Summary: Prequel to 'Loner'. Edward found his Bella and they got their happily ever after. But what happened before they met? How did the Cullens cope over the years with a new, broken family member? This story takes us back to the beginning.
A/N: As promised, here is the prequel story to 'Loner'. This one will not be very long, though, just 5-6 chapters. Each chapter will be from a different POV, except for the first one that is Carlisle, which I had to split in two. Basically, you will get inside the heads of the Cullens over the years, find out what they were thinking and feeling. The story starts when Carlisle first meets Edward at the hospital in Chicago, and everything that happens takes place before Edward meets Bella. Some dialogue is taken from 'Loner'.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot of this story and Loner. The characters all belong to Stephenie Meyer.
Carlisle: Part One
"Who did this?" I demanded, my voice sharp as I looked around the room. No response. They were all just staring at me with something close to fear in their eyes, and I figured I couldn't really blame them, seeing how this had to be the first time they heard me raise my voice. I was normally much more composed, but not today. "Did you hear me? I want to know who is responsible."
I had always found working as a doctor to be rewarding, because it made me feel like I was making a difference by helping people. But there was also a downside - one that couldn't be ignored. The world could be a cruel place. I had seen a lot over the years, and there were things I wished I had the power to remove from my memory.
Still, by the end of the day, I had learned to leave it all behind me and go home. That was until today. I didn't know it yet, but sleep wouldn't come to me easily that night. The ball had already started rolling, and I had no idea what was coming, what I was up against.
The boy was brought in a few hours ago, and for some reason, I couldn't get the image of his small, battered body out of my mind. It was always worse when it was young children, no question about it, but somehow, this one stayed with me. Maybe it was because he was close in age to my own two children, and it would kill me to see something happen to either of them.
I had a bad feeling about this. My suspicions had yet to be confirmed, but I was neither ignorant, nor stupid. I could tell the difference between an accident and an act of abuse. This child had been hurt on purpose. The question was, was it the first time? And more importantly - who was responsible?
My shift was over, but something made me stay. I knew Esme was waiting to hear from me, but I told myself she would understand. I just couldn't bring myself to leave, at least not before I had gotten some further information. It wasn't that I didn't trust the people I worked with, because they all had to know what they were doing, but I wanted - no, needed - to hear the full story.
"Um, Dr. Cullen?" A soft voice spoke up, snapping me out of my thoughts. It was Kate, one of the youngest nurses in the staff, and unlike the others, she actually met my eyes and held my gaze as I turned to look at her. She looked as if she was on the verge of tears, but I didn't know whether it was because of the situation, or simply the fact that I was obviously losing my temper.
"Yes, Kate?" I gave her a look I hoped would be encouraging - it wasn't my intention to intimidate her.
She took a deep breath, and I tried not to let my impatience show as I waited for her to continue, "We're pretty sure it was the stepfather."
The gut-wrenching cries and wails tugged at my heartstrings and I all but pushed my way into the room, shoving my colleagues and coworkers out of the way, only to stop dead in my tracks as I took in the scene playing out in front of me. The boy was curled up in the corner of the room, arms protectively over his face, and he was shaking so bad I feared he would shatter right there.
I could see three nurses - two male and one female - hovering nervously around him as none of them seemed to know just what to do, and I struggled to remain calm as I strode across the room, never taking my eyes off the frightened and clearly disoriented boy who looked ready to claw his way right through the wall in order to escape.
"You need to give him some space," I insisted firmly, pleased when they all obediently backed away without protests, and I didn't miss the looks of relief on their faces as they realized I was taking control of the situation. For a brief moment, I found myself thinking I must be surrounded by a bunch of amateurs. Had none of these people dealt with a traumatized child before?
"Clear the room, please," I went on, stopping at a safe distance from the boy who had suddenly become almost eerily quiet, and just like the first time I saw him, earlier today, fury welled up inside me as I took in the extent of his injuries - the ones visible to me, anyway. How anyone could hurt an innocent child like that was beyond me.
Something just occurred to me, and I called out in a low voice for the female nurse to stay. Her name was Irina, and she kept giving me suggestive smiles and batting her eyelashes at me whenever she passed me in the hallways, even though I never did anything to encourage her, and to be honest, she made me a bit uncomfortable, but right now, I needed her.
I wasn't stupid - if this boy had been hurt by a man, there was no reason for him to trust me, especially if it was just the two of us in the room.
