A HUGE thank you to everyone who voted this story to *4th Place* in Twifanfictionrecs' Top Ten contest for April 2014! I'm truly honored by the support.

-August 7, 1993-

Finally, it was over.

Thank goodness.

Carlisle didn't think he could handle any more of it: maintaining a quietly mournful expression when he just wanted to yell and sob, or accepting yet another "I'm so sorry for your brother's loss," or enduring handshakes and hugs from people he'd never met before nor was likely to see again. Most difficult of all was ignoring critical glances from those who thought it suspicious that both Cullen brothers had lost their wives within a year's time.

He felt enough guilt as it was.

When Lillian died, he routinely had tortured himself over the "what ifs," but Carlisle achieved a whole new level of masochism in the days after finding Elizabeth. His mind ran through the list of offenses he'd committed. He shouldn't have let a month go by without seeing her. It was a major failing on his part that he didn't try harder to keep in touch, to convince her that they could remain friends. He should have insisted she speak to someone about the loss of her baby.

Further, his transgressions hadn't begun when Ed ordered him away. There were many marks against him before that point. He should have read the warning signs better and pushed for her to open up, to get help. Why hadn't he confronted her about Ed's assertions of her depression? Subconsciously, had he been avoiding conflict so he might stand a better chance with her?

In some ways, he blamed himself more for her death than he faulted Ed.

That was the reason he didn't say anything to his brother when he picked up the heartbroken man at airport. He held his tongue while funeral arrangements were being made. Not a single accusing glare during the eulogy. Certainly, he harbored anger toward Ed, but it was tempered by his own inwardly-directed resentment. Sinners in their own rights shouldn't cast stones.

A touch on his shoulder startled him from his bleak thoughts.

"I'm gonna head up to bed. I'm making Ed stay here tonight so he doesn't do anything stupid." There was a pause. "You're more than welcome to take the other guest room. You look pretty rough."

"I'll manage." Lifting his head from his hands, Carlisle met Jay's concerned glance and then looked away. "Thanks for being here for us. I really appreciate it."

"Are you two going to be okay with each other?"

"What do you mean?" he asked carefully, wondering what—if anything—Ed had told his best friend.

Jay rolled his eyes. "I know something happened between you guys. The tension is rather thick when you're in the same room together."

"Oh. It's nothing…important." He studied the wispy patterns on the rug.

"Sure." Doubt was heavy in Jay's voice. "You're both big boys, so I'll trust you to work it out. But if you do need anything, you know you can ask, right? I mean, you'll always be my brother-in-law."

Carlisle looked at him again and managed a pained smile. "I know, and it means a lot to me."

"Yeah. Well. Hang in there."

After Jay departed the room, Carlisle clenched his hands into fists and inhaled deeply. All the family and guests had left, and he had no more excuses to stall any longer. Even though he and his brother hardly had spoken to each other after Elizabeth's death, Ed shouldn't find out the truth from a stranger.

Carlisle rose from the couch and made his way through Jay's house, barely taking note of the caterers scurrying about to clean up. There was no answer when he knocked on the door to the office, but that didn't really come as a surprise. He turned the handle and stepped inside.

"Ed, I need to talk to you."

The lights were on but had been dimmed to the lowest setting. Ed sat hunched over the desk, staring blankly at an unopened bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue and spinning an empty shot glass between his fingers.

Carlisle sighed internally as he gathered his thoughts. He couldn't tell how successfully his brother was fighting his desire to drink, and what he was about to say would only make matters worse.

"Helen intended to find you after the gathering tonight but then felt it was too much for her to handle. She asked if I would speak with you in her place."

Ed didn't make any indication that heard, but Carlisle continued.

"She and Richard took Edward back to the hotel and will put him to bed in their suite. Just make sure you're not too late in the morning to pick him up. Their flight to Columbus leaves at three."

Carlisle eyed the shot glass as it turned end over end. He grimaced at the sight but pushed onward.

"She wants to tell you again how grateful she is that you gave her access to the medical records and the police reports. She couldn't understand why they refused to tell her anything about her own daughter.

"More importantly, however, she wants you to know the most recent information. During my shift at the hospital yesterday evening, she asked to see me in private and then handed me a few photocopied pages. It wasn't until I scanned over them that I realized what they were—part of the preliminary toxicology report. Helen wouldn't tell me how she obtained them; she only wanted me to explain the findings to her. So I did."

Finally, Ed lifted his head to look at Carlisle. Two sets of light blue eyes regarded each other, unblinking, until the elder brother finally glanced away.

"Did any of the data support the initial hypothesis?" he whispered, voice rasping and strained.

