"Exit Music"

Pairing: Edward/Carlisle, AH

Rating: M for explicit m/m sex, adult language, and a few too many extracurricular activities.

Word Count: ~10,800

a/n: I don't own Twilight or the lovely characters. The words and story are mine.

oOo

"Oh good, you're here." Renee kisses Edward's cheek, clasping his hand in hers.

He's not entirely sure she's ever forgiven him for divorcing her daughter, but she puts on a good show.

"Family's up front." She smiles, motioning with a freshly manicured hand. "Ness will sit with you after she's done her thing." Renee smoothes her palm across Edward's shoulder, brushing away an imaginary piece of lint. "So just sit on the aisle and—"

"It will be fine, Renee," he assures, cutting her off, even though he's not entirely sure it will be. "Everything will be perfect."

"Thank you, honey." She smiles again, a bit sadly, fingertips flitting over his tie. "You look lovely. Quite dashing, really." And then she's gone, in a swirl of blue taffeta and satin.

Edward makes his way to the front of the church, quite certain that everyone is staring at him.

They probably are.

He takes his seat, as instructed, at the end of the row and waits. When the music starts, his stomach clinches a bit. He recognizes the opening piece as one of Bella's favorites; he used to play it for her. But he forces himself to smile and remember that he is happy for her.

He is.

But that doesn't make things any easier.

Vanessa performs her flower girl duties with the grace only a four-year-old can muster. She has her tongue stuck out the entire time, but she marches down the aisle with purpose and a respectable amount of focus.

Lord knows, they'd practiced enough.

'We've got to work on that tongue.' Her mother commented just the previous week.

'Maybe she's concentrating. Or maybe her lips are chapped.' Edward responded. Bella rolled her eyes. But she was probably right; she usually was.

Edward's breath catches when his ex-wife appears, standing beside her father. She really is beautiful. But, then again, she always has been. She's not wearing a veil; she'd worn one at her marriage to Edward. Her long hair falls over her bare shoulders. She's braided a string of white flowers through the dark curls.

Edward stands with the rest of the congregation; Ness is propped on his hip, her patent leather shoes kicking against his thigh.

Bella looks happy.

Edward wonders if she'd looked like that on their wedding day. He hopes so.

oOo

The reception is tasteful. Elegant in its simplicity. Edward thinks it seems smaller than their own had been. But second marriages, he supposes, usually are. He picks at his meal (he'd selected the trout) and sips Pinot Blanc. Thankfully, Jacob had allowed his new bride to select the beverages, or, Edward feels certain, he'd be drinking Coors from a can.

By the time the happy couple shares their first dance, the knot in Edward's chest has loosened slightly. He reminds himself (again) that he is happy for Bella; she should be with someone who can give her everything she deserves.

He knows that he can't do so anymore, but it still hurts.

After all, he loves her. In some way, he knows he always will.

He makes his way to the bar and orders another glass of wine. Even the bartender seems to commiserate with him, filling his glass to the brim with the pale gold liquid.

"No matter what, mate, you're ex's wedding - it can't be an easy thing."

Edward nods. It's true. He thanks the man, raising his glass before taking a slow sip. The wine is crisp and cool as it rolls across his tongue. He turns and makes his way back through the crowd.

Edward watches as they cut the cake; Ness stands beside her mother, watching with eyes wide. Jacob winks and ruffles her hair. Even Edward has to admit that he's good with her.

Later, he finds Bella standing to one side of the dance floor; he kisses her on the forehead, and tells her she looks lovely.

Bella sighs, dark eyes searching Edward's face. "I'm happy, Edward," she finally says. "Happier than I've been in a very long time."

"I know. I'm glad."

She purses her lips and nods. "I should find my husband. Where's Ness?"

"With your mom."

Bella nods again, stepping back.

"Have a good honeymoon, love."

She narrows her eyes briefly as if about to say something. Call him out on his choice of phrasing. But then she thinks better of it. "Thanks," she says softly, turning away.

Edward takes another glass of wine off a passing tray and stands against a wall, watching the festivities. He wonders how much longer he needs to stay before he can leave without being rude.

oOo

"Papa!" Vanessa appears in a swirl of white lace and presses a no-doubt sticky cheek against his thigh. "Dance with me. Then I want more ice cream," she announces definitively.

"Where's your grandma?" he asks, looking around for Renee.

"Off with mama. Ice cream now?"

"I thought you wanted to dance?"

The child chews on her cheek, brow furrowed in deliberation. "Dance first. Then ice cream."

oOo

Edward sits with his daughter while she inhales her second bowl of ice cream. Her flower girl crown is askew, and her cheek is smeared with fudge sauce. He doesn't even want to think about her fingers.

He glances toward the dance floor. Bella is dancing with her new husband, head resting against his chest. The man smiles down at her adoringly. They look very much in love.

Edward sighs. Jacob always said that he'd be there for Bella, waiting for Edward to screw up. Waiting for Edward to hurt her. And he had.

"Papa, you okay?" Vanessa asks, dark eyes registering concern. For a child, she is incredibly perceptive.

"Yes, little one," he says, rubbing her back gently. "I'm fine. Just a bit tired."

"Mama looks pretty tonight."

"Yes." Edward has to agree. "Yes she does." He drains the last of his wine and sets the glass down on the table. The cut crystal gleams in the candle light.

"More ice cream?" his daughter inquires optimistically.

He laughs. "Absolutely not. You're cut off."

Vanessa frowns, swirling her spoon in the now soupy dessert. Melted ice cream dribbles down her chin. She catches it with her tongue.

Edward shakes his head, dabbing her face with a linen napkin. "You're a mess, you know that?"

She ignores him, taking another bite. Edward would probably have to stop her from licking the bowl. But then he sees something out of the corner of his eye that makes his heart pound. Edward looks down. His chest suddenly feels very tight.

Of course, he knew he would be here. The hospital's Chief of Staff has always been on familiar terms with Bella's father. Still, he can't help the warmth in his cheeks.

The man is alone, graceful fingers twisting the stem of an empty Champagne flute.

Those hands had touched him once.

Edward can't pull his eyes away.

A man appears at Carlisle's side, setting a fresh glass of Champagne on the tiny cocktail table. Edward watches as Carlisle smiles his appreciation. The other man trails a finger lightly between his shoulder blades.

Edward grimaces and looks down again, hating the twinge of jealousy he feels at the intimate gesture.

It's absurd, really. He hasn't seen or spoken to the man in nearly six years. But he can't help but feel…something in the pit of his stomach.

He looks up again. Carlisle takes a sip of Champagne. Edward watches his mouth, his throat as he swallows. He'd almost forgotten how good the man looks, all delicate angles and long limbs.

Edward's brother catches his eye from across the room, shaking his head slightly as if to say don't go there again. Rosalie glances up at her husband in confusion, but Edward knows he's probably right.