Clearing my throat, I addressed him for the first time, all the while making sure to keep my distance to avoid agitating him any further as I spoke up softly, "Edward? I'm Dr. Carlisle Cullen, and this woman next to me is named Irina. I assure you, no one is going to hurt you. Now, do you know where you are?"
No response. I waited almost a minute before trying again, "Do you hear me, son? Everything's going to be all right." Still nothing. It was like he had just shut down, retreated into himself as a last desperate attempt to protect himself. I had seen it before, and frankly, it wasn't completely unexpected during the circumstances.
I approached him very carefully, crouching down on the floor. "Edward? Do you hear me?" When he remained unresponsive, I reached out to gently place my hand on his arm, hoping the contact would snap him out of the passive state he was in, but that turned out to be a big mistake from my side.
His entire body became rigid and he flinched back as if I had just struck him, the back of his head slamming into the wall behind him, and he let out a fearful whimper. I instantly raised my hands in surrender, only to realize that with both eyes practically swollen shut, he wouldn't be able to see what I was doing. "It's all right. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I'm backing away, just relax."
But it was useless - my soothing words having absolutely no effect as he once again covered his face with his arms and started rocking back and forth, mumbling something rapidly, and it took a moment before I was able to make out the words he was forcing out in a broken voice, repeating over and over again, "I'm bad, I'm bad, I'm bad..."
I heard a noise behind me and turned to look over my shoulder. Irina quickly swept her thumb under her eye to brush away a stray tear, and took a deep breath. "Should we sedate him?" she asked huskily.
Having hoped it wouldn't come to that, that I would be able to calm him down by myself, I finally nodded with a sigh of defeat. "Yes."
"Carlisle, your shift ended over an hour ago. You should go home and get some sleep."
I pinched the bridge of my nose as I looked into the concerned eyes of my colleague and friend, Dr. Marcus Aro. We had been working together for a couple of years back in Forks, before he took his family and moved to Chicago, and he was the one who had encouraged me to transfer here for a limited period of time, obviously sensing my need to get away for a while after everything that had happened.
Thankfully, Esme had been supportive of my decision, although I sometimes got the feeling she had wanted some space from me as well. I wasn't ready to give up on my marriage, though, my wife and children meant everything to me. Hopefully, some time apart would be good for both of us. At least we were able to act civil around each other when I was home.
There were times when I felt like a coward for running away like this, but I didn't know what else to do. Every time I looked at my wife, the guilt would consume me. Knowing that Esme had tried taking her own life because she couldn't stand the pain of losing our child, and that I hadn't been able to see the signs and be there for her in time, had broken me a little more every day.
But she was getting help now. She was doing much better. And I had to believe our love for each other was strong enough to survive this. We would be okay.
Now I snapped out of my thoughts and smiled at Marcus. "Are you insinuating that I'm here too much? Is this your polite way of letting me know you've gotten tired of my presence?"
"No, this is my way of telling an old friend that he needs to leave this place and get some rest before he burns himself out." Marcus shook his head in mild disapproval, although he did return my smile. "How is Esme, by the way? The kids?"
"They're all good, thank you. I'll be seeing them in a couple of days." I paused. "Speaking of family, have you had any success in reaching Edward's mother?" I couldn't understand why the woman had yet to show up. Both Marcus and I had tried in vain to get a hold of her all day, leaving several messages, but she hadn't returned any of our calls.
Didn't she care about her son at all? The thought was most disturbing.
"No," he admitted. "But the police was here earlier. Apparently, they arrested the husband. Now they want us to find proof that this wasn't the first time. So, I checked the boy's medical files, but there's nothing in there indicating he's ever been hurt before. However..." his eyes darkened, "There are enough scars on his body, not to mention old injuries that haven't healed properly, to suggest otherwise."
I nodded grimly, having come to the same conclusion myself.
"But I'm afraid there's more." Marcus hesitated a little before picking up a sheet of paper from his desk and handed it to me. "This report just came to me from the lab. We got the test results back." He shook his head, sadly. "At least this will hopefully be all the proof they need to put that damn child abuser away for good."
My heart sank as I looked down at the paper in my hand, its contents confirming that this was even worse than I had first imagined.
Marcus seemed to read my mind, and nodded in agreement. "That's right. Obviously, just beating the kid wasn't enough."