It took a moment before Carlisle could answer.

"Yes, but—"

Ed's body stiffened abruptly. He grabbed the neck of the whisky bottle and picked it up as if to hurl it against the wall.

"HOW COULD SHE?" he roared, his face contorted in anger.

But as quickly as the rage flared up, defeat overwhelmed him even faster. His shoulders slumped and he dropped the bottle in his lap.

"Ed, listen to me for a minute. We can't know for sure. Not yet...maybe never."

"What was her blood alcohol content?" he asked woodenly.

"It was 0.21, but she had lost so much weight, and—"


"No recreational drugs. Prescription medication, however—"

"Which ones?"

"Fluoxetine, carbamazepine, and one other that is structurally similar to trazodone, but the report didn't identify it. Fluoxetine, or Prozac, is a common antidepressant. Carbamazepine, also known as Tegretol, is used to treat epileptic seizures, nerve pain, and bipolar dis—"

"What?" A bewildered intensity transformed Ed's previously deadened features. "Elizabeth wasn't bipolar. She succumbed to depression on occasion, but she'd seen someone for that. And where did she get the other medication? Why the hell was she taking it?"

Carlisle forced himself to remain calm, professional. "According to the records Helen gave me, she was diagnosed almost two years ago with Bipolar II Disorder, which the DSM defines as a pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown mania. Tegretol was prescribed at the time, but the last time she filled a prescription for it was 10 months ago."

"I don't…why didn't she tell me?" Ed clenched his hands around his head as he slowly shook it back and forth. "And the other drug?"

"Helen contacted the lead investigator assigned to the case. He assured her they were looking into it and would update you both as soon as he had more information."

There was a noticeable hesitation before Carlisle continued. "I did a little research of my own. If the unknown was structurally similar to trazodone, it might have comparable contraindications. There are interactions between it and the other two identified drugs found in her system, but the most significant is between trazodone and fluoxetine.

"Combining these two medications can increase the risk of a rare but serious condition called serotonin syndrome. There are many symptoms—among them are confusion, hallucination, increased heart rate, fever, blurred vision, tremor, incoordination, and vomiting. Severe cases may result in coma and even death."

"So you think that was the reason?" Ed's voice shook as he posed the question.

"It's a possibility. But we'll never know for sure, even if the unknown drug can be identified. There isn't a laboratory test for serotonin syndrome; diagnosis typically is made from symptom observation and patient history."

"If the drug wasn't an approved, prescribed medication, how did it get inside her? If she took it willingly, where would she have gotten it? Why?"

Carlisle paused once more, debating whether to share his thoughts. It was the helpless frustration he read on his brother's face that swayed him.

"This is only a guess on my part, so please bear that in mind. Trazodone is currently used to treat major depression and anxiety. However, it has the side effect of marked drowsiness. Although I didn't see any reference in the reports from Helen, perhaps Elizabeth was participating in a clinical trial testing a new antidepressant. It's the only legitimate way I can think of that would have given her access to such a drug."

Ed narrowed his eyes as the muscles in his body tensed. "She was killed testing an unproved drug in a test I never even knew about?" he growled, incredulous.

"I told you it was just a guess. It doesn't—"

"My wife was used as a goddamned guinea pig?" Slamming the whisky bottle on the desk, he jumped to his feet. "I'll find out who did this, and they will be so fucking sorry…"

"Calm down and listen to me!" Carlisle demanded. "I looked over only a portion of a preliminary report. You can't go shooting off your guns without considering the rest of the information, which has yet to be released. Even with the little we do know, you're not taking into account other confounding variables such as high blood alcohol content and her weakened, undernourished state."

"What do you mean, 'weakened, undernourished state'?" asked Ed, his tone becoming quiet and dangerous.

Carlisle stared at him in surprise. "The low numbers on the vitreous metabolic panel indicate malnutrition, and Karlene mentioned noticing a significant weight loss over the last month. You didn't see it?"

"What are you implying? Are you trying to blame me for what happened? If anything, it's your fault if she deteriorated. Beth was fine—we were fine—until you tried to steal her from me!"

"You're kidding, right?" Carlisle sputtered, now completely shocked. "You can't be serious. Do you really think you can accuse everyone else without once looking at how your actions have affected Elizabeth over the years? She tried so hard to be a good wife and mother, to live up to your ridiculous expectations, and you treated her like shit! She loved you so damned much, but you didn't deserve her or her love. You certainly didn't return it."

Ed stormed around the desk and stopped in front of his brother, their faces only inches apart. He was slightly taller than Carlisle and glared down with icy, hateful eyes.

