"We are all subjected to two distinct natures in the same person. I myself have suffered grievously in that way." – James Hogg
For a long time, curiosity was his only bedfellow. Warming him on the endless, sleepless nights.
And he was grateful for it; the limitless bounds of his own curiosity had, at the worst of times, kept the gnawing loneliness at bay, had kept him from succumbing to the oblivion of unforgiveable choices.
At other times, his curiosity is as unbearable a curse as his immortality.
"I need you to tell me Edward."
They are sequestered in the study. It is an imposing room, which dominates the Southern corner of the uppermost floor of their home. The sun shines in here and on days when he is not working, Esme will sit on the couch underneath the bay window, her feet across the cushions as she devours book after book from his library.
And he cannot tear his eyes from her, though he pretends to write up his notes and pretends to read medical journals. He cannot help but indulge in the deep, companionable silence. Occasionally, in spite of himself, in more unsavoury thoughts.
And then he reserves himself, remembers that Esme is not his and – because of his choices – cannot be his.
Yet, his curiosity persists.
It was small, inconsequential things which piqued it at first at first. Edward's vague warnings as she was transforming, the way she flinched when he or Edward moved too fast, or too suddenly in the same room. Her deferential retreat when debate got heated between then, whether it was about the fixing of the World Series or the merits of Marxism.
He'd seen it before, of course. Women who were held in an iron grip, too afraid to admit that the eternal bliss promised to them had become an eternal torture. But, of all the horrors he had come to accept, this was not one he could bring himself to accept without knowing it fully.
"I don't feel comfortable disclosing that, Carlisle," Edward says, though Carlisle can see that is not entirely true.
It burdens Edward, what he can read of Esme, but his loyalty to her makes him suffer that burden as if it is an easy one to bear. In fact, Carlisle had been almost as concerned with Edward's trauma as they watched Esme transform as he was with Esme's pain. There are moments, when Esme's guard is down and he can see Edward reading her thoughts, that Edward's face contorts in horror before it quickly vanishes.
And Esme will look at him, to be assured he will keep her secrets. For a fleeting moment there will be a plea on her perfect, composed face.
And Edward will nod, almost imperceptibly.
So, Carlisle knows he has no place to ask this. Yet his curiosity – grim, already half-formed, - is beginning to posses him. He has no idea what he will do with the knowledge, no idea what knowing it will change.
But he feels he must know. He feels as if it might relieve the pressure he feels, might take away the weight of emotion he has towards her.
"Ask her. She will tell you." Edward says, turning from the window to look at him. "She wants to tell you. She wants to tell you so many things. But she will never initiate that."
He glances at his son, narrows his eyes.
"I can read thoughts Carlisle," Edward reminds him, wryly. "I see what Esme feels. I can see every tormented longing you feel."
He swallows and feel suddenly ashamed, painfully exposed. Raw. Humiliated.
"If you wish to continue to pretend that pity was your only motivation for saving Esme," he emphasises saving, and Carlisle know it's supposed to soothe him but it doesn't and it never will, "you will never forgive yourself. More to the point, you won't ever tell her. And perhaps you'll never ask her why she flinches."
They are silent for a moment as Edward runs his fingers along the spine of Confessions of a Justified Sinner, flicking it from the shelf.
"Did he hurt her?" He asks eventually, unable to move his mind away from what he is sure he knows.
It comes out as a plea, and he's surprised to find he is splintering the edge of his desk between his fingers. Edward cradles the book to his chest as he turns.
"Worse." He answers softly, vaguely, and Carlisle can see how much it agonises him.
A strange hardness possesses Edward's face, and then he suddenly utters:
"And if I could, if it would not lessen me in your eyes, I would slaughter him."
The desk cracks, the fissures tracking across the surface, under the neatly stacked notes and papers, stopping just at his inkwell.
"But I shouldn't have said that."
Edward watches him for a moment, almost startled, and Carlisle can feel him prowling his thoughts. His thoughts that he does not want to have, but cannot resist.
The thought that he loves her, and that he has – somewhere incomprehensible and ignored and starved of acknowledgement– for a very long time. And the thought of anyone hurting her, or treating her with anything but reverential subjugation, is grotesque to him.
"Speak to her Carlisle," Edward says, softly, the hatred fleeing his face. "It might…help. I'll make myself scarce tonight."
And he does exactly as he promises, disappearing just after sunset and not long after Esme comes home from her walk. She has a basket of wildflowers, and she leaves them by the door in the hallway as she pads towards their kitchen to find a vase she bought from a flea-market in town.
They had never had vases before Esme. Or flowers.
She watches him, quiet, as he labours to light a fire. It is something they do not need, but a comfort he craves always, and he knows from the way her shoulders soften and the manner in which she melts into the couch that she enjoys it too.
Her blood had smelled like fire and like the salt-metal of the ocean, like the wet promise of fresh ink. The appeal of human blood, by the time he had encountered her, had been almost a background element of his life, so assured was he in his self-control. And he had been shocked to recognise that her blood- fragrant, promising, - had been contrived to appeal solely to him. To everything he loved. To the smells he longed for.
