Just as I don't own Twilight, I also don't own Bram Stoker's Dracula.

"Checkmate." My voice was perhaps just a little too smug. Esme was growing steadily more annoyed as she continued to lose.

Snap. The brittle puzzle piece snapped in half under the pressure from her fingers.

OK, maybe I've taken this a little too far.

Esme was worrying about Carlisle's reaction when he found out she had broken a part of the chessboard he had given her - on my advice. As well as the extra books and the extra clothes and every other little thing she needed but was too considerate to ask him for. I had to admit that sometimes being a mind-reader did come in useful.

Well, I'm really sorry, Dr. Cullen. But the nice chessboard you bought me so I wouldn't be bored? I kind of lost my temper and broke the king. So no, I guess we won't be playing together today.

I snorted in amusement after she had finished her thought. Esme looked up at me and tried to figure out what had amused me. She decided I was simply laughing at her for breaking a chess piece. Her frustration at continuously losing was growing once more.

This was quickly proving itself to not be one of my better plans.

Even if Esme does finally manage to figure out what my talent is, she is going to go completely berserk at me.

I was well aware that telling her bluntly was probably the best option, but I had yet to find an easy way to fit it into a conversation. Especially considering that, given the content of her thoughts, she was even more likely to be aghast upon learning of my talent than the average vampire.

How does he keep beating me though? It's like he can read my mind of something.

She was finally catching on.

Don't be ridiculous, Esme. Vampire or not, he can't read your mind. Thank goodness for that.

I was once more treated to Esme's hazy memories of the daydreams she had once had about Carlisle as a human. Some of which were more graphic than I would have liked. They had been playing on her mind ever since he had kissed her cheek two weeks ago. She was still the same as ever – obsessed with her perfect fantasies. Though I had seen brief flashes of hope. She was now actually daring to leave her room and interact with the pair of us, and was therefore seeing more and more of our normal interactions. The thing that had really struck with her was when she had watched Carlisle and I argue – over something silly – and she had noted how truly like a father he was, even while we argued. These small things only made her love him more. Not that she had even admitted to herself that she was in love with him. The silly teenager she had been may had imagined herself in love, but the grown woman she now was didn't want to do something so childish.

Meanwhile, Carlisle remained just as clueless as her.

Maybe they can both read my mind, Esme continued to speculate. Maybe it's a vampire skill that I just haven't mastered yet.

She was so close to the truth and yet so far.

She cringed at the idea of me reading her mind and then cringed even more at the thought of Carlisle being able to do so. She didn't want him to know about her silly little daydreams. I resisted the urge to visibly grimace as she thought about the idea of him knowing about 'the stupid decisions she had undertaken as a human.'

What does it matter either way? Nobody can read your mind, Esme, stop being silly!

I tried my best to hid my amusement at her steadfast denial.

"Something funny, Edward?" Her words were very tart. I had definitely taken this too far.

"Sorry," I murmured. I knew I had to tell her now, though I could tell from what she had just been thinking that she was going to freak out. Though it might have bothered her even more if it was Carlisle who could read her mind, I knew she didn't want either of us knowing anything about her human husband.

"Is something wrong, Edward?" she asked, all tartness gone to be replaced with concern.

"Um… there's something I've been meaning to tell you. I probably should have told you a while ago, but I was worried about how you would react," I said with caution.

She looked at me curiously.

In the last month I've been told that I'm a vampire, that I can choose to live of animal blood if I wish, but I will always crave human blood, and that I'm now the strongest creature on the planet. What could possibly be so bad he wouldn't wish to tell me? What next - that they really do read minds?

The smile that was playing at her lips made it very clear just how ludicrous she thought that idea was.

Just get this over with, I told myself forcefully.

"Well yes – but only me. Carlisle can't."

She looked at me with her head tilted to the side in confusion and her brows furrowed.

"Only you can do what?"

"Read your mind."

He actually can read my mind! No, he has to lying! Quick, think of something. Erm… a b c d e f g -

I resisted the temptation to chuckle.

"You're reciting the alphabet."

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten -

"And now you're counting."

You can seriously read my mind? Did he hear that?

"Yes and yes."

Can you hear everything I think?

"Only what's going through your mind at this precise moment of time."

But he's been able to all this time! Oh no! Does he know about Charles?

I saw my own face in her thoughts. She had seen the anger that had crossed it at the mention of that monster. I quickly composed my face to a more neutral look. There was no need to scare her more.

That's a yes then. Her dejection was clear in that one sentence.

I was horrified by what I heard next. She thought I was angry at her for being stupid.

I gasped out loud. "How can you possibly think I'm angry at you?" I asked incredulously.

"Well, who then?" She asked, truly confused. She was unable to comprehend that I was angry of her behalf.

"That … that wretched man." I tried my best to disguise it, but my rage was still clear in my words.

