Title: Near To You

Author: Caitlinlaurie

Rating: M, for eventual language and smut

Fandom: Twilight

Pairing: Bella/Carlisle

Summary: Years after Edward left Forks in New Moon, Bella has moved on with her life. Now living in a small town, Bella has tried to live as quietly as possible. But when someone from her old life returns, Bella must choose between the life she has made for herself and the life she is destined for. Bella/Carlisle

Warnings/Notes: This is my first Twilight fic, and is obliviously AU. This fic goes back and forth between both POVs, and I try to stay as in character as possible. Let me know what you think! Also, this is a love story and this fic will have eventual smut, so be prepared. If you don't like the pairing, turn back now.

Disclaimer: All characters and their canon histories are the property of Stephenie Meyer.

In the tale, in the telling, we are all one blood. Take the tale in your teeth, then, and bite till the blood runs, hoping it's not poison; and we will all come to the end together, and even to the beginning: living, as we do, in the middle.
― Ursula le Guin

Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.
― C.S. Lewis

Part One: Time Present and Time Past

Chapter One – Of Fairy Tales and Dragons


When I was a little girl, my favorite fairytale was Sleeping Beauty. Not the cheesy Disney version with dancing through the forest and magical fairies, incapable of doing more than being comedic entertainment, but the real version. The original one. You know the story I am sure, practically everyone does. To celebrate the birth of a daughter, this king invites the whole kingdom to his castle, including twelve wise women. There is a thirteenth, but she gets left out because of flatware or something, so of course she party crashes and dooms the baby to death. Well, instead of death, the princess sleeps for a hundred years. Yeah, that's right. One hundred years! She doesn't even get a choice in the matter. Once her finger has been pricked—well, it's all over for her.

Now, I could get deep and say how pricking her finger is a metaphor for sexual awakening and the sleep is a consequence of adult activity, but there is no need for that. The deeper meanings behind the Grimms' Fairy Tales have been done to death. But the point I am trying to make is this: Sleeping Beauty having to sleep for a hundred years, and it not even being her choice? Yeah, I get that.

See, me and Sleeping Beauty have a lot in common. Not the beauty part 'cause, let's face it, I have no claim to beauty on my best days, but the roaming the secret passage ways of the castle and discovering the hidden spinning wheel and having to pay the consequences for discovering that which should have remained hidden? I can totally relate to that.

But there is one big difference between me and Sleeping Beauty. After a hundred years, her prince showed up and they all lived happily ever. But me?

I didn't have a prince to wake me from the enchanted sleep.

My prince? The one who was supposed to waken me with a kiss? He was the one who put me into the sleep in the first place.

It happened like this…

I don't remember much about the days after Edward left me. Really, they all became a blur of sound and movement, mixing and pulsing together. It was sort of like I lost consciousness, or like I eased my way down to the bottom of a pool. I had no trouble breathing, and I could see everyone, but their voices were far away, distorted by the water. Their images were blurry, and I could see them motioning for me to resurface, but I couldn't. It was simply too much effort. I was just stuck there, tied in some sort of suspended animation.

It was like that for an entire week. I know my dad tried to get me to eat and move, but I simply couldn't. There was no part of me that knew how to live without him. If I think hard enough, I can remember staring at the cracks on my ceiling, but most of that time has disappeared into the back of my mind. Pages to a first draft thrown away, or like memories to a life I never lived.

All I remember, really and truly, is that one day my mom was there. I was told later that it was a week between when Edward left me and when my mom arrived, but it could have been years and I would believe it. My bedroom was cold, but I didn't have the strength to pull up the blanket from my feet. I could hear Renéeand Charlie moving around, packing my things. Some part of me wanted me to move, to stop them, to fight…but I couldn't. There was no fight left in me; Edward took it all.

So I just lay there, waiting for something, waiting for death.

