Part IV: Healing
The hospital was pleasantly quiet that night, save for the several young nurse practitioners who were chasing after a rogue cricket that had somehow made it inside the pharmacy.
With his impeccable hearing, Doctor Cullen could have easily pinpointed the whereabouts of the mischievous insect. However, he was in too great a hurry this evening to offer his assistance.
He quickly made his way through the examination rooms on the first level corridor, picking up only what he needed for his waiting patient. He might not be able to ensure Jacob a full night's rest, but the least he could provide was some relief for the pain.
The roads were lonely at night, but in a surprisingly pleasant way. The night was humid but cool, so he rode with the windows down. High beam headlights would have been a necessity for any other driver, but Carlisle knew this particular road by heart. Soon he would be passing over the small bridge on the creek that led straight to his home. The idea of taking the detour just to stop and see his wife was quite appealing despite the emergency that awaited him on the reservation. It was tempting enough that he pressed gently on the brakes when he reached the fork in the road that would lead up to their hidden mansion in the forest.
He considered a brief visit with his family for less than instant before reminding himself that doing so would only keep him distracted from the very important task at hand.
Carlisle returned to Billy Black's home and was greeted with a far friendlier face than he had earlier that evening. If not for the sheen of stressful sweat that coated the man's wrinkled forehead, Carlisle would have believed the chief of the Quileute Council hadn't a care in the world over his son's health.
Billy's smile was almost as brilliant as Jacob's. Perhaps it had been at one time in his youth.
"I cannot thank you enough, Doctor."
The look on his face and the tone of gratitude in his voice were enough reward for Carlisle. But even more rewarding was the sight of Jacob's eyes swiftly closing into slumber once the medicine was delivered to his body.
It looked as though the boy would be having a good night's rest after all.
Carlisle left the Quileute territory that night feeling satisfied with all he had accomplished. The only downside had been the surprising and unexpected length of time he'd spent talking to Billy Black on the porch after Jacob had finally fallen asleep.
It was well past midnight when Carlisle finally made it home.
In such a rush to find his wife, he did not bother pulling into the garage first. Instead he parked the car a few feet from the driveway on the side of the road and pocketed his keys so that he could run the rest of the way toward the front door.
Her scent drifted toward him, inviting him towards her – but it was not coming from inside their home. Curiously, he followed her sweet presence into the dark, damp woods, heading up the steep hill beside the house.
He found her standing alone in her hilltop garden, hugging a tree in the dim wooded clearing while she listened to the lonely trickle of the water fountain. She was wearing a throw blanket around her shoulders, and sandals on her feet. Her knees were drawn together in an endearingly insecure way that made her appear younger than she actually was.
He opened his mouth, about to request that she follow him back into the house, but he was interrupted by the sound of shrill cries and muffled growls echoing hauntingly through the other side of the forest, somewhere off in the dark.
"Emmett and Rose," Esme explained numbly.
Carlisle shifted uncomfortably, wondering if it would be more appropriate to stay inside the house tonight.
"Alice and Jasper asked for the house tonight," she added quietly when she saw him glance back to their warmly lit home at the bottom of the hillside.
His eyes furrowed in pity when he looked back to his wife, suddenly realizing why she had chosen to spend the night by herself out here. He instantly wished he'd been hasty enough to come back sooner, but his regrets were the last thing that would comfort her.
"I see... so that leaves us with the garden," he said, allowing his English accent to lazily conquer the words.
She credited him with a tiny smile, still melancholy and slightly bitter from the lonely hours she had spent waiting for him to return.
He bit his lip shyly, gesturing to the tall tree trunk she was still holding onto. "Aren't you going to cling to me for a while instead?"
Her smile broadened apologetically as she abandoned her tree, dropped the blanket from her shoulders, and rushed into her husband's embrace. She buried her face in his shoulder and his soft chuckling shuddered through her. "You have tree sap all over your hands, darling."