What? He's angry on my behalf?

She was still struggling to comprehend the idea that I could actually care about her.

"Of course." I was overwhelmed by the emotion that flooded into her, so touched was she that I would even care. Somehow, it made me feel unworthy. I was only reacting as any decent person should. I did not deserve such a large response. This was just another sign of how effected Esme's psyche really was.

No doubt being Carlisle's mate will fix that, thankfully.

Wait, when did I start hoping that they would actually end up together?

"Thank you," she whispered.

"For what?" I asked, already certain I knew the answer and wishing I didn't.

"For caring."

"I'll never understand it. How anyone could ever hurt someone like you."

This only made her more emotional. I found myself very thankful that vampires can't cry. I wouldn't have known what to do with a crying woman. I was even more thankful when she decided against attempting to hug me.

Now that would have been awkward.

Esme was still trying to process the reprecussions of my revelation.

He's known … he's known all along. Ever since that first day. Panic flooded her. Oh no! Has he told Dr. Cullen?

"No, Esme, I haven't. I try to protect the privacy of those around me. You'll have to tell him yourself." She scowled at me, all earlier gratitude gone. She found the idea of telling Carlisle herself absurd. Almost, she reflected, as absurd an idea as telling him she had once daydreamed of being his wife. A short laugh escaped my lips despite my best efforts at containing it.

Oh no! Did he hear that? she panicked.

"Yes," I answered, trying my best not to smirk.

"You can't tell him, please," she begged. I heard her mortification at the idea.

"Didn't I just say I'd protect your privacy?"

"Yes," she sighed, relieved. "Thank you."

"Not that I think he'd mind," I mumbled without thinking.

She looked at me with her eyes wide with curiosity, as though beseeching me to explain.

"I think I'm going to go practise my piano for a bit." I announced. I was fully aware it was a pathetic attempt at changing topic. I left her pondering my words. But by the time I had begun to play she had already brushed them aside, deciding they obviously didn't mean what she hoped they did. She forcefully turned her attention back to the broken king and wished she had a way to fix it.

Damn strength. I was amused by her cursing. It never sounded right in her gentle tone. For, somehow, even in her irritation, her voice – and thoughts – always managed to remain softly-spoken.

~o~ ~O~ ~o~

Esme was playing chess against my father when I arrived back from school later that day. She was just about to 'win' another match. She felt victorious, as she had lost the last three after insisting that Carlisle stopped letting her win. This had given her the false impression that this victory would be a proper one. It wasn't.

"Winning, I see, Esme?" I called as I entered the room. Both of them smiled at me. Though I heard a flicker of worry in Carlisle's mind as he thought I might be about to tell her he was letting her win.

"It must be nice to win one on your own merit for a change," I added. I made sure to keep any trace of amusement out of my voice so Carlisle would know that I was going along with his ridiculous scheme. After all, I had nothing to gain from ruining it. All that would happen was that I would have to deal with two irate vampires. And it was rather fun to watch her rejoice over such obviously false victories.

Carlisle's intentions were a lot purer than mine. He simply wanted to make her smile.

"Checkmate," Esme declared. Carlisle was rewarded with his smile.

"Well played," he said, also smiling.

"Thank you. You, too."

"Fancy a game, Edward?" Carlisle asked.

"Maybe after our family hunt tonight?" I replied. I had heard the suggestion in Esme's thoughts just as she was about to say it.

"Now you're just showing off with the mind-reading thing," she mumbled. I was relieved to see her irritation was more for effect than anything else.

But I gleamed something interesting from Carlisle's thoughts. She was the one who had invited him to come hunting with us tonight. That certainly was a depart from tradition. I chuckled out loud as I saw the circumstances that it had come about from and the events that had followed.

"Snap?" I asked. "Seriously? Two grown vampires sat down and played a game of snap?"

Carlisle laughed. It wasn't thought about for my purpose, but I heard the answer to my question in Esme's mind. She had been playing solitaire when he had admitted it was a game he had used to play a lot as it was a game for one. He had then asked her if she knew any games for two players. The only game Esme had been able to think of was snap.

This was also the reason behind Esme's decision to include Carlisle in our hunt tonight. She had seen the loneliness that had once held such a strong hold on him and had wanted to remind him that it no longer did so.

More importantly, she had seen past the perfect doctor façade to the man that was wounded by centuries of rejection. She had seen a little bit of the real Carlisle and it had only made her affection stronger. And I was certain, as the days continued, she would see more and more, and her affection would never shrink. It truly gave me hope that she was exactly what my father needed.

"So, it appears we need a new dining table. Not that we eat of it anyway. But you two clearly need somewhere to play snap. Try not to break the next one, Esme."