A moment later, I felt the chilly brush of my mother's fingertips. She always had such cool hands, so much like Edward's. I couldn't help it at that point, I started to cry. Tears were falling, and for the first time since Edward left—since I had discovered my carefully altered room devoid of the tokens that had marked his presence—I really felt my pain. Sobs shook my body, and before I knew it, I was in my mother's arms and she was hushing me gently.

"There, there, honey," my mother said soothingly. "It's all right now. You're all right now." A weight settled on the other side of us, and Charlie wrapped me in his arms from behind. His long limbs wrapped fully around me and Renée, and I think that must have been the first time they voluntarily touched since the divorce. But they were a united front for me, I guess.

"Bella, you are going to stay with your mom for a while," my dad said, his voice rumbling. He sounded emotional, but I couldn't really tell. "Maybe with some time and space, you will feel more like yourself again."

Feel. That was the problem, wasn't it? I couldn't feel anything, nothing but a gaping hole in my chest, so how did he expect me to feel like myself again? Did I even remember what feeling felt like?

My mom cupped my face, wiping away my tears with the pads of her thumbs. "Is this all right, hon?" I guess she was asking me to talk, to show her some sign that I was willing to move to Florida with her, but I had nothing.

"It doesn't have to be for forever, Bells," my father said, but I knew it would be. I was already a senior, and there were no big universities in the Olympic Peninsula. Did he honestly think I would be returning to Forks after college? God, even thinking about the future hurt. Did I even want one anymore?

I knew a response was required, and I just wanted them to stop talking. Anything to get them to go away and leave me alone. "Yeah, Florida is okay," I finally managed to murmur, speaking for the first time in a week since Dr. Gerandy came to see me.

I know my parents thought that was a turning point, that I would be back to normal after that…but I wasn't.

The Little Zombie, that's what Phil took to calling me to my mother. I don't think he knew I heard him, but I did. Maybe the old Bella would have called him on it, but I couldn't bring myself to care. Nothing mattered anymore.

My first several months in Florida followed a predictable pattern. I woke, went to school, ate, slept, repeat. Nothing interrupted my little bubble of unhappiness, and it didn't occur to me to care that I had no friends and no activities outside of school. My grades were flawless and I was existing, but nothing more than that. In the beginning, my mother tried to give me several of those "I've been hurt by men before too" speeches, but she stopped after a while when she realized I wasn't listening.

When I didn't snap out of it after a while, my mom sent me to a shrink. He said I had a major depressive disorder, and prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. I started on Prozac, but after that didn't work I went to Wellbutrin. I know that most people feel better after they go on antidepressants, but it wasn't like that for me. I didn't feel better, I just felt nothing.

Nothing. Not the aching hole in my chest, not anxiety, not depression, not desire, nothing. I just became even, and every high and low I ever had was gone.

That's when Phil started calling me the Medicated Zombie. I finished out my senior year, not really interested in college, but I somehow got in to Dartmouth, Cornell, and Brown. I don't even remember filling out applications, but I supposed I did. I figured later that I must have expressed a moderate interest in Rhode Island, for the next thing I knew my mom had sent in the student housing forms, paid for courtesy of my full scholarship, and I was registered to begin classes for my freshman year.

It didn't matter to me. Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, they were all the same. All blurred futures to me that simply didn't matter. I would exist without action at any of them, so which one I went to was rather arbitrary.

I guess my life would have continued on that way had my mom not stepped in. I don't think I ever really thanked her for that; I mean really thanked her. She knew that I wasn't living, and she saved me. Became like my own personal sun, I guess. I clung to her warmth, not even noticing I was doing it.

She woke me up in June, about three months before I was going to leave for college. I had been sitting in my room, staring out the window, when she burst in with a large smile on her face.

"Hey, honey!" She called, her cheeks splitting in the widest smile I had ever seen. "You won't believe what I was able to find in this little store off of Beaver and Main! They have a bunch of college sweatshirts and stuff, and I bought this!" She pulled a brown t-shirt out of the bag. It had BROWN written across it in red, capital letters.

"Isn't this great?" she asked, her voice full of enthusiasm.