He stands and scoops up his daughter. "Come on, Ness," he says, wincing a bit as she smears a grimy hand down the front of his jacket. "Let's go."

"Where?" she asks brightly.

"Your grandmother. Let's see if we can find your grandmother."

She presses her lips together as if considering. Edward thinks she looks very much like her mother when she does that.

"Okay," the girl pronounces finally. "Grandma it is."

Renee had insisted that she keep Vanessa for the rest of the weekend. 'No, Ed. You must let her stay with us. You know we don't see nearly enough of our granddaughter. Besides,' she'd added a bit sadly, 'you deserve a little rest.'

Regardless of her personal feelings about the divorce, Renee understood how difficult the wedding had been for Edward.

He acquiesced because he knew she was right. Ness did need to spend more time with her grandparents, and he could use a night off.

And, he'd have Vanessa the following week, while Bella was away on her honeymoon.

Edward takes a deep breath. He suddenly feels very tired. His daughter rests her head on his shoulder, sugary breath whuffing across his neck. Her stockinged feet kick against his thigh. "Where are your shoes?" he asks, catching an ankle in his hand.

The girl giggles. "Grandma has them."

Edward nods, hoping she is right. Bella would be furious if he'd managed to lose her good shoes.

oOo

Edward knows this is a horrible idea.

Ness had reminded him that morning (in no uncertain terms) that she didn't want to be picked up from pre-school until after arts and crafts. That gave him exactly one hour from the time he left his classroom until the time he needed to be at Lion Lane.

His house is filled with crayon drawings, macaroni sculptures, and construction paper cut outs. 'I think she shows great promise,' he told Bella when Ness brought home a particularly convincing rendition of a tiger, done in blue pencil on computer paper.

Bella had rolled her eyes.

Edward signed her up for art classes, two Saturdays a month.

The small coffee shop is empty, aside from the girl behind the counter. She is snapping her gum and doesn't look a day older than sixteen. But Edward doesn't recognize her from school, so he assumes she must go to the university.

He is not sure whether to feel relieved or disappointed that the man isn't there.

Edward doesn't think he really expected him to be. But it is still the only cafe within walking distance from the university hospital, so he cannot imagine Carlisle going anywhere else.

He orders a cup of coffee (black) and takes a seat by the window. Edward pulls a stack of essays from his satchel and digs around for a pen. He will grade in red ink until the day he dies.

He blows steam off the top of his mug before taking a slow sip. The coffee is bitter and burns his tongue, but Edward likes that they don't serve the drinks in paper cups, as so many places do nowadays.

He writes a comment in the margin of the first paper, shaking his head. No. The irony of Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" is not that it's such a long story.

He looks at his watch: a quarter till four. He will stay until half past.

They didn't actually meet at the café. Edward had been to Carlisle's townhouse once or twice with Jasper over the course of their freshman year. He'd been in a relationship with Bella at the time and had absolutely refused to admit how attractive he'd found the older man. Still, they hadn't talked. Not really. Not until that day at the café.

After forty-five minutes, Edward has graded three essays and drank nearly two cups of coffee. He hasn't seen Carlisle.

oOo

When he arrives at Lion Lane, Vanessa enthusiastically produces a macaroni model of what looks like a dragon. She's coated it in a dusting of green glitter and appears to have gone a bit overboard with the glue.

Edward places the dragon on the book shelf next to a similarly constructed macaroni rabbit and what he thinks must be a cross between a bird and a turtle.

Ness refuses to eat mac 'n cheese that night for dinner, citing all the possible creations she can make with the uncooked noodles.

Edward makes pancakes instead.

oOo

The next afternoon, Edward returns to the café. He chooses a chocolate croissant to go along with his coffee and sits by the window again. He doesn't grade any essays.

He has just finished his first cup of coffee when the café door opens. Carlisle is there, and he is alone. Edward's stomach twists and flutters in a way he's certain no grown man's should.

Their eyes meet, and they stare awkwardly at each other for several long moments. Edward looks away first, brushing croissant crumbs off the tabletop and onto the floor.

"It's good to see—"

"I was sorry to hear about your ex-wife—"

They both stop, laughing nervously, before Edward tries again. "Yes, well, it is probably for the best."

Carlisle nods. "I saw you at the wedding, but I didn't think it would be right for me to—"

"No, no," Edward agrees. "And you were with someone, anyway."

"Yes. Marcus."

"Are you two—?"

"No. Well, yes… We're friends."

"I see."

"And that was your little girl?"

"Yes, Vanessa."

"Jasper mentioned that you had a child. She's lovely."

"Thank you. She really is." He looks down, trailing his thumb along the rim of his coffee cup. "Actually, I need to pick her up from school now."

"Oh. All right." Carlisle seems strangely disappointed.

Edward stands to leave, smoothing his hands over his slacks. "Would you… I mean, do you still come here often?"

Carlisle's lips curl (a hint of a smile). "Yes. Practically every day."

Edward shoulders his bag before shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Tomorrow, same time?" the older man offers.

"Yes."

oOo

Upon his arrival, Vanessa presents him with a rather elaborate configuration constructed entirely of purple Popsicle sticks. Edward is impressed by her grasp of abstract forms.

"Papa," she informs him, "it's Big Bird."

"But it's purple," he notes, turning the piece around in his hand. It is still damp.

The girl simply rolls her eyes (another trait he is certain she's picked up from her mother).

Edward notices that her forearm and left elbow are also purple, but he decides not to comment.

oOo

That night, in exchange for getting Ness in the bath (a task never easily accomplished), Edward agrees to read three bedtime stories.

"The farting dog! The farting dog!"

Edward sighs; he should have seen that one coming. Emmett forever ensured his place as the favorite uncle the moment he presented Ness with the complete Walter the Farting Dog series. Rose had been positively scandalized ('that's the last time I ever let you shop alone…'), and Bella was less than pleased. She'd glared at Edward when he laughed too loudly at Emmett's rather enthusiastic reading, complete with flatulence-inspired sound effects.

Ness, of course, was positively delighted.

Edward towels her off; her cheeks are pink from the heat. "Wouldn't you prefer a different story?" he asks, as she squirms in his arms. Edward somehow always manages to get wetter than his daughter during her baths. "Perhaps a story about a cleaner dog? Clifford, maybe? Or Marmaduke?"

She squeals, slipping out of his grasp. "No, papa! No."

"Perhaps a non-farting animal? Babar is nice."

Ness sticks out her tongue, twirling around and spattering more water on the already too-wet tile.

"Come. Let me dry your hair. You'll drip a puddle on your pillow."

oOo

That night is not the first time he's dreamed about his best friend's father-in-law. His sophomore year of college, they were together nearly every night. Once, Carlisle sucked him off in the front seat of his car outside of Edward's dormitory.

Edward still gets hard thinking about how the windows had fogged.

oOo

Carlisle is waiting when he arrives at the café. Edward slides his bag off his shoulder, slipping into the chair. "I'm sorry I'm late. A student needed to see me after class."

