Six

FAMILY

Carlisle stood motionless at the window, so handsome, so statuesque, that he seemed to defy anything that could be considered a natural phenomenon. His golden eyes perused the wet forest that surrounded the house, quietly observing things that humans, with their inferior eyes, could not see.

The storm had moved on, leaving behind a calm, steady rain shower that pattered the windows in a soothing manner, but he did not react to it. Instead, he was deep in thought, presumably recalling those early days of his vampire life, centuries ago.

Renesmee watched him seriously and with less patience than her mother, clearly wondering why he had paused in his story. Tilting her head, she looking up into Bella's face, then back at Carlisle. "Grandpa?" she asked tentatively, wanting to ask the question, but uncertain that she wanted the truthful answer.

He turned, and his gaze came to rest on the beautiful child who looked back at him with a level of interest and compassion far greater than her years.

"What about the two humans? Were they okay?"

"I don't know," he replied, honestly. "I would have been unable to help them, so I did not try to find out." His expression was grim. "I think it is accurate to assume that two humans died that night, if not the original two, then others. I thought about that as I left Bristol, and it troubled me deeply." He sighed heavily with regret. "The nature of our existence dictates that we survive by taking the lives of others, but the fact that so many of our kind regard humans as nothing more than livestock has always bothered me."

"You take too much weight on your shoulders, Carlisle," said a soft voice from the doorway.

Bella turned toward it, surprised that her total concentration on Carlisle's story had prevented her from noticing her husband's presence. With her new powerful senses, it was something that rarely happened these days. Usually, she was aware of him before he even reached the door.

Carlisle, however, had clearly been aware of the addition to his audience, for he showed no surprise at all. He smiled in a way that was almost embarrassed. "I suppose I do," he admitted. "As a doctor, I am able to give back to the human race as much as I can, but I cannot control the actions of the others."

"Yet you do not judge them," Edward said, admiringly. Entering the room fully, he joined his wife on the sofa and draped one arm around her shoulder. Renesmee shifted position so that she was resting against both of her parents. "Even though you disapprove of their lifestyle, you accept them as they are," he concluded.

"Judging them would alienate us from them," Carlisle told him.

"And there may be times when we need them," Bella said softly, her hand going protectively to her daughter as Edward hugged her a little tighter, thinking the same thing.

Carlisle quietly observed Renesmee, the special half human, half vampire child who was unlike anything he had ever seen before, and who charmed everyone she met. "Yes. We've already seen that need, haven't we?" He turned back to the window and gazed out at the wet forest, not in a melancholy way, but a thoughtful one.

Unwilling to let the story end just yet, Renesmee asked, "Did you ever see those two vampires again?"

"No, I never encountered those two again, but if they still exist, I would not be surprised to learn that they are still in Bristol, living in the sewers or abandoned warehouses. They did not strike me as the type to interact with humans except at feeding time."

"So is this the point where you decided to swim across the channel to France?" Bella asked.

"No. That notion had not yet crossed my mind. I still didn't trust myself enough around humans to spend much time in their cities, and I couldn't anyway because of my red eyes, so I began to travel around England and Scotland as a nomad. It is not the life I would ever have chosen for myself, for it is a truly lonely existence, but the two Bristol vampires had given me a great deal to think about in terms of our lives and of these enigmatic leaders that they were so fearful of. Even with so little information about them, I knew they were almost certainly ancient, but I never expected to meet up with them. I maintained a very low profile, feeding primarily on local wildlife in the areas as I passed through. As time passed, I felt myself changing. Just subtle shifts in my physical and mental self that a human under comparable circumstances would not have perceived. Gradually, I began to notice that it was becoming less of a struggle to force myself into retreat when I detected the fragrance of humans. Prudently, I still avoided them, but if I encountered one on the road I no longer felt that overpowering sense of urgency to leave the area before I did something terrible. I was learning control, to go against the things that are natural for vampires."

"I've always admired your willpower," Edward said, softly.

"Well," he said kindly, "I am immune to the smell of human blood now, but back then it was not so easy. It took decades, centuries even, to reach the level of self control that I have now."

"Did you ever find any others like you?" Renesmee asked.

"I occasionally encountered other vampires, little one, but none who shared my beliefs and few that I cared to spend time with. Some were brutal and felt no remorse about the humans they murdered. To the contrary, the reveled in the power they had over the weaker humans. Perhaps they were just as cruel and uncaring in their human lives, and this tendency carried over with them to their vampire lives. And like wild predators, they were territorial and resented my presence near their covens. Not surprisingly, I avoided these types. Not all vampires I encountered were so unfriendly, however. Some were pleasant and willing to answer questions about our kind and what I might expect as time passed and I became more experienced.

