The Lion Purrs

by Mackenzie L.

For this one-shot, I decided to expand upon a "what if?" scenario suggested a while back by one of my readers. What would happen if Carlisle was not so keen on keeping perfect control around Esme when he first felt romantic feelings for her? What if they hadn't taken an entire year to get to know each other on a more intimate level before consummating their love? Would they still find their happy ending? This story is a sort of AU twist on the canon version I have told in Stained Glass Soul.

*The Twilight Saga and all its characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer.

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It was a foggy night.

Some nights Carlisle found the fog to be comforting, the way it concealed his house from the view of humans passing by in the darkness. The fog created confusion and misinterpretations. It was favorable for a night dweller like him. It was a protective, hovering friend – a swift white sheet that he could call upon to slide over his face in the dark.

But some nights, the fog was unsettling. It was a barrier that separated him from the rest of the world. If he happened to be out hunting, he worried that he would become lost, especially if the fog was thick. It was only a cloud that had fallen from the sky, but it still frightened him a little. It was cold and moist and clinging. It made his skin clammy and his body shiver.

Tonight, the fog was neither protective nor unsettling. It was simply beautiful.

The doctor stood at his study window, staring out through the glass with the proud gaze of a lord who looked over his kingdom before his people had awakened. He watched the slow dance of the stars above, the humble descent of a gaudy gibbous moon, and the tender waltz of tree branches as they tangled together in the breeze.

The moon threw harsh silhouettes on the grounds during the night, but the shadows slowly faded to gentle gray blotches as the hours passed by. The breeze strengthened to welcome the morning, coming in like a repetitive tide on a soft green beach. The grass shivered with each passing stroke, shimmering with dew.

In Carlisle's mind the blades of grass reminded him of the long, wispy fingers of a musician, and the dew was like the perspiration that came after they had performed a song. He imagined the comparison would have brought a charming smirk of understanding to his son's serious face.

One thought of Edward seemed to have summoned the boy from the dark reaches of their lonely mansion. Just before the sun cracked the seam of the horizon, Edward's gangly young body was sprinting for the forest with the hand of their lovely female houseguest in tow. Carlisle could not see the color of her dress in the darkness, and this frustrated him.

But by God, Esme was a vision when she ran.

She always had bare feet. Ever since she was a little girl, she'd had a charming aversion to wearing shoes.

Even in the poor light of a shy daybreak, her hair billowed out behind her, shining like dark, rusted honey. It was a brilliant color, one his eyes seemed to find quite titillating. He watched her run into the shadows after Edward with a happy laugh, a sign that she was relieved to begin feeding so early. She was still growing used to the prospect of hunting alone, but she hated to wait.

Carlisle sighed as he watched her disappear from his window. Her laughter faded to silence and suddenly the morning that had been blooming on the horizon seemed to falter, sinking down a little in her absence.

The reason for morning's retreat was obvious. The sun would not find it worth the effort to rise if Esme was not in the path of its rays.

In fact, Carlisle thought, if he were the sun, he would never rise again unless Esme were the first soul to greet him every morning.

He closed his eyes and imagined it; her bright face and enchanting smile. Her strange, caramel colored curls and her bare feet. Yes, he wanted her every morning, sunshine or not. He wanted her face to be the first he saw every day for the rest of his life.

When he opened his eyes, the sun had risen against his will. It illuminated the impressive acres behind his house with a mild green fire. The grass lifted towards the light ever so slightly, beckoning the sun to share more of its warmth and dry the dew away.

Carlisle wished he could beckon the sun as the grass did. He wished he could ask for its warmth to light a fire in the hollow hold of his heart. There were so many empty spots inside of him, so many dark crevices that needed to be filled and lit. Sometimes he felt as if he truly were a walking corpse, a half-man, a quasi-soul that roamed uselessly about the earth with little purpose. He longed to claim another's heart as his own, for his was frightfully lonely.

Thinking of this caused a hot and cold prickling sensation to consume his body, limb by limb. It ended in the very center of his chest, and every time it happened, that empty space beneath his heart expanded by a tiny margin.

It hurt him so badly that for one instant he fantasized about breaking through the window, letting the glass shatter heroically around him as he tore across the yard and ran into the forest after her.

But what would he do once he found her? Pull her into his arms, suffocate her with kisses, invade her heart with his passionate promises...

His fantasies always ended the same way. They left him feeling empty, broken, and confused.

The sky beyond the lake tried to rouse him with a splash of brilliant orange. Soft blue had turned to gold at dawn, and it would soon turn back to blue again. It was a cycle – all of nature was. A man's heart was a natural thing, so why should it not reconstruct itself in the same way?

The sun crept a little higher behind the morning clouds, and Carlisle turned away from the wondrous sight, refusing its beauty with a bitter heart.

With Esme gone he felt lonelier than ever before. He had known many versions of loneliness and abandonment, but none made him feel more neglected than when he was parted from Esme.

The house was dry and empty, dark and cold without her in it. Condensation formed on all the windows, making them look as if they were crying. The sun teased them with sparkles of light, trying to cheer them up. Everything inside his study was slowly being bathed in gold. It was torturously beautiful. He didn't like it one bit.

His skin started to shimmer in response to the sun's meddling games, and he covered his forearms quickly, whipping both sleeves down to protect himself from the light. He wanted to draw the curtains and shut the sun out, but something stopped him from doing it. He felt pity toward the sun; it only wanted company. So many times, others had shut him out. Carlisle couldn't bear to do it to anyone else.

