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Stained Glass Soul

Summary:
png She falls from a tree. She falls from a cliff. She falls in love. The love story of restless newborn vampire Esme Anne Platt and the shamelessly saintly Doctor Carlisle Cullen. Romance, religion, and rebellion ensue. Pre-Twilight, Canon.


Notes:
This is the story of Esme's transformation, how she faces the challenges of being a newborn vampire, reconciles her faith in the afterlife, and falls in love with Carlisle Cullen. (Canon-compatible). Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


3. Synthetic Salvation

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Chapter 3:

Synthetic Salvation

Esme had lost her entire sense of character.

One single fall from an innocent tree had jolted the rebellious nature straight out of her and stunned her into a submissive daze. For once she was seen as the proper young lady that society and her parents revered. But inside she was filled to the brim and overflowing with nothing. Sometimes she returned to that very tree in the middle of the night - during a quiet spring rain shower or a soft winter snow, it never mattered. It welcomed her back always with open branches, but it never let her fall.

Everything in her life seemed to revolve around the concept of "falling."

What was it about falling that had struck her in such a profound way?

Was it the breathless seduction of losing all control? The submission to empty air as a means of escape? The hopeless surrender to the listless will of gravity?

There was no denying it; Esme was smitten with falling.

A young woman should have had so many things to look forward to for her future, but Esme was an exception to all the rules. As a debutante, she kept her face hidden behind a carefully lifted sleeve. She shied away from every man her father attempted to introduce her to. In the baking hot sun of the farmer's fields she ran to escape it all, wishing for a way to disguise among the wildflowers. She was running downhill when she ran away. Never uphill. Never towards the sky. Eventually the rest of her dreams were beckoned to tumble down the hill, the rest of her life racing close behind.

Her parents grew ruthless in seeking out suitors. At the age of eighteen, Esme was taken from city to city around the state with a wealthy godfather to find an equally wealthy business man with whom she would presumably find love. Esme wondered at how everyone around her seemed to think of love as something that could be constructed. Love was not like the architectural wonders she had seen on her pointless travels to Pittsburgh or Charleston. Love could not be built with a sturdy foundation of concrete and pillars. It was not lavish or decorative for the purpose of attracting people to come inside. No, for Esme, love was something far more special than that. It hurt her deeply that she was on a search for it when she had always dreamed it would simply come to her. Love should have found her. One night, perhaps, during a humid summer thunderstorm...

As many times as her thoughts drifted back to the mysterious blond doctor, she had always found a way to shun them away. It was too painful to dwell on him, to remember the care he had shown her, or the way he had whispered promises of the pain soon to end. He was meant to be forever trapped in the back of her mind, a long-kept and deeply buried secret - a dream that would never come true.

As a child, Esme had been so filled with dreams. It was a tragic shame that she had lost every one of them as the years steadily added to her age. Before she knew it, her teenage years were over. She was losing not only her innocence, but her excuses as well. Marriage was no longer a crucial endeavor, it was now a desperately nagging chore to be chopped off the check-list.

The rest of her family would murmur about her marriage behind closed doors when they thought she could not hear. They would introduce her to men who hardly cared to know her name more than her face. They would hold court at a round table and map out her future for her.

That was just the way things were done.

All the while she longed for nothing more than to waltz like a mad fairy through the wheat fields of Ohio forever, with her laces undone and her heart in her hands - but such an aspiration for a way of life is preposterous.

They laugh at her.

Young ladies with their fingers hooked between the tiny porcelain handles of their teacups.

Young men who are told from birth that women must be confined to the hearth.

Elderly couples who see little hope for her as the sands of time sift between her bare toes.

Since when was Time her enemy? Surely Time would wait up for her.

Time had gone by so slowly as a child. Esme remembered when Time would sit behind her in the flower bed and run its fingers lazily through her caramel locks, telling her that it would always be there for her... But she was no longer a child. This she consistently – and conveniently – forgot.

In the summer of 1917, Esme was introduced to the man who would be her husband. Even in the beginning, she had been uneasy around him. His presence was the perfect opposite of comforting. He was neither a harbor nor a haven, and he offered only the greens of a bank account. Esme preferred the greens of nature.

Charles Evenson did not know this. He knew nothing about the woman he had asked to be his wife, besides the fact that she was female and she was desperate for a man to call a husband...or at least her parents were. The arrangements went too quickly for any woman to maintain her sanity. Before Esme knew it, she was assigned a new life, her past entirely erased save for a few brightly spotted memories.