"Great, Mom," I echoed, looking back out the window. I loved the house we lived in, so close to the water that I could smell the ocean and the tang of the sea.

My mom came over and sat next to me on the window seat, brushing a lock of hair from my face. "What's the matter, hon? Aren't you happy about going to school in Rhode Island?"

To this day, I don't know what made me say it. Really, they were the words that saved my life, but I hadn't volunteered information in months. So why did I do it that day? Maybe I wanted to be saved. I don't know, but I said, "Happy? I don't remember what happy feels like."

And then I looked back out the window.

She was silent for a long time, not moving, but then she finally said, her voice soft, "Honey? What do you feel?"

I turned my head, looking back at her, and said, "I don't feel anything."

She tossed out my prescription drugs that day. It was really stupid, and she could have caused me to go through withdrawals or worse, but none of that happened to me. Part of me expected that empty chasm in my chest to reopen, for me to descend into that deep pool from which I could not escape, but it didn't.

I just started living again.

It was a slow process, and a lesser woman that my mother would have crumbled, but she brought me back to life. Slowly, she reintroduced me to things that I used to like. I ate Mexican food again, swam in the ocean, went for long walks where neither of us said anything. She bought me CDs, replacing the ones I had broken and thrown away. We watched Masterpiece Theater marathons, and I reintroduced myself to the classics that I had once loved, allowing reading to become a pleasure again.

It was hard, and sometimes painful, but that was how I learned to live without Edward.

There was no one day I was better, no moment that my life suddenly became rainbows and puppies, but I did start to feel again. Sadness, happiness, anger, grief, I felt it all. But it didn't pull me under; my mom wouldn't let it. We never talked about the Cullens initially, it was easier that way, but we did talk about Forks. My mom told me about her early days of dating and how important it was to not invest so much of yourself in one person that you lose that spark of who you are. I nodded and told her I understood, but how do you express to your mom that it wasn't just him who left me? I lost a whole family, a whole world really. I had figured out my life, the universe, and my place in it. To have that stripped away in a moment by the man I thought loved me with the same intensity I loved him…well, it was devastating.

But my mom, in one of her more amazing moments, said something to me that I have never forgotten. She said, "Is it so hard to believe that you are worth something without him? That whatever happened, brief though it was, doesn't have to end your life? You are still living, Bella, still breathing. His leaving did not end your life; it only ended that part of it. It's time for a new beginning, honey."

She never said his name, but then, she didn't have to. Her words resonated within me, without even mentioning him.

So I lived.

I went off to college with that mantra drumming in my head, and I really made an effort. I made friends, I joined clubs, and I lived. All of those human experiences that he had wanted me to have, I now experienced for myself. I did all the things kids my age were supposed to do. I lit up with my roommate (but only the once and never again), I got drunk at a party (the next morning regurgitation cured me of that impulse too), I attended a protest rally, I withdrew from a class solely due to the time it was being offered (it cut into my sleeping in)…the list went on and on.

The only thing I never did was date. I simply couldn't. That part of me was locked deep inside me and I did not have the tools to make it come out again.

But I was okay with that.

My life was so full that I didn't even notice what I was missing.

The years passed by quickly, and soon I was taking my last set of finals at Brown. I remember walking away from the Brown Street building, having dropped off the last of my essays, and wondering where all the time went.

In the end, Edward had come through on his promise. He never came back, and I went on with my life without him interfering.

And it was…like he had never existed.

On a spring day, later that month, I stepped across the stage and gracefully accepted my diploma. I became a college graduate, and my first action was to find the faces of my mom, Charlie, and Phil in the crowd and shoot a smile their way. They cheered, stamped their feet and whistled, and I waved at them as I began to go back to my seat. Out of the periphery of my vision, under the shade of a tree, I thought I saw a flash of bronze hair and pale skin, but I didn't look.