Blind to where his feet were carrying him, he traveled slowly into the hallway and up the stairs of the creaky old mansion. His short journey ended only when he came to the small library where Esme kept her paintings. He smiled fondly as he glanced at his disheveled surroundings. Esme had certainly managed to make the room look like home.

Carlisle loved that a woman could feel at home under his roof. Rough though her first few weeks as a newborn vampire had been, Esme's ability to adapt had impressed him. Now her paintbrushes and half-finished canvases were strewn about all over a room he'd previously ignored. Now this little library was his favorite room in the house.

Looking around, the room seemed like a work of art itself. There were drops of colored paint on random surfaces, tubes of oil and watercolor pigments lying on chairs and on the floor. A heavily stained hand towel rested on the window sill. Draped over the edge of one chair was a pale pink garment of some kind, most likely a blouse that had gotten soiled while she was painting. Everything about the room sang of Esme's presence. Her fingerprints, her scent, her laughter – he could see and smell and hear her all over this room.

How he wished she was really here with him now.

Carlisle began to feel almost guilty that he was invading her private work space. True, she had never set up boundaries or requested that he keep away, but he still felt as if there were something unforgivable about being in the room where Esme made art. It was a new kind of feeling – the feeling of being caught in a place where he shouldn't be. And strangely enough, he loved it.

Taking measured steps so as not to disturb any of the clutter, Carlisle began to explore the works in progress that Esme had laid out to dry. Some of them were not even painted yet, and many of them were only painted in a light wash, waiting for the details that would bring them to life. He thought it rather endearing that Esme tended to begin a painting before she was ready to commit to finishing it. As a result of her little weakness, she had about twenty or so paintings that had not been developed any further than a basic sketch and a few strokes of experimental colors in each corner.

Esme had an inspiration to paint so many things. A basket of fruits, a mountain in the distance, a river winding through a forest, a bird sitting on a tree branch, the cloudy sky... But the one painting Carlisle found most curious of all was the one that sat on its own easel, facing the window. The light of the sun reflected off of the canvas so brightly he could not make out the subject of the painting, so he went closer.

Unlike the other paintings in the room, this one was almost finished. It was developed to the point of striking realness, boasting a depth and precision he could liken to the great masters. On the canvas was a composition of two lions, a male and a female, lying beside each other in an ethereal African savannah. The sun in the painting, just like the sun outside the window, was purest gold. He marveled at how Esme could create something so real and so moving from simple pigments and strokes of a brush.

There was something almost haunting about the lions' faces in the picture, about how Esme had chosen to portray them. Their eyes stared directly at the viewer, as if challenging him to walk right into the painting and approach them in their sandy bed. The rich yellow and golden tones of the painting brought Carlisle feelings of warmth and intensity. Though the subject was simple enough, he found it remarkably thought-provoking.

In the back of his mind, Carlisle couldn't help comparing a mated pair of lions to a mated vampire couple. In both cases, the partners were very protective of one another. Neither one was quite dominant over the other — they both had their unique strengths and weaknesses that made their relationship into something beautiful. They shared a great secret within the confines of their intimate bond, a balance that was neither too delicate nor too strong.

As the giant golden cats' eyes stared into his soul, Carlisle began to feel dizzy and hot, as if he had really been walking for days in the African savannah without drink. But he felt there was a mystery hidden in that painting, something that begged to be discovered. He tried to look deeper, staring harder, stepping closer, doing everything he could to become one with the painting itself and uncloak the secrets it hid...

But something got in the way.

"You're intruding on my artistic space, Doctor Cullen."

He stared blankly at the stunning woman who suddenly appeared across from him, both hands clutching her hips, a sweet smirk on her plush lips. She did not sound or look angry at all, but he still felt a twinge of fright in his gut that he couldn't explain.

"Oh—forgive me," he whispered hastily, bowing his head down as he turned and headed for the door.

"You don't have to leave," she called out before he could go into the hall. He looked over his shoulder at her, noticing the enticing gleam of curiosity in her eye. "What painting were you looking at?"

Carlisle swallowed the tight lump in his throat and walked back into the warm band of sunlight that came through the window. He paused next to the painting that had captured him and pointed to it with one steady finger. "This one. The one with the lions."

"Do you like it?" Esme asked softly, her coral colored eyes glowing in the light of the sun.

"Oh, yes." His voice sounded scratchy, so he cleared his throat. "It is beautiful, Esme."

She ducked her head at his compliment. He thought it entirely inappropriate how much he enjoyed getting that reaction from her.

Tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, she glanced up at him. "Maybe you could hang it in your study when it's finished," she offered thoughtfully.

His first instinct was to accept her generous offer, but the status quo of being a gentleman interfered. "Oh, no. I would never do that," he said in his permanently scratchy voice. Another useless clearing of his throat only made his voice a ragged whisper. "It belongs to you."

"But it would belong to you if I were to give it to you." It amazed him how Esme could look so shy and so insistent at once. There was something sly in her demeanor, too... but no, maybe he just imagined that.

"Give it to me?" he echoed quietly. He got caught staring at the marvelous painting again, as if lost in a dream.

"You really like it." It wasn't a question; it was a pleased little whisper. And for some reason, the way she said it made him thirsty.

He nodded, in a trance. "Yes...There is something about it that captivates me." He bent his head to stare at it more closely, dividing every stroke and color with scrutinous eyes. His voice deepened unintentionally. "I do not quite know what it is..."

He was beginning to think that Esme had a habit of looking down at the ground, not when he complimented her, but rather when he failed to use contractions in his sentences.

