A/N: Here's the first chappie of one of the new stories I've been working on. I am so excited about this thing. I was going to try to wait and post this after I got the "Color of Loneliness" epilogues done, but I just couldn't wait. Hehe. This is way different than anything I've ever written before. I'm really trying to stretch myself as a writer. ;)

I have my amazing girlies to thank: my beta, LifeInkognito, and my pre-readers gjficfan, Lfcpam, and Firedancer07. I love you all so much.

SM owns Twlight.




Another yawn.

And another.

My teeth clamp down on the inside of my mouth to try to stifle the next one. But I yawn anyway. I try to discreetly hide it behind the back of my hand, but my watering eyes give me away. Frowning, I blink harshly several times, straining to read the chart on the laptop screen I'm holding. But all I see is a swirling blur of black and white smudges.

I swallow and grimace, distracted by the scratchy feel in my throat. It's bothersome. I know that feeling. I'm coming down with something. And I can't afford to get sick right now. I just can't.

"Dr. Cullen, you look completely exhausted." I set the chart down and rub the moisture from my bleary eyes. I squint as I strain to stare across the desk at Maggie. Her brows are pinched, worry etched on her wrinkled face as she peers at me from atop her black-rimmed glasses.

My face relaxes. "I'm fine," I say with a practiced smile and a quick nod. I turn my attention back to the chart and am relieved to see that words are now visible. Glancing over the man's vitals and symptoms, I tuck the laptop under my arm and begin walking down the hallway. I glance at my watch and do a quick calculation. I've been at the hospital for 35 hours and 45 minutes. And this is my last patient. Only fifteen more minutes. Just a few more minutes, and I can get the hell out of here and go home and get some very much needed sleep.

I tap softly on the door with the back of my hand as my eyes drift down to the name on the computer screen in my hands. "Mr. Banner?" I call out as I open the door.

"That's me." I smile as I approach the bed. He's a frail-looking gentleman, 79-years-old and has been admitted for abdominal pain.

"Hi, I'm Dr. Cullen," I say as I reach my hand out to him. There's a gray-haired woman sitting next to him. I shake hands with her as well; she introduces herself as his daughter.

"So, you're having some stomach pain?" I ask. "Can you show me where it hurts?"

He points to the center of his stomach and says it also hurts below it. I ask him if he's had vomiting and diarrhea, and he confirms that he's had both. As I begin the examination, I ask if he has any hobbies. His small eyes almost disappear when his lined face splits into a toothy grin, and he begins telling me all about his love of playing gin rummy. I smile and listen intently as I lift his gown. His stomach is distended. And he shows signs of acute pain and tenderness upon touch. More than likely he has a bowel obstruction, which will probably require surgery. But we'll have to run some tests in order to confirm it.

I quickly type up my observations. "Mr. Banner? We're going to need to do a few tests to see what is causing your pain, okay? And hopefully we'll get you all fixed up so you can go back home and beat your friends at rummy again. How's that sound?"

There's a spark in his tired gray eyes as he winks and nods. "I like beating Wilson the most. That man owes me fifty dollars."

I chuckle. "Well, we need to get you better as quickly as possible so you can go collect that money."

"That's right. I like you, young man. You seem like a good doctor."

"Thank you." I flash him a smile. "Well, I'm getting ready to leave because my shift is ending," I say as he frowns and both he and his daughter voice their disappointment. "I will be back in a few days. But let's just hope you're out of here before then. I'll go ahead and put the order in for the tests that you need to have done. And I promise the next doctor on call will take very good care of you, okay?"

He nods and smiles just before his face contorts as a wave of pain washes over him.

My legs are stiff as I make my way back to the nurse's station and type up the order for the tests. There's a dull ache in my joints. I have to rub my eyes twice in order to see well enough to finish up.

"Good night, Maggie," I murmur quietly. "See you in a few days."

"You get some rest, Dr. Cullen, you hear me? You don't look so well."

"I will. I promise that the only plans I have for the next several days is sleep."

"Good. And you tell that beautiful fiancée of yours that I said hello."

"I sure will," I agree with a half-smile.

It takes me another fifteen minutes to get to my locker because I'm stopped by other nurses and doctors along the way with small talk and such. I plaster a fake smile on my face and am cordial although my thoughts are solely focused on getting home.

The walk to my car is slow. I want to race to get there, but my legs feel heavy. I can't remember a time that I've felt this much exhaustion. It's probably from a combination of not sleeping for the last three days and coming down with this cold or flu that I can feel trying to take hold.

I shiver, pulling my coat closer as a strong gust of biting nighttime Chicago air slices through me. My skin prickles as the wind whips and lifts my hair, blowing icy cold air through it. I wish for my hat and gloves.

Once seated in my Volvo, I blow out a heavy breath. I watch it spin a white color before it vanishes in the chill of my car. My head falls back against the headrest, and I close my eyes. Even my neck aches. For a moment, I consider crawling into the backseat to take a quick nap but decide against it when I begin to shiver again. I just want to get home to my soft bed that's covered in insanely expensive sheets; sheets that my fiancée had insisted upon.

