The Departure

" ...my love for him was tinged with the dark understanding that he could leave at any moment." –Ithaca is Gorges

"Dr. Cullen, would you sign these?" Gloria popped her head up from behind the computer screen at Reception, shaking a thick blue file in the air. "Might as well get it over with now, while there's a lull."

I glanced around the hospital lobby. It was deserted, with the exception of Mr. Robbins, an eccentric old logger who wandered in at least once a week to have his bunions checked. A lull, indeed.

"Thanks," she said, thrusting a pen at me. It was adorned with a gaudy plastic flower secured with green florist's tape. "I want to get this checked off the list before my shift ends. Can't stay late today; Jeremy has soccer practice." I noticed the sad tinge to the usually indulgent tone she used whenever she spoke of her son.

"Jeremy's a senior this year, isn't he?"

"I can hardly believe it," she sighed. "It seems like yesterday he was heading off for his first day at kindergarten, crying after me when I dropped him off." She smiled wistfully. "I'd told him that big boys don't cry at school. Now all he can talk about is going to Eastern in the fall and I'm the one who's crying."

"I think I can relate," I said, flipping through the file. "I've got three graduating this year, myself." Of course, it would hardly be their first time. This year would mark Jasper's twentieth, Emmett's twenty-first and Rosalie's twenty-third high school graduation, respectively. And, except for the long vacation that Rose and Emmett always took after a graduation year, my children wouldn't be headed off on their own for an extended period anytime soon.

"It's wonderful that you and your wife are willing to take in so many teenagers, especially being as young as you are," Gloria said, grabbing a small stack of intake sheets I'd just signed. "But I guess, since you're not so far removed from your teens yourselves, you'd know where they're coming from, right?"

"I suppose that's true," I answered, fighting a smile. I imagined that spending nearly ninety years with a seventeen-year-old mind reader was bound to teach me something.

"Got any tips?" she asked with a rueful grin, before she sighed. "You know, I'd trade anything to turn back the clock and be mother to that little kindergartner again." Her eyes flicked down to the plain gold wedding band she always wore. "Jeremy's all I've got since Gary died."

She looked up at me with an expression of such sadness that my chest began to ache. "Time passes too quickly, Dr. Cullen. You're the center of their universe when they're little—they rely on you for so much. Then, before you know it, they're gone. And there's nothing you can do but watch them go."

I opened my mouth to speak but the air suddenly shifted and the words died in my throat. My senses filled with the aroma of nutmeg and musk. I knew that scent as well as my own, but I instantly detected a difference—a strange, stinging sharpness that made my jaw tighten.

"Dr. Cullen, isn't that one of your sons?" Gloria asked.

I looked up from the intake sheets and my pen cracked between my fingers. Edward charged toward us, his clothes rumpled and his hair disheveled, his trembling hands closing and opening reflexively against his sides.

One glance at his face told me everything I needed to know: the frenzied stare that seemed to slash its way out of eyes black as pitch, a tormenting burn that seized the throat and twisted the lips, a jaw that convulsed against the nearly unbearable compulsion to tear into flesh. I had witnessed that very expression cross the face each of my family members at one time or another. Yet I was stunned to see it engulf Edward's face now. His control was nearly perfect, and had been for some decades. Perhaps I had misread his expression and he was consumed by something else entirely?

I prayed to God it was something else.

Before Gloria could notice, I quickly pocketed the pieces of my pen and moved to intercept my son.

"Edward?" I whispered, meeting him near the nurse's station.

His throat convulsed as he swallowed and turned his head away. "I have to go, Carlisle. I have to go now," he hissed through his teeth.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Gloria look up from her computer screen and examine us with a curious expression.

"Why don't we discuss this in my office?" I suggested softly. Without hesitation, he brushed past me and strode down the hall—a little too quickly, I observed. I glanced again at Gloria, but it didn't appear as if she had noticed anything unnatural.

"Teenagers," she mouthed, offering me a sympathetic smile.