"Don't you dare pretend to know anything about our relationship!" he growled. "You'd like to think my marriage to Beth was troubled, but you were always jealous—"

"You bet I was jealous!" Carlisle ranted, nearly hysterical. "A beautiful, warm, loving person gave her heart and soul to you, and you didn't even realize what an amazing gift you were granted! You were too absorbed in yourself to see how much you hurt her and how often! Like when you never remembered your anniversary or even her birthday. How you demanded she stop volunteering at the library because you worried she wouldn't be available to entertain one of your clients on a moment's notice. The Christmas you bought her gym equipment because you thought she still carried some pregnancy weight six months after giving birth. All the times you introduced her as 'Beth' even though you knew she hated that nickname—just because you were dumped by a 'Liz' in high school!

"Even now, after she's gone, you still don't get it. Lizzie tried so hard to make you happy, she sacrificed so much, but you're so wrapped up in your own selfish little world that you can see beyond what you've lost. It never crosses your mind to wonder if you might bear some responsibility in what happened. God, you make me sick. I need to get out of here before I do something I might regret. I can't stand to be in the same city as you anymore, much less the same room."

Carlisle spun around and strode to the door, chest heaving and hands clenched tightly into fists that wanted to pound into his ignorant brother. He hadn't been exaggerating; he had never felt such a desire to physically hurt someone in his life, and he didn't relish the feeling. It only served as further proof that his decision to leave was right.

The quiet drive home afforded some much needed time to calm his anger. It was important that he had a clear head to handle the arrangements still to be made. He walked into the house, called the Jensens' house to say goodnight to Rosalie, and then listened to messages on the answering machine.

There were two important ones waiting for him.

The first confirmed the hope on which all his plans rested. He had been selected to fill the open residency position.

The second message was left by a realtor in Seattle. One of the properties he liked was available to rent immediately and came with an option to buy after six months. It was perfect for the circumstances.

He hoped Rosalie would like their new house.

Knowing his daughter's likely reaction, Carlisle had been waiting to tell her about moving until he knew for sure where they were going. The longer she could consider the implications of leaving the city where she was born, the more she would work herself into a fit.

Other than Rosalie's assured disapproval, only one other consequence caused him to lament a change of location. While he enjoyed working at the university and had several friends there, he was an introvert at heart and wasn't exceedingly close to any of them. His mother and father were no longer alive, and Lillian's parents had moved to California. True, he and Rosalie would miss Jay, but his brother-in-law wasn't who Carlisle was loath to leave.

It was his deep concern for Edward's wellbeing that nearly tipped the scales in favor of continuing on in the city from which he greatly wanted to escape. While Carlisle had no worries about the child's physical care, he held little faith in Ed's ability to step up and give his son the attention or affection that the boy desperately needed.

It proved difficult to gauge how Edward was coping with Elizabeth's death, and he hadn't given many outward clues to his feelings. Since her passing, the six-year-old had been slightly more prone to emotional outbursts when among those he knew and even more reserved than usual if unfamiliar people were present. He barely touched his meals and spent a large portion of the day sleeping. These actions, however, fell within a justifiably permissive range of behavior one would expect given the traumatic experience he had suffered.

Still, Carlisle knew his nephew would need a significant amount of support through the grieving and coping process, and he highly doubted Ed would provide it. Although Carlisle was not so conceited to consider himself adequate for that task, there was no question in his mind that he could be a positive force in Edward's recovery. As both a loving uncle and an adult who had experienced major loss, he could help Edward with the difficulty of moving forward when the only thing one desired was to hide under the covers and cry. He had dealt with that feeling every morning for the past week.

But then again, it was the sight of that little devastated person that caused his heart to weep the hardest.

Of course Carlisle knew his nephew had no control over the reaction incited in him. But every time he had seen Edward in the past week, the tenuous hold on his grief slipped dangerously. When he glanced at the unruly reddish-brown hair, he thought of how often Elizabeth had to smooth down her own untamed locks as she worked around the house. Edward's guileless emerald eyes constantly reminded him of a similar pair that used to give comfort when the pain of losing his wife was too much to bear. Then there had been the time a few days ago when Carlisle walked into Jay's living room and noticed the small motionless figure on the couch. Though his brain knew Edward merely slept, Carlisle's legs had given way beneath him as memories overwhelmed his senses.

He was utterly ashamed of this weakness, but he didn't have the strength to fight any longer. In his eyes, only one option existed—he needed to leave Chicago. There were too many ghosts present, and one resided within a child who didn't deserve his uncle's misplaced eschewal. Edward shouldn't ever know such censure.