"Don't worry," Carlisle says. There are two mugs on the table. The man pushes one toward Edward. "Do you still take yours black?"

"I… yes. Thank you."

Carlisle inclines his head. Edward cradles his mug in his hands. The porcelain is warm against his palms.

"So you're teaching now?"

"Yes. English. Sophomores and Juniors."

"You always did enjoy literature."

Edward smiles. "Yes." He refuses to notice how blue the man's eyes are.

Carlisle turns his mug between his palms. "You're happy?"

"I'm…not unhappy."

"That's good." Carlisle takes another sip of his coffee.

"And I've got Ness now. Weeks and alternating weekends. Bella wanted a bit of time with Jacob."

"As well she should."

He glances down, traces his finger along the grain of the battered wood table. When he looks up again, Carlisle is watching, a smile playing at his lips.

"What?"

"You're still beautiful, you know."

"I…" Edward can feel his skin pricking pink. "Thank you."

oOo

That afternoon, Vanessa has drawn something vividly pink and green on a series of paper plates.

She suggests that they use them that night for dinner.

Edward is not entirely sure it is sanitary, but he trusts the pre-school's art supplies to be relatively non-toxic.

"See, grilled cheese likes decorations," Vanessa insists. "Perhaps I'll paint on napkins tomorrow."

Edward decides not to tell her that paint will quite probably defeat the purpose of a napkin.

Later, they sit side-by-side on the piano bench. Edward plays Braham's while Vanessa slumps against his side, eyes heavy with drowsiness. He lifts his hands from the keys, smoothing a palm over her hair. She has his pale skin but Bella's dark curls.

"No, Papa! No," the child protests. "One more."

"You're tired."

"I'm not." A yawn belies her assertion.

"Very well. But this is it."

"Okay." She snuggles back against his side, fist curled against her cheek.

oOo

"Edward, what's going on?"

"I…I'm not sure."

They've met at the coffee shop every afternoon for the better part of two weeks. Carlisle stares down into his mug, but does not drink. Finally, he looks up again, his expression unreadable. "After you left, I believed your…experiment to be over. I believed you had found out whatever it was you wanted to know about yourself.

Edward looks at him, his eyes uncharacteristically fierce. "It was never an experiment. You know that."

The man shrugs and takes a slow sip of his coffee.

"Jesus, Carlisle," Edward closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. "I…I—" but he can't say it. After all these years, he simply can't admit it. "I wanted you," he repeats softly instead, looking down. "But I was too cowardly to accept what that meant."

Carlisle nods. "And the extended bout of heterosexuality that followed?"

Edward chuckles darkly. "I loved Bella, very much. But that doesn't mean she made me happy."

oOo

"Ness, no! The other way. Feet first—"

"Don't worry, Edward. I'll show her," Marie says with a rather put upon sigh. She stands, dusting sand from the front of her overalls, and ambles over to the slide. She is two years older than Vanessa and the expert on all things grown up.

Edward moves to follow her, but Alice grabs his arm.

"No. You sit. They'll be fine."

Edward huffs but sits down again. "Considering I've seen your daughter go down backward and headfirst, I'm not entirely convinced."

Alice laughs, shaking the bottle in her hand. Water sloshes up the sides. "Perhaps. But she's never actually managed to injure herself.

He arches an eyebrow. "What about her arm?"

"That was a fluke. Who knew she'd be such a spaz on skates."

Edward laughs. "And her tooth?"

"It was a baby tooth, Ed. They're supposed to come out."

He can't disagree. He turns his attention back to the playground. Marie is sitting beside Vanessa on the platform at the top of the slide. She is motioning with her hands and undoubtedly lecturing the smaller girl on the intricacies of slide protocol and etiquette. Vanessa nods, a serious expression on her round face.

"They're sweet together," Alice says, stretching her arms above her head. Her tee-shirt rides up, revealing a pale inch of skin.

"Yes."

They sit silently side-by-side, watching their daughters. Marie must have finally deemed Vanessa slide-worthy because she skids down, shrieking her delight the entire way. Ness follows, and the two scramble to the top of the ladder once more, Ness doing her best to keep up with the older girl.

"You seem happier," Alice says. She is looking at Edward, hair gleaming in the sunlight.

"Yeah. I'm fine," he replies, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "I'm good."

"No," Alice says. "You seem happier than I've seen you in months." She looks at him over the rims of her dark sunglasses. "Since the whole thing with Bella and Jacob began."

Edward shrugs but says nothing. Alice is far too perceptive for her own good.

"Oh my God!" she gasps suddenly, spinning on the bench to face him. "You've met someone!"

Edward hates himself for blushing.

"Who is he?" She demands, taking off her sunglasses. "Because, so help me, if you're dating another woman after what you did…"

"No. It's a man."

And she is right, of course. One doesn't end one's marriage. One doesn't come out to his wife only to end up in bed with another woman.

"It's definitely a man."

But Alice's husband appears then, sparing Edward any further explanations.

"Daddy!" Marie sprints from across the playground, nearly stumbling in her haste, before flinging herself at her father. Jasper catches her adeptly.

He is in his trainers and running shorts. With his blonde hair and lean build, he looks very much like his father. Edward looks away.

His own daughter is spinning herself in circles, her arms extended, dark head thrown back. "Ness! Come on, Ness." He stands up. "You'll make yourself sick."

She tumbles to the ground in a fit of giggles.

He hears Jasper's low chuckle and turns. He's swung Marie over his shoulder. She is struggling to upright herself again, sneakered feet kicking at his chest.

"This one turned herself about one day for the better part of half an hour. Sicked up all over mom's new sofa." He tickles her ribs; she shrieks and squirms in his grasp. "Spaghetti O's and blue Kool-Aid." He grimaces, glancing over at Alice. She is fiddling with her iPhone. "I think we all learned a valuable lesson that day. Didn't we?"

"Yes, daddy, yes," Marie gasps. "Stop twirling before you puke."

Edward laughs. "Sage advice, that."

"How have y'all been, Edward?" Jasper asks, setting his daughter down again.

"Good. We've been good," he responds, looking down.

They manage an uneasy friendship, as much for Alice's sake as for their daughters.

It will never be the same, of course. They'd been virtually inseparable their first year of university; Edward had introduced Jazz to his wife. But things change when you walk in on your best friend in bed with your father.

After that, Jasper hadn't spoken to Edward for over a year. Edward doesn't blame him. But Jasper had never told Alice what had happened – what had caused their falling out. And Edward still feels grateful for that.

He wonders what Jazz will say this time around.

Edward knows, if things continues to progress with Carlisle, he will have to tell them both eventually.

Alice appears at her husband's side. "Dinner next Thursday? I'll invite Rose and Emmett."

Edward nods, calling out to Ness. She's working her way inch-worm style across an elevated platform. "Come on, little one. Time to go."

"Edward's got a new someone," Alice says, lowering her voice confidentially.

