20. Miracle Worker

October 18, 1918
Chicago, Illinois

Carlisle was hiding.

Oh, he could justify it, if he had to. He’d promised numbers to his supervisor, a full write-up of the results of his little experiment in keeping the Masen boy with his mother in the second-floor quarantine room. And they were as ill as any other influenza patients in the hospital, the terrifying purple-blue of cyanosis seeping into their skin as though someone were pouring ink into their hearts.

He could come up with all sorts of reasons to be here. These two needed him. He needed data. They were a good experiment.

But the truth was, he was hiding.

It was an overcast day, but as Carlisle sat between the beds, a single ray of sunlight hit the glass of water on the bed stand, at once shattering into a rainbow which flickered over the boy’s face.

Edward grunted in his sleep and haphazardly batted at his own eyes before rolling over and tangling himself in the bed sheet.

Were it not for the severity of the situation, Carlisle might have laughed.

He took Edward’s arm and lifted it, gently rolling him to his side and tucking his hands under his chin. Then he rearranged the blanket over the slim body, lifting it to the boy’s chest so that it better covered him. Instinctively, he laid a hand on the forehead, feeling for the temperature. Searing hot, as he expected; a completely unnatural state for the human body to reach. A hundred and four degrees, perhaps? That seemed about right.

His hand continued its way from the forehead back through the coppery hair. The pads of his fingers stroked his young patient’s scalp.

The boy sighed.

“I’m sorry, Edward,” Carlisle said quietly, perching himself on the edge of the bed. But who was he sorriest for, he thought at once. Edward? Edward’s mother?

Himself?

Carlisle stared into the shaded room. Across, in the other bed, Elizabeth slept soundly, a look of utter peace on her face. He wondered what that was. Was it because she knew she was safe? Because she knew there was no other option for her except to succumb to the illness?

The mother was even further gone. The last time she’d been awake in Carlisle’s presence, she’d stared blankly at him and demanded loudly to see her husband. She insisted that her son would still go to the Institute for Musical Art, and then on to law school. He would make his father proud, she insisted, and wouldn’t the doctor be so kind as to bring his father in?

Carlisle had only nodded, his voice becoming choked as he said, yes, he would retrieve the boy’s father, if only she would sleep.

She’d closed her eyes and complied. When she was asleep, Carlisle snuck out of the room.

People were dying everywhere he looked. He would be with a patient and take their pulse, note that their fever had increased a degree, maybe two, jot the locations of the cyanosis, and move on. By the time he reached the end of the ward and started back, a patient or two from the beginning of his round had already expired.

It was useless.

He was helpless.

Sometimes, if he allowed himself the luxury of wallowing in his own fear, he would sit in his office and think that perhaps this was the end. That this would be the final scourge that would result in humans being permanently wiped from the earth. Blood, boils, locusts, flies—he would trade for those things, he thought. At least, even with the death of the firstborn, the Israelites could paint their doorposts, and be passed over.

There would be no passing over here.

And so he spent his time hiding here, in the dark room with the boy and his mother, doing everything he could, but counting the hours until the moment in which he would lose his ability to help them, too.

He dropped onto the stool between the two beds, putting his head into his hands, and was sufficiently lost in his own thoughts that he was startled a few minutes later.

“Now Doctor, what has you hiding in here?”

Even if he hadn’t recognized her scent, Carlisle would’ve known the tone of voice at once. There was only one person in the hospital who dared approach him with such an opening; scolding him as though her were a slightly misbehaving child.

Oddly, he found it welcome.

“I’m not hiding,” he answered at once, and smiled as he realized he’d fallen straight into the role. Caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he denied what he was doing, just like any child before his disapproving parent.

Dorothy chuckled. “Sure you aren’t. Lucille says she saw you duck in here, right as you came in the door, and then she didn’t see you again.” She gazed over the two beds, taking in the Masen woman and her son, how peacefully they lay—well, peacefully now that Edward had settled into a deeper sleep.

“Makes you think, doesn’t it?” she whispered. “How a mama and her boy could both get struck down by this infernal disease.”

“And his father,” Carlisle mumbled.

“I’m sorry?”