"It's over now, son," I said quietly, knowing he was awake and would be able to hear me. "He's gone. He won't be able to hurt you again." Two days had passed, and I was once again working a double shift. It had been a long night, and I had spent my short breaks between tending to other patients checking on Edward. While he had been mostly out of it, I knew his sleep had been far from peaceful.
I figured I must have walked into his hospital room at least half a dozen times during the night, and at first, he had tensed up and flinched every time I entered. I realized he was having nightmares, no doubt about what happened to him, because that's the way the human mind works. So I had started talking, keeping my voice calm and steady, assuring him over and over again that he was in fact safe.
About the third or fourth time I stepped into the room, making sure to announce my presence by speaking up quietly from the doorway before going inside, he had remained quiet.
I had been most hesitant to touch him again after the way he reacted the first time, but at one point, I had seen no other option. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness, clearly unable to relax, when the door opened and one of the male nurses had entered the room. The approach of the unidentified visitor was all it took to set Edward into a fit of panic, and without thinking, I put my hand on his shoulder.
"It's okay," I had assured him. "No one will harm you here." To my relief - and utter surprise - he actually settled down after a few minutes.
Now he stirred on the bed, turning his head slightly in my direction. "Good morning, Edward," I said, not really expecting a response. He had barely said two words to anyone so far, not even during his more lucid moments, which bothered me, but I was set on being patient. "How are you feeling today? Are you in pain?"
He shook his head once, and while I wasn't sure whether or not he was being sincere, I decided to let it go for now. "Your vision will hopefully clear in a day or so. I realize it must be frightening not being able to see anything." I paused, hating myself for what I had to ask next. "Edward, do you remember what happened? How you got hurt?"
I watched how he tensed up at my question, and I took a deep breath before I went on, "It's all right. I know it was not an accident. Tell me who did this to you, and I promise to do everything in my power to make sure it'll never happen again." Technically, I already knew, but for some reason, I needed to hear it from him.
As the seconds ticked by, turning into minutes, I told myself he wouldn't answer, and the last thing I wanted to do was pushing him. But then, finally, after what seemed like hours, Edward opened his mouth, ran his tongue over his cracked lips, and whispered one word. A name. "James."
"So, Mrs... Hunter? I see you don't have the same surname as your son." I looked up from the file in my hand to watch the woman in front of me, somewhat suspiciously. Edward's mother had finally showed up, after almost three days. There was some resemblance between the two of them, so I didn't doubt her identity, but something about her appearance made me feel uneasy. Maybe it was her eyes.
Or maybe just the fact that she had allowed days to pass before bothering to come see her son. I was pretty sure it was the latter, or a combination of the two.
"I got married. Edward still has my maiden name." She offered no further explanation than that, fidgeting somewhat awkwardly in her seat.
"I see." I hesitated a little. "Well, we have been trying to get a hold of you for the last couple of days. Surely you must have received our messages?"
She let out a huff. "My husband got arrested, Dr. Cullen. I'm sure you can understand that my mind has been a bit occupied. I'm here now, aren't I?"
Figuring it was a rhetorical question, I bit back my response and nodded. "I'll be honest with you, Mrs. Hunter. Your son was taken in three days ago, and I'm very concerned about the condition he was in when he arrived here at the hospital. When you wouldn't return our phone calls, we had no choice but to contact the Social Services." I held my breath, but her reaction was nothing like I had expected.
Her eyes narrowed, but she didn't protest or lash out at me. Instead she just nodded in acceptance. "Are they taking him away?"
I frowned. "Mrs. Hunter-"
"Elizabeth," I corrected myself with a nod, trying not to sigh. "Your husband hurt your son badly the other day. And we have reason to believe it wasn't the first time. What do you have to say about that?"
"I've already talked to the police." She glared at me. "I don't know anything. I can't be held responsible for whatever my husband might have done."
It took just about all the willpower I possessed not to jump up from my chair and get in her face. "Edward has old scars all over his back. I find it very hard to believe that you have never seen them. Your son is deeply traumatized, Mrs. Hunter, and I don't believe you are as oblivious as you're letting on."
For a moment, she was quiet. Then she looked down at her hands. "I've never laid a hand on my son. That's the truth."
I rubbed my temples, feeling a headache coming up. "You do realize that just standing by and allow-"
She cut me off, "Is there any paper for me to sign?"
"I beg your pardon?" I blinked in confusion. It just hit me that not once had she asked me how her son was doing.