Because—for the first time in five years—I was no longer hoping to see Edward. That girl I was, the one who was so willing to give up her soul to his keeping, she didn't exist anymore. He had left her behind in a forest in Forks, and a very different woman had taken her place.

I don't think he would recognize me now, not really. Had Edward come up to me that day and spoken, if he really was there, I think he would have thought himself mistaken in knowing me.

He—that beautiful boy—was forever frozen in seventeen-year-old perfection, and I…was not.

I had grown, I had changed. My body now had new curves and bends; I even grew two inches. I now had an ugly, but wonderful, scar that ran from my hipbone to the top of my thigh where I injured myself in a boat racing accident my sophomore year. I had spent my summers as a lifeguard, and I had stood, in full sunlight, in front of the leaning tower of Pisa. I took up rock climbing my junior year, despite my mom's fear, and actually got certified, leaving my clumsy ways behind me.

I had cut off all my hair, died it blue, and grown it back again, restoring it to its original mahogany glory. I had learned fluent French, and took an art class in my senior year that focused on life drawings—nude. I learned to dance, and how to hit a line drive towards left field. I started celebrating my birthdays again, and I had even felt glad when I reached the milestone of twenty-one. I stopped correcting new people when they called me Isabella, answering to both that and Bella in equal measure. I now called my parents by their first names all the time, no longer fearing their sadness at it.

Simply put, I grew up.

Any relationship between me and Edward would have been impossible for us by that point, because I could no longer return to that original form. That sweet, simple, malleable girl was gone, and in her place was someone he would not have recognized.

I was changed, utterly.

Because, in the end, I had to wake myself up. See, I have a theory. Originally, I was Sleeping Beauty. When he left, I fell into an enchanted sleep, waiting for him to return. But life's not a fairytale, so I had to do it on my own. I couldn't wait a hundred years for him to return.

When I was with him, I always thought my options were to die or become a vampire. It never occurred to me that there was a third option.

I could have lived.

But here's the thing. From the moment I met Edward, I knew that wasn't an option anymore. Almost like, there was this hallway of open doors and all I needed to do was walk through one of them. Then Edward came along and all the doors closed on me, until there were only two left.

But once my mom brought me back to life, I realized that third option was open to me once again. And I took it.

I lived, I changed, and I grew.

And in doing this…I woke myself up.

I was the Prince Charming of my own fairytale, and I saved myself.


When I was a little boy, my favorite tale was of St. George and the Dragon. There was a storyteller in the Borough Market—the one that operated on the end of the London Bridge—who used to sit in a stall for hours and spin tales that captured my imagination. I can't remember the first time I heard him speaking, nor his name, as they have both been lost to time with other human memories. Yet, I remember the sound of his voice with perfect clarity. He used everything he had to weave his stories, and his low bass voice was just one of his tools.

He told stories of saints and sinners, villains and heroes, each more captivating than the last…but St. George was my favorite.

Had my father had his way, I never would have heard anything but religious parables taken straight from the King James Bible, but he made an error when he sent me with Bessie to do the shopping on Saturdays. My father, convinced of her stupidity, did not trust her with our accounts with the merchants. He thought that they would take advantage of and charge her more than what the goods were worth. Of course, he did not even think about the fact that most of the merchants knew of and respected my father and would not dare to cheat him. I, despite knowing all this, was not about to tell my father of his mistake, because going with Bessie meant stories.

After the shopping was done, Bessie often liked to stop and chat with her sister who worked for the Priory at Southwark Cathedral. With her thus occupied, I went to listen to the storyteller. His stories could be bawdy and ribald, taken from the 1001 Arabian Nights or the Canterbury Tales, or they could be sweet and poetic, derived from saint's tales and diaries. He never repeated any of his stories, except for St. George.

In my later years, I often wondered if he did this for my benefit. Surely he must have seen the pleasure on my face when his words retraced that familiar tale, and the happiness I emitted as I mouthed the words along with him. But he never spoke to me, nor I to him; he merely told tales in the market, and every so often I would stop and listen.

