Carlisle had thought, when he'd first come upon Esme, that it was a small miracle that she'd been taken to the morgue and not rushed to treatment. There was no noise there to mix with the dull thud of her heartbeat. He did not even have one of his own to confuse it with. In a moment of perfect stillness that could have occurred nowhere else in the hospital, he heard it. These little coincidences—the silence of the room, that she was there in Wisconsin at all, that he was needed in that morgue at that particular moment—made up his mind. He found meaning in them where perhaps there was none. Without cause or justification, he gave these details a divine importance. She was meant for this world. She was meant for him. There was a life she was supposed to live.

Exactly half a mile from the house, with the woman who should be dead whimpering in his arms, he felt the full extent of his selfishness. Unforgivable. The word "life" could only be applied very loosely here. What had he done?

He spent the three days of Esme's transformation preparing himself for her hatred. She would be distraught. She would curse his existence, and hate what he'd done to her. She might want to die.

"I think she threw herself off a cliff," Edward said, tone low and concerned as he stood at the foot of the bed Carlisle had laid her on, his gaze focused as he pieced through her mind and memories.

She would definitely want to die.

"What do I do?" Carlisle asked, aware in a way he had not been since his own transformation of how monstrous he was. In a dim way, he thought that it was perhaps equally terrible he was begging advice of the seventeen-year-old boy he had first practiced his selfishness upon.

"Maybe stop trying to break her hand," Edward said. Carlisle loosened the grip he'd been holding onto her with for two days. He locked gazes with his son, who had taken to staring at him instead of the grown-up, bruised, rapidly changing Esme. "You did what you did, Carlisle. I've never hated you for it."

He clapped his maker on the shoulder before exiting the room. It helped somehow.

Carlisle had stayed with Esme until she opened her eyes. He was prepared for screams. He was steeling himself for the curses she would sling at him. He acknowledged the terrible decision he'd made in giving her this half-life, and prayed that, if there was a hell, he had not just damned her to it.

Her eyes opened.

He covered one of her hands in both of his and squeezed gently.

She was up and across the room in half a second, teeth bared in an instinct that would certainly confuse and horrify her.

He stood slowly, ready for her anger and her tearless sobs.

She stopped, straightened, and tilted her head to one side, meeting his wide gold eyes with her deep red ones.

"Dr. Cullen?"

Apparently he had not planned for all possible scenarios.

Months passed. The anger never came.

"I don't understand," he said to Edward. It was a warm, bright summer day. Esme was four months into her vampiric existence. "Why is she so…happy?"

Esme was out in the backyard at that moment, observing her own twinkling, glittering skin, fascinated by it in a way only a newborn vampire could be. Carlisle was watching her. Discretely. From the window upstairs in Edward's room. Like a lunatic.

"Why shouldn't she be? It's been a while since she's had a family. Let her enjoy that."

"It isn't normal," Carlisle said. He watched Esme turn her arm so she could look at the skin on her perfect wrist. She was always like this. Always content. She smiled and laughed and teased. "It's odd."

"You could just accept it," Edward said, raising an eyebrow.

'Just accepting it' had never been one of Carlisle's talents.

"It's very odd," he said again, and abruptly had to look away when Esme tugged at the sleeve of her dress so she could see her shoulder in the sunlight.

Edward stared him down for a moment and then sighed very dramatically. "Of course," his son said. Carlisle wondered which thought he'd had Edward was responding to.

Five months after that, Esme killed a human. She was inconsolable. She wanted to die. She hated herself.

Carlisle's training could finally be put to use. After she had gotten the worst of it out of her, and had unlocked the door to her room, Carlisle knocked. Not that he'd been sitting just outside of it, waiting for her to do that.

"I understand," he said, after she'd opened the door and swallowed thickly. "I understand that you want to die. I wanted to once, too."

"I don't want to die," Esme said, sniffing and looking very guilty about admitting such a thing. "I love you too much."

Carlisle's brain stopped.

"You and Edward," Esme clarified, staring down at the floor and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I want to stay with you. But that's wretched, isn't it? I should want to die. It just seems so unfair that I killed that man, and his family will suffer so terribly, and I get to go on with you two, being so happy."

His preparation, once again, went out the window.

"It isn't natural," Carlisle said, addressing an envelope at the kitchen table, Edward at his right. "I've never heard of someone responding in this fashion."

"You are perhaps over thinking this," Edward said, his tone deadly serious, but his expression implying that this was actually quite funny.

"Maybe it's a reaction common in female vampires. Compassion. That's a female instinct, wouldn't you say?"

"Maybe."

He sealed the envelope. "I should inquire into the matter."

"What is that?"

Carlisle stared down at the envelope. "…Nothing."

"Are you sending money to the man's family?"

"Maybe."

Three months later, it was Christmas. Esme had been a vampire for nearly a year. She'd recovered from her mistake. The horror had never come. The sobs and yelling were nowhere to be seen.

It was hard for Carlisle to say why he wished they would make an appearance. Somehow, he felt more equipped to deal with that than to handle the creature who was setting up a Christmas tree in the living room.

"Why is it, um…dying?"

"It's not dying," Esme protested.

"It's dead," Edward said. "It left 'dying' behind ages ago."

