The Cullens' perfectly ordered world is turned upside down when Esme sees a face she never expected to encounter again. Suddenly the hunt is on, and there can be only one victor… post T pre NM.

Disclaimer: I own nada except the idea.




"Tarragon. The perfect accompaniment to chicken and pork." Esme read aloud under her breath from the back of the herb box, and glanced down at the poultry fillets in her basket. When Edward had first started bringing Bella home for 'dinner', as she told Charlie, it had been Alice who had pointed out the paradox that she never actually ate whilst she was there, and that Charlie was bound to get suspicious if she kept coming home hungry. Esme had decided, there and then, that she was going to start cooking for Bella, despite her protests.

"It won't be any trouble," Esme had affirmed. "I'll enjoy it."

And she did enjoy it. Esme liked food, liked experimenting with it. She just didn't like eating her creations, so Bella had become a culinary guinea-pig of sorts, and some meals had proved to be more successful than others. Esme had decided to play it safe this time and use a recipe out of one of Rose's seemingly endless magazines, which was why she was currently standing in front of the herb racks in the local grocery store, in search of tarragon. She flicked open the lid of the box and sniffed delicately, but before she could get an idea of its piquancy, something else caught her nose, a scent that she had not sensed in a very long time. It was sharp and spicy, like old men's cologne. Esme froze.

It was the smell of her first husband.

A terrified chill crept up Esme's spine and she shivered involuntarily at the repressed memories of her former life that threatened to bubble to the surface.

"Don't be silly," she muttered to herself angrily. "That was too many years ago. He can't hurt you now."

She placed the tarragon in her basket and continued down the aisle, scolding her nose for playing tricks on her like that. But no matter how hard she tried to resist and think of other things, the scent still pervaded her perception and, if anything, seemed to strengthen as she wandered listlessly around the shop.

"Are you alright honey?" asked a stacker, arranging boxes of biscuits on a high shelf, peering at her from the top of a rickety stepladder. "You don't look at all well."

"I feel…" Esme began, but before she could answer 'fine', she saw him.

Standing at the end of the aisle, smiling his malicious, hungry smile and not looking an hour older than the day she'd pulled up all her courage and walked out of his home and his life, was Charles Evenson.

Esme's knees locked and she knew she was rooted to the spot, the way she always had been back then, when he used to walk through the front door, his footsteps getting closer and closer... The fear rose in her throat like bile, and had she had a heartbeat it would have increased tenfold. To think she used to live her life in this permanent state of terror…

Presently he began to speak, whisper really, in a tone so low and guttural that Esme knew that she, with her heightened senses, was the only one in the vicinity who could hear him.

"You ran away, Esme. That was bad. It took a long time but I tracked you down Esme, and it's time for me to take you back. I need to teach you a lesson, Mrs Evenson, a lesson you'll never forget."

Esme tried to scream but she couldn't articulate the sound. At the same time as she realised she had not been breathing during Charles's little speech, she felt her knees turn to water and give way beneath her. The basket left her hands and what would have been Bella's dinner skidded away down the aisle as she collapsed onto the cold tiled floor.

"Jesus Christ!" she heard the stacker exclaim as she slid down the ladder and ran over. "She's fainted! Help! Someone's collapsed! Call an ambulance!"

She hadn't fainted, Esme was sure of that. Vampires couldn't faint; they couldn't sleep; they never lost consciousness. But she was as unconscious as it was possible for her kind to be – body heavy and paralysed with fear, mind detached and going over the dreaded words again and again on a constant loop. She was aware of people gathering around her and exchanging worried murmurs that sounded, to her ears at least, as if they were shouting across the shop to each other. She could tell that someone was checking her vitals, that someone else was calling an ambulance.

"She's not breathing!" Hot fingers jammed into her jugular. "No pulse. When's the ambulance going to get here?"

Esme tried to groan; first aid was the last thing she needed, but there was nothing she could do as she felt someone's burning, slimy lips press against hers and force foul-tasting breath down her throat. She opened her eyes with some effort, not really concentrating on any of the concerned faces above her, and forced herself to breathe before she suffered the further indignity of having her blouse ripped open in a crowd of strangers for the second stage of CPR as they tried in vain to restart her lifeless heart.

