Inspired by Gray

Medium: Lightning on Storm clouds

July 2007


He was writing notes in his books again.

It was by pure accident that I came to notice the old habit had returned; on a warm, silent Thursday evening, after few stressful conversations with our son about his future. Little things like that could set Carlisle off. He dealt with stress in very peculiar, albeit quiet ways. One of those ways was scribbling down notes and reminders to himself whenever he was in the middle of reading a book.

Of course Carlisle never needed to write any reminders down. He did it to feel more human. He liked pretending that his memory was vulnerable to forget those wayward thoughts that crossed his mind while reading.

There was something so distressingly private about those little notes he'd written in the margins of his books. Those scrawled numbers and random words which had no significance or meaning to anyone but the man who had written them. I wasn't quite sure if he knew that I had caught onto his habit. If he left his books laying out on his desk, I was always the one to stumble upon them. I would casually leaf through the pages, amusing myself with his cryptic phrases and pristine penmanship. I found it fascinating to try and piece together the puzzles he had left in those margins. Sometimes I felt like he was truly scribbling a cry for help, a note in a bottle, an S.O.S.

I had known something was bothering him for a while, but I hadn't thought to question him about it. We were all worried about Edward and Bella – about his control and her safety – while they were away on their honeymoon. We didn't talk about it, at least not with the rest of the family. Carlisle and I would have brief, furtive discussions whenever we were alone, speculating about why we hadn't heard from our son for more than twenty-four hours. We took strange comfort in being the overbearing, concerned parents. But we also knew our curiosity and distress were justified.

So did Edward.

Nearly ten days later, Carlisle was still writing nonsense in the margins of his books, but now we all knew the reason.

The news came as a complete shock to me, yet it had nothing to do with the fact that this particular kind of news should have been impossible.

Bella was with child.

She was carrying in her womb a potential person – one who was viciously alive and growing dangerously fast.

I had to first admit my wonder, internally, that my son had been fortunate enough to have a part in this miraculous creation. As Edward's mother, I was thrilled and proud and awestruck over his apparent predicament. But Edward was not truly my first son.

I had been a mother to another once. A little boy. A tiny person whose face I can only summon from imagination, not from memory.

The bombardment of emotions was overwhelming for me. From what I gathered, Edward did not even want to see his own child, and for that I was furious with him. At the same time, Bella's condition made me want to weep every time I listened to her over the phone. But it was not only the physical distress of her condition that made me want to weep; it was because she had what I had always wanted. In her position, I envisioned myself, struggling against the rest of the world to hold onto the child destiny had promised me no matter how hopeless my future appeared.

I was tempted to say I hadn't felt such profound sorrow since the time Edward had left us in the 1930's. I could still remember the painful passing of each day I spent, staring out the window, hoping he would return. When I closed my eyes now, the vision came flooding back to me – the endless sea of smooth snow that stretched across our yard, awash in late-evening tones of blue that were somehow both dim and vivid. I remember how Carlisle had stood behind me, one hand against his heart, as if he felt a true pang in his chest from searching the grounds for some sign that our son had returned. Day after day, our eyes would always meet with a familiar shimmer of grief, knowing we had both seen the same thing. No footprints in the snow.

The sorrow I felt now was much different, but no less painful. It was, at its core, a feeling of hopelessness. Never knowing what the next day would bring. Just barely surviving from one minute to the next. Constantly wondering if you would even see tomorrow. Rationing every breath you take just in case it would be your last.

I understood these feelings, and so I understood how Bella felt. Though our circumstances were drastically different, our reason for surviving was the same. The baby inside of her deserved a chance at life too. I wondered why Edward refused to see that.

I hadn't planned to confront my son about his situation until after he and Bella came home from Rio. But not more than twenty hours had passed before I decided I was going to call my son personally and give him a piece of my mind. Needless to say, I didn't act on that impulse. I decided to devote more of my time to finding the right words before I jumped into a nasty argument with him. Little did I know, the bitter truth would be revealed to me long before I was ready to face it.

"Carlisle told Edward he would help get rid of the baby."

Coming from Rosalie's mouth, this could have been a pure instigation. But I knew it wasn't. Not this time. My passions matched those of my daughter when it came to defenseless children. Rosalie had told me my own husband's decision so that I could act on both our behalf. I had a reason, an excuse, a story to defend my position. It was true that none of us could sway Edward, except for perhaps Carlisle. But I was the only one who could sway my husband.

If I'd had the time to think over how I would approach him, I would have. But I didn't. I went after him as soon as my daughter told me the news.

Sometimes when I was angry I imagined myself standing in front of a giant canvas in an empty gallery, where I could paint my inner feelings on the walls. If I could have access to canvas and paint right now, I would have splattered the buckets all over the place in rage and frustration.

As soon as I turned the corner of the hall, I nearly crashed into him. He stood innocently by the window, his hands folded complacently in front of him. He looked as if he had been waiting for me. As if he were hoping I would show up to confront him.

"How could you?" I hissed in outrage.

"We don't know what this is—"

"Don't you say that to me! You know damn well what 'this' is. It's life, Carlisle!" The harshness of my own voice surprised me, but Carlisle did not seem fazed by it. I stared at him for a moment, shaking my head in disbelief, too angry to think of words quickly enough to say what I felt inside. His expression was stiff, but his eyes looked lost, and this gave me a flicker of hope. I knew that if I just fought with him passionately enough, I could convince him.

"I know you," I told him, shaking with the effort to keep my voice soft. "I know you don't really want to do this."

"Then you understand my pain in making this decision," he said matter-of-factly.

I couldn't help it. His curtness set me off.

"Why make it at all if it's so painful, then?" I spat.

The fire just barely reached his eyes. "Because Bella's life is at risk!"

"But this isn't what she wants!" I argued.

