Carlisle's Good Deed
I walked through the ward doors at a human pace, shrugging out of my clean white smock. All around me the familiar sounds of the hospital were mixed with the tiny sounds no one else in the building could hear. The ticking of pipes in the walls, the rush of air artificially circulated through the front lobby, carrying the scents of human life with it.
The cleanliness in the air was the reason I could linger so long in the reception area, putting on an appropriately engrossed face as I pretended to search my pockets for my keys. Sometimes, in one of my more distracted moments, I actually forget where I put them. That wasn't the case today, but keeping up our human charade was essential, so I tried very hard to repeat this common action.
Today had been blessedly uneventful; I hadn't run across any life-threatening situations, thank God. Tom Marshall had had another run-in with his farm equipment, a broken wrist and two minor puncture wounds. I hoped his oldest son would help him with his duties until the wrist healed, and, I winced, hopefully Tom wouldn't need the arm reset because he tried to use it too strenuously. He seemed the kind of man who ignored his doctor's advice in order to work to keep his family fed.
But, I thought regretfully, I would never know Tom Marshall's character beyond how well he handled a medical examination.
It's important for a doctor to have some familiarity with his patients, but also maintain a business-like impartiality as far as their health is concerned. For the patient's and my family's sake, I emphasize the latter aspects of my career requirements. Although I would have liked to know more about every man or woman I treated, the fear of exposure holds my interest in check. It's much safer for everyone if my patients do not feel comfortable enough to ask me personal questions.
"Dr. Cullen, are you leaving early?" asked Clarissa, the attendant at the receptions counter. The young woman's eyes were wide with surprise-- I hardly ever left before 4:00 in the afternoon.
"Yes, my wife asked me to come home early today," I said, smiling.
"Slow day, isn't it?" asked Clarissa, nodding understandingly.
I nodded back, then tucked my wallet back into my pocket. In the search for my keys I had been forced to take it out.
"I'll sign you out," said Clarissa, reaching for the mouse to her computer, clicking something on the monitor as it hummed to life.
"Thank you, Clarissa."
"Mmmhmm. Have a good one."
With a mechanical whoosh, the automatic doors opened as I approached them. I turned right reflexively; my car was parked in the smaller lot reserved for staff. There was also an entrance that led directly to staff parking, but it was too empty and secluded for my taste. The narrow hallway would provide too much room for temptation should another doctor or nurse pass by at just the wrong time.
One learned to avoid that sort of catastrophe.
I unlocked my car and slid into the driver's seat, shutting the door and backing out as slowly as I could manage. Distracted again, I noted the dent and glaringly long, white scratch on Dr. Gerandy's Lexus and wondered what had caused the scrape. Dr. Gerandy did have a tendency to speed, of course, I thought dryly.
In my other pocket, my phone buzzed. I took it out as I left the hospital behind.
Before I could speak, I heard Alice's chirping voice. "Carlisle, take the long way home." Esme sighed forlornly in the background.
"Alice?" I frowned, bemused.
"Don't worry, it's nothing big," my daughter said, "but you'll thank me for it...later."
Ah. I should have known this was the result of a vision. Esme would be disappointed. It took a good 15 more minutes to reach our house if I went around town...
"Of course, Alice, if you think that's best."
"It will be, Carlisle." Alice's smile could be heard in her voice. "Thank you. See you...in a while."
Was that last sentence significant? Most likely.
"Goodbye, Alice. Tell Esme not to worry."
"I will, but it won't do any good. She doesn't have confidence in me."
"Take care, my love," Esme said to me.
"Hang up now, Carlisle," Alice said, her soprano tones escalating excitedly.
I ended the connection. Feeling uneasy, I kept my phone in my hand, driving one-handed. My car sped around the twists and curves of the back road to our house. Brilliant green forest flashed by on each side, and occasionally I could see, twenty or thirty feet into the woods, a deer standing still, watching my passage. They wouldn't stand there so calmly if I was outside the car...
Absently, I turned on my stereo, flooding the air with brightly soothing music. Although I preferred to think in silence, I wanted to finally be able to tell Rosalie I'd used the new speakers she installed. I smiled when I thought of how Rose had insisted my old system was horribly inadequate.