"Oh," Jasper answers. "Who is she…or he?" he corrects, looking down awkwardly. "I never know with you."

Alice snorts.

Edward glares at her. "He. But I'm not really sure it's anything yet."

"Yeah, all right. We understand."

Alice looks disappointed but doesn't push.

"Hey Marie, want to give those monkey bars another try?"

The girl nods vigorously and hops along after her father.

Alice sits down again, shaking her head. "She'll never be able to do it."

Edward laughs, joining her on the bench. "No. But Jazz has to try."

They both watch as Jasper holds Marie's legs and maneuvers her along the bars. She makes it three rungs before falling into his arms, giggling madly. Alice uncaps her water and takes a slow sip. "You'll tell me when you're ready."

It isn't a question.

"Yeah. When I'm ready."

oOo

Vanessa is nearly done with breakfast when Bella knocks on the door. She squirms in her chair, nearly knocking her juice glass over.

"Enough," Edward says, wiping her face with a napkin. "Let me go get your mother."

The girl's face lights up when Bella appears. "Mama!" she cries, wriggling out of her chair. "I've been waiting forever."

Bella scoops the child up, and Vanessa giggles. Bella smiles before kissing her forehead wetly.

"Enough, mama," she protests wiping a hand across her face.

Bella laughs. "Stop that. I've missed you." She kisses her again and sets her down on the floor. "Aren't you excited to see me?"

Vanessa chews on her fist, considering. "Yes."

Bella laughs. "Good. Now, go find your things."

The girl skips out of the room, humming to herself.

Bella leans against the kitchen counter, as Edward clears Ness's dishes from the table.

"You look good," she finally says.

"I've been good. How's Jacob?"

"He's fine. We're taking her to the zoo tomorrow."

"She'll like that. She's been drawing giraffes all week."

Bella nods, eying the fridge. "I noticed."

oOo

That Saturday Edward meets his brother at their favorite pub. He snags a booth while Emmett heads to the bar. He runs his finger along the tabletop. Someone has carved Katie and Ben (badly) into the battered wooden surface. There is also a date: Nov 22.

Edward wonders what the two had been doing that night. Why it was worth remembering.

It's the type of thing Bella would have done - memorialize a moment (a shared drink, a lewd joke, a particularly cheesy plate of cheese fries). But he doubts that he would have given her his pocket knife. Edward smiles. Sometimes they were good together.

Emmett sets two pints of Newcastle on the table and sits down across from Edward.

"What are you thinking about, man?" he asks wryly, taking a swig of his beer. He wipes the foam off his mouth and looks at Edward.

"Not much," he says, tapping the inscription on the tabletop.

"Ah. Yeah. The bathroom has some nice ones too."

Edward laughs and takes a sip of his beer. The glass is cold against his hand.

"So, Ness enjoying her new class? What's she signed up for now, ballet?"

Edward snorts, shaking his head. "No. She hates ballet." He smears his finger thorough the condensation on his mug. "But she loves the tights and the tutus."

Emmett chuckles. "Go figure."

"Art's still her favorite. But I'm keeping her in the music classes."

His brother nods, tearing the edge of his napkin. "They say musical talent runs in the family. Not that I got any of that, mind."

The door to the pub opens, flooding the dim space with light. Edward turns his head only to turn back abruptly. He stares down into his drink.

Emmett looks toward to door then immediately back at his brother, quirking an eyebrow.

Jasper and Carlisle Cullen head toward them.

Emmett stands, clapping a hand on Jasper's back. "Hullo, Jazz." He shakes the older man's hand. "Dr. Cullen."

Edward looks up. Carlisle's expression is warm. Jasper seems uneasy, hands shoved into the pockets of his faded blue jeans.

Once they are seated across the room, Emmett gives him a long look. "Something you want to talk about?"

Edward drains his glass. "No," he says, standing.

Emmett puts a hand on his arm. "We don't talk about him. I know that. But I'm right when I say you're better without him."

Edward shrugs out of his grasp and makes his way to the bar for another round.

oOo

Carlisle is not at the café Monday afternoon. Edward hates the disappointment that curls through his belly. They haven't made any definitive plans, but Edward has become accustomed to meeting the man when he gets out of school.

He orders coffee and a scone but does not eat.

Instead, he crumbles the pastry between his fingers and stirs the coffee until it is muddy and tepid.

oOo

Vanessa does not have an art project for him.

"I was in time-out, Papa," she confides quietly.

"What on earth for?"

She looks over her shoulder at her teacher. "Too much running." Her nose curls rather disdainfully. "You shouldn't run inside."

"No. You shouldn't."

oOo

Carlisle calls him that night.

Ness is running around naked. "Vanessa Elizabeth Masen! You come here this instant!"

"Edward?"

"Oh, Carlisle. Sorry—Ness! You must take a bath!"

Carlisle laughs, a rich sound over the phone. "Not at all. I won't keep you."

Edward catches his daughter around the waist. He holds the phone against his shoulder.

The man continues, "I just wanted to say that I was sorry about this afternoon."

"I, er, you have my number?"

Carlisle laughs again. "Yes. I was lucky you haven't changed it since—"

"No, I haven't." Edward says quickly. Something warm runs up his spine.

"I wanted to ask if you'd go out to dinner with me."

"Dinner?"

"Yes. Tomorrow, seven o'clock."

"I've got Vanessa." Edward knows it is a weak excuse.

"I know. Get a sitter."

"Okay."

oOo

"You've changed."

Edward takes a sip of his wine. The black red liquid reflects against the curve of his palm.

"Children will do that to you."

Carlisle smiles. "I know."

Edward blushes. "Of course."

The older man watches him intently for a few long moments. "You would have never gone out with me like this before."

Edward looks down. "No." He twists the stem of his wine glass between his fingers. He hates to think about how he'd acted, how ashamed he felt. Ashamed to be queer. Ashamed to be with another man.

Edward remembers clearly, standing in the older man's kitchen, telling him he didn't want it anymore. He wanted to be normal. He wanted to want what everyone expected him to want. He was going to go back to Bella, ask her to give him another chance, ask her to marry him.

"I came out to Bella."

"Did you?"

"Our relationship… Things weren't working."

Carlisle nods, places his fork on the side of his plate.

"We weren't happy, and I knew I couldn't be the husband she deserved." Edward takes another sip of wine. "But I was always faithful."

Carlisle picks up his wine glass but does not drink. He cocks his head, studying Edward.

"Esme knew from the beginning that I had…experience with men."

"What?"

The man's lips curve. "I think the idea intrigued her at first." He takes a bite of fish, the tines of his fork scraping across the plate. "Still, We were very happy. At first, at least" He looks at Edward. "But I was always open with my wife."

Edward turns his water glass around. It leaves a wet ring on the white tablecloth.

"I never told Bella about us," he says softly after a few moments. "By that point, I wanted to marry her. I didn't think… Well, I wasn't sure she'd take me back if she knew."

