Title: Only Human (24/???)
Category: Drama, Angst, Romance
Summary: A wish sends Bella back in time to Chicago, 1918, and to a human Edward.
Disclaimer: All this genius belongs to Stephanie Meyer. I’m just having a little fun.
A/N: Sorry for the delay on this one! Normally, I do most of my writing at work, but it was my last week, so they kept me busy.
Carlisle returned after sunset and came straight to us, checking over Edward and Elizabeth.
“What’s the prognosis?” I asked quietly to avoid waking them.
“It’s not wonderful,” Carlisle sighed as he removed his stethoscope. “Edward’s condition appears to be mostly unchanged, but Mrs. Masen… Her lungs are worse. It sounds like there’s more fluid there than yesterday. And her fever is higher.”
“I think she’s given up,” I told him. His eyes were sorrowful but resigned, a darkening brown. He obviously hadn’t taken time to hunt lately.
“It happens too often,” he said. “As much as she’s lost and stands to lose, I can imagine how easy it would be.”
For a moment, he looked as though he was speaking from experience, and I wondered if he was remembering his first days as a vampire, how he’d unsuccessfully tried to destroy himself. Again, I marveled at the strength of character that had urged him to keep living, to help others, to withstand over two-hundred years of loneliness. As much as I mourned the loss of Edward’s human life, a part of me was glad that he would be with Carlisle soon. No one as good as Carlisle deserved to be alone for so long.
“Have you considered leaving the hospital for a bit?” Carlisle suggested. “You won’t help anyone by exhausting yourself.”
I shook my head. “I can’t, Carlisle.” I’d had this argument before. “How can I go home to bed, knowing that he’s here and I might lose him at any moment?”
“You might at least consider leaving for a few moments to obtain some decent food,” he said ruefully. “What they have here smells so bad that I’m reluctant to feed it to the patients.”
I laughed shakily. “I’ll consider it.” But we both knew I would never go.
With Carlisle back, I relaxed a little, and I was able to sleep again. I woke several times during the night, my body aching with stiffness from the hard chair. I would stretch out the kinks and soon sleep would find me again. I was so tired that it was inevitable.
Close to dawn, a strange, rattling sound kept me from drifting to sleep again. I looked around for the source until I realized it was Elizabeth. Her breath was the sound as the fluid in her lungs hindered the flow of air. I winced as I caught sight of her pained eyes.
“Is there anything I can do?” I whispered to her.
Her head shook and she struggled to speak. “There’s nothing to be done now.”
The knowledge that she was absolutely right settled on my shoulders like a lead weight.
The day that followed brought no improvements. Edward’s skin grew even hotter, in spite of the constant care I tried to give him. I’d known all along that he would likely be unable to withstand the disease, that perhaps he wasn’t supposed to overcome it, but I hadn’t been at all prepared for him to waste away before my eyes.
I tried to tend to Elizabeth as well, but she continually pushed me away. “Take care of Edward,” she insisted repeatedly. I wanted to urge her not to give up, but how could I argue with a mother’s love?
Nevertheless, Edward continued to worsen as sunset approached.
I had slumped to the floor to rest a moment, laying my head down on the side of Edward’s cot, when I heard Elizabeth struggling to speak again.
I froze, not looking up. I wanted to hear what she would say to Carlisle, and some instinct told me not to interrupt.
“Save him!” It was the strongest her voice had been all day, but anyone could hear what it cost her.
Carlisle’s voice wouldn’t have sounded flustered to anyone unused to hearing it. “I’ll do everything in my power,” he told her.
“You must! You must do everything in your power. What others cannot do, that is what you must do for my Edward.”
I clutched the edge of the cot, knowing for the first time exactly how much time I had. Carlisle had told me that Elizabeth had died less than an hour after making her request. She had lost consciousness and never recovered. After she died, he would take Edward from the hospital.
I looked up to Carlisle, whose eyes were somber.
“There’s not much time left,” I whispered.
“No,” he agreed. “Are you prepared for this?”
“There’s no way I could be prepared,” I sighed.
“No, I don’t suppose there is. I’m going to make my rounds. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
“Okay.” I wanted to ask him to stay; I was afraid to be left alone to face Elizabeth’s impending death. I could only hope he would return before that moment.
I held onto Edward’s hand as I listened to Elizabeth’s ragged breathing. The inhales and exhales grew quicker and quicker as she struggled to take in enough oxygen. It was painful to listen to. I clutched Edward’s hand tighter, though he took no notice. Suddenly, I felt desperately alone. I would have given anything to have my unbreakable Edward with me now.
