The Shepherd's Smile

By Mackenzie L.

Back in November, a couple readers dropped some hints that I should write a Carlisle/Esme one-shot inspired by the movie, Breaking Dawn: Part I. After finally finding the time to go to the theater and actually see the movie (shame on me for waiting so long!), I was able to gather enough scraps of inspiration to fulfill their request. I hope the outcome lives up to your expectations!

*The Twilight Saga and all its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer.

-}0{-

On the night before his son's wedding, Carlisle had planned to give Edward a card with a letter inside it. It was slim and white, with gold border on the edges, and on its cover was an illustration of a shepherd watching over his lamb, symbolic of a father who must let go of his son. Esme was not privileged to know the precise message her husband had scripted inside that card, but she knew it was much more than a simple congratulations.

When Carlisle wrote a letter to someone, he took his time making it the best that it could be. He could sometimes spend several hours at a time pondering the perfect words to write. He was meticulous and devoted, and entirely engrossed in the process.

Three nights before the wedding, Esme watched her husband write this mysterious card to Edward. He sat at the desk in their bedroom, next to the windows where he could see the trees through the wide panels of glass. He said having trees nearby made him feel protected while he wrote. When he was younger, Carlisle used to climb a tree just so he could have the personal space to write in his journal.

Esme sometimes wondered if he had broken the habit.

She wanted desperately to know what Carlisle was writing to Edward, what sorts of things he thought were important to say to his son before his wedding. She knew it was private, for Edward's eyes only. Still, she wondered while she watched him. Every so often Carlisle would pause and hold the pen to his lip in deep thought. He would peer out the window, and something would strike him, and his hand would meet the paper with an inspired thud, poised to begin another session of feverish scribbling.

There was a calm but incessant fire in Carlisle's eyes as he formed the words on paper. Sometimes he would murmur them half-aloud as he wrote them down, and Esme tried in vain to read his lips as he did it. But he was very careful not to reveal anything more than a few misplaced adjectives and vague pronouns.

He had lit a candle to aid him while he worked, which he now only did when he intended to write something important, something passionate. She felt somewhat guilty just staring at him while he wrote, resisting the constant urge to sneak up behind his shoulder and peek at the words on the page.

In the middle of the night, Carlisle finally finished writing, and Esme was sure it must have been an epic masterpiece by the satisfied gleam in his eyes as he signed his name at the bottom and sealed it into an envelope. He scribbled Edward's name on the front and paced around the bedroom for several minutes, deciding on the best place to keep it until the night before the wedding.

He could be so eccentric sometimes.

Edward would know all about the card and its whereabouts no matter how cleverly Carlisle had hidden it.

Not only that, but Esme sincerely doubted that Edward would come stalking into his parents' bedroom looking for the note his father planned to give him the day before his wedding.

But Esme's logical sense didn't stop Carlisle's frantic search for the perfect hiding spot. Eventually he settled with keeping the card in the pocket of his lab coat, which he then hung in the very back of their closet.

Needless to say, the card remained perfectly safe in the same spot until midnight before Edward and Bella's wedding.

-}0{-

There were many things Esme did not discover about Carlisle until long after they were married.

There were many things she should have known about him before she married him, but she simply hadn't guessed those things until they both wore wedding bands on their fingers.

For instance, she should have known he would talk about his patients often, sometimes for hours at a time. He was so viciously involved in the lives of those he cared for. He was high on his personal victory whenever he had a successful surgery, and he was just as readily torn apart whenever one of his patients passed away.

She should have known Carlisle would never stop writing incessantly every spare moment he had. His attention, though fixed on greater things once he had a wife on his arm, was not liable to spare the time he still yearned to spend, tied to the sofa in his study with an open journal in his lap.

She should have known he would make love the same way he wrote – with ardor and passion, with unabashed intensity, and with fierce concentration. He ministered every touch as effortlessly as he wove the words of one of his poems – with infinite care and an unfathomable technique that had been naturally ingrained into his own two hands...his generous, talented, life-saving hands.

