Only she is allowed to see him naked.

Not nude—that’s different. They are vampires, after all, and human clothes have a way of not staying put. At this point even Jacob, who has become as omnipresent as any member of her family, has seen Esme’s husband unclothed.

Edward and Bella have taken Renesmee to the Seattle Zoo with Jacob in tow. Jasper and Alice are at the shore. Emmett and Rosalie are hunting in the Olympic Forest. And so it is that the house is empty for the first time in months. No one to see anything except whatever they might happen to forget to clean up. So it is not until just before their third bout of lovemaking that they finally make it to their bed, their clothes having dripped from their bodies throughout the house: Carlisle’s pants, puddled on the kitchen floor, her blouse and bra discarded on the piano.

They will have definitely have pick that up before Edward comes home.

Now is the part she loves best, between the raucous, feral, throw-you-against-the-furniture rounds, and the long, in-the-bed, burning-kisses-and-long-caresses ones. When they lie here, skin-to-skin up the entire length of their bodies, her slender legs trapped between his muscular thighs.

Her hands find their way into his hair as they kiss. His is longer and thicker than those of any of their three sons’; hair she loves to run her fingers through. She toys with the one stubborn lock at his forehead, a piece too short to be tucked behind his ear. It drives him crazy, but she likes it because it makes him seem less formal. A tiny hint to others that beneath the proper, buttoned-up doctor is this man she knows, who swings his granddaughter into the air, who trash-talks his sons over baseball, who sometimes blows raspberries on Esme’s belly during these post-coital embraces just because it makes her giggle. She tells him this last thing is terribly unsexy, but that’s not actually true, because it makes him laugh and she is never more attracted to him than when he laughs.

Now, though, his golden eyes are briefly vacant, staring out the glass wall which makes up the back of the huge house. From here, they can see the Sol Duc wandering through the forest, and in the distance, the mountains. And between them and the mountains, though neither of them can see it, the broad open field where they twice confronted their enemies…

“Is that what you’re thinking about,” she murmurs.

“Mrrrm?” The golden eyes refocus; the brow furrows.

“They’re not coming back for a long time.” She’s careful not to say they’re not coming back, because that is a lie and they both know it. But she kisses him, and tickles the back of his calf with her toes.

He sighs. “I worry.”

She cocks her eyebrow. I worry is the kind of thing he says to their children. Dropping her hand to his hip, she begins to caress his side. After almost ninety years, she knows it’s not speaking, ironically, that will prompt him to elaborate.

A moment later, he mutters, “I’m scared.”

He wriggles free of her legs, and pulls his knees toward his chest. Despite her concern, she smiles inwardly that her nearly-invincible husband still curls into a ball when he feels threatened. She doesn’t coax him to unwind, but lays against him anyway, his knees against her chest, as she runs her fingers down the nape of his neck. The months have been a whirlwind—of watching Renesmee grow, of packing up from Christmas, of cleaning up the Island. Their lack of time for lovemaking has prohibited this time as well, and she wonders how long her husband has been stewing these thoughts.

“It just…it took so long. For me to find you…and for Edward…I just”—his voice wavers and begins to break—”I can’t lose you. I can’t lose any of you. I can’t do that again, Esme…”

And suddenly he is crying as their kind cry, gasping, tearless sobs. Because he is a man who is scarred. The physical ones, yes, and Esme is careful to touch those only when permitted. He lone among them bears scars from his Turning that were the result of violence, not love. He carries that pain with him, and the pain of centuries which followed—a loneliness she pretends to understand, but which she knows, deep down, she will never fully fathom. And she can count on the fact that the fear of that loneliness will forever break him like glass.

“I can’t protect you…”

She shakes her head, and her hair brushes his bare shoulders. “You don’t have to.”

If she had their granddaughter’s gift, he could see what she is remembering. The way their friends stood with them; their newest daughter shielding them and buying them the time they needed. Time they needed to handle things Carlisle’s way. With talking. And reason.

She wants to promise him that everything will be all right, that he will never lose them, that she will be at his side for all eternity. But she can’t promise that. Even with Alice, they can’t be certain. So she puts her arms around him, and promises the only thing she can, the thing she promised him eighty-six years ago, the thing she promises him again with every caress, every shared knowing look, and every giggle met with laughter.

“Whatever we face,” she whispers, “we face together. My love, you are no longer alone.” Pressing her thumbs to his cheekbones, she wipes away the tears which will never fall. And he leans into her hands, closing his eyes so that his eyelashes flutter against her fingers.

“We all protect one another,” she repeats. “Carlisle, you will never be alone again.

She wraps her arms around his shoulders. Slowly, the knees relax, and he stretches out again, and they are pressed against each other, hip to hip, her feet caressing his legs and his hands coming to rest in the small of her back as he buries his head in her collarbone. For a long while he is silent; his back slowly expanding and contracting as he breathes.

“I love you.” He whispers this into her skin, so that it seems almost that the hairs on her neck are what transmits the sound.

“As I love you.”

He is aroused again, as is she, and she knows they will make love again soon. For now, this embrace is enough. In the empty house, his breathing echoes, the quiet rhythm like the heartbeat none of them have. He is the father, their leader, their mentor, their guide. The steady hand at the helm.

But she is the one whom he lets see him naked. And she is thankful for that.


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