At least hers was a better reaction than Edward's persistent eye-rolling.

Carlisle raised his hand to curiously stroke the edge of the canvas. He had not realized that the last coat of paint was so fresh.

A small gasp of concern fled his lips as he lifted his finger, now wet with opaque golden oil paint.

Before he could apologize, Esme was beside him, preparing a damp rag. "Oh, don't worry!" she murmured with a carefree laugh. "We can clean it off. We just need to be quick."

He stared at her in dumbstruck silence as she appeared more concerned over the stain on his finger rather than the blemish he'd left on her painting. All at once his finger was captured inside a wet, swirling wash rag. Carlisle couldn't explain why he felt so vulnerable having a woman wash his finger. Somehow he thought it would have been less awkward to have her washing his entire hand. It was her intense focus on that one finger that made him uncomfortable. Oblivious to his discomfort, Esme repeatedly rubbed the paint stain from his fingertip until it began to fade.

"I'm not worried about my finger, Esme," he insisted, trying in vain to tug his hand away. "But your painting..." He looked sadly at the blank smear his finger had left behind. A small but unsightly white trail cut through her carefully constructed savannah scene. "Have I ruined it?"

She glanced at the canvas with a look of indifference. "Of course not. I can fix it easily," she said with a cheerful smile. Suddenly her fingers were grappling at his forearm. "You didn't get any on your sleeve, did you?"

"No... But, Esme..."

"Oh, Carlisle, if it bothers you that much, then I'll fix it right now," she said, moving to stand directly in front of the easel. With an expert hand, she plucked one thin paintbrush from the jar beside her and dabbed it with the same shade of yellowish paint. She then slid the bristles across the white mark in one efficient streak, covering the unsightly line of white. "There. You see?" She grinned. "Good as new."

He smiled weakly back at her.

Her face grew serious as she set her paintbrush down on the table. "Carlisle, you look so troubled."

His stomach churned mildly. "Do I?" His fingers drummed self-consciously against his hip. "I suppose my thoughts are running away from me this morning."

She cocked her head and furrowed her thin eyebrows. "Is there something on your mind?"

He almost chuckled at her unintentional irony. "There always is."

"In that case, why don't you distract yourself from those distressing thoughts for a while?" she suggested with a gentle laugh. He watched, bemused, as she moved her lion painting to the window sill and replaced its space on the easel with an empty white canvas. "Here, pick up a paintbrush." She playfully poked his wrist with the end of the brush, and he flinched a little, visibly startled.

"Oh, I don't know if I..." But when he saw her insistent smile, he gave in. "Very well." Finding it useless to resist, he obeyed by accepting the brush she offered him. He whisked it around in the jar of water to clean it.

"Remember how I taught you," she said, clearly enjoying her role as his instructor. "Light washes first, then we add the heavier colors. It's all about layers."

"Layers, yes."

Her impish smile and flurry of giggles made him feel like the most lovable fool in the world. "You have to think backwards."

Taking a deep breath, he lifted the paintbrush with two steady fingers and touched the wet bristles to the canvas. A pale green teardrop of paint fell from the place where he pressed the tip of the brush, and he quickly swished the bristles in a circular motion, hoping to hide the mistake.

He straightened up and dipped the brush into the glass of water again.

"Ah-ah!" Esme admonished him by gently tugging on his sleeve. "No more water once you've started painting. These aren't watercolors, you know."

"Oh. Right." Her quiet reminder stung just as hard as a slap across the cheek. He wanted so badly to impress her in everything he did. Even the most innocent mistakes hurt his ego in front of Esme.

Years ago, he didn't even have an ego. Then one day, Esme set foot in his life, and his ego was born.

Resisting the urge to hide his face in his hands, Carlisle swiped off the paintbrush with a clean cloth and attempted to start again. "Turpentine?" he asked, hating how timid the word sounded as he said it.

He peeked at Esme over his shoulder and was rewarded with a charming smile. She nodded and nudged a jar of the foul-smelling chemical toward him. He drowned the bristles of his paintbrush in the clear liquid, rubbing it furiously against the sides of the jar to clean it as thoroughly as he could. A nauseating wave of the turpentine odor made him cough.

"You're certain we can't substitute this concoction for good old water?" he asked in a strained voice.

Esme took the joke in good humor. "Oil paints don't mix well with water," she said with a perfectly content smile. He wondered how the smell didn't bother her.

With a loud sigh, Carlisle swished his paintbrush around in the palette of oil pigments, then stroked a colorful line across the empty corner of his canvas. Esme hummed in approval, and Carlisle's confidence soared. He continued to paint for several minutes while she watched him in silence. His fingers would quiver every now and again, but as time passed, he became more comfortable with the process of painting with an audience.

In his mind he couldn't help but think of other things, things that became more erotic the longer he spent caressing colorful bristles across blank canvas. He imagined he was painting Esme's body with the brush in his hand, spreading colors across the dips and crevices of her slender form. He felt his tongue creeping up onto his upper lip and he quickly hid it back inside his mouth so she couldn't see.

"Look at you," Esme praised, jolting him back into reality. "You're a natural, Doctor."

Carlisle took a moment to step back and admire his work so far. He had never been trained as a painter, but he had to admit, the canvas didn't look half bad. It was full of abstract shapes and blotches of color that somehow looked very pretty as a whole composition. It was unique.

"Keep painting," Esme encouraged, her voice soft and friendly, like an angel hovering behind his shoulder.

