For Team CarlWard Slash: capricorn75, deelovely, HeBelongsToMe, lts929, mycrookedsmile, and sleepyvalentina
with my humble thanks for both the wonderful prompt and for your unending patience.
I hope that it's everything you wanted.

~||x||~

Chapter 1

Forks, Washington—2005

Edward was in the biggest hurry Carlisle had seen him in since 1927.

He'd been buried in paperwork, what, ten minutes ago? Requisition forms and double-checking discharge instructions. Listening to Puccini. Forks was a deathly quiet town, the hospital a level four trauma center—a rural hospital, the kind he liked. There were almost never emergencies.

Which was why the sudden sound of his son's Volvo had surprised him.

Edward stormed in looking deranged. He didn't notice Carlisle's quick check of his eye color, thank God. He began talking at once, the words coming out jumbled, incoherent, missing the logic that tied the pieces together.

"I have to go. Now."

Carlisle's stomach dropped. Edward had uttered those words once before. Decades ago, moments before he stormed out into a rainstorm not to be seen again for three years.

He swallowed, hoping that he could keep the panic from creeping into his voice.

"What's happened?"

"Nothing. Yet. But it will, if I stay."

Edward cringed away when Carlisle reached out to him. But a second later, Edward looked up at him, his eyes plaintive. The eyes that reminded Carlisle that Edward, for all his bravado, for all his posturing, was merely a boy.

"Have you ever…has there ever been a time…"

Edward drew a breath, then exhaled through his nose, steading himself. For a moment, just long enough for Carlisle to shiver, he didn't go on.

"Has any one person ever smelled better to you than the rest of them?" Edward finally finished, then added, "Much better?"

"Oh."

It came out as almost a sigh. Before Carlisle knew what he was doing, his hands were fishing in his desk drawer for his keys. He shoved them into Edward's hand. For the briefest of seconds, their fingers interlaced, and then slid apart again.

Carlisle mumbled something about his car being faster. Suggested that perhaps a retreat to their cousins in Alaska was called for.

Edward nodded.

And just as quickly as he'd come, Carlisle's son was gone, the engine of the Mercedes roaring to life in the parking lot outside the office, tiny flecks of limestone gravel kicked up by the tires and assailing the wall like machine gun fire.

~||x||~

Chicago, Illinois—1918

It smelled like heaven.

There was simply no other word.

Two hundred seventy-four years of temperance were nearly shattered with a single inhalation. Everything about the earthy, sweet scent called to him, beckoning his body and tormenting his mind. He might have compared the flavor favorably with nutmeg, or cardamom, one of the rarer spices that kept with its scent a sharpness alongside the sweet.

Carlisle Cullen, ruined by nutmeg. Now that would be a story for Aro.

Sickness had its own unique smell. Skin drying, phlegm building in the lungs—all these things had their own scents. Ill humans grew more delicious smelling by the day, reminding Carlisle that healer that he may pretend to be, he was at his core a predator. As his prey grew weaker, they grew more attractive to him.

But this. This wasn't merely the scent of illness indicating that a human would be easily disposed of. This was nothing short of divine. Venom pooled in his mouth as he moved past the slowly emaciating bodies, the parents holding children, the pools of spit and vomit that were spilled faster than the nurses could clean them. He brushed past them all in search of this one exquisite scent.

Aro had talked about this on occasion. The ancient vampire studied their world in the same way Carlisle studied the humans', seeking to know all he could about the way they existed. Carlisle had scoffed at the idea. La cantante, the singer, the human with irresistible blood. Carlisle had curbed his thirst from the beginning, when his mind had been at its wildest. The idea that there could be one whose blood was so potent that it would break his conviction had seemed silly, and he had written it off as one more result of his kind's general lack of temperance.

Until now.

He was ashamed of how quickly his feet carried him—at a speed just faster than appropriate for a rushing doctor, even amid the chaos of the influenza. He was even more ashamed of the words that were surfacing in his mind: kill….drink… To his recollection—and his recollection was perfect—he had never wanted to harm a human. But all that temperance rushed away from him now as he wound his way through the crowded hospital, the blood of this human thrumming in his ears.

