This is a collab between me and the amazing Derdriu OFaolain for lovely QuothMe, who donated in FGB. One of her prompts was an Edward that was supernatural, but not a vampire and this is what our brains concocted. It was originally supposed to be a one-shot, but we would up writing about 25K, so we've split it up into eight chapters. We'll be posting every Wednesday/Sunday.
A Matter of Life and Death
I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. —Woody Allen
Edward Cullen was feeling especially creepy. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have prided himself on such an attribute. After all, he had always made great efforts to dress in ominous black and brandish unusual weapons, and he had spent several centuries perfecting his sinister eyebrow raise. In a sense, creepiness was a key aspect of Edward's job description, and he was utterly devoted to his work.
Nevertheless, on this particular night, Edward managed to feel even creepier than usual. This might have had something to do with the fact that he was sitting on an unsuspecting woman's windowsill, watching her sleep.
He wasn't precisely sure why he was doing this, apart from the fact that his superiors had told him to watch this woman. Because he disliked certain aspects of human beings immensely—such as their jobs, social lives, concerns, attitudes and voices—Edward had decided that the least painful method of watching this woman was to do so while she slept.
Edward had never before watched a woman sleep, and he had assumed that it would be similar to watching paint dry. He didn't know much about sleep—only that it seemed like a colossal design flaw of living things. After all, no one would purposely build a refrigerator that stopped working for eight hours a day.
But as he observed Bella Swan in the mysterious act of slumber, he found himself creepily fascinated. She seemed to go through several abrupt stages over the course of the night: the first part involved a period when she appeared to do nothing but lie there and breathe. This part would have been tremendously boring, were it not for the fact that Edward found something strangely pleasing about the relaxed, undisturbed expression on her face. His line of work never granted him this sort of look from humans—they were always either surprised or incredibly distraught by his presence. Neither expression looked terribly appealing on humans, even the pretty ones.
Bella Swan, it turned out, was one of the pretty ones. And much to Edward's surprise, she even managed to look pretty when she entered the second stage of sleep, which he could only guess was the part where humans engaged in mild aerobic and vocal exercise. Bella tossed and turned in vigorous intervals and murmured fearfully. She seemed terribly upset about something, to the point that she took up fistfuls of her bed sheets. At one point, she even seemed to say the word "death" as she rolled back and forth. This certainly got Edward's attention, for absolutely the wrong reasons.
When Bella entered the final stage of sleep, which was the part at which Edward assumed humans practiced their melancholy facial expressions, he began to wonder why, exactly, he was violating this woman's privacy. He had spent hours observing her, but hadn't learned anything particularly useful.
Just as he pondered this situation, his Blackberry buzzed in his pocket. Edward liked to think of himself as a freelancer, as his own boss. But even for men as important as him, there were higher powers that he, unfortunately, had to answer to. His screen flashed a message which curtly informed him that he was to report to the officers of "higher management" immediately.
Edward purposely maintained a loose definition of "immediately," especially because it made his superiors incredibly angry when he ignored the concept of time. Thus, before he headed back to work, he took a stroll around Bella's bedroom, trying to find something significant. Given his impending meeting, this felt like cramming for an exam he had to take in five minutes.
He wandered around the stark space and discovered little more than plain walls and plain furniture. Feeling particularly adventurous, Edward even took a step inside her bathroom. Not surprisingly, it looked just like any other bland, human bathroom. Recalling the various work-related incidents that had brought Edward to bathrooms in the past, he grimaced dramatically.
At last, he gave up and decided to head off to his dismal meeting. But before he left Bella Swan's bathroom, he took a look at his reflection in the mirror. He was pale and unkempt, just how he had always appeared. And, as usual, he looked like death. More accurately, he looked like Death, which was apropos, as that's precisely who he was.
The usual problem with bosses is that every one of them thinks he's a legend. The problem with Edward's bosses was that they refused to accept the fact that he was far more legendary than they were.
In fact, since Edward's superiors were Past, Present, and Future (mildly personified, of course), he frequently liked to remind them that they could easily be summed up with nothing more than a calendar. Death, on the other hand, was swift and mysterious, all-powerful, the ultimate victor, and wildly handsome.
Nevertheless, these three men liked to exert whatever pompous displays of power were available to them. These powers were generally limited to making time tick in a clockwise direction and ordering Edward around.
"We are anxious to hear your report, Master Cullen," said Aro as Edward meandered his way into their office. "I trust you've gathered sufficient information on Isabella Swan."
