I am incredibly indebted to my kickass beta, locqua. Words do not convey my gratitude.
I do not own Twilight; but perhaps if I write this well enough, Stephenie Meyer will give me Carlisle. Not the rights, just Carlisle.
Powerless; I was entirely powerless. One of the most almighty beings in the created universe, and there I sat—hiding like a devil in the dark of my home from the daylight, praying to God to save just one more when the sun finally sank below the horizon.
This could not be some strain of influenza; surely, it had to be a plague sent by God to destroy the Earth. Most of the fatalities were healthy young adults, while the usual victims of influenza were infants, the elderly—those immunocompromised. It didn't make sense.
"The Spanish Flu," they called it, but I knew better. This didn't start in Spain, it started right here in the middle of the United States—a freak mutation of influenza, highly contagious, with a high mortality rate. The heat of that summer, 1918, weakened the virus and the cases were too few and far between to be noteworthy; but in Europe, the virus quietly took control like a tyrant. And as the United States sent more of their men to war, they could not know that a more terrifying mortal enemy would soon follow their heroes home like a silent assassin.
By the beginning of September it was a pandemic, worldwide, and I was working overnight in the makeshift hospitals in Boston alongside the baffled local physicians. I spent the daylight hours in my study with every medical book in print, searching, analyzing, praying for any small detail that my peers may have missed.
It was the inherent nature of the illness that eventually gave me the answer: the virus caused the immune system to attack the body. Those whose immune systems were already weakened had a lower fatality rate because their bodies were not strong enough to attack themselves.
It was an answer, yes, but also a frustrating paradox. It came and left me with no further recourse, save for continuing to strengthen the weak, and maintain the strength of the strong.
Shortly after this discovery, the Spanish Influenza hit Chicago. On September 11, the first cases were reported—within a week, the hospital had been overrun with over 2,600 men and all able physicians were called to assist.
I responded immediately, resigning my post in Boston to face the grim situation in Chicago. It was too late to stop this disease, but by God I was going to do everything in my power to battle it.
I didn't understand how the human doctors were able to do it, day in and day out. I felt a sense of mental fatigue, personally, but being an immortal could never bring me anywhere close to experiencing the wear a human would undoubtedly feel in this kind of work. Watching each patient suffer in a collective, yet entirely exclusive manner was utter torture to the soul—holding the fevered hands of the fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons dying on soiled cots and filthy floors, praying for and with them in their final moments on this Earth. If I could have given my immortality to rid the world of this scourge, I would have done it in a moment.
Then came the day that would be forever called "Black Thursday:" October 17. Nearly five hundred people died that day, thousands of new cases appearing as the virus spread. I emerged from my home that evening, just after dusk. Walking toward the hospital, I politely lifted my hat to the few passers-by who risked exposure in their travels. My overcoat did little to hide my trade, and they all responded with a respectful nod. Their expressions darkened against the politeness of their greeting.
I was little more than an undertaker.
Arriving at the hospital, I joined several other doctors as we took over the night shift, relieving the exhausted daytime staff. In was as I had anticipated, for in as much time as it took us to remove ten bodies, fifteen more managed to filter in. I watched in complete anguish, my un-beating heart gripped in agony as patient after patient died struggling to clear their airways of the blood-tinged froth that frequently gushed from their noses and mouths. Family members were no longer able to see their ill-fated loved ones—the risk for contracting the sickness was too great.
As the late hours of the morning approached, Dr. Wagner approached me, insisting I take a break. I wished the pretense of humanity were unnecessary. There was so much work to be done—how many more would be lost due to this necessary guise of mortality? But what difference would it make if the world knew what I was? None.
The answer did nothing to soothe the ache in my soul.
Weary with grief, I walked past a mother and son in the overcrowded waiting room as they received the news of their husband and father's death. The woman collapsed in a chair, unable to muffle the loud sobs tearing from her throat. Without a moment's pause, the doctor who delivered the news left abruptly.
The boy's face twisted in grief for a moment; then, carefully composing himself, he sat next to his mother, wrapping his arms around her and tucking her head under his chin so she would not see his pain.
How could that doctor just leave them there without a word of sympathy or condolence? I wanted so badly to walk over to them, but my feet held fast to their path. I could not get involved with humans; it was too risky. I had to keep up the façade and stoic professionalism.