He spoke louder. “I treated his father first. Delirious on admission. I don’t believe the son ever got to say goodbye.”

Dorothy shook her head. She moved over to the boy’s bed, laying a hand on his forehead as though to check his temperature, but Carlisle wondered if it wasn’t simply more to make contact with him. Surely, Edward reminded Dorothy of her own sons. Like any boy whose body was trying desperately to turn him into a man, Edward’s limbs seemed to outstrip the rest of him, giving him a gangly appearance that was only exaggerated by the weight he’d lost in the hospital. As Edward had been bedridden for a week, a stubbled beard had begun to grow in, but in patches—the sideburns first, the chin, a decent amount on the upper lip, but only a tiny bit on the cheeks.

He looked so young.

The bed creaked as Edward rolled over in his sleep, muttering.

“And you treated his father,” Dorothy answered quietly after a moment.

Carlisle nodded. “I—” he gulped. Made a mistake was the correct way to finish that sentence. He made a promise he’d known the moment he made it he would never be able to keep. And yet he made it anyway, and felt it still bound him.

“I promised him I would help his father,” he muttered, looking over at the boy. “I promised him I would save him.”

Dorothy made a tsk-tsk sound at him. “Now, you know you can’t keep a promise like that, Doctor.”

“Of course I do.”

“But you up and did it anyway.” She frowned. “And now that silly promise is what’s got you stuck in here, trying to cheat Death as though he plays his cards fair.”

Trying to cheat Death. The words caught him. Because hadn’t that been the way he thought of it himself?

His head dropped again into his hands. It was a good two minutes before he felt a firm hand on his shoulder, a thumb stroking up and down the side of his neck. By instinct, he flinched away, but the grip on his shoulder only strengthened.

So he went still.

“What’s done is done, Doctor,” Dorothy’s voice said quietly, as he continued not to look at her. “There’s nothing you can change here. You can’t turn back the clock, and you can’t make this be something other than what it is. You’ve done your level best here, and that’s all the world asks of you.”

All the world asked of him? He laughed darkly.

“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required,” he answered.

“Yes, but it’s the world going to do the requiring, Doctor. Not you.” She rubbed his shoulder again. “And the world asked you about these two. It asked you to do exactly this. And you’ve done everything you could.”

Everything he could? Was that even possible? Everything he could would’ve included researching instead of treating; perhaps if, instead of working at the armory, he had instead figured out the disease, he could have cured it instead of sitting here, helpless.

That would be “everything he could do.”

And there were other things he could do also…

He shut this train of thought down at once. He would heal these humans as their human doctor. To do anything otherwise was beastly.

The hand on his shoulder squeezed.

“Come on, Doctor. There are others here who need you, too. Save them, and let their lives stand for these two.” She nudged him gently to his feet, shoving a clipboard into his hands.

He glanced at it. A young lady, a year older than Edward Masen, spiked fever and cyanosis already set in.

He raised his eyebrows. This woman was no better off; if anything, she was maybe even closer to death.

“I believe you can do something, Doctor,” Dorothy said. “Let us go help her.”

Carlisle expected her to go ahead of him, but instead she hung behind. When he caught her eye, she cocked her head in the direction of the door as though to remind him where the exit was.

He nodded, moved, and Dorothy carefully herded him out the door.

~||x||~

Edward was gone. His solid body wasn’t there, the skin always too warm, the blankets always kicked around his knees even if it left Elizabeth freezing. His arm always over her chest, warming her.

It wasn’t like her husband to leave in the night.

Elizabeth’s heart pounded as she groped for the other side of the bed, her hand looking for the cool sheets her husband had vacated, whenever he’d left them. The cry was already rising in her throat.

She couldn’t cry out. She’d wake Teddy, and he was so hard to get to sleep. She would swaddle him, and feed him, and rock him, and sing to him, and if she was lucky, he’d stay asleep for three hours.

Waking the baby wasn’t worth it. Edward likely hadn’t gone very far.

And besides, her hand didn’t meet bedclothes, only air.

The room swam when Elizabeth opened her eyes. She was in a single bed—that was why the air—white ceiling beams.

A grown man lay in the other bed.

Her heart leapt to her throat.