Esme pulled her hands away from his sweater in embarrassment, her palms sticking slightly to the fabric.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she moaned quietly, wiping them against her thighs.
He tugged her back against him without a care. "Nonsense. I like when you stick to me."
She shook her head against his shoulder, smiling out of sight as he shook with silent laughter. He held her for a while, peacefully breathing in her scent, simply rejoicing that she was here, safe and whole in his arms.
"You haven't lit any of your lanterns," he observed, gazing out at the dark garden path behind her.
"I was waiting for you," her muffled voice came from below.
His heart clenched and he held her small body tighter before he let her go to move up the path. "Let's light one now."
Kneeling on the stone path, Carlisle reached beneath the first lantern to find and prepare the flint. His hands worked diligently until they had produced a spark, which he nursed to life inside the bowl of ashes. Little nearby flower buds that had closed up for the night stirred when they sensed the light he had lit, leaning towards the flickering tongues of fire.
Esme watched from the end of the path, admiring his graceful movements from behind. The wind tugged gently at his loose blond hair while he worked close to the ground, his hands growing slightly dirty from handling the ashes. She saw flickers of his youth in the way he moved so swiftly, in the way his hair curled on the nape of his neck, in the sweet, humble way he smiled at the fire he had created.
How she had missed him...
Carlisle had a sense of deep, honest maturity about him, something that had fascinated her to no end since the very first day they met. Were he human, Esme imagined she would see modest streaks of silver in his golden hair. His smooth palms would have been calloused, bearing the scars of his hard work as a surgeon for so many years. The fleeting wrinkle that sometimes exposed worry on his forehead would find itself a permanent home between his eyebrows. His lips would have lost their fullness by now, dulled by winter after winter of cold, dry air – and having been battered slowly over time by his wife's reckless kisses.
A small smile swept across her lips at the romantic thought. But reality gave her a harsh bite in the heart when she saw that her husband was still immortal, frozen as a young man whose wisdom made him look so beautifully out of place.
He got up, brushed his hands on his pants and stood back from the lantern, looking to his wife with an affectionate smile. She hugged herself when a cold wind passed by, still tentative to share his joy when the events from that morning still lingered so freshly in her mind. Everyone else seemed to be moving on. Once again, Esme found herself feeling left behind.
Carlisle took pity on her, but he knew with patience she would come around. The honest cure to her discomfort was time alone. What they truly needed were a few hours of uninterrupted intimacy... But their children had unintentionally put a delay on that plan.
It was no matter. They could wait.
He walked to the place where she had abandoned her thin woven blanket and bent over to pick it up and bundle it in his hands. He then moved to sit on the iron bench across from the fire, lifting one arm to lay invitingly on the back with space to spare beside him.
Esme didn't know exactly why she lingered on the far side of the garden, away from him when she should have been pasted to his side. The scrapes the newborns' teeth had left behind on her flesh felt inflamed from the friction beneath her clothes, and a part of her wanted to keep the wounds hidden from him out of shame. As a subtle explanation for her hesitation, she lifted a hand to discreetly rub the side of her neck.
"Let me see them," Carlisle beckoned her with a voice so gentle it made her stomach flutter.
It had been a long time since she'd felt that sensation because of his voice. Something about this night had changed her forever, making her realize just how precious her husband's care and attention was to her.
She hesitated at first, lingering at a distance while her fingers prodded the wounds on her skin, hiding the evidence of her pain from his prying eyes.
"If we can have nothing more, let us use this as a time for healing our physical wounds," he whispered keenly, beckoning her with his arm outstretched across his knee. His fingers extended towards her, curling ever so slightly inward as an invitation for her to come near.
Her brief moment of hesitation ended when she saw his fingers drawing her forward. She settled down beside him on the bench and tucked her hair over one shoulder, letting him view the half-healed gashes on her neck. His eyes blazed beautifully, reflecting the pain he saw in her etched flesh. Concern and anger spread over his face in a gentle mask, pulling his lips into a small frown as he carefully tugged her collar aside.