Just like that, his 18th Century temper was flaming. "Of course it isn't what she wants! Bella would sooner see herself dead than see her unborn child lose its only chance at life! Do you think me so foolish as to believe no other mother would make the same sacrifice?" He barely paused long enough in his quivering defense to let me respond. "I know you would have, Esme. I know you would have wanted the same for your son. I know you would have sacrificed your own life without a second thought if it meant he had been given the chance to live on."

I didn't even realize I was sobbing until he finished his sentence and the fire immediately receded from his eyes.

"Look at me, Esme," he pleaded. "Darling, look at me."

I hugged myself protectively and turned away from him, facing the window. "I can't."

Outside, trees were being beaten by howling winds, their leaves slick and thrashing in all directions. A storm was beginning. But inside there was still utter silence.

"Esme, please..." Carlisle's voice was sad, desperate, delicate. "If you will not look at me, will you at least let me hold your hand while I say this to you?"

I did, barely, only because I couldn't resist his voice. The weight of his hand, the warmth of his palm, and the way he curled his fingers so precariously around mine made me realize how much I needed his touch.

"The love I feel for you is overpowering, Esme. I love you as my equal, and as the mother of our children. I have trusted you to make decisions that have impacted our family in the past. Now I must ask you to trust me in making this decision." He left a pause in his speech, one I knew was specifically designed for me to make my choice. "Can you do that for me?" he asked, gentle as a baby bird.

And callous as a hawk, I shut him down again. "No, I don't think I can."

He sighed in exasperation, and as his hand loosened around mine I panicked at the thought of losing contact with him. The instant I turned to face him, my mouth started moving and words were pouring out against my control. "It's just so unfair, Carlisle! There is nothing I want in this world more than a child of my own. For you to steal that away from Bella is downright terroristic! She has a gift, one that you and Edward are all too willing to take away from her."

Carlisle looked appalled. "Bella's own life is also a gift, Esme. Would you rather I take that away from her?" Instead of shouting, he whispered the words to me, a masterful stroke. He knew exactly how to coax me into letting my guard down, but I couldn't let him win.

"Stop arguing with me when you know it isn't right!" I squeaked, weighed down with denial. "You don't really want to do this, Carlisle. You can't possibly... Edward has gotten to you, I think."

A wince flashed on his lips. "I would not let that happen."

He let go of my hand then, and turned on his heel to head down the hall. I immediately went after him, still persistently arguing his every point.

"I think you would. You are too willing to do whatever you can please him. You can't always indulge him, Carlisle. There are some things Edward still needs to be taught, but how can he learn what is right if you do not set the example for him?"

He halted on his way into his study, one arm resting vertically on the door jamb as he turned to face me. "Once Edward has his mind set on something, it is awfully hard to change it."

"But not impossible," I countered with confidence. "He looks up to you, Carlisle. More than anyone else. If there is anyone who can change his mind about this, it's you."

Carlisle looked regretful. "I don't think anyone can change his mind in this case... except for Bella."

I sighed. "I hope that you're right."

I would have been content to let it go then and there. I would have walked away after having the last word, knowing that my husband was at least aware of the wrongness in his decision to back up our son. But Carlisle did not go directly into his study. Instead, he stopped short, pulled himself back, and stared hard into my eyes. Then he uttered one little sentence that would make our conversation swerve violently in the opposite direction.

"If this does not turn out well..."

Panic set off inside of my chest, like a firecracker trapped beneath a bowl. "Don't say it, please..."

I suppose it was the look on my face that inspired him to reach out and embrace me. He pulled me closer until my back was pressed to his chest. "I should have told you about my decision sooner. I'm sorry." He began to rub my arms soothingly, but I could only shudder.

"I just don't understand how you could decide something so heartless." I could feel him grow tense when I brought it up again. But no matter how much it hurt him to hear it, I wasn't going to let it go. Not until he gave me a reasonable explanation for throwing away the morals he had always clung to. "That isn't you, Carlisle."

His hands stopped rubbing my arms and came to a halt on my shoulders, applying the slightest pressure. "I already explained to you my reasons. This is Edward's child, not my own."

I turned to face him with curiosity in my eyes, and a sharp challenge in my voice. "What if this was your child, Carlisle? What then?"

"Then it would be your life at risk," he whispered solemnly.


"What do you think my decision would be?" If his question hadn't been so wonderful and rhetorical, I wouldn't have been caught standing on wobbly legs while he stroked my neck and the sides of my face, about to kiss me.

As it was, I turned away from him again. This time, I was sobbing.

He stood still in the doorway behind me, and even though I wasn't facing him, I could sense that he was confused, and probably worried that I was about to combust from crying so hard.

"Carlisle... I'm...I'm jealous of her. I'm jealous of Bella," I sputtered in shame. As embarrassed as I was to say it, I needed to have it off my chest and in the open. "I want a child of my own."

This was the first time I had admitted being jealous of a human to my husband, but it was certainly not the first time I admitted my desire for a child. In the past, Carlisle's response to this was always the same. But now it was no longer justified.

"Oh, Esme. You know how desperately I wish I could give that to you—"

White-hot anger whipped me around to face him. "No! No, Carlisle! This is not what you can't give to me! This is what I cannot give to you!"

He stopped trying to speak and stood in shock with his arms at his sides. "Esme, how can you say that? You cannot blame yourself for something so—"

"Stop! Just stop!" I put my hands up to my ears and turned around again, trying to escape him. Before I could get away, he grabbed both my arms and forced me to walk backwards over the threshold into his office. The door closed in front of me and seconds later I was buried in Carlisle's chest.

Save for the thunder rumbling in the distance, the room was eerily quiet. It was now clear to me that the entire house had been vacated some time ago. The others had only to hear our voices rising and know that they would be better off far away until we sorted things out. Carlisle and I so rarely disagreed, it was cause for evacuation when things escalated to the point of us shouting at one another. I felt horrible that it had come to this.