He reached the end of the hall and turned into the waiting parlor.

She was a beautiful woman, if not exceptional. Dark, coppery red hair tumbled over her shoulders, and her eyes were a striking bottle green. Carlisle closed his eyes. To the woman, it would seem to be not more than a split second, but to him, it was long enough to suck in the sweet ambrosia of the air. Her smell was mouthwateringly exquisite, and he wanted to stand here and soak in it. His concerns for the other patients—every other patient—began to slide away from him; the din of the hospital faded to a thrum.

He could take her away, he thought. Her hair falling over his shoulder, him carrying her out of the hospital and perhaps into the woods. He would bury his nose in her neck, and lick, and inhale, and bite…
Carlisle gulped. He needed air.

But instead, he took a breath so that he could speak.

"How do I help you?"

"It is not I," she whispered. "It's my son."

He looked again, and realized he had barely seen her the first time. Slung across her shoulders was the pale arm of a young man. He, too, had dark reddish hair that blended into his mother's where his head lay on her bosom.

Clucking softly, Carlisle inched closer. He placed a hand beneath the boy's chin and lifted his head. The eyelids fluttered open, revealing the same dark green eyes, but the son's were flatter, unfocused by fever.

His hand was on the boy's forehead in an instant—it felt like fire. The boy let out a low moan as he turned his face upward into the cool skin.

"Please, doctor," the mother whispered. "His father died five days ago…"

And Carlisle remembered. He hadn't treated the man, but he'd caught a glimpse—and, he realized, a glimpse of the wife as well. Like so many, the father had come in to the hospital already too far gone to do much for. One of the hardest lessons any doctor learned was triage—to put one's effort into those who would most benefit, and to let go those who were beyond help. The boy's father had been triaged right out of Carlisle's attention, but given Carlisle's memory, he had not been shoved completely from his mind.

"Masen," Carlisle said quietly. "Edward Masen?"

Her tears spilled over suddenly, splashing into the boy's hair where they clung, glistening before they ran down over his forehead.

"It's his name, too," the woman said. "Edward Junior."
Carlisle nodded, and bent over to lift the boy.

According to Aro, La cantante was supposed to be irresistible. When one encountered it, one was supposed to be driven mad by the intoxicating scent, to the point that it became impossible to control oneself. So many had lost their immortal lives because they had acted foolishly while attacking the blood that sang to them. Carlisle had seen it time and time again when he'd lived with the brothers—heard the keening wail, the metallic scrape of a head being separated from its body.

But what was his life for if he gave up his conviction now? He closed his throat as much as he could. If this woman was his singer, then he would do whatever he could to make her life worth living.

A mother. He could focus on the fact that she was a mother.

Carlisle reached out and pulled the spindly arms away from their mother's embrace. The body was unfathomably hot against his skin; he could feel it even through his shirt and his doctor's coat. The boy was pliant in his arms, but he moaned as he was tugged from his mother.

"Shhh," Carlisle said softly. "Let me take you, Edward."

The mother looked up with those same beseeching eyes as Carlisle stood, lifting the body into his arms and letting Edward's fevered head loll against his shoulder. She laid a hand on his arm, just above where her son's hair lay limply.

"I can't lose him, Doctor," her voice said weakly.

"You won't," Carlisle muttered. But as he got fully to his feet and turned away, he almost fell to his knees in shock.

Because when the air didn't clear, he realized the scent was coming from the boy.

~||x||~

It took him a long while to find Edward Masen a bed.

The children's ward was packed; the men's wards equally so. Already they were turning away those who weren't near death, sending them to the armories and churches where makeshift infirmaries had been set up. Carlisle worked at those places, too—he didn't need to sleep, and there were too few trained hands available. If he could be of use twenty-four hours a day, he would be.

So the hospitals were full to bursting, and Carlisle carried Edward Masen for nearly an hour before he finally found a bed near the end of the corridor in the men's ward. He suspected that it had been recently vacated by a corpse, but he tried not to think about this as he stripped the sheets and laid the shivering body on the bare mattress. And then, like a smart doctor, he left.