That's what Carlisle told himself when, two weeks later, he and Rosalie hugged the little boy goodbye and left for Seattle without any promises of future interaction. Through the ensuing years, Carlisle thought of him often and sent cards and presents every birthday and Christmas. He knew, however, it wasn't enough to make up for his deliberate absence in his nephew's life.

He had failed Edward.

And when he finally came face-to-face with green eyes that had become clouded and expressionless over the 15 years since last he saw them, Carlisle realized he wasn't the only one.

-o-o-o-o- OSC –o-o-o-o-

"That was at the Winter Horses premiere, right?"

"Yes," Carlisle sighed. "When I tried to mail a gift for Edward's nineteenth birthday, Ed returned the unopened card with a note explaining that he had dropped out of college and left home without a forwarding address. Rose helped me try to locate him, but we didn't know where to start. Imagine her surprise when she saw his picture on a movie poster 18 months later."

"How did he react to seeing you both again?" Esme asked. The emotions she experienced while listening to Carlisle's account of his past were evident in her voice.

"He didn't. At least, not outwardly. Edward was polite but detached, although the undertones of his infamous 'arrogance' were present even then. I tried to spend as much time as possible with him after that reunion, and while he always agreed to see me when I visited, he kept our interactions impersonal—never acted as if we were anything more than casual acquaintances."

"Huh." Esme frowned, her brow furrowing in bemusement. "How in the world did Rosalie manage to become his PR agent?"

"That was Emmett's doing. According to him, the heavens opened up when he saw Rose at the premiere." Carlisle snickered self-deprecatingly. "I think he took a page out of my book when he began doting on her like a lovesick pup. I was the same way with her mother."

Illuminated by the moon's bright glow, Carlisle's face evidenced a struggle to pull free from the mire of sorrow that earlier had claimed him.

"Well," Esme said in an attempt to divert his thoughts, "I can sympathize with you both. I was never so flustered as when you walked into the house the first time I was here. You were the sexiest man I had ever seen." Her hand brushed softly over his abdomen.

If the room wasn't bathed in tones of gray, Carlisle knew she would be treated to the sight of a rare blush on his cheeks.

"You don't have to flatter me, you know. You already have me naked in bed, Ms. Platt."

She smirked. "True enough on your second point, but I'm not exaggerating your sex appeal. I practically have to beat down other women whenever we go out."

"What? Now I know you're making things up," he laughed.

"It's true. Just the other day, I almost stabbed our waitress with my heel because she kept sticking out her chest and fluttering her lashes at you every time she came to the table."

"You're crazy, but I love you." Carlisle stretched out his arms and pulled her on top of him. He lifted his head to touch his lips to hers. "Besides, the only opinion that matters is yours."

Esme's eyes darkened seductively as she reached for his hand. "I think it's fairly obvious how I feel about you," she murmured.

Carlisle was so focused on sensation of her mouth sliding over his jaw that it took him a second to realize his fingers were being pressed against something soft, warm, and wet. He sucked in a short breath of air and then let out a groan.

"Consider this," she whispered next to his ear. "Just the memory of how I felt when I first saw you is all it took for me to get this way…that's what you do to me."

"Esme…" He turned his head and captured her lips in a slow, yet intense kiss as his hand took charge of its own movements between her thighs.

Although aroused and wanting, she could feel how much tension was still held within his body. A wave of shame rolled over her. She pulled gently away and met his confused gaze.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. You opened up to me and shared something painful, and though I wanted to help you feel better, the way I went about it wasn't appropriate."

Carlisle's arms enveloped her and held tightly. "There's no reason to apologize. In fact, you've been nothing but wonderful tonight. You gave me a push at the right time and were the only one who could. I've never revealed that part of my past, nor have I wanted to. It did hurt to relive those memories, but you knew it was time for me to move forward. Already, I'm finding it a little easier to face what happened—the urge to shut it away and ignore those emotions isn't as strong. I have you to thank for that and owe you so much."

She moved back to look at him fully. "Sweetheart, you don't owe me, or anyone else, a thing. You alone—the incredible person who you are—is more than enough reward. I've never met anyone as giving and compassionate, and even though we've known each other for a relatively short time, I can see how good you are. Everyone else can, too. Rosalie and Emmett sing your praises—well, Emmett's the one who does the actual singing—and even your curmudgeonly brother admits that you've always tried to do what was right. I know he gave you a lot of grief in the past, and still does, but he truly admires you. I'd bet that anyone who knows you does, too. I certainly do."