"Because I am Jasper's father? Or because I am a man?"

"A bit of both, I think."

Carlisle nods.

Edward turns his wine glass between his fingers, watching the crimson liquid swirl up the sides.

oOo

By coffee, Carlisle has taken off his coat, folding it neatly over the back of his chair. His white shirt is loose at the collar. Edward takes a deep breath. The man has a lovely throat.

Carlisle smiles and brushes his thumb across the back of Edward's hand. "Come home with me."

"I…I can't." He reaches out tentatively, slips the tip of his finger along Carlisle's wrist. The man shudders at the light touch.

"I have to pick up Ness."

Carlisle nods. "Another time, perhaps." He signals the waiter for the bill.

"I'd like that, you know."

The man looks up again.

"To go home with you."

oOo

As Carlisle walks Edward to his car, their fingertips brush, and it is only natural for their hands to twine together. Edward smiles. The man's palm is warm and solid against his; it feels so very different from Bella's small, girlish one.

"Does my son know?"

"Hmm?" Edward looks up. Wet moonlight spills over Carlisle skin, smooth and pale.

"Does he know that you asked them to keep Vanessa so I could take you to dinner?"

"I…no. They didn't ask. Alice knows I'll tell her when I'm ready."

The man nods, eyes shadowed.

"I'm sorry. I will tell them. I promise. But I wasn't even sure if—"

Edward doesn't finish because Carlisle is kissing him, his lips dry and soft. Edward gasps, opens his mouth, as Carlisle presses against him. The kiss is lovely, familiar but new. Carlisle's tongue flicks over his teeth, slides against his tongue. Edward hasn't kissed anyone like this (smooth and deliberate and slow) in a very long time. He shifts; the man's hands drop to his hips, pulling him closer.

He's missed this – the feel of Carlisle's body against his, (hard where Bella had been soft) and the smell, the taste of him (wine, garlic, and spice).

Edward closes his eyes; his fingers are in the man's hair, as Carlisle's hand slips between them.

"Shit," he gasps when Carlisle's palm brushes over his zip. The man chuckles.

Edward's hips buck. He can't stay still, can't not move against him. He wants, needs to feel the press of those fingers against him.

"You want this, don't you?" Carlisle asks, his voice rough and his breath warm against Edward's lips.

"Yes." He moans softly, tongue licking again. He can already feel the pressure building, coiling down his spine, around his hips. Edward rocks forward, shuddering as the man touches him.

"Carlisle, oh God…you should stop—"

"I know." The man laughs again, nipping at his jaw before pulling away slightly. "But I've miss this. I've missed you."

oOo

Alice meets Edward at the door. Her feet are bare, her terrycloth robe knotted around her waist. "How'd it go?"

"Well." He feels his cheeks pink. "It went really well."

She smiles, the corners of her eyes crinkling. "You know, you're going to have to tell me all about this someday."

Edward nods.

"They're upstairs." She motions with her empty wine glass. "Sound asleep, last time I checked."

"Thanks, love." He kisses her cheek.

Both girls are, indeed, asleep, snuggled under the covers of Marie's big girl bed. It appears that Alice has not only managed to get Ness bathed, but also into her night clothes. Sometimes he really adores that woman.

Vanessa mumbles something as Edward lifts her into his arms, but then she settles against his chest, asleep again. He smoothes his hand across her cheek and kisses her, breathing in the soapy sweet childish scent of her hair.

Once he's gotten her home and tucked into her bed, he sits down beside her. She shifts in her sleep, dark lashes fluttering against pale cheeks. Edward brushes her hair back from her forehead; she sighs softly.

His mother says that Ness looked like he did when he was young. She has his nose, his high cheek bones. He'd been a beautiful child too.

oOo

His daughter wakes him up the next morning, singing at the top of her lungs.

For a brief moment, Edward understands why Bella describes Vanessa's twice-weekly music class as something akin to torture.

At breakfast, she overturns her Cheerios and dumps her juice cup onto the floor.

It's going to be a long day. At least his juniors are writing an essay.

oOo

Edward runs his thumb around the rim of his wine glass, watching as Marie demonstrates the proper way to perform a somersault. His own daughter watches, eyes wide.

Emmett squats down beside them, beer bottle in one hand. "You know," he says, leaning close to Vanessa, "I can do an excellent front roll."

"Uncle Emmett," Marie says pointedly, "you'll spill."

He smiles. "Here, hold this." He hands his niece his Rolling Rock, and the girls giggle madly as he performs the most ungraceful somersault Edward has ever seen.

Edward chuckles into his Riesling.

oOo

"So," Alice says, setting the bowl of spaghetti down on the table. The girls are off in Marie's room, no doubt doing something destructive or dangerous. "Ed's dating someone." She flashes a rather devilish smile; she's already had a glass and a half of wine.

Rose raises an eyebrow. Emmett looks up curiously. Jasper stares at the window.

Something cold clenches at his insides. Edward fingers the stem of his wine glass and wonders if Jazz already knows.

But Alice is watching him expectantly, and Edward realizes he has to say something. He takes a deep breath. "Do you remember sophomore year when Jazz and I had that falling out?"

Emmett chokes on his beer; Jasper looks rather pale.

"Well," Edward soldiers on, "I was sleeping with Carlisle."

Rosalie spills her glass. Emmett glares at his brother before reaching for a napkin to dab at his wife's blouse. Jasper is looking down, his jaw tight.

Alice stares directly at him, her mouth a thin line. Then she stands up; her napkin falls to the floor. "Excuse me."

oOo

Edward sits down at the kitchen table beside Alice. She has a full glass of wine in front of her, but she isn't drinking it. He holds up his own glass, staring into the pale gold liquid as it reflects the light of the room. "Are you mad?"

She sighs. "It's been, what, eight years?"

Edward nods.

"You never told me."

"I know."

"Does Bella know?"

"No."

She looks up at the ceiling, then at Edward once again. "Carlisle? Really?"

"Yes."

Alice takes a deep breath. "For how long?"

"Seven, eight months."

"Jesus, Ed."

"I know." He takes a large gulp of wine. "It wasn't just sex. I…I loved him."

She nods, picking purple polish off a fingernail. "And Bella never knew?"

"No."

"That's good."

"I loved her, Alice."

"I know."

oOo

They are in Carlisle's study, stretched out on his worn leather sofa. Edward has his head in the older man's lap; Carlisle strokes his hair.

"I talked to Jasper today."

Edward tenses. "What did he say?"

"He wasn't pleased."

Edward moves to sit up, but Carlisle puts his hand on his shoulder, stopping him. "He just doesn't understand."

"I know."

The man traces his fingertip along Edward's lip. "Give him some time. He'll get used to it."

"I never wanted to come between you…"

"Stop," the man chides, skating his palm across the boy's chest. "You've done nothing of the sort."

Edward chews on his lip and says nothing.