That first night, he actually managed to stay away.

On the second, he made one quick check on all his patients.

On the third night, he made five.

"You should leave," Carlisle told the mother on the third night. She'd taken up residence on the stool next to the bed at once, which was a terrible idea. The influenza was the most virulent Carlisle had ever seen. Patients doubled over in their beds, clutching at their stomachs, their eyes bloodshot and their noses dripping. They coughed up blood and bile, and their lungs filled with fluid as the pneumonia set in.

And the boy was no different. He was pale, emaciated, bony. Porcelain skin, covering such a fragile, thin body. Carlisle could see perfectly, of course, but he wondered what the mother must be seeing of her child in the darkness. Could she see the way his cheeks shone in the moonbeams? The way his eyelashes cast a tiny, subtle shadow even over the sunken, bluish eye socket?

He blinked and shook his head to clear his thoughts.

"You won't be immune," he said.

Mrs. Masen didn't answer Carlisle directly. Instead, she lifted up one of Edward's hands. It was pale, with long, bony fingers that ended in stubbed, dirty nails.

"He was going to the Institute for Musical Arts," she said in a voice barely above a whisper. "He plays the piano. Beautifully. I used to teach him, but he outgrew what I knew so quickly." She clasped her child's hand in her own, stroking the dry skin.

"But he wants to go fight in Wilson's infernal war," she went on. "Senior thought it was a good idea; that it would make him more of a man, or some silly thing."

She ran her hand through Edward's hair. The strands were dark, but even in the moonlight Carlisle's eyes could see the hints of red.

For a brief moment, Carlisle's mind wandered. He remembered so little of his own family. Like Edward, he had no siblings; he knew that much.

Unlike Edward, he'd had no mother.

Would his mother have sat here, he wondered? Were it him, lying here, ill with influenza, would his mother also refuse to leave his side, and tell the doctor everything about who he was?

Would his hair have looked like hers?

He checked Edward's breathing, noted on his chart the signs of the disease's progression, and then stepped away from the bed.

"You may stay," he said.

~||x||~

The next day, Carlisle found himself making flimsy excuses to go into the men's ward. A new patient had been admitted, and he needed to go see them. A nameless nurse had asked him to recheck the progression of a patient's cyanosis; it seemed more advanced than other patients. He simply wanted to make sure that the nurses were following the cleanliness protocols that this epidemic demanded.

Anything. Anything at all he could think of to give him reason to wander down the long corridor of beds to the one four from the end, close enough to the radiator that there was an extra blast of heat every now and then, but far enough away that the mother and son had privacy. He would pretend just to check vitals, but instead he'd look over the boy.

Edward had obviously been wiry for his age even before days of influenza took their toll on his appetite. His limbs were long and spindly, and he appeared strikingly young for seventeen. But his features were strong, and Carlisle could see he would be a handsome man later, when his trunk caught up with the rest of him and he outgrew his acne.

Every time he stepped onto the ward, the boy's heady scent hit him like a curtain, enveloping him and making him almost delirious. And yet every time, he managed to walk into the ward, and even to stand next to Edward Masen's bed and talk to his mother.

If he was smart, he thought, he'd run. He'd run before. From England, and then from the Brothers, and then from that strangely appealing girl in Ohio. And no one would miss him here. Hadn't enough doctors already defected? Fear of contracting the disease themselves kept any number of doctors away; it seemed half the medical profession had run off to the country or the prairie or someplace the influenza was less severe.

He wasn't human, and he felt he shouldn't run because he didn't need to. And so he'd promised himself that he would stay; that he wouldn't be like the doctors who ran off and abandoned their patients. He would be the responsible one.

But young Edward Masen and his incredible scent had turned the tables. It would be smarter of him to run. Running would keep the boy safe. There were plenty of doctors in the hospital; any one of them could take excellent care of Edward Masen and his mother.