She glared at me. Actually glared. And considering she was a woman who was both shorter and smaller than me with a soft motherly face, it was absolutely terrifying. I tried to convince myself it was just the vivid red eyes, but I wasn't truly able to fool myself.

I heard Carlisle's amusement as he watched us.

Scared? The voice was taunting. Sometimes I wondered which one of us was really the mind-reader.

I narrowed my eyes at him. "No," I answered tensely

"There's no shame in being scared, Edward. That was a very scary glare," Carlisle said. Every word was condescending and intended to be, if only to tease me.

Esme giggled.

"Wasn't scared," I muttered.

Yes, you were, Carlisle answered.

He did look rather scared, maybe my glare is scary. I never meant to upset you, Edward. If you can hear me.

"I can hear you," I told her.

"I'm sorry for scaring you," she told me. Her voice was oozing with sincerity. Carlisle bit back another laugh.

"Wasn't scared," I muttered again.

Carlisle simply raised an eyebrow at me while his thoughts still poured scorn on my words.

"Weren't we going to hunt?" I asked.

Nice subject change, Carlisle thought.

Who knew a happy Carlisle could be so annoying? I mused. Both of them were on some sort of happy high after an enjoyable afternoon spent in each other's company, even if all they had been doing was playing board and card games.

"Has the sun cleared up?" Carlisle asked out loud. We had been having unseasonably cloudy weather until today. At his words, Esme had begun to recall another event from earlier that day. She had seen how her skin glistened in the sun for the first time. Unlike me, who had been horrified, she had been mesmerised. Though that had mostly been due to the fact that Carlisle had been stood beside her with his skin all glittery too.

"Yes," I told Carlisle.

"Shall we go then?" Esme asked with a smile. With a nod in her direction, Carlisle headed for the door. Esme and I followed him.

~o~ ~O~ ~o~

"Checkmate," Carlisle told me with a smirk. I knocked my king (the unbroken one) over with so much force I was surprised I didn't copy Esme and break it.

"Can you please find some new blocking material?" I demanded with a sigh. "Using Dracula wasn't even funny the first time round."

But the fact that it annoys you so much distracts you even more.

"You're a mean old man," I told him sternly.

Esme laughed. "No, you're not," she comforted him. "By the way, what is Dracula?"

"It's a novel about vampires," Carlisle told her.

"Well, a human's idea of vampires," I added. "All those vampire clichés? You can blame Bram Stoker for them."

"It's still a fascinating book," Carlisle countered. "After all, it is suppose to be a work of fiction. Plus, looking at a human's idea of vampires is intriguing." I rolled my eyes at him – I had heard this all before.

He turned his attention back to Esme. "I should have a copy upstairs if you'd like to read it."

"I'd like that very much. Thank you, Carlisle." It took me a few seconds to realize what was different about that sentence – it was the first time I'd ever heard her call him Carlisle. She had surprised even herself since she had said it without even having to remind herself that it was what he preferred. It was yet another baby step, but it was a step none the less.

"Another game?" I challenged. "Without the goddamn Dracula."

Don't swear in front of Esme, Edward, Carlisle chided me.

I resisted the temptation to sigh and instead muttered an apology to Esme, who simply waved it away.

We moved all the pieces back to their starting place. But as soon as Carlisle moved the first pawn, it started again.

'When the Count saw my face, his eyes blazed with a sort of demonaic fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there.'

"Just for that old man, I'm going to beat you," I warned him.

Unfortunately, I didn't. My reaction was a little more juvenile than I had intended. I had slammed the door perhaps a little too hard upon my exit.

Carlisle and Esme, however, were more amused than anything.

"No one likes a sore loser, son," Carlisle called up the stairs.

"At least I didn't snap the king," I mumbled.

"Yes, but I don't cheat, Edward," Carlisle reminded me. "So you're not allowed to lose your temper at me."

"Will he be okay?" Esme asked. She was worried that they had taken their teasing too far. Carlisle just chuckled slightly.

"He knows we're only teasing. Right, son?" I had to smile when he raised his voice on the last part, as though it was necessary for me to hear him.

"Yes," I agreed tiredly. "And there's no need to shout, Dad!" I shouted that part on purpose. It was only when I heard Carlisle's happiness and how Esme registered the smile that had spread across his face that I realized exactly what I had just said.

I probably should try and call Carlisle by his first name less.

But though I knew how happy it made him, it still made me uncomfortable. I knew I would never forget the love I'd had for my human father, but sometimes I still didn't like the feeling that I was replacing him.

Will Esme one day try and replace my mother?

I shied away from that idea. I had been even closer to my mother than my father. The idea of replacing her was unthinkable.

~o~ ~O~ ~o~

As I approached the house the next day, Esme's thoughts were all over the place. She had heard my footsteps and was now scrambling desperately through her brain for something to block me with. Whatever it was she was trying to hide, she was terribly scared of me hearing it.