"Here, look at me." Carlisle cups his chin, angling his face upward. "If we are going to be together, if you want this to work, then they needed to know."

"But I—"

Carlisle has found that kissing Edward is often the best way to shut him up.

oOo

Edward sifts through a pile of papers he has spread out across the kitchen table. "Should I do Dracula or The Picture of Dorian Gray this year?"

"Dorian Gray. Definitely." Alice sets her coffee mug down. There is a smudge of pink gloss on the rim.

Edward leans back in his chair, tilting it onto two legs. "Why?"

"It's shorter, for one."

Edward laughs.

Alice shrugs. "And Mina's such a whiny little bitch, anyhow. At least Wilde kills Sibyl off fairly early."

"I suppose you do have a point there." He cradles his coffee cup in his hands. It is strong and bitter, just the way he likes it.

She drums her fingertips on the tabletop. "Unless, of course, you'd rather not deal with the undercurrent of homosexuality in Dorian Gray."

Edward snorts into his coffee. "Right. Like that's ever bothered me before."

Alice winks and drains the rest of her mug. She looks at her watch.

"Hey, Ness," Edward says, glancing down. His daughter is sprawled on her stomach underneath the table, colors spread all around. "You ready to go?"

She looks up from her coloring book, sucking the end of a green crayon into her mouth. "Go where, Papa?"

"We have to pick Marie up from Karate. Then we're going to eat lunch."

Vanessa smiles. "I like Marie."

"I know."

oOo

They are on the floor in Edward's den, a tower of Chinese takeout boxed balanced precariously on the end of the coffee table. Edward sits cross-legged, leaning back against Carlisle's chest; he twirls a chopstick between his fingers.

Vanessa has been in bed since seven, and the monitor propped on the arm of the sofa assures that she is still fast asleep.

Carlisle had arrived on Edward's doorstep around nine, arms laden with plastic takeout bags. "My shift just ended," he explained, brushing his lips against Edward's temple. "I thought I'd bring you dinner."

Edward frowned, but stepped aside to let him in. "I've already eaten, with Ness."

"And what did the two of you eat tonight?"

"Fish sticks."

Carlisle raised an eyebrow. "Fish sticks?"

"Yes." Edward nodded. "And chocolate pudding. We also had chocolate pudding."

Carlisle had chuckled, a deep, rich sound. "Perhaps tonight I should show you how proper adults eat."

Edward looked at the carryout curiously. "Proper adults eat Chinese food out of paper boxes?"

"Of course they do."

And even though Edward has already eaten, he finds that he is hungry. His mouth waters at the spicy tangy scent spilling out of the white paper containers. It is funny how his dietary needs had so long ago conformed to those of his daughter's.

"Vanessa would like the noodles," he says, pointing with a chopstick.

Carlisle laughs softly. "I would very much like to meet your daughter sometime."

Edward twists in the man's arms, turning his face up to his. "She's four. Trust me. You want her to go to bed early."

Then Edward finds himself on his back on the rug, his shoulder blades pressing against the rough wool. Carlisle shifts over him, frames his face in his hands. His mouth is inches from Edward's.

"Is this what you want?" The man's voice is too breathless, too low, as he looks down at him.

"Yes."

The kiss is awkward. Their teeth knock. Carlisle's hip digs painfully into Edward's side. But he can't get enough of the soft press of the man's lips against his and the sweet, spicy flavor of the man's breath. When Carlisle slides his mouth along Edward's jaw to lick behind his ear, Edward moans and clutches at his back, fingernails scrabbling at the smooth surface of Carlisle's shirt.

Edward's entire body is tense, wire-taut, as he arches up, cranes his neck, presses himself against Carlisle.

They pull apart gasping. Carlisle's bottom lip is damp and pink. Edward wants to drag his tongue across it. But the man is groaning, moving, pulling Edward on top of him.

Their mouths move, wet and open.

Then Carlisle's hands are between them, tugging at Edward's jeans.

He is already hard, gasping against the man's throat. "Want to feel you." He hisses, dragging his teeth along Carlisle's neck, thrusting through the loop of the man's fingers.

He fumbles between them, manages to undo Carlisle's flies. The man hisses when their cocks touch.

"Tell me what you want."

Edward's hips are moving with Carlisle's hand. "Touch me. Make me come." He looks down, watching as Carlisle's fingers circle them both.

oOo

Vanessa clings tightly to Edward's hand as they maneuver their way through the white clothed tables that gleam with silver place settings. Alice has a soft spot for Quince's Sunday brunch.

She and Marie have taken a table near the back of the restaurant. Edward bends down to kiss Alice's cheek, as he settles Ness into her chair. She's surprisingly well behaved and sits, oddly quiet and sedate in her gingham dress and white stockings. Her black Mary Janes kick against the rungs of her chair.

"Edward," Marie says with a shy smile as he takes his seat. He smoothes his palm over her auburn curls.

Alice has ordered a pot of hot chocolate. Edward digs into his bag for Vanessa's sipper cup, and Alice fills it halfway, allowing it to cool before affixing the top.

"So," Alice says, handing the cup to Ness. "You're still seeing Carlisle?"

"Yes." Edward turns his cup on its saucer and looks down at his menu, although he already knows what he is going to order.

"Jazz said as much," she says, swirling her teaspoon around; it clinks against pale bone china. "I don't think he's incredibly keen on the idea, though."

Edward says nothing and takes a sip of his chocolate. It burns his tongue but is smooth and creamy sweet.

"It is odd, you know," Alice persists.

Edward sighs and stares down into his cup. "I know."

The waiter places a basket of bread on the table. Edward takes a cinnamon scone and tears it in two, placing half on Vanessa's plate. She smiles widely, fingering the pastry.

"It'll be okay, Ed," Alice says softly after several moments. He looks up at her. A dark strand of hair falls against her pale cheek. She brushes it off again.

She might not understand, but she accepts. And that is all he can ask for.

The waiter appears again. "Eggs, scrambled with cheese," Edward says, nodding toward his daughter. He orders the Benedict for himself.

Alice chooses the vegetarian omelet and pancakes for Marie.

"Oh, and two Champagnes," Edward adds as the waiter turns away.

Alice smiles and brushes her fingers over the back of his hand.

oOo

Carlisle looks up over the rim of his coffee cup. Edward blushes at the heat in his eyes.

"Did you finish grading those essays?"

"No."

"But Vanessa is at her mother's tonight?"

"Yes."

Carlisle licks his lip. Edward swallows thickly and takes a sip of his drink.

oOo

The man's bedroom looks exactly the same as Edward remembers. Pale pink wallpaper trimmed with exquisitely delicate sweeps of gold. Years ago, Carlisle lived in this house with his wife, Jasper's mother. She has long since moved on. Carlisle stayed. The decorations remain the same.

The man stands, arms folded over his chest. His expression is calm, impassive, but Edward hears his quick intake of breath when he steps toward him. He licks his lips; Carlisle's gaze drops to his mouth. And the moment stretches (Edward can feel it tight in his lungs), as they stand watching each other.

