A need to save what's broken, a lack of perspective on one's own limits. Carlisle/Esme.
Begins pre-Twilight, carries through to the present.
1. Chapter 1
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The sky is so very still and vast, heavy above her, and Esme is restless. It’s dinnertime, which has her mother busy, but in another few moments she’ll be missed. The light from the windows in the house behind her is warm and golden, an insipid lie; inside she can hear dishes rattling into their places on the table, utensils clinking, her father’s voice and her mother’s silence.
The words are indistinct from where she stands, outside, back pressed against the oak at the corner of the house. The tone is clear anyway. It’s the same tone her mother uses with her, the tone of never-good-enough, passed down the line, and if her mother is silently accepting of her father’s droning discontent, Esme is something past that. The bark of the tree digs into her skin and the gray summer sky presses down on her and she is still, still, still, too hot and endlessly frustrated and wishing she could just evaporate up into that motionless sky.
There’s nothing special about the day; nothing has happened to make her feel this way, except that nothing has happened, and that is its own cause for resentment. It’s the end of August, just a few more weeks until school will begin again, summer just passing the intersection of wistful clinging and bitter relief, and the weather is determined to cheat her. It’s been cloudy for days. At the point where she’s so sick of her mother’s nagging that school is beginning to seem preferable once more, Esme feels she’s owed a few more sunny afternoons. It’s not fair.
Her father’s voice rises behind her, and it takes concentration not to actually hear what he’s saying, now. Her mother’s voice finally breaks out in answer, sharp and biting, and then they’re off, volume reaching a level the neighbors are bound to hear. Esme places a private bet against herself, with regard to whether there will be any broken dishes, and is glad she thought to steal an already-cooked potato and some beans out of the larder earlier. She’d thought her mother was in this sort of temper. The spurt of vindication she feels at this achievement – trickier than predicting the weather, certainly, and that’s a paying profession – momentarily cheers her, as does the prospect of cold supper at midnight, eaten in the pitch black, hidden away under the covers. It beats the daylights out of sitting down with them and playing civilized people, anyway.
Of course, it’s possible the missing foodstuffs are what’s set them off. Possible. Not too likely, though. Not worth considering, really.
If they break a dish, Esme wagers, tilting her head up to the sky, she gives herself official permission to steal the Evans’ old clock out of their trash. She can hide it under the loose floorboard in her room – though that, she realizes, will leave no room there for potatoes and thus will mean no more stolen suppers for a while. An indefinite while. Until such time as her mother catches her tinkering with the clock and takes it away, a time she’d rather would be ‘never’, but recognizes as inevitable.
It’s not a bad exchange, though. It’s a beautiful old thing, that clock, and likely broken, which makes it better – makes it something to be rescued and fixed. It’s worth it. Definitely worth the scolding and hand-wringing and the beating she’s likely to get when she gets caught doing something so scandalously strange and unladylike.
It’s better, sometimes, to have something to be punished for.
And if they don’t break a dish? If they don’t break a dish – Esme has to ponder this a moment, tilting her head back so that her braided hair catches on the bark, staring into the uniform brightness of the sky. There’s been no sun at all today, and now it’s almost time for it to go down, anyway. It’s getting a little pinkish to the west, but above her, right above her through the leaves, it’s just a searing shade of gray. It seems strange that gray should be so bright, but she can feel her eyes filling up with it, knows she’ll see spots when she closes them. How far to up the ante, Esme ponders, wanting to make it something good, worth enough to make her really care.
She knows she’s likely to sneak out and rescued the clock either way, so the potential loss is what makes the game worth it, then. Her restlessness hasn’t faded; she wants to make it worth it, to give some focus to this tension, and thus create the hope of it being released. Even if she loses to herself, it’d be something.
Something shatters behind her before she can quite decide if promising to wear shoes for a whole day is taking things a bit too far. Esme grins up at the still branches of the tree as her mother’s shouting dissolves into accusatory shrieks and sobs.
Her grin falters as it occurs to her, belatedly, to wonder what broke – her mother was making corn chowder, and there is the possibility that she’d have been serving it in the dish with the blue flowers on it. Esme hopes not – she likes that dish. It’s a pretty thing. It’s nice to have pretty things on the table for the times she’s required to sit at it and not scream at the farce of it all.
Somewhere inside the house, a door slams, and Esme jumps; if they’re no longer fighting, one or the other of them will be looking for her, sooner rather than later. She scowls up into the tree – and has a sudden, wonderful, awful idea. It’s ridiculous, but – but she has to see if she can reach that first branch, just to see, not that she’s really going to do it, but her heart is hammering and she knows she’s got seconds, just seconds before one of them is at the back door, and if she stretches up on the very tips of her toes –
- she can.
“’m gonna miss the clock!” Esme exclaims in alarm, swimming up out of a morphine haze into a state of sharp, if slightly confused, alertness.