"From the Social Services," she clarified, the lack of emotion in her voice making me shiver. "They are taking him, right? Surely they must see I'm not fit to..." her voice trailed off and she looked out the window. "Just tell me what to do, Dr. Cullen, and I'll be out of your way."
"Darling, just hear me out before you say no," I pleaded, taking both of my wife's hands in mine.
Esme sighed. "Carlisle, I'm not saying no, but..." She hesitated for a moment. "Have you really thought this through? I mean, what do we know about being foster parents? It's a huge responsibility, and to be honest, I'm not sure I have what it takes. I mean, I'm still on antidepressants, and we are just beginning to come to terms with everything."
"Esme..." I started, but she wasn't finished.
"If this poor boy really is as troubled and damaged as you say he is, then what makes you think we would be able to help him? Surely he needs professional help, and-"
I interrupted her. "Then we'll make sure he gets all the help he needs. I have connections, Esme. There are a lot of excellent child psychologists and therapists out there. But what Edward needs most of all is a home where he can feel safe."
She watched me for a long moment. "This is really important to you, isn't it?"
"Yes," I told her sincerely, relieved when she just nodded in acceptance. She didn't ask why I felt so strongly about this, and for that I was grateful. The truth was, I wouldn't have been able to give her any explanation, because I wasn't sure myself.
When she remained silent, I went on, "He's an eleven-year-old boy who has been through hell, Esme. And his mother literally abandoned him, not that I would ever let him go back there, even if she hadn't. My point is, he is all alone, and not many people would be prepared to take him in. What if he ends up someplace even worse?" The thought was sickening, but I knew it was possible.
"I hear what you're saying." Esme squeezed my hands, allowing me to take her in my arms. "No child should ever have to go through something like that. But I'm scared, Carlisle. What if we agree to become foster parents and then it turns out we can't handle it? What if it's too much? And would Edward even want to come live with us? He has his life, everything he knows, in Chicago."
I could understand her reasoning. But yet I wouldn't back down. I knew in my heart that this was the right thing to do. "Just come back to Chicago with me and meet him. Please?"
She closed her eyes briefly, then gave me a sad smile. "Of course I will."
Edward's physical injuries were slowly starting to heal, but I was more concerned about what this whole ordeal had done to him emotionally and mentally. He seemed to have built pretty thick walls around himself, and I wasn't sure how to break through them. Still, I could tell he was more comfortable around me than... well, to be perfectly honest, everyone else.
Unless he was heavily sedated, he would become absolutely terrified every time someone else entered his hospital room. That was, unless I was already in there. Then he would just tense up in alarm, shrink back into the bed, and glance at me with fear in his eyes, as if silently begging me to protect him. While I was grateful he seemed to trust me on some level, it still broke my heart to see him so distressed.
He still wouldn't let me come too close, though. Sitting down at the bottom of his bed was okay, but he would instinctively shy away if I tried to touch him. Sometimes I didn't have a choice, like when I had to check on his injuries, and it always ended the same way, with him shaking and sobbing in defeat, and me feeling like the most vile creature on the planet for adding to his obvious fear of physical contact.
I always tried to talk to him about it afterwards, when he had calmed down, explaining to him countless of times that just because I would touch him didn't mean it would be painful, or that I meant him any harm. He seemed to listen to what I was telling him - for the moment. The next time, it was just the same thing, all over again.
Another thing that bothered me was his instant acceptance of the fact that his mother wasn't coming back. He only asked about her once, and then he didn't bring up the subject again. When I asked him later if Elizabeth had ever treated him badly, he just stated in a small voice, "My mom doesn't want me."
I choked up at his words, but since I didn't have the heart to lie to him and tell him he was wrong, I had to excuse myself and leave the room. As soon as my shift ended, I called home and asked to speak to my children, telling Alice and Emmett several times each how much I loved them. They both sounded a little perplexed by my emotional declarations, and I couldn't say I blamed them.
After going through Elizabeth Hunter's medical files, I learned that she was once treated for Post-partum depression, which I had to admit explained some things about her behavior. What I couldn't figure out, though, was why on earth she had stopped taking her medication. Then I realized she had stopped about the same time she had gotten married.
I had avoided talking to Edward about the future up until now, but I knew it was time to bring it up. He had to be wondering what was going to happen to him, even though he was obviously not confident enough to ask.
So I cleared my throat. "Edward, there's something I want to discuss with you." Seeing the alarm on his face, I quickly held up a hand, calmly explaining that everything was okay, that I just wanted to talk to him about what was going to happen once he was well enough to leave the hospital. I had meant to make him feel more at ease, but I realized with a sinking feeling that my words had the opposite effect.