Carlisle was still and silent while she spoke, and he remained that way after she stopped. Tucking her head into his side, Esme listened to his steady breathing as she waited for him to say something. Several moments passed without a response.

She was just about to ask if he was okay when the low vibration of his chest buzzed against her ear.

"So you admire me?"

There was a strange urgency in his voice that corresponded with a sudden quickening of his heartbeat.

"Yes, I do."

She puzzled at the racing pulse as she waited again for him to speak again.

"Do you love me?"

"Of course I do. I would hope you don't have any questions about that by now." She found herself slightly indignant at his insistent tone.

"Do you desire me?"

"Carlisle, what are all these questions for? I hope you're not insecure in how I feel about you because—"

She wasn't able to finish. Two hands clamped around her upper arms and pushed her into the mattress. A heavy weight crashed atop her body and pinned her down.

"Answer the question! Do you desire me?" he growled, low and rough.

Esme gasped as hard flesh ground against her inner thigh. "Yes!" she whimpered. "God, yes!"

The words were still breezing past her lips when her whole body was jolted by the force of his thrust inside her. She cried out in surprise as a rush of moisture responded to the onslaught of arousal that set her every nerve on fire. For a few short moments, her brain attempted to figure out what was happening, but the explosions of sensory overload made reason impossible.

He was everywhere at once. Lips sucked on her neck, teeth grazed over her shoulder, fingers knotted in her hair. Her breasts were ensnared between them, their legs tangled in sheets, and skin rubbed slickly against skin. Desperate need built exponentially with each body-quaking drive he made.

Never before had she experienced such ferocity and hunger from Carlisle. Sex was always good with him—he was such a considerate lover and took care of her—but this was a whole new level of pleasure. Whatever he held back before, or whatever had been holding him back, was gone, and in its place was pure, unrestrained passion.

And it was good.

Esme quickly overcame her astonishment and responded in kind. She encircled his hips with her legs and challenged every thrust with one of her own. Her nails raked lines down his back as her mouth sucked bruises onto his skin.

They didn't talk or scream or call out. Only the sounds of labored breathing and occasional low moans could be distinguished from the rhythmic crash of bodies colliding and desires uniting. They weren't young and inexperienced, there was no fumbling or hesitation. Each half of the whole took what was needed from the other, and in doing so, both grew closer to being complete.

Wild with newfound abandon, Carlisle pushed through the long-maintained boundaries of his character. It was strange and exciting to be with a woman in such a manner—to trust her so absolutely and have that faith returned. The ubiquitous restraint that previously dampened his senses was freed and forgotten.

Seizing her hips, he dragged her closer while rearing back on his knees. She submitted control and let herself concentrate on the aching euphoria that was pushed further inside with every stroke. Pressure increased to a nearly painful intensity, and the hard fullness she felt deep within indicated he was close, too.

Carlisle drowned in the sight and sensation of burying himself in her body, over and over, hurtling toward his release. Even in the dimness of the room, Esme was beautiful beneath him—the long curved lines of her body, hair in snarls over the sheets, rounded breasts heaving, full lips parted.

Eyes shut tightly in anticipation.

Finally, he could stand it no longer; too much was inside him. He drew in a shallow breath as every part of him stiffened in sweet agony. Relief was there, quaking in his groin, ready to be released. All he had to do was let go. He needed to let go.

Yet…something stopped him from giving into selfish pleasure. Something so infused within his being that he could not deny it.

She must come first. Between them, he would always put her first.

"Esme, can you?" he forced out between gasps of air.

Her voice was thinned from strain. "Almost…"

Clenching his jaw, he called on the restraint that had been banished earlier. But instead of holding him back, for once, it allowed someone else to move forward.

And Esme did. A few moments later, she shuddered and tightened around him in rhythmic pulses. Loosing a strangled cry of relief, Carlisle let go and erupted deep inside her. He came fast and hard—so forcefully that, afterward, he was weightless, ethereal, deliciously numb.

His muscles drained from exertion, Carlisle collapsed, but did manage to roll himself and Esme, still intimately joined, so that he rested on the bottom.

Esme was similarly indisposed with her limbs splayed out and lax over his body. It seemed Carlisle's passionate sex had decomposed the majority of her thoughts to a kaleidoscope of bright colors, but she did succeed in verbalizing one statement.



The word was so transcendent that it bore repeating.


Carlisle tilted his head so that he could touch his lips to her damp neck. "I love you, Es."

"Mmm…me, too," she mumbled into the sheets. "Now how 'bout you get me something to clean up with so I can pass out."

"Get it yourself, woman," he chuckled lazily.