"It was me," I sobbed woefully, rubbing my face against Carlisle's sweater while he tried to soothe me. "It was me all this time."

He knew well what I was referring to. The fact that he did not respond made me think that he agreed and had no way to argue me. Against my better judgment I began to cry harder, my emotions swirling around a vortex of potential violence as I pounded my fists cathartically against his stomach. My hands worked in time with my sobs, wanting internally to destroy that perfect, virile, capable, fertile body of his. He had what I could never have. He could be a biological father if he so desired. He could impregnate any human girl he saw walking down the street...

I clawed so roughly at his sweater that I tore right through the thick layer of cashmere. I felt guilty for barely a second before my guilt was replaced by swelling disdain.

"Esme, look at me. Please, look at me." His large hands formed a sturdy 'V' around my quivering jaw, forcing me to face him. "Open your eyes..." He touched my eyelids gently, one at a time, and I helplessly obeyed his command.

The room was darkened by the oncoming storm, leaving little more than a faint veil of gray light to illuminate his face. Still, his beauty startled me. Beams of soft lightning made his eyes glow in an almost holy way as he stared down at me, looking like some kind of dark angel.

"There are some things we must accept, Esme. But you cannot blame yourself for them." Even his voice was angelic. "Neither of us is to blame. This is something we have lived with for ages now. Nothing has changed."

Frustration bubbled up inside of me again at his denial. "But it has, Carlisle, don't you see that?" His brow furrowed in innocent confusion, giving me no choice but to announce it, harsh and clear. "You can have a child." I was struck by awe the moment the words left my lips. Somehow saying them aloud had enhanced their realness. My voice faltered with grief-filled wonder as I reached up to trace his beautiful features with my fingers. "Your own flesh. Your own creation..." I could feel him trembling and shaking his head, as if the prospect actually scared him. "You can have that."

"But I only want that with you." There was a growling quality to his gentle voice as he said this, and it put a fire in my heart. His hands grasped my shoulders and tried to shake the sense back into me. "Esme, do you hear me? I would never dream of touching another woman."

"But it is possible for you. It isn't possible for me." An appropriate rumble of thunder set the tone for my regret.

"If it is impossible for one of us, then it is impossible for both of us," Carlisle stated with conviction. "We are one, Esme." Suddenly his eyes went from tender assuredness to bitter remorse. "Unless our marriage means nothing to you."

I fiercely shook my head and twisted around in his arms so that I was facing the other way.

"You will wonder about it, though. I know you will," I murmured. "How could you not wonder?"

"Wonder about what?" he asked hesitantly, his grip loosening on me.

"What your child would be like if you had one."

After a moment of thought, he laid his head down on my shoulder, a weary weight as he whispered against my neck. "I've wondered about that since the day I married you, Esme. Just as you have. Nothing has changed."

I tore myself out of his arms again, facing a daunting shelf of books. A flutter of lightning revealed their true colors for a fleeting moment before they turned back to their dull rainbow of grays. "Stop saying nothing has changed. It has changed, Carlisle." My voice shook though I tried to keep it steady. Jealousy thrummed like a temperamental furnace in my belly as I stared blankly at the oppressive wall of books in front of me. "Dear God, you're... you're capable of..."

My head fell to my hands before I could finish the heartbreaking sentence.

"I am capable of nothing," he argued passionately. I felt him come closer until the subtle heat from his body touched my back. "Yes, it hurts to know that we cannot procreate together, but we must keep working to accept that."

"You can procreate." It was an accusation. A prosecution laced with a confusing mix of disdain and admiration.

"No, Esme. Without you, I cannot," he argued, his voice deep and swift, like a spear. "Listen to what I am telling you." His voice alone was strong enough to tempt me to turn; he didn't even have to touch me.

I gritted my teeth and whirled around, no longer shy about hiding my anger from him. I was fed up. "I am listening! I've been listening to you twist everything I've tried to say to you for the past fifteen minutes."

He looked so saddened, so offended by this, I nearly slipped and kissed him out of pity.

"I am not 'twisting' anything!" he defended – hands out, palms up, vulnerable and beseeching. "You attack me before I even get the chance to speak, Esme!"

"So I suppose you want me to just be silent for the rest of the night, then?" I retaliated hotly.

Instead of letting the fire of his rage consume him, something in his eyes dimmed, though his voice was still stern. "No, that isn't what I want. What I want is for you to tell me, clearly and calmly, exactly what is making you upset."

"You know why I'm upset!" I snapped.

"I thought I did. But every time I've tried to comfort you, I've failed," he lamented, weary and hoarse. "So obviously there is something you are not telling me."

Sometimes I despised how observant he was to my feelings. Things were quite different now, after nearly a century of marriage to this man, than they had been when we'd first started living together. I realized now just how much I'd taken for granted my ability to veil my true emotions from my husband when I so desired. Now, such a task was all but hopeless.

Facing him now, I was taken with his compassion. It glowed around him like a tangible aura, muffling the sounds of the storm raging just outside our house, making the gray seem more golden. All he wanted was for me to be honest with him. I owed him that, didn't I? As his wife, he expected me to surrender my secrets, no matter how humiliating I felt them to be.

"I'm..." My voice cut out, forcing me to swallow before I finished. "I'm afraid, Carlisle."

To my surprise, his kind eyes narrowed, and he looked somehow both heavenly and sinister in the steadily darkening room. "Afraid of what? That I would seek out another mate? That I would try to impregnate a human woman just to have a child of my own?" His voice rose with every sentence, threatening the thunder that shook the walls. "Good Lord, Esme, that is ridiculous! You know I am not that man!"

