She wakes to a face she had only ever dreamt of seeing again. A face she only ever saw in her dreams - for she knew she would never see him again.
But here he is.
She’d lost her faith since she’d last seen him - though there was not much to begin with. She’d married to please her parents; she’d broken her vows by fleeing her husband; she’d lied and she’d sinned and so she had been punished for it through the loss of her hope. There was no other reason her son had died - her boy had been taken from her as retribution for the way she’d turned her back on faith.
(And now she was rethinking everything.)
Dr. Cullen - a man she’d only known in passing a decade earlier - was standing in front of her and looking as if he hadn’t aged a day. ( Had he been this beautiful the first time we met? She wondered, but she’d already known the answer before the thought had fully passed.)
She was convinced that this was the afterlife. She’d burned for an unimaginably long time. She’d endured the pain of judgement, and now she was being rewarded with the man who’d left such an impression on her that she’d been ruined for any other suitor.
His skin sparkled in the dim light that shone through the curtains. His hair, the colour of spun gold, rustled as he moved. His face, untouched by age, held the softest smile she’d ever bared witness to.
Dr. Carlisle Cullen - the man who’d consumed all of her 16-year-old fantasies - had to be an angel. There was no other explanation.
He explains it to her, and she finds that she was wrong. He is no angel, yet she still cannot help but see him as one.
Her new life is full of learning and adapting. She must relearn how to dress herself - crucial when living with two men who respectfully lowered their eyes whenever she moved too quickly and the gust of air would lift her hem to flash a glimpse at an ankle. (Carlisle was old - he had an excuse. In later years, she’d just learn to hide her giggle when Emmett called Edward a prude .)
She must relearn how to open doors and windows - and how to close them without shattering both them and their frames.
She must learn how to hunt. How to control her immeasurable strength enough as to not tear a carcass to shreds, but use enough force that the animal does not suffer in its death. She learns how to sink her teeth through hair, through flesh - and to not bite down fully lest she want a mouthful of sour meat and hair that sticks between her teeth.
She relearns how to exist in a space. She spends months shrinking in on herself whenever one of her companions would enter the same room as her. Months of rising to her feet but keeping her gaze lowered to the floor while greeting the men softly after they would return from the hospital, from school, from wherever they went during the day that she was not yet allowed to do because her control was still a work in progress. She’d spent almost four years living as a shadow; cleaning a house but never being seen in it; sticking to walls cowering in corners; avoiding loose floorboards and trying her very hardest to make less sound than a mouse. (In this new body it was easier for her to be silent.) Her last four years of life had seen her scared and battered.
But she no longer lived like that.
Months passed, mistakes were made, and yet she never saw a hand raised in her direction. She allowed herself to sit in the dayroom while the two men discussed their days with each other. She allowed herself to simply call a greeting to whomever entered the house instead of standing at attention. She walked through rooms without carefully watching where she put her feet - because even if a board creaked under her weight, there was no one to punish her for it. She learned to leave shawls hanging over the backs of chairs; half finished needlepoint patterns littered the mantle and counter space; sketchbooks were stacked beside the couch. The more comfortable she would grow, the more the men around her would smile and engage with her. She was no longer simply a feature of a house, but a tenant.
In learning how to exist in a space, she learns how to exist as a person. She’d thought that the girl who’d fallen out of a tree at sixteen was dead. She had convinced herself that she’d buried that girl the same day she said I do . But that girl had just been hiding, keeping herself safe until it was time for her to reemerge. And reemerge she did.
(Edward got his first real glimpse at the Esme he’d always seen in Carlisle’s memories when she pushed him into a river midhunt. She hadn’t even thought about doing it - simply ran past him and shoved, then ran away giggling. He couldn’t even find it in himself to be cross with her about the way he could never really get the scent of river water from his shirt.)
Carlisle would find her perched in trees, reading whatever novel one of them had brought home for her the night before.