I grinned in reply, casually thrusting my hand into my pocket as Edward flew around the corner at the end of the hall. My fist clenched and I felt the remnants of my pen crumble to dust.

I stepped into my office to find Edward frantically pacing the short length of the room. His fingers twisted through his hair as if the key to his sanity were lost somewhere within the copper strands. His lips trembled as if he was muttering something, but I heard no sound. It had been nearly eighty years since I had last seen him this agitated. He had been a newborn then, a slave to his overwhelming thirst.

His thirst. I closed the door behind me and swallowed the venom that had suddenly pooled in my mouth. Good God, what had he done?

"What's happened?" I asked as I approached him. Edward's pacing abruptly stopped, and I braced myself for his answer.

"Nothing. Yet." he mumbled quickly. "But it will, if I stay."

I felt a sigh of relief escape my chest. It wasn't too late. All would be well. He just needed some time to calm himself. I reached for his arm, but just as my fingers made contact, he fiercely snatched it away.

For an instant, all that registered was the flex of Edward's bicep and the ghost of his arm shuddering against my still outstretched hand. Then, like a demon that refused to be exorcised, the memory appeared. Again, I saw him at his desk in the tiny bedroom in Barre, his shoulders hunched over in despair, his face hidden against his hands. Once more, I felt my fingers stroke the back of his neck, trying to offer him some comfort, struggling to comprehend his pain even as he wrenched himself away from my touch. And I saw him turn toward me, his jaw set like steel and his eyes . . . oh, his eyes . . .

Please tell me it was a mistake. You slipped, Edward. He slipped. He only slipped.

"I made no mistake."

"No!" Edward snarled. I shook my head, forcing the demon back into the deepest recesses of my brain.

"I don't understand," I murmured, my mind still reeling from the memory. Could he possibly be thinking of leaving again? Of living that life again? Unbidden, his face emerged once more in my imagination; his once golden eyes now an angry crimson.

"Stop," he whimpered, dropping to his knees in front of my desk. His head hung heavily in his hands. "It's not like that."

I sank down beside him and carefully rested my hand on his shoulder. He shuddered, but, thankfully, didn't pull away. I'msorry,son.Youjust...caughtmeoffguard,that'sall.

"Have you ever," he began, in a voice so soft I had to strain to hear it. "Has there ever been a time . . ."

Yes? I encouraged, squeezing his shoulder.

He took in a shuddering breath and his gaze met mine. For a split second, I thought I saw a crimson sheen coating his irises, but in the instant it took me to blink, I knew I had only imagined it. Not red at all, his eyes were an intense black. They emitted no color or radiance, but rather seemed to greedily suck even the dimmest light away. I felt my grip on him tighten.

"Has any one person ever smelled better to you than the rest of them?" he mumbled in a strained voice. "Much better?" he added, hurriedly wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Oh . . ." I breathed. Lacantantethe singer—a vampire's perfect prey. The blood of the victim is said to be so intoxicating that its fragrance alone induces a frenzy of bloodlust nearly impossible to resist. And the taste . . . so sweet and succulent that the full complement of one hundred other humans couldn't satisfy as much as one rich drop from the singer. Aro once described the experience to me in excruciating detail.

I'd departed for America the next day.

"I didn't think so," Edward ground out, as he pulled away from me and scrambled to his feet. "I have to go—far away from here. I know I'll kill her! I can't stay. I can't . . ."

He dashed for the door and before I knew what had happened, I found myself standing between him and his exit, his tormented face an inch away from my own. I had never experienced first-hand the lure of the singer, but I had lived with my share of newborns. This frenzy seemed nearly identical.

I leaned in closer. Our noses were a millimeter apart, my eyes locked tight on his. My gaze would be his anchor now just as it had been all those years ago. "Edward, what you need now is to hunt. I'll leave work early. We can go together right now—just the two of us." I rested my hands on either side of his face.I'llkeepyousafe.Ipromise.