Cupping my hands together, I blow into them before I flip the heat on high. The clock on my dash reads 12:30 a.m. I should be home and in my warm bed no later than 1:00. Sighing, I hold tight to that thought. Just a little bit longer…

As I drive, the car begins to warm. I feel the heat around me like a blanket that's been pulled out of a hot dryer. Every muscle in my worn, exhausted body relaxes. My eyelids feel heavy, so heavy.

I watch the lines on the pavement. Each line whipping past in a soothing, rhythmic pattern… lulling me… pulling me under, deeper…

My eyes snap open, my heart pounds. I must have dozed off. I'm not sure how long although it must have only been a few seconds. But that's all it takes… just a few seconds.

Scrubbing my hand across my eyes, I straighten in my seat and switch off the heat. I roll the window down about two inches, letting in the chilled Chicago air, knowing that will help keep me alert.

Silent, tiny droplets of rain begin to spray across my windshield. I don't turn on the wipers right away. Instead, I watch as the water collects and makes streaky kaleidoscope-like patterns as the wind pushes and pulls the beads across the window.

As I exit the highway, I drag in a deep breath. I'm about half-way home. There's not much traffic out this late at night. For a while, I watch the taillights in the distance until my gaze is pulled back to those lines on the pavement again. Line, after line, after line, after line. So hypnotic... My body feels weighted. I am so tired. So very, very tired…

My ears are pierced by a deafening crack of thunderous sound. Like metal being smashed instantaneously in a compactor. My body is violently jerked and tossed about. And then silence. I feel disoriented. And there's pain. A throbbing sensation. Intense. Not like the body aches I had earlier. Much sharper. I feel it radiating down my chest and across my stomach. I find it difficult to breathe. Someone shouts. I hear several voices. They're fearful and panicked.

Where am I?

My eyes are still closed. I know my body is not moving, but I feel the sensation that I'm still in motion. My head spins. An odd odor hits me. Something stale. Like a dusty chemical. It reminds me of the latex gloves at work.

Keeping my eyes shut, I blink several times before I finally open them. All I see is a white mass that appears to be deflating.

"Oh my god. Sir? Are you okay?" I hear a woman's trembling voice ask to my left.

I groan as I turn towards the voice. "Are you hurt?" she continues to question me. She has what I can only assume is the side air bag – since I've never seen one before - pushed up and is peering at me through the window. I find it odd that the glass is gone. There's a strange warm sensation on my forehead. I reach my hand up to touch it, and frown when I see blood on my hand. There's been an accident. I've been in an accident.

My tongue darts out to wet my chalky lips as I begin to move. I now realize that the pain in my chest and abdomen is from the seatbelt. I'm going to be sore as hell tomorrow, but I don't seem to have any significant injuries that I can sense.

I clear my sore throat. "No, I'm okay." My voice sounds off, shaky.

A man comes up beside the woman and tugs on the door. He pulls and pulls, grunting hard until he finally yanks it open. The woman begins speaking again. "Just stay where you are. It's probably not safe for you to move yet. I called an ambulance."

I ignore her, push on the airbag and unbuckle my seatbelt. As I try to stand, everything around me spins. Someone grasps my arm. "Here. Let me help," the man says as he holds onto me. I grip the door tightly with both hands until the spinning lessens, and I feel steady on my feet.

I stare down at my white knuckles for a moment before something in my peripheral vision distracts me. My eyes stay ground-level and slide slowly to the right. I gasp. The sleek, smooth silver lines of the front of my Volvo have vanished. All that remains is a tangled mass of unrecognizable crushed metal. I freeze, unable to move, unable to breathe. Fear ferments deep in my stomach, delivering a sickening sensation. I swallow harshly.

Ahead of me and slightly to my left, I hear crying and some type of commotion. My gaze follows the sounds. My breath becomes shallow as my eyes absorb the scene before me. An ancient red pick-up truck sits about fifty feet away, flipped over, resting on its roof. The driver's side faces me. I can clearly see the outline of a person hanging upside down still in a seatbelt. There are people standing around the truck, holding each other and sobbing.

I begin to heave huge amounts of frigid air into my lungs as my heart begins to pound at an alarming pace. Adrenaline. I can feel it surging through my body, stimulating my heart rate, contracting my blood vessels, dilating my air passages. Immediately, my feet carry me forward until I'm jogging directly towards the truck.

Shards of broken glass litter the dark pavement. The shattered pieces make strange crunching sounds beneath my shoes. I drop to my knees and stick my head inside to assess the situation. Every instinct I have as a doctor kicks in. My training takes over, propels me. A woman with a slight build hangs upside down in the driver's seat. I have to lean down to feel for her pulse. She has one but it's very weak. She's covered in superficial lacerations with one large cut in her scalp along the hairline. But it's her breathing that frightens me the most. I recognize those sounds. I have to get this woman out and fast.