His palms were warm and powerful as they handled her body. Even as he discovered her secrets, inch by inch, he somehow seemed so very in tune with her unspoken desires. He knew just how to touch her, with perfect pressure and measure and force. His every caress was set to a precious rhythm of his own invention – his fingers kneading her skin at a sensual, soothing pace. He allowed his hands to make love to her waist, to christen the pillowy flesh of her thighs, preparing her for the load of his love. He felt her more than simply touched her, and it was so beautifully strange – a tender, grasping act that she savored almost as much as the union that followed. She could feel the quiet desperation building in his hands, could sense every one of his unvoiced feelings in the way he held her. His strength would swell and fade, his concentration would waver one moment, then solidify the next, like frost on molten metal. His touch was always changing, in a curious ebb and flow that was stirringly reminiscent of the way he sculpted. His behavior in bed was quite the same as his behavior in his sculpting cellar. He was a slave to his own dancing emotions, a reckless sailor willing to let himself drown in a sea of sensations.

He was almost too intense at times, with a stare that threatened to slice her in half. He showed her everything of himself while simultaneously hiding those little bits and pieces that she could never quite read. His "fine print", as she liked to call it, kept him an endless enigma to her. Carlisle ensured that every time they made love, they embarked on a journey that never reached a point of complete satisfaction. No matter how weak with pleasure or how drenched with fulfillment she felt after they were through, there was still a lingering glimmer of wonder in her heart, a thrilling note of curiosity that echoed in her soul in anticipation for the next time they would unite themselves this way, what she might discover the following night when he disrobed himself for her exploration.

No matter how many times they did it, she was always fascinated by the utter trust and vulnerability he showed when he undressed himself for her, revealing a glorious landscape of naked skin. He treated it as a profane surrender, a generous offering, an almost spiritual sacrifice. He unbound himself from all earthly concerns until he was splayed out before her, like a pale velvet treasure map. Like a lost little girl who needed to find her way, Esme diligently traced upon him a hundred different routes she could take to reach her home.

Each of his limbs was heavy and smooth, perfectly equal in weight and texture and length. There were certain spots on him that were hotter than the rest of his body – his neck, his hands, his inner thighs. She gravitated toward those parts, but she did not exclude the rest of him. Every bit of him was exquisite. Her fingertips would be sore and tingly after hours of studying his beautiful, hard, sensual body.

After they had exhausted themselves with their passion, he would lay himself down beside her and smile to himself – a soft, achy little smile that made her burn to know what he was thinking. The moment was almost always the same, shortly after his release; he settled by her side, closed his eyes, and smiled that very same smile. Sometimes she could hardly see it, it was so vague. Sometimes she wondered if it was even there, or if she was only imagining it.

That smile, as it gently touched his lips, was perfect. It was content, but not haughty. Peaceful, and blissful, and delicate. He looked as if he were adrift in the flowing river of his mind, willing prey to wherever the current might take him. His neck would tilt back, his head resting against the pillow, his entire body and expression radiating a sense of utter fulfillment. His hand would reach out to find some part of the woman who lay beside him, and he would cling to her with the little strength he had left, holding tightly to his treasure.

In the endlessly youthful contours and angles of her husband's handsome face, Esme saw the years of his past finally reconciled by the love she had given him. She knew that, behind his closed eyes, he was savoring that love, relishing its glorious aftereffects, marveling that he now had what he had dreamed of for so long. She saw a man, worn down by loneliness, exhausted by the violently unfair pull of time, at last redeemed in her arms. She reckoned that no one else had ever seen nor would ever see Carlisle this way...only her. Only she had ever seen that peaceful, blissful, delicate smile.

This was why, on their son's wedding day, Esme was shocked to see that very same smile make an appearance on her husband's face.

It had only ever been a figment of an expression, something reserved only for their times alone together. But here in the open, with an audience of friends, family, and complete strangers, she caught a glimpse of that precious smile when the words "I do" were exchanged on the altar between Edward and Bella.

Perhaps it was just an accidental sight. A trick of the light or a spark of her imagination running away with her again. Carlisle couldn't have been smiling that smile at a time like this. Could he...?

As if he sensed her concern, he turned to her in the middle of the ceremony and offered her a familiar smile that was only hers to claim. He reached down and found her hand, forming a quick bond of interlaced palms which they kept tightly intact for the rest of the service.

Carlisle watched the wedding intently, his eyes mostly drifting to Edward even when Bella took her turns to speak. He wanted to see every inflection on his son's face while the love of his life recited strings of timeless promises to him.

Carlisle's reactions struck her as peculiar at times, but often her own reactions were just the same as his. A moment would come during the service – a significant word or a glance – and they would grip each other's hand in recognition, acknowledging the moment they had both shared in perfect silence.

