AN: Special thanks to HeartOfDarkess for the generous gift of her time, thoughts, and support, and to Totteacher, whose story My Saving Grace got me thinking, and is alluded to in some of the dialog. Finally, to my beta Coleen561, who went back and betaed the chapters I'd published before she joined me. You're a gem.
I don't own Twilight or its characters.
The wind blew my mother's dress around her legs, and she quickly reached up to secure her hat before the gust tugged the wide brim, giving it wings. Her eyes danced as I leapt from rock to rock on the breakwater, and then sprinted up the beach to join her. I was showing off, but she was in a tolerant mood. More than tolerant. It had been ages since we'd been to the shore, and we were both reveling in the fresh air, sparkling diamonds on the water, and the calls of gulls and terns. My father was far back along the beach, walking in a steady rhythm; whether he was composing a business memo or a sonata, I wasn't sure—his shoulders always hunched thoughtfully in either case. I flashed a grin at my mother and raced down to the water again. Her shoes didn't allow for such antics, and she was too proper a lady to partake anyway, but she laughed and raised her face to the sun, soaking in the warmth. She strolled toward the water slowly, her face beaming.
"Edward…" she called laughing.
"Shhhh…Edward, it's okay." I opened my eyes, trying to make sense of my surroundings. There was a moist cloth on my brow and an ashen, sallow woman standing over me talking, but I couldn't understand the words. I looked at the bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, blue sky gone. A moan broke through the hushed room. The smell of death flooded my nostrils, and I knew this place. I looked at the woman, and knew the gold flecks in her green eyes. Anguish burned through me. I looked away—it was too painful—and saw the empty bed on my other side. Where was my father? A fevered vision of the bed being wheeled away entered my mind. He was dead. We would all die here. I looked back to my mother's eyes. Not her face—I couldn't bear to see her face like that—but her eyes, which somehow were still full of love and concern, even pride. I groaned as the pain overwhelmed me again, and stared sightlessly at the ceiling while trickles of sweat trailed along my temple. The heat of the fever tortured every nerve, yet I shivered.
A new voice caught my attention. A musical voice. I looked for my mother, but she was gone—no, lower, in her own bed again. I looked to the foot of her bed and saw an angel in white. An angel was talking to my mother, smiling at her, and holding her chart. That can't be right. I blinked and looked again. No. A doctor. His fair hair illuminated from behind by one of the bare light bulbs looked like a halo, and his lab coat was still clean…must be the start of a new shift. He was smiling kindly, asking my mother questions. The actual words eluded me, but their tenor was compassionate. I heard my name, and he looked at me. Handsome boy…such a waste. I could see the sentiment on his face, though I couldn't be sure I'd heard him say it.
The angel-doctor moved between our beds to examine my mother more closely. She gasped as he placed his hands behind her shoulders to help her drink. He muttered something about having just come in from outside. She pleaded with him to take care of me, and not worry about her. He turned to me and shone a light in my eyes.
"Edward, can you hear me?" Still in there, son? I tried to speak but could only focus on my labored breath. The light was gone.
Time seemed to ebb and flow, like the fever that wracked my body. Waves of heat crested and waned, only to build again. Colors danced across my eyes, whether they were opened or closed. The colors formed dots, and the dots formed notes, and the notes formed Bach's Prelude in C, it's aching beauty playing through my mind.
I heard the faint rhythmic squeak of wheels as they rolled another bed out of the ward and into the next room: the room of the dead. Calling this ward part of the hospital implied too much optimism. It was an extension of the morgue. The waiting room. None of us would leave it through the other set of doors. Those doors were just for the doctors.
The room grew brighter, and another doctor came to speak with us. This one was red-faced and clutched a mask over his mouth. His face said what he shouldn't voice: Why did they send me here? I'm too important to be exposed. I don't belong here. His eyes darted as he added notes to our charts. He did not smile kindly; he was no angel.
More beds were brought in. I looked to my side and thought for a moment that my father was back, or that I'd only imagined him being gone. But it was another man. Another family broken. Another sufferer. My breathing grew faster as my skin began to burn again, the pain in my abdomen intense. I focused on the ragged breathing of my mother, and checked that she was still at my other side. The moaning in the room increased as the new patients realized that they had passed through the proverbial gates, and were waiting for the boatman to take them to Hades. Their agony permeated me, as though I were a sponge. I could imagine their thoughts; we all had the same thoughts here in the waiting room. Thoughts of anger and regret, suffering, betrayal, and finally acquiescence. Slowly, the moaning calmed as the new nearly-dead accepted their fate. The rhythm was the same every day. I'd lost track of how long I'd witnessed it. I had no idea if I'd even been semi-conscious much of the time.
