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Darkest Before the Dawn

Summary:
The door opened behind me, with a cold gust of wind suddenly sweeping through the room, rustling the papers on the desk and carrying that scent! I froze. Not again!...I sensed nothing...The fragrance was maddening. I slowly turned my head, following the scent, and there she was. Standing, back pressed against the back wall, waiting. She was haunting me. A reimagining of Twilight from Edward's perspective, starting from the very beginning...The First Time - and continuing on beyond where Midnight Sun ends. NOMINATED: 2009 Bellie's category Canon that's Better than Canon NOMINATED: 2009 Indie's Top 10 Best Canon Disclaimer: All characters, settings, and a great majority of the dialogue are the property of Stephanie Meyer.


Notes:
I wrote the first five or so chapters of Darkest Before the Dawn before I knew about/read SM’s Midnight Sun. I have since read it, but have tried to stay true to “my” version of Edward, as well as staying true to SM’s original dialogue and plot line.


16. Chapter 16 - Carlisle

Rating 5/5   Word Count 4547   Review this Chapter

Chapter 16 – Carlisle

I led Bella back down the hall to Carlisle’s office. I knew he had heard us, but I paused a moment in front of the door to give him a chance to invite us in.

“Come in,” Carlisle’s voice called from the other side of the door.

I opened the door and led Bella into Carlisle’s office, which resembled a library more than a working space. Tall bookshelves lined the high-ceilinged room. Carlisle sat behind his massive mahogany desk in front of the tall west-facing windows that opened up to the forest behind our home. He had been reading something about drug interactions in the thick medical volume he held. He placed a bookmark in the pages, and I could tell he did not mind the interruption.

“What can I do for you?” he asked pleasantly, getting up from his seat. I appreciated the effort he put into speaking for Bella’s benefit.

“I wanted to show Bella some of our history,” I said. “Well, your history, actually.”

“We didn’t mean to disturb you,” Bella apologized, completely unnecessarily.

Carlisle smiled that warm, friendly smile that I recognized he reserved for family members and my heart was instantly gratified. I hadn’t realized how much I would be seeking Carlisle’s approval.

She’s polite as well. Well done, Edward. “Not at all. Where are you going to start?”

“The Waggoner,” I replied, gently touching Bella on the shoulder to turn her around back toward the door we’d just come through. Her heart lurched a little, even at that casual touch. I bit back a grin.

The wall was covered with pictures, some hundreds of years old that drew the patchwork quilt of my family’s lives. I pulled her toward the far left side, in front of a small square oil painting in a plain wooden frame. It was painted in varying tones of sepia, and it depicted a miniature city full of steeply slanted roofs, with thin spires atop a few scattered towers. A wide river filled the foreground, crossed by a bridge.

“London in the sixteen-fifties,” I explained.

“The London of my youth,” Carlisle added, having come up to stand a few feet behind us. Bella flinched and I squeezed her hand gently to reassure her. It’s a harsh story, Edward. Are you sure she is ready to hear it?

“Will you tell the story?” I asked him, Bella twisting around slightly to hear his answer. He glanced at her and smiled in an apologetic way.

“I would,” he replied, “but I’m actually running a bit late. The hospital called this morning—Dr. Snow is taking a sick day. Besides, you know the stories as well as I do,” he added, grinning at me. And you know her better, Edward. It will be less shocking coming from you. I appreciated, once again, his concern and efforts to put Bella at ease. With another warm smile for Bella, he left us alone.

Bella was staring at the little picture of Carlisle’s hometown. I was watching her carefully to see if she was unsettled, but she always seemed to be so unnaturally calm.

“What happened then?” she finally asked, staring up at me with slightly wide eyes. “When he realized what had happened to him?”

I glanced back at the paintings, looking at a landscape of an empty, shadowed meadow in a forest, and thought of how miserable and alone Carlisle must have been in those first days.

“When he knew what he had become,” I said quietly, “he rebelled against it. He tried to destroy himself. But that’s not easily done.” As I well knew, having contemplated it more than once myself.

“How?” she asked, looking a little shocked. I was sure she had never considered the idea of a suicidal vampire before.

“He jumped from great heights,” I said dully. “He tried to drown himself in the ocean…but he was young to the new life, and very strong. It is amazing that he was able to resist…feeding…while he was still so new. The instinct is more powerful then, it takes over everything. But he was so repelled by himself that he had the strength to try to kill himself with starvation.”

“Is that possible?” she asked, her voice faint.