Despite being enigmatic and mighty, forces of nature often prefer to give themselves human names, if not for the amusement of choosing a moniker, then for the benefit of not sharing a title with a common noun. Aro, having likely found his name inside a strange fantasy novel, was otherwise known as Present.
"Well," said Edward, spinning his Blackberry in his hands. "I did spend hours watching her, as per your instructions."
"Good, good," drawled Aro. "I've always enjoyed your enthusiasm for your work."
"When your contract has the word 'eternity' in it, you might as well have a good attitude."
Aro provided the sort of smile that seemed to say, 'I don't care.' He tapped his toe impatiently and said, "What did you discover about Miss Swan?"
"Um…" Edward paused and thought about his time watching her sleep. "She's human."
Marcus, the Future, shook his head sternly. "And what else?"
"Wellll… She's attractive." Edward shrugged.
"That's it?" Caius snapped. "You observe her and that's all you come up with?"
"I would have been able to observe with more intent if you had bothered to inform me why I was watching her in the first place," Edward retorted.
"Or maybe, we expected that in observing her, you would figure out the reason," Marcus pointed out.
Edward rolled his eyes. "Well, we could debate this ad infinitum. But while you have all the time in the world, I do not. Let's cut to the chase, gentlemen. Natural selection won't select itself. Some of us have more to do than watch sand pass through an hour glass."
Caius grunted angrily under his breath but as always, Aro took Edward's attitude with an effortless nonchalance. "There is a situation in Seattle that requires your attention. The reason we asked you to observe Ms. Swan is because she has been of growing concern to us. Exceptionally bright as she is, she has come up with an elixir for eternal life. She is in the final stages of perfecting it and we need you to stop it."
"Wait a minute," Edward objected. "Final stages? What has Marcus been doing? Isn't it his job to foresee things like this?"
Aro shot his colleague a side-eyed glare. "Well, yes. Unfortunately, we're only human—"
"No you're not."
"It's an expression, Master Cullen. Anyway, it slipped past Marcus, que sera sera. We'd like you to divide your assignments and give them to your subordinates and focus your full efforts on stopping this girl's endeavor," Aro instructed.
"Why do I have to do it?"
"In case you haven't noticed, we don't exactly have a customer service department. She's threatening your livelihood, therefore you deal with it," came Caius' irritated reply. Edward often wondered why Caius was always so bitter; but on second thought it made sense. Living in the past—which any human psychologist worth their salt would advise against—must have made him feel rather impotent, when compared to the other members of his trio.
"So you want me to… what exactly?" Edward asked.
"It is your duty, Master Cullen, to make sure that serum is never distributed. Until now Ms. Swan has been the soul of discretion. Contain the situation and defuse it. You don't need to be told how important this is," Marcus said.
One would assume that in occupying the position he did, Edward would have infinite control over his power. Anyone who attempted to get in his way, got out of hand or even simply irritated him could drop dead at his behest. Unfortunately, life wasn't fair—not even for Death—and he was at the mercy of the greater forces at work (namely Fate, Karma and the three men standing in front of him).
All those who had to die were predetermined—everyone had a time and place that fed into the larger, infinitely intricate schemes of the universe. Despite the heavy, Atlas-worthy burden he bore, Edward had no real power. He was very much the Powers That Be's whipping boy, chosen at the advent of eternity to fulfill this most depressing, yet integral of duties.
As much as he simply wanted to snark out that they request Fate to make a little exception with this one, he knew what their answers would be. So instead, he took the address of Isabella Swan's laboratory, cracked a poor 'time is of the essence' joke that he knew would irritate them and set off on his merry way.
Bella Swan usually worked alone. This wasn't due to the usual reasons for solitary work, since she was neither sullen nor callous. Rather, she found herself alone so frequently because she liked to tinker around with her experiments after hours.
Even though the rest of the lab was dark, she kept her desk lamp on and flipped through graphs on her computer. She sipped her coffee, which wasn't strictly legal inside a laboratory, and pressed the 'down' arrow on her clunky keyboard until she had reached the end of the data.
"Look at that, guys," she said to the rats in the cage beside her. "Five years and counting, with a clean bill of health."
The rat she called Jake wrapped his paws around the cage bars and stood on his hind legs, energetically sniffing the air. He had lived two years longer than the normal lifespan for laboratory rats, and he was still perfectly healthy. If Bella's experiment was a success, then Jake would live forever.