"Damn you." She heaved off his chest, sighing longingly as he slipped out from between her legs. "Now I'm not so sure I like Caveman Carlisle."

"Oh, okay. No more domineering sex from me then, I guess."

Esme stumbled into the bathroom and came out a minute later. Carlisle opened an eye just in time to deflect the roll of toilet paper from bouncing onto his stomach. Still grinning, he cleaned off as she picked up her pillows from where they had been knocked on the floor. Her sleeping nest was reconstructed quickly, and she curled up inside.

A delicate hand reached across to drift through the scattering of hair on his chest. "I enjoyed that a lot. I wouldn't mind a repeat performance or several."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Good. That's…really…good."

She yawned and then was quiet. Carlisle could tell by her soft, regular exhalations that she had fallen asleep almost immediately. He wished he could do the same. Although his body was spent, a buzzing in his mind wouldn't allow him to rest. He felt oddly anxious and insufficient—like he needed to grab onto the edge of a hovering mist before it was gusted away.

A mélange of thoughts churned in his head. His happy, but rather platonic marriage to Lillian. The feelings he had developed for Elizabeth, her dismal relationship with Ed, and the tragic way she died. Ed's terminal illness and the weight of the regrets he harbored.

At the forefront of his mind was Esme—a beautiful, charming woman unlike any he had ever met. She was smart, funny, caring, tenacious…her mischievous, youthful side made him feel more alive than he believed possible. She both complemented and challenged him, and every hour spent in her presence made him want thousands more.

Also, it didn't hurt that she was amazing in bed.

During his past twenty years in Seattle, Carlisle had only been on a handful of dates. Amongst his hectic life as a single parent, his occupation as a doctor, and the need to protect himself from further heartbreak, he shied away from seeking intimacy of any sort, especially sex. It wasn't from lack of desiring it, however.

One year, around his 35th birthday, he felt so desperate for relief not derived from his own hand that he almost spent the night with a fellow doctor. She had been coming onto him for months, and finally he acquiesced to her requests for dinner together. Afterward at her house, they had gotten as far under-the-clothes fondling before Carlisle backed away. Though parts of him were aching with frustration, he couldn't go through with it. He hadn't felt an emotional connection with the woman, and it just wasn't in him to have casual, meaningless sex.

As the years passed following that disastrous attempt, Carlisle began to wonder if he was destined to spend the rest of his life alone. When Rosalie left for college and the solitude became more pronounced, he forced himself into different activities to meet new people. It was fun and rewarding to take dancing lessons, join a gym, and volunteer at a pet shelter, but none of the single women he met captured his interest.

He had all but resigned himself to a singular existence when Rosalie made the announcement that Isabella Swan would join them for dinner. Carlisle had heard much about her from both his daughter and Emmett and was very interested to meet the young woman.

He expected her to be a unique and amazing person if she affected his enigmatic nephew in the way Emmett described.

He didn't expect that the actress would bring a guest who would turn his world on its head.

Carlisle wasn't a believer in love at first sight. However, there was no denying the instant attraction he felt toward Esme Platt. When he walked into the living room that evening, his eyes focused immediately on the beautiful celebrity agent. With one glance, he could tell by the way she extended her hand to shake that she was the definition of confidence and grace. Her grip was somehow delicate and firm at the same time, relaying a sense of irrepressible feminine strength. Throughout dinner, his thoughts never strayed far from her, and he took full advantage of the private time with Esme that Rosalie, Emmett, and Bella conspicuously allowed the two of them.

After that initial meeting, not a day passed that they didn't speak to each other. Though it was only six days later that Carlisle came to LA for Bella at Edward's request, it felt like a span of six months since he had seen Esme last. Their connection hadn't lessened a bit. After Esme recovered from the surprise of his unexpected entrance into Bella's hospital room, she made the most of his short stay in the city…so much so that their first kiss transitioned right into their first time having sex.

It felt like he was leaving half of himself behind in Esme's car when he entered the airport for his departure. The flight to O'Hare seemed interminable, but it did give him ample to time to come to a life-altering conclusion.

He loved Esme Platt, and he couldn't imagine the rest of his life without her in it.

Carlisle no longer was a young man, and although he recently had begun to hear the ominous ticking of his life's clock, he also had learned the value of patience during his nearly 50 years on Earth. Staying calm, gathering information, considering options, weighing pros and cons—these were key factors in making good decisions.

Prudence suggested that he continue to date Esme for a while, perhaps wait until they had lived together, before considering further commitment. As long as the couple was secure in their feelings for each other, did it matter if they ever made their status "official"?