I don't know why I feared telling my father of my favorite tale. Yes, he would have been angry that my time was being spent frivolously, but perhaps not the subject matter. It is pointless to speculate, and quite possible that he would have thought the tale too Catholic, so I never told him. Instead, I used my endless imagination to imagine that I was St. George, charging the dragon with my lance in hand. Holding onto Ascalon, my holy sword, I slew the dragon for the townspeople so they might be converted to Christianity.

I always had a fascination with saving people, it seems.

The funny part is that I never really considered the rest of St. George's story. I conveniently ignored his eventual martyrdom for his faith, romanticizing George's escapades in my mind.

My father was a vicar for St. Olave's, a small offshoot of the main cathedral in the area. We lived in the adjacent vicarage, and I remember waking to the sound of church bells. As I grew, my focus and studies ran parallel to my father's, and I regretfully tucked St. George into the back corners of my mind.

But I never forgot.

After I was made into a vampire, part of the reason I was so resistant to the idea of giving in to my new inner demon was because it went contrary to all the things I wanted to be. I was supposed to be like St. George, saving the townsfolk from dragons.

Instead, I had become the monster.

It was this resentment, this abhorrence of the thing that I had become, that prevented me from finding a companion for a long time. My journey to France, my studies there and in Europe's universities, and my time spent with the Volturi did little to cure my need to reconcile myself with the monster I thought I was. I thought myself better left to the shadows, becoming apart of mere memory and myth.

When I did eventually make a companion, when I saved Edward, it unleashed in me those memories that I had long thought myself to be the master of.

Like St. George, I didn't just want to save a princess; I wanted to save the whole town. With this in mind, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett followed. Had Jasper and Alice not joined us of their own accord, I don't know that I would have stopped. Perhaps I would have wanted to keep adding to my family, keep saving people from certain death. I don't know the answer to that, all I know is that for a long time, I was content.

We, my family, had settled into a delightful routine. Six years in one town, eight in another—sometimes less when needs must—while I practiced medicine in any local hospital that needed me. I honed my skills, attending medical school multiple times, trying to be the best doctor and surgeon that I could be. My monster, the one I had once feared so, was safely locked away behind my firm control. Everything seemed perfect.

And then she arrived.

When Edward met Bella Swan, I secretly rejoiced for the boy I considered my brother and son. I had wanted nothing more than for him to find someone, always secretly wondering if something had gone wrong during his transformation. But Bella eased all my worries. She seemed perfect for Edward. Her firm nature would balance his need to control. His confidence would counter her shyness. Or so I thought.

But I was too happy for my son and brother to see what was coming. It didn't occur to me to be concerned that the girl who would come into my office to discuss Keats and One Hundred Years of Solitude bore little resemblance to the diminutive girl who let Edward run roughshod her. I never thought about the fact that when Bella came over she and Edward seemed to spend all their time doing what he wanted to do. I didn't question the way that Bella often seemed to open her mouth to give an opinion, only to close it again when Edward broke in. Edward's agony at her blood and Bella's insistence on being changed, along with Edward's vehement refusal, were things I never even considered until later, after the worst had happened.

No, the inequality of their relationship did not worry me at first, though perhaps it should have. Perhaps it should have been a warning to me, a loud beacon meant to signal that trouble was coming. Maybe, had I seen what was going to happen, I could have prevented it. But really, it seems so unbelievable that a simple paper cut could have been the beginning of the end of my family. That our carefully constructed lives could be destroyed over something so small was unfathomable to me at the time…but it was what happened.

I can't blame Bella for what occurred, though it would be easier if I could. I can blame no one, not even Edward, for it would pain me to think ill of the boy I had always loved best. I simply cannot.

And yet, with one unilateral decision, he destroyed our family. He couldn't have known it at the time, but looking back it was leaving Forks that was the cause of our dissolution. Alice, Emmett, and I tried to persuade him, but to no avail. Edward was determined to remove us from Bella's life, and we had no choice but to comply. I should have refused to leave, I know that now, but when Esme voted against me, and with Edward, part of me wondered if I was wrong. It was for that reason alone that I left Forks with my family. Surely Esme with her good and kind nature would never cause Bella, or allow to be caused, pain.