"Esme?" I called as I entered the house.

"Edward." She jumped up out of her seat as I walked in. An unravelled pile of knitting lay at her feet. Her voice was overly enthusiastic.

Don't let him hear. Don't let him hear. Don't let him hear.

"Esme, what's wrong?" I asked cautiously. I took in my surroundings. The only difference I noticed was that there was a fire lit in the fireplace for once.

"Nothing," she said, overly airy. It was the least convincing act I'd ever seen.

I looked at her incredulously.

"Please," she begged. "Please, don't ask. Don't, don't listen. Please."

She was seriously worrying me now. "Esme, what happened?" I demanded.

"I can't tell you," she insisted. "I just can't." She was shaking her head as she spoke. "Please, please, I knows it's a lot to ask. But I need, I need some time alone. To think. In private. Please." If Carlisle had made such a request I would have turned him down flat, but there was something about Esme's demeanour that unnerved me. She was shaken up. So scared and, for whatever reason, ashamed.

"Please," she asked again. Underneath her frantic attempts to keep me out I heard her considering her options. She was deciding between staying here and having to simply deal with it (whatever it was) or leaving.

"Esme, you can't leave," I told her.

I didn't even want to imagine what that would do to Carlisle.

"I won't," she promised. "Not right away anyway. I just need time to think. Please." She looked like she was on the verge of tears (even though it was an impossibility).

"OK," I agreed. "I'm going to go and hunt."

"Thank you," she whispered. She was almost shaking with relief.

I turned on my heel and ran out the door. Though it would have been easy to stay within my mental hearing range and listen in without her knowing, I continued to run until the world was silent around me. Whatever it was that had her so upset, it was clearly deeply personal – the very sort of thing I usually tried my best to avoid hearing from her or Carlisle.

The silence was golden. Ever since Carlisle had brought Esme home there had been so little of it, as I had lost the wonderful moments when it was just me and no other thoughts in the house. And with a newborn in the house I never got the chance to hunt alone. Though I supposed there would be nothing but silence once I had upped and left as I intended to do once Carlisle and Esme came to their senses. Which had to be any day now. After all, if Esme and I were playing a game of strategies over who got to stay I was helping her win just as much as Carlisle did when she played him at chess. But despite all that, the idea still didn't sit comfortably with me. In the days before Esme had joined us I had quickly grown bored of the silence after awhile. I wasn't looking forward to having to deal with it permanently. Of course, I could always do what Carlisle had done and go to university or get a job, but just like him I wouldn't be able to interact properly with my classmates or colleagues. I would be alone, just like he had. The very thing last thing, I was certain, he had intended when he changed me.

I had often tried to imagine how he had dealtt with such intense loneliness but I could never comprehend it. I had given it even more thought after my recent decision and still didn't understand it. But it had been enough to remind me exactly what it would be like for me once I left.

Maybe such drastic action isn't necessary at this moment at time. After all, it's the last thing Carlisle will want me to do. And Esme will feel guilty. So what's the point if I don't even really want to?

I shook my head as if to shake away the thoughts I didn't want to think about. Instead, I concentrated on the present and tried to figure out what had got Esme so fired up. I came up with nothing, however, and so decided actually hunting was a more useful use of my time. I ran north until I came across a mountain lion, which were always good sport, and considering I had hunted just yesterday with Carlisle and Esme I was hunting as much for the sport as for the blood.

This particular lion put up a good fight but I managed to take it down without so much as ripping my shirt. It was a long way off from the early days where I had come home from every hunt covered in blood.

After I had buried the lion's carcass I began to meander around the woods aimlessly. I wondered if Esme had had enough time to think yet as I was quickly growing bored. I glanced down at my watch and realized Carlisle would arrive home soon. I wondered if he would be greeted with the same bizarre welcome I had and even if he was perhaps the reason for it.

I came to an abrupt stop, freezing up. A sudden flare of panic spread through me as I remembered what I had seen in the living room. I had been concentrating so deeply on Esme I hadn't really given it much thought at the time.

The fire. She had lit the fire.

Without a second thought, I was rushing as fast as I possibly could back towards our house. There was a good reason the fire was never lit in our house. Carlisle was a pyrophobic, a fear stemming all the way back to his human life and the public burnings his father had been so fond of. Even now, two and a half centuries later, he avoided fire at all costs.

As I neared our home I was surprised to hear two minds within our home. Carlisle must have got home earlier than I had expected him to.

I heard the fire crackling in the background of Carlisle's mind, but for once he wasn't concerned by it. I quickly learned why.

I came to a standstill as both sets of thoughts fully registered within my mind. I had seen it coming for ages, but it still managed to take me by surprise.

Checkmate. Esme had won our little game. But maybe I had been wrong and there had never been any game to began with. Maybe, this time, there didn't have to be a loser. Just three winners.

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