I staggered upon seeing my husband in such agony, twitching and trembling over the loss of his composure as he fought uselessly to defend his honor. His sudden change in temper frightened me, but more so I was ashamed. Ashamed that he thought I could ever doubt his fidelity.

I fell back against the bookshelf, nearly choking in pain. "No, that—that isn't it—I—" Finding myself incoherent, my knees started to give out and I frantically sought out some place to sit. I stumbled into the leather chair behind Carlisle's desk, breathing heavily and fighting sobs.

He allowed me the space I needed for a few minutes, waiting until both of us had calmed enough to continue safely. The sound of the rain beating outside seemed to help, and I was grateful for it.

Still, I didn't dare raise my eyes from the floor when my husband came over to where I sat and squatted down across from me. He extended his hand to cup one of my bare knees and began to caress my skin hesitantly.

"What is it, then, Esme? Please tell me so that I can help you."

I cringed at the way he'd spoken, suddenly so chivalrous and earnest, so true to his nature. It was this soft, passionate voice that weakened me more than the roar of anger. He knew this too well.

Biting down my pride, I answered him. "I'm afraid that...that you'll be thinking about it more often."

His eyes blinked up at me, glossy and innocent as the lightning sparkled through the window. "About what? Having a baby?" His question seemed to melt in mid-air, softer than cotton candy.

I nodded slowly, still shaking violently with silent sobs. "Because now that you know you can procreate—"

"Stop," he interjected fiercely, cutting me off. "Every time you say that, you're putting a barrier between us. You're defining us based on our fertility."

I flinched painfully at the word, like a bullet in my gut. A ripe bout of jealousy ran through me like a solid wave of fire.

"Oh, God! I can't do this anymore!" I moaned into my hands. "I never imagined we'd be having this discussion!"

His hand tightened securely around my knee, sending little tendrils of pleasure through my calf, which I stubbornly tried to ignore. "Of course you didn't. Neither of us was prepared for this, Esme."

"But it's so different for you, Carlisle. You've discovered that you have this wonderful gift—"

"It is not a gift, Esme. It is a function. One I have no use for."

His argument was elegant and quick, and even though I wanted so badly to agree with him, I could not. That he dared to discredit his ability to procreate actually sickened me. It was so unlike him.

"Your God would disagree with you," I snapped at him under my breath, unable to help my caustic tone.

His fingers dug deeper into my kneecap, demanding explanation. "What on earth does that mean?"

I stared straight into his eyes and quoted the Bible in a mocking voice. "'Be fruitful and multiply.' Or am I misunderstanding the meaning behind those words?"

The regret I felt was instantaneous; a blow of hurricane force to my aching heart. Carlisle seemed to shrink before me, looking utterly offended and torn apart. His hand dropped away from my knee as he looked up at me with something in his eyes I had never seen before. Disgust.

Wretched didn't even begin to describe how I felt. I knew I had gone too far, but it was too late to take it back.

"You want to complicate this? Is that what you are trying to do?" he challenged me, his eyes a dark and piercing contrast to the pallor of his face.

I shook my head idly, attempting to reach out for his cheek. "No."

But as he stood up to his full height, I withdrew my hand and cowered in my chair. His statuesque form was made all the more intimidating by the vigorous surge of thunder and lightning that flooded the room. "Really?" he demanded coldly. "Because it seems to me that you just want me to jump through hoops and go around in circles without ever coming to a conclusion that will satisfy you." He paced aimlessly around his study as he rambled in various strains of European accent, employing erratic hand gestures to illustrate his point while he spoke. If I hadn't been so horrified by our predicament, the sight of him right now would have probably been comical.

"No, Carlisle, don't! Please! I didn't mean it like that!"

My panic heightened when he didn't acknowledge my cries. He moved to the windows and closed some of the curtains, drawing a feeling of finality to our conversation. A heavy, cold sensation settled in my stomach. We couldn't end it this way.

"Carlisle!" I hissed in the darkness, trying to get some kind of reaction from him. I succeeded in earning just a fleeting glance, but it was enough to assure me that he had not forgotten me entirely.

I tried to follow his movement, but my eyes were lost. His silhouette swept in and out of angular shadows, confusing me to the point of dizziness. Then suddenly a beautiful red sparkle of light appeared in the far corner of the room, and my nose was assaulted by the sweet sting of sulfur.

A gasp filled my lungs as he lit a tall candle on the very corner of his desk, and the flame did not grow slowly but rather shot up at once, as if one poke of the match had startled it out of its hiding place.

I breathed out in hesitant relief as I watched him extinguish the match and cup the flame of the candle with his hand, nursing it to full height before he backed away. I looked up at him as the candle stood shyly between us, shivering in the wake of our cold stares.

With the proper glow of fire to help, I could now see a look of profound sadness in his eyes. It was proof enough that he had felt the need to resolve his anguish by lighting a candle. That had always been Carlisle's way of warding off demons, soothing his emotions, comforting himself in times of distress. But for me, that sweet little candle was a sharp slap in the face. It was evidence that I had forced him to his brink, that I had pushed him to the point where facing the world without the light of a candle to guide him was simply undoable.

"I didn't mean what I said before," I whispered vaguely, staring pleadingly up at him from across the desk as if he were some idol on an altar.

His head turned to stare hopelessly out the rainy window as he sighed. "I don't know why you would say something like that," he murmured, avoiding my eyes.

I gasped defensively, dangerously close to crying again. "Maybe I said it because I was angry and I wasn't thinking!"

His hands flew to his forehead before coming down sharply at his sides. He seemed disturbingly desperate now as he steeled himself, trying to keep his voice steady. "Esme, I understand how you feel. You are confused, and frustrated, and you are remembering a great loss you had in your human life."

"That has nothing to do with it!" My denial, though spoken harshly, was pathetic. If the loss of my infant son had anything to do with my emotional turmoil at present, it hadn't crossed my mind until now.