Now that I considered it, there was a gift from every member of my family with me in the car. The sound system from Rosalie, rather too expensive for spontaneous generosity. The clothes I was wearing, carefully selected and imported by Alice. The wallet in my pocket-- Emmett's unnecessary form of an apology for snarling at me on a hunting trip.
Jasper's gift was my intact set of darkly-tinted windows, which he had saved from being decimated by a group of rowdy teenaged boys armed with baseball bats. The poor children hadn't known how fierce a respect Jasper had for my Mercedes. Fortunately, that had been one of Jasper's well-fed days. I was very proud of him not resorting to violence that night.
Edward's gift was, I realized, playing over Rose's speakers. The flowing melodies fraught with deep undertones reflected the beautiful scenery before me. This particular CD was my favorite; the songs were less brooding than some of my son's compositions. If only Edward could see how prominent this lighter side of him truly was.
Bella's gift was folded into a tiny square and stuck between the two front seats. Although she wasn't technically part of my family-- yet --I considered her my daughter. Her gift was a page of high-school trigonometry homework, forgotten when she and Alice had run errands in my car. I had given it back to her, but she'd already turned in the assignment. For reasons unknown it somehow ended back up in my car. The temptation to solve the problems had been too great; I'd completed the page while I waited for my shift to begin at the hospital.
The greatest part of the gift was when Bella had picked it up again as she got out of the car, and laughed out loud. "Carlisle," she'd said, "I don't know why I never asked you to help me with this before."
My answer had been, "Edward."
"Oh, yeah, that's right." she'd glared at my son from across the room. "He's good at everything. By the way," she addressed Edward, "are you going to help me finish that assignment or not?"
"Carlisle will help you, Bella. Mr. Varner would recognize my style."
Bella had snorted. "Style in trig." Then she'd turned back to me. "Will you help me, Carlisle?"
"Of course," I'd agreed.
I had enjoyed that tutoring session, to Bella's disbelief.
Last of all was Esme's gift, which was...her love, always with me, whether or not she was physically present. I felt her through the amazing force and assurance of her love. Her gift was irreplacable.
All these thought ran through my head, amid plans for a hunting trip on the weekend and notations to remember on my next shift at the hospital.
Again, my phone rang. I answered it readily. "Yes?"
"Carlisle," it was Emmet, and he sounded irate, "are you heading home?"
"Yes, I'm on my way." I doubted Alice had seen this call.
"Good. You can sanction my decision to keep Jasper in a permanent headlock."
I struggled to smooth the smile out of my voice. "Did he beat you at wrestling?"
"He cheated." He was glowering, I knew, probably at the object of his fury. "I demand a rematch."
"It's up to Jasper, Emmett."
"Yeah, sure," he said, annoyed.
I cut off midsentence, horror springing into my bones.
I saw the boy before he saw me. By the time he realized I was coming it was too late -- he was darting from the cover of trees, sprinting quickly across the road.
But his speed would never be fast enough to evade 2,000 pounds of black Mercedes traveling at 90 miles an hour.
I slammed on the brakes, hearing them shriek as I jerked the wheel violently to the left, flying off the road and spinning, almost airborne, a full 180 degrees, coming to a loud and incomplete halt on the wrong side of the road. The cell phone that had been in my hand clattered against the window, then resettled itself on the floor.
"Carlisle? Carlisle!" came Emmett's disturbed voice, faster than humanly possible. "Jazz, get over here! Carlisle?"
Unclenching my frozen hands off the wheel, I shoved open my door and rushed into the road, fearing the worst. If I had harmed that innocent child--
Paralyzed with terror, the boy stood to the side of the double yellow line, his face and body tensed in shock. Forgotten in his fear, the flashlight he'd been holding rolled into the wet grass beside the road.
"Are you all right?" I asked, relieved to see him standing upright.
The boy didn't answer, but he nodded. I wasn't going to take his word for it.
"Are you hurt?" I came slowly forward, itching to make a thorough examination but knowing the boy was too scared for close contact.