The room slowly darkened again, and the bulbs scattered across the ceiling were lit like beacons. I closed my eyes and I could still see them. Like fireflies. I saw my mother's face, surrounded by fireflies in the backyard. A dinner party. She looked lovely, radiant, joyful…Chopin's Nocturne wafted through the French doors of the parlor…Father was at the piano. Mother danced in the grass as she cleared the glasses from the tables. I tried to hum along, but my throat was so dry, my body so heavy. I concentrated on the melody, and my mother dancing.
The bed shook and my eyes fluttered open for a moment; the angel-doctor was holding my mother.
"Mrs. Masen! What are you trying to do? You aren't strong enough…let me help you lie down."
"What are you?" She asked as she grasped his arms. My eyes fell closed.
"I'm your doctor, and I'm here to help you." He lifted her into her bed, but his voice was discomposed. The man next to me moaned, drowning out their hushed conversation. Then I heard her clearly.
"You must save my Edward!" she coughed, and then took several labored breaths. Her voice sounded frenzied, as though she were using every last bit of her energy. "Only you can help him."
I heard the angel-doctor freeze. I felt the questions in his pause: What is she asking? What does she know?
"You can save him; only you can," she said, and then lay back in her bed, gasping. He whispered something to her, and then called loudly.
There were sounds of people all around my mother's bed. I tried to sit up, but my head spun, and I fell back, my eyes closed and my breath shallow. What was my mother asking him? I was beyond being saved. My dreams, military aspirations, desire for glory…I'd let go of those days ago. I only clung to memories now. Any petty worries over perceived injustices of my childhood had vanished as I desperately focused on the best memories. The activity at the next bed continued, but made no sense to me. I tried to listen to what were likely my mother's last moments. The sounds were confused…too many voices… anguish and pain wracked my mind and body. I tried to remember the Chopin melody, but couldn't. I sunk into oblivion.
I stared at the empty space where Mrs. Masen's bed had been, as I listened to it pass through the morgue doors. I'd known there was almost no chance of her surviving, but I was still sad to have her gone. Sad and unnerved. She'd seen me. The real me—or at least she glimpsed some portion of the truth beyond my human façade. My veil had not slipped in such a very long time. To be actually seen, and received not as a frightening beast, but as something good, something that could save her son. To have my acts show through…what I do rather than what I am…this was nothing I'd met with in my existence. It was always my prayer. That somehow a form of salvation was possible for me, despite the fact that I was inhuman—that what I did with the lot fate offered me was more important than the fate itself. But to be faced with the reality of that acceptance was both humbling and empowering.
That's not to say Elizabeth Masen fully understood what she was asking. She did not understand that I was a vampire—I could not consider myself a monster—but she did understand I was something different from her. She knew I was inhuman… you're more than that she'd said. She'd made it clear that if Edward had to be like me to be saved, that was her wish. She would rather that he were like me, than that he succumbed to this plague. She must have seen me as good, if she wanted that for him.
I turned and looked at the boy, crouching so I was eye-level to his face. He was out cold, and I didn't need medical instruments to assess his vital signs. I could see, smell and hear all I needed; he would be dead within an hour…two at the most. If I was really going to do this, I couldn't delay. I weighed the implications of the choice before me. On the one hand, there was a distinct possibility that I'd be robbing him of his soul. I didn't truly believe this, or at least I fought against it, justifying my good actions as proof of my soul…but I knew this was dubious logic. And there was the possibility that I would simply drain him; that I would be unable to stop once I'd had my first taste of human blood, despite the long centuries of control. If I did drain him, it might change me in such a way that my control was compromised forever. Even tasting him might alter me, making it more difficult to interact with humans in the future…possibly even forcing me to lose my practice.
But on the other hand…to have a companion that really knew and accepted me would be a gift beyond any I could imagine. I'd spent the vast majority of my existence trying to blend with humans. I was generally on good terms with my colleagues at the hospitals, but the relationships were shallow and fleeting; I could never stay in one place more than seven or eight years without it being noticeable that I wasn't aging. And even casual friendships were dangerous. It was so easy to slip up in conversation, admit to seeing something or someone that I should not have been alive to see. The closest I'd come to a lasting friendship was with Aro in Italy. I'd stayed there several decades, the longest I'd ever stayed in one place. But eventually his contempt for human life drove me away. Despite enjoying the companionship, and the ability to discuss all manner of artistic or cultural pursuits, I could not abide his reckless disdain for humans. I called him a friend, but I knew the truth: he was merely the closest thing I had to one. And that was a very sad fact.