But something about Esme made him want to chuck caution over his shoulder and seize the moment. He craved the freedom in her laugh and the simple joy in her eyes. Carlisle was aware of his tendency to overthink things, and he didn't want that causing him to miss a chance to have something special—someone special. Not when the future could be such an unpredictable jester.

An idea that had been forming in his subconscious during the past few hours finally coalesced into a definable plan, and a frisson of excitement hummed through Carlisle. His breath caught in his throat as he made several decisions in rapid-fire succession.

After a glance down Esme's sleeping form, he checked the time on the bedside alarm clock. Eleven p.m. There was a Walmart about 15 minutes away, and he was fairly certain it didn't close until midnight.


He eased out of bed, slipped on his "casual" attire of relaxed-fit slacks and a golf shirt, and snuck quietly out of the room. When he peeked into Ed's room and saw that his brother was sleeping, he left a hastily scribbled note on top of the nightstand and proceeded to his car.

It didn't take him very long to get what he needed at Walmart. Carlisle returned to the house about 45 minutes later, and there was no indication that either Esme or Ed had woken up during his absence. He retrieved Ed's note, padded quietly back into his own room, and then stripped down to his boxer briefs, his hands shaking with barely contained energy.

He knew he was in for a long night.

The clock's glowing numbers taunted him with their stagnancy as he struggled not to toss and turn beside Esme. It seemed his jittery limbs were trying to provide an outlet for the thoughts careening about his mind, and after an hour of fighting his body, he rose from bed once again. Thus began a lengthy session of pacing back and forth in room's empty space.

After innumerable passes across the floor, time finally lost its meaning, and the ruckus in his brain calmed. Although his muscles were still taut with anticipation and propelled him ever forward, metronomic breathing reflected his composed state. He'd made a resolution, and no matter the outcome, he'd never regret what he was about to do.

"What's wrong, Carlisle?"

Her raspy voice bulldozed through his Zen-like trance and smashed it to pieces.

"You're awake!" Rushing over to the bed, he swept her into his arms, covers and all.

She pulled back immediately to look him in the eyes. "What happened?" she gasped. "Is it Ed?"

"No, no," he laughed. "It's nothing bad. I'm just happy that you finally woke up."

After a moment of bleary confusion, her held breath puffed out from between her lips. "Uh, okay. It's good to see you, too." She tucked the sheet under her arms and then yawned. "What were you doing out of bed?"

"I couldn't sleep. I'm anxious to give you something, although I'm worried how you'll react. But…since you're awake, do you want it now, or are you too tired?"

Esme yawned again and fell back into her pillow fortress. "Too tired. Maybe later."

Carlisle's face fell in disappointment, but he recovered quickly and donned an understanding smile. "Of course. It's still early and…mmf!"

A pillow hit him square in the mouth before falling into his lap. He blinked rapidly in surprise as Esme burst into girlish giggles.

"I'm just kidding, you silly man. It's obvious that you're dying to give me whatever it is you have." She smirked playfully. "Let's see it, then."

Now his smile became joyful, radiant. "Hold out your hand." He reached under the mattress. "I do have to preface this with a caveat. You might have to give it back to me. It depends." His fingers opened over her palm.

Carlisle experienced several tense seconds as Esme stared at the object she held. "This is an unexpected…surprise. Thanks, I guess, but what am I supposed with a key blank?"

"Make a duplicate, of course," he answered happily, failing his attempt at nonchalance. "I would have gotten it done already, but first we have to decide if we're living at my place, yours, or somewhere entirely different."

"Oh…OH!" Esme responded, her eyes wide as understanding dawned. "So we're really doing this? You want to move in together?"

He closed his two hands around the one with which she held the key. "Yes, I do. I love you so much, Esme, and my home has become wherever you are. I want to share morning coffees with you, make dinner together, argue over whether we're watching Access Hollywood or the Discovery Channel, and fight your pillows for space on the bed. You can teach me what all those symbols on clothes tags mean, and I'll explain how it saves time to put shoes on a rack instead of kicking them into a pile at the back of the closet. I can't wait to learn things about you that only people living in a shared space can know. I want us together, every day, as soon as possible."

With shining eyes, Esme slipped her hand from Carlisle's grasp and threw her arms around his neck.

"I want that, too! God, Carlisle, how did you get to be so wonderful?" She rained kisses all over his face.

He chuckled and tried to speak around lips that were bussing the corner of his mouth. "I hope you're just as excited about the key's companion piece."

Pausing in her ministrations, Esme stared in bemusement. "There's more?"

"It's not much. Just something to put the key on."