And so she found herself in a house which she would never call her own, a house that she would not dare call home. She was shown no mercy because she was nothing but a useless fool - a woman with no sensibility and no purpose except to please her husband who never finds pleasure in her.

Surly businessman by day and wasted lecher by night, Evenson remained married to his wife for convenience, and she remained married to him for the sake of sparing her family another scandal.

In the end, if there ever was one, nobody won.

He kept her hidden in the house to hide the evidence of his misconduct behind closed walls. In the beginning, it had been a relief to remain unseen, but after only a year or so the loneliness attacked Esme with feverish delusions and terrorizing nightmares.

She never spoke to anyone but the shadows on the wall. Her eyes might see another woman, like her, scampering across the street from an upstairs window. But this woman is younger, happier - she rushes into her house with eagerness, not dread.

Esme could only dream of having a home like that.

The days when she could leave the house were few and in between. She chose days that were dreary so that she could pull a hat over her head and hide the bruises on her face. Charles never wanted her to leave the house, but on the rare occassion that he was working late or visiting clients, she was free to do as she wished. Sometimes it took courage even to be free in his absence. Sometimes she still feared her safety, though no one was around to strike her.

Charles was a looming threat, stalking her every step she took. She was cursed to live forever in fear, whether he was behind her or not.

Her eyes glanced over her shoulder nervously with every imaginary step she heard sneaking in the wake of her path.

There was a small cemetery by their neighborhood. Often she found herself walking past it in the evenings and fantasizing about being buried there one day. Soon.

Her hands clung to the iron gate, peering inside as if watching some exotic display in the traveling zoo. Esme both envied and admired the corpses who were free beneath the soil. They slept a proud sleep under mournful Hellenistic figures, with their stone curls and concrete gowns, staring down at her with knowing expressions, their empty eyes taunting her.

To be thinking of death so often, in such a wistful light was most certainly not a good sign.

Esme was through with being trapped, through with being so stuffed with nothing that she could scarcely find air. The days only grew darker the longer she spent hidden away from the rest of the world, fearing everything that crossed her path. The war of the nation made a microcosm in her heart. Behind her innocent hazel eyes, she was plotting, scheming for escape. Plan after failed plan simmered under the surface, steadily seeming less like foolish fantasies and more like promising possibilities.

On the last day of spring in 1920, Esme discovered her only purpose to live on. God had designated her a vessel for new life. She was a keeper of one innocent soul, one tiny light who deserved to know love like his mother had never known it. In her unborn child, Esme found the last spark of inspiration needed to ignite her fire.

Six months passed before her determination had bested her courage. Later, perhaps, she would regret having waited too long out of fear. But those regrets could only harm her in hindsight. In a final blast of reckless bravery, Esme boldly made her escape.

She fled not for herself, but for that tiny person with no voice – that person who would know no father, but who would have a life of joy even if his mother had to sell her soul to the devil himself. It was almost impossible for a woman to travel alone, to find housing and manage money was even harder. But Esme knew she had no choice but to do the impossible.

In the outskirts of town, she found refuge with an old farmer who knew the land, and befriended a young collie who reminded her of what it once meant to be happy.

Esme wanted, so dearly, to know happiness once again, but by the end of that exhausting year, she could barely remember what the emotion thrived on. To that final day, there remained only one memory she could link with true happiness.

It hurt so much to remember... when she remembers him.

Her mind brims with a whirling series of pearly images – his face, dove-white and viciously compassionate, for one instant in time so nearly as to be non-existent. Locked in the all-negative quadrant of her memory's coordinate plane. The clarity is remarkable, the details disturbing. Upsetting.

The way he says her name. His breathy voice – preposterously gentle, a velveteen rasp. So clearly, for one moment. She struggles to grasp it, and it slips from her hold. Like a word on the tip of her tongue, a recollection so vague that it taunts the mind.

Eyes like opalescent fire. Truth, trust, and a terrifying heat. She recalls for a distinct moment, his gaze, his attention; how it made her sore. How she wanted more of those eyes, that color. How she sunk into the gilded ocean of his stare, and sacrificed the buoyancy of her very soul so that she could drown in his essence.

Doctor Cullen.

The name itself sounded so foreign, being so long since she'd last dared to say it. It frightened her that she had almost forgotten it... She whispered it from the tip of her tongue, recalling the way it had once made her heart leap with mirth.