My eyes move swiftly to the passenger seat. A young man hangs beside her, his face covered in blood. But I recognize his facial structure. He has Down's Syndrome. The impact must have been on his side because the door is caved in on him. I quickly climb over the woman and reach down to feel for his pulse.

There's nothing.

No pulse.

He's dead.

A clawing fear so frightening, so beyond anything that I ever thought possible coils itself tight in my stomach, lifting its blackened fingers upwards to clench around my heart. Its grasp is so tight that it expels all of the breath from my body.

My heartbeat roars in my ears, my breath bursts in and out of my lungs. I tell myself this reaction is premature. I don't even know how the accident happened. I may not be at fault. But something nags at me, something inexplicable. I just know. I feel it deep in the core of my being. I know I am the cause of this.

I fight against the overwhelming sensations that threaten to consume me. I will give in to it later. And let it devour me. But not now. My breath is ragged as I pull in icy lungful's of air. Ever so swiftly, I turn my attention back to the woman. I have to get her out of this truck immediately, or she's going to die before the paramedics get here.

A man's head appears beside me. "I think we should leave her," he says. "They say not to move people because of back injuries and stuff."

"I'm a doctor."

"Oh," he says in surprise. "Okay."

"I need your help," I tell him. I scoot over so he can crawl in beside me. "I need you to hold her neck still. I'm going to release the seatbelt. We have to get her out. Right now."

I grab his hands and position them. "Hold her," I say as I wedge my shoulders against her lap, which is above me since she's upside down. I wrap my other arm around her back. Then I release the seatbelt slowly as her weight falls onto my shoulders. She barely weighs anything.

"Okay. Keep your hands steady on her neck," I say as we carefully ease her out of the truck and lay her flat on the freezing damp pavement.

"I need a straw or an ink pen, and a knife and a lighter," I shout to the crowd that has gathered around. "Now!"

My right eye begins stinging, blurring my vision. It's blood. I ignore it. I jerk my coat off and lay it on top of her and within moments, the crowd has produced what I asked for. I unzip her coat and unbutton her shirt to expose her neck. I frown, my heart skipping a full beat when I see a fragile heart pendant resting in the hollow of her throat. I swallow hard as I reach out and tug slightly on it so that I can lay it on her chest. I flip open the knife as I quickly use the lighter to sterilize the tip. I cut into her trachea, making a small incision before I slip the straw into the cut I've made. My shoulders sag slightly in relief when I see the woman begin to get air into her lungs. I smooth her long dark hair, damp with blood, away from her face and look at her for the first time.

There are cuts and abrasions scattered across her incredibly pale, almost translucent skin. I can see where some bruising is beginning to develop as well. But underneath all of that, I notice that her features are quite delicate in her heart-shaped face. Small petite nose with thick dark lashes lying against alabaster skin. She's beautiful.

The sound of sirens fills my ears. I look up and the paramedics have arrived. They immediately take over and within minutes have the woman loaded into the back of an ambulance. I stand on the street unmoving, my eyes transfixed on the taillights. There's so much going on around me, absolute chaos. But it's as if it isn't real. I'm disconnected. I feel like a statue in the center of a city as the world is speedily bustling around me. Or like I'm all alone on a dark street… a street with no end.

But then my body begins to tremble. The movement stirs from deep within me causing my teeth to chatter. It's as though there's an earthquake rumbling just below the soles of my shoes. Someone wraps a blanket around my shoulders. "Dr. Cullen?" a person asks. Frowning, I look towards the voice. I recognize the face; he's an EMT from the hospital. "Come over here and sit down," he says. I do as he instructs. I sit.

"We should get you to the hospital," he says just as another ambulance arrives on the scene.

I don't argue. It's imperative that I get to the hospital. Not for me but for that woman. That woman whose hauntingly pale, lovely face is all I can see. It's embedded there, branded. As if it were seared with a hot iron. Because what if…? What if she…? A suffocating sensation tightens my chest as those agonizing unfinished thoughts impale me. I begin gasping for air.

My body continues to quake uncontrollably as someone helps me onto a gurney. My head rolls slowly to the side, my eyes resting on the mangled red truck. Several firemen are placing blankets over the windows. But I know what is hidden beneath. I know what I've done.

I'm lifted into the ambulance, and there's a flurry of activity as the EMTs begin taking my vitals. My thoughts begin to venture down darkened avenues I don't want them to. The fear that I've been working so desperately to keep tampered down comes barreling towards me.

Oh god, what have I done?

Did someone…? Did someone… die… tonight because of me?

A flash of that young man's innocent bloodied face stabs me forcefully in the chest, ripping the very breath from my body.

I can scarcely breathe as the truth begins to bloom deep within me, its petal's edges charred ashen black.

That boy is dead because of me.

Somehow I know.

I am a murderer.

A/N: This story has been haunting my thoughts. What do you think? Are you intrigued? Do you want more? ;))))