At what point did one commit the sin of pride, he wondered. Had it long since been committed, when he chose to test himself instead of running headlong out the door the moment he caught Edward's scent?

Or would it only be committed when he finally succumbed to the desire to kill?

Pressing open the door, Carlisle entered. At once, he looked down the ward. For a moment, he was confused enough that he didn't see the bed; so used he was to the figure which always sat beside it. But, no, the scent was still here.

Carlisle found himself almost running down the row of beds. To the one, four from the end, with the skinny boy with the freckles across his nose. And he was there, lying with the sheet twisted around his legs so that it wrapped his lower torso like a swaddling cloth. Asleep, his eyelids fluttering as he mumbled something incoherent.

But the stool next to his bed was empty. The mother was nowhere to be found.

~||x||~

It took Carlisle the better part of an hour to find her, and when he did, he wished he hadn't.

Even in the semi-dark, to his eyes it was obvious that her lips and fingernail beds had already turned the purplish-blue of those afflicted with the influenza, as their weakening lungs deprived their blood of oxygen. She looked small, lying there on the hospital bed, her hands crossed over her stomach as though she were already arranged for the coffin.

His heart sank.

If a heart which didn't beat could do that.

"Mrs. Masen?" he called as he approached the bed.

She didn't stir, and he forced himself to focus on her heartbeat.

"You can't die."

It was a foolish order, as though he could command death and life. She answered only by way of a soft exhalation. So he tried harder.

"Edward needs you."

But needed her for what, exactly? The boy was seventeen. Yes, he was young to be alone, but a handful of his age peers were married, some even with children of their own. And as the mother had pointed out, he was very near the age at which many boys enlisted to the Great War. Even though President Wilson had only a few months earlier lowered the conscription age, younger boys had been lying about their ages and signing up in droves almost since the fighting had begun. The boy was an adult in nearly every sense of the word.

Carlisle was so sufficiently lost in these thoughts that when Elizabeth Masen suddenly grabbed his arm, he barely felt it. It wasn't until she whispered to him that he turned.

"Take care of him," she said.

He jerked his arm out of her grip with such force her hand flung down and hit the side of the bed with an ominous clang. At once, his stomach twisted. He grabbed for it, patting the knuckles.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "You startled me."

Ridiculous, but true. When had he last been startled? One did not sneak up on him; his senses were too inhumanly keen.

Edward Masen and his mother had rattled him quite a bit more than he'd been aware.

"Take—care of—him," the woman rasped. "Edward—needs you."

Carlisle blinked. Hadn't this been what he'd just said to her? To say nothing of the fact that Edward was unlikely to live.

For some reason, this made Carlisle's stomach give an odd jerk.

Elizabeth Masen turned her head toward him, almost at once breaking into a coughing fit. Carlisle clutched her hand as her whole body convulsed, and the little droplets of spittle and blood formed at the edges of her lips. Fumbling for a rag on the bed stand, he found none, and instead used the sheet to wipe frantically at Mrs. Masen's lips. It was unstarched—the hospital's laundry was working triple time to keep patient bed linens clean and there was no time for anything as mundane as starching. It was a miracle that Mrs. Masen had a clean sheet at all.

The coughing subsided after a moment, and the woman lay still underneath his hands.

"Mrs. Masen?" he called, even though he could hear her heartbeat and her breath.

She rolled to the side nearer to him, and her eyes snapped wide open. The eyes that were the same, sea-glass green as her son's. The same sunken expression of those whose bodies were ravaged by the disease.

Carlisle willed himself not to look away.

"Mrs. Masen?"

"Take—care of him," she repeated. "You must."

She didn't know what she was asking. The best thing for him to do would be to run. To be in air that wasn't adulterated by her child's awful and wonderful scent. To be separated from the desire that Carlisle couldn't quite pin down.

Yet, Carlisle found himself gripping her hand again in the darkness, and murmuring his assent for reasons he didn't quite understand. Because how did he explain to this mother that saving her son was the last thing he felt he ought to do?

"I will take care of him," he murmured.

And as though that was all she needed, Elizabeth Masen rolled back onto her side and fell into sleep.