"Keep your fingers crossed, boy," she said, giving his little rat hand a tap. When Jake had retreated into his cardboard box of a house, Bella set to work cleaning up her desk. It was already past nine o'clock, and she would have to be back soon enough. After a hurried sweeping together of papers, she went to fetch her coat. It was only after she had turned away from the computer that she realized she was not alone after all.
"Oh my god!" she shrieked.
The intruder, dressed all in black, sauntered lazily toward her, hands buried in his pockets. "I'm not God," he said with an amused air. "But you're close. Care to guess again?"
She backed up until she had reached the barrier of her desk. The man, however, continued ambling toward her. "Is this a joke? Did Mike send you here to scare me?"
He stopped at a bench covered by glass beakers and smirked at her. "Have I stumped you already, Isabella Swan? Disappointing. My sources told me you were intelligent."
"I am intelligent," she said automatically, forgetting that a rather frightening, and rather tall stranger had entered her lab without clearance.
"Are you now?" His eyes darted to her challengingly, but he nonchalantly turned to the stack of glassware. "So, who am I?" He began stacking the beakers into a pyramid like a child playing with blocks.
"I don't care who you are—a burglar, a PETA member—I don't give a damn. Leave, or I'll call security."
The man spun around with a strange quickness, causing the table to shake. His beaker pyramid toppled dramatically and shattered all over the floor. "Oops," he said. His lips curved into a crooked smile, and he resumed his journey toward her. "You look frustrated. Do you need some hints?"
Some people scream when startled; others get angry. Bella, being an atypical sort of woman, became slightly homicidal. "Don't come any closer!" she exclaimed, picking up a stoppered bottle from her desk and brandishing it. "This is twelve molar hydrochloric acid. I will not hesitate to dump it on your face!"
The man had finally entered the range of her desk lamp, exposing a head of untamed hair, a luminous alloy of reds and browns. "Now, now. Don't threaten me with death." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
She pulled the stopper out of the bottle and held it in the air between them. "I mean it! Stop right there, or I'll splash this stuff in your eyes!"
"Not my pretty eyes!" he exclaimed, dramatically clasping his hands together and holding them near his heart. He gave his dark eyelashes a little flutter. "Some women love them to death."
Bella's fear suddenly transformed into frustration. "What is it with you and this death thing? Are you here to kill me or something?"
He stopped batting his eyelashes and clapped his hand to his forehead. "Jeez. Now I'm just beating a dead horse. Let's try something else, shall we? How about a game of hangman?" He darted to the whiteboard behind Bella's desk, uncapped a marker, and hastily drew a gallows. "So I'm not God." With a squeak, he drew a circle for the stick-figure's head. "And I'm not Mike's friend." He drew the body. "Nor am I a burglar or a PETA member." He drew two legs. "Wow, Ms. Swan. You're not doing so well."
"Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my lab?" she yelled, practically stomping her foot.
"This may be the worst entrance I've ever made," he muttered, exasperatedly tapping the marker in his hand. After releasing a sigh, he drew a scythe in the hand of the stick figure and motioned to it like Vanna White.
With her face frowning like that, eyes serious and back straight, she looked anything but friendly. In fact, despite her small frame and kind, pretty looks, she was rather formidable.
"What does that mean? Your name is Death? Your parents had a rather sick sense of humor, I must say," she said.
Edward shook his head. "No. My name is Edward Cullen. And I am Death."
"Is that... is that a classification of some sort?"
"Like is that your, er, nationality or social group or sexual preference or something? Like being Goth or—"
"No! I am Death—you know, the opposite of life. That thing that everyone is afraid of. That thing you are trying to cure? I hath sucked the honey of her lips but had no power on Juliet's beauty? That Death."
"Oh that Death," she drawled. Edward did not appreciate the sarcasm, even if his own sense of humor tended to be rather deadpan.
"Look Ms. Swan, I know you don't believe me—"
"Why wouldn't I believe you? It's just… you're nothing like what I expected," she said. "I mean, I always thought Death wore a hooded cape—"
"Myth, I just prefer black," he muttered.
"And carries a scythe—"
"Too unwieldy, I only bring it when there's a stabbing or a beheading."
"So you're the Grim Reaper?"
"Grim Reaper, Thanatos, Yamraj, Shinigami, Ankou—many names, many legends, many myths, one man—that's me. Hello." He raised his hand and wiggled his fingers.
"You're right. I don't believe you," she said.
