Disclaimer: Esme, Carlisle, and Edward belong to Stephenie Meyer.
A/N: I am not much for Author's Notes, but I want to say a huge, huge thank you to everyone who reviewed my last fic. I so appreciated all the comments. I'll try to return the favor soon. Thank you!
"I have to paint you all over," Esme informed the back wall of the living room. "It won't hurt. You will look lovely."
Carlisle watched her from a couch on the other side of the room. He had questions. It was a new house. Well, an old house. But new to them. The room furthest back on the first floor was a long, wide rectangle, with a freshly painted white wall on one side, and floor to ceiling windows on the other, currently being frosted over by the growing snowstorm. It was a room of a winter. Though it did not seem the wall was going to stay white.
His questions, sadly, were not about the house. They were about the woman painting it.
She popped off the lids of several palm-sized cans of paint. "See? I've bought all these colors for you. We are going to see which one looks best."
He couldn't actually remember not having questions about something somewhere in his life. Could he swim the English Channel without ever coming up for air? If he was around bleeding humans everyday, would he eventually build up a resistance to it? Were there actually vampires living under the streets of London?
Questions were usually good. He learned things from them. He developed theories and tested them. It had passed the time before Edward had come along. But sometimes they got him into…quandaries. He didn't like to say trouble. There was never trouble. Only temporary, solvable problems.
Except for that one about the vampires. Irreversible damage. That was trouble.
There were times he dearly wished to warn Human Carlisle. Your curiosity is going to get you into trouble.
But Human Carlisle hadn't minded so much lately. Because without the trouble, he would not be here, listening to excitement-addled, paint-wanting Esme talk to her wall.
He had looked back on Human Carlisle with fondness until recently. Until Edward, there had been a lot of free time to mull over that side of himself, and try to decide if his eyes had been blue or green, or was it his father or his tutor who had told him that Satan was banished to Hell for questioning, and maybe he should just quiet down and accept. He felt badly for his young human self. Or at least he had. Now he was convinced that Human Carlisle had been born with some bad gene that made it impossible for him to just not ask exactly what was on his mind.
Look at what happened with the vampires, Human Carlisle! You had to test that theory, and look where we are now.
Human Carlisle shrugged. He looked vaguely apologetic. But he mostly looked pleased. He was watching Esme again.
"You are the prettiest color I have ever seen," Esme cooed to a patch of pale yellow on the wall. It was kept company by a patch of green, and a patch of pink.
"Pink?" Carlisle asked. He shut his mouth. He shouldn't ask. Once he started asking, he couldn't stop.
Esme half-turned to meet his eyes, caramel curls falling hurly-burly over one shoulder. Her eyes were very wide. "Pink is a very manly color," she said solemnly.
He shouldn't open his mouth. The questions would come out. Human Carlisle seemed to agree. Just make a noise, he suggested. Something non-committal. A sound just in the throat.
"Hm," he said.
Esme grinned and turned back to the wall.
Well done, Carlisle.
"I don't think he likes you," she said in a quiet, sweet sing-song. "But I do. And I'm putting you in one of the powder rooms."
He wondered what else she liked. What she did. What were her hobbies, besides painting the walls of their new home? Was tree-climbing a hobby? Did she still climb trees? What was her favorite kind of tree? Did she like the ones out back? He turned his head and narrowed his eyes, examining them through the frosted window. What kinds of trees were those, anyway? It was hard to tell in the snow. How tall were they? How old were they? The bark was almost black. Was it coincidence that he kept moving places where the trees were older than he was? Or was he doing it on purpose? Was his subconscious trying to tell him something? Was he more connected to his subconscious as a vampire than he was as a human? How many of his own thoughts and feelings was he actually aware of?
Human Carlisle looked horrified. And with good reason. Since he'd been turned, he found that the questions came much quicker than before, and in a much higher volume. This is why we're not opening our mouth, the look on Human Carlisle's face seemed to say.
Yes, this was exactly why.
When he'd first turned Esme, he was able to have conversations with her, to comfort her, to make her smile. But then the months started to fly by, and she'd soon left behind the sometimes crazed and chaotic newborn state, and he found that what had once been moments when he was unable to speak for wanting her so much became his everyday. Every second, he got closer to asking, "Do you love me as I love you?" or "Can I kiss you now?" or "Will you promise to never leave my side?"