"I think that it does, sweetheart," Carlisle argued, his unfailingly gentle voice cracking with exhaustion. The candle between us seemed to flicker in agreement. "It has a great deal to do with why you are upset."

The news of Bella's pregnancy was not inherently bad. Could it be some latent residue from my past that had sparked such a strong and negative reaction in me? Even if Carlisle was right, I still didn't want to admit it.

"Don't try to tell me what I'm feeling!" I yelped awkwardly as I slammed my hands down on his desk, causing several pens to roll onto the floor. "You say you understand, but you don't! You don't at all!"

In one swift movement, he rounded the corner of his desk, crouched down beside me and turned my chair to face him. "Then help me to understand, Esme. If I'm suddenly so terrible at reading you after all these years, please enlighten me." His voice had a hint of uncharacteristic coldness to it, and the weariness in his face was breaking my heart.

"You can't understand what I'm feeling because you have no reason to feel guilty," I accused.

"Neither do you," he said with sweet, stern defiance.

"Then why do I feel this way, Carlisle? Why?" I reached out and grabbed his collar, tugging it with every syllable. "Why do I feel so guilty if I have no reason to?" I threw my neck back and stared imploringly at the ceiling.

He scrambled slightly closer to me and used both his hands to steady me, tilting my face back down to stare at him. "Because what you are feeling right now is irrational. You are stressed and overwhelmed, and for good reason. You still aren't able to think clearly."

A clap of thunder hiccupped overhead, then exploded into a cascade of crackling noises, like failed fireworks. I shuddered at the sound and began to take out my frustration by banging my fists on my knees like a child. "I don't want you to diagnose me, Carlisle!"

"Then what do you want me to do?" he demanded, his face hard and handsome, so close to mine. "Everything I've tried so far has offended you to the point of incoherence, and quite frankly, I'm afraid to even continue." At this point he seemed utterly jaded, and his irritation frightened me. I could feel the heat of our crossfire building up around me like a cloud of unbearably hot smoke. I was suffocating under the weight of my suppressed words and emotions. I needed to free myself.

"Oh, I'm sorry I'm so irate and volatile, Carlisle! I'm sorry you can't just knock me out with an injection like you can with the rest of your unruly patients!" I hardly realized my hands were flailing about unpredictably as I shouted, so it came as a surprise to me when Carlisle quickly flinched out of the way to protect himself when my hand came a little too close to his face.

The moment itself wasn't striking in any way. It was what happened immediately after that came as a wakeup call for me. It was the look on his face, the sheer alarm, the dilated darkness of defense blooming in his beautiful eyes that sent me stuttering back into reality.

In the rare instance that one of us felt physically threatened by the other, it more than often stemmed from my past abusive marriage. I was so unaccustomed to seeing Carlisle on the defense, it put me in a state of complete shock.

He'd thought I was going to hit him.

All at once, it brought to light his extreme sensitivity, his notoriously gentle and non-confrontational nature. Could I have really been so raging and delirious that he'd felt the need to protect himself from my hand?

My eyes dropped instantly to the place where my own hands had earlier torn through his sweater, and a pang of sadness struck me. Unable to face him, my eyes instead drifted over to the sleek golden flame that bobbed dreamily on the candle wick. I stared at it for a long while, bemused and terrified as my husband's raspy breathing slowed beside me.

"For God's sake, Esme. Everything I say..." My eyes were bruised by the light of the candle, blotting out my vision of his face when I looked tentatively back at him. He rubbed his temples with his thumbs, his eyes squeezed shut in consumed exhaustion. "You're forcing me to tiptoe over a minefield with you."

His vilifying metaphor rendered me speechless. All I could do was sit in his chair, paralyzed with shame. After he had massaged all the tension from his forehead, he finally looked up at me, his strong chin perched on his steepled fingers. He looked as if he were asking God for strength as closed his eyes briefly and tried again.

"We've crossed a line, Esme," he stated, deep and calm. "A line we both promised we would never cross."

"Our disagreement became an argument," I recited tremulously, feeling about as small as a baby doll in the large leather throne.

"Yes..." he nodded in careful agreement, "but we've come awfully close to letting that argument become a fight."

I swallowed hard and looked down at my feet in humiliation. His hand crept onto my shoulder, fingers lazily lifting locks of my hair to move them out of the way.

"I will disagree with you occasionally, Esme. And I will even argue with you if I feel it is absolutely necessary. But one thing I never want to do is fight with you."

As badly as I wanted to reach up and touch his hand on my shoulder, I resisted, still stony from our verbal dart storm. "I don't want to fight with you either," I muttered, wringing my hands.

"Then we must both commit to it now. We must make every effort to sort through this as sensibly and calmly as possible. Can I have your word that we will not lose our tempers with one another?"

I nodded somewhat curtly, feeling more and more like a helpless puppy who was being reprimanded by her owner. Carlisle had a bothersome habit for patronizing others without realizing it. One more thing to add fuel to the fire still stirring inside me. For now, I had to tamp it down as I'd promised. But I had to admit I didn't know how long I would last...

"Alright. I have your word." If he was trying to get me to confirm it somehow, I would have to find a way to do it without kissing him. So I nodded again, a bit more forcefully this time.

He didn't look convinced, but he continued anyway. "Why don't we start over? I'll let you talk first, and I won't interrupt while you tell me exactly what you are feeling, and why."

I stared at him warily for a second, wondering if he really knew what he was asking of me. But like a good wife, I took a deep breath and prepared to tell him everything he wanted to hear.

"I feel jealous of Bella because she can carry a child, but I also feel sorry for her because she hasn't gotten much say in whether she gets to keep her baby or not. I also feel angry with Edward's decision to abort the baby, and even angrier with you for indulging him in that decision. And I feel guilty that I can't give you a child, and I'm also jealous of you because you can produce children, and I feel like you'll never understand what I'm feeling because every time I try to explain it to you, you just assume that I—"

"Shh, shh. Breathe, Esme," he interjected, clasping both my shoulders in his hands. "Just, take a pause and breathe."

