I catch myself whistling as I wash my hands in the bathroom. I grin at my reflection in the mirror. I spend several unnecessary seconds in rearranging my hair. Then, deeming it perfect and suddenly impatient to see her again, I rush back to her room.
She is awake, sitting up and watching something through the window. The nurses have unhooked her from the dialysis machine and unwrapped most of the bandages from her head, leaving only a small cotton patch on her forehead. Her luxuriant chestnut hair is splayed behind her on the pillow in its full glory, her face is bright in the sunlight, her hands are neatly folded in her lap. She is a picture of angelic perfection.
Hearing me enter, she turns around, and visibly brightens. My gut twists as I come under the powerful influence of her dimples once more.
"Carlisle!" –she greets me joyously.
"Esme," I murmur, hurry to her side and kiss her on her forehead, "my sweetheart."
She blushes as she pulls my hand to make me sit on the bed next to her. "I missed you," she admits shyly.
"And I you," I say. "I think I'll ask Bernard to hook a catheter bag to me as well. Then I don't have to leave you at all."
"Don't be silly," she giggles.
"I was being serious!" –I say mock-solemnly.
"Tell me about Dr. Bernard." –she says in an obvious attempt to change my teasing mood.
I oblige her; I don't think I can ever deny her anything.
"He's a good man. And a good doctor." She nods. "I've observed that. But not as good as you."
"And how would you know that?" –I ask, eyebrow raised.
"He told me that the transplant was your idea. That didn't surprise me. He also told me that you found me in the middle of the night?" Her gaze is inquiring, and I catch her meaning.
I sigh, remembering the tension and the sleepless nights pervading my life days before Esme re-entered my life. "We were attempting a heart transplant in a twelve-year old with juvenile diabetes. The procedure's not unheard-of, but it's still very, very risky. This girl was too weak, too delicate. The immunosuppressant drugs that we usually give after a transplant-" I nod at one of the IV bags hung next to her –"made her worse. She caught a 'flu, her body rejected the new heart despite the drugs and she died." She places her hand over mine in a gentle show of support. I squeeze it gratefully. I remember how depressed I had already been about the girl's death even before I'd found Esme.
"I was in the morgue, ready to autopsy her, when they brought in a new body. The nurse had to leave for some emergency, and curiosity led me to lift the shroud and see who it was." I stop, the remembrance still too painful. A perpetual 'what-if' echoes in my mind every time I remember the incident, and terrifies me.
"It was me," Esme says softly.
I nod stiffly. "Your pulse was too weak to be felt. I only realised you were still alive because you were warmer than the rest of the morgue."
She shudders. "What if…"
"Don't," I say pleadingly. "I think I'll have nightmares about it for the rest of my life."
Her eyes soften. She places her uninjured hand on my cheek. "You don't have to," she tells me gently. "Everything is alright and we're together now. That's all that matters."
I barely hear her words. The moment I felt the touch of her hand on my face, my insides were on fire –not the fury I had experienced the previous night, but a raging, pleasurable sort of fire.
I place my hand on her cheek, too, even as I lean in slightly. My intention is clear to her; her eyes widen once more and her lips part in a silent gasp. "You have gorgeous eyes, you know, Esme?" I murmur. Her cheeks turn a violent shade of red and she looks away, her eyelashes fluttering.
I lean in a little more, my hand sliding down to gently hold her neck. "And your eyelashes are maddeningly perfect."
I feel her squirm slightly and I loosen my hold on her neck. "Esme. Darling, look at me."
She does look up, her eyes curiously solemn.
"I'll never do anything you don't want me to," I tell her, willing her with my eyes to trust me. I lean a few inches backwards, but her hand slips to the back of my neck and she pulls me in so forcefully that our noses nearly touch.
"I do want this," she whispers huskily, sending my stomach into somersaults, "more than you can imagine."
So I waste no more time with words, and press my lips gently against hers.
The fire I felt before is nothing compared to the heat radiating from her mouth to mine. Her soft lips respond immediately; they shape themselves to match mine with such uninhibited passion that my chest feels devoid of breath. I go ahead to match her ardour and firmly part her lips, feeling an instant electric jolt course through me as her tongue gently traces the inside of my lips while her hand moves up from my neck and buries itself in my hair. I have never felt this alive, this happy.
We continue kissing until we are forced to break apart from want of breath. Even so, my face remains only inches away from hers, my nose touching hers. We barely catch our breath when I kiss her again, and when this one ends, I let my lips trail over her chin and down her neck.
"Carlisle," she half-whispers, half-moans.