Edward was at once both annoyed and impressed; the former because now he'd have to prove who he was and the latter because at least she wasn't stupid enough to believe any idiot that came along, dressed in black, proclaiming he was Death.
Not that he was an idiot.
"Fine," he huffed. "I'll prove it—"
"Look, Mr. Colin, was it? I don't—"
"Just humor me for a moment. Think of a place, any place in the world that is accessible."
"Okay." She did. A few moments of vacant, waiting looks passed over both their faces. "Well?" Bella demanded.
"Well what? I asked you to think of a place."
"Well, tell me what it is then! I'm not a mind reader!" he declared.
"How am I supposed to know that? Maybe Death—" At his name, she used air quotes, which irked him to no end "—can read minds, too."
"No, he can't," Edward snapped, wondering how he'd been reduced to referring to himself in third person. "I can't. Just say the place out loud, please."
"Oh, well since you said 'please', Sir Death," she retorted, in not a wholly unfriendly, but thoroughly taunting way. She arched her left eyebrow in challenge as she told him, "The Serengeti."
The next few moments and the action they contained were a blur to Bella—Edward marching over and grabbing her hand, a sudden split second of the strange sensation of simultaneously floating and moving at an incomprehensibly high speed, followed by the rather unwelcome sensation of her shoe in something soft and smelly.
"Oh gross," she said, lifting her leg and examining the sole. It wasn't enough that this happened to her at the park back home, she would have to step in shit when she was teleported to the Serengeti as well.
She looked up and was faced with a sight almost as irritating as the stool on her shoe—an unbearably smug Edward. "I may not be able to read your thoughts," he said. "But I can travel at the speed of my own. Welcome to the Serengeti, Isabella Swan."
And that was when she stopped contemplating what was on her shoe and began seeing what was underneath her feet. The ground was dry and cracked and yet tufts of long, yellowing grass sprouted in abundance. In the distance, an acacia tree provided shade, food and a jungle gym to the red-butted baboons that swung from its branches. The air was dry and impossibly pure, filling her lungs with a vitality she never wanted to let go of—rather ironic when one considered her current company. And the horizon, on the far ends of these plains that were stark and impressive and stunning all at once, was so far in the distance that her eyes, so used to seeing cities limited and littered by skyscrapers, could scarcely take it all in.
It hit her. She was standing in the Serengeti. With someone, who if not Death as he proclaimed to be, had the power of teleportation.
"Oh God," she breathed. Her eyes grew wide as she spun in a slow circle, soaking in three hundred and sixty degrees of Serengeti. "Oh God."
And though he had rather limited experience with humans, and certainly no preceding incidents in which he revealed either his presence, his identity or his powers, Edward had the purely instinctual feeling that this was the precise moment he would see Isabella Swan lose her rather impressive composure. And then, just as a cheetah was doing with a doomed gazelle about fifty feet to their left, he would pounce on her, put fear into her so deeply that he could make sure that her formula was never put into use.
"Oh god," she repeated, her big brown eyes, so much like a young girl's in that moment, fixed at a point over his shoulder. She tugged on their clasped hands—neither had noticed the death grip they still held—and said, "We may want to use that whole teleportation thing right about now."
She pointed just as the ground beneath their feet began to rumble and Edward turned to see a herd of elephants thundering towards them. Not a moment too soon, he closed his eyes and thought of Bella's office, with its drab white walls and walnut wood desk, completely impersonal, almost cold, except for a picture of a child and her parents smiling in the corner. When he opened his eyes again, he was looking at that very photograph.
Bella let go of his hand, immediately stripping off her smelly shoe and tossing it in the garbage, before approaching what looked like a panel in the wall but opened into a vast closet. She withdrew another pair of shoes, slipped them on, and turned to him.
He was still awaiting her inevitable freak out, so it was safe to say that he was rather surprised when she said, "That was just like The Lion King. Except so much better."
"Er… I suppose."
"You've never seen The Lion King?" She affected a regal baritone for her next words. "'Simba, when we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass...'" She trailed off upon seeing Edward's blank expression. "Huh. Maybe that's too much 'Circle of Life' for Death." She walked over and seated herself behind the desk. "Alright, Mr. Colin—"
"—Cullen," he corrected. He wasn't quite sure why he added, "But call me Edward."
"Alright, Edward. You are… something. Maybe Death. Let's talk."
Next chapter on Sunday. Do let us know what you think! And if you could teleport to one place, where would it be?