A rush of wind sent the alder leaves quaking, catching the light in shades of chartreuse, gold, and white. Beyond were shadows of deep greens and blues cast by towering Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock. The trees here were old; some individuals were even older than me. High in the branches were curtains of mosses — more than a hundred species — dripping over branches and feeding on the very air. They, too, were ancient, as were the ferns and horsetails growing on the forest floor. Dinosaur food. Light streamed through the small breaks in the canopy to form diagonal beams, visible as the insects, dust, and pollen moved through them. The beams brightened, illuminating the forest floor, and then faded as a cloud once again moved across the sun. The sword ferns grew in dense thickets, filling the spaces between massive trunks. They seemed short compared to the enormous trees around them, but even they could be up to four feet tall.
Easily tall enough to hide a young half-vampire wishing to evade her aunts and uncles in a game I'd already bowed out of.
"Don't tell, Grandpa," she whispered as I walked past, smiling in her direction.
"Your secret's safe with me, sweetheart," I muttered back, moving my lips hardly at all in case the others were watching from a distance. I winked in her general direction, and her barely-there giggle chased me from her glade.
I climbed to a higher terrace where a recent tree-fall had left an unobstructed view of the river and part of the adjacent forest. From here, I could catch glimpses of almost all my family as the game played out.
Esme was stalking Emmett, who was too busy tracking Jasper to notice. Alice was hiding high up in the canopy, easy enough to spot from my vantage point, but nearly impossible from the forest floor. Especially, as Edward liked to point out, if one still stubbornly forgot to look up. Rose was getting dangerously close to Renesmee's hiding place, but a yelp from the alder trees distracted her. Edward had caught Bella and had already taken his prize in the form of a kiss. They were standing at the edge of the river in each other's arms when the sun broke through the clouds again, casting sparkling reflections across both the water and their skin.
They were so happy. He was so happy — happier than I'd ever seen him in our long life together. Spring had come and melted the snow that had brought the Volturi with it. And now, even memories of those dark days when we thought we might not see any more springs were seeping into the soil and washing away. We all felt light and relieved and blessed, and none so much as me.
My family. One who called me husband, six who called me father, and now one who called me grandpa.
I could still vividly remember a time when my only purpose was medicine, and my best company was a Victrola gramophone and Solitude — the personification of all my deepest insecurities. How far I'd come.
Memories of our years together filtered through my mind as I watched the game. We had not always been this carefree. There had been trials and struggles, just as there were in any family. But we grew, and happiness came. Even, in the end, for Edward. And since he had waited the longest while surrounded by the happiness of others, his now burned the brightest.
I sat on a stump and watched them all, my attention finally resting on Edward, who was eyeing the ferny thicket where Renesmee hid.
If you find her in there, it's not because of anything I told you, I warned.
He grinned up at me, raising his hands in supplication and then smiling indulgently at the fern grotto as he began stalking again.
It struck me that though he called me father, he was also one himself. The only other man in our clan who understood what it meant, what I would do to protect those I loved. Yes, all our family and friends had come to Renesmee's rescue, but I was fairly certain Edward, Bella, Esme, and I had been the most viscerally affected. We were the parents in the group. It was one more thing — perhaps the most profound thing — that Edward and I shared. And over the years we had shared a lot.
There was a squeal from the ferns, and I laughed as Edward caught Nessie and then spun her around in his arms. Her delight was clear and infectious. Edward was beaming.
He was so good with her. He had grown up so much since we'd first been together, these last few years especially. But even having seen the entire progression — even knowing how much his sense of himself had changed as he took on the roles of son, brother, and husband — seeing him in the role of a father was truly amazing. He was a natural. And, technically, he had a better claim to the title than I did. Renesmee was, after all, his biological child — a fact that still astounded my medical mind. I gained my title mostly through the charade we had to play for the humans, and the fact that I had turned so many of them. It was my venom flowing through their veins perhaps, but that was still hardly the same.
He whispered something in Renesmee's ear and handed her to Bella, who nodded as he pulled away. He climbed the hill of the terrace and soon was sitting beside me on one of the large nurse logs.
"Waxing philosophical, old man?"
I snorted. "Sentimentality more than philosophy, I'm afraid. You know how I get."
"That I do," he chuckled, leaning back on his hands and looking out on the river terrace.
We sat together for several moments, watching the others as the game unfolded, each seemingly lost in our own reveries. But Edward was actually still lost in mine.
"You don't really believe it, do you? That you are only a father because of the charade? Certainly, you're not a father because you've turned us. I seem to remember having long conversations with you about that around the time Esme joined us." He looked at me meaningfully. "Otherwise, your marriage could have proven rather awkward."
I couldn't help my lips quirking as I shrugged. He was right, of course, but that just made the title more tenuous.