He smiled again and again and again, for different reasons – some understood by her, some unknown. On occasion, he assaulted her obliviously with the unforeseen appearance of his dimples. Oh, those dimples. In secret, they infuriated her, peeking out at her tauntingly before they disappeared again, melting swiftly into his flesh as each smile faded.

Every time Carlisle smiled like that, Esme was strongly reminded of that card with the shepherd and sheep on its cover. In her lovingly suspicious mind, she was sure that he must have been thinking of the message he had written inside it, the message only he and his son shared. If only she had known how persistently the contents of that card would tickle her curiosity, she would have taken a peek inside it when she had the chance...

Her suspicions softened a bit as they neared the end of the ceremony. When Bella stood on her tiptoes and kissed Edward for the first time as his wife, Esme felt her husband's hand tighten painfully around her own, and just for that moment, all was right in the world.

Carlisle's smile was broad and boyish as he watched his first son walk his new wife down the aisle. Esme knew her own smile was probably just as foolish looking. But that was the beauty of it all.

The crowds filed out, slipped away, moved onward to the reception that followed the service. But the father of the groom lingered behind, staring at the altar where his son had just announced his vows to the woman he loved.

Shuffling trails of fallen flower petals with her high heels, Esme walked up behind Carlisle, propped her chin on his shoulder and squeezed his elbow, offering him a tentative invitation back to reality.

"It all went so quickly, didn't it?" he asked in a raspy voice, his eyes shining with liquid wonder as he continued to stare at the tousled garlands and white laced drapery, the lovely remnants of the matrimonial ceremony.

"Like a flash of lightning," his wife agreed.

A brisk breeze fluttered around them, painting a chill on the surface of their immortal skin before it swept away. Esme ducked behind her husband's shoulder to escape the wind, her cheek pressing into his solid back.

"Our son is married," she whispered gleefully from her hiding place.

Carlisle sighed as if the weight of the earth itself had been lifted off his shoulders.

"Finally."

-}0{-

The reception was entertaining and enjoyable, not as emotional as the ceremony itself had been, but still filled with its own number of sentimental moments.

Throughout the evening, Esme kept a close watch on Carlisle's lips, waiting for a hint that they might offer up another mysterious smile for the world to see. She kept vigil on him during the toasts, noting the ways his expression would change in reaction to heartbreak and humor.

She thought she caught him smiling that way, once in a while, whenever no one else was looking. When someone handed him a glass of champagne, instead of wincing, he made that smile again. It was so unassuming, so odd and out of place. So sweetly infuriating to her.

Not even Edward was acting so dreamily.

She confronted Carlisle about it when they had a moment to themselves, isolated among a dozen other couples in the midst of a slow dance.

"You're awfully quiet tonight for a man whose son has just gotten married after a century of waiting," she teased, careful to keep her voice quiet enough that no one else would hear the revealing joke.

Another peaceful little smile.

She playfully poked the back of his neck with her fingers. "Aren't you going to defend yourself?"

"Why would I defend myself against the truth?" he asked innocently.

Her bright yellow eyes narrowed. "So you admit you're acting strange?"

"I didn't realize being quiet was 'acting strange'." He half-chuckled, eyeing her with a look of perplexed curiosity.

Esme sighed hopelessly and turned her attention down to her hands as they slid subconsciously over the lapels of her husband's tuxedo, straightening them out. Her fingers paused to caress the petals of the small white boutonnière pinned on his jacket, until she heard his swift breath of amused relief at her distraction.

He wouldn't get away from the topic so easily.

"There must be something on your mind," she pressed, her voice turning sweet as her hands returned to grasp his shoulders.

His eyes pierced her quickly before flitting across the dance floor, as if he were afraid that others were eavesdropping on their conversation.

"There is," he answered vaguely, his expression solemnly pensive. "Not just 'something'. A lot of things."

One of them must have surely been that card...

She grinned suggestively over her shoulder as he slowly twirled her on cue with the music. "Care to share?"

He smiled just as mischievously as he gathered her back against him, pinning her chest firmly against his.

"Maybe some other time…when there aren't so many high school students I barely know within earshot."

She giggled.

Esme never did get another chance to ask Carlisle what was on his mind that night.

But before the party ended, she made a special trip to the dessert table, determined that her husband would not be leaving that night without a trace of powdered sugar on his sleeve.

-}0{-

At the close of the reception, they all gathered outside the house to wave goodbye to the newlyweds, all of them secretly craving a honeymoon of their own. It was the easiest thing in the world to retreat into the night when it was all over, each couple scattering to their own personal haven in the hopes of escaping the troubles and worries of their lives for one final night before the storm of change rained down over their home.