So we left, and thus began the end of our lives together.

We didn't see it then of course. People, as a rule, rarely admit failure until it is staring them in the face—and vampires are no different.

I did try to make it all work, I truly believe that, but some things are just so unfixable that all the effort in the world comes to naught. It was simply too late by that point; too late for all of us.

Esme buried herself in remodeling our home at Ithaca, and I tried to tamp down the growing resentment I had towards her and the way she just put Forks out of her mind. Her patience for Edward seemed limitless, yet my own thoughts were less simple. I wanted to take away Edward's pain, to absorb his self-blame, but I seemed to have found my limit of patience where he was concerned. I could do no more.

I focused instead on my teaching at Cornell, and working nights at Cayuga Medical Center. I had long talks with Jasper, trying to help him with some of the guilt he felt for his part in our departure from Forks.

Still, there were signs…and I missed them all.

We had often separated before, why was this time so different? Yet, it was. Emmett and Rosalie barely came with us to Ithaca before leaving, and Alice was off on a mission to find her past. And Edward, no one really knew where he was. He only called every couple of months, and only spoke to Esme or Alice.

I don't know if we would have gone on that way indefinitely, but it matters not.

Everything came to a head when we all met up in Denali during Cornell's spring break. I'll never forget the conversation I had with Alice that night.

I had been standing outside, looking out into the vast land behind Tanya's home that longingly reminded me of the forests near Forks. My mind was on Esme and the growing distance between us. I was losing something, I knew that. Some part of us that had always made sense before just didn't fit any longer.

"Carlisle," Alice's voice echoed in the darkness. I turned to see her standing on the balcony with me, a horrified expression on her face.

"What is it, Alice?" I asked, my nonexistent heart stopping in my chest.

"We have to go back to Forks," Alice said, taking me aback.

"Alice, I know you want to see Bella…" I wanted to see her too. I felt almost a need to assure myself that she was all right.

"This isn't about that!" Alice snapped, her anxiety coloring her words. "Victoria has raised a newborn army. We have to go. We have to stop her." She came over to where I was standing and took my hand in her own. "I am telling you because it is the only way I see us all going. You have to make an executive decision, Carlisle. You have to order the family to Forks, otherwise it won't work." Her eyes were bright in the light of the moon. "Many people will die if we don't go, Carlisle."

I nodded, my worst fears confirmed. Alice turned to go back inside, but the next thing I said seemed to stop her in her tracks. "What is going to happen to us Alice?"

Without turning, she murmured, "We will all survive."

"As a family?" I didn't know why I couldn't let it go, but I needed her to say the words.

"Some things, some futures, they will occur no matter what precautions we take," Alice said finally.

I had my answer, yet it brought me no comfort.

So we went.

The Denali Coven, after hearing what Irina guiltily confessed about Laurent, came with us, and that made all the difference. Edward joined us, full of wrath about our disobeying his orders—as if we were errant children—but eventually helped us win. Victoria and her coven were no more, but my family's unity was the price.

After an intense argument, we all scattered, like ships to the four corners of the earth. And Esme—sweet and loving Esme—she went with Edward, and took with her all my hopes.

I returned to Ithaca. I know it was stupid, but some part of me thought that if I just stayed there, and kept everything as she left it, she would eventually come home. Alice and Jasper tried to stay with me for a while, but I think my cloud of depression was simply too much for Jasper. They left within a couple of months, the regret and sorrow obvious in their marble faces. Alice, moments before driving away, took me in her arms and whispered, "It'll be all right. Everything will be all right. I've seen it. Have faith, Carlisle."

I didn't know how to tell her I felt as though I had no faith left.