Esme made no move to resist, sitting in utter stillness as she awaited the promise of Carlisle's perpetual healing. One by one, he licked her wounds with the tip of his tongue – with a finesse only a familiar lover would have – and the intensity of a well-practiced physician. The sensual strokes warmed her from the inside out and soothed the sting beneath her weakened skin. When the soft beat of his breath did not burn her flesh any longer, she shyly slid her sleeve down over the curve of her shoulder, revealing the lacerations on her arm. He bowed his head without a word and touched his venom coated tongue to the aching marks while she closed her eyes, sighing her relief.
He sealed each moistened wound with a delicate kiss, moving swiftly but with ample care for each cut he treated. Occasionally he would whisper faint, unlinked words against her skin as he worked to heal her. Nothing he said formed a complete sentence, but rather a disconnected thought. He murmured vague little nouns as if they were poetry – "here" and "there" he repeated after every scrape was sealed. He talked to himself in the endearing way that good doctors sometimes do when they must treat a patient for whom they care very deeply. "I'll take care of you," "I have you," "I'll fix it... I'll fix everything."
She relished his familiar phrases, taking comfort in the quiet repetition, the predictable puffs of heat that accompanied his voice when he spoke so close to her bare skin. She was both relieved and a little bit sad when his attentions at last expired.
She nearly wept when he gently rolled her sleeve back up over her shoulder and cuffed the collar of her blouse against her neck. She could see a tiny glimmer of satisfaction in his kind eyes as he sat up straight and appraised her flawless skin. He had been so heartbreakingly thorough; she only hoped she could return the favor in some way, no matter how small.
Seeking his permission, she leaned forward and gingerly pressed her fingers to the firm space just below his Adam's apple.
"They didn't touch your neck..." she whispered in awe, feeling the utterly smooth skin that still shrouded his throat.
"I didn't let them," he said in a dark, hushed voice.
A hot, pleased spark filled her belly. Only she was allowed to touch his neck. Carlisle had protected himself against every attack that threatened to mar the sacredness of that space; he had preserved this precious place for her, even in a battle.
She leaned close and kissed the column of his throat anyway – a tranquil, chaste kiss – then looked searchingly up into his eyes.
In a hollow whisper, he murmured, "One bit my wrist," turning his hand over to reveal the pale remnants of the gash.
"You sealed it well," she observed, rotating his hand in the darkness to get a better look.
"The burning has subsided," he noted, stroking a finger over the faint crack in his flesh, "but it still aches."
Here, he was seeking her healing, she realized. Though Carlisle had been fortunate enough to emerge from the battle quite nearly unscathed, he still wished to have some physical wounds for her to cure. Esme diligently fulfilled his unspoken wish, tending to the already healed wound with her soft lips. On his wrist, she placed five lingering kisses, tasting him with the tip of her tongue each time. He marveled at the sensation, how her maternal nurturing offered him comfort while her innate sensuality tickled his desire. It was a perfectly stirring combination, one that he wanted to cling to for as long as he possibly could.
He was equally disappointed when she lifted her head and ceased her ministrations. For a good while they sat together in silence, listening to the song of the crickets and letting the cool, slightly sticky night air bathe them until they were chilled beneath their skin.
"I know what you feel," Esme spoke at last. She had studied her husband's eyes too long – so long that she knew not only what he felt, but what he wished he felt as well.
Carlisle knew there was nothing he could hide from her watchful eyes. Her maternally observant nature allowed her to see so far past what he showed on the exterior, it was useless trying to hide anything from her. Too often, Esme named his emotions before he could put a name to them himself.
"It is so strange, love. My body and mind feel almost weary," he confessed, his eyes drawn downward, his long lost accent lacing the ends of a broken whisper.
"Is it so unnatural for us?" his wife asked with a dim smile. Her hand rose to cup his cheek. "If there should be any night where we allow ourselves to feel this way, it would be tonight."