I nearly kicked him. "I thought you said you weren't going to interrupt me!"

He winced and withdrew his hands. "I'm sorry, you're right. Go on. thing at a time?"

I huffed and began again. "When I found out that it was possible for you to have children... I felt like it put a distance between us." The air in the room turned cold again, like hot water being infiltrated by blocks of ice. I folded my hands tightly together and looked up to the ceiling. "I know it's wrong, but I feel like I'm keeping you from having what you really want."

"That couldn't be further from the truth." His whisper was so warm, I simply had to close my eyes and let those stubborn flecks of anger dissolve within me.

"But there is a truth to it," I countered, more gently this time. "Our bodies aren't compatible, Carlisle."

My heart fluttered exultantly as he framed my face with his hands and forced me to look at him. "It would take only one night for me to remind you that our bodies are more than compatible, Esme," he purred invitingly, his eyes glittering with excitement at the prospect of proving me wrong. "Besides, our situation is exactly the same as it was since the day we were married. We cannot have a biological child together. That is all."

I shook my head tiredly, trying to hold onto what little patience his kindness had inspired in me. "But we now know that you have the potential to create children, and I do not."

His responding sigh mirrored my exhaustion. "I would hope that we could continue to live with this new knowledge, and it wouldn't have to alter our relationship," he murmured despondently.

I frowned and glanced at the candle. "I don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know?" I was surprised to hear another strike of irritation in his tone. "Why is this so hard for you to accept?"

"Because I know you, Carlisle. Your curiosity will overwhelm you. You'll start writing about it in your journals, and inquiring God about it when you go to church. You will wonder about it constantly. You want a biological child as desperately as I do. And now that you know it is possible for you to have that, I think you might..."

A spark of something much hotter than lightning flashed in his eyes. "Might what?" he whispered warningly.

"Might ... fantasize about it. And you won't admit it to me because you're too good and you don't want to hurt me by making me think that it's my fault you can't be a father and—"

I was cut off again, this time not by an exhausted sigh or a barking argument, but by a lush, fiery kiss.

I struggled against him for no more than a few seconds before submitting myself entirely to his intensely determined lips.

"First of all, I am a father," he declared before kissing me a second time. "Secondly, you are a mother." He pushed another forceful kiss to my mouth, gathering my jaw in his hands so I had no means of escape. "Thirdly, I will fantasize about having a baby. But that fantasy will only ever involve you as the woman who carries my child." His final kiss was rougher than the first three, but his voice was more gentle than ever when he spoke. "Now, my love, what can I say to you that will allow us to put this conversation to rest once and for all?"

Breathless and startled by what he had just done to me, I sat for a moment, shuddering in my chair until my words came back to me.

"Nothing, until I apologize to you."

He was already shaking his head, a grim half-smile on his face. "Don't you dare, Esme. I know exactly what you're going to apologize for, and I never want to hear it again."

I told him anyway.

"I'm sorry I can't carry your child."

He knew I was going to say it no matter how much he discouraged me. Lightning flushed his face with wild white light, and a softer growl of thunder stirred the walls. He almost looked victorious. Instead of chiding me for disobeying him, he replied with calm conviction. "I'm not."

"Why?" I whimpered in disbelief.

"Because I am your husband. I made a vow to you. I chose to marry you. I have loved you for ninety years, and nothing will ever keep me from loving you until the end of time." He recited the words like amendments, with tender confidence and sincere eyes. At the end of his simple speech, he stood up and stepped back from me and was silent for a long time while the rain poured down outside.

It made me want to cry when I thought about the things I had said to him, but even more when I thought about what he had said to me. And the worst of it was what he was doing to me right now – waiting patiently behind me at a distance, vigilantly allowing his words to sink further into me as masterfully as he would watch the ink dry on one of his journal pages. At times like this, Carlisle's wisdom was both belittling and beautiful. He knew I was stinging from the blow of his gentleness more than my own personal pain.

Regret filled me so fully I felt like I was made of lead. I looked pleadingly up at him where he stood at a distance, his countenance as peaceful and untainted as a saint's. I wanted to burst from my chair and run to him and throw myself into his embrace, but the lead of regret kept me from springing forward. I was trapped by my own shame, and damaged by my own pride.

All I could do was stare at him with begging eyes until he finally came back to me.

Sparkling reflections of raindrops decorated the walls as he came forward, emerging from the shadows and into the rose-gold beam cast by the candle. Without a word he extended both his hands to me, and when I took them, he pulled me up to stand in front of him.

I was overcome with a brief stab of horror as he let go of my hands and began to twist his wedding ring off of his finger. But he silenced my panic with a reassuring kiss to my forehead before he set the ring in the center of my palm.

I stared up at him at a complete loss, searching for the meaning behind his enigmatic offering.

"I want you to put it back on my finger," he explained softly. "To confirm that you still want me as your husband."

Though his request was ridiculous, and I certainly did not need to hesitate, I made him wait for it anyway. I traced the golden band over and over, cradling it in my palm while the rain tickled the window panes and the thunder seduced me to draw out the torture.

I relished the look of comfort in his eyes while he waited for me to comply, both of us knowing there was no possibility of that ring ever resting on another man's finger. It seemed almost impossible that I could be feeling this way now, considering the pain and tears I had been through not minutes before. But as I held out for a few moments longer before fulfilling Carlisle's request, I felt an inescapable storm of love surging within me.

In the end, I was the one who lost my patience. My fingers fumbled frantically with the ring as I lifted it to my lips, kissed it, and hastily slid it back onto my husband's waiting finger. He thanked me without words, his face lit by a flash of lightning that acted as a torch of honesty. We came together then like water and soil, virtually inseparable once we had merged.