Now, it filled her chest with lead.

He could be hers in this sad little universe that was her fantasy. And her life would go on around her, painful, dissatisfying, and cruel. So unlike how it would be if he were a part of it. He would make everything perfect. These thoughts were dangerous, but here she was at last free to think of him. Here, she had nothing left but the dust of a new road stirred beneath her sandals. Here, she was all alone, with the budding infant beneath her bosom, and here a woman's heart was too tender to take what the world had to offer.

With a heavy heart and a bundle of life stirring restlessly inside of her, Esme watched the sun rise in Wisconsin the same way she watched it in Ohio. It tried to make her smile with its warm and wild colors – blue and turquoise and orange and pink. Sunrise was so much like him. Bittersweet and fleeting.

But the sun was reality. It kept her away from these foolish fantasies, until suddenly they were senseless.

A war had broken out within her heart, should she be taunted with the somber beauty of her doctor's porcelain face. Her dreams were her cradle. She retreated, astonished and dismembered by her own agony. The days were now simplistic, elementary. Esme felt herself regressing into a strange state of disconnect with the outside world. Hospitalized under the care of light-voiced nurses and concerned physicians, she realized that she had lived through her glory days. Those days had been short and fleeting, but so significant. She had conquered her greatest fear to save her son, and this gave her a sense of peace, even now as she lay weak on her bed. She had been a warrior to the last hour, a woman of fierce maturity - a mother of fiery protection.

The taste of that victory was still slightly sweet on her tongue. She smiled as she envisioned herself being a mother with this same bravery and conquest. But as she looked down and saw that her legs could barely move and her arms were rich with bruises, she realized that even the bravest warrior must accept her time of weakness when it comes.

At this last precipice in her life, there existed only one dimension in Esme's universe – that which beckoned all infinite forces toward the memory of an angel she had known on one stormy summer night. It encompassed all elements, all nature, all energy, within which he was the vortex. It was a powerful resignation she had chosen to make, but a quiet one, done in the silent infirmity of her mind. With a tiny tendril of faith, Esme asked for strength to face the unknown future she knew lay lurking on her horizon.

~)}0{(~

The clock chimed downstairs. Midnight.

This was the night. She had one chance. One window of opportunity for escape. This was it.

If she wanted to spare the life of herself and her unborn child, she had to be brave for once. Just this once...

Even the small carpet bag Esme carried was a burden to her weak body as she frantically shut the lights off in every room of the house. It was windy outside, but not frightfully cold. She was going to have to walk the distance to Mr. Kimble's house.

Gerald Kimble owned a small shoe shop on the outskirts of town. He was not well known, but he had been a distant friend of hers for the few years they had lived outside Columbus. It was rumored that he would be leaving for a town by Lake Michigan tomorrow morning.

He would be by himself. He would not be returning. He was a quiet man who rarely asked questions. He cared about her.

It was ideal, if only luck would have it be so.

The seven month old baby in her belly heaved against her as though sensing her distress. Esme wept not for herself, but for that tiny person – who would know no father, but who would have a life of joy even if she had to sell her soul to the devil himself.

Nearly ten minutes into the walk, Esme collapsed by a tree, her knees already giving way from the strain. It was disturbingly quiet on the wooded path; only the hoot of an owl, or the chirp of a cricket would disrupt her troubled train of thoughts.

Then she would pick herself up again, and continue the journey by her own force. At one point in the woods, it was so dark that she could see nothing but the witchy fingers of tree branches silhouetted against the moonlight. Then the clouds would cover the lone silver orb above, banishing light from her path.

This was when she rested.

An hour. She was halfway there.

Reminding herself of the time was foolish; she could hardly think or care about anything as it were. All she remembered was that it was with gravest importance that she leave that house, that she stay as far away from that man as possible.

Her legs ached, particularly her right leg – especially right in the very middle of her calf...

She dared to let her memory flash with the image she had long forced herself to forget. But she had never fully let go of his face.

This was that same leg.

Esme ran her fingers over her cold, stocking-covered flesh, tracing the path his hand had once traced.

Had he even been real?

Part of her continued to believe in him, but lately...

It just seemed so long ago. Her memories were weakened by the effects of time and long-suffering... and perhaps she had only hallucinated her childhood doctor.

But no. He was real. He had to be.