For weeks I stayed in that house. I quit my job at the hospital and at the college, preferring to remain within the walls of my home. I wandered from room to room, imagining the dwelling filled with my family, but it was a poor substitute for the real thing. My days and nights were endless, and I found myself wishing I could experience the sweet oblivion of sleep. After five endless weeks, I walked into my office with a box in hand, and began to pack. I took all my books, journals, paintings, etchings, and things of sentimental value. I packed all my medical equipment and the various experiments I had been performing. I collected my clothes, my father's cross, and my family bible. Once that was done, I marched down to the car and placed it all inside.

I never returned to that house again.

After a long drive, I settled in Walworth, Michigan, but I didn't stay there long. Within another nine months I was on the road again; this time I ended up in Astoria, Oregon. Like Walworth, I avoided making friends or acquaintances. I refused to unpack my things; they simply remained in boxes in the unused second bedroom of my apartment. I found a small hospital and worked endless, grueling shifts. My superiors liked me because they thought me just finished with my residency and eager for experience. They didn't even think to question how I would work thirty-six hours without flinching or showing exhaustion.

It was there, after two years, that Esme found me. I remember that day with perfect clarity, though I would give anything to forget. Work was normal that day, average even, and I didn't know my life was about to change. Ignorance was bliss and I had no idea. When I came in the door of my apartment, I smelled her instantly, but I thought it a product of my longing and fevered imagination. But no, the smell really was there. Apples and honey, and summer after a rainstorm. It was Esme.

I saw a flash of caramel colored hair, and turned to greet my wife. "Esme," I murmured, taking in the sight before me. She hadn't altered at all; she even seemed more relaxed, if that was possible. Her eyes were shining with emotion, and I foolishly hoped that it was because she was glad to see me. I was about to move forward to embrace her…when I saw the manila envelope in her hand. My vampire sight could easily read the name of the lawyer's office embossed on the front.

I sighed. "So, that's it then?"

Esme's eyes were so apologetic, I almost had a hard time looking at her. "Do you think it would be better to drag it out?" she asked, her voice regretful.

"No, I suppose not," I offered. "Swifter is better."

"I didn't want this to happen," she murmured, placing the papers on the coffee table. For a moment, I was struck by the sheer absurdity of divorce papers. All it took to delete our marriage was a few clicks of a mouse; after all we did not truly exist. But I think, in the end, we are slaves to the way we live. Live like humans, separate like them too.

With a soft sight, she said, "I thought with a little time away…"

"Yes," I replied. "As did I. But we can't go back to what we were, can we?"

"No," she whispered.

I looked over at her, wishing to drink in the sight of her one last time. She hadn't altered since the day we married, and yet I found myself almost sad in that knowledge. In the end, did she resent me for having saved her from the death of her choice? Had she, all these years, been wishing to be reunited with her son? Her eyes were the same golden pools they always were, yet they were closed off to me now. I didn't know her inner most secrets anymore, and she did not know mine. Two years was nothing to vampires, but we weren't just any vampires. We were vampires who lived like humans, and to them two years was a long time. So, I took in the arch of her neck, the curve of her waist. I let my eyes trace every feature in her face, and I followed down the smooth line of her arms. And it was there, on the fourth finger of her left hand, that I had my answer.

Her finger was empty, and I was too.

Stepping up to the table, I took the papers out and signed in four places with a flourish. Wordlessly, I handed her back the papers and gently kissed the side of her face. "Be well," I whispered to her.

She nodded, her eyes pooling with venom. Esme walked to the door, turning back only to say, "He misses you. He doesn't say it, but he does. I know he thinks of you often. He wants you to forgive him, but I think it's his own forgiveness that he needs."

I nodded, but I could say nothing. It was all too fresh, and that endless well of compassion and empathy, that I could always summon forth when needed, was curiously dry.

And just like that—she was gone.