"Carlisle!" –she says, a little more insistently as I bury my face completely in her neck.
Gently, she clutches my chin and lifts my head to look me in the eye. I feel her shudder beneath me, my lust for her patently obvious in my eyes.
Nevertheless, her voice is surprisingly firm. "I have one arm and one leg in a cast. It's only been a day since we both have had to live with a single kidney. I'd like to… enjoy this experience when I'm more able."
I take a deep breath to calm myself, and then smile at her. She's right. In the pursuit of sating my own lust, I mustn't hurt her. That would be unconscionable.
So I kiss her fervently on the forehead and clamber off the bed. "As you wish, my love."
She beams at me, dazzling me again with those dimples of hers.
I feel a strong urge to kiss her again, but before I can act on my impulse, the door slides open and a nurse slips in, her expression shy. I wonder how much of our makeout session was witnessed by other people in the corridor. I simultaneously find that I don't care.
"We need to change the catheter, Dr. Cullen," the nurse squeaks.
"I'll wait outside," I tell Esme and turn to leave, when she stops me. "You've barely eaten a proper meal in days. Go to the cafeteria and eat something substantial."
I shake my head. "I'll have a tray brought in here."
Her eyes narrow. "Carlisle Cullen. Go and have a meal the likes of which is rightfully, biologically due to you as a healthy male human in his prime. Don't you dare come back until you have." Her voice, which is usually mild and unprepossessing, is now sharp and commanding. I realise that she'd make a frightening teacher if one didn't obey her as one ought to.
"Yes ma'am," I say, almost involuntarily.
Her expressions softens only slightly. "Go on, then."
I turn about and march out of the room, stunned by her commanding presence. I stop a few steps away, rush back inside, press a resounding kiss on her lips and rush back outside before stern Miss Esme can give me detention.
"There he is! The miracle worker!" –the loud voice booms across the cafeteria, and I smirk and turn to face the familiar speaker.
"You make him sound like he made Helen Keller literate."
The wry second voice is not unwelcome either.
"Emmett," I grin before the giant of a man squeezes me in a tight embrace. "Edward," I nod, smiling, after I'm released from my cousin's crushing grip. I'm glad he's back.
"Since my big brother was the only Cullen who hadn't met her yet, I thought I'd bring him along." –Edward explains as I massage my upper arms.
"I'm glad you're here," I tell them both warmly. "Sit down. Won't you eat something?"
They both decline.
"So. How is she?"
My smile feels like it'll never leave my face. "She's… wonderful."
Emmett sniggers while Edward says with his signature smirk, "I meant, how is she doing?"
I have a strong feeling that I'm blushing. Nevertheless, I say, as casually as I can, "She's recuperating nicely. They just took her off dialysis."
"That's good news. So when can we go see her?" –Emmett asks eagerly.
"Emmett! She's only just woken up. We shouldn't overwhelm her. I'm sure she's still trying to get used to Carlisle's presence."
"Oh, she's pretty much used to my presence," I say nonchalantly. Neither of my cousins misses the implied meaning.
"Really?" –Edward drawls, the gleam in his eyes matching the one in his brother's. "How comfortable is she with you?"
I feel my cheeks heat up again. "We…erm, kissed," I admit. Since a very long time, Edward and Emmett have been regaling me with stories of the girls in their lives and their so-called conquests. It is refreshing for me to contribute, for once, despite the obvious irritation at their teasing.
"Well, look at that. Thirty-year old celibate moves pretty quickly!" –Emmett snorts, while Edward is laughing, surprised.
"Oh, shut up," I snap, but I'm not really angry.
The brothers burst into laughter again, and I push my plate away, studiously ignoring them as I get up to go pay.
When I return to the table, they have stopped laughing. "Seriously speaking, though," Emmett says, in his surprisingly calm tone, "we're happy you're happy, Carlisle." Edward nods his agreement. I smile warmly at them, grateful for their support.
"I'm going back to her ward now. Could you wait a few minutes before coming? I have to warn her of your arrival."
"I'm offended that our coming necessitates a warning," Edward says petulantly.
I grin. "Two minutes. She's still getting used to all this, to us. I can't spring my quirky relatives on her just like that."
"I bet you're just worried she'll realise that she's with the ugliest Cullen when she sees us and that she'll hook up with one of us." –Emmett winks.
My response is immediate. "And which one of you would that be?"
The answer is perfectly synchronised. "Me, obviously," the two brothers chorus.
I smirk, triumphant. This tactic has never failed me.
"What? Oh, please."
"Dude. You have got to be kidding me. Have you seen these biceps?"
