down…"
"I know," Edward interrupted Alice and a quiet admonishment. Of course she was there… he could almost see her scent pouring out from the crack beneath the bedroom door…
When Alice threw open the door, it hit him like a brick wall. He felt the colour drain from his eyes as the burgeoning flame in his throat erupted into a raging inferno. For a long moment, his brain was wiped clean. He could feel the predator rising up in him, the urge to bite growing stronger and stronger…
Rosalie's sharp, strong hand clasping down on his shoulder brought him back to reality, and in a rush of colour, sound, and sense, he came back to himself.
Jasper, standing between Edward and the door, eyed him with overt and open suspicion.
"You alright?" he drawled, and Edward instantly recognized the tone of apprehension. "You've gone pale, and your eyes…"
"I'm alright," said Edward honestly. He held the air in his lungs, refusing to take another breath. Still, even as he closed his lungs to the smell of her, he could still feel the antagonistic embers licking at his chest and throat, demanding to be satisfied, to be quenched…
"Stop it," said Jasper at once, hitting him with a wave of calm that almost made him giddy. "If you're not in control of yourself, go back downstairs and forget it. Alice's vision be damned."
Edward felt his father's steady form at his back as Rosalie's long nails digging into the flesh of his shoulder increased their pressure.
"I'm fine," said Edward again, forcing himself to release his breath. He took in another, pungent breath and felt the fire reignite, but this time, he was able to push it aside.
"Better," said Jasper, taking a step back. "No one will think less of you if you turn back."
Edward shook his head.
He always finished what he started.
"Let me through," he said gruffly, glancing at Emmett, who stood in the girl's doorway. He couldn't see her yet, though the loud, muffled thumping of her heart told him exactly where she would be…
Rosalie held his hand in hers as they crossed the threshold of the child's room—not as a display of solidarity, but as a display of caution and strength.
Edward had no doubt that if he so much as looked at the child the wrong way, Rosalie would toss him right through the large bay window.
And he wouldn't blame her one bit.
The child shifted in her bed.
Edward could see, even in the dull light from the budding sunshine outside, just what it was that had attracted his family so strongly to this one, tiny child. She was everything his sister had ever wanted—her brown, curling hair and her pink cheeks, still rounded with youth, reminded her wholly of Emmett. As Rose gazed at her, tousled and rumpled from sleep, Edward was privy to a cascade of dreams and memories—her sweet, little face lighting up with joy at the sight of a bookstore, the feel of her warm pulse racing through her palms as Rose held the little hand in her own, the joy of watching her tear through the wrapping paper on colourful gifts beneath a tall and ornate tree, the way her high, tender voice would sometimes lisp when she used too many s's in one sentence…
The beast, still raging in him, was caged by these memories. This was a child—their child—and Edward knew then and there that he could not be the one to strike her down.
"Goodbye, little one," he said softly—too softly, he knew, for the girl to hear him. She seemed to sense other bodies in the room, however, and shifted lazily under her sheets and blankets. He saw the imprint of a wrinkled pillowcase on her face and her wispy, stray curls stuck to her cheek…
Impulsively, without so much as a thought, he reached down to brush them away.
Rosalie let him do it.
"Someday, we'll try again, you and I," he said. He knelt down by the bed. "But for now, I've got to go."
The girl shifted again.
"Sleep well," he whispered. She was so warm… "…and be safe."
She sighed in her sleep.
And just like in the vision, exactly as Alice had foreseen, he leaned down over her softly sleeping face and pressed a kiss—quick and gentle—to the warm and downy cheek.
"That's enough," he said roughly, pulling himself back upright. His entire being was on fire. "Let me go, please."
He shrugged his sister away and dashed, as fast as he dared, back down the staircase. On his way down, he heard Bella mumble incoherently in her sleep.
He had done it.
"You did well, son…"
"Thank you, Carlisle." Edward barked out a laugh. "I don't know if well is the right word, but…"
"You did well," he repeated. "Rome wasn't built in a day."
"No, it wasn't…" agreed Edward.
"It's progress," said his father, and a unabashed, triumphant pride echoed through every part of his mind. "You did well, considering where we were last time."
The sun crested over the eastern horizon and Edward blinked, glancing down at his own glittering, shining hand.
"That's my cue," he said, stepping instinctively out of the light. Esme hastily pulled down the shade. "I'll see you all again…"
"Don't wait too long," said Esme gently. "I know you get caught up with your traveling, but remember—we're always here, waiting for you."
"Thank you, mom." He accepted her hug with due patience. "I'll be sure to call. Or write."
"Make sure that you do."
"And don't forget Bella," said Alice. "She has no idea you were here, so don't forget to send her letters. She's worried you won't know the new address…"
"How could I forget?" asked Edward, grinning. The backseat of his car—waiting for him in a parking garage in Anchorage—contained a stack of the childish missives he'd acquired in Asia and Australia. "Tell her I'm waiting to hear how her story turned out."
"I will," vowed Esme at once. "And please…" she took his face in her hands, "be careful."
"I always am."
"We'll miss you, brother." Emmett gave him a quick, one-armed hug.
"I'll be back."
"Take lots of pictures."
"I always do," chuckled Edward. He inched his way towards the door. "I'll see you all shortly. Give Bella my love."
Please be careful, son. And remember—we'll always be here when you want to come home.
"Thanks, dad." Edward slipped back into his damp sneakers.
"Stay away from werewolves."
"I always do, Alice," chuckled Edward.
"Make sure you hunt regularly."
"Yes, ma'am." He stepped out into the cold, morning air.
"Buy some new shoes when you hit Anchorage!"
"Maybe!" he called back, chuckling. Alice was leaning over the porch railing, waving heartily as he backed away.
"We love you!"
"I love you too…" He shook his head as he neared the treeline.
And as the whole face of the sun—blazing, yellow, and bright—appeared with sudden ferocity over the edge of the eastern horizon, Edward turned away from the great, stone house, the cold, snowy frost flying under his feet and the arctic wind at his back.
A/N: And here we are... Part 1 is complete! I hope you enjoyed the epilogue. My apologies for the delay- I'm back out on a teaching placement (5 weeks in the classroom) and it's been taking up a lot of my time.
In case some of you caught the little hint... this story will be tied in with my newest creation, Beneath the Old Oak Tree, which will be picked up once Invictus is finished. Nothing direct, of course (since the former is a Carlisle origin story), but both will take place in the same universe.
Keep an eye out for the rewrite of Part 2! When I get home from placement, I'll be gearing up for the next instalment.