Our divorce was completely straightforward. She took the houses in Ithaca, Connecticut, Wisconsin, British Columbia, and Vancouver. I took the houses in Rochester, Denali, Vermont, Montreal, and Forks. I also took back Isle Esme, which hurt more than I thought it would. We agreed that the children should be allowed to use any of them whenever they wanted, and the numerous cars could be divided among them. I passed on all the information to Jasper, and though C.E.E. Inc.—our personal company— he distributed the funds and properties accordingly. I didn't really care; I had no intention of returning to any of the houses—except one.

Six months after our divorce was official, I returned to Forks.

Driving through that little town, it was like nothing had changed. I thought it would be a difficult trip, but instead I was filled with a gentle nostalgia. I had loved my time there; the hospital, the woods, the people, there was something special about that corner of Washington.

I wasn't going to stop. I had only planned to go up to the house, spend a day in the forest, and leave…but something inside me made me pull over at the police station. Once I had parked my car, I quickly went inside the building. The deputy who was manning the front desk dropped his jaw when he saw me, but before he could form any words, Charlie walked out of his office.

Chief Swan blanched when his eyes met mine, but the guarded look on his face quickly faded when he saw the smile on my own.

"Dr. Cullen," he said, lapsing back into formalities before striding forward and shaking my hand. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh, I was just passing through," I replied. "I am thinking about putting the old Victorian on the market."

"You alone?" Charlie asked, looking fairly belligerent at the idea of someone else being with me.

"Yes, I am alone," I replied. "And I won't be here long, a couple of hours at the most."

"Oh," Charlie said, shifting awkwardly. "How's your family? And your wife?"

I was tempted to lie, but there was really no point. "I'm not married anymore," I said. "Divorced about six months ago." The deputy was hanging onto our every word, and I knew the whole town would know soon, not that it mattered.

"I'm sorry," Charlie said, his voice sounding genuinely contrite. I guess he would be one to understand losing the love of your life. He cleared his throat, "Are any of your kids still with you?"

I laughed. "No, definitely not. Rosalie and Emmett are in living in Alaska and attending college there. Alice and Jasper are currently in Sri Lanka, and Edward is with Esme in South America."

Charlie's jaw clenched at the mention of Edward, but he didn't comment.

"How's Bella?" I asked quietly, anxious for his answer.

His face split into a genuine grin. Pride looked like it was about to spill out of him. "She's great, really great. Currently about to start her last semester at Brown, on the Dean's List, you know."

I breathed a sigh of relief. At least that was one thing we hadn't been able to ruin. "That's wonderful, Charlie. Congratulations. You must be very proud of her."

"I am," Charlie said, smiling. "She's a good kid, though I hardly recognize her anymore."

"What do you mean?" I asked, my nerves returning.

"She's just so grown up," Charlie stated. "She spent the summer traveling around Europe, and all her postcards are about these amazing places she was seeing. She has learned fluent French, and went a whole semester never speaking anything else. What else?" He murmured to himself. "Oh! She wanted to take a road trip at Christmas from Providence to Forks. I told her she was crazy, but she just laughed and said, 'Maybe next year.'"

I smiled and listened to Charlie, my mind relieved. Part of me had wondered how accurate Alice's visions had been, and I was happy to find that Bella was, in fact, fine. After speaking to Charlie for another few minutes about Forks and the changes the last couple of years had wrought, I got back into my car and didn't stop driving until I reached Astoria.

The next day, I began to put out feelers for a new job—something that could be a bit more permanent. There was no need to rush, I could finish out another few months there in Astoria, but I felt the need to settle now. Everyone had moved on it seemed, but me. Perhaps it was time for me to actually put down roots somewhere. I could start young, just out of medical school, and stay for maybe eight to ten years.

I could find a little community, do some good, but stay apart. I was done getting involved and caring too much. I just wanted to find a little hamlet with a hospital that I could get lost in.

That little boy, the one who so loved St. George and the Dragon—well, he died a long time ago in a sewer in London.

It was time for me to stop hanging onto him.

I wasn't the hero or the saint.

I could choose to do good, and to live a moral life. But I would never forget what I was.

I was the monster; I was the Dragon.

To Be Continued...