“No, there are very few ways we can be killed.” Of course, I knew what those ways were. I had given it quite some thought, knowing that I might be in need of that knowledge at some point.

I continue on, before she could probe too deeply into that. “So he grew very hungry, and eventually weak. He strayed as far as he could from the human populace, recognizing that his willpower was weakening, too. For months he wandered by night, seeking the loneliest places, loathing himself.” For a moment, I envisioned myself, wandering the wilderness, hungry and weak and wild. I could see that fate being mine, once Bella was gone from this life. I wondered if I would be able to handle it with dignity, the way Carlisle had. No, I would need a swifter end.

“One night, a herd of deer passed his hiding place. He was so wild with thirst that he attacked without a thought. His strength returned and he realized there was an alternative to being the vile monster he feared. Had he not eaten venison in his former life? Over the next months his new philosophy was born. He could exist without being a demon. He found himself again.” The respect I had for Carlisle in his journey was immense. I had no doubt I would have failed a similar trial. Knowing his story placed him permanently in my highest regard. That must be why it was so important to me that he approved of my choice in Bella, in spite of all the fear and anxiety I had brought to our family in my pursuit of her.

“He began to make better use of his time. He’d always been intelligent, eager to learn. Now he had unlimited time before him. He studied by night, planned by day. He swam to France and—“

“He swam to France?” she asked, shocked again. I smiled. So much to learn, Bella.

“People swim the Channel all the time, Bella,” I reminded her patiently, knowing that, even so, Carlisle had swum the Channel in rather record time.

“That’s true, I guess. It just sounded funny in that context. Go on.”

“Swimming is easy for us—“ I tried to explain.

“Everything is easy for you,” she griped at me.

I waited, amused, seeing if she would let me finish my sentence.

“I won’t interrupt again, I promise.”

I chucked, knowing she had no idea what I was going to say, and was surely going to want to interrupt me again. “Because technically, we don’t need to breathe.”

“You—“

“No, no, you promised,” I laughed, wickedly teasing her and gently pressing my cold finger to her soft, warm lips. “Do you want to hear the story or not?”

“You can’t spring something like that on me, and then expect me not to say anything,” she mumbled against my finger, making the most delightful tingling feeling run down my hand. I lifted my hand away from her lips, gliding it over to rest against her neck. Her heart sped up and I could feel the pulsing of it there.

“You don’t have to breathe?” she persisted.

“No, it’s not necessary. Just a habit.” I shrugged. It was a carefully honed habit that took a long time to acquire, in our search for camouflage among humans. It seemed more natural to me now, but only after decades of conscious effort.

“How long can you go…without breathing?”

“Indefinitely, I suppose; I don’t know. It gets a bit uncomfortable—being without a sense of smell.”

“A bit uncomfortable,” she echoed me, looking aghast. It was the small things about this life that were somehow the most horrifying. I felt that old fear rising up in me again—the fear that she would truly know the monster that I was, and then she would flee. Somehow, we had endured all of this, had reached this point where we had declared ourselves to each other, and I was still afraid that some small thing would be revealed that would finally drive her to her senses, and away from me. My hand dropped to my side, and I held very still, the fear gripping me. I wouldn’t stop her if she wanted to run. I stared at her, waiting for it.

“What is it?” she whispered, reaching up to touch my face, ghosting her burning fingertips across my cheek. I sighed, unable to resist responding to her touch.

“I keep waiting for it to happen,” I admitted, pulled out of my misery.

“For what to happen?”

“I know that at some point, something I tell you or something you see is going to be too much. And then you’ll run away from me, screaming as you go.” I tried to smile, but failed miserably. “I won’t stop you. I want this to happen, because I want you to be safe. And yet, I want to be with you. The two desires are impossible to reconcile…” I stopped, waiting for it, staring at her.

“I’m not running anywhere,” she promised me, a wonderful but empty gesture.

“We’ll see,” I said, smiling again, because at least I had her for this day. I realized, once again, how finite our time truly was. I was willing to give up my existence after she was gone, in order to at least spend her mortal days with her. But, I may not be able to keep her even until the end of her days, if somewhere along the way I managed to horrify her into leaving. The thought struck fear into me and I even briefly considered whether I should be honest with her. Should I try to hide those most terrifying parts of our family, of our existence? Could I, even if I wanted to? I wasn’t sure if I could keep secrets from her now—it would be almost as painful as losing her.

She frowned at me. “So, go on—Carlisle was swimming to France.”

