Disclaimer: Twilight, Esme, Carlisle, and Edward belong to Stephenie Meyer.

Author's Note: I know. It's been yonks. I'm sorry. I have a couple of other things cooking, I promise. No more semester long breaks. Eep.

Esme had been a vampire for two weeks.

She was standing in the living room, one hand hovering over the latch on the front window. Impossible to calculate how much strength she needed to use. Her smallest touches had thrown doors from their hinges and put a crack in the wooden banister. She could've shattered a window as a human, had she been so inclined. She was sure she could crush one to dust now without thinking at all about it. She held the pad of one pale, gleaming index finger to the latch. Just a tap. Gentle. Focus.

"Would you like the window open?"

Her mind registered the initial shock of being snuck up on, the echo of a footstep lingering where he'd stopped at the edge of the room, the soothing tone, and the minimal threat posed by his entrance in the barest fraction of a second. She didn't even jump.

"I can do it," she said. Her voice against the glass. Her reflection in the window. Distracting. The shine in her hair. Her red eyes. His reflection, too. Far behind her, fair hair, golden eyes.

Minimal threat.

Two men in this house, immortal, unearthly creatures, whose muscle and bone had been transformed into something stronger than steel, who could juggle cars if they wanted, and there was minimal threat. She was more dangerous.

She shouldn't like it.

She could feel the simple mechanics working in the latch as she touched it, could correct the pressure before she ripped it off, could lift it open now. She just needed to focus. Focus as she pushed a fingertip against the hinged, wooden frame. As unobtrusive as breathing out. And then the night air was inside where she wanted it.

Far away, at the edge of their long drive, was a road. She could hear footsteps. Cars. Could distinguish pressure and pace and weight and scent. Her grip on this little bit of humanity wavered. The smell was far enough away, though. The air was frigid and still enough not to carry it any farther toward her. Just far enough.

The first one that passed was male. The second one was, too. She could hear it. She could smell it. The third was driving a car. Male. It was going to be very dark soon. It was bitterly cold out. It was a Thursday, and men were walking home from work, from drinks, from friends. What reason was there for a woman to be on the road?

"Should we hunt again? If we give it an hour there won't be a human for miles. You won't have anything to worry about."

He didn't know. How could he know? Edward would guess soon. She didn't care. Carlisle would guess eventually. But they wouldn't ever really…it wouldn't make sense to them. They had always been young, strong men.

"No," she said.

A young, strong man passed their drive. He was whistling. Keeping warm.

And she was stronger than him. And the next man who passed. And the next.

Esme was two months old.

She was used to the sound of her own voice. It didn't surprise her anymore when she opened her mouth to speak and trilled some pealing-bells song. She could pass by a mirror without having that quickly corrected moment of shock. She could sit down on the couch without pushing it backwards several feet.

Her favorite thing was when the telephone rang. It didn't very often. People rarely called. But they let her answer it when they did.

"Hello?" she asked gently, curiously into the receiver.

"Er--" there was confusion on the other end. Noise and something else. A throat being cleared. "Excuse me, is this the Cullen residence?"

"Yes." She knew what was coming. She waited for it

"May I ask who this is, dear?"

"This is Esme." Yes, it was Esme. Undead and virtually indestructible. Let it be her damned husband sometime. Let it be anyone who'd known she was missing, who was looking for news to pass onto her parents. Yes, it was Esme, but there wasn't much of anything they could do now to bring her back.

"Is um…is your family home, dear?"

She blinked. "No." She felt a brief, terrible delight. Was it someone who was looking for her, then? Who was trying to see if she was staying with distant relatives, removed cousins? Was this man wondering right now why her voice sounded so different, so sure, so otherworldly? Did he even begin to guess?

"Ah. Too bad. Do you know when Carlisle is expected back?"

"Carlisle?" She paid closer attention to the noise in the background. Wheels on tile floors. A siren far away. It was the hospital. This was someone coming calling from the hospital who couldn't figure out why a woman was picking up the phone at this hour of the night in the home of the young widower Carlisle Cullen and his younger brother-in-law. "Oh." Her family, he'd said. "You mean my…my people."