So he'd had to shut up. He spoke to Edward about lighter matters when they were alone, but for the most part, the three of them were constantly together. So he'd turned to an old friend, someone he could blame and someone he could ask all these inane questions to without risk or fear. Human Carlisle.
It was a bit odd, he knew that. But he couldn't help it. It had started when he first went to medical school, and had been around young men who were about the age he'd been when he'd been born to this life. He lived near them, and saw them everyday. But he couldn't befriend them. No, never that. Friends expected food and drink; they expected days spent in the sunlight; they expected that when you moved away you would still write and occasionally visit, and they expected you to have grown older when they saw you again. He discovered it was much lonelier to be solitary when he was surrounded by people than it was to be truly alone.
He'd wondered what it would have been like to be a young man in that day and age. He wondered who he'd have as friends. With those never ending thoughts, and his continuing struggle not to murder the people who would soon be his patients, he made a valiant effort to find his human side. And he had. That side had just…never quieted down again.
Esme laughed. It was quiet. Enthralling. His mind stopped everything to listen to her happiness.
But not for very long.
What was she laughing about? What was she thinking about? Would Edward tell him if he asked? Where was Edward, anyway? Hadn't he gone hunting an hour ago? And was it even polite to ask?
No. It wasn't.
Did she ever think about him? He certainly couldn't ask that. Did she know how much he thought about her? It would be better if she didn't know.
He glanced up, and froze. Esme was watching him. She was smiling at him. Her nose was crinkled.
No! Human Carlisle shouted. Don't ask it!
Did she remember being treated by him in the hospital? Obviously she'd remembered him, the doctor, but did she remember what they talked about, or that she'd asked, in her morphine haze, why all doctors had such cold hands, and that he'd told her it was a job requirement, and the number one reason for being denied admission to medical school was warm hands, and she'd smiled, and her nose had crinkled just like that, and he'd almost choked with the effort it took to restrain the questions he suddenly had for himself? That his mind had said oh no while the rest of his body came to life to whisper yes in deep, warm tones he knew his mind had never provided him with before?
Human Carlisle was getting a bit frantic. Don't do it!
"What?" he'd asked, the word spilling over, his grin growing as she shook her head, laughing again.
No! Human Carlisle lamented, hands pulling his hair back from his face. What have you done? You'll never stop now!
"You," she'd said, like that was an answer.
He stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles, resting them on the coffee table. "Am I amusing you?"
This is why we bought the house, Human Carlisle said. So she'd have something she loved to do. So she'd snap out of her newborn phase completely. So she wouldn't notice that you'd suddenly stopped speaking to her.
She tried to hold back a giggle, pressing her lips together. She turned and looked up at him through her eyelashes. "Yes," she said in a warm tone. "You look very…" she imitated the look on his face, jaw tight, eyes narrowed, eyebrows coming together, "very serious."
His counterpart went slack-jawed. We're done for.
"Why do you remember me?" he asked, taking advantage of Human Carlisle's brief lapse in vigilance. He blinked. He'd hardly known what he was going to say. It was a good deal worse than, "So you've decided on the yellow, then?" but better than, "Tell me, would you ever consider being married again? Maybe to me?"
Esme turned fully from the wall, paintbrush tipped in a pale blue she had just applied to her patch-worked section. "Why?" she asked, as though she hadn't heard.
Say never mind, Human Carlisle suggested. Say, why do you remember me saying I didn't like the pink? You've told the pink I don't like it, and I never said so. I said hm. I was avoiding opening my mouth in case I told you I loved you.
They both paused.
Don't tell her that, his counterpart said, eyes going wide.
"Yes," he said instead. "I only remember particularly poignant things from my human life." She pursed her lips. "I've just always wondered." His counterpart clapped a hand over his eyes and shook his head. Fool.
She looked down and tucked a curl behind her ear. "I suppose," she said quietly, "that you were particularly poignant to me."
Human Carlisle peeked through his fingers.
"Oh?" he asked, hoping he didn't sound nearly as hopeful to her as he did to himself.
Esme nodded and looked back up at him. "I liked you. Very much."
What did that mean, Human Carlisle asked, edging on hysteria. What?
"You felt like…"
"Winter?" Carlisle suggested.
Esme almost doubled over in laughter.
Human Carlisle waved his hands frantically. What are you doing?
Worth it, Carlisle thought, watching her eyes, bright and gold, and her cheeks. She had dimples. Only when she smiled very wide, but they were there. Worth it to sound like a fool to see them.