"Get undressed for me." Carlisle's voice is barely a whisper. "I want to watch you."

The words raise goose bumps on Edward's skin. His fingers tremble as he undoes the buttons on his shirt, but his body thrums with excitement (white hot and sharp).

His shirt pools at his feet, and he hesitates, fingertips on his belt.

"Go on."

The murmured command unfurls in the air between them, twists between his fingers, twines round his hips.

The leather is worn, smooth under his palm. Brass clinks against brass, and he holds his breath at the catch and pull. Edward's fingers fumble at the zip, but he jerks it down and tugs pants and boxers off at once, kicking them aside. He doesn't stop to think about how much he wants this; the answer would terrify him.

He sits naked and awkward on the end of the bed, blushing under Carlisle's scrutinizing gaze.

The feeling is both foreign and oddly familiar. His mind replays (in bits and flashes) scenes from years before (himself on the bed, naked and perfectly at home).

"You're lovely," the man says, his voice a mere murmur. "And so hard for me."

He moves to the edge of the bed. "I've been dreaming about this." In the dim light of the room, his blue eyes are nearly black. "About having you here again."

Edward's breath catches and he leans back. Carlisle's gasp is audible.

When the man leans over, Edward tugs him toward him. Their mouths are open, eager, wet, and Carlisle's hand twists in his hair as their tongues press and slide together. The soft, gasping sounds Carlisle makes cause Edward's cock to ache.

Carlisle's teeth slip down his neck, scraping smooth skin. Edward shudders against him. "Oh…oh God. Do that again."

The man's mouth finds his throat; his pulse flutters madly against his lips. Edward clutches and grasps at his shoulders. He can feel the curve of the man's spine under his palm. He's still too thin.

Carlisle's presses against him; he's hard in his trousers, and Edward moves against him, dragging his teeth along his bottom lip before pulling back and looking up at him. Carlisle's skin is pinked and flushed, his mouth red and swollen.

Edward arches up, tries to holds still, but his pulse, his breath quickens. He looks up, held down by the press of Carlisle's body on top of his. They are connected by the weight, the scratch of the man's wool slacks against that pale expanse of skin, the swell of Carlisle's cock settled between the narrow valley of his hips, and that gaze (mostly that gaze) wanting and waiting.

The moment stretches, a thread pulled taut.

Then he reaches up, bucks his hips, catches the man's mouth with his, and rolls over, straddling the other man.

"Edward…" Carlisle gasps, but he already has his trousers unzipped.

Edward groans as a triangle of white (pressed up by the head of his cock) is exposed. He leans down, mouths his way along moist cotton. The man groans, fingers carding through his hair.

"Lift up for me," Edward murmurs, mouth pressed to Carlisle's hip, and the man complies breathlessly, gasping as his pants are tugged over his hips and down his thighs. Edward kicks them off the bed.

He reaches across to fumble in the bedside cabinet; Edward assumes Carlisle still keeps a vile of lubricant there. "Here," he says, thrusting out his hand. "Get me ready."

Carlisle takes a deep breath and urges him up on his knees. Edward parts his legs wider, watching Carlisle drip clear fluid over his fingertips. He hisses at the cold and sting, but shifts, rocks his hips; his cock bounces against his stomach. Carlisle presses a finger inside.

Edward knows he's flushed, and he can't stop trembling. A bead of sweat slides down his neck; Carlisle catches it with his tongue.

"God," Edward breathes, eyes cast down, watching Carlisle's hand, fingers moving between his legs. "Look at that."

"You like that, don't you?" the man asks.

"Yeah…God yeah." Edward pushes down against him, cants his hips. Then Carlisle tugs him down, slipping his fingers free. Edward's hands find his shoulders, pull him on top. "Now, Carlisle, now…" he gasps against the man's neck, spreading his thighs.

Carlisle slides in with a groan. The pleasure is bright with pain. He thuds his head against the pillow, scrapes his nails down Carlisle's back, wraps one leg around his hip. "More, Carlisle. Please."

Carlisle holds himself above him, trying to stay still, trying to go slow, trying to stop himself from shaking. Edward arches his back, presses his shoulders against the mattress. "God, just fuck me," he demands, hips jerking up.

The man stifles another moan but pushes forward again. He leans down, catching Edward's mouth with his own. The kiss is clumsy (all teeth and tongues), but it doesn't matter because Edward's hips are moving, lifting up off the bed to meet Carlisle's thrusts. He flings an arm out to the side; his hand twists in white sheets, as Carlisle reaches between them to curl his fingers around his prick. It's hot and damp and hard against his palm, and Edward swears, eyes falling closed.

He turns his head from side to side, and Carlisle strokes him harder. Carlisle traces Edward's lips with his tongue, and Edward whispers his name against his mouth over and over again.

With a sharp cry he comes, feet pressed into the mattress, stomach muscles clenching as Carlisle's fingers smooth slickly down his cock.

The man's hips snap once more, and Edward feels him shudder, feels the warmth flood his insides. Carlisle's weight is warm against his chest. Edward presses a kiss to his collarbone, slides a hand down his back, as he pulls out.

They lay side by side, catching their breath. Carlisle's fingers trace patterns in the cooling fluid on Edward's stomach.

"Are you all right?" the man finally asks, his voice too soft, too unsure.

Edward curls against him, laying his head on the man's chest. He can hear Carlisle's heartbeat thrum against his ear. "Yes."

oOo

Morning dawns with watery sunlight streaming through the bare window panes. Edward slides out from beneath Carlisle's arm and pulls his knees to his chest against the chill of the room. He is used to waking early. Four-year-olds, as a general rule, are not late sleepers. He watches the other man sleep for a few long moments, traces the pale gold sweep of smooth skin with his eyes, watches the steady rise and fall of his chest.

He slips out of bed and quietly makes his way to the bathroom. The marble floor is cold against bare feet.

Edward splashes water on his face, rinses out his mouth, and stares in the mirror. There's a bruise on his right shoulder, just above his clavicle (two semi-circular indentations, the mark of Carlisle's teeth). Other bruises purple his hips, his thighs. Edward's too pale skin mars easily. He can still feel the weight of Carlisle's hands. He shivers remembering.

Carlisle appears behind him and wraps his arms around his waist. The man traces his thumb softly along a mark at Edward's throat, concern etched on his face. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be so…rough."

Edward twists in his arms, a smile playing at his mouth. "You weren't. It was perfect."

Carlisle doesn't look convinced, but presses a kiss to his mouth. "Have breakfast with me? My shift doesn't start till nine."

oOo

The café is more crowded than usual at this hour. Couples enjoy coffee over the morning paper. Men and women in scrubs grab a quick bite before rushing off to the hospital.

Carlisle and Edward stand in line together, close but not quite touching. Edward's fingers twitch; he imagines trailing them across Carlisle's knuckles, sliding them along his wrist. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his faded blue jeans instead. He can still smell the man on his skin, taste him on his tongue. It's something he could get use to.