Edward snorted from the couch. She couldn't tell if he was amused or offended.

There was silence on the other end. She was going to cause scandals at the hospital. "I'm so sorry, who did you say this was?" Wonderful fun, really.

"Dr. Thomas," the man said, as though he wasn't entirely sure he should tell her.

"Excuse me, Dr. Thomas," she said. "I'm a cousin of Edward's. I just arrived in town. I lost my sense of place for a moment there, and forgot where I was, I'm ashamed to admit. You know how travel can do that to you." And he had no idea who she was. No idea that she could crush the phone between her thumb and forefinger. As far as he was concerned, she was some soft, embarrassed cousin of Edward's, newly arrived and travel-weary.

There was relief on the other line. Mild laughter. "Well, I certainly hope I haven't woken you."

"Not at all. Edward and I are still catching up. Mr. Cullen should be walking through the door any moment, I'd think." She snapped her fingers at Edward, who rolled his eyes, but obediently went upstairs to alert Carlisle to his phone call.

"That's good to hear. When he gets in, do me a favor, dear, and have him--"

"Here he is now," she said, watching Carlisle come down the stairs, gentle smile on his face.

"Ah, wonderful timing!" the man said. "Put him on, dear."

She grinned. He had no idea. "Yes, dear," she said. Well, if he was going to take the liberty.

Carlisle looked horrified as he took the receiver from her.

Edward was settling into his piano bench, stretching his fingers over the keys, when she came in. He raised an eyebrow at her. She shrugged.

He couldn't ever really understand. But he did his best.

He began to pluck out something soft and deep. She came up behind him, and boldly rested her hands on his shoulders. She liked him. She liked his humor, and his company, and his conversation. And it had been so long since she had been able to reach out and hold without fear of that pain she'd grown so used to.

"Your people," he muttered, but one side of his mouth was crooked up. "I think it'd be all right for us to call one another family, don't you?"

She straightened his hair a bit in the back where it had mussed against the back of the couch. "Oh, I suppose so," she said. And she had to be careful not hurt him with her brushes, with the squeeze on his shoulder. She had flashes of holding her baby, of being careful like that. She was so much stronger.

He smiled briefly. "Well," he said, "you won't always have to be so careful. You won't always be stronger."

She didn't think about that. He didn't understand.

Esme was six months old.

She had only recently started to care what other people thought of her. She finally couldn't continue to be quite so unashamed about it all. She started to remember who she'd been when she was human. Not the specifics; she either had those or she didn't. But the feelings she'd had as a human, and who she'd been. Those were coming back. She passed a window one day and was suddenly bothered by the dust on it. She wet a cloth and tossed it to Edward and pointed at the window.

She cared whether or not he cared. Whether he lived in a place he could really love and call home.

One night, while Carlisle was working, she alphabetized his books. She heard him come home, but figured he'd notice anyway and kept at it.

"Esme?"

And there it was, when he stopped in the doorway. She cared. Sudden embarrassment.

"You have unorganized books," she said. Like she were breaking sad news.

His laugh was surprised. "Are you bored?" he asked.

It seemed out of place until she took a moment to consider it. "Yes," she said. "I am. I'm very bored."

"That's good," he said, and she watched his eyes widen a little, a smile tug on the corners of his mouth. His hair was falling over his forehead. It wasn't usually like that. "That's a very good sign."

"Of what?" she asked. She'd remembered him when she'd woken up. It had seemed important in those first few days that he was the one talking to her, shadowing her movements, letting her explore. But it seemed far more important at this moment. She didn't know why.

"Of settling in," he said, shrugging a little. "Coming into yourself."

"I feel like myself." Like being that girl, that woman, who'd cared what people thought of her father, of her, of the life that went on behind closed doors. Like her, but different.

Like her, but stronger.

Carlisle was watching her as though he hadn't ever seen her. She was very aware of him; of all the little things about him. Their eyes locked, and she felt it was the first time they were really seeing each other since she'd first woken up. He wasn't feeling guilty; he didn't look nervous for her the way he sometimes did when she was quiet for too long, or did things he didn't quite understand. He didn't look…responsible for her. He looked curious. With his head cocked to one side, and eyes still widened that little bit, and fingers lingering on his shirt cuffs, he seemed curious.