At quarter after one in the morning, Esme tugged her husband up the hill in the back of their house to her hidden garden, pausing by each foot lantern to light their way as she went.

The night was fragrant with the smell of rain, herbs and earth, and a trace of cinder. As a gardener, Esme had discovered that the scents of nature were more potent in the later hours of night.

Carlisle's hand gripped her elbow as he followed her around, the pressure of his fingers just verging on desperate. She sometimes thought that the darkness made him more clingy with her. It was just another endearing habit of his, one he probably never noticed.

She smiled to herself as he changed the direction of her intended path, leading her to the wooden bench beside the small fountain. It was their favorite place to sit up here in the garden, drawn as they were by the soothing sound of water trickling on the rocks. With familiar ease, Esme settled beside her husband on the bench, linking their hands in his lap.

After the whirlwind of events that had led them to this point, it was wonderful just to soak in the stillness of nature and be free of the hectic worries that had filled the day. All the preparations and the stress of the wedding were now expired, and in their wake there was only peace and quiet in the cool, blissful night.

Esme burrowed her nose in Carlisle's shirt, picking up the lingering scents of champagne, baby's breath, and almond extract from bland flavored wedding cookies. Fleeting images of the reception flooded her mind, each moment recreated in hues and colors that were brighter than life. She recalled how beautifully Bella's parents had smiled when they had their pictures taken together with the bride. How wonderfully infectious Edward's joy had been as he danced across the floor with Bella in his arms. How happy Alice, Jasper, Emmett, and Rose had been for their brother. How proud and content her husband had looked as he took in the scene before him...

"You remember what it was like, don't you?" Carlisle suddenly asked, his soft voice piercing the thick silence of the night.

Immediately she turned to glance up at him in the low, sparkly light of the lanterns, question written on her face. "What, darling?"

His eyes twinkled fondly as he stared at her lips, then back into her eyes. "Getting married."

She gave him a gentle smirk of understanding. "How could I forget?"

He fully acknowledged that she had a flawless recollection of past events, just as he did. But when Carlisle asked Esme if she remembered something, he was really asking her if she still felt it as she had long ago.

"Not just the memory itself," he clarified, his voice husky as his eyes drifted toward the flickering fire in the lantern. "The emotions, the anticipation, the hope...?"

"Everything," she assured him, her hand firm against his heart. "I remember it all, sweetheart." She massaged tiny circles into his strong ribs with her fingertips as he sighed.

"Watching our son go through it all...it was almost like I was revisiting it through his eyes."

So that explained all of the mysterious smiles.

"I could tell," she whispered knowingly.

"Everything was perfect," Carlisle continued, reflecting on the events of the day with a smitten expression as his gaze turned skyward. His head rested against the back of the bench, his blond hair falling loose of its conservatively combed style. A youthful grin flashed on his lips, his teeth shining softly in the moonlight. "I'd never seen Edward and Bella look happier than they did tonight."

"They have every reason in the world to be at their happiest," Esme agreed, her voice mirroring her husband's infectious joy. Her fingers traced a delicate line up the exposed column of his throat until she reached his chin. "It doesn't get any better than this..."

Her traveling fingers reached a standstill when she saw his neck muscles flinch. He had swallowed heavily, evidence that something was provoking tension in his thoughts. Esme sat up straighter to get a better look at his newly worried expression, tapping his collarbone in a silent request for him to speak.

In the warm cradle of his lap, she felt his hand squeeze hers more tightly as he whispered, "Still, I pray for them."

His simple remark brought a whole frightening vista of concerns to the forefront of her mind.

Esme straightened to full posture beside her husband, her low voice colored by hints of maternal trepidation.

"You spoke to Edward, didn't you? About being careful with her…?"

When she did not get the response she wanted from Carlisle, she pressed her hand more forcefully against his chest, demanding his undivided attention.

The shift in their conversation, from lighthearted to serious, was palpable as he lifted his head and locked eyes with her. He exhaled deeply before giving her a vague explanation.

"I made it clear to him what should and should not be done. I trust his judgment as much as I trust his control. And I am certain Bella's faith in him is as strong as mine."

Though her heart may have been convinced by Carlisle's apparent certainty in the situation, Esme still wasn't satisfied with his assurances. She bit down on her lip until her teeth had dented the sensitive flesh, her thoughts churning with a thousand frightening ways her son's honeymoon could turn into a disaster of daunting proportions.

