Pop the Question Contest Entry

Title: My Beloved

Word Count (without the A/n and header): 3,139

Pairing: Carlisle and Esme

Rating: T

Summary: Carlisle had been alone for so long he wasn't sure he'd ever have a family, until he had Edward and Esme. But something is still missing. Will his revelation ruin the sweet harmony in his household, or complete it?

Warnings: N/A

My Beloved

Everything was planned in my mind. In actuality, I had it planned in over a hundred different ways, all depending on how she responded to me.

But I was acting a fool.

Edward, bless him, was behaving as though nothing out of the ordinary had been going on in the past few months. He sat at his piano, playing Moonlight Sonata as if that were just a random selection for this evening. It was a full moon tonight, after all.

His eyes flashed to me, curiously. I knew what he was silently asking me.

Was I going to be a coward again? Was I going to put this off for another month? Was I going to insist on torturing myself by drawing out the suspense?

What if I was wrong about her? What if she did not return my affection?

Oh, I knew that Esme loved me dearly. There was scarcely a creature on this planet that Esme would not love. Her heart reached out from her to engulf every lost soul she encountered, to draw it in and make it her family. And Edward and I were the two who had been drawn closest. She looked on Edward as her own dear son, just as I did. And she looked on me as... his father? Her friend? Perhaps her dearest friend?

What if what I had planned would cause her pain or, at the very least, a great deal of awkwardness? She would not want to hurt me by her refusal. - If she refused me it would, indeed, hurt a great deal. - And I did not want to hurt her by suggesting an idea that would change our relationship forever, if she was content with the way things were.

Edward stopped playing and raised his eyebrows at me. His expression seemed exasperated.

"Play your new composition for me. I'd like to hear it one more time." I suggested, casually.

He rolled his eyes, but his fingers flew lightly over the ivory and ebony keys, sending a new rush of music through the room like coursing water.

I'm going to do it. I just need to settle myself. That's all. I thought, moving to stand at his side.

"You've been carrying that ring in your pocket for the past fifty-eight days," he murmured, quietly enough that his voice wouldn't carry upstairs.

I knew my son would be aware of Esme's mind in this matter. He would know whether she would be shocked, dismayed, or pleased by what I was going to ask her. But he was not offering this information. And I was not going to ask. We both knew his unwilling intrusions on others' thoughts should not be abused in such ways. He was more a gentleman than that; and I was proud of him for it.

I'm afraid to hurt her. I answered him.

"I know... But don't you think it's best to get this over with sooner rather than later? One way or another, she's going to eventually discover that your feelings for her are more than platonic. Don't you think that will be worse if it happens a hundred years from now, by accident, than if you professed your love openly now?"

I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. He was right, of course. I wondered if my son would be so clear-headed if it was his own heart he was laying on the butcher's block.

"So dramatic," Edward breathed as his song came to a close.

You are right. I should tell her. And I intend to. I will do it tonight.

Edward smirked at me. I knew what he was thinking. I sounded like a farmer who, come Christmas, realized he'd grown too fond of his fattened sow.

The woman of the house was stirring upstairs. She'd been painting. The heavy, pungent scent of linseed oil drifted down to us from her room. But, from the sound of it, she was finished for the night and would shortly join us downstairs.

I am going to leave a note for her and retire to the out-of-doors. Please see to it that she receives my correspondence?

Edward fought back an amused smirk at my convoluted plans, and then nodded.

He wouldn't find this so humorous if I was about to make things dreadfully uncomfortable in our household, would he?

Esme was rinsing her brushes under the faucet upstairs. My time was limited. I hastily scrawled a note, asking her to meet me in the field past the gardens when she was available.

"Good luck," Edward whispered just loud enough for me to hear. I leapt out the back door and sprinted over the frosted ground into the moonlit night.

I found myself in the field sooner than expected. Perhaps it was just my nerves begging for me to keep running. It felt good to run. It was a welcome distraction. It helped focus my mind and felt like I was accomplishing something. But If I continued running I would be running from her. And that was the last thing I wanted to do.

The frozen blades of dry grass crunched softly beneath my shoes. My breath, slightly warm from being indoors, fogged into the icy air. Soon, my body cooled to the temperature of the night.

I imagined Esme joining Edward in the main room. I wondered what his expression would be when he told her about my note. I wondered what her reaction would be. Would she suspect my intentions? Would she be worried, coming to meet me? Excited? Apprehensive?

I swallowed down a throat-full of fear. I had to remind myself that this was best for everyone. For her especially. I could hardly let myself hope that she truly felt for me as I did for her. I had been wandering the dark world of immortals for over three hundred years and had never found anyone who could move me the way Esme did. Her gentle spirit, her innate kindness, her quiet wisdom, her insightfulness, even her surprisingly sharp cunning at times. All these things drew me to her as though I had no choice in the matter. How could I believe that the one woman who touched my still heart in such a way would be inclined toward me as well?