"She's breathing."

Esme saw the gathered mass take a conscious step back ensemble, and she let herself close her eyes again, concentrating all her energy on continuing to breathe unnecessarily and reassuring the humans that she was still alive. She didn't want to move. She didn't want to see. Here, on the floor, lying semi-conscious surrounded by a host of panicked, unfamiliar faces, she was safe from whatever atrocities Charles had planned for her.

Don't be stupid, she told herself crossly. Charles is long gone. His time on this Earth was up many years ago. Be rational.

Esme was still going over it in her mind as they loaded her into the ambulance and set off towards the hospital. The nervous weight that had settled in her limbs shifted slightly at the thought. On one hand, she would definitely be safe there. Carlisle would be there. He would protect her. But on the other hand, what was he going to say to a wife who could have sworn blind that her long-dead first husband had appeared out of the blue in a grocery store of all places and vowed his revenge?

"Esme? Esme?"

She heard his voice, the most fearful and panicked she had ever heard him sound in their long time together, and her eyes snapped open. Carlisle was standing over her in the Emergency Room, and his face was a picture of concern, topaz eyes wide and worried. He smiled when he saw she was conscious, but the fraught atmosphere between them remained tense.

"What happened?" he asked softly, lacing his fingers through hers. The touch was comforting and after a few moments Esme found that she could move her rigid limbs once more. She motioned Carlisle to move closer and she spoke in a low voice that only he would hear in the bustle of the bright white room.

"I saw Charles, in the store…" She sounded ridiculous just saying it. "Well, I thought I did. I was petrified… literally."

Carlisle squeezed her hand and gave a weak, sympathetic smile.

"Charles is long gone. He can't hurt you now. You're perfectly safe. Nothing will happen to you here."

Esme looked at him sadly.

"I know. I feel so stupid now. Of course he's not here. But the fear… it was awful… I've never experienced anything like it. Well, not since…"

He cut her off.

"He's gone," he said firmly. "Don't worry. He's gone, Esme."

"I know, but at the time…"

Carlisle pulled her into a sitting position and settled himself on the bed next to her.

"Tell me. Tell me how it felt."

"I'm fine now." Esme made to move away, embarrassed by the fiasco and her reaction to it, but Carlisle pulled her back, his vice-like grip showing no signs of letting go until she shared her feelings fully.

"You are not 'fine'. You keep forgetting to breathe, and you can't pass it off as holding your breath because of all the blood around here. It's too irregular for that. There's panic in your eyes and no matter how many times you reassure yourself it does not fade. So tell me."

Esme sighed, closing her eyes and leaning into his chest, unable to face him and think clearly about her ordeal at the same time.

"I smelled something," she mumbled. "It smelled like Charles used to. That must have set me on edge because the next thing I knew, I saw someone who looked like him and I just panicked. I remembered the fear that I used to have all the time, it hit me like a tidal wave, it was overwhelming."

Esme went over the words he had spoken in her head, debating whether or not to share them. The more she thought about it, here in the bright, rational light of the hospital, far away from her fear, the more it seemed that her imagination was playing tricks on her. In the months after she had run away, Esme had woken up screaming night after night, and he had always said similar things in her dreams. Perhaps the memory of the fear that she had felt in her waking life had sparked the suppressed fear from her nightmares anew.

"Dr Cullen."

Esme looked up to see a nurse standing nervously by the partition. Carlisle squeezed her shoulders and kissed the top of her head before releasing his hold on her.

"I've got to go. I'll be back. Don't be afraid; Charles is gone, Esme."

Esme smiled sadly, still embarrassed by her ordeal. Once Carlisle had left, however, she buried her head in her hands, elbows on knees, stifling her dry sobs. She had just remembered something that she had overlooked in the midst of the chaos, something that had slipped her mind when her terror had set in. Suddenly, Esme no longer trusted her imagination to be the cause of her fear. Her nose had caught the hint of another scent under the spicy cologne...


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