He looked around them in a series of furtive glances, as if double checking the garden to be sure they were indeed alone. Then his eyes came again to rest on her, confounded as he stared hard at her beautiful face. "Do you feel it as well? That all your physical strength has been spent?" he asked in a small voice, unsure.
Her eyes cocked slightly with a thoughtful twinkle, and her lip flickered into its corner, bringing a dimple to play upon her cheek. Carlisle's heart was comforted and filled with mirth at the sight, lost in an overwhelming urge to kiss her.
"Yes," she answered, her amber eyes glowing with honesty. Her hand turned over to graze her knuckles affectionately down his jaw. "You feel ... tired, in a way?"
He nodded, feeling that little winged pest of shame flutter away as she looked up at him with sheer understanding. His eyes fell closed as he nudged his cheek into her touch, savoring the warmth of her hand. "My body aches," he admitted, then in a passion-filled whisper, "but my spirit is thriving..."
Esme felt a chill run deep within her, chased down by a pang of sadness that she must wait to know the strength of his spirit another night. Her fingers on his cheek trembled with longing, her eyes worshipping his peaceful countenance while he feigned perfect slumber in her hand.
His eyes opened to her, and the light of the distant lantern danced within them. "Just think of all we have conquered together. You and I." His voice was always so delightfully firm when he spoke of them as an impenetrable pair, and it made her breath deepen.
She felt his fingers probing her own in her lap until they were intimately entwined – warm and tightly tangled. She gripped his hand hard, never wanting him to let her go.
She swallowed a thick forming lump in her throat and cast her eyes down to their hands. "Oh, my love," she sighed, bowing her head to press her lips to his tender knuckles. If Carlisle had any residing doubt in the blessings of his hands, Esme had slaughtered them on sight, insisting every one of his fingers was pure enough to deserve a fervent kiss.
"How you tempt me, Esme," he rasped, gentle desperation shining in his reverent eyes. "Please, let your lips speak with words and not touch... for now."
She smiled shyly to herself as she let go of his fingers. Where other men would become tongue-tied, Carlisle became indecently articulate, beckoning his anciently verbose manner of speaking. He would wince when a word of early English slipped from his tongue, but Esme would only chuckle in endearment.
She would have kissed that fleeting wince away, but he had so nobly requested that she withhold her touch for the time being. He stared into her eyes on the very edge of his wits, seeking redemption, which she granted in the form of a brief but reassuring smile.
As a move of mercy, she deigned to change the subject.
"Hm?" Just a tiny vibration of a word, yet he made it sound far too fond.
"Those flower petals that fell out of your book the other night?" She cocked her head and blinked her lovely eyelashes in a way that only she managed to make look affectionate. He could see that she had sought the answer to this question for many days now, and it thrilled him.
His eyes sparkled madly in the approaching blue light of dawn. "I knew you wanted to ask me."
"You never explained it... Not even then," she accused gently, moving closer to him on the bench and setting her hands on his lap.
"I never thought to tell you more than what you saw," he said regretfully, stroking her face with tender fingers. His voice lowered, his eyes searching. "You know the story already in your heart, I think."
"Tell me anyway," Esme demanded in a whisper. "Where did the flower come from?"
Carlisle looked longingly about the dimly lit garden before he began to explain in a soft voice, "I used to pick flowers so often when I was alone. The ones I pressed inside that book of Spanish poetry came from a garden in Pamplona."
Esme smiled, having guessed the flower was from an exotic place. She summoned its enchanting scent in her memory and closed her eyes before resting her head on his shoulder as he continued the story.
"I would take the flowers home with me and I would care for them until they wilted. I suppose I just needed something to nurture, something that would depend on me...and...appreciate me." His voice broke slightly at the memories, how he would sometimes grow so exceptionally lonely that he would even kiss the flower's petals. Perhaps one day he would share this secret with Esme. "I had just been longing for something that would receive my love," he added quietly.