~||x||~

Somehow, Carlisle managed to avoid the men's ward until the following night. He made his way through the rows of beds, checking temperatures recorded by the nurses, clearing faces of spit and phlegm. Two patients were very near death; he made a note to himself to alert the nurses. Standard procedure—well, the new standard, forced by the dire necessity of the situation—was to move them out of the ward to make room for newer patients who had a greater chance of survival. Half the floor below them was relegated to these patients near death; the ones whose lives would be unsalvageable and who simply needed a place to lie in wait of their winding sheets.

It was gruesome. But it was necessary.

Slowly, he made his way to every other patient on the ward before Edward. When at last there was only the bronze-haired boy left, Carlisle made his way to the cot. His mother's seat still stood at his bedside, and Carlisle dropped himself onto it.

Like most of the influenza patients, Edward Masen wasn't quite conscious, the fever keeping his mind locked such that he couldn't discern the goings-on around him.

All the better, Carlisle thought, as he realized that some part of him wanted this boy to be spared the horror of seeing men carted off to the morgue.

"It's better," he muttered, and Edward let out an exhale as though he'd understood.

Carlisle took the boy's hand. It was slender, with long fingers, and Carlisle remembered how Mrs. Masen had gone on the Institute of Musical Arts. Edward did have a piano player's hands. Carlisle could imagine these slender fingers tripping their way across a keyboard, bringing out arpeggios and chromatic scales and all the things that made the instrument so difficult.

He slid his fingers into the boy's, feeling the soft skin between them. It was sensitive there, he knew; humans could be injured in that delicate crevice between their fingers by the slightest pressure or nick, and it would bleed for days.

The mere thought of that made him want to scream—with joy? Fear? Passion?

He gulped. He needed to run.

But he couldn't move.

He'd never been this close to a human before. Well, he had, of course, as a doctor, but not just sitting with one, and certainly not sitting with one while the human in question was asleep. And it was sleep, Carlisle could tell, because his eyelids fluttered beneath the long, dark lashes. Even as his face was etched with pain, something about his very carriage was relaxed as he dreamed.

He wondered what those dreams were like.

It had been a long time since Carlisle had dreamed.

Keeping one hand entwined with the boy's, he let the other stroke through the boy's hair—it was heavy with several days' oil, but still soft, like a child's. Carlisle marveled at how silken it felt under his fingertips.

"I promised your mother," he whispered. "I don't know why, but I did." It was a mistake, he thought as he appraised the boy. The body was near death, cyanosis having set into the lips and eyelids. With his advanced hearing, Carlisle needed no stethoscope to hear the fluid building in the lungs.

Edward groaned again, flinging a wiry arm over his head as he turned. His underarm hair was still fine and down-like, and redder than the hair on his head. It wasn't the bare underarm of a boy, and yet, not the developed one of a man, either.

If the influenza took him, Edward Masen would die on the very cusp of manhood, in this body that was at the very height of youthful perfection.

And that, to Carlisle, seemed cruelest of all.

Before he'd had a moment to think, Carlisle leaned in to Edward's shoulder, so that the wispy hairs touched his nose. Carlisle's body did not expend excess venom—his eyes would not tear, his skin did not sweat. But this boy was human, and the same sweat that caused his face to glisten and redden made his scent impossibly strong.

"Perfect," Carlisle whispered, and the word startled him so that he jerked himself back from the bed, realizing what he'd been doing. Frantically, his eyes searched the ward, but there was only one night nurse, far on the other side, engrossed in caring for her patient and paying him little mind.

He pressed his hands to his head. What would the nurse have said, if she'd looked across the room and found him smelling his patient's skin? An impossibility to shrug that action off as diagnostic.

But when he stood, Edward rolled over and reached a hand out in his sleep, groping at the air where Carlisle had sat just a moment before. In his sleep, he swiped once, twice, then balled his hand into a fist and tucked it back under his chin like an infant.

Perfect.

It took everything Carlisle had to make himself leave.