In the midst of the haunting darkness she sensed closing in around her, she felt Carlisle pull her hand tighter to his heart. "They will be fine," he whispered, his voice flavored with the delicious raggedness of absolution.

Esme's eyelids flickered as she came slowly back into reality, a patient pair of lips chasing away her fearful thoughts as they adorned her hairline with a tiara of gentle kisses.

Carlisle's hand cupped the side of her face, forcing her into a more relaxed position against him. As she reluctantly rested her head back onto his chest, her eyes became hypnotized by the dancing lights of the lanterns surrounding them, and her ears were lulled into numbness by the drone of crickets in the trees above.

"You truly have no doubts about this?" she murmured into his collar, feeling oddly as though she were on the cusp of sleep.

"None." The single word was sure and soft on his tongue, his unabashed confidence as clear and crisp as the crescent moon in the dark night.

As he wrapped his arms around her and stroked her hair, Esme drifted slowly back into the realm of her own restless, confused thoughts. Secretly she thought it strange for Carlisle to condone something that he had always regarded as dangerous, a scandalous abomination. As much as she hated to admit it, there was something delicious about the fact that Carlisle so readily gave his blessing to Edward to make love to a vulnerable human girl.

Carlisle truly believed that their love, being genuine, was enough to protect them.

Under any other circumstances, Esme would have taken her husband's side without a question. In any other situation, when Carlisle had no doubts in his mind about something, then it had to be right. But this... this was entirely different. This time Esme could not just sit back and believe every word Carlisle spoon-fed her. This time she had doubts of her own – deep, gut instinct, motherly doubts – and they were too powerful for her to ignore.

"But, Carlisle...something may go wrong," she said tremulously, her voice raising in volume slightly, hoping that somehow he could grasp her perspective.

But he was just as sure of himself, just as composed and content as before. "Alice has foreseen nothing to make us worry."

Something small and irritable inside Esme snapped abruptly at the mention of their daughter's faulty precognition. With a scoff she disentangled herself from Carlisle's arms and stood up.

"We both know that isn't enough," she insisted, her tone quiet but sharp. "There's still a chance—"

At once he stood too, denying her the time she needed to even finish her sentence.

"Esme." He said her name, soft but stern, like the hint of a gravelly growl that punctuates a grown lion's purr. "Over the past few months our son has shown us all that he is capable of. Now more than ever, we are being called to trust him." When he saw the glint of refute in her eyes, he silenced her with a finger to her lips. "We must trust him, my love. After everything he has proven to us and all that he has done thus far, how can we not?"

Carlisle's eyes glistened with hopefulness, and a twinge of torture at the notion that his own wife could not see things the way he did in that moment.

"It isn't that I don't trust him," Esme countered fervently, gently prying Carlisle's fingers away from her lips. "I do trust Edward, with all my heart – nearly as much as I trust you. And yes, he has been nothing short of remarkable with regards to his control since he met Bella... But—"

Her sentence was cut short again as Carlisle intervened with an earnestly pleading kiss. She froze in surprise at his juvenile tactic of interruption, and for a moment her frustration was lost in the blissful dance of his tongue against hers. "No..." he whispered against her open lips, letting her taste the gentle curtness of the word. "No, Esme. I will not let you argue with me about this."

With that, he forced her into another kiss, this one slightly fuller, more impassioned than before.

Her faint indignation with him had not fled even in the midst of his passionate persuasion. Even so, she selfishly let him take her deeper into the kiss, into a sweet embrace that lasted but a few precious moments before she felt the uncontainable urge to resist. Her simmering vexation with all that had been left unsaid was the only thing that kept her from letting herself become lost in his arms.

When Carlisle finally allowed a break in their kiss, Esme seized advantage of the moment to seek out more information from him. "Tell me, when you spoke to Edward about the...dangers of being with a human...did he seem confident in himself?"

Carlisle paused with a pout on his swollen lips, still aching from their unfinished kiss. A cloud of weariness billowed behind his eyes, as though he regretted answering her probing question.

"Please, Carlisle, I need to know," she implored, raking her fingers beseechingly through the soft ends of his hair. "Maybe it will put my mind at peace, as it has yours."

Though he looked ironically anything but at peace in the moment, he at least managed to craft a careful response to her incessant questions.

"Edward was...receptive to all that I had to say to him." He licked his lips and looked away. "I should not reveal anymore than that."