I paused, deciding I would have to take the risk and be honest. Otherwise, she would be lost to me in the end, regardless. My eyes flicked to another picture on the wall, the one with Aro, Marcus and Caius. ”Carlisle swam to France, and continued on through Europe, to the universities there. By night he studied music, science, medicine—and found his calling, his penance, in that, in saving human lives.” I would never really be able to understand the amount of discipline required, the thoroughly inhuman sacrifice necessary, of Carlisle to become what he was. “I can’t adequately describe the struggle; it took Carlisle two centuries of torturous effort to perfect his self-control. Now he is all but immune to the scent of human blood, and he is able to do the work he loves without agony. He finds a great deal of peace there, at the hospital…” I thought for a moment how I wished I could be as skilled as Carlisle. I had completed my education, several times, and had even interned for a while. I had never managed to so completely conquer my thirst so that I could practice as Carlisle did. Perhaps if I wasn’t so obviously seventeen in appearance, I would be able to advance in my medical practice to the point where I could treat patients before we would have to move on again. I realized suddenly that my recent success in conquering the beast might actually allow me greater freedom in that regard. Perhaps I would be able to pursue that calling, now that I had achieved that level of self-control.

I realized I was staring off into space, and Bella was expecting me to continue the story. I tapped my finger against the huge ornate painting in front of us. “He was studying in Italy when he discovered the others there. They were much more civilized and educated than the wraiths of the London sewers.”

I touched the painting of Carlisle seated amongst the old ones, wondering if civilized was the appropriate word for them. Certainly it applied to Carlisle. The four of them sat in the picture, gazing down at the mayhem of the masses below, like the beneficent gods they thought they were. Only Carlisle could truly claim to be anything other than a bloodthirsty tyrant.

Bella laughed as she realized that Carlisle was in the picture. “Solimena was greatly inspired by Carlisle’s friends. He often painted them as gods,” I said, laughing darkly at the thought. “Aro, Marcus, Caius,” I said, pointing them out to her. “Nighttime patrons of the arts.”

“What happened to them?” she asked, her fingertip hovering over the painting as if she wanted to touch them.

“They’re still there.” I shrugged. “As they have been for who knows how many millennia. Carlisle stayed with them only for a short time, just a few decades. He greatly admired their civility, their refinement, but they persisted in trying to cure his aversion to ‘his natural food source,’ as they called it. They tried to persuade him, and he tried to persuade them, to no avail. At that point, Carlisle decided to try the New World. He dreamed of finding others like himself. He was very lonely, you see.”

“He didn’t find anyone for a long time. But, as monsters became the stuff of fairy tales, he found he could interact with unsuspecting humans as if he were one of them. He began practicing medicine. But the companionship he craved evaded him; he couldn’t risk familiarity.”

“When the influenza epidemic hit, he was working nights in a hospital in Chicago. He’d been turning over an idea in his mind for several years, and he had almost decided to act—since he couldn’t find a companion, he would create one. He wasn’t absolutely sure how this own transformation had occurred, so he was hesitant. And he was loath to steal anyone’s life the way his had been stolen. It was in that frame of mind that he found me. There was no hope for me; I was left in a ward with the dying. He had nursed my parents, and knew I was alone. He decided to try…”

I tried to bring into focus those last days of my human life, but they were still so hazy. Carlisle had saved me from death, bringing me into this eternal existence to ease his own lonely heart. There was a part of me that wanted to ease the loneliness that lay ahead, when Bella was gone, and give into the temptation to bring Bella into my life permanently, so that we would never have to be separated. But where Carlisle had saved me from death, I would be cheating Bella out of life, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. Carlisle, in spite of his assurances, I was sure would never accept that selfish choice. I realized I was staring through the windows of Carlisle’s office again, Bella waiting patiently for me to come out of my reverie.

I turned back to her, smiling. “And so we’ve come full circle,” I concluded.

“Have you always stayed with Carlisle, then?”

“Almost always.” This I truly did not want to discuss with her…not yet. I circled my hand lightly around her waist and pulled her with me as I walked through the door. I was torn between wanting to share everything with her—all our secrets, all of the reality of our lives that was so separate from the rest of humanity—but that fear kept lingering in my mind. I was silent as we walked down the hall, hoping her questions would be at an end, for the moment. With Bella, I knew they would all be answered eventually.

“Almost?” she pressed.