There were signs, of course, that she enjoyed my company. Our quiet talks in the evenings when I would return from my shift at the hospital. The way she would hesitate, her eyes wide like a frightened faun, before asking permission to enter my study while I sat hunched over prodigious medical tomes. The way the corner of her mouth would pull up while her eyes roamed over my face, as though a kiss were waiting there, patiently, for me to accept it.

It could all be in my head, of course.

Shortly, I heard the light scraping and crackling of her footfalls over the frozen ground as she approached.

I stood still, staring at the full moon rising over the distant pines. The atmosphere was filled with tiny ice particles refracting the reddish light into a soft moon-bow, like a halo over the sky.

"Carlisle? Is something the matter?"

I turned to see her. Her approach was not wary, but her face was slightly concerned.

"Your note seemed a bit urgent," she clarified.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to alarm you. I was going to go for a walk and hoped you would like to join me." I hoped I sounded natural, as though it were just a casual stroll and some pleasant company I was hoping for tonight.

She eyed me curiously for a brief moment. Her pink tongue peeked out of her mouth slightly, moistening her bottom lip before her teeth bit down on it, grazing over the wet surface as her lip slowly slid to freedom. My eyes were transfixed on the sight, my mind not comprehending how such a simple and thoughtless act could figuratively bring me to my knees so completely.

My love for Esme had not begun as lust, nor was it ever purely so. My love for her had filled me, like a vessel. That was it precisely; my heart was a vessel. And my love for her had filled that vessel until it could contain no more, yet continued pouring in mercilessly. It overflowed, surging into the rest of me until the only resource left for it to fill was my carnal desire. It had filled me completely. She had filled me completely, until every cell of my body belonged to her. And she wasn't even aware...

"I would like to walk with you," she answered, smiling as the silvery moonlight danced in her eyes.

I smiled back, holding my hand out for her to take it. That she did take it did not surprise me, but it always thrilled me. Did she notice how every touch of her skin on mine coursed through my body like a physical jolt? Did she know that every moment we were not touching my body ached for her? Just her finger, grazing softly on my knuckles would sooth that ache; her hand on my shoulder as we listened to Edward play his music; the brush of her arm against mine as we sat reading together.

"Do you have a particular destination in mind?" Esme asked casually.

"Actually, I've found that the moonrise over the lake is particularly lovely on such clear nights. Would you care to see it?"

"That sounds beautiful." Her eyes, like warm butter, gazed happily up at me as though I'd just offered her the best gift in the world.

Esme was so very easy to please. Her natural state was one of contented felicity. It was hard to imagine a man who could truly make her unhappy...

I gritted my teeth and stopped my thoughts right there. I could see where that path would have led and it was not a good one to go down. Especially not tonight.

I wrestled my mind into a more pleasant direction. One that would not include her former, abusive, monstrous, human husband.

"How is your new painting coming along?"

"This one is a little more challenging than the last," she frowned delicately. "I think I will need some more titanium white and cadmium yellow soon."

"I'll pick up some more for you tomorrow."

"Thank you, but I don't need it right away. If it's a bother-"

"It's not," I promised. "I can make it to the art supplier on my lunch break."

Her eyes met mine again and she smiled...that smile. The one with a kiss at the corner waiting for me to claim it. "Thank you."

"You are quite welcome."

We were just coming to the lake. I felt anxiety swelling within me.

Things seemed to be going so well as they were. We were companionable. We were good friends. We were family, even. Was I preparing to damage our relationship? Would the damage be irreparable?

"It is beautiful," Esme breathed at my side, gazing out over the moonlit lake. The silvery light glimmered over the gentle waves, sending errant beams into the surrounding forest. The reflected light danced in the branches of the surrounding trees as their frosted needles scraped together in a murmur, like a drawn-out lonesome sigh.

But my eyes were fixed on her; the way the off-purple night surrounded her soft frame; how the wind played delicately in her honey hair; how the moonlight caressed her face, tenderly.

"Beautiful," I agreed, still watching her.

She looked at me again, noticing that I was not admiring the picturesque view before us. Her expression shifted to speculative.

I could not go back on my decision. I had to tell her. Edward was right. She would find out someday, somehow. It was better that she be told now, from my own lips.

"Esme..." Did she notice how my mouth wrapped around her name, like a caress? Could she tell that I was not truly saying "Esme", but was speaking the meaning of her name? Her true name? Beloved, I said. Every time my mouth formed the word it was the same. My beloved...

"I have been wanting to tell you...I have been meaning to say..." I'd had it all so eloquently planned in so many ways, but the words were all jumbling together in my mind now. I couldn't decide which way was best. What would be easiest for her to handle, if she couldn't return my feelings?

"Yes, Carlisle?" Her breathing was slightly shallower than usual. Her pupils a bit more dilated than necessary. This could be a sign of fear...or...