"Hello," she said. It seemed like the right thing to do.

He smiled. She smiled back. She didn't know what happened. It felt like the electric current in the air had spiked, or changed, or stopped. Something.

"Hello," he said.

Esme had been a vampire for ten months when she tried to kill a man, and Carlisle had caught her up, held her back, had Edward help pull her into the house.

She wasn't stronger anymore. The difference in their strength wasn't overly noticeable. But she was weakest again.

When the door to the house was closed, and Edward was holding both arms pinned to her sides so she couldn't fight him as well, Carlisle tried to approach her, touch her face, make her look at him and calm down. She kicked furiously, Edward lifting her clear off the ground now, and screamed. He jumped quickly out of the way. His hands were up in the air, palms facing her.

"Esme," he said. "Breathe."

She didn't want to. It was childish, but because he was telling her to, she didn't want to. In a show of mindless, immediate disobedience, she stopped breathing altogether.

That worked more or less the same way as breathing the clean air would have. She came back into herself a little. She calmed down. The hunting, fighting side left her. She was quiet a moment.

"Better?" Carlisle asked, hands coming down to his sides, taking a cautious step forward.

And it was better to not want to kill anything. It was better not to have that predatory nature looming over her. But now, without it, she could only start to care in full about being the weakest. Right back where you were, her mind whispered, breathing life into fears she thought she'd banished. Right back where you were.

Edward set her down at once.

"I need a bath," she said. And Carlisle took another step toward her, holding out a hand, wanting to reassure in the way he always wanted to reassure.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Edward shake his head. Carlisle stopped.

"All right," he said instead. He swallowed. He deliberated. "It's hardly abnormal," he said after a moment. "And you came back to yourself very quickly once you were inside. Much faster than I would have expected."

He didn't understand. She turned and went quickly up the stairs.

The bath didn't help. Once she started caring about whether or not she was clean, she had to start caring about the man she would have killed, about whether this would ever get easier, about being Edward knowing the thing they'd never talked about, about whether he'd want to talk about it now, about whether Carlisle knew at all.

When she was washed and dried and dressed, she couldn't stay in her room any longer. She barged into the hallway with a good deal more energy than she'd intended, startling Carlisle, who was sitting just across from her door.

She stared at him a moment. "What are you doing here?" It sounded like an accusation, and she hadn't meant it to. She had to care about that, too. "I'm sorry, I don't mean it like that. I just mean that I'm surprised to find you outside my door."

He was looking up at her with wide golden eyes, and his hair was mussed, like he'd been running his hands through it as he was wont to do, and he was very still. "I was worried about you," he said. He stood, and she wished he hadn't. He was so much taller than she was. She took a step back, holding to the doorframe.

She could see things coming together for him. Knew that he'd been figuring her out while she'd been bathing.

She was glad she couldn't cry, and didn't have to care about him seeing her do it.

"I don't think you can really understand," she said quietly, when he seemed to be coming upon the truth faster and faster.

"Why?" he asked, looking a little offended, a little hurt. He was standing very still against the opposite wall. His hands twitched, and his weight shifted, like he wanted to move, to come over and be where she was, but he didn't do it.

"You were never weak like that. It's…It's a very particular thing, I think."

He considered that. "Let me try to understand anyway." His eyes were earnest, and his shoulders were pressed back into the wall, like he had to make himself stay there, make himself not move toward her. "I've been weak in other ways," he said. He looked at her another moment. "Let me try. Please."

She didn't know why she cared if he knew. She couldn't put her finger on just why it sounded like he was asking for more than he was saying. But here was this chance, this new life, to have everything over again, wasn't it? It felt like sabotage to say no. Like she was denying herself this last chance to overcome. She could be strong in new, unexpected ways.

It seemed, suddenly, like she would be doing them both an unforgivable wrong if she said no.

"Okay," she said. "Let's try."