I watched the scene from across the room, realizing absently that I must look like a statue—my hand still gripping the handle of the break room door, my unblinking stare trapped by the distressed pair. I recognized them, and instantly searched through the faces of the past few days in my memory until I found who I was looking for.
As quickly as his face appeared, so did his report—I had written it personally. Edward Masen was his name, and his wife and son had carried him here two days ago, unconscious, from their home. I knew instantly there was nothing we could do for him, but I admitted him nonetheless. The two never left the waiting area, even after repeated clarification that they could not see him. He hadn't regained consciousness as of two this morning, his breathing had been labored to the point of suffocation. He had died.
Don't get involved.
Just as I began to turn the handle, the boy's piercing green eyes, softened by the unshed tears, met mine, and for a brief moment it was as though he could hear my comforting thoughts reaching out to them. His eyes mirrored my own--sympathy and consolation. He understood, though my words could not convey my wishes.
A staff member walked past and the spell was broken. The boy's attention returned to his mother, and I quickly entered the room, quietly closing the door behind me.
Sitting in the makeshift break room, a closet-turned-sanctuary, I tried to clear my head and think of how and when this could end. No, better not to think about it at all. I had to be strong for my patients and the other doctors, because none of them could be for themselves, at least not in the way that I could. And yet I had to work under this guise of weakness. Perhaps it would be best to think of something else for a while, and give my despairing mind a rest for the sake of sanity.
What else did I have to think of? The three brothers in Volterra. I wondered idly how this disease was affecting the humans in Italy—their main source of nourishment.
But that was it, wasn't it? No matter what was going on in the world, they still had their brotherhood. Every war, every famine, every human catastrophe barely affected our kind. But I wasn't our kind. I was my own kind; a wolf whose sheepskin was nearly his own due to years of careful practice, a god-among-men whose own brethren found his morals degrading. I sighed in discouragement.
For nearly a century, I had searched for someone, another vampire who could see the humanity in themselves and would seek to amplify those qualities. Vampires must have some purpose in this world, just as humans do, but how will we ever seek to find the means to a non-existent end if we never look for it? We may all be eternally damned for what my father knew, but I couldn't see it that way. God had given me my purpose in life, and even if it sentenced me to eternal solitude, I was going to fulfill that purpose for whatever hope of salvation it might bring me.
But why must you go through it alone—even God had a son. Someone with whom you could share your life, know you for who you really are, rather than the human you pretend to be?
I sucked in a breath, the involuntary action meant to purge such evil thoughts from my head—I could never cause someone to go through the awful transformation from man to vampire.
The sudden intake of air snapped me out of my thoughts as the smell of disease permeated my senses. I felt my outward resolve begin to crumble and I fell to the floor, the ache inside causing me to clutch at my heart, where it ought to have been throbbing painfully.
God in heaven, how can you let this happen?
My entire frame was shaking uncontrollably, and I thought for a moment I could feel tears running down my face as I lifted my head to the ceiling.
Please—let me save them. I don't know how, but I beg you—just give me the power to save them!
"Dr….Cullen?" The hesitant urgency in the feminine voice sounded almost like God's answer—ambiguous, as always. I hadn't heard anyone approach. I took out my pocketwatch. Perhaps I had lost track of the time and a nurse was sent to retrieve me. It was only 4:30, and I didn't recognize the voice as belonging to any of the nurses.
Careful to move at human speed, I stood and composed myself, turning to face the visitor. It was the woman from the hallway. Mrs. Masen, I corrected myself. Her green eyes—the same as her son's—were still red and puffy, her tear-stained face now almost angelic in the glow of the small lamp in the room.
"Yes, I am Dr. Cullen. What can I do for you?"
"My name is Elizabeth Masen. You were the first to see my husband, Edward. He was in here for several days, but just recently—" She began to break down, lowering her eyes almost in shame. I fought the urge, once more, to comfort her; she would notice how cold I was. From the door, her scent carried with it that of the disease, and her body heat seemed a bit higher than normal, attesting to her grief. Shaking her head and wiping her cheeks, she raised her eyes to me, this time desperation laced in her pleading gaze.