He has never told her this. He doubts he ever will. It feels too intimate, too revealing of the nature he so longs to supress, to ever tell her this.
He throws a log on the glowing fire, uncharacteristically aggressive with the action, trying to stymie the billowing surge of desire in his gut.
Behind him he feels the air shift, and he knows he made her flinch.
He is many things, and at one time he might have considered himself a coward, but he has learned – across this vast and endless life-scape – that bravery comes in many guises. And he believes himself, at least, brave enough to ask her this.
Though he's not entirely sure what ends it will benefit. It will not change the fact that he will never deserve her.
"I am sorry I made you jump, Esme." He stands at the fire, and watches as she looks up at him. He takes a deep breath. "I suspect I know why. But perhaps you could tell me. Because I find I can barely stop wondering."
She tilts her head to the side for a second, and her face betrays the shock she doesn't want him to see, before it vanishes entirely.
She inhales, her posture suddenly rigid, and then sits up. He rushes to amend the situation he has created, to apologise for even thinking he should ask her. To think he had anything other than a passing entitlement to any of her secrets.
"I am sor-"
"It isn't that I don't want to tell you," she says suddenly, much more confidently than he expected. "It is that, if I tell you it might…" she looks up at him - her eyes beguiling shades of bronze, an undertone of lingering scarlet- and holds his gaze steady, "it might ruin all of this."
He sees, now, that she is warning him. That she is giving him a means of escape from what he thinks he already knows. That she thinks this is something that could be ruined.
But all that does is spark a flickering light of hope within him. What is there to be ruined?
The thing Esme does not know is that he wants endless knowledge of her. That he longs to cradle her to his chest and speak of his adoration for her.
And he considers that desire unforgivable.
She cannot know it because he has never told her, but he aches with it anyway.
"If I tell you, it might mean you can't look at me the same way."
There it is, the admission of her understanding. But of course, she has seen the way he looks at her, with a longing he knows he can't keep from his face - and he was a fool to pretend he was hiding it. A fool to pretend that he had not watched her with a kind of awe, a sinful reverence that he felt was taking over his entire person.
She has been with them for six months, and he hasn't been able to tear his eyes away from her.
Her eyes grow wide with fear as she watches him, and her words tremble, and she twists her pale hands in her pale skirt.
"And it would be the worst pain of my life, to lose you."
Again: a simple, unadorned admission. Plain and perfect and utterly uncomplicated, as if she has felt his emotions and given them voice.
But they are complicated too, so complicated she has rendered him speechless, and proven to him – as always – that bravery comes in many different guises.
It can, for example, be abundant in a tiny, pale woman who he had known fleetingly as a girl, and fled from to preserve her life. Because, for the first time in his lonely existence, he had considered that loneliness as something he could remedy.
And that was unthinkable.
Still, he wonders, what other things did Esme have to be brave in the face of?
"Esme, I believe nothing could ever stop me looking at you the way I do," he says, eventually, the words whispering across the space between them, which feels both vast and nothing at all.
The truth flees his mouth, and he realises it has been choking him for months.
A stride and he could cover it and take her in his arms. He could confess the love she already knows about.
She nods once, and then exhales all the fear she has been holding in her rigid shoulders. Her eyes flutter closed for a second, and then she opens them.
"Sit please, and I will tell you."
So she does, and these are things he will never, ever forget. These are things he does not want to forget; not because he cherishes them, or adores them, but because they act as a reminder as to the fire in which she was forged.
She talks about the bruises – purple, livid –, about the pain he would leave her in, underneath the velvet blue of the comforter she'd chosen as a new bride, where he had put her hopes to bed too. The way his hands would grasp hard and unfeeling at the flesh of her hips, the soft planes of her thighs. The way he tore her inside out and expected her to be grateful. The things he would say to her, measuring her worth and finding her worthless but worthy enough of his fists and his hands.
She speaks of these things as if from a distance, and yet Carlisle lives them with her as she speaks. Feels her helplessness and shame, her fury and her pain.
Her tiny, budding hope when she missed one bleed, then another.
And then he feels her wild bravery, her absolute and unmeasurable love when she makes her mind to flee, in spite of everything he knows will come to pass.
Her story stops at the edge of a cliff, and he need not know much more.
He knows the rest.
But he didn't really know it, not until now. He didn't realise just now remarkable she was in her quiet, unassuming way.
"You are…incredible," he says into the silence as she waits, exhausted from the recollections, awaiting the moment she expects him to tell her she is shameful, or should be ashamed.
She does not expect that word, does not know how to respond to his calling her incredible. She blinks once, then a timid smile pushes its way on to her lips.
"I didn't feel incredible," she says, unsure. "I felt broken. Sometimes, I feel broken still."