Kneeling cautiously, I looked full into the boy's face. He seemed to be all right: his color was good, and his eyes moved naturally, fixing on my face.
"Duh--Dr. Cullen?" The boy said hesitantly.
I blinked. "Yes, that's me."
Now how did he know that? I was aware that my family had quite a reputation, but this child couldn't be over 10 years old. Then I remembered his face; how could I have forgotten him, as many times as I had seen him?
"Oh, Alex." Alex McNabb, the boy with at least 12 fractures and half that many broken bones, roughly 300 stitches alotted to several body parts, and numerous healed scars. "What are you doing out here, son?"
"I'm...I'm lost," Alex said, desperately trying to hide his anxiety.
I had suspected as much-- the boy, like Bella, seemed to have a knack for getting into predicaments. On one of his trips to the emergency room I had pried his fingers out of a still-hot toaster. He still had the scars from that episode, too. "Are you alone?" Surely this boy's parents wouldn't let him hike by himself.
What was I going to do? I couldn't leave him out here, it was getting dark. And yet I was wary of taking him anywhere in my car. That afforded too many dangers. I should probably call the police, have Charlie send someone to take him home.
"Come on off the road, Alex," I said, internally deliberating. "Wait here, I'll help you."
Hurrying back to my car, I picked up my phone. The screen read 'Call Ended'. Apparently Emmett had given up on receiving an answer. I pulled off the road as I dialed the number for the Forks police station. It would be just my luck to cause a massive accident on this little-used road.
"Hello?" Charlie's voice said.
"Charlie," I said, knowing he would recognize my voice.
"Oh." Surprise. "Hey, Carlisle. Uh, is there a problem?"
"There's a lost boy on the back road leading to my house. Could you send someone to help him get home?"
"Yeah, yeah, of course! Which road?" I gave him careful directions. "How old's the boy?"
"Do you know Alex McNabb?"
"He's about eight or nine, I would say." Eight years, seven months, to be specific, but that only mattered in medical records.
"Okay, sure. Um, are you going to stay with him, or--" I could tell Charlie was uncertain what to say to me. We hadn't actually spoken as much as we should, perhaps.
"Yes, I'll stay."
"Good. Thanks, Carlisle. We'll send a car right on down."
"Thank you. I'll make sure he's safe until you come."
"Right. Well, thanks again."
We hung up in synchronization. I walked back to where I'd instructed Alex to stay. He was waiting for me, clutching the orange flashlight he'd let fall in the near accident. He watched me come toward him, sniffling as he twisted the flashlight's top.
"How long have you been lost, Alex?" I wanted to reassure him, and talking calmly to a frightened human put them more at ease.
"I don't know." Alex's voice was wavering. "I came home from school, and my friend Sammy wanted to go on a hike. So we did, and we just got too far away..." He was starting to panic.
"Sammy? You had a friend with you?"
"I don't know where he is," Alex said worriedly. "We split up to find the trail."
Somewhere in the woods, then, another boy was lost.
"Do you live nearby, Alex?"
"No. We weren't supposed to go this far. Mom's got to be so mad."
The two could have begun hiking as early as two-thirty in the afternoon, which would mean they walked for at least two hours, either going in circles or moving farther away from their homes. Considering the location of this back road, I chose to think the boys walked an impressive distance for their ages. As far as I knew, there were no houses near this road.
"It's going to be fine. I'll find Sammy and get you both home." Alice had seen this, thank heaven, otherwise these helpless children would have been wandering around the forest after dark.
"Okay." Alex eyed me doubtfully, as if wondering whether I was fit enough to go tramping about in the woods. Smiling, I rose as slowly as I had knelt. "Where did you last see Sammy?"
Trustingly, Alex moved close, keeping just next to me as we crossed the road and walked a few feet into the woods. I thought it best to stay as near the road as we could; it wouldn't do to have the entire police force forming a search-and-rescue team for us.
"He was, ummm..." Alex scrunched his face in thought. "He was down here, by this big rock." He skipped down a steep incline and ran to a large boulder covered in moss. I followed him, measuring my stride. As long as I could hear noise from the road we were fine.