"I was going to say, like home," Esme managed, her smile still wide, her dimples still showing. "But like winter, too. You had very cold hands." She made an attempt at looking stern, turning back to her wall, but despite her best efforts, still smiling. "I'm sure that's the real reason I remember you."
Like home? He felt like home to her?
Human Carlisle rejoiced.
Someone choked on a laugh from somewhere to his left. He turned his head. Edward stood there, bronze hair unkempt, grin positively mischievous.
Him, Human Carlisle accused. I thought you were being more careful about conversing with me when he's around.
"Apparently you aren't doing a very good job," Edward said, raising an eyebrow.
"I sincerely hope you aren't talking about my wall," Esme said, painting on a square of pale grey. "Because it is a thing of beauty, and I will hear nothing against it."
"Certainly not," Edward said. "It's lovely."
Carlisle turned back to look at it. It had ten different colors painted into blocks on it. Few of them coordinated.
"I know," Esme said with a happy sigh. "I am painting the entire house like this." She turned to grin at him. "What has you so amused, then?" she asked.
Edward was watching Carlisle from the corner of one eye, his smile stretching.
"Carlisle's just upset because I've caught him talking to himself."
He and Human Carlisle both glared. Traitor.
"Indeed," Edward said.
Esme was raising an eyebrow at him. "Talking to yourself?" she asked. "Silently?"
"Oh, yes," Edward said. "The world was a lonely place for Carlisle before we came along. He had to find someone to talk to. He picked himself." He patted Carlisle on the shoulder.
Esme was smiling. Carlisle couldn't be too upset.
"I was lonely once, too," she said. "I talked out loud constantly. Sometimes you just need to hear a voice." She stirred another can of paint, and then looked back at him, eyebrows raised. "I'm afraid this does not excuse talking to yourself in your own head."
He had a theory about Esme's loneliness. He'd gathered evidence from the way her eyes widened, just a bit, when he moved to touch her too quickly, from her disappearances whenever he and Edward had a disagreement, from her quiet reappearances, stepping softly, asking for nothing, testing the waters.
Human Carlisle was not entirely sure he wanted to know the answers to the questions he had about that. But Carlisle had to know. Someday, he hoped, she'd tell him.
Edward collapsed beside him on the couch, one foot resting on the edge of the coffee table. "It especially does not excuse it now that you have us here to talk to."
But his questions! he wanted to say. Who would stop him?
Maybe he shouldn't be stopped, he mused.
Human Carlisle threw up his hands, washing them of the entire affair. If no one was going to take his good advice, he certainly wasn't going to stick around. He disappeared into the corners and alleys of Carlisle's mind, muttering.
Edward had always offended Human Carlisle.
He looked over at his son, who was still grinning. Carlisle grinned back. Yes, he was strange and foolish. Who didn't know it?
He looked back at Esme. "I love you most of all," she said. Carlisle's heart almost restarted. Then she reached out a hand and hovered over the patch of pale blue. "Don't tell the others." She was talking to the paint. He narrowed his eyes and stared.
Is that what she was doing now? Talking to herself? Had he done so well at silencing his questions that she'd begun to feel alone again?
He looked over at Edward. His face was smooth, his expression clear. He shook his head once.
Not lonely, then. That was good. Was she talking to herself because she was waiting for him to get over his silence and just come out with all the things he was sure it was becoming plainly obvious he wanted to say?
Edward nodded, very slowly, once.
"Is that pink?" Edward asked, before Carlisle's thoughts could progress further.
Esme glanced at him, and then looked over to Carlisle.
"Pink is a very manly color," he said dutifully.
Edward rolled his eyes.
"Get used to it," Esme said. "I'm painting your room this color."
He smiled crookedly.
"Esme," Carlisle asked, "what's your favorite color?" That was a good one to start with. Simple. Fit into the conversation nicely.
She turned toward him, mouth quirked. "Yellow." She blinked. "And blue. It's a tie."
He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, mind flying in a thousand different directions. He waited for his restraint to kick in. He waited for someone to stop him. He waited for Edward to shake his head or Esme to go back to her wall. But no one moved. They both looked at him. Esme's mouth was still gentle and soft and smiling. Their eyes locked for a moment, and the smile grew. She raised an eyebrow, as if to say, Out with it. What are you thinking?
"Do you still climb trees?"