Esme let her hands fall dejectedly to his shoulders, but held on tightly, forcing him to see that she would not give up.

"I am aware that the nature of such a conversation is private," she said sternly before taming the tone of her voice to something a bit softer. "But seeing as I am your wife, I think I have a right to know more than just a vague detail or two of what you have been telling our son."

She was convinced it was the gentle emphasis she'd placed on the words "our son" that inspired him to give in.

Carlisle heaved a weighty sigh and stepped back, suddenly uncomfortable with the conversation. His eyes scanned the ground while he spoke quietly. "He did express some concern at first...but I encouraged him. I told him that I believed such relations between a vampire and a human were possible." His voice became firmer when he finally looked up at her. "And I do. I do believe that."

"You encouraged him?" Esme repeated in an outraged whisper, her fingers curling at her hips.

But Carlisle responded with a heightened passion, threatened by his wife's apparent disapproval. The cadence of his voice quickened, became desperate and pleading and rushed.

"I said what I needed to say, Esme! How could I look my son in the eye and tell him that he cannot love his wife the way every other husband can?" He stepped forward into her personal space, the harshness of his voice melting into something deep and tender, catering to her sensitivity. "How could I tell him that he cannot love Bella the way that I can love you?" He brought weight to his words with a simple caress of his fingertips beneath her chin.

She trembled under the spell of his touch, fighting her heart's will to comply in favor of sense and reason. "It isn't the same," she rasped.

"Isn't it?"

He should have been angry with her for denying him still, but his two carefully whispered words held nothing but love.

"They could wait," she refuted flatly. "They could wait until Bella has been turned, when it isn't so dangerous."

To her shock, Carlisle's lips broke into a darkly amused little smile, his eyes shimmering with fervid disagreement. "And if someone had told us to wait on our wedding night, would you have been willing to listen to them?"

His eyebrows lifted, challenging her to argue. But her tongue had lost its fire.

Carlisle, it seemed, had taken the fire from her and molded it into something seductively gentle. "Love is not meant to be restrained by mere differences of flesh. You of all people should know that, Bright Eyes."

Esme's heart quivered with appreciation at hearing her sentimental nickname. Instantly, her defenses crumbled as she took hold of her husband's wrist and held him firmly. "I know that," she murmured, eyelashes turning down in chagrin. "Until now I was sure everything would be fine, too. But now...I'm just so worried about them, Carlisle."

"I understand, sweetheart. And I do not blame you for it. You are a mother through and through. It is only natural that you worry for your children's safety."

"But you're still their father. How do you not worry?"

His brow furrowed in thought for a brief moment before he sighed in acceptance of having no answer.

"I can't really explain how. My heart knows certain things to be true, and this is one truth I am most sure about. No harm will come to either of them...so long as their love is honest," he whispered as he gently touched various features of her face, "and pure."

Calmed by his random, delicate touches, Esme submitted to the monotonous lullaby of the night once again, nestling her head against her husband's neck.

"Oh, to have your faith," she whispered to the fabric of his shirt.

He chuckled deeply. "You already have it, my love." He tilted her head up to look into her eyes. "You always have."

For the tenth time that day, that same soft, unfathomably contented smile appeared on Carlisle's face. But this time Esme knew that it wasn't just her imagination. And this time he was not sharing it with anyone else. This time, it was all hers.

He stared into her eyes with reckless depth, his hands winding intimately around her waist as he pulled her closer in the darkness. The fire that burned in the lanterns around their feet cooled and dimmed as the night wore on. Minutes passed but time felt as if it were standing still, until the anticipation building between them burned out.

A kiss of mutual permission came at long last – deep, hungry and appealingly possessive.

This, Esme thought, was what true love did to people. In that moment, as she felt herself drowning in the heat of her husband's boundless love, she understood why it had been impossible for him to discourage Edward from pursuing gratification of his feelings for Bella. How could anyone escape the precious pangs of desire, ignore their own heart when it was aflame with erotic curiosities? How could any sane couple deny the overwhelming need to share themselves completely with each other?

In the wonderfully hot, tangling, confusion of love's embrace, all earthly concerns were tossed aside. Risking one's safety was an understandable sacrifice to experience the most precious miracles of marriage.

Esme remembered so clearly how she had felt about these things when she first married Carlisle. She would be a hypocrite to claim that she had not been just as reckless, just as desperate, just as willing to risk everything for the chance to give herself to Carlisle, without holding anything back. If she had chosen to deny her heart and remove herself from those feelings, she would never have experienced the wonders of a union so deep and pure. She would have never had the chance to marvel at how they went from barely knowing one another to becoming two halves of the same soul.