"Should we call for him?" asked Alex.
I nodded-- it wouldn't hurt anything. There were no dangerous predators around, judging by the smell.
"Sammy!" called Alex, his small voice growing surprisingly loud. I held my own voice at an acceptably low decibal.
My anxiety was increasing the harder we called and searched. We hadn't gone very far into the forest, but had the other boy really wandered so much deeper into the woods? It was a shame the two had separated. I glanced back toward the edge of the forest; I could still see the road, through the heavy arrangements of trees. Should I take Alex back to the road? At least he would be safe. When the police came, then we could search for Sammy. But if something happened to the other boy because of my wrong choice...
At that moment, my phone vibrated in my pocket. Alex started at the subdued buzzing, his large eyes flying to my face. I smiled at him again and took the call. "Hello?"
"Carlisle! Where were you?!" roared Emmett in a thunderous tone.
"I..." I had intended to tell him exactly what happened, and maybe ask him to come help me search.
But at that moment, four things happened simultaneously. For a vampire, four things at once are not overly stimulating, in normal circumstances; we can process hundreds of sensations in one instant. It was the gravity of these four things that made me pause, however.
I caught two scents, brushed along on the wind, at once.
The first scent: human.
The second scent: bear. Most assuredly bear.
And the scents were intermingled.
The third happening was the sounds of someone running through the forest, and the lumbering lurch of a large animal.
The fourth instant was a high-pitched scream for help.
I suppressed a hiss of horror. Instead I said hastily, "I'm sorry. Later, Emmett," and, despite his protests, snapped the phone shut.
Now here was a quandary. I had to save a human life, a boy's life, and risk exposure. In that respect, there was no conflict. I would not allow an innocent child to suffer for my sake.
The quandary was what to do with Alex while I helped Sammy.
Obviously, I couldn't command Alex to stay where he was, make Sammy safe by violently scaring off a bear, and expect Alex to do as I said. Human--well, not just human--curiosity was sometimes deadly.
The scents were coming closer.
"Dr. Carlisle? You okay?" Alex watched me in fear.
"Be very quiet, Sammy," I said, my voice barely above a whisper.
The boy followed me when I crept silently forward, pursuing the scents.
"Help!" The voice definitely belonged to a young boy. "Somebody help me!"
"It's Sammy!" Alex said, too loudly.
After sprinting the equivalent of a street block, the scents filled my nose.
"Stay here, Alex."
"But--" The boy stretched out a hand to stop me as I began to walk.
I hated to leave such a pitiful expression on Alex's face, but I had to make sure he stayed safe. "I'll be back soon, I promise," I said, as kindly as I could manage and still remain determined. "But you have to stay here. Don't move." I certainly didn't want him to witness a tragedy if, at my human speed, I failed to save his friend.
My thoughts were very dramatic, I know.
But if I hadn't been positive the bear was chasing the boy, I would have been less worried about Sammy being attacked and more concerned with finding both the boys and putting their parents' minds at ease. Which made me wonder why I had been the first one to call in about the lost children. Didn't their parents know they were missing?
Ah well, I couldn't waste time thinking about that.
I looked at Alex out of the corner of my eye; he was still staring at me. I would just have to make due, then.
For the first time in a long time, it was really and truly difficult to keep my run to a crawl in vampire speed. Sammy was screaming again, and now I heard the bear raking its claws against a hard surface. A tree, perhaps?
I approached the scene from behind, coming on a small clearing with nothing but two tall trees, a large, raging bear, and a boy stuck in one of said trees, hanging on for his life. The bear was digging its claws into the tree, growling ill-temperedly. Its heart was not in the attack-- I'd seen much more furious bears in my time. This creature would be easy to warn off.
Sammy seemed to have lost the power to do anything but scream, and I must say I couldn't blame him. I was glad he had the composure to cling to the tree's flaking bark, otherwise…I chose not to dwell on that possibility.
Bracing myself, I commanded my muscles to do exactly as I told them as I rushed at the bear, not bothering to reign my own scream of ferocity in. Poor Sammy couldn't be more terrified than he was already.