"'Living Adonis', Emmett. You can't beat that."
"The world's sexiest woman is my fiancée. Can't beat that."
"More like the world's most shallow-brained blonde."
"Oy! Too far, Eddie..."
Still grinning, I make my way to Esme's room three floors above. When I reach the corridor, I notice from afar that the blinds are still drawn and the door is shut. Frowning, I make my way to the nearby nurses' station, but before I can ask anything, the squeaky-voiced nurse tells me, "Oh, Dr. Cullen, the patient has a visitor. I left the blinds closed for some privacy."
"A visitor?" My frown deepens.
"Yes. Her husband."
It's like time has stopped. I can feel the blood coursing out of my head and into my feet.
"No," I whisper, and turn back to her room as though in a dream.
No. No, no, no… No!
I run faster than I can ever remember running. I pull the door open with such force that it smashes loudly against the opposite frame. The scene before my eyes is one I'm fearing, but still not one I'm prepared to see.
Esme is on the floor, unconscious, her face wet with tears. Blood is trickling from her lips and a big patch of red is growing on her gown near her abdomen. A man is standing over her, a tall, golden-haired man, his face twisted with anger but his eyes gleaming with sadistic pleasure. He looks up at me as the door bangs open.
He stares at me insolently, not a trace of fear or guilt in his eyes.
"'Carlisle', I assume," he drawls. I hear a strange whistling sound in my ears as my blood rushes to my face again, bringing with it the same fury that nearly incapacitated me last night.
"Bitch wouldn't stop calling for you," he says in almost explanatory fashion.
The next moment, he shrieks in pain as I lunge at him, grabbing his throat. "You-sick-bastard!" –I breathe, levelling punches at him like a madman with each word that leaves my mouth. "You-freaking-crazy-lunatic!"
Most of my punches land, but in seconds he grabs my wrists and snarls at me through the blood pouring from his nose. "She's my wife. I won't have her shacking up with someone else." He punches my jaw so hard I hear the bone crack. My resulting scream is more anger than pain, and I attack him again with renewed vigour.
We thrash about for several rushed, furious moments, each trying to gain an ascendancy, but both failing. But then, as we crash into a medicine cart, he reaches over and grabs something small and silvery.
Thoughts of self-preservation kick in only at this moment. I see the gleam of the little knife as he swings it toward me; I thrust my hands out protectively and feel a sharp, burning pain erupt in both my palms.
He raises his hand to strike again, his aim clear and unhindered this time, my bloody hands too slow to defend myself. My eyes wander to Esme lying on the floor, her beautiful hair spread out like a glistening fan.
So beautiful. So perfect.
In my peripheral vision, I see the scalpel gleam as it is brought down toward me a second time, but my eyes are fixed on her face, on the peaceful expression that seems to soothe me…
And a deafening bull-like bellow fills the room. Evenson's striking arm falters; a split-second later, he is wrenched off me by a single large arm.
It has been years since Emmett Cullen fought in the ring. But he is still dangerous, still formidable. With one swipe, the scalpel is dragged from the villain's hand. Another punch, straight into his solar plexus, throws him off his feet and he crashes into the wall behind him, collapsing onto the floor in an unconscious heap.
"Carlisle!" –Edward is instantly at my side, but I shake him off.
"Esme!" –I gasp, tears forming in my eyes. "Esme, my love, please. Get her in the ER, now!" –I scream at the nurses who are standing at the door, frozen with fear.
The nurses move immediately. A gurney appears, Esme is placed on it and they quickly wheel her away. I try to follow them but my legs feel inconsistent and the world spins around me. As I stumble onto my knees, I hear my cousins' frantic voices. "Carlisle!"
"He's lost so much blood!"
"His stitches have ripped."
"Get my brother to the ER, now!" –Emmett's screaming order is almost similar to and much more frightening than mine.
I smile at the thought. It was a good thing I made him Chairman of the Board, I tell myself.
And then darkness envelops me.
The light is blinding me, making my eyes hurt.
"Edward," I mumble, recognising the voice. I can barely move my jaw. I realise it is clamped to my upper jaw tightly with bandage.
"Thank God." The relief in his voice is clear.
"Where's Esme?" –I ask, my mind turning clearer. The pain in my jaw, my stomach and my hands is nothing compared to the pain twisting in my heart. "How is she?"
My eyes are completely open now, and I don't miss the expression on his face. "How is she?" –I repeat, my voice laced with desperation.
"They're not sure yet," he sighs finally.