The door to the café clangs open, and a man enters. Edward's seen him somewhere before. He tenses as he approaches. Carlisle shifts infinitesimally (a fraction of a step away).

"Marcus." Carlisle's smile is warm.

Edward suddenly feels very cold.

He recognizes the man now: Carlisle's date from the wedding.

Marcus claps a hand on Carlisle's shoulder and leans in to brush his lips against his cheek. He pulls back slightly, but doesn't move his hand. Edward's stomach twists.

"Who's your friend, Carlisle," the man asks. His smile is amused. Edward hates it.

"Marcus, this is Edward Masen."

Marcus holds out his hand, and Edward takes it. The man's shake is overly firm.

"And how do you two…know each other?" Marcus presses his lips together in an ill-concealed smirk.

Edward shifts from one leg to the other, suddenly terribly uncomfortable. Carlisle glances at him quickly before turning back to Marcus. The older man seems uncharacteristically flustered.

"Edward is actually a very close friend of my son and daughter-in-law. They went to college together."

Marcus nods, his look still appraising.

Everything seems to happen in slow motion. Edward fights the urge to be sick. "I, er, I have to go," he manages after a few excruciating moments.

"No, Edward." Carlisle's hand is on Edward's back, but he's already pulling away. "Wait."

"I'm sorry," he looks down. His cheeks are hot and his eyes sting. "This was a mistake."

"Edward," Carlisle tries again, a hint of urgency seeping into his voice.

But he just shakes his head. He feels numb. His chest aches. He needs to get out of there.

Carlisle doesn't stop him.

The café door slams behind him, bell clanking angrily. Somehow this all feels eerily familiar. He's done this once before, turned around and walked away.

Edward doesn't remember it hurting quite so badly.

oOo

"Girls! Lunch time," Alice calls, pulling four plates down from the cupboard.

Edward sits at the kitchen table, watching absently, as she stacks tomato slices on toast before topping each with a fried egg.

"Ed, love, I think there's some cantaloupe sliced in the fridge. Will you get it for me?"

"Yeah, sure," he says, standing and slipping behind her as she pours two glasses of milk.

"Oh. And grab a Diet Coke."

Marie and Vanessa appear then, conspicuously out of breath. Ness has both shoes and one sock off, but she has Marie's yellow Karate belt tied round her head. A shock of dark curls sticks up in all directions. Edward laughs as they scramble into their seats.

Alice sets plates in front of them; Edward sits down too, spooning scoops of fruit for Marie and Vanessa before serving Alice and himself.

His daughter eyes her meal curiously. "Papa?" she asks, scrunching her nose. "Eggs are for breakfast."

"Right you are, little one. Right you are."

"But…" she pokes tentatively at her sandwich. Egg yolk dribbles onto her plate. "But this is lunch."

Edward takes a bite of his own sandwich; crumbs scatter on the tabletop. "True. But you know Aunt Alice." He glances to the side and lowers his voice conspiratorially. "She doesn't understand those kinds of rules."

Alice snorts and rolls her eyes. "Don't listen to him Ness. Have you had an egg sandwich before?"

The girl pokes at said sandwich once more. "No."

"Well, it's more fun than P B and J."

Marie nods sagely, mouth full.

Vanessa doesn't look convinced, but picks up her sandwich and tries a small bite. Tomato squirts out the side. She laughs, then smiles. "Not bad."

"No ninja," Edward agrees, taking a sip of Diet Coke. "Not bad at all."

"Papa?"

"Yes?"

"I don't take Karate."

"No. You don't."

Vanessa looks at Marie; the other girl is busy pushing pieces of cantaloupe around on her plate.

"Marie does."

Edward puts his glass down and nods. "Would you like to?"

She chews on her lip, expression oddly serious. "Yes."

"Well, next time Marie has a class, we'll tag along. How about that?"

"Okay." She takes another bite of her sandwich; her cheek is covered with crumbs.

Edward smiles, smearing the remnants of egg with his bread crust.

Alice laughs, shaking her head. "Bella will have a fit if you try to sign her up for one more activity."

Edward shrugs. "We want her to be well rounded."

"She's four."

"And a half," mumbles Vanessa, mouth full of egg.

"That's right, ninja," Edward smiles indulgently. "Four and a half. We'll give Karate a try."

Ness beams. He wipes her face with a napkin.

When the girls are excused (off to do Lord knows what), Alice looks at him steadily, cheek resting on her palm. "So, are you going to tell me what happened?"

Edward looks down. His coke is watery pale. "Nothing, really."

Alice sighs. "I know that's not true."

Edward turns his glass around. It leaves a wet ring on the slick Formica tabletop. "We slept together." He looks up, pushes his plate away.

"And?"

"It was lovely." He sighs. "And it meant nothing."

Alice furrows her brow; a dark strand of hair falls across her cheek.

"He's with someone else."

"What?" Her surprise is genuine.

"Yes. Marcus. The man from Bella's wedding." He rests his elbows on the table.

"They're…together, together?" Alice sits up straight, eyes wide.

"Yes together. Sleeping. Fucking. Together, together." His tone is bitter, jaded.

"Oh God, Edward. I'm sorry." She reaches across the table to touch the back of his hand. Her fingertips are cold. "I didn't know."

"Neither did I." He inhales deeply. He hasn't smoked in years – since before Vanessa was born – but suddenly he desperately wants a cigarette. "It's better this way, though," he assures, smiling a bit sadly.

Alice doesn't look convinced.

oOo

Edward taps his pen against the desk. He's done little more than stare at the pile of papers in front of him, but Ness doesn't want to be picked up for another hour and it's not like he can go to the café anymore.

"Have a lot to grade?"

Edward jumps at the sound of the voice and looks up. Carlisle is leaning against the doorjamb.

He hates the warmth that splashes over his cheeks and the flutter and twist in his stomach.

"I've missed you."

Edward nods but says nothing.

"Jasper came to see me."

Edward tenses; he hadn't known this.

"He said he didn't want to know, but whatever it was I'd done to you, I needed to fix. Quickly." The man runs a hand through his hair. It's an uncharacteristically nervous gesture.

"He said that?"

"Yes. He said you didn't deserve it." Carlisle pauses, smoothes his palm along the door frame. "And I rather believe he's right."

Edward chews on his lip, waiting.

"It was a mistake, Edward. Marcus and I – there's nothing there. I'm not sure there ever was."

Edward nods again, throat dry.

"Have dinner with me."

"I've got Ness."

Carlisle smiles. "I know. Bring her along."

Edward looks down, traces the grain of wood on his desk.

"I'm quite good with children," the man continues. "I've got one, you know. Quite a bit older than Vanessa, but he turned out tolerably well."

Edward laughs. "Tolerably."

"So you'll come? I'll pick you up at seven."

"Yes. We'll come."

fin