Carlisle smiled and swirled his paintbrush back into the palette. Up till now he'd been fairly conservative with his color choices. Now he felt ready to take some risks. Vibrant blues and glaring greens, passionate purples and pinks.

He was enjoying the distraction of painting, getting lost in the colors, and emptying the loaded contents of his overcrowded heart through his paintbrush. He could paint for hours this way while Esme watched him, and he could take comfort in the fact that no matter how much he felt he was revealing, she would still never know what his inner thoughts and feelings were.

He became so lost to the process that he was barely aware of the moment when her hand curled around his as it moved across the canvas. Without a word, she steadied his restless hand, then slowly began to guide his path of paint, helping him to make the color thicker.

"Build the shadows and highlights," she whispered as she dragged his hand up and down. "That's it..."

He gasped slightly when her hand tightened around his, causing a stray blotch of dark purple to gather beneath the paintbrush. Her fingers loosened, then glided over his knuckles, coming to rest on the tips of his fingers where he gripped the brush. Stunned, he turned and looked down at her eyes.

Her chest expanded as she breathed in, then her eyes moved slowly to the paintbrush as she removed it from his hand. Carlisle held his breath as Esme placed the brush down on the table and leaned closer to him.

Though she was a head shorter than him, her presence intimidated him, as if she were his commander in the army. Her eyes were wide and glossy, her lips open slightly in wonder as she looked up at his face. Bemused, she grasped both his hands in hers and drew them closer to her. His hands were so much larger than hers, but she managed to own them so completely in her grip. Her fingers stretched out like sunrays over his wrists, and she began to feel his hands all over, in a way no one had ever felt him before.

Her petite palms pressed along the backs of his hands, lacing her small fingers between his, caressing the creases beneath his knuckles. She took her time exploring the texture of his skin, the faint smears of oil paint that had stained his fingertips, the subtle lines that stretched across the center of his palms.

"I like your hands," she suddenly whispered. "I like them very much."

His heart thrashed against his chest like a lost wave at sea.

Carlisle knew Esme could sometimes be quite random and forward in her little observations, so he tried not to let himself think too deeply on what she had said. His breath caught in his throat, producing an awkward, high-pitched noise of doubt. The silence made that noise seem all the more audible, and Esme's undivided attention pierced him like an arrow as she waited for a coherent response.

"I like your hands," she'd said. As if it were the most natural thing to say to a man... "I like them very much..."

He certainly couldn't say "thank you" to something like that. But what else was there to say? What should a courteous man say to a woman when she has just complimented his hands?

"Carlisle?"

"Hm?"

Her eyes were like globes, so full and wide, unblinking. "Say something," she pleaded.

"...I feel warm."

God almighty! He hadn't meant to be so forthright. At that moment, Esme looked like an innocent young girl who had just watched a grown man tear his clothes off.

Self-consciously, Carlisle double checked to make sure he hadn't attempted to remove any of his clothes.

No, still fully tucked and buttoned. Thank the Lord.

The look on Esme's face went from shocked, to uncomfortable, to fascinated in a matter of seconds. Then, unexpectedly, she reached out to touch his chest, her fingers creeping into the little triangle of bare skin visible just above his collar.

"You do feel warm," she confirmed, her words breathless. Her gaze dropped to see the skin she was touching, and the feel of her eyes on his bare flesh blazed a trail of amber fire. He expected her to pull her fingers away in shock from being burned, but instead her fingertips explored the space with eager curiosity. She looked smitten.

Carlisle was torn between feeling like a god, and wanting to run away in terror.

This is wrong, his mind kept repeating, like a stern instructor beating her ruler against his hand every time he felt tempted to reach out and touch the woman across from him.

Esme was touching him; why shouldn't he allow himself to touch her? What harm could one innocent touch do?

A ripple of power stretched from Carlisle's shoulder through to his fingertips, and before he could control the action, his hand was reaching out to her. Their arms connected awkwardly, with her hand still on his neck, and his slipping past to feel the soft cotton of her sleeve.

The rustling of their sleeves as they rubbed against each other was the loudest sound to be heard. They tried to control the breath that rushed to and from their lips, each wanting to be quieter than the other, but their efforts were in vain. The room was so silent that the sounds of their breath were like a gale force winds in a hurricane.

A sudden weariness crept into Carlisle's body, yanking the strength out of him like a rug being pulled from under his feet. The enticing sounds of Esme's breath and the rustling fabric of their sleeves grew louder in his ears, drowning out all sense. As his eyes locked to hers, every bone in his body was about as sturdy as straw.

She had done this to him, without a single threat, with no more than an innocent remark and a consoling touch. And Carlisle was not ashamed to be under Esme's spell. He was proud. Proud to be feeling this wanton heat in his veins, proud to be willing to do anything for her, no matter how crass.

This was one feeling he didn't completely understand, which was rare for a man who had lived so long. He believed this feeling was too intense to be mere lust, and this frightened him. Like a hero, he embraced his fright and dove head-first into the cauldron of his doom.

Esme's eyes closed at the very last second, the last lightning flash of purity blazing in their depths. In all his years, Carlisle never would have thought he would be the one to put that light out.

His lips pressed to hers, perfectly sealed, tight and scared. Flames licked his face as he reached with both hands to clutch her body, fighting desperately to stay upright. In his mind he imagined what the scene must have looked like from the eyes of a third party witness, and it made his belly swirl with excitement.

Esme's delicate breath tickled his nose, and they traded air when he breathed in. So foreign were these feelings of sharing another's breath, of giving up all personal space to connect oneself to another. As much as Carlisle wanted to retreat, he wanted to sink even deeper into Esme, to have her swallow him whole and hold him roughly in the darkness.