A dead weight seems to plummet in my stomach. I remember the feeling of her lips pressed passionately against mine. Was that only a few hours ago?
My eyes burn with unshed tears. "No," I mumble. No. I can't lose her. Not now. Not after being so sure of a glorious future with her. Not when I was certain of our happily-ever-after.
Emmett walks into the room looking worried. He sees me awake and relief suffuses his face momentarily. "Carlisle. I'm so glad."
"How is she?" –I ask him, too.
"You should ask a doctor. Hang on."
He steps outside for a few brief moments. When he returns, he has Bernard with him.
"How is she?" –I ask again, feeling rather like a parrot.
Bernard looks at me as if he's summing me up. Then, he sighs and takes the chair Edward offers him. "Not good. He seems to have punched her in the stomach. Her stitches ripped open and there seems to be an infection. Also, the shock made her body reject the kidney. I know," he adds at my horrified expression. "We all realise how important it is that she keep the kidney. She's on an intensive course of corticosteroids, but that might aid her infection more than anything. We're still monitoring her closely."
"There was blood on her lips," I say, remembering.
"Internal bleeding. We've patched her up. Now all we've got to do is wait, and hope for the best."
I swallow, willing myself not to cry, and sit up. "I have to go see her," I say, despite the fact that I'm still pretty dizzy.
"Hold on right there!" –Emmett says sharply. All three men are glaring at me with similar expressions. "You're not unscathed, either," Bernard tells me, his voice firm. "You have a broken jaw, a cracked rib, all your stitches came out as well, and you lost a quart of blood from those nasty cuts on your hands."
"I don't care."
"Carlisle," Edward says, his voice hard and pleading at the same time. "Remember what I told you yesterday? About eating? The same argument applies here."
"She wasn't dying yesterday, Edward!" –my yell is muffled by my bound jaw.
"No," he agrees, "but you're dying today."
Emmett nods. "The sooner you get better, the sooner you can see her."
When I still look unconvinced, Bernard adds his diplomatic iota to the conversation. "Look, Cullen, she's in a pretty stable state right now. Could get better, could get worse. Either way, I'll let you know and make sure you're by her side when the change happens. Is that alright with you?"
Wired and strapped as I am to the bed and the surrounding machines, making it impossible for an escape attempt, I simply nod. There seems to be nothing else I can do, at the moment.
"Could you try wheeling me a little faster?" –I ask Edward testily.
"The IV stand will tip over." –Edward snaps.
"Relax, Carlisle," Emmett rumbles reassuringly from behind me. "A few seconds later makes no difference."
I bite back an acidic retort. After all, they're trying to help me.
As we approach Esme's unit, Bernard bursts out of the doors, an inscrutable expression on his face.
"Bernard!" –I let out a muffled gasp. "What? What is it? What happened to her?"
"Thank goodness you're here, Carlisle," he says breathlessly. My own breath is stolen from me. Dear God, can he mean…
"The drugs are working."
For a split second I cannot believe it. Then, relief spreads through me like warmth, dulling my pain. Behind me, I hear Edward and Emmett whooping. With a grin I can't hide from my face, I turn to them. "Take me to her."
And they do.
The monitors are emitting periodic low beeps. I feel a sense of déjà vu as I watch Esme from my uncomfortable sitting position in my wheelchair. A little more than twenty-four hours ago I sat watching Esme in much the same manner, waiting for her to wake up, hoping that she'd have me when she did. Now I don't have to worry about the second issue, but that doesn't make me any less anxious.
I sigh, wishing I could stroke her hair like I had last time. This time, it's impossible –my hands are bandaged so tightly and profusely that it feels like my arms end in clubs. My stomach itches where they have restitched the incision, and my jaw is throbbing with a dull ache.
But I barely ponder over my own injuries. All I can still think about is her –her smile, her lips, the sight of her lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood…
Anger flashes through me once more. The police had come and had cuffed the still-unconscious Evenson and taken him to the lock-up. Emmett assured me he was having the best lawyers take our case. We would take only the harshest punishment as justice served. Although I knew he would keep his word, I still felt that no punishment would be too cruel for a man such as Charles Evenson.
A small sound brings me back to the present. I glance at Esme and nearly jump up with excitement. She's stirring. And mumbling something.
I wheel my chair closer to hear her whispered words.
"Carl… canal… China…"
The words make no sense. I notice then that her face is flushed.
"Nurse!" –I yell as clearly and as loudly as I can.
A nurse appears immediately. "She's delirious," I tell her, trying to calm my anxiety.
"Canal…" –the whisper is louder now.
"You should go outside, Doctor," she tells me as a second nurse rushes in.