I sighed. Apparently, it was too much to ask to delay this. “Well, I had a typical bout of rebellious adolescence—about ten years after I was…born…created, whatever you want to call it. I wasn’t sold on his life of abstinence, and I resented him for curbing my appetite. So I went off on my own for a time.” This was not something I was proud of, and I had hoped to put off sharing it for a while longer. This was the true monster, the part of me I knew existed, because I had let it off the leash, in that time long ago.

“Really?” she asked, intrigued. My irrepressible Bella—she didn’t seem frightened by the dirty little secret that I had—just fascinated that I might have gone “off the wagon” for a time. I steered her up the stairs, towards my room.

“That doesn’t repulse you?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I guess…it sounds reasonable.”

I laughed loudly. Only Bella would find my walk on the dark side a ‘reasonable’ thing to consider—just as it was reasonable for me to crave her blood. I wondered briefly what she would find unreasonable. We were at the top of the stairs now, and I was slowly walking her towards my room.

“From the time of my new birth,” I murmured, stepping slowly into my forced confession, “I had the advantage of knowing what everyone around me was thinking, both human and non-human alike. That’s why it took me ten years to defy Carlisle—I could read his perfect sincerity, understand exactly why he lived the way he did. It took me only a few years to return to Carlisle and recommit to his vision. I thought I would be exempt from the…depression…that accompanies a conscience. Because I knew the thoughts of my prey, I could pass over the innocent and pursue only the evil. If I followed a murderer down a dark alley where he stalked a young girl—if I saved her, then surely I wasn’t so terrible.”

Unlike my human memories, I could remember it vividly. The depravity of those dark souls, the horror that they enjoyed inducing in their victims, the incredible elation that I felt as their blood flowed into my mouth and I ended the evil they were wreaking. It was a seductive combination of bloodlust and righteous vengeance. It took me some time to realize how wrong it was, and even longer to actually turn away from it. Bella shivered, and I paused for a moment, wondering if the terror would come now, as I described my darkest days to her. It was important that she realize that I chose to stop.

“But as time went on, I began to see the monster in my eyes. I couldn’t escape the debt of so much human life taken, no matter how justified. And I went back to Carlisle and Esme. They welcomed me back like the prodigal. It was more than I deserved.” That was only one of the many reasons I owed Carlisle a debt I could never repay, and more—I have never met anyone with such an incredible capacity for forgiveness and understanding.

We stopped in front of my door, the last one in the hall. “My room,” I said, opening the door and pulling her through with me. Muted light fell in the wall-sized window of my room, throwing shades of green in from the forest. She examined my room and I wondered what she must think of it. It was rich with music, CDs lining the shelves and sound system carefully arranged. It was the place I came to when I needed to get away from my family. There were many nights, before I met Bella and my nights were spent in her room, where I would close the door, turn out the lights and stare out at the stars while listening to Vivaldi or Chopin. I had lined the walls with thick fabric and installed heavy carpet to absorb the reflected sounds, creating the perfect environment for hours of time alone. I hadn’t spent any time like that in a while, and was struck by how I did not miss it at all.

“Good acoustics?” she asked. I chuckled and nodded. I picked up the remote and turned the stereo on, curious to find soft jazz playing. I couldn’t remember the last time I had it on. She was examining my music collection and I was carefully studying her. Having her here in my room, as if she were a part of my life—my real life, the one that so far had only been my private realm—gave me the greatest feeling of satisfaction. I truly wanted to share everything with her, even the stories of our family, even the dark secrets of my past.

“How do you have these organized?” she asked.

“Ummm,” I paused as she brought me back from my thoughts, “by year, and then by personal preference within that frame,” I explained, still amazed at the sight of her in my room. In one way, it was completely out of context—she didn’t fit in here. This was where I was, when I was alone, which really was most of the time. But in another way, it was perfect having her here. She had completely, profoundly changed my life, in every way. Even the simple things…

She turned and looked at me. I must have had an odd expression on my face as I contemplated her place in my life. “What?” she asked.

“I was prepared to feel…relieved. Having you know about everything, not needing to keep secrets from you. But I didn’t expect to feel more than that. I like it. It makes me…happy.” I smiled slightly, a little embarrassed. It seemed unseemly that I should take such pleasure from revealing all my dark secrets to her.

“I’m glad,” she replied, smiling back. Again, I had the sense she was telling me what I wanted to hear, and not what she truly thought. The editing was going to kill me. I frowned as I wondered what really was going through her mind, finding her love was truly a bloodthirsty killer.

“You’re still waiting for the running and the screaming, aren’t you?” she guessed. I smiled slightly and nodded. Who was the mind reader now?

“I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re really not as scary as you think you are. I don’t find you scary at all, actually,” she said casually.