He moves beside her then, and kneels at her feet, and takes her hands in his. They are small and pale and have cradled so much loneliness, so much agony, that he can't imagine how he should hold them. And yet here he is, and his touch is not unwelcome.
There are so many emotions moving through him. Love for her, terror for her, pain for her…awe for her.
His hatred for the man who caused her horror exists too – he would be naïve not to acknowledge it – but he tampers it down, swallows it. He will not allow it.
His self-control is impeccable when it comes to anger, when it comes to hatred. When it comes to hunger.
But when it comes to love, he's not entirely sure he has any control over how he feels. And he has been tricking himself into believing he has been in control since he sunk his teeth into the soft thrum of her artery.
"I was taken aback by how well you adjusted to our life, to our way of life. I thought you would hate me-" he begins, not confident in his ability to articulate what he wants to say.
"I can't hate you. You saved me," her words are weighted, sore.
He shakes his head, and it is essential to him that she dispels that notion immediately. She owes him nothing; if anything, he is indebted to her for a great many things he isn't sure he can count.
"No, no," He lifts her fingers to his lips, presses kiss to them, to the backs of her lovely hands. "No Esme, you have saved me."
He looks up to find her eyes riveted to him. There is doubt in them, screaming all that she doesn't want to say to him. And he does understand. To any outside observer who could know this tale, it would indeed seem she owed him, her creator, a debt. But what no one can know is that Esme has saved him in a way he hadn't even realised until the moment. She had reminded him of the inexhaustible hope that love could nurture.
"When our kind find love, it changes you profoundly," he explains, trying to articulate what he means. "I have been alone for so long, and I-"
He finds the words sticking in his throat, finds them impossible to say as they wash over him. The pain lingers still, living in his bones. His loneliness had been a delicate kind of misery; torturous without being obvious, accosting him during the moments he least expected it.
Loneliness had been his damnation. And he had accepted it the way any damned soul must.
Edward, his dearest Edward, had soothed it for him, had dulled the sharp edges of his loneliness and, until that night six months previously, where the sudden smell had accosted him – venom bursting over his tongue, shuddering through his body, snapping all his senses to focus on the dying murmur of her struggling heart – he had thought himself cured of his loneliness.
Fire, salt-metal, fresh ink.
And a memory he had long supressed, refusing it space in his brain, had come rushing back to him, taking him off his feet.
Even as he had examined her lovely, broken leg, he had been planning his retreat from her. Even as he had administered morphine, and gently warned her about the pain she was to expect, he had packed up his apartment and deserted his post. As he set her leg properly – as she whimpered into a cloth her dithering mother had stuffed between her teeth – he had already left Columbus, and was as far away from her as he could get.
Because he could not, for the first time in his entire life, trust in himself not to hurt a human.
He had been horrified, his horror overwhelming his curiosity as to his strong reaction.
He has never confessed this to anyone. He has spent so long supressing it, even Edward does not know.
As if she knows what he is thinking, as if she can feel the tenor of his horror, she speaks:
"I always wonder if I was destined for your, Carlisle."
The way she says his name is absolution itself, the soft roll of the 'r', the way she lingers on the end of his name, as if she can't bear to let it go.
He has never noticed it before. There is every chance he has been ignoring it.
And the sentiment in her words, blisteringly confident, entirely honest. Her admission surprises him with its truth, though he should not be surprised.
He has yet to know her tell a lie.
"I struggle to believe anything good was destined for me, and yet here you are…" he stays at her feet, in humble genuflection. "And I am desperately in love with you Esme, though I have no right."
It is the first time she moves, taking her hand from within his and pressing it to his cheek. Her skin is soft like morning sunlight, as warm as it too, and the pressure of it feels infinitely correct, deeply right. He tries with all his might to resist the temptation to close his eyes, to lose himself in sating his starvation, but he cannot resist it. And her warmth is willing it.
"You aren't appalled by the truth?" She whispers, as he kneels in supplication before her, silent prayers of thanks reeling through him.
He opens his eyes and moves his hand to touch her cheek, to graze his knuckles along her smooth skin. Conservative as the touch is it feels electric to him, wonderous.
"Appalled at your strength? Your capacity for love?" He says, reverently. "What is abhorrent in any of that?"
She shakes her head, though she understands what he means. But understanding and believing are different things. Having suffered to the depth she has, he understands why believing is difficult for her.
"I don't believe I deserve any of this," she confesses, clasping his hand on her face and holding it, turns her mouth in to kiss his palm.
Time slows as she does so and Carlisle watches it as if from afar, as if this is not his hand and it is not her lips.
"Then you must let me show you that you do, that you deserve the Earth," he says, earnest and pleading.
Her face inches towards his then, and all at once she is as close as she can be. Her mouth touches his, infinitely soft, though not fleeting.
He has never kissed anyone; he has never been kissed by anyone. A fair share of women – both mortal and not – have tried, but he has never wanted it.
And now, he has never wanted it so badly.
"I think," she says, a soft smile turning up her beautiful mouth, "I should be content simply with you."