He reached under the mattress again and pulled out a small keychain with a small metal dog tag cut in the shape of a heart. Her hand darted out to snatch it from his grasp.

"Perfect," she said and began to prise open the split ring in order to attach the key. "Now we just have to decide where to…"

She gasped, and Carlisle waited anxiously, his breath stagnant in his chest.

"Oh my god."

Esme's mouth hung open as she stared at the keychain in her hand. She held the heart tag between trembling fingers as her eyes darted back and forth between his face and the words engraved into the metal.


There was a brief moment when he read only shock and surprise on her face and his already shaky confidence took a dive. But then tears welled in her eyes, and a dazzling smile broke out over her features. Now it was Carlisle's turn to gasp—she had never looked so beautiful as she did in that moment.

"Yes," she said.

It was a simple reply, but her tone conveyed the boundless magnitude of love and conviction she felt. They reached for each other at the same time, and their lips merged in a feverish attempt to express the ecstasy of the occasion. It didn't take very long for them to realize that the sheet had slipped down to Esme's waist and their bare chests were pressing together.

What followed was a foregone conclusion.

"So when are we doing this?" she asked a little while later as the two lay on their backs, chests heaving from their vigorous exertion. Her head rested on his outstretched arm and one leg hooked over his thigh.

Carlisle absently ran his fingers over her shoulder while contemplating logistics. "Given that I planned this proposal about seven hours ago, I haven't thought much beyond the post-acceptance celebration sex." He dropped a kiss in her hair. "Which was pretty damned amazing, I might add."

"Naturally," she smirked. "Now back to the wedding, do you have any preferences? Big, small, or Las Vegas? Sooner or later? Fancy or casual?"

"I only need you present. Everything else is extra."

"That wasn't very helpful," she grumbled. "Typical male."

"You know you'll end up calling the shots anyway, dearest. I'm just dispelling the illusion that I have a say in this."

"True," she agreed with a coy smile. "Now, I may have put a little forethought into us getting married, and it just so happens that Saturday, October the 12th is open for everyone. We could do it here in Chicago so Ed could come, if you wanted."

"October 12th?" Carlisle stared blankly at the ceiling as his mind tried to catch up with his fiancé's. He was surprised at her apparent preparedness. "Everyone?"

"Everyone who's important to one or both of us, you know: Rosalie, Emmett, Edward, Bella, Angela, Charlie, and Sara. Although, since I haven't met Karlene or Mark yet, I didn't ask for their schedules like I did with the others. I haven't spoken to Jay, either, because I wasn't sure if you thought he should be invited or not."

"Oh, um, yeah. I'm not sure either. Wow, that's only about six weeks away. I mean, I'd love to marry you as soon as possible, but will you be able to have the wedding you want with so little time to get things ready? Don't you have to pick out dresses and flowers and all that?" He grinned and gave her upper arm a little pinch. "Or are they on order already?"

"Ow!" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her glare. "No. Despite appearance, I hadn't actually planned on this. I just looked into mutually available dates this year in case you decided to be, um…spontaneous. Excuse me for being optimistic." She rolled her eyes and huffed.

His fingers tweaked her skin again.

"Ah!" she squealed. "I've unleashed a closet Neanderthal! Quit it!" She rolled off the bed and stood with her hands on her hips. "So is that date good or not?"

Carlisle turned to his side and propped his head up on his hand. He drank in the sight of her naked form. "Dearest, when you're not wearing clothes, I'm unable to refuse you anything. But yes, the 12th is perfect. Now come back to bed. It seems my body is trying to make up for years of celibacy."

Winking over her shoulder, Esme headed for the en suite bathroom. "Not a chance, handsome. Suddenly, my day's schedule is full of wedding planning tasks. But don't worry; you and your raging libido will get your chance. You're stuck with me for the rest of your life."

She closed the door behind her as Carlisle flopped back onto the mattress, a beaming smile on his face and warmth in his chest. Yes, they did have the rest of their lives together. He knew how precious a love such as theirs was and would cherish every moment of it. Just the thought of moving forward with Esme filled him with happiness and excitement.

For the first time in a long time, Carlisle looked to the future and couldn't wait.

I hope you liked this peek into Carlisle's head and also got more insight into Edward's past!

I feel like it's been forever since the last update, but hopefully after June is over and my family is settled in our new home, I'll be able to write more often. I have so many plot bunnies in my head in addition to the epi of OSC and the bulk of A Horse of A Different Color!

In a week or so, I'll be pulling Carlisle's POV out of OSC and posting it separately. As usual, I hadn't intended to go into such detail, but the story took on a life of its own. :)