I thought the time would pass quickly, the way it does when a dreaded event approaches, but each minute felt like an hour, filled with the sounds of suffering.
When she suddenly gasped for air, I felt as though my heart had stopped. I said Carlisle’s name aloud, hoping he would hear wherever he was. It took him a minute to return, to remove himself from whatever he was doing. By the time he arrived, limited to a human pace, it was all over.
Carlisle leaned over her, checking for a pulse. When he found none, he turned back to my tear-streaked face and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I’ll have to take her to the morgue now. Then…then I’ll come back for Edward.”
I nodded my agreement. This was the way it had to be. I was long past fighting it. I watched as Carlisle wheeled the cot away and then turned back to Edward. I studied him intently now, knowing it was only a matter of time before he was bitten and began the transformation into the Edward I would meet in 2005. His face was flushed, streaks of red riding high on his cheeks. His face was so soft, just hiding the chiseled jaw and high cheekbones that the transformation would reveal. Sweet as a cherub now, soon to be a fallen angel.
Carlisle returned a little more hesitantly than he’d left. “Bella? Do you think you can get back to my house by yourself?”
“Yes,” I nodded. After this, I didn’t care much about the danger the dark streets posed. How could I survive this ordeal only to die on the street?
Carlisle rolled Edward away after his mother. It physically pained me to see him go, but I picked myself up off the floor and made my way to the front exit. I saw nurses looking sympathetically at me out of the corner of my eye, but I kept my head down. It was easier that way.
I was less than ten paces from the door when a hand darted out from one of the beds and caught the edge of my skirt. I started in fear. The hysterical hallucinations of the fevered victims could come to all kinds of insanity. I had a different kind of shock, however, when I looked over and realized I recognized the face, pale and drawn though it was.
“Bella.” His voice was harsh. He looked awful. His blonde hair looked brown, soaked as it was with sweat, and his breath rattled, much as Elizabeth’s had in her final hours. I winced. Whether or not I liked Norman, I wouldn’t wish this fate upon him.
“Bella,” he said again. “I want to apologize.”
“Apologize?” I hadn’t expected it.
“For the way I treated you. The things I said. For trying to ruin your happiness. So sorry.”
I stared in shock momentarily, trying to process the change in his behavior. But I supposed the prospect of dying had a way of changing people…especially those with cause for a guilty conscience.
“I forgive you,” I finally said. He hadn’t done any harm in the end…whether he would have or not, I couldn’t say for certain. But there wasn’t any point in holding grudges now that everything had changed.
“Thank you,” he sighed, closing his eyes and releasing my skirt. I left then. I might have stayed longer out of pity at any other time…but Edward and Carlisle were waiting.
Outside, the streets were quiet as the grave. I wasn’t surprised. Anyone who wasn’t already sick would be best served staying out of the path of danger. I hurried through the darkness. I passed a few long figures, some ill, some not, but nobody bothered me. I was thankful; I couldn’t handle much more this evening.
Carlisle met me at the front door and hurried me inside. I heard a moan from upstairs and winced.
“I did it already,” Carlisle explained. “I was…afraid he wouldn’t last long enough for you to arrive. I didn’t want to take any chances. Besides, it’s probably safer that you weren’t present.”
“Right,” I agreed. “Can I stay with him? Do you mind?”
“No, of course not,” Carlisle smiled kindly. “Perhaps we can keep you a bit more comfortable here. You must be exhausted.”
“I can’t really tell right now,” I said ruefully.
Carlisle led me up the stairs to one of the normally unused bedrooms. Edward was on top of the covers, writhing in pain. His fingers dug into the bed beneath him, his body tensed with the strain of holding in his cries. I ran, stumbling, to his side. I assumed Carlisle remained, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Edward? Edward, it’s going to be okay,” I promised, afraid to reach out and touch him, lest I cause him more pain. “Dr. Cullen will take care of you.”
His eyes flashed open to meet mine, lips trembling. “B-Bella?” He barely got my name out before the sound turned into a tortured cry. His eyes held nothing but pain and fear, and I wished I’d found a way to warn him, to prepare him, to let him know that this would all be worthwhile in the end.
“Yes, Edward, I’m here,” I said, tentatively touching his face. He didn’t flinch but pressed into my hand.
“No,” I said quickly. “No, just changing. The pain will go away, and you’ll be just fine.”
“Stay,” he pleaded. “Stay with me.”
“Of course.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.