Shock had forced his body into utter stillness. His lips were unmoving, but hers were beginning to give and open slightly, trying to coax him from his state of fight or flight. A ripe pang filled his heart at her sympathy and gentleness, and his chest began quaking with quiet sobs.

When she felt him responding, her lips grew stronger, and soon her hands were crawling up his shoulders, pulling him nearer.

He wanted to cry because he had never felt anything so soft in his life. Her body, her lips, her breath, her heart – everything about Esme was soft, created solely for him. She infused his dark burrow of solitude with a blinding light and saved him from drowning in the deep waters of despair.

As her arms linked around his neck, he heard and felt a tiny cry quiver in the back of her throat. Such a sound was ambiguous, but he seemed to know exactly what it meant. In that soft, strangled cry, he heard her pity for him, her overwhelming wish for his happiness and security, and – perhaps most shocking of all – her own dependence on him.

That tiny cry seemed to utter, "Why won't you accept what I am offering you?"

And he knew that it was time to respond to her question.

It was like the sun itself had dropped from the sky and decided to rise inside of him instead. As swiftly as his strength had drained, he felt it resurrecting full force from the pit of his stomach, spreading like a fever all through his body. He could feel his muscles swelling, his legs firming, his posture straightening, and Esme becoming smaller and weaker as the changes happened. His lips were no longer stiff and cold but rather hot and supple, grasping clumsily at her mouth as if she were a juicy fruit he couldn't taste enough.

At this stirring shift in power, Esme's breathing quickened with the spice of excitement. Each desperate puff of air she released sounded like a muffled repetition of the word "yes," echoing over and over as her spell on him slowly but surely took shape. In that moment she was his mad creator, and he was her growing monster.

The cruel voice in Carlisle's head that had always taught him restraint had smoothed into a seductive drawl. It no longer told him to control himself, or to step back from a daunting situation. Instead it whispered in his ear, "Let go of your body, become a slave to your desires, make this woman feel things she's never dreamed of before."

As he always did, Carlisle obeyed the voice.

His hands wandered down the appetizing curves of her body, drawing her close enough to press against the plank of his abdomen. A surge of dangerous arousal awakened him at the contact, and Esme shuddered, fully aware of the change.

A growl that had been buried for days inside his chest finally broke free. The sound was so beastly, he worried it had frightened Esme. But as her arms and lips wrapped tighter around him, he decided she must have been far less frightened than he was.

He was reminded of the night when he had changed her, how vulnerable she had looked lying broken on his bed, practically asking for death. The intolerable warmth of her plush human flesh had been like the seductive hand of the devil, twisting his resolve for morality with a sadistic pressure that refused to let him go. Now the situation was cruelly reversed, and he desired her for her body, not her blood.

He had no idea how much time had passed, but their kiss still had not been broken. He found it fascinating how he could feel like both the dominant and the victim as he kissed Esme. She played her game in so many clever ways, and all he could do was follow her whims, savoring the gentle wrestle of her tongue against his as he struggled to reclaim his power over her.

At long last she sang out her breathless warning, a tremulous chime of a whimper that coursed straight to the hard and heavy ache between his thighs. Their kiss broke gracelessly, and they again became two separate halves.

"Why are we doing this?" she managed to say, her words mangled by a flood of ragged breaths. Her eyes were fully dilated beneath her lashes, like shining pools of ink. Mysterious emotions were scattered all over her frantic face as she held his cheeks with shaking palms.

After a long pause he answered her in an unapologetic whisper, "Because we need it."

He could see in her eyes that she did not wish to argue him, but good sense was telling her to do just that. He hushed her with a tender touch, letting his fingers slip through her hair. Her eyes welled with tears as he cradled her cheek in his hand, and her hands dropped from his face. Carlisle watched in fascination as their roles reversed; he became the caregiver and Esme became the one in need of healing.

At once, they were clinging to each other, their embrace deep, discovering, fulfilling. The lion within Carlisle purred in unison with the lioness that clung to him. Her fingers curled beneath the end of his shirt, hot as bronze pulled from the furnace. Her heat swept through him, and suddenly he wished to be naked, to be rid of that sweltering heat.

He suspected that was her intention.

For a temptress, Esme kept a very innocent face.

"Is this right?" she asked, her voice buried in his shoulder. She was so desperately hoping for some kind of confirmation from him, the holy one, that they were not jumping into a pool of sin. It would have broken his heart to tell her the truth, but mostly he feared it would scare her off. He didn't want that. In this moment Carlisle wanted to be selfish, to keep Esme's touch all to himself. He didn't want to lose her when they had come this far.

He would take the sin upon himself in the end, he decided. Esme would be clean. Anything that happened here would be his fault entirely. And later down the road, on some cool, windless night, they would both recall that Esme had been the one wise enough to question the morality of their chosen path.

"Yes," Carlisle said at last, but realized he was too quiet for her to hear. His voice came slightly stronger as he murmured into her hair, "I do think this is right."

Her eyes turned to his, still begging for his blessing though he had already given it to her. She still had her doubts. So did he. But he didn't show it.

"I want it to be right," she said pleadingly. Her hands curled and uncurled on his shoulders.

His head lowered, burying his nose in her fragrant hair, hiding his teary-eyed gaze. "Then it will be," he whispered to her with certainty.

He felt her fingers flutter down his back, her womanly frame pressing firmly into him. At last she sighed, comforted by his assurances. Guilt stabbed him like a scythe.