Clearing her throat, she spoke so quickly I doubt anyone without vampire hearing would have understood her, "My son fainted in the waiting room. At first I thought he was just exhausted from being up all night, but I can't seem to rouse him, and the other doctors are too busy to look at him—please, could you come? I've seen you with other patients, you're very skilled—"
Before the final words were out of her mouth, I was out in the waiting room, my eyes both seeking and finding, in the same instant, the boy from before.
Rushing over to him, I could tell that he was running a dangerously high fever, and his skin had the tell-tale blue pallor. He was barely conscious, moaning softly. "Mrs. Masen, I need to get your son to a bed immediately. He is very ill."
I listened to the staff's conversations down the hall, hoping there was an available room. Thankfully, one had just been entirely vacated. Feigning some degree of difficulty, I picked the boy up and began walking to the room. Mrs. Masen followed closely, the grief carefully hidden on her face by her motherly duty; despite her efforts, she looked as if she were about to be sick.
"Tell me about your son, Mrs. Masen."
"Please, call me Elizabeth, Dr. Cullen. His name is Edward, like his father. He turned 17 this past June." Her resolve collapsed at the mention of his age, and she began sobbing once more. He was no doubt healthy and strong, just like every other victim. We reached the room and I laid him one of the two cots, calling a nurse to bring me water and supplies.
"Has he shown any symptoms of the influenza in the past few days, Elizabeth?" My automatic diagnostic nature had taken over.
She took deep, gasping breaths to calm herself, coughing a few times, "Not that I noticed," she said, wiping the tears from her eyes, "but he always was one to never admit to any sort of weakness. He once walked to school and back in the dead of winter with a head cold, and I never knew it until the next day. He said he didn't want me to worry." A few more tears fell as she attempted to make Edward comfortable on the makeshift bed while I took his pulse. His agonized groans continued as the nurse returned with the routine supplies.
I dipped a cloth in the basin of cold water, wringing it out and handing it to Elizabeth. She laid it on his forehead without further instruction. Slowly, he began to mumble incoherently, and Elizabeth looked at me hopefully.
"Edward?" the name came from her mouth as only a mother could speak it. She sat next to him on the bed, stroking his hair softly. His eyes opened slowly, the question evident on his face before he could voice it.
"You're very ill, Edward," I stated. I kept my voice low, crooning and yet authoritative. It made people feel safe and at ease when I spoke in such a way, knowing their problems were in my capable hands—useless hands, now. "You fainted in the waiting room. How are you feeling?" I asked him, regardless of knowing exactly what he was feeling at the moment, having seen it in countless others before.
He looked between Elizabeth and me for a moment, as if deciding whom he ought to appease first. His mother won, "I am only a bit…tired. I'm sure I'll be just fine as soon as I rest for a while." He sat up sluggishly, giving his mother what he probably thought was a reassuring look, before erupting into a coughing fit. Elizabeth immediately began rubbing his back before gently guiding him to lie down once more. He didn't argue.
His fever was steadily rising, and the altered smell of his blood grew more pungent by the minute, evidence to the disease gaining ground within him. Elizabeth was looking frantically around the room. "There's a pitcher of water and a glass right next to you," I suggested, pointing offhandedly to the table beside the bed as I continued filling out his chart. As he sat up to drink, Elizabeth propped the pillow behind him. She refilled his glass, then quickly left to retrieve more water.
"Between the two of us," I began once she was out of earshot, "how are you feeling?"
His eyes stayed trained on the glass in his hand as he sought to control his breathing, "Not well. I have the same illness that killed my father, don't I? The Influenza?" His resignation was staggering. It was as if he had given up hope. "I won't make it, either…will I?" He looked up then, his eyes searching mine, clear and mature beyond his years. For a moment we were equals.
He began coughing again. His eyes had reminded me of his mother's. Undoubtedly, if he gave up now, she would lose him too. How could Elizabeth cope with the loss of her husband and her son? It would kill her. Why would it matter—you've lost so many already.
No. It did matter; she mattered. I broke my rule. I had grown attached.
I now knew without a doubt that I needed to save this young man. If not for his, then for my own salvation. If his hope died, so would mine. I waited for his coughing to calm. "You must be strong and get well for her. She needs you."
Then a crash resounded directly behind us at the door, claiming both our attentions. A pitcher was shattered on the floor, water spattered everywhere. But more importantly, Elizabeth lay amongst the pieces, completely unconscious.