"It just needs some love," Esme said, and she stepped back, her shoulder brushing Carlisle's as she considered it from a new angle. He cleared his throat and shifted so they weren't touching. "It needs tinsel."

"It needs to be resurrected," Edward said, considering it with a fair amount of distaste. Esme shot him a look and he held up his hands in defeat, retreating back upstairs to his music.

"You don't think it's dead, do you?" Her eyes were wide, her mouth soft and relaxed.

"It's lovely."

She smiled. That was lovely, too.

"Would you take me to get decorations?" She could certainly be in public now. Her eyes had yellowed. Her restraint was admirable. She had the proper clothing and shoes, and she was wearing earrings, and he couldn't remember her ever wearing earrings before, and wondered if she had found a way to pierce them, or if they always had been and she hadn't worn jewelry in them until now.

"Certainly. There's a store in town that sells earrings."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Decorations?"

He blinked. "What did I say?"

Her lips quirked upwards. "Earrings."

"Hm. Well. There are stores in town for both. Shall I get you your coat?"

"Thank you. I left it over the banister."

As he moved to get it, she laughed. Quietly. Just once.

"What's amusing you?" he asked. He didn't really decide to. He was always asking what made her happy when the mood became obvious. Keeping mental notes seemed a good step toward figuring Esme out.

"Nothing," she said, grinning at him over her shoulder. He raised an eyebrow. "It just makes me laugh sometimes."

"What does?"

"How quickly I've gotten used to it."

He spent a moment trying to decipher that statement. "The tree?"

She laughed again, a little louder and truer. "No, being a vampire. I was just thinking that when Edward and I got back from picking out a tree, I meant to lay my coat somewhere near the fire so it would dry faster. But then he asked where I wanted it, and I came in to show him, and I laid my coat down on the way. Perfect recall." She smiled. "If I were human still, I'm certain I would have looked by the fire first, and been confused when the coat wasn't there. I can't remember how I functioned with such a memory."

"Ah," he said, and stepped back into the room, and moved nearer to her. "I've been wanting to ask, actually." She turned to him, expression open and clear, and folded her hands in front of her. "You seem to have adjusted remarkably well." She made a gesture for him to continue, and it made a few pieces of her hair fall from where she'd combed it up and away from her face. His eyes followed the rebel locks, and his thoughts went flying away. "I suppose I wonder why you don't hate me a little more."

Oh. That was just as smooth as bricks. Her brows drew together, her golden eyes meeting his, and her hand came up to grasp his arm. The picture of alarm. "Carlisle," she said, her voice very quiet and breathy.

"Not hate me. That was a poor choice of words. Just…just…it seems the kind of thing that one might harbor a bit of resentment toward."

"Oh no, certainly no--"

"The 'thing' here being, er, the person who had turned that one into a vampire."

"Carlisle."

"Which would of course make the 'one' the vampire."

"I have never--" she said.

"I just wonder--" he said.

"—felt you were anything but w--"

"—are you happy?"

Esme blinked, silent for a moment. "Yes. Yes, of course."

"But why? I apologize for being so blunt, but you have said before you did not fall off that cliff on accident. You wanted to die."

He got the distinct impression that, were she capable of it, she would be blushing.

"It's…that's not so much what I wanted." She crossed her arms and sighed, looking at the floor now instead of him. He missed her gaze. "I did jump. But it wasn't nearly so much that I wanted to die as it was that I didn't want to live the life I had anymore." She looked back at him. "I was unaware there was a third option."

He was stunned. He was aware that his silence was stretching, but he couldn't break it.

"Carlisle?"

The sound of his name did it. "Good word, is that what it is? It's not that when I changed you I somehow managed to rewire all the hardware in your brain, or that you think someday you'll magically be able to turn back if you want to, or that you just, I don't know, lost your mind completely during the pain of the transformation?"

Her laughter was ringing through the rafters of the ceiling. "Is that what you thought all this time? I'm a little insulted, Carlisle."

"Forgive me," he said immediately, on instinct, and had no chance of catching her fond smile as he continued to speculate. "It's only that it didn't seem possible for you to be so calm about it. I was a lunatic. I've told you this, haven't I?"

"Yes," she said, "but you had less to work with." She took his hands in hers and rubbed circles onto the backs of them with her thumbs.

"I was so sure you wanted to die." Her touch was soothing. Warm. She was standing very close to him. His fingers flexed around her hands.

"No," she said quietly. Her steady gaze found his. "I'm sorry to make you think so."

He shook his head, running his fingers over the skin she had once been so intrigued by. He could see the appeal. "Not your fault," he managed to say. And she really was very close. His lips might brush hers on accident if he were to lean down just a bit, say to examine one of her silver earrings. If he didn't step back now, that was going to happen.

He was conditioned to choose restraint.

"Well," he said, releasing her hands and putting a step of space between them. "We should go. We don't want to miss buying your earrings."

"Decorations."

"Decorations! Yes. Those."

She grinned. "You might have to shop with me for both now. You've put earrings into my mind."

"Fair enough. We'll call it an early Christmas present."

She was still smiling. He couldn't quite bring himself to move toward the front door. "Thank you."