He had never been this close to a woman, enough for her to read every effect she had on his body, to taste the tang of intimacy in her breath. Every move she made tempted him with the promise of something more. It was hard enough to keep his thoughts and actions under control, but doing it while caught in a tornado of unfamiliar emotions made the act nearly impossible.

Overwhelmed, Carlisle released a choked whimper and collapsed in Esme's arms. Esme squeaked in surprise, struggling to hold him steady as he began to sob again.

"Why are you crying?" Her voice was so pained it made him cry harder.

"I've never felt like this before," he confessed readily, his words minced by quaking sobs. "I feel... so confused..." With effort he lifted his head and stared with glassy eyes out the window. The scene outside looked just as beautiful as it did before, but everything felt so much different, as if the earth were twisting the wrong way on its axis.

Esme's fingers continued to dance hesitantly around his shoulders. He could tell she wasn't sure how to calm him, or if she should even bother trying. It was painfully clear to him then that they still did not know each other as well as they thought they did.

"Carlisle..."

His head lolled at the sound of his name, and his eyes blinked open, alert to her face. She looked like a gilded angel in the sun.

Ever so subtly she shook her head, and he couldn't be sure if she had actually moved or if it was just in his imagination. Her eyes were awash with fondness, glistening like yellow diamonds as they traveled across his face. Her palm curved around the back of his neck, squeezing gently, and then her lips parted.

The breath left his lungs like rapids as she raised herself up on her tiptoes and touched her nose to his. Her mouth poised inches from his, she began to whisper. "I have no regrets for what you have given me. I have never missed the life I left behind. I did not belong there... I belong with you."

The truth in her eyes was sharper than the scythe of guilt.

"I love you," he spilled helplessly.

He expected her to show some form of shock, but her eyes instead softened, as if this were a realization she had made long ago and had only been waiting forever to hear it.

He thought he could see a smile on her lips before she pressed them to his chin. Her tongue peeked out and gently prodded the corner of his mouth, and like the merciful man he was, he let her inside.

The kiss was soft and sweet and slow. From the moment their tongues met, they seemed to melt together in the warm depths of their joined mouths. Several minutes passed as they lost themselves, coupled in contentment, conversing with tenderly silent tongues.

"I've been waiting to hear you say those words since the day we met," Esme murmured brokenly amidst the kiss. "I love you more than anything in this world, Carlisle. And don't you dare say you don't deserve my love in return."

With that she clutched his neck and drew him down for an even fiercer kiss, plunging her tongue forcefully between his lips and wandering boldly into uncharted territory.

Her tongue did not linger, but rather taunted him with a fast, ferocious siege before withdrawing. He needed more.

"Esme, please!"

She pulled back and stared up at him, her black eyes positively volatile.

"Take me."

A pair of small, desperate words was all it took.

Her pale pink blouse ripped like crepe beneath his eager fingers. The delicate fabric made no sound as it sliced down the middle, parting to reveal her heaving breasts. She gasped as the cool air hit her skin, but her eyes were still wide and bold, trained directly on his face.

She moved her hands to the laces of her chemise, but he swiftly pushed them out of his way. She bit down hard on her bottom lip as she watched him untangle the tiny white threads. His fingers were shaking so badly he worried he wouldn't be able to complete the task. But by some miracle, the threads fell limp in his hands.

Her eyes went down to watch as he peeled her undergarment away, and her bare breasts bobbed free. He was certain that if he'd had enough time to prepare himself for this moment, he would have promised not to stare like a fool. Unfortunately, Carlisle hadn't had time to think before it happened, so here he was, drinking in his first glimpse of this half-naked woman with his mouth agape, unable to tear his eyes away.

In his defense, Esme was even more exquisite when she was bare-breasted. Her skin was terribly smooth and white, and her nipples were full and even, like dusty rose petals floating in milk. She looked so soft, all he wanted was to reach out and touch her, but his hands were paralyzed by the fear that touching her would make her disappear.

It wasn't until Esme reached out herself and took his hand that he was able to feel her body. She placed his palm against her left breast, tenderly curving his fingers one by one so that they fit ideally around her flesh.

She looked back into his eyes, while holding his hand firmly against her breast, and it finished him.

He had wanted to take his time with this. When he imagined making love to Esme, he had always imagined taking her slowly, patiently. Not roughly and suddenly. But he didn't know how much restraint he could afford to exercise anymore. He should have taken more time to get to know her as a person. He should have done it the right way and listened to stories about her past, and he should have told her about his past and let her sympathize with his memories.

He knew he was made to love this woman, but he felt he was claiming his reward too soon. After waiting centuries for this moment, he could have afforded to wait a few more months if it meant earning his right to know her intimately.

He should have waited.

But now it was too late.

He consumed her with his mouth and hands, knocking her to the ground and tearing her skirt off with a flick of his wrist. The carpet felt rough beneath his palms as he lifted himself over Esme's writhing body, beating his hips against hers with urgency.

Esme made faint sounds of agony beneath him, but all he could do was sink his teeth into her neck and please the demands of his body. His elbow hit the leg of the table beside them and from the corner of his eye, he saw several tubes of oil pigment clatter to the floor. Their colors blotted the carpet, and there they would stain forever, a reminder of this fateful day that he failed to control himself.

Esme was trying to bring him back. She was saying things to him in a gentle voice, running her fingers through his hair, brushing the strands away from his eyes. She was begging him with teary words, but all he could hear were muffled sounds that made no sense.