The color of his face somehow deepened in the dusk, and he hid his mysterious blush by burrowing his nose into the curve of my neck. His lips peppered my skin with kisses, mocking the raindrops as they pattered endlessly against the roof.

We murmured our "I love you"'s back and forth between clumsy kisses, and our "Forgive me"'s as we stumbled our way towards the door, leaving the lit candle unattended.

The distance of the short hallway seemed daunting when I was so desperate to find refuge in our bed. Minutes prior I should have been repulsed by the idea of letting him make love to me – but I could admit to myself now that our heated argument had done nothing but fan the flames of my already burgeoning desire for him. Our scathing shouts and desperate retaliations had proved more effective foreplay than our kisses and caresses.

The door to our bedroom hadn't been opened for a few days. Inside the room was colder than usual, and it smelled more like the forest than the interior of a home, like heather and burning cedar. The carpet beneath my feet was a welcome change from the hard wood floors in the hall. I immediately felt some of the tension flee my body as my husband continued kissing me in the darkness.

The one window in our bedroom was just a sleek plane of glass that stretched along an entire wall. It overlooked the forest behind the house, offering a view of the steep hillside, mostly obscured by towering Ponderosa pines. The storm made the woods look misty and gloomy, like an unfinished watercolor painting. Carlisle became a part of the painting as he stood by the window, shedding layers of clothing just as the trees outside shed their leaves in the wind.

His pale flesh shimmered in the watery light from the window, milky jade in color. The soft scrape of pine needles brushed against the glass, as if the branches were trying to reach out and touch him. He dropped his clothes onto a nearby armchair until he was completely nude, facing me with his back to the forest. He beckoned me towards him with a raised hand, which I accepted thoughtlessly.

As his fingers worked to undress me I realized this would be the first time I allowed my husband to make love to me, with the knowledge that he was still fertile. As fertile as he had been as a human. As fertile as the forest outside our window.

The stray thought made me cringe. I tried to bury it in the back of my mind, but it did no more good than burying a seed in a bed of soil. It plagued me ceaselessly even as I felt my body growing barer and barer with each article of clothing Carlisle peeled away from me. My eyes were blank as he finally pressed against me, skin to skin, his hands roaming my back.

For minutes we stood by the window just like that, locked in a strange, dancing embrace. Sorrow tugged at my gut like a claw when I felt the gentle nudge of his arousal against my thigh. That part of him whose primal purpose was to create life, and still could, touching me – a sterile, cold, and empty vessel. I had no warm bed of soil within me to nurse the seed he would give me. He claimed to love me regardless, but how could he not hate my body for denying him such a gift?

"Aren't you going to touch me?" His voice was diffident and quiet, and it startled me out of my reverie. I hadn't realized my hands were still idle at my sides until he spoke. I quickly curved my arms beneath his, cupping his shoulders with my hands to pull him closer to me. The last thing I wanted was for my touch to feel insincere.

Helpless pleasure soared through me when I felt his tongue trace the shell of my ear. He whispered something no pastor's son should ever whisper to a woman, and I whimpered in astonishment, my love for him momentarily drowning any lingering feelings of regret.

He guided me to the bed with purpose, his tongue moving restlessly along my neck. I forced his head straight so that I could kiss him properly as we tumbled onto the mattress, my knees kneading the sides of his chest. Our kiss ended abruptly as he lifted his head to stare down at me. His eyes were flashing bright with urgency, flickering between my face and the exquisitely cramp space where our loins were aligned. I followed his gaze out of curiosity to find the tip of his sex gleaming with a taunting promise.

His face turned apologetic as he stared down at our nearly linked bodies. "It's going to be quick," he warned breathlessly, wincing in pleasure as I accidentally bucked my hips against his. I nodded incoherently while he slipped his hand between my thighs and his fingers began to flutter against me with determination.

I was so close to reaching the pinnacle of bliss, but echoes from our argument that evening began to infiltrate my mind.

It is not a gift, Esme. It is a function. One I have no use for.

I cringed at the memory of Carlisle's careless words, still wondering in the back of my mind if he thought them to be true.

You are confused, and frustrated, and you are remembering a great loss you had in your human life.

A great loss, indeed. And how could I ever be expected to recover from such a loss? How could I, when I had no possibility of ever getting back what was taken from me?

It would take only one night for me to remind you that our bodies are more than compatible, Esme.

Was that what he was doing right now? Reminding me just how well we fit together, physically and spiritually? Forcing me to feel the weight of his affection in such a lovely and erotic way, with no means to an end, no purpose, no manifestation to show the rest of the world?

Be fruitful and multiply...

My body shuddered in dismay, even as my husband foraged faithfully through me, assaulting me with love until I went utterly numb in his arms. He cried out feverishly in his pursuit of pleasure, his eyes burning deep and determined, his muscles full and firm from exertion.

Be fruitful and multiply...

I began to sob as the words sank in, holding me back from the bliss that lay just within my reach. And so in ironic timeliness, I lost my climax as my husband lost his control.

I felt the familiar sensation of him trembling inside of me, the warm release of his pleasure deep in my womb. It had never hurt me before, but tonight the pain was unbearable. I wanted to push him away from me, out of me, off of me. I wanted to rid myself of him because in that moment he represented something beautiful that I could never have. Instead I feigned my own ecstasy for his sake, gripping him as tightly and convincingly as I could, disguising the quivering of my sobs with false shudders of pleasure.

I watched him with despondent fondness nonetheless as his eyes fluttered and his lips murmured loving nonsense above me. His fingers, still shaking, traveled artfully up and down my body, worshiping me without reason. Each caress strengthened my guilt and each time he whispered my name, I wanted to weep.