His pitch black eyes widened incredulously and in an instant he was across the room. "You think a little hunt will make it all better?" he spat. His hands clenched into angry fists, and I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.

"I'm not some clueless newborn, Carlisle! I haven't been for eighty-seven miserable years. And I don't need to be babysat by you." He brought his fists up to his forehead and grasped at it, his fingers shaking. "I just need to go," he whispered urgently, "before it's too late."

My gaze fell from his pain-stricken face down to my desk, standing like a dividing wall between us. It was as if we had suddenly become like two countries whose customs and languages were completely distinct and indecipherable to one another—who shared little in common but an artificial border.

When had this happened? When had this border between my son and me been erected? How was this moment even possible? My mind swept through the decades we'd spent together. Yes, there had been difficulties, but what family didn't face them from time to time? No matter what the trouble, we had always worked it out—together. On the whole, Edward had seemed happy with . . .

"That's bullshit!" he cried. He whipped around the desk in a blur, his face suddenly so close to mine, I felt the rush of his breath against my lips. "You have no ideahow I feel."

"Edward. . ." I began, but he cut me off.

"You don't trust me," he accused in a low growl, his black eyes boring into mine. "You never really have—not since I came back."

Imadenomistake.The words burst through my brain like a searing flash of lightning and I felt myself cringe against them.

"No!" I whispered, grasping at his shoulders. "You know that's not true." My fingers twisted the soft fabric of his shirt, tugging at it, as if the gesture would somehow make my words true.

"You have to let me go." Edward's voice was low and urgent. His eyes held mine, and for a few moments, all I could hear was the incessant tick of the hospital-issued clock that hung on the wall behind me. I stood still as a statue, my fingers frozen against his shoulders, as we stared each other down. Neither of us breathed.

Youhavetoletmego. The words tumbled through my mind like a sudden rush of water cascading over a cliff. He would leave us now; vanish out of town—out of state, should it be necessary. But where would he go and for how long? Days, months . . . years? The questions began spinning inside my head so fast that I hardly had the power to control them.

"I don't know," Edward responded through his teeth. I felt my fingers unclench and my hands fell from his shoulders. The movement released an indescribable sensation from deep within my chest. My mouth fell open, waiting for the right description to materialize on my tongue. But when the words came, there were no answers—only more questions.

"Then why did you come to me?" I heard myself whisper. "Why didn't you simply leave?"

He ran his hand nervously through his hair and stared past me at the door. "I need your car. It's faster than mine."

He needed my . . . car? I felt my stomach contract, my breath rushing out of my lungs as if I'd been punched. Edward was right. I had no idea at all.

I reached into my pants pocket and looped my finger through the cool metal of my key ring. "Here. Do what you must," I said, pressing the keys into his waiting palm. He started to pull away, but I kept my hand firmly atop his. "I only ask one thing of you in return. When you decide you've gone a safe distance, call me." His lips trembled at my words—whether in anger or thirst, or for more tender reasons, I couldn't know. I squeezed his hand. Promiseme.

He offered me a jerky nod, and in a flash, he was out the door.

I listened as he shuffled swiftly down the hall. I heard the soft swishof the main doors as he passed through them, then the quiet purr of the Mercedes as he turned the key in the ignition and peeled out of the parking lot and down the road, heading north.

Howlong? The words tore through my mind as I fell to my knees. How long would he be gone this time? Would he ever return?

I felt the phone in my pocket vibrate and I reached for it with shaking hands.

Esme.

I wanted to tell her that everything would be fine—that Edward did what he needed to do to keep everyone safe. He would contact us soon. All would be well. But as I pressed the talk button and brought the phone up to my ear, I could force only two words from my mouth.

"He's gone. . ."

Author's Note: My thanks again to Giselle-lx for allowing me to allude to and use some of her content as my "fanon". The details of Carlisle's memories of the first time Edward left home are from her fabulous fic, "Da Capo". Please read it if you haven't already. It is a treat.