"One such coven," he continued, "was in the highlands of Scotland. A lovely place to be," he added. "Graham Macgregor was the leader of his small 'family' which included his wife Fiona and a young female a little younger than I in human years. He owned land and raised crops to sell to the humans in the village for income to pay his taxes and purchase things to make their existence comfortable, and it was this obvious desire to blend in with humans that attracted me to them. They allowed me to stay for several weeks and they helped restore my faith that good exists even among vampires."

"Were they 'vegetarians'?" Edward asked.

"No, I'm sorry to say they were not, and they teased me mercilessly about that, but in a friendly way. Had they shared my beliefs, though, I probably would have accepted their invitation to stay longer, especially since they were very tolerant of what they considered an odd diet. They were helpful in directing me to herds of wild goats and roe deer while I was there."

He paused and made a face that incited laughter from his audience, especially Renesmee, who thought it quite funny to see her grandfather make such a face. "A word of advice," he said. "Stay away from the highland goats. They'll eat anything, and the bitter grasses in the high altitudes tends to flavor their blood in very unpleasant ways."

Edward chuckled. "I'll remember that."

"The thing that surprised me was that Fiona knew as soon as she met me that I did not feed on humans, and when I questioned her about how she knew, she indicated my eyes. Without my knowledge, my eyes had finally turned golden. She told me she had seen such a vampire as I in France, many years before. This intrigued me, and as I viewed my reflection in a mirror, I knew that I could finally interact with humans as one of them. My eyes were a little more golden than was normally seen, but not so different that they would cause me to stand out in a crowd. They would no longer consider me a freak, although I suppose there were plenty of vampires who still think of me in that way."

"Villages were small in those days," Edward said. "Where did the Macgregors feed?"

"They did not hunt in the nearby village, but went over the mountains into the lowlands and the more populated towns. I did not accompany them, using that time instead to hunt for deer and explore the beauty of the Scottish terrain."

"Was the girl pretty?" Bella teased.

"Very," he answered promptly with a smile, "but she and I were not compatible as anything more than friends, although I believe Graham and Fiona would have been delighted if we had gotten together."

"They were not among our guests when we needed witnesses for Renesmee," Bella said.

"They had moved away from the highlands of Scotland. With modern technology and population, the world has become smaller and since we do not age, it has become more difficult to blend in for any length of time. Like us, they relocate periodically. The last I heard, they were somewhere in Russia, but time was limited, so we did not put out too much effort to find them once we had acquired a sufficient number of witnesses to help us."

"That's too bad. They sound very nice."

"They are indeed, and I am certain you will meet them one day. It was difficult to leave them, but I was searching for something meaningful to do with my long life. I wanted to educate myself, and now that I could move freely among humans, I began to spend more and more time with them, visiting the cities and towns, remaining for increasingly longer intervals until I was satisfied that my control was absolute. To this day, against all the odds, I have never taken the life of a human being."

Edward looked away with a guilty expression, and Bella placed her hand comfortingly on his. That terrible time was behind him, and he had rejoined Carlisle's coven ready to commit to their lifestyle. He took her hand and squeezed it lovingly.

"After wandering around Great Britain for few decades, I finally made the decision to swim to France," Carlisle continued. "It was for several reasons that I did this. One was to vary my diet. Deer is satisfactory, but a steady diet of it becomes tedious, and mainland Europe had other large game that I could hunt. The other reason was that I was, as Nessie has mentioned, looking for others like me. I thought surely there must be some who were revolted by the thought of harming humans, but I eventually discovered that such a thing is very, very rare.

"Looking for a way to fill my long life, I first sought employment to earn money, but always at night so that my skin did not betray me, and then I took up studies in the major universities, and eventually settled on my career choice. I would give back to humanity by becoming a doctor. You can't imagine how hard that was at first, being around bleeding humans, mangled by one accident or another. It still amazes me the damage humans can do to themselves and to each other. But against the odds, I overcame every obstacle that came my way."

He fell silent for several moments. "It is odd," he mused. "That feeding on animals seems to make us more civilized. Even the Volturi, as cultured as they are, can be cruel and savage in ways that I could never be."

"It isn't the animals, Carlisle," Bella said softly. "It's you. Your presence. Your influence. You're one of a kind, and you inspire everyone around you."

"It is very kind of you to say that," he told her. "It would be very comforting to think that, but I fear my influence, as you say, did nothing to convert the Volturi, although I certainly made the effort."

"Perhaps not, but they were unable to convert you, either," Edward reminded him. "You always try to see the best in others, but maybe they were never as cultured as they appear."

"Maybe not," Carlisle considered.

"What happened next, Grandpa?" Renesmee urged, her eyes wide with fascination. "Tell us about your life with the Volturi."

"That is another story, little one," he smiled. "One I will tell you when you are older." Lifting her into his arms, he tickled her affectionately, and was rewarded by her shrieks of laughter.

~ the end ~