His burden relieved at last, he withdrew and rolled off of me, tucked against my side. He tugged the sheets over us and laid his arm around my head, kissing my hair absently as he rested on the pillows. I envied his fulfillment in that moment, deeply regretting the fact that I had fooled him so effortlessly into believing I was also satisfied.

I had no will left within me to tell him the truth. It would only upset him, and he didn't deserve to endure any more pain on this night.

I would endure it for him.

The storm subsided slowly outside while I listened to his steady breathing. Occasionally he would whisper something sweet against the top of my head and I would force myself to smile. But even worse was when his fingers would drift into intimate dangers along my body, posing a taunting threat to my delicate state. Despite my anger and resentment and frustration with everything, I still craved release.

Rather than risk his suspicion, I gently encouraged his hand to roam elsewhere, directing his fingers to play with my hair instead. He conceded happily, and I couldn't help but be warmed slightly by his boyish glee.

After a while he grew tired of twirling my tendrils, and he eased away from me, content to relinquish some personal space.

Even though I knew it was the natural course of events after lovemaking, I couldn't help but feel hurt by the distance he'd subtly put between us. Even worse was the way the sheets slipped off his body entirely when he'd shifted aside.

I peeked helplessly over to where he reclined beside me, his body strong and firm and white, his nude thighs resting on the pillows like sturdy slopes of snow. Even in my irrational cloud of dismay, I could always appreciate Carlisle's ethereal beauty. My lips curved in a sad, secret smile as I watched him close his eyes and nestle his blond head deeper into his pillow. One of his hands played absently with the pillow tassels, while his other hand lifted experimentally into the shaft of greenish after-storm light that came through the window. He strummed mid-air with his fingers, causing them to twinkle for his own private amusement, oblivious to my watchful eyes.

More than ever, my body still ached for him. I rolled over to face the other way, trying to curb the temptation but to no avail. I heard his head shift on the pillow, and I knew that he noticed.

"Are you all right?" he whispered, his voice roughened by love making.

I closed my hand over my mouth and nodded unconvincingly.

I felt his fingers brush my bare back, touched by his concern. "Esme..."

When I did not respond, he shifted across the bed and wrapped his arms around me from behind, drawing me against his chest. His lips pressed lightly along my cheek as he whispered, "Don't think about it."

We both knew what he was talking about, which made it even harder to ignore. Sorrow escaped me in a tiny whimper, and Carlisle gently forced me around to face him. As much as I wanted to resist, the way he cradled me so perfectly in his arms was too wonderful to deny. In the moment our eyes locked, I could see the remaining embers of two fires in his gaze. One had been hot and red and angry – that was the fire started by our argument. And the other was silky, warm, and golden – that was the fire of our love. I had still yet to savor the flames of the second fire, and I was beginning to think my husband could tell that something was amiss.

When I saw him draw breath to speak, I swiftly broke in. "Humans procreate by pleasure, and we procreate by pain." My voice may have been empty, but to me, my words were undeniably true.

Carlisle looked down at me sadly, his eyes searching my face for a weakness, a spot of me that was not so resolute. "When I turned you into a vampire, I did not think of that as procreation," he countered quietly. "It was more like... recreation." His finger caressed my lower lip, and I couldn't help but squirm when I saw the sparkle in his eyes.

"How long did you live before someone told you that vampires couldn't have children?" I asked after a while.

He looked hesitant to answer me, but he did anyway, his voice heavy with regret. "To be quite honest, it was something I had assumed from the beginning." He swallowed thickly and looked down. "The Volturi confirmed it for me sometime later."

Pity crept back into my chest as I imagined the cruel and callous manner in which the Volturi would have revealed such news to my sensitive husband.

"But it doesn't matter anymore," he murmured hastily before I could comfort him. He placed a quick kiss on my forehead and tightened his embrace. "I have everything I've always wanted now. A wife, children." The deep contentment in his voice only made me more brooding.

"You could have a grandchild, too, Carlisle," I reminded him darkly.

Palpable tension coiled through his limbs as he held me. "I know... but I mustn't make a selfish decision either," he pointed out. "It could come down to either Bella's life or the baby's."

The way he said it gave me chills. I was not used to hearing Carlisle sound so grave and uncertain. I hated it.

I shook my head against his chest, trying to sort out a growing storm of emotions. "Just promise me you'll do what you think is right, not what Edward thinks is right. As terrible as it sounds, I just don't trust our son when it comes to Bella. After all, she has driven him to the brink of suicide before."

"Shh. I promise I will do what I believe is best for our family. I don't want you to worry about this anymore, Esme. We'll take whatever comes our way one day at a time. For now, just live in this moment with me?"

I nodded against his chin, and this time I finally felt that my resolution was genuine. I let him tip my chin up to kiss him, and as my lips blossomed open beneath his, I let go of everything but this moment.

Dusk descended in our room, painting the glass with streaks of blue mist and green rain. But inside we were safe together, hugging violently, hands roaming, buried in each other. And when the time came for a second chance, I found my pleasure as effortlessly as he did, and we were equals again. He came to me like a rushing waterfall, lunging into my body, bursting and full of vigor. A shock of renewal swept through me when we drew to a shuddering close; our bare bodies finally collapsed together, a tangled mess of spent souls.

I knew in the far reaches of my heart that I would always hold some piece of regret that my husband could not have a child because of me; because my body was not capable where his was. Regret there would be, but never resentment. I loved Carlisle too much to resent him for anything. No argument, no matter how heated, could ever make me forget that.

It was forever a strange sensation to me, to put my full trust in one man. My whole life I'd been doing it with Carlisle, even before I knew him. Still, I felt that trusting him was like lying face up on a stallion's back as it galloped into the wilderness. There was a constant thrill to letting him carry me, but I knew that he was strong, and he would do everything in his power to never let me fall.