This was the best opportunity that I'd ever had, or likely would have. The boy was close to death, but his heart was still beating strong. He had no remaining direct relatives; the distant ones lived several states away. No one would be looking for him too closely, or too soon. The final question was this: would the boy forgive me? If I succeeded in changing him, it did not necessarily follow that he would be the companion I yearned for. He may resent this new life…the possible stripping of his soul…being forced to outlive all those he cared about. But he was his mother's son; I'd seen that as they interacted the last several nights. And she'd accepted me. Perhaps he would too. It was likely a selfish decision, and I hoped I would forgive myself for it someday, but I wrapped myself in Elizabeth Masen's final request on this earth, and made my choice. Now I had only to carry it out as carefully as possible. And quickly. I was racing his heart now. And the sun; I had less than an hour before dawn.
"Dr. Cullen? Is everything alright?"
"Yes, Michaela," I said as the nurse approached. I'd been too still again. I was getting sloppy. I stood and took one last look at Edward's face before covering it with a sheet.
"That one too?" she asked sympathetically.
I looked at the ground and shook my head sadly, beginning my act. "I'll take care of this one, Michaela. I need to complete the paperwork for the morgue on the ones we lost tonight, and go see Dr. Anderson before my shift is over. Could you please take Mr. and Mrs. Jensen their medications for me?"
"Of course, doctor," she called after me as I wheeled Edward into the morgue, struggling in my excitement to keep my walk at a human speed.
Once the doors closed, I moved faster; no one in here could observe. I was good at covering my tracks, but falsifying medical records wasn't something I'd had to do before. Still, I knew the gaps in the system, especially a system struggling to keep up with the death toll that we were currently dealing with. The bodies of the flu victims were being cremated before being released to the families, for public health reasons. There were two groups: those that we had names for, and those that we didn't. I found an unnamed corpse that matched Edward's general description, removed its toe label and placed it on Edward. Then I quickly filled out another label and put it on the new boy's toe. I grabbed his corpse, and Elizabeth's, and moved them to the front of the line, next to Mr. Masen. I hoped the evidence would be burned tomorrow, without anyone getting much of a look at the bodies. That covered Edward's tracks. As I turned to cover my own, I noticed Elizabeth Mason's hand had become uncovered. She still wore her wedding ring. If Edward survived, he should have it. I removed it and placed it in my pocket, thanking Elizabeth one more time as I squeezed her hand.
I placed Edward, still covered, on a table in the corner amidst the other nameless victims, and hoped he would not attract notice—and that he would keep breathing—during the few minutes I needed to cover my own tracks. I made the final notes to Edward's chart, and placed it and the ones I'd finished earlier in the dead file. Then I raced into the safe room on my way to Dr. Anderson's office, and quickly identified Mr. Masen's box. There was a ring, a silver cigarette box, and some cash. I left the cash, and pocketed the other items, replacing the ring with one from another container so it Mr. Masen's box wouldn't look too empty. These were Edward's things. I'd work on the rest of his legacy later, but at least I could offer him these. I felt in my breast pocket for the telegram that I always carried with me, the date smudged, and ran to Dr. Anderson's office.
"Come in, Carlisle," he said as I knocked on the open door.
"Peter, I've got a problem. I received this telegram earlier. My sister and her husband have succumbed to the flu in Pittsburgh. I need to go look after my nephew, and deal with their estate. I'm sorry to leave you on such short notice…"
"Carlisle, I'm so sorry! Of course you need to go. Let Catherine and I know if we can do anything for you while you're gone. You've been so accommodating about working the night shifts, I'm sure the other doctors will be happy to cover you for as long as you need." I hadn't thought of that. It might be useful to be able to come back. Then again, if I succeeded, Edward would be an unruly newborn for a year, and would be my new full-time job.
"I don't know when I'll be able to come back. And I'd hate to see you short-handed when things are so crazy, Peter. I would have come up earlier, but we lost the Masens, the Blacks and little Lucia Mathers tonight, and I've been trying to keep up with the paperwork. I'm afraid you shouldn't hold my job for me, though I do truly appreciate the offer."
Peter's face turned grim. "Well, I'm sorry to lose you, Carlisle. If you're ever back this way let me know. You're a fine doctor and I'd always make a place for you." He held out his hand to shake mine, but I pulled my hand back.