She was kissing his neck, then his chest. She was unbuttoning his shirt. Then she was struggling with the fastens on his pants. She was encouraging him, wasn't she? She wanted this as much as he did, didn't she? Take me, she'd said. She meant what she'd said, hadn't she?

He only wondered why she seemed to be crying now.

Was it because he was being too rough? Too fast? Too intrusive?

They both seemed to know it was all of these things, but they were too far gone to go back now. This was the way it was going to be, and for some reason they had both simply accepted it. Neither one of them wanted to be the one to end it, even though they knew it was wrong.

The muscles in Carlisle's neck burned from the strain as he chewed like an animal at Esme's soft flesh. His mouth moved to her breasts, sucking forcefully until her nipples glistened like tiny pink jewels. He heard her saying how much she loved him, but he wondered if she even knew what the words meant. He knew enough of her story to know that her previous experiences with "love" were not real.

But this was. This was real love. It was.

Carlisle adored Esme. But he didn't know her as well as he could have. He didn't know her well enough to know how she must have been feeling right now. Tempted by her submissiveness, and blinded by his pride, he chose to forget the fact that he did not know her on as intimate a level as he wished he did.

Instead, he acted on impulse after impulse the second they popped into his mind. He chewed his way through the rest of her clothes until she was naked on the carpet beneath him, then he rewarded his mouth for its hard work by giving Esme a victorious kiss on the lips. After that, she stopped trying to speak to him.

She didn't seem to notice when he finished undressing himself. He had been scared to reveal his body to her, but her lack of direct attention now put him at ease. She seemed off in a distant world somewhere, her eyes all glazed and pretty looking, like a doll's.

Carlisle began to feel lonely in Esme's silence. Her eyes were loving enough, but they did not tell him any of the secrets he so desperately wanted to know. She blinked occasionally, looking more human than she'd ever looked before as he rocked against her on the ground.

His breathing was too loud. All he could hear were the noises he was making. He wanted to hear something from Esme. Anything.

He began to talk to her, hoping she would respond with something more than an empty gaze. "I love you, Esme." He paused, touched her temple with his fingertips and kissed her forehead with open lips. "Esme, I love you," he rephrased, as if she might be more willing to listen when he addressed her at the beginning of his sentence.

She moved under his weight and murmured a bit of nonsense.

"I love you..." He sobbed, sliding his own hand into his lap to touch his erection. She didn't look.

"Touch me," he pleaded with her, resting his head on her small shoulder. He grasped her limp hand and rubbed her palm against his straining sex. Even forced, her naive touch awakened him like nothing else had. He shuddered with pleasure and held her hand firmly against him. "I want you," he whispered helplessly.

She finally looked down, her curiosity evident in the glistening width of her eyes. Her fingers gave him a tentative squeeze and his hips came abruptly forward, accidentally knocking her hand away. She gasped when his hardness met the velvety refuge between her thighs.

He never once considered going slowly; as much as he wanted to bring her pleasure, he could not even think past his own needs at that moment. What he needed most was to be inside of her. He was overcome by a sense of urgency unlike anything he had ever felt before – vigor, aggression, and a desperate need to prove himself, to live up to his supreme masculinity, to make her feel the force of his love for her in a purely physical sense.

Her flesh trembled at his touch, so fragile he felt he could break her with one unintentional thrust. He tried to tame his urge, to summon the patience he needed to slow himself down. He hadn't wanted for it to happen so fast, but he knew he was swimming against the current of a raging river.

The current grasped him with unyielding force and he fell under.

Esme cried out, and he captured her soft exclamation deep within as he laid claim to a deep, exploring kiss. Her taste filled him, yet he wanted more. His tongue lapped desperately against her full lips, then plunged inside the dewy hollow of her mouth.

Blindly, Carlisle pushed forward and tried once...twice...thrice to enter her. Esme attempted to cover her whimpers every time, but he could hear her perfectly. Conflicting sensations of guilt and euphoria stabbed deep in his groin as he carried out one inexperienced thrust after another. The feelings he did not foresee were ones of intense frustration, confusion, and worst of all, incompetence.

The more his attempts failed, the more he felt Esme was not letting him inside on purpose; that her body was rebelling against his. She was more gorgeous than ever in that moment, with her frightened eyes fluttering madly, her swollen red lips gasping in bouts of pain. Her slender arms writhed helplessly on the carpet as he moved above her, her body victimized by forbidden beauty.

She was like a living fantasy painting. Seeing her in such a state fueled the fire in his belly, and encouraged him to ignite lusty, bolder thrusts.

He had to be one with her.

It was his fantasy that somehow his entry would soothe her. He was entirely wrong.

His body was warmed by a despicable wave of ecstasy as he finally managed to fight his way through her resistance. She sobbed hysterically as her flesh curled and stretched, and he felt every terrifying detail of it as he worked to bury himself inside her. He pressed his cheek to hers, hoping to hide the obvious pleasure on his face as he could not help but savor his thrilling intrusion.

Her cries, though hazy to his ears, were still piercing to his heart. Knowing she was in extreme pain while he was nothing short of intoxicated made him want to ravish her even more. He could feel himself expanding still within her, shamelessly cleaving the tightly clenched passage to her womb. Everything about their awkwardly beautiful union was burning, slick, and wet. Once Carlisle found his place inside Esme, he never wanted to leave.

He marveled in the changing noises she made as he pressed into her, became one with her, clung to her and let her cling to him. The feel of her shaking hands on his bare skin was like nothing he had ever imagined. Humans had never quite put it into so many words he could understand; the way bodies of man and woman fit together, the sweltering friction it caused, the primal animalism that ensnared his behavior, and the feeling of coming so close to catching fire.