I don't argue. I realise that I, with my wheelchair and my tattered emotional state, would be a distraction to them. They need to focus on Esme. So I let them wheel me out.
It's four in the morning. Exactly three days since I found the love of my life dying in the morgue. Three days, and my emotions have been more overhauled than they were in the last three years put together.
I glance at Esme, who is sleeping peacefully now, the sheen of fever gone. It was worth it. All the drama, the trauma was worth it if it meant I could spend the rest of my life with her.
My parched throat alerts me to my more immediate needs. I wheel myself to the coffee table in the corner, where I pour myself some water to drink.
Her voice, low, broken, raspy, is still beautiful enough to make my heart race.
"Esme!" –I gasp joyously.
"Thirsty," she rasps.
I laugh at the sense of déjà vu again and I refill my cup and wheel myself to her side. I strain to reach her mouth from my chair, but her hand rises limply and helps me help her drink.
She smiles slightly, she feels the déjà vu, too. "No."
I place the cup on the bedside cabinet and clutch her hand.
"Are you alright?" –she whispers. I see her squeezing my hand but I can't feel it, because of the confounded bandages.
"I am now," I tell her truthfully.
"How much do you remember?"
She pauses. "Everything."
We both sit silently, remembering those few horrible painful, bloody minutes.
"He found me through my medical records."
My gut twists guiltily. "I should have known. I shouldn't have had them sent from Columbus. I should have waited until you woke-"
"Shh." Her finger rests lightly on my lips for a moment before falling back on the bed. She's still very weak. "You did the right thing. You did your duty as a doctor."
"But I failed you."
"Carlisle Cullen, you could never fail me. Never."
"Not even when I left town without telling you?"
She smiles. "Even then. You owed me no explanation. I never blamed you."
"You are wonderful," I murmur.
"I love you," she says softly.
I freeze. I realise, and I know she has already realised it too, that she hasn't said this to me before.
"When Charles came and was… hurting me," she whispers, "the only thing I could think about was how I hadn't even told you how much I loved you."
"I knew that already." –I tell her soothingly.
"Saying the words doesn't hurt."
"True," I accede, "I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing that."
"I love you."
I smile again. "And I, you. I have never had anyone outside my family tell me this before, and it is a wonderful feeling."
"Never?" –she sounds surprised.
I shake my head.
She frowns. "But then…"
"What is it?"
She hesitates. "Columbus wasn't the last time I saw you. I saw you again, more than two years ago, in New York."
"You did? Why didn't you come talk to me?"
She is silent for a moment. "I was on a bus to Chinatown. You were standing on Canal and Bowery. With a woman. You hugged her as the bus passed."
My eyes widen. I remember the day perfectly. I haven't gone to New York very often, especially to Chinatown.
"That was Rosalie Hale. She's my cousin Emmett's fiancée, then girlfriend. You'll meet him soon, he's in the hospital right now."
"Oh." Her mouth is a perfect little circle. "I- I've been so foolish." Her voice trembles, the way it does before she starts to cry. "Charles was starting to show his cruel side and I was rethinking my marriage and there you were, as gloriously handsome as ever, happy with that gorgeous woman, and I thought –I thought I was foolish to ever think of wanting you, that you were too good to have and to be true and my life was pretty much ruined because I sold myself to a wife-beater and I thought, for days and months after that, that was all I could hope for and deserve in my life." Her voice fades away as a tear flows down her cheek.
Her rushed words only make me more glad. That she cared so much for me for so long! That we don't ever have to live in such agony, with such uncertainty… Smiling lightly, I try to reason her tears away.
"Don't cry, Esme, my love. Please don't. You were wrong. You are too good to have and be true. I'm serious," I insist when she shakes her head slowly, "I've been living a lonely life, not knowing where I belong… until you came into my life."
Her eyes are dry now, and fixed on me. There is a long stretch of understanding silence.
"I love you," she finally whispers, smiling.
I somehow grasp her hand and bring it to my lips.
"I belong with you, and you belong with me," I repeat, kissing her hand again, "my sweetheart."
A/N: Okay, that bit with Charles Evenson was probably a bit... dramatic. Still, I wanted some drama in the storyline, and, more importantly, I wanted closure to that part of Esme's life within this story, and having him arrested for assault, attempt to murder(any other charge possible) was the best way for me to do that. It was nothing less than he deserved anyway.
So. There you have it. Three days of Esme's 'transformation', human-style.
Thank you for reading, and please review! It's right there, that box, you know. Just waiting for you to type something in... *winks*