His wary expression turned into one of pure terror, tears welling up in his eyes, and my heart ached when I realized how hard he was struggling to fight back the choked sobs that escaped him. Taking a deep breath to pull myself together, I sat down on the bed, trying to ignore the way he automatically flinched when the bed shifted.
"It's all right, son, you won't have to go back there. Just calm down and let me explain." It took a moment, but then he actually seemed to relax, if only slightly. I went on, "I told you the other day I have a wife named Esme. She's here today, and she would like to meet you. I think you will like her - she's a very kind woman." I paused. "Esme and I both hope you would like to come live with us in Forks."
"Dad, when is Edward going to be here?" my son asked, taking a huge bite of his sandwich.
Casting a brief look at my watch, I quickly downed the rest of my coffee - I needed to hurry, or I would be late. I turned back to Emmett. "He will be here next Thursday, son. The next time I get back from Chicago, I'm bringing him with me."
Alice carefully put her half-empty glass of juice down on the table in front of her, her eyes shining with excitement. "And then you're not going back there again, right? You'll be staying here with us?"
"That's right." I exchanged a look with my wife, who smiled at me softly. We had decided that with Edward moving in with us, it would be better if I was close by, so I was transferring back to the hospital here in Forks. In all honesty, I could hardly wait. I had really missed my family these past months, especially at night, when I was all alone in the small apartment I was renting in Chicago.
There really was no place like home.
"Cool!" Emmett exclaimed around the food in his mouth, grinning apologetically when Esme gave him a look of disapproval for speaking with his mouth full. He swallowed quickly. "I can't wait to show Edward my video games."
Even though Edward was closer in age to Alice - she would be eleven in a couple of months - Emmett was very excited about getting a 'brother'. Hopefully they would all be getting along well. I was a bit concerned, though, regarding Edward's social issues. The more time I spent with him, the more clear it became to me how uncomfortable and uneasy he was around other people.
"Just give him time, and go easy on him." I looked from Emmett to Alice, a serious note in my voice as I continued, "Your mother and I have explained to you the importance of making Edward feel at home here with us, but he's bound to feel a bit overwhelmed. This is all a strange, new situation for him, and he has been through a lot. I ask that you have that in mind."
"We know. You already told us." Emmett looked slightly offended that I didn't seem to have complete faith in him.
"Don't worry, Daddy." Alice smiled and shifted eagerly in her seat, causing her dark pigtails to bounce. "We'll be good. Edward's going to love us."
I smiled at my little girl - who really wasn't so little anymore - and nodded in agreement. "I'm sure he will, honey. Just remember what I said." She nodded.
"I know what you are going to say, but I must ask anyway." Marcus' face was a mixture of understanding and concern. "Are you absolutely certain about this, Carlisle? There would have been other options. You already have a lot on your plate. Trust me when I say that taking in a foster child - especially a traumatized one - will require more time and patience than you can possibly imagine."
"Believe me, Marcus, I am fully aware of that." I tried not to sound impatient. "I know what I'm doing, and I'm not having second thoughts. This will work out."
He watched me closely, then nodded in acceptance. "I hope you are right, my old friend. You will be missed here, but I always knew this was only a temporary arrangement. Your life is in Forks."
"Yes." I smiled, knowing he was right. "I must thank you, though. My time here has been a most interesting and eye-opening experience. I suppose you could say I've learned a lot about myself over the last couple of months."
"I'm glad to hear that," he responded solemnly. I accepted his outstretched hand, shaking it. "Now you have to excuse me - I have patients to tend to." With that, we parted.
A few minutes later, I found myself standing outside Edward's hospital room, knowing this would be the last time I stepped inside. It felt strange in a way, being here at the hospital in my regular clothes. And even more strange knowing that when I left this place today, I wouldn't be alone.
Edward knew he was coming home to Forks with me, and he seemed to be accepting the change without objections. I could tell he was relieved to finally be able to leave the hospital, but I had a feeling he had yet to take in what all of this meant for him. He was clearly still very skittish and withdrawn, and would rarely say a word unless he had to.
But that was to be expected. Here he was, merely a child, betrayed and abandoned by those who were supposed to be his family. No doubt would he have lost faith in the human race. It would most likely take a while to gain his full trust, but I was not going to give up.
I only hoped my family and I would be able to help him.