I swallowed and tried to pull myself together.

"I have lived a very long time, Esme." My beloved. "Most of that time was spent roaming the earth alone, as you know. I had often wondered if I would never find companionship, a family, as I have found in you and Edward."

She placed her hand on my arm in comfort. She didn't like to think of me as lonely or distraught. I gazed down into her warm, caring eyes, letting the sense of home I always felt there fill me, easing my nerves.

"And yet here you are," I murmured. "I've also oftentimes wondered if I would ever know love, in all of its forms."

Her eyes widened a little, but she didn't speak.

"Esme..." I found my mind slipping back into Elizabethan English in my distraction. But it didn't really matter. I was speaking to Esme, to my other half. If anyone could know the true me, it would be her. "Mine heart knoweth love, for I knoweth thee. And thou art love to me."

Her breath caught in her throat, but she did not retreat from my declaration. Instead she moved a fraction of a centimeter closer to me.

"Esme..."I lifted my hand to her cheek, combing my trembling fingers gently into the hair falling over her ear. "I am altogether thine. Wouldst thou also be mine?"

Would she run from me? No. Certainly not Esme. She was the embodiment of love and tenderness. Even if she despised me, she would still be gentle.

Her moist eyes examined my features for a moment, almost as if she didn't understand my archaic language.

"Carlisle..." she whispered, her voice trembling. "Is it really true." This did not come out like a question, but as a statement. "I didn't know...And all this time?"

"Esme, please..." I closed my eyes as the realization that she did not return my affection hit me hard. "Please, if you're going to refuse me, do it quickly. I know this must be hard for you."

I heard her gasp. And then her hands were on my cheeks.

"No! No, that's not what I meant at all!"

What was this? I opened my eyes again, hope displacing fear.

"I love you, Carlisle. I...I think I always have. And, since you've brought me into your family, my love for you has only grown stronger!"

"Esme..." My beloved...

Her hands slid down to my shoulders. "Carlisle... I didn't want to let myself believe that you could love me... the way that I love you..."

"Esme...my love. You are the most beautiful, endearing creature with which God has ever graced the earth. How could I not love you when you are so designed to be loved?"

She looked down, away from my gaze. I wasn't sure if it was in denial or embarrassment.

"Esme. My beloved." I wrapped my arms around her and nestled my face in her hair, inhaling her soothing clover blossom and sweetgrass scent. "I already belong to you, completely, absolutely, and unconditionally. Will you have me?"

She choked out a delicate sob, but it seemed to be one of happiness; when she looked up at me she was smiling widely. "Of course I will. Of course!"

I hardly knew what I was doing. But somehow my arms drew her up to me and our lips met, sweetly at first. Her fingers twined in the hair at the nape of my neck. My hand grazed down her spine, pulling her in closer, tighter, feeling the length of her body against mine.

My mind was dredging up the multitude of ways I wanted to please her. With the vast stretches of time I had at my disposal, and with so much room in my mind to be creative, I'd come up with thousands of ideas, ways I could make her moan, sigh, or scream my name in ecstasy; ways I could worship her body as it truly deserved. Each and every single one of those ideas I had beaten down, certain that they were, in fact, improper, delusional impossibilities. They resurfaced now in force.

Her lips parted slightly and I could taste the flavor of her venom, cloying on my tongue. Her breath washed over my face, trembling as my lips continued to glide lightly, reverently over hers. For now, this was enough. More than enough. More than I had ever dared to hope.

When our first kiss ended I could only stand and stare, amazed at what had just happened. And Esme seemed every bit as dazed as I felt. We stared at one another for a moment, and then I felt a grin stretch across my face. Esme lifted her hand to her mouth and giggled almost like a schoolgirl.

I laughed with her and embraced her again, more exuberantly this time.

"All along? You've loved me all along?" I was laughing now in my bewildered relief.

"Yes, of course I have. Do you have no idea how obscenely attractive you are?" she teased. "You're also quite handsome." She grinned at me, enjoying her own play on words.

I chuckled with her and embraced her once more. Then, hand-in-hand we strolled back toward the house. I felt like my cold dead heart had begun to beat again. Each soundless throb a sigh of my beloved's name. Esme...Esme...Esme...

"Of course, Edward probably already knows..." she murmured as we drew close enough for him to read our thoughts.

"Hmm... I believe the boy has been through a lot more than he's let on in the past year or so," I mused.

Esme laughed lightly. "He is very good at keeping secrets."

"Indeed," I agreed. I wondered what thoughts of hers Edward had been keeping from me.

Edward, I thought toward him as we neared the house. It's done. Your poor mind can rest easy now.

"It's about time!" He called, feigning annoyance. But when he showed himself at the door his face was beaming with satisfaction. Then he laughed. "And you even forgot to give her the ring?"