Her attempt at living would be in vain if he wasn't.

That was the only reason she continued to live. Esme had never admitted it to herself before, but tonight it was painfully clear. She was living in the hopes that one day, against all odds, he would appear in her life again, and she would somehow find the courage to profess her love for him. Her foolish, unrealistically hopeful love that had no merit other than the wistful treachery of her heart.

Proof that a higher power was on her side would consist in his return of her love.

That was inconceivable.

Esme sighed and wiped the tears from her eyes, leaning against the tree trunk. Things only seemed so hopeless now because it was the dead of night, and she was all alone in the middle of an unfamiliar forest, on a life defining escape from her abusive husband.

Yes, she reminded herself, in the morning it would all seem slightly better.

The simple fact that Doctor Cullen existed somewhere in this God-forsaken world was what brought her to her feet for the final stretch.

She had estimated the trip to Kimble's home to be approximately two hours by foot. But by the time she arrived at his doorstep, more dead than alive, it had felt as though she had been walking for days.

The faint, dusty yellow glow of the lantern hanging by his back door was the most welcome sight Esme had seen in years. Her blood pounded with renewed energy in her ears as she knocked breathlessly on the wood, one hand situated instinctively on the bump in her abdomen.

During the bated silence she waited for another soul to answer the door, Esme began to doubt anyone would be awake at such a late hour. And if he had been asleep, it was necessary that she wake him for her own good. Charles had the advantage if he returned home and noticed she was missing. Where he would look first was beyond her, but she had to take the risk in assuming this was one the last places he would think to look…

She knocked again, desperately, using all her power to keep from shouting out loud.

Her ears perked suddenly at the distinct patter of feet on the floor inside the weakly insulated home. A light shone through the small window of the door just as it flew open, revealing a rumpled and alarmed Mr. Kimble, still in his bedclothes. His graying hair was unkempt and his face was ashen.

"Mrs. Evenson?" He croaked in disbelief, using her unfamiliar title. She nearly broke down right then.

"Gerald... May I come in, please? It's urgent." She barely recognized her voice. Having gone for hours breathing in the bitterly cold night air, it was painful to speak.

The old man's severely concerned gaze dropped to her stomach, and instantly he pulled her arm across the threshold and shut the door behind her. Esme noticed his usually cluttered house was all but cleared of everything but the picture-less frames on the walls. He was already prepared to leave.

"My God, what on earth happened, Esme?" he demanded, his voice still sleep-ridden but rising in intensity. He guided her to a worn chair in the corner of the room where his scruffy border collie was sleeping soundly underneath.

"It's... Charles," she sobbed, her hands shaking so violently that she could not grip the armrests. "I'm so sorry to disturb you, Gerald," she stuttered apologetically, her mind spinning in all directions.

"Not a disturbance, Esme," he insisted forcefully, crouching beside her chair. "Please. Tell me what happened, dear – what did he do to you?"

The dog beneath her whimpered at the rousing excitement of their troubled voices.

"He -" her voice broke and she froze, realizing all at once that she was unable to speak of such horrible things to anyone.

How could she, when she could not even bring herself to think of them?

Fresh sobs wracked Esme's body and her head fell to her hands in despair. She felt the old man's unsure hand settle on her shoulder as he conjectured slowly, "You want to leave with me?"

She nodded fiercely, overcome with a wave of shuddering relief at his understanding.

"Please..." Her voice was miserable, watery. So, so tired.

"Of course, Esme," he assured with a pat on her shoulder. "We'll get you out of here."

He rose to his feet with shocking energy for an elderly man who had been woken in the middle of the night. "We should leave right away, shouldn't we?"

Esme nodded again, wordlessly, and struggled to her feet as well. Gerald gave her an unreadable look and lifted the lantern to his face as he rushed through the cramp rooms of the single level house, searching for anything he might have missed in packing.

He set the last of his belongings into a half-filled trunk by the door, then made his way over to the whimpering collie.

"Come on, Barry, you old fool," he grunted as he nudged the shaggy dog out from its hiding place. He clipped a collar to its neck and latched his fingers around the black band, leading the animal out the door.

"Bring your bag out to the truck, dear." He hissed as he bustled out the door, gesturing for her to follow.

She obeyed quickly, gathering up her carpetbag and heading out to the small, rusty farm truck parked on the gravel driveway a few meters from the house.