With a whimper of surrender, Esme offered herself to her husband in the most generous of ways, begging him to reintroduce her to the power of their eternal promise.

Her name escaped his lips over and over again, raw and yearning, an endless chant with no punctuation or consistent rhythm. His hands roamed freely over her body, disrobing her layer by layer until she was bare beneath him. Into the grass they both descended, sealing their bodies deftly beneath a waterfall of heavenly moonlight.

He stared down at her vigilantly as he moved within her, his eyes like the windows of a quiet cathedral in the dark – glowing, reverent, and full of hope. They moved together in perfect unison, in flawless compatibility, with a timeless precision that spoke of soul mates enjoined at long, drought-ridden last. How effortlessly they were able to combine their souls after ages of marriage never failed to humble Esme.

Her husband made love to her like the gentle predator he was, pursuing her viciously when she teased him, and punishing her for it with violent tenderness. The sensations he gave her were consuming and harsh, melding together in streams of undiscovered emotions, building like an angst-filled crescendo on classical piano.

It was frightfully delightful to think that such a recklessly compassionate man was her lover. That he carried with him a fierce and faithful heart, and when they were alone he abandoned his compulsive care for everything and everyone in the world, and he placed it all before her.

He was worshiping her with every thrust, loading her with undeniable proof that he loved her above all else, no matter how violent his love for the rest of the world was. The notion that he brought this boundless care and compassion into her was crippling for her to think about. He had chosen her to receive the heady consequences of his gifts, the blazing brilliance of his every blessing. He allowed her to share these things, these gifts only he had been given. They had been meant only for him to cherish, but he did not wish to cherish them alone. He wished to weigh down upon his wife with everything wonderful and force her to feel those wonders as he did. Every sensation he felt that made him weak in his knees – he had to be sure that she felt it too – if possible, twice as strongly as he did.

Their words were tender, but they were nonsense. So many mutterings were passed between them, but the meaning came from the timbre, the expressive pressure of their tongues as they caressed the senseless words. It was an intimate language they created together, one no other soul would ever master even if he were to study it till the end of time. The knowledge that these things belonged to them alone was the pinnacle of eroticism, the precursor to the awaiting climax. Just thinking of this willing quarantine – this conscious parting from the rest of the world to renew their union – was enough to fluster the flames of their fire.

Esme cried into the arms of her eternal lover as he spilled every ounce of his passion into her aching body. He lost control in every exquisitely feral sense of the phrase, crashing against her with slow, powerful thrusts, each deliberate stab bringing her closer to the brink she felt fast approaching. Finally, her own pleasure reached the pinnacle that he had so sedulously prepared her for. She came apart like the petals of a premature blossom on the cusp of winter, grasping the man above her with desperate, trusting hands.

"You were right," she admitted breathlessly, all the precious pieces of her pride melting like snowflakes on hot sand. She reached up to hold her husband's head between her shaking hands and curled her fingers affectionately around his ears. "You were right to encourage our son."

He did not answer her with words, but that exquisitely content smile returned to his lips, almost nonexistent in the darkness as she strained to see it. Like always, it was barely more than a figment, making her question whether it was even there.

But, mysterious smile or not, he emanated a distinct aura of satisfaction and victory as his rhythmic little thrusts finally drew to a fulfilling close. As flawlessly humble as he tried to be, Carlisle knew when he was right.

He became completely still between her legs, supporting his body with both elbows on either side of her shoulders as he hovered above her. His tongue darted out for a moment, pale pink like amaranth, glistening timidly in the dim light of dawn. The forest around them more resembled an ocean at the moment, in that rare hour before the sun rose when everything was blue instead of green. Fronds of long grass and leaves protruded from beneath them like seaweed, and clover and pebbles covered thick stones, like mounds of sand encrusted with algae and seashells. The chime of a distant clock somewhere in their house sounded out, a low, solemn series of notes that reminded her of the clang of a harbor bell.

Esme sighed audibly, her belly still brewing with the romantic residue of their much-needed release. Her arms loosened around Carlisle's back and her legs parted from his hips, allowing him ample space to make sure his muscles still worked.

He rolled over into the grass beside her, his pale skin stunning against a bed of deep green, bejeweled with droplets of dew. He stretched out his glorious limbs and unleashed an almost theatrical sigh, tempting the moon with one last glance at his nude body before he used his wife as a cover to protect his flesh from the night's prying gaze.