The bear turned, startled at this twist of fate. Remember the boy, he's watching you, I thought, repeating it in my mind. It was very hard, trying to act like a human trying to scare away a bear. I waved my arms, taking menacing steps forward, baring my teeth just enough to look somewhat intimidating.
Like most animals, even the predators, the bear backed off as I advanced. If Sammy didn't know there was something not quite right about me, the bear did, and this was obvious in the way it yielded under my pathetic onslaught. But it was moving too slowly for my liking. I decided to give it some more incentive.
I snarled, quietly, but, wonder of wonders, the bear heard. It ran off into the woods, moaning as it left. Once its scent lessened I stood up straight, turning to the tree where Sammy was. "Sammy, are you all right?"
"Do you need help coming down?"
"Yes, please." His voice shook.
I climbed the tree one limb at a time, letting the defensive reactions clear out of my system before I tried to carry a child in my arms. The bear had brought out those natural responses I reserved strictly for hunting, making my body tense and the venom pulsing in my mouth. By the time I reached Sammy-- he'd climbed higher than I would have expected -- I was calm.
"Are you okay, Sammy? Did you hurt yourself on the way up here?"
"No, no, I'm okay." Sammy's mouth hung open, his eyes taking in every inch of me. I sincerely hoped I hadn't frightened him too much by saving his life.
"I'm going to help you down," I said, extending my arms, "is that all right with you?"
Nodding, the boy tentatively let go of the tree and slid into my hands. Thank heaven he was wearing long sleeves; the chill of my skin wouldn't have eased things along at all. When he was safe in my grip he locked his finger onto my shirt collar and closed his eyes, his lips in a tight line as we descended.
"So, that bear caught you wandering too far from home and thought he'd teach you a lesson, huh?" I asked, to relax him.
Smiling weakly, Sammy said, "I never want to go on a hike again."
Until next week, I thought, amused. "Well, I do hope next time you and Alex will stay closer to home."
"Oh yeah. We will."
I set him down and together we walked back to the road. Amazingly, Sammy wasn't hurt from his experience, just completely turned off of walking in the forest. For which I was privately delighted, knowing how many dangerous creatures lurked in the woods near Forks.
"There he is! And he's got Sammy!" Alex cried, to the officer standing by him on the edge of the road. It was good to know an official had finally arrived.
"Dr. Cullen--" the policeman didn't know what to say. I wondered what I looked like.
"He's perfectly fine," I cut in. "No broken bones, no strained muscles, nothing."
"You sure are lucky, son. It could have been a lot worse for you. Guess you'll never go against Mom again." The officer lightly scolded Sammy, and the boy made no move to disagree. To me he said, "Thanks, Doc. These kids don't know how fortunate they were to have you come along."
"No trouble." I smiled. A sudden desire, now that the two children were safe, to get home possessed me. "I can see you have it under control now. I really should go, my wife will be so worried." And my sons, although Alice knew what was going to happen, and Rosalie might not be informed yet.
"Of course. Thanks again." The policeman ushered the two boys towards his car, confirming their recovery to the station through his radio. Sammy was recounting his close encounter to Alex in long and breathless sentences. "That bear was huge, I didn't know if I was gonna make it, but I did! And then-- uh--"
"Dr. Carlisle saved you." Alex said.
"Yeah. How'd he do that? It was awesome!"
"Did you thank Dr. Cullen, Sammy?" asked the officer.
"Whoa, no. Oh man! THANKS, DR. CULLEN!"
I turned and acknowledged the heartfelt sentiment.
As he stepped into the car I could hear Alex saying, "You might want to watch out for Dr. Cullen, Mr. Eddins."
I stiffened on my way to the Mercedes, but kept walking. The last thing I needed was to be noticeable. Had I compromised my human façade? Rose would be furious if, at this point, we had to move. Edward would be furious too-- Bella wouldn't be able to come with us. But there was nothing I could do about that now.
"Why's that, Alex?" At least the policeman sounded baffled.
Earnestness rang in Alex's every word. "Because, he speeds."
Grinning, I pretended to be oblivious and opened the door to my car, pulling out my phone and dialing Emmett's number. He would be laughing for days about this.