He opened the back door, encouraging his dog to go inside. "That a boy," he whispered in approval as the fluffy tail disappeared into the darkness of the truck.

He turned to Esme. "You next."

She was inside before he could finish the second word. The door slammed shut with a satisfying clunk. Inside her something settled with relief that it was finally happening. She was getting out of here.

Through the caked dust of the car window Esme watched as Mr. Kimble limped hastily back into the house, and appeared less than a minute later with his last trunk in tow and a pair of brown riding boots under his nightshift. He extinguished the flames of both his handheld lantern and the one hanging over his door.

He heaved the large antique into the back bed of the truck with surprising spryness and crunched the gravel with his boots as he came around the front of the vehicle.

"You all right, now?" he asked as soon as he perched himself in the driver's seat, his eyes meeting hers in the rearview mirror.

She nodded. "Yes." Her voice was still so weak.

Barry's tongue lolled from between his toothy dog grin as he blinked his large eyes

curiously at her from behind the piles of boxes and suitcases between us. His innocent expression and persistent huffing brought her an odd sense of comfort.

The engine of the old truck rumbled to life, and Esme's relief doubled as she felt the tires roll across the gravel. The tires at last met with the less bumpy dirt road; gears shifted and they were driving forward, away from Ohio, with the West ahead of them.

Her eyes fluttered open as she felt the warm brush of dog's fur against her leg. She yawned tiredly and looked down at Barry's cold, wet nose and glassy black eyes.

The thick layer of dust on the back windows of the truck did not keep her from noticing that the sun had now risen. The faint light that followed us on the long dirt road filled her with even more hope than she had expected. It helped remind her that every mile they drove put her that much further from Charles.

Esme smiled wearily down at the dog by her legs and hugged her belly protectively.

"I've got some water for you." Mr. Kimble said, reaching back to place a thin green glass bottle into her hand.

"Thank you." She rasped gratefully, stifling another yawn.

His eyes furrowed in the mirror.

"Where will I go?" she wondered out loud, her stare blank as she watched the slow-moving fields from the window.

The old brow in the mirror wrinkled further at her question. "Hospital."

Just that one word, and her worry was cured.

The hospital meant safety – an escape from the cruelty and pain of the unpredictable outside world.

A slight pang hit her that she would be parted from the kind man who had helped her in her escape. But a new life would come with it.

Esme spurred with hope at the thought.

A new life.

The fleeting image of a pale, fiercely handsome man in a white coat flashed in the forefront of her mind, then was gone just as swiftly as it arrived.

She would not allow that kind of hope to seize her. Her heart would remain devoted to a figment that existed in the very deepest sinews of her memory, but it would not be broken over it. There was someone new in her life who would be craving her devotion.

She cradled her belly tightly, closing her eyes and concentrating on the slight movement there. Just thinking of what joy her baby would bring her made her smile, no matter how hopeless her current situation seemed.

She would make sure that at least one of them made it through this mess.

Ashland was just as rainy as Columbus had been. But it was colder, being close to the lake, and drearier from the natural darkness of the clouds that hung low in the dank autumn atmosphere.

It was sad having to part with the kind man who had aided in her escape. She had let him know many times as they shared a final embrace what a blessing he had been to her. He smiled back at her, wished her well, and was on his way, back to his family. And she was left to start her own.

The last time she had been in a hospital had been the day she had purposefully plunged a nail into her wrist with the hope of being treated by a specific physician a second time... because once just wasn't enough.

The hospital here in Ashland was much larger and more sophisticated thanks to time and location. There was more activity here than she had associated with the hospital back in Columbus. More people, more patients in need of assistance.

She was taken to an available bed as soon as she explained her condition. Finally being somewhere where care was in abundance was a strange relief. She had become so used to 'toughing it out' on her own that having people show concern for her in the slightest degree was unnerving at first.

It was a small, familiar taste of what she had remembered from her childhood doctor from so many years ago…

~)}0{(~

The morning her son was born, there had been a house fire not far from the hospital.

Outside her closed window, Esme watched the smoke billow around the innocent structure from a safe distance whilst receiving vague instruction as to how she should bring new life into the world.

The smoke was a bad omen. It was all she could think about, all she could see as she struggled to give birth to her child.

That smoke, rising like a looming black spirit on the hill. The sirens and cries from outside and inside the hospital. The frightening unpredictability of everything in the world.

Hours went by where Esme knew nothing but pain and anguish; even her hope was muted in the most joyous of times... because of that fire.