Esme smiled to herself as he scooped her up against his chest, draping her slender arms and legs artistically across his body. The way he held her, with both arms fastened so tightly around her that she felt to be one mass with him, made her belly burn in the most strange and delightful way. From above she studied him while he rested, and her heart warmed at the sight of his face, utterly smoothed from their long-lasting cloud of pleasure. She was mesmerized by his every quiet breath, the silk of his eyelashes resting on his cheek, and the sensation of peace that seemed to radiate from his flesh, directly into hers.

For the longest time she watched him while he feigned sleep beneath her, wondering what sorts of thoughts were swimming through his mind. Was he recalling the events of the evening, the looks of joy on his children's faces? Was he wondering what the future held for his coven as it extended to enviable proportions? Was he reflecting on the advice he had given his son in that secret letter he'd written days before the wedding?

A pang hit Esme harshly in the heart as she considered asking her husband what he had written to Edward in that taunting little card with the shepherd on the front. Truth be told, he probably would have told her if she asked him right then. But Carlisle looked so peaceful, so distant from the stressful tug of the world and its worries... She couldn't bear to disrupt his dreams.

When the morning finally came and streams of godly sunlight plunged through the trees to touch their entangled bodies, Esme's heart was just as content, just as certain, just as filled with hope as her husband had promised.

Love would always find its way through the darkness.

-}0{-

When Edward had arrived home from his spur of the moment "bachelor party" the night before his wedding day, he had been greeted by his father and presented with the following letter:

My dearest son,

Seventy-one years ago, you told me you would never find love. You were so thoroughly convinced that no woman would ever have you, no other's heart would ever be compatible with your own. You told me that you were just as well off alone. You had not given up hope, you simply never had hope to begin with.

In this most joyous time, I must congratulate you for finding the woman you thought you would never find. In hindsight, these kinds of stories sound beautiful, but we both know they are not so beautiful while in the making. Years of solitude can rob a man of his hope, as they had once done to me. They can harden his heart and force him to be blind to love. But you were not blind to love. You overcame that blindness, and did not allow the years to turn your heart cold. You were open to love from the very instant it found you. You did not hide from it or turn it away, and that is why your reward has been so great.

We have you to thank for welcoming Bella into our family, and now we all have one more person to love.

Tomorrow you will join your soul to hers, and you will become a new man. I know that you will not take this union lightly. Your generosity and steadfastness will serve Bella well. I trust that you will be everything Bella needs you to be, and that you will go beyond her expectations to make her feel safe and loved.

Though your happiness will seem at its peak during the following months, know that the most joyful times are yet to come. This is only the beginning, my son. You may think right now that your feelings for her will never be stronger, but believe me, they will be. And they will continue to grow day after day, against all reason.

Love between two people is a miracle, and it must be treated as such. Never lose sight of what you have with Bella, for even when everything around you changes, your love will be the same as it was on the day when you both first took your vows.

Remind Bella of the promises you made to one another on your wedding day. Reassure her when she is in doubt. Comfort her when she is in distress. Guide her when she feels lost. There is so much beauty to be held in the bond between a man and his wife. As her husband, you are her guardian and her fortress, and she will come to you when the rest of the world fails her. Edward, you embody these qualities more than anyone I know, and in this, I am confident that you will be the life-long partner she deserves.

I recall you once telling me that Bella was the greatest gift you had ever received. I hope you will always remember that you are the greatest gift she has received. In spite of all the hardships you have gone through, you are both still together. Your love has endured countless tests and broken barriers of stone. I firmly believe that you were created to be with this young woman, as she was so wonderfully designed to complete you.

Every father hopes that he can pass wisdom onto his son. I know that in the past I have shared my wisdom with you, but now I believe your font of wisdom is just as far-reaching as my own. You are strong, my son. Do not doubt yourself. In the times when you do fall prey to ill thoughts of yourself, recall my words. I have faith in you. I always have, and I always will.

Your father,

Carlisle


Shortly after I finished writing the first draft of this story, I realized I just couldn't end it without revealing what Carlisle's note to Edward actually said. So we'll all know the message that was inside of that card...but poor Esme will just have to wonder for the rest of her life. ;)

It would really make my day if you share a thought or review. Once again, I have to thank the people who persistently push me to write these things. I never would have done it if it weren't for the readers who so sweetly suggested it!