1927, Philadelphia

Carlisle goes, and she watches him front the steps until he's vanished from sight. There is no swing to his step. It's a direction without a purpose, that she knows he'll find in doing it. It might not be today. It might not even be this week, or this month. But he'll find it if he keeps going, keeps doing what has always made him who he is. Beyond and before herself or Edward.

Edward -

She walks back inside, closing the door, the click a note of finality, before she lets that name sink in. To lean her back against the door and look down the opening area to their house. For Esme Anne Plath, and even more for Esme Anne Evenson, grief was a private thing. A thing to be over looked by anyone else, to be clutched like a stone, until her nails had broken upon it, and she had gone to whatever was asked of her anyway.

But what was grief to Esme Cullen? What had she ever needed to mourn in the last six years?

A house that has no sound it. There is no tapping piano keys or fierce friction of pen against paper. There is not even the constant, lulling sound of pages in a book being turned too quickly. She had spent years in silent rooms while they work through the day, but he'd been home most middays for all the months after graduation, and even if they hadn't talked intensely during those days, he had been something she was used to in them.

She wiped her eyes even when they couldn't tear, and tucked a lock of caramel hair behind her ear, pushing herself off the door. How did you address the loss of a third of yourself? In terms like arrogant spiteful child? But Edward was not a child, for all their ages nearly canceling each other out, he was not the child he would always look. The features, that would always be remembered, young and beautiful, even twisted with bitterness and some unknown festering hurt.

And for all the great pain that his name surfaced - his name which had become, even unspoken, the pause between seconds in their house now - she could not avoid seeing that pain, having heard it in his music, and his detachment from them, and watched it writhe in the blankness of his expression when he'd said all those words. But that did not excuse child or man from ruthless destruction.

What was grief to Esme Cullen?

She did try to paint. She'd washed her brushes and filled a bowl of water. She'd retrieved a new canvas and old, well-loved, paints. And all of it only to stand there staring at the blank white-crème of the fibers making us the threads. It was blank. Blank like the future she wasn't certain of. Would they need to change things even more now? Go or move somewhere else? Somewhere he hadn't been?

(Anger for the extra damage he'd done, in enacting his choice, like he'd needed more of the attention neither of them had ever withheld. For shouting as though he had never been heard when one could not have avoided hearing Edward opinions, even when he was being completely silent. For not knowing how deep this deception of wants and beliefs might have gone. For the a petulance and mania that could only be relegated to teenagers. That smarted of the temper tantrums of small children. For the light in Carlisle shaking like a candle in the breeze. For his assumptions and prostrations. For his arrogance and his nonchalance. For abandoning them. For abandoning her.)

The paints were put away and she turned instead to the things left undone from this week. She owed sets of cards and flowers to different people. One of the nurses had a birthday two days ago. One of Carlisle's long term care patient's had a wedding anniversary coming up. There was mail to answer, reservations to make, and - how would she answer the question of where her brother had gone when they would ask? Did she say he had stormed off to start his own life? That something else had called him away?

(Guilt for not having known how to make it better. How to help him. For watching him slip slowly further and further away for the duration of their years together. For the smallest whisper that never left saying she was the intruder into his world from the very moment she wouldn't need to breathe again. For distance that had always stood between them, even when he'd started turning to her more and more. For the interest he'd shown in her change, once she'd killed that man in the alley. For having taken that life. For wondering if she was not a dozen causes to the strife that stood between them, between the little world they made up, that she never was a part of.)

She cleaned up the messes made by left by both of them. Papers and books, accoutrements of all accords. She remembered teasing them about living like bachelors. Neither of them lived their lives specifically in the rooms they stood in. The rooms and the piles and the details in-between where they sat and what they were thinking or doing were gaps. Places Esme had walked quietly and contently, enjoying taking care of them. But the books, left on tables and in chairs, folders with medical updates, musical scores, seemed to mock her today. They were all whispers of before that night.

(Fear that this was the beginning of the end of a dream too good to be true. That her husband's will to live was snuffed out by a choice made outside of himself. Fear that she would not belong in a world that did not have him. Fear of not knowing the shape of the life that lay before her now, a life without Edward in it. That she might not be strong enough or understand enough, not angry enough, not confident enough, not broken by it enough - even simply as herself, not enough for Carlisle now. Fear that she would have to hold together a man, who had been their very center, in this new life and world she had no shape for.)

It took no more than two hours before she finally went up into his room. The door closed and left. She could say it was to clean, but the first and only think she'd done was sit in a chair in that room. Would they clean it out? Would it matter? Would anything in here not just remind her of picking out the colors he'd liked. Curtains. Fabrics. Carpet. The entire time feeling as though he was humoring her, until he'd actually started giving opinions back.

(Hope. Fatal, fatal hope. He might come home. He might come back to them. He might realize the error of his ways in the first act as she had. Remember there had been good days. Many, in fact, that she could draw to mind. He'd been unhappy with her arrival, but he had warmed. Or maybe it was easier to interpret it as softening, more than warming. A thaw that came without hint of how or why he'd changed his mind. There had been amazing stretches of months even. They'd been a family, even in this very trying last year.)

And it was here, staring at the carpet that she saw the half crumpled paper fallen from the desk.

She stooped to pick up, smoothing out the tear of finger tips and the creases made by a fist, to see the single word on its top left corner


(Grief. Was it not its own too heavy to name subject. Then Grief, and with it Blame. Grief that he, the one who trespassed on every thought no matter how ashamed or intimate, had not learned from her mistake. Grief that he would plunge himself into carrying the weight she would never loose from that mistake. Grief for a boy, or a man, who was already lost enough, choosing only to become more lost, choosing to be utterly apart when that mistake would happen and his world would change forever. Grief that he had reached out, had wanted to, to say something, and somehow she had missed it.

That she, too, had failed him.)

And Esme Cullen sat in the desk chair she'd only ever bought and cleaned, drawing her knees to her chest, clutched the paper from the floor in hands that shook, connected to arms and shoulders which had, wishing she had not sent her husband to work. Because she was not and never had been alone in this life, and he was not the only one who felt broken by this betrayal.