"We'd better not. I just came from the morgue and haven't washed up. Thank you for everything you've done for me, Peter. I appreciate it so much," I said smiling. That was true. I'd enjoyed this job. "I'm going to try to make the 8 a.m. train. If it looks like I'll be able to return soon, I'll send you a telegram in a few days. If you don't hear from me…"
"I'll put the word out today that we're looking for a new doctor. You're right; we can't be short- staffed right now. Carlisle, I wish you all the best."
I took my leave, and as soon as I was clear of his sight, I raced at inhuman speed to get back to the morgue. Edward was right where I'd left him, his breathing shallower, but his heart still strong. Now to get him out without being seen. All the exits either took me through crowded parts of the hospital or onto sidewalks aglow with streetlights. And dawn was nearing. I wracked my brain for several seconds, running through the options over and over. Then the solution hit me. I took Edward and carried him to the side stairwell. It was empty. I quickly climbed the stairs all the way to the attic; this was used for storing archived records, and was completely deserted. I made my way to the front of the building, where I could access the clock tower, and climbed those two sets of stairs. Now high above the street, above even the surrounding rooftops, looked out through the eastern arch to see the first signs of dawn.
"I hope I'm doing the right thing, Edward." Feeling every bit the vampire stealing away with his victim, I leapt from the clock tower to the next building, and continued north, bounding over rooftops as I left the city.
I was flying. Cool wind brushed my face and my stomach lurched as I felt myself rise and fall, rise and fall. Was I dead? Was I ascending to heaven? But I kept falling too…perhaps the fates were unsure where I belonged next. If I were dead, wouldn't the pain be gone? I took a ragged breath and smelled a forest. Then I groaned as the pain overwhelmed me again.
"We're almost there, Edward." The musical voice. I realized I was being carried. Cold, hard arms held me close as I flew. The rhythmic rising and falling rocked me like a child. I slipped into darkness again.
The pain was changing. It was acute now, at my neck, instead of the dull constant pain in my head and abdomen. I was lying down. I must have dreamt of flying. I must be in my bed. Had they injected me with more medicine? I tried to open my eyes, but couldn't. I felt the fever, and the chills, and the ache in my muscles, and the pain in my gut, but this new sharp pain was beginning to overshadow them all. It was silent except for my quick shallow breaths. The pain turned hot, and spread. Was it acid? Was it fire? Was the hospital burning? My whole body could now feel the fire, and whatever mild pain I'd suffered from the influenza was nothing compared to agonizing blaze that engulfed me now. We must be burning alive. The building must have caught fire so quickly they couldn't evacuate. Or they focused on those with a chance of survival, and left the morgue to burn. The blaze finally brought my consciousness to the surface, and I was able to let out a scream and open my eyes. Where were the other screams? Where were the flames? Why was I burning alone in a quiet, dimly lit room?
Not alone. The face of the angel-doctor came into view above me. He was talking, stroking my hair, trying to soothe. I could only hear the scream, and feel the flames: the invisible flames that licked my flesh, and seared through my veins like lava. At least with pain this acute, it must be over soon. I'd clung to life in the hospital, straining against the looming darkness. I'd known it was coming, was resigned, in some ways. But I'd still fought for life, fought to hear my mother's labored breaths, fought to understand the patterns of the day; who was coming, who was going, where I fit in my surroundings. Now I cared for nothing but the blaze raging through my body. I welcomed death. It could not come soon enough. The fires of hell could have nothing on the wretched inferno that burned through me now, and perhaps…perhaps…I would end up somewhere else. Somewhere cool, where sickness would never reach me, and I could find joy again. Or maybe there would be nothing. Oblivion, too, would be welcome. Nothingness would be bliss.
But the burn didn't end. I waited to go into shock. Surely my mind would protect me from this excruciating pain…but it did not. In fact, it seemed focused on the pain. I tried to hear music, or the angel-doctor, or see colors. But I only saw red, only felt the searing burn, only heard my own voice, shrieking in pain. I felt the wall of fire, and then each individual tongue of the flame, entering each artery, each capillary, each cell. Each minutia of change in the blaze claimed the attention of my mind, until I was focused on each tortured nerve at once. There was no room left in my mind for anything but the pain. And time, which had ebbed and flowed in the hospital, came to a stop.
AN: All the music mentioned throughout Prelude in C can be accessed via the web playlist link on my profile.
The music is very important in some parts of the story, and I hope you'll take the time to listen as you read. A Prelude is a piece of music that often introduces another larger piece. I hope my story serves as a canon introduction or "origin" story for the beginnings of the Clan Cullen. I plan to take it through 1930 or so… just before Rose joins. And of course, any Prelude about the Cullens would have to be in the key of C…
Thank you for reading.