A delectable sense of dominance overcame him as he claimed this deep, hidden territory between Esme's thighs. He lifted his heavy head and watched her intensely, wondering now if what he saw on her face were true signs of pleasure that matched his own.

He had always felt Esme was somewhat mysterious around him, but he'd hoped once he had her stripped down to nothing with her hair flowing wild over her shoulders and her body thrashing on the floor beneath him, he would be able to read her every emotion without a hitch. Again, he was wrong.

If anything, Esme was more of a mystery to him now than she had ever seemed before. Her eyebrows furrowed and arched at too many different angles for him to decipher her feelings; her eyes were barely able to hold his gaze for more than a split second at a time. All at once, she looked shy and frightened and embarrassed, and ravished with pleasure...and deeply, madly in love. Her face was a constantly changing canvas, and Carlisle was a very confused artist.

Her rounded hips thrashed beneath his, open and pale and soft. His throat became like wire when he stared down at their pushing, pulsing laps. His breath fell out in shortened gasps, and a sensation like burning cinders scattered over the backs of his thighs. He pushed and pulsed harder.

Esme gripped his back with her hands and cried out, and she started panting loudly. The appealing arch of her hips made his venom flow faster. Down the center of his body it shot, straight and sure, gathering at the base of his belly.

The lion inside of Carlisle roared, and was instantly silenced by an explosion of utter bliss.

He wasn't sure if Esme felt it too... But he dearly hoped she had.

Like a rabbit pouncing away into the shadows from a eager hunter, it faded as quickly as it had come. It was such a bittersweet experience; sharing it with a woman made it even more so.

Esme's arms collapsed around his back as his breathing slowed, her fingers like the stems of flowers, creeping up his neck. He shuddered a few more times at her touch, desperate to cling to some emotional evidence that she had been able to share in his fulfillment.

She was so silent, he worried she had died in his arms.

He wanted to speak to her, to ask if she was still with him, but he couldn't form a single word. It was as if he had emptied everything of himself along with his seed – his intelligence, his wisdom, his logic, his politeness, his memory. He wondered, was it normal for a man to feel so useless and spent after loving a woman with all his might?

Frustrated with his confused emotions, Carlisle detached himself from Esme and endured the pain of abandoning her protective heat for the cold outside world. He rolled over, carefully avoiding eye contact with her, and laid flat on his back so he could stare at the ceiling.

Her body still coiled with unsettled tension, Esme cuddled against Carlisle, resting her head under his arm.

The moisture on his skin began to dry, leaving behind a sticky residue that was very unfamiliar. He sensed in the back of his mind that he should have been feeling very different at a moment like this. This had been his most coveted dream for ages – to make love to Esme – but now that it was through, all he could feel was this petrifying chill on his flesh. He had hoped for a gentle glow, a reeling warmth, a fulfillment that lasted longer than just a few seconds. He had hoped he wouldn't feel so dead, so guilty, so empty afterward.

The bumpy carpet began to feel uncomfortable and the smell of oil paints started to sting his nostrils. He still did not want to move an inch, and neither did his frozen young lover.

He wished he could find words to say to her.

After a long while, however, Esme whispered in a hushed and secretive tone over his shoulder. "We need to marry each other, Carlisle."

If she had uttered these very same words a day ago, they would have been warmer than the summer sun. But now, tangled up on the carpet, naked, and self-conscious, those inherently romantic words felt like ice.

"Yes," Carlisle replied stiffly, hating himself for allowing her to suggest it first. "We will. Soon."

A long pause.

"You want me as your wife...don't you?" She sounded so unsure. His chest was starting to hurt.

"Of course." His voice crackled a bit and he swallowed hard. "Of course I do."

He had never noticed until now just how oppressive the ceiling was. It was a thick, blank barrier that stretched out in all directions, trapping him in the room. It looked more like a long, rock-solid stratus cloud, cold and threatening.

Esme shifted on his arm so that she was facing him properly. Her chin touched his bare shoulder, and the slightest contact burned him.

"All I want is to make you happy... You know that, don't you?" The way she spoke, so soft and shaky, nearly brought tears to his eyes. Her desperation was beautiful, but it saddened him for reasons he still could not explain. "I'll do anything for you," she insisted, sliding her fingers promisingly across his midsection. "Anything you ask."

Something in her words sounded wrong to Carlisle, but he did not know how to argue her.

"That is what a wife is expected to do for her husband," she rasped, her tone distressingly serious as she rested her palm flat against his strong stomach.

Carlisle slowly turned his head to face Esme. In a small voice he queried, "Is it?"

She crinkled her forehead as if remembering something from a life she'd lived long ago. "I think so."

In that case, perhaps it was impossible to argue her. Perhaps he didn't even want to.

If she would truly do anything he asked, then there would be no reason to refuse her. She could be the cure for his loneliness, forever.

Carlisle felt his soul smile as he reached out and swept his fingers over the face of his beloved. In her eyes, he saw a brighter future – even if it had not started out the way he had planned.

"I would be very happy to make you my wife, Esme."

And like a mated pair of lions in the savannah, they stayed at each other's side until the last rays of sun disappeared.


A/N: Comparing mated vampires to a pair of lions turned out to be more emotionally complicated and symbolic than I'd realized. Nevertheless I hope everyone enjoyed, especially those who suggested the "what if" scenario from the beginning. Please leave a review before you leave; I always love to hear your thoughts!