I arched my brows in utter disbelief. Then I realized she could not possibly be telling the truth. I smiled, wide and wicked, chuckling, “You really shouldn’t have said that.”

Determined to put on quite the monster show, I growled, low and menacing, curled my lips back, baring my lethal teeth and half-crouched. I waited for a moment, for her to take in the full effect.

She backed away, glaring at me. “You wouldn’t.”

I leapt, faster than she could see, scooping her gently in my arms and lifting her across the room. We landed on the sofa, Bella safely ensconced in my arms, but the couch crashed with the weight of us against the wall. My arms formed an indestructible cage around her, and of course there was no escape for her. I grinned with the delight of it.

As she realized what had happened, she gasped and tried to sit up. Having none of that, I curled her into a ball against my chest, and she was bound to me, quite unable to move. A thrill at being able to play with her like this ran through me, a wicked delight. I was only beginning to see the advantages of having caged my inner beast.

She glared at me as I grinned, almost laughing.

“You were saying?” I growled playfully.

“That you are a very, very terrifying monster,” she conceded, breathless and sarcastic.

“Much better,” I grinned widely. My arms were still quite inescapable.

“Um,” she struggled to get loose from my iron grip. “Can I get up now?”

I just laughed, enjoying myself far too much for that. Besides, I knew that Alice and Jasper had heard us and were coming down the hallway to see us.

“Can we come in?” Alice called from the hallway, somewhat conventionally and adopting some human manners for a change. Bella continued to struggle to free herself, and was no doubt embarrassed to be caught in such a position with me on the couch. I repositioned her so that she was sitting on my lap, rather than trapped like a small delicious creature in my arms. Alice appeared at the door, with Jasper by her side. When Bella saw them, her cheeks flamed to life, adding to my amusement.

“Go ahead,” I said, still chuckling quietly.

Bella is right, of course. You’re not as scary as you think you are, Edward, thought Alice as she danced into the center of the room and folded herself to the sit on the floor. Jasper stayed at the door, still uncertain if my strictures against coming to close to Bella held. He seemed to want to come closer, but then was a little shocked when he saw the possessive embrace I had Bella in. His thoughts were relieved when he realized that Bella was only embarrassed, not frightened, and that my intentions were only playful.

“It sounded like you were having Bella for lunch, and we came to see if you would share,” Alice announced. So much for human manners.

Bella stiffened in my arms, which made me grin even more. I was deeply amused.

“Sorry,” I replied, “I don’t believe I have enough to spare.” My arms were still locked tightly around her, not really wanting to share her with anyone in any way. Jasper seemed drawn in by our affection, and decided it must be okay for him to come closer. He was smiling now, and I didn’t stop him as he walked into the room.

“Actually,” Jasper said, “Alice says there’s going to be a real storm tonight, and Emmett wants to play ball. Are you game?”

My eyes lit up—it wasn’t often we got to play. Jasper was hoping I would bring Bella, which I had not considered, although he wasn’t as sure about his control outside the confines of the house. As I hesitated, Alice chimed in, “Of course you should bring Bella.” Jasper threw a quick glance at her, thinking that if Alice thought it was okay, then there must be no danger from him. He was relieved, wanting Bella to join us. I wasn’t sure why.

“Do you want to go?” I asked her, hoping she would. As long as Alice thought it safe, it would be a chance to share something I truly enjoyed with her.

“Sure,” she replied, looking up at me. “Um, where are we going?”

“We have to wait for thunder to play ball—you’ll see why,” I promised, delighted.

“Will I need an umbrella?” she asked.

We all laughed, except Bella. I don’t think we owned an umbrella in our vampire household.

“Will she?” Jasper asked Alice, smiling.

“No,” Alice was certain. “The storm will hit over town. It should be dry enough in the clearing.”

“Good, then,” Jasper responded, the enthusiasm of his thoughts creeping into his voice. He seemed as eager to share this with her as I was, and was carefully gauging Bella’s reaction to see if she was scared or excited. He seemed satisfied that she really wanted to come.

“Let’s go see if Carlisle will come.” Alice bounced up and over to the door.

“Like you don’t know,” Jasper teased, following happily after her. Jasper closed the door behind them as they left, giving us some privacy again.

“What will we be playing?” Bella demanded.

“You will be watching,” I corrected her. “We will be playing baseball.”

She rolled her eyes. “Vampires like baseball?”

“It’s the American pastime,” I replied with mock seriousness. I couldn’t wait.