She’d wander the house ranting about whatever injustice crossed her mind - especially when one of the boys would return home with the latest town gossip. ( God, did she claim to hold herself above petty gossip. But, try as she might, she couldn’t not react to some of the tales those boys brought home.)
Both men returned to the house one day to find all of their furniture on the front lawn and several demolished walls inside. ( “It is far too crowded in here!” Esme had exclaimed, carrying out the grandfather clock that sat in the hall. “Imagine the way the light could fill the space if there weren’t walls blocking it!”
When she realized that the two were still standing amongst the furniture with matching dumbfounded expressions, she’d paused for a second, set down the side table she was carrying, and the bounced over to them.
“Oh! I hope you don’t mind that I started without you! I figured that I spend so much time here, I might as well be doing something .” She chirped, and then grabbed each of them by the wrist and dragged them into the house without waiting for an answer. That house had been the first of her projects, and only took a week to be completed.)
She thought that her safety had ended the first time she’d slipped.
It hadn’t been her fault that she’d been home alone when one of their (distant) neighbours had rushed up to the door holding a towel saturated with blood around one of his hands. It wasn’t her fault that he’d cut himself repairing his fence, and that he’d known a doctor lived closer to his home than a hospital. It hadn’t been her fault that she’d only awoken into this new life six months earlier, and that she had yet to be introduced to any humans.
While she knew that it hadn’t been her fault - that the man had turned up with no forewarning and even Edward would have struggled with his control at the amount of blood seeping out of the human - she also knew that it had only been a matter of time until she made a mistake too grand to be ignored.
(Edward had run into the house in a panic - having smelled the blood from the road - but froze upon seeing Esme. She was seated on the floor in the front hall, cradling the man’s head as he lay in her lap, running her hand over his hair. She was sobbing - great, heaving dry sobs that shook her entire frame - and hadn’t even noticed Edward’s returning until he had sprinted from the house to call Carlisle home.)
(It took Carlisle almost an hour to get Esme to let go of the man. He left her in Edward’s care as he brought the man to the forest behind his barn and staged his body so that whoever found him would assume that there’d been an animal attack.
It took another hour for him to coax Esme into the shower so that she could wash the dried blood from herself while he burned her clothes.)
(Her favourite tea dress had been ruined that day.)
Carlisle comforted her, though. He didn’t raise his voice - nor did he raise a hand - and he let her choose where they would move to next. He didn’t ask her to go to the man’s funeral - something he’d put into practice with Edward whenever the boy slipped. He never once blamed her - even went so far as to blame himself for not being there, for not preparing her, for changing her in the first place.
Esme spent days waiting for him to lose his patience, for him to strike her. Edward had gone ahead to the next town to find a house and would be away for weeks, and so Esme spent the time creeping around the house and avoiding Carlisle. If he couldn’t find her, she believed that he couldn’t hit her.
And then he found her, but he still didn’t hit her. Instead, he sat across from where she had curled up in the corner of her study, and he told her of his travels. He didn’t mention the mourning wife down the road. He didn’t mention the toddler who would likely forget her father by the time she started school. He didn’t talk about the small pile of ashes in the backyard that were the remnants of her tea dress. He spoke of swimming through the English Channel and about his time spent in Egypt. He spoke about his time in Volterra, living in a castle and debating arts and science with men older than she could imagine. He spoke of people and places all over the world, and then spoke of his dreams to bring Edward and Esme along with him on his next journey - once they felt ready.
It continued like that until she would sit across from him on the porch. Then, when she would sit in his study with him. It progressed until they grew closer than they had ever been before, sitting on the same couch and creeping closer and closer still until their arms and legs brushed.
(When Carlisle wrote to Edward about this series of developments, the latter agreed to continuing searching for a home as if he hadn’t found the perfect building days earlier - because he’d spent enough time in both of their heads to know that at the rate they were going, a few more weeks would only prove to strengthen their bond.)