~||x||~

For two more nights he fell into an uneasy rhythm. He would arrive to the hospital, and walk to his office to hang his unnecessary coat and hat. Then he would make his rounds and attend to the paperwork; the death certificates for those who had expired under his care the day before, the work of updating the notes on the patients he saw.

Edward Masen and his mother had lasted over a week, longer than Carlisle had expected, but still it gave him hope.

As he hung his coat, he glanced at the wall behind his desk. Other doctors would put their credentials there; diplomas and certificates and all the things which identified who they were. What Carlisle hung behind his desk was not any less that sort, he figured.

Childe Hassam had been known as "Fred," but he'd confessed to Carlisle his dreams of being someone greater—notoriety, time to study in Paris, to be recognized for bringing the French style of painting to the United States. He'd spent afternoon upon afternoon in the Boston Common, sometimes painting, but mostly just observing. Observing the light, the way people moved, the exact flash of color of a startled robin redbreast as it frantically took flight.

They'd gotten to know each other one summer, on the overcast afternoons. At first it was only discussions of art, but then they progressed to medicine, to the art of life, to games of chess. Carlisle suspected he was the only one who called the artist "Childe," but the name suited him—he was playful and devilish, always trying to best Carlisle and his impeccable perception. Not by outwitting him—Childe was a quick study and understood that was impossible—but through subtle distraction, humor, and a perpetual habit of thoughtfully twirling his mustache over one finger as he contemplated his moves. Every game would break down when Carlisle pointed out this habit, and rooks and kings and knights gave way to conversation every time.

In his two hundred seventy-four years, it was the only time Carlisle had ever had a human friend.

His friendship with Childe ended abruptly after that summer, when the young painter had decided to pursue his dream of studying in France and boarded a train that would take him to a steamship in New York. But before he left, he presented Carlisle with a painting—to the uninformed eye, simply a pastoral scene of a walking path with somewhat faceless figures making their way through the overcast day.

Carlisle, however, could see the painting for exactly what it was; a young painter and his doctor friend, playing chess.

He stared at it now, at the two lighter-colored clusters of daubs that in his mind, morphed into the painter and the vampire. Childe had been in France for three years, and it was another three before Carlisle knew his friend had returned stateside. And by then, Carlisle knew, Childe would notice how unchanged he was.

They never made in-person contact again.

What would Childe think, he wondered, if he knew what Carlisle was doing?

It wasn't friendship that he had with Edward Masen. The boy scarcely knew who he was. At times, he would groan and grope for Carlisle's hand or arm, but that was nothing more than reflex. It wasn't recognition.

"I would like to be recognized," Carlisle muttered, and was surprised to hear himself voice his thought aloud. Hurriedly, as though someone might have heard him talking to himself, he swung his doctor's coat over his shoulders, and began to head for the door.

But as he stared at the painting, whose colors shone in the dim lamplight of his office, he stopped short, stared at it for several long moments, and then cleared his throat.

"I would like that," he repeated more firmly. To the painting? To himself?

He wasn't sure.

~||x||~

But Edward showed no signs of recognizing Carlisle when he went in to sit at the boy's bedside that night. And so he contented himself with just holding hands, the valleys between his fingers interlacing with the soft, delicate spaces between Edward's.

The boy was so fragile. One move, one twist of Carlisle's wrist in the wrong direction and the boy's whole arm would snap. Perhaps it would rip right off, and that delicious blood would spill…

He had to stop thinking like this.

But his own mind had betrayed him, a few hours ago. "I would like to be recognized." Because that, if anything, was what he wanted most. Having someone to talk to, someone who would be excited to see him, someone who knew that he liked Baroque music, and that he enjoyed chess but considered checkers a form of torture.

As much as he ached for Edward's blood, he ached for this other thing, too. It was an asinine hope if ever there were one. Edward had been brought in already delirious. He didn't even know Carlisle's name.

Carlisle squeezed Edward's hand, running one hand through his hair. The pads of his fingers ran over Edward's scalp, the hair sliding against them as he stroked.

Laying one hand on the hot, sweating brow, Carlisle carefully leaned in to put his lips next to Edward's ear.