“What clock is that?” asks the beautiful voice at the end of the bed, at the end of her leg, shrouding her in plaster. It sends her pulse to racing even harder and her thoughts whirl once more, nauseous and dizzy at the contrast of the moment, loss and gain, both ephemeral. Is the chance to hear that voice worth the clock? Esme’s not sure. Her leg doesn’t really even factor into it.
“The Evans’ clock,” Esme says, with the vague feeling that she ought not to be telling him this, but he asked, and how can she possibly deny him? “It’ll be gone long before I can walk again. I was going to rescue it.”
“Really.” The voice sounds curious now, indulgent; it makes her blush and makes her angry all at once, and she hopes very much that she won’t actually be sick. “What danger is there to this clock that you’re going to save?”
“I’m awake,” Esme snaps, staring up at the ceiling. It’s gray, like the sky was. Then she blushes, and is in fact awake enough to realize her embarrassment is a little slow, a little muddled. “I’m sorry. I’m rude.”
“I don’t mind at all,” the voice assures her. “People with broken bones have said far worse things to me.”
“It’s broken,” Esme explains, mind making a lazy, dizzy sort of leap at that connection.
“Yes, but it should heal just as good as new,” the voice assures her.
“No, not my leg,” Esme scowls up at the gray ceiling, with the dim idea that she’s being rude again. “The clock. They’re throwing it away.”
She sounds far more pitiful than she intended, and is blushing again. She wishes she could see the face that goes with her voice – is it wrong to think of it as her voice? She wants to keep it – as she thinks she remembers that it’s a beautiful face, but the memory is indistinct and lifting her head to see is far too gargantuan and frightening an effort to contemplate. Her body seems to have faded, the pain in her leg distant and unimportant, and she’d like to keep things that way.
“It’s a really beautiful clock,” Esme rambles, wanting to explain, not wanting the voice to think her foolish. “It has birds painted on it and these little . . little . . ” She frowns hard, but cannot match a word to the image that flits through her mind. “It’s beautiful,” Esme repeats wistfully. “I could fix it, and then it wouldn’t have to be thrown away . . well, it probably will be anyway because my mother visits with Mrs. Evans and she’d recognize the clock and make me get rid of it before Mrs. Evans came calling and saw, because I embarrass them. I’m always embarrassing them. I’m sorry.”
The voice is silent a moment, and then there are sounds of rustling clothing, a creaking chair, and then her doctor’s impossible, astonishing face is frowning down at hers. Esme knows it’s rude to stare, but she does anyhow – it’s only fair, given how he’s staring at her.
It’s oddly like looking in a mirror; she feels a jolt of recognition, simultaneously thrilling and uncomfortable. It’s her own expression on his face, the look she gets for broken clocks and three-legged chairs and pretty, mismatched dishes. With chips them. He’s watching her like she’s some beautiful, broken thing that he can’t quite save.
“Don’t be sad,” Esme blurts out.
He smiles at this, and it is more beautiful, and more broken, than anything she’s ever seen.
Esme hears the back door closing somewhere behind and below her and stays where she is, staring out over the river. He’ll find her, and the view is enthralling. It’s misty, not quite raining, and the fog over the water is like a living thing. Her feet are wet from the grass, her hands speckled with cherry-wood stain and varnish, her hair likely dotted with leaves. It’s fall, and it’s pleasant to imagine that her hair blends in with the foliage, as if she belongs. His footsteps approach unwavering, and she smiles; he always finds her.
When she hears his shoes scrabbling for purchase against the bark and feels the tree sway around her with his weight, her smile bursts into giggles, and she’s still laughing when he reaches her, slides a hand into her messy hair, tugs her into a sloppy, giggly kiss.
“How was your day?” Esme asks, very primly, when they pull apart.
Something flashes across his eyes. Not an easy day, then. Her playfulness falters, and she reaches out to brush his hair off his forehead. “Wonderful, in that it’s over,” Carlisle offers. He glances over her shoulder. “This is nice.”
“Mm,” Esme agrees wordlessly, shifting to the side to allow him to get a foot up onto her branch. Carlisle hoists himself up so that he stands beside the spot where she sits, one arm around the tree trunk, his expression serious as he takes in the view, searching. Esme rests her head against the side of his leg and resolutely ignores the lingering aroma of human blood that he always brings home on his clothes. He doesn’t notice it anymore, and she figures it’s good for her self-control.
“Was it anything in particular, that drove you up a tree?” Carlisle asks, voice light but his hand finding her scalp and lingering, fingers gently tangling themselves there.
“It was just a tree sort of day,” Esme offers, which isn’t much of an explanation for the restlessness she still sometimes feels. He moves to sit down beside her, which requires a bit of adjustment on both their parts, and the tree creaks rather ominously a time or two before they’re settled, his legs splayed to either side of the thankfully wide and sturdy branch. She ends tucked up against him, bare toes dangling over his knee.
“It’s a good tree,” Carlisle says, wrapping his arms around her and twining their hands together, playing idly with her stained fingers. He says no more about his day, and doesn’t have to.
“It’s a good tree,” Esme agrees.