"Carlisle," he said, turning to look me in the eye, "you are our father because you're the glue that holds us together. The wisest of us. The one we turn to for advice. The one who makes all this, all of us," he waved his hand to include the entire family, "make sense. I hope I can be half the father you've been. I pray that I can give Renesmee a life as extraordinary as the one you've given me. Because it has been. Truly extraordinary."
I tried to swallow past the lump in my throat, nodding because I didn't trust my voice.
"If you're in any doubt of that," he added, "then I probably don't thank you enough. I wouldn't have any idea how to be a father without your teaching me by example. I'm so grateful to you... for everything, but especially for that. I never thought I could have so much."
I couldn't speak for several minutes. Edward and I had talked seriously like this hundreds of times, but somehow, this still felt different. Memories of our decades together filtered though my mind, almost randomly. I knew he saw me as a father, and, while I saw him as my son, he was so much more. He had been my first — my giant, conscious step away from a solitary life. My leap of faith. Edward had given my life color and vibrancy, and because of him, I'd been brave enough to do it again and again. And now look at us.
"I despaired of ever seeing you so happy," I finally answered. "You can't imagine how good it makes me feel. Well, maybe you can," I added, nodding toward Nessie, who was being tickled by her aunt.
"Yeah," Edward said softly, smiling down at his daughter. "I certainly couldn't have imagined this when I was skulking around the forests of Connecticut waiting for my eyes to clear, so I could come home. I'd been so sure I'd blown it and would be alone forever."
I wrapped my arm around his shoulder and drew him into my side. It still felt right, and that was somehow surprising.
I know that feeling, I thought, remembering when I, too, could only imagine an eternity alone.
I released my hold, and he shifted so he was balanced on the log, feet up and knees captured in the crooks of his elbows. Separate, but still close enough to touch. How we always were, it seemed.
It was hard to imagine being alone now. We'd had each other for ages, but now we had so much more. And with Bella and Renesmee added to the family, and very likely the wolves in some capacity, it seemed the future would take decades to grow monotonous again.
Edward snorted. "It really has been an eventful few years, hasn't it? Decades of nothing exciting happening, and then I fall in love with a human and wham! We think we're dead half a dozen times, and then, this." He waved his hand again, encompassing the entire river valley and the entire family.
"Yes. This," I said in a soft voice, watching my family relish a peace and joy they'd never really enjoyed before. "This will do nicely."
We both watched on in comfortable silence, and I memorized the scene and the feeling of having Edward beside me — still — despite all the times I'd thought I'd lost him. I leaned my shoulder into his, and he grinned.
The sun began to drop behind one of the mountains, casting the Hoh valley into false twilight. The game had ended with the customary debates over who had won and which stratagems were allowable. Jasper and Emmett were discussing the finer points of "Backsies," the girls looking on in exasperated fondness.
Renesmee stifled a yawn.
Edward snorted a laugh, and I didn't try to hide my own laughter as both boys looked at her, chagrinned.
She puts them in their place so quietly.
"And effectively," Edward agreed. "Emmett never backs down so quickly for anyone else."
"Well, that won't last long. As soon as she seems less fragile he'll be tossing her around like a plaything."
"Which she'll love. And I'm sure it will only give Bella mild anxiety."
"Bella?" I asked incredulously. "Son, of the two of you, Bella has never been the anxious one."
He huffed a small laugh and rolled his eyes. He knew it was true, even if he wouldn't say so out loud.
He didn't look anxious now, though. He looked as content as I felt.
And then I remembered a moment nearly forty years ago. We were watching the Tonight Show, and Louis Armstrong played what would end up being the last big hit of his illustrious career. And Edward had hated it, saying Louie had gone soft and ruined his legacy. But I'd found the song hopeful in an idealized way. Not until now did I truly appreciate the lyrics in a visceral way. It seemed to fit the day.
I glanced over at Edward, who was fighting a smirk.
"You're going to tease me for being sentimental, aren't you?" I asked.
"Me? No," he said softly, a warmth in his voice I was still getting used to. "I think you were right about that song. It's grown on me."
I raised my eyebrows and resisted teasing him about his own sentimentality.
He chuckled and stood, reaching his hand down to help me up.
"Come on, Carlisle," he said with a familiar smile. "Let's go home."
AN: Cue "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong. Nixhaw has added it to finish off the Prelude Playlist. And yes, I've managed to avoid schmaltz in the music the entire story, but wanted to end things with some fluff, and that had to be reflected in the music. I find the song just sincere enough to not be sickly sweet, though others might disagree. Anyway, it was this or 'We are Family' by Sister Sledge, and I don't think anyone wanted to see that.
I'm marking 'Prelude in C' as complete.
Thanks to all of you who came along with me on this journey, shared your thoughts and offered your support.
I'm marking Prelude as complete.