"I'm Carlisle," he whispered.

The boy didn't stir.

From an inch above the face, Carlisle could feel each exhalation hit his own cheeks, a gentle breeze that carried with it the most luscious scent. Edward slept with his lips slightly parted. They were blue, signs that no matter how bravely the wishful soldier battled, the disease was winning this war. And they were parched; little cracks appearing from where he was so dehydrated.

Carlisle leaned in closer, pressing his nose against warm skin, and tilting his head.

Edward's lips were supple, and even in sleep, moved against Carlisle's in a delicate motion; on the inhalation, sucking Carlisle's lip between them, on the exhalation, pushing him away.

It was like nothing Carlisle had ever felt before, and he allowed himself to get lost in it.

For a moment too long.

He leapt back from Edward's bed with such force the floor shook. From across the ward, a nurse looked up at him in alarm.

"I stumbled," he said, putting a hand in front of himself as though for balance. "Thank you. I stumbled." A lie, unless...did a moral stumble count as much as a physical one?

The nurse frowned, looking at him suspiciously, but then seemed to accept his explanation and turned back to her own patient, leaving Carlisle to contemplate what he'd just done.

He had just kissed a patient. And more than kissed a patient, kissed a child. And more than kissed a child, kissed a male.

Carlisle didn't have trouble balancing, but as the room spun, he felt it safer to sit back down and he did so. Edward was still sound asleep, his breath still coming evenly, his lips still parted invitingly. His heart had sped as Carlisle kissed him, but it now returned to its normal rate, slowing with each intake and exhale of breath.

Leaning back on the stool, Carlisle covered his face with his hands. He hadn't killed his singer. But this—he would be fired, and reviled, and run out of town.

A boy.

He'd kissed a boy.

He remembered how the brothers in Italy had wondered about him, asking him if he found any of the female guard attractive. Renata, Aro's servant, with her statuesque good looks and the severe, but beautiful lines of her face. Corin, with her long hair and voluptuous curves. When he had answered he didn't, they grew concerned. At the time, he'd written it off as another way they wished to exercise control over him; if he took a mate from the guard, or took a mate at all, then they would have one more means of getting at him.

But perhaps it had been this which concerned them.

In his memory, he'd never kissed anyone. The urge simply had not been there.

He began to walk swiftly, to put distance between himself and the men's ward, between where he stood and the boy in the bed at the end of the long row.

He hadn't expected it to be so easy, to lean over another and to suddenly find that your lips melded with theirs. That it was so pleasurable and mutual; that they could fit together, overlapping, that their breathing would fall in sync.

He hadn't expected the lips of another man would be so soft.

His steps sped a little more. He wouldn't go back. The boy would die, and he simply wouldn't go back. He would come up with some reason to stay out of the men's ward, and if he couldn't do that, he would simply leave altogether. He would claim he was afraid of becoming ill, and he would simply leave.

It would be worth it. He'd find other work.

Only when he grew hard in his pants did he break into a run, jogging down the hall until he reached his office, where he quickly closed the door behind him and leaned against it, falling to his knees and putting his head in his hands. His chest was heaving, as though he had need to breathe.

He'd kissed a man.

Was that better or worse than killing one?

~||x||~

A/N: This fic is a long overdue FGB piece, prompted by the lovely ladies of Team CarlWard slash, capricorn75, deelovely, HeBelongsToMe, lts929, mycrookedsmile, and sleepyvalentina. They have the patience of saints, and I can't thank them enough for both the challenging prompt and also for not going, "WTH is taking you so long?!" Their awesome, fun, and thought-provoking prompt was to write a Carlisle/Edward slash that kept the story as close to canon as humanly possible. I hope I've done just that.

twitina is my supreme beta, critique partner, friend, and chief hand-holder for this piece (and many others), and she deserves so many more thanks than I can ever possibly express.

The description of Childe Hassam's chess games with Carlisle is a nod to "Stop All the Clocks," a fabulous one-shot by malianani.

Thank you so much for reading.