Man had failed to put out the fire, so God had intervened with a timely rain storm. Hearty droplets pelted against the windows, blurring her view of the catastrophe on the hill. She never saw how it ended. She only guessed that the fire had been put out.

Everything slowly began to calm, the rain seemingly washing away all that plagued this hectic room. The heat left her body and the forces died down, leaving her limbs slack from the effort. At last, a wailing cry sounded in the tiny room - a sound so striking and so strong, it pulled a wave of feral strength from her core.

Her eyes bolted open, once blurry, now crystal clear. She noticed her arms were reaching out for that cry, offering a home to the sound, longing to feel it against her. For she had known the one who cried more intimately than any being she had ever known before, even though she had yet to see his face.

He was exactly as she had imagined he would be.

His tiny face was the most exquisite thing she had ever witnessed. It seemed too beautiful to be real, too painfully perfect to belong to this earth. Her very first wish had been to run away with him, to flee from the prison of this world and find shelter in a cloud somewhere, far over the rainbow...

The face of her child was a loving beacon in the dark, a ray of hope if there ever was one. What she would offer this little piece of her soul! She would give him anything; she would wrap her weakened arms around the earth and straighten its axis all for him - this unnamed angel who slept soundly against her breast. She listened to his every faithful breath grow fainter, knowing this was out of her control... If only she could fit her arms around the earth...

"He won't make it," the nurses whispered in the hall.

But the new mother hadn't missed the dreaded sentence.

Watching the face of her infant son grow gray, Esme's heart was all but buried in these unquenchable desires, these lost and shattered dreams that would never see daylight no matter how many times the sun rose, in no matter how many states she watched it rise.

His final breath was softer than a snowflake landing on cotton; it left its cool impression not on her skin, but on the shell of her heart. All of the heat left her body as his face retreated into eternal slumber - forever an unnamed cherub to wander the clouds without his mother.

If her own child would leave her, then everyone would leave her. It was a fierce and unfair pattern, a never-ending circle of distrust and disloyalty and despair.

The one thing that would not leave her was Death.

And so Esme sought Death, and asked to be escorted from the terrors of Life.

Death was her only salvation.

It saw her on the edge of a cliff in the earliest hour of morning. Under the tainted moon, and beneath the weeping starlight. She stood, with her back to the rest of the world, rejection nipping at her bare heels.

Esme had enjoyed the feel of bare feet more than anything else. Here and now, it felt just as wonderful. And no one could tell her to put her shoes back on. Not a soul would dare... if they knew what she was about to do.

Staring down at the fall before her was terrifying. What no one dared to whisper about suicide, Esme had to face on the night she had chosen to fulfill it. This terrible thrill of ending her own life was intoxicating, horrifying, and even repulsive. But how could she turn back when she had already arrived at the peak?

The choice was made long ago, and yet... Here on the edge it began to flicker and falter in the back of her mind.

She tried to blanket her doubts in reassurances. If she were to turn back and face the world again, she knew that what was behind her was so much worse than what lay ahead.

What death could be... an end - empty, black, secure. Nothing more. Nothing...

It was so appealing. So much like a dark blessing...

Her breath caught in her throat as she leaned over the edge, just out of curiosity. The bottom was black and jagged. Formations on the rock reached out all the way down the length of the slope, like witchy claws that would grab her as she tried to fall. They were waiting to disrupt the smoothness of her plans, to make her fall a misery.

What if she failed herself, now?

What if she fell but death never took her?

These 'what ifs' were so dangerous. She could not doubt herself any longer. It was too late.

The moon was watching and the stars were weeping and the wind was pushing her back, away from the crumbling edge...

Everything was working against her will. But this time Esme would not let them win.

This time, she would be victorious.

Behind her closed eyes, she watched a dreamlike sequence of her son's sleeping face as he submitted to death.

"Mama's coming, my darling," she whispered to the unnamed cherub who had taken half of her soul. "Mama's coming."

With a final gasp into the silent night, Esme lifted her arms for the wind to carry her. Her bare feet left the world behind, and her eyes fell closed into a permanent slumber.

She was falling.

It was a motionless dance in midair, a suffocating numbness, a whirlpool without a center.

The fall was painless. The end never came. She fell forever, and it was exactly as she had dreamed it would be.

Empty, black, secure, and nothing. A dark blessing.

Her only salvation.