"There was something about those particular flowers that I had grown very attached to, and I never wanted to part with them. So I pressed them inside my books and kept them with me forever." He draped his arm over the back of the bench and plucked a small Azalea bloom from the foliage to aid in his reminiscence. "Their fragrance has dulled and their color has muted, but I can still remember their scent – so sweet and exquisite – from when I'd first picked them off the vine." His voice faded as his fingers swept reverently over the fine purple petals.
He looked directly into Esme's face, and his gaze tickled her along with his distant smile. On an impulse, he tucked the flower behind her ear, stroking her hair back to make room for its perfect perch. The bright purple complemented her warm amber eyes so beautifully under a blanket of shadowy dawn. His heart was full as she looked up to him in a wide-eyed stare and asked in gentle pity, "You kept your flowers all those years?"
She watched, heartbroken, as downy lashes closed slowly over his eyes. His lips opened then closed just as quickly in a familiar gesture of hesitation. Without ever looking her straight in the eye, he broke silently under the weight of her expectant stare and let himself descend into her arms.
"Hold me closer," he commanded, his voice still deep and masculine, a glorious contrast to the burning plea in his words.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I just needed to know," she apologized quietly, generously strumming the muscles of his back to console him.
She could almost feel his feeble smile against her shoulder. "Oh, I want to share more with you, Esme. All of...this has made me wonder why I've still kept so much of my life a secret from you."
Esme smiled understandingly, her eyes drifting over his shoulder towards the distant light of dawn that sparkled between the trees. "You were always the one who told me that something good will inevitably come out of something we believe to be a curse."
"And it has, Esme," he whispered to her, his hands fastened firmly behind her back. "Something good has come of this already."
"I never doubted it," she confirmed boldly, feeling as if her eyes were swimming with real tears. "Deep down, I never did." The quiver in her voice prompted him to raise his head from her shoulder and look into her eyes. "I wanted you to know that, too," she whispered.
"I already knew," he told her with heartbreaking strength in his voice. "How could I not when I had only to watch you lay your life down for all of us the way you did out there?" He slowly shook his head in awe-filled disbelief. "You may not have recognized it then, but you had faith from the very beginning that it would be worth the struggle in the end."
"Because my heart was with yours the entire time." Her voice was like a soft coo, a whisper, a secret between lovers meant to be exchanged on a pillow.
Carlisle's face shone with inspiration against the darkness of the surrounding forest, his eyes glimmering like embers as his fingertips touched her face. "Lord, in this moment I cannot believe I will ever know doubt again," he marveled breathlessly, his hand rising up to cradle her cheek as if she were made of gold. "We can do anything, Esme. Anything."
They stared at each other with slightly sleepy smiles, some brimming hope being shared between their locked gazes, communing in an utterly silent exchange. He stared so deeply into her eyes that she began to feel a sweet shortness of breath, as if weights were being pressed ever so gently against her chest. The sensation overwhelmed her until she closed her eyes and tucked his hand snugly into her own, letting her senses savor his nearness.
She felt him lean close, his nose pressed to the fragrant petals of the blossom he had placed behind her ear. He left a chaste kiss on her temple and rested his head atop hers, staring out at the first peeks of sunrise that glistened green and gold between the trees.
"I missed the sun," Carlisle sighed, holding his wife tighter as he thought of all the wonderful things daylight promised.
Esme took a deep breath and turned to look out at the beautiful explosion of colors in the East, echoing his sigh.
"It always comes up again."
A/N: Thanks for all your kind reviews and comments on this story. I've enjoyed exploring this segment of Eclipse, and I was very happy to have so many readers along for the ride.
Chapter 8 in my story Our Love is Art will continue this scene where Esme and Carlisle finally have the house to themselves. So if you were hoping this scene would follow up with a lemon, be sure and visit Chapter 8, "Inspired by Turquoise" in Our Love is Art.