She didn’t think she’d be able to handle rejection. Especially rejection from Carlisle. But the fearless version of herself that she’d been at sixteen would not be suppressed again, and so she had courage that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. (That didn’t make it any easier - no, it couldn’t - but it gave her the push she needed.)
“Carlisle?” She simply murmured his name as she stood at the door to his study. She’d spent the past few minutes watching him write in the journal he wrote in each afternoon, and though she knew that he was aware of her presence, she also knew that he would not stop his writing unless she interrupted him.
( Now or never , she’d thought to herself, knowing that she had endless amounts of time on her hands.)
He looked up at her with a smile, closing the journal and sliding it into the top drawer. He motioned for her to sit in the chaise across from his desk, but grew confused when instead she perched herself on the edge of his desk. He pushed his chair away so that he could look at her, scanning her body and finding that her feet were swinging lightly, her fingers picking at each other.
“Are you all right?” He asked her, standing and resting a hand under her chin.
He’d lifted her face with the intention of checking her eyes for any sign of a slip, but they shone bright and golden. He watched as she gnawed on her bottom lip - a nervous habit he remembered her having as a teenager - and mindlessly ran his thumb over it to pull it from her mouth. (Really, truly, all he’d intended with that action was to soothe her. Their teeth were sharp, and he reminded her time and time again not to bite her lip like that as to avoid hurting herself. It was an innocent gesture - really! )
She’d gasped, lip popping out of her mouth and her mouth falling open. He froze, his thumb hovering above her mouth and his gaze flickering between it and her eyes - which were wide and watching his own.
He cleared his throat - a habit of his own that he’d brought with him from his human life - and made to step back, but in a flash her hand was latched onto the collar of his shirt. It was his turn to gasp, but before he could say anything she had tugged, pulling him closer and meeting him halfway. His eyes immediately slid shut as their lips connected, and he melted into her. One hand came up to caress her cheek while the other landed on the desk, the tip of his thumb against her thigh. (He could’ve sworn he caught a glimpse of heaven when the softest sigh escaped Esme’s mouth.)
(This had not been her plan at all.
She was going to tell him about her feelings for him, tell him about her interest in a relationship but that she would also accept it if he wished to remain friends and hadn’t felt the same way.
Maybe - maybe - she would’ve held one of his hands in her own as a calming gesture for herself, if she worked herself up to it.
Never in a million years would she have imagined that she would kiss him before saying anything.
Never in a million years would she have imagined just how right it felt - as if a piece of a puzzle she hadn’t even known was missing had finally fallen into place.
Never could she have imagined how perfectly his hand fit her face; the fire that ignited from the spot on her thigh that his thumb brushed against; the warmth that bloomed in her chest that she could swear made her feel as if her heart had started beating again; the sweetness of his breath as it fanned over her face; the softness of his lips against her own; the sounds he made when she threaded her fingers through his hair and silently vowed to never let go.)
All too soon (though the sun had long since set and the forest around their house had fallen silent) he pulled away, opening his eyes and blinking at the woman in front of him.
“ Esme ,” The name fell from his lips like a prayer, and she was looking at him with her face open - all of her hope and vulnerabilities on full display. (She didn’t know how she ever tricked herself into thinking she could handle being just friends with Carlisle Cullen. The mere thought felt like sheer blasphemy.)
“ Esme, Esme, ” He was almost chanting her name now, cupping her face in both of his hands and swiping his thumbs across her cheekbones. Her eyes fluttered shut as she leaned into his hands, and a contented sigh fell from her lips. “ Esme. ”
They stood like that, still as statues with time passing around them, until birds started chirping and the first rays of light peeked in through the window.
(There was so much to discuss, so many feelings to unearth and so many boundaries to assert - but they had forever to figure out the specifics. For now, locked away in Carlisle’s study, Esme let herself feel the true warmth of love for the first time in her life.)