“Edward?” she called feebly, but there was no answer.

Where was her husband?

Her baby?

Against her better judgment, she rolled over far enough to see who was in the other bed. Whoever he was, he seemed to be asleep, with one arm flung over his head and the blankets tangled around his thighs.

The way her husband liked to sleep.

But he was too young, and his hair was the wrong color…

“Teddy,” she whispered.

The man grunted.

The truth crashed down at once. She didn’t have a baby any longer. Seventeen, old enough to be mistaken for a man. She was alone in the bed, not lying with Senior, but in the Cook County Hospital, lying in a room that the yellow-eyed doctor had procured. Both riddled with the influenza; both, to hear the doctors say it, on the verge of death.

And her husband was gone.

But as she rolled over, she could see that her son had kicked off all his blankets, and lay shivering in his thin nightshirt, curled on his side.

She swung her own legs out of bed, causing the room to wobble again. But it lasted only for a moment, and then her balance returned, and she found herself able to lean forward to her child’s bed.

Her son lay shivering; the posts of his bed clattered against the floor. Carefully she leaned over him, pulling the blankets back up over his shoulders and tucking them in under his chin.

He grunted, but stopped shivering. But within a few minutes, the chills came back in full force, his body shaking so violently he began to retch. So she slid into bed behind him, pressing her chest to his back and wrapping her arms around him. She kissed the back of his ear; it was as hot as the rest of his skin as he lay burning with fever. His torso beneath her arms felt fragile and thin.

He was losing weight fast, now, she realized. Quite literally being destroyed from the inside out.

The influenza meant he had difficulty eating; Elizabeth found herself constantly cleaning spit up and vomit as she had done when Edward had been a child. The illness showed on his face; his high cheekbones seemed pronounced; his eyes appeared sunken with dark circles beneath them.

A glass of water sat on the nightstand between them; it appeared freshly filled. This meant, of course, that the nurse or the doctor had been here. The doctor, she realized at once, as she thought her way through her memory. She’d heard his voice, speaking to another.

Something about a promise. He had sounded guilty. Sad. Though of course, that was if he’d been here at all.

Perhaps the doctor wasn’t even real.

She hugged her baby to her chest, and briefly worried she’d crush him, even as her arms told her that she was holding an adult and not an infant.

But she had to keep him from falling out of bed, or he’d die…

The room swam again. The doctor’s voice floated in her ears.

“Of him shall be much required…”

“I require you to save my baby,” Elizabeth said aloud.

But there was no answer.

And Junior wasn’t her baby any more, she reminded herself.

Her son convulsed suddenly, his bed jerking so that the glass on the nightstand fell and shattered on the floor. The door crashed open and the doctor came flying into the room, his coat sailing behind him like a driver’s scarf.

But then he stood there and did nothing.

She blinked.

The doctor disappeared.

Edward groaned.

Rolling away from her child, she could see the glass was whole, the water within it completely still. And Edward lay still, too.

The doctor hadn’t stood there. He’d helped Edward, and Elizabeth had been in the other bed…had this been last night? The night before?

Years ago?

Whenever it was, his purpose had been sure. He seemed to understand things by intuition alone; he walked into the room and his expression would change before he even lifted the stethoscope from his neck.

The yellow-eyed doctor knew things.

That much she could see.

She kissed the back of Edward’s neck. It was searing hot.

“Doctor,” she called, but all that came out was a whimper.

She strained to look near the foot of her bed, and was surprised to see her mother sitting there.

“The doctor isn’t coming, Libby,” her mother said quietly, patting her feet. “He’s not magic, you know. There’s no such thing.”

She blinked.

Her mother smiled, her red hair cascading over her shoulder and shimmering in the waning daylight. The red hair she’d inherited. The color she’d passed on to her child.

“Good Catholics don’t believe in magic, Libby,” her mother went on. “God’s will is fate. You pray to God, and God will change your fate, if He sees fit to do it. But the doctor isn’t God.”

“He could be,” she croaked, but by the time the words got out of her mouth, her mother had faded away.

With a trembling hand, she stroked her son’s face.

“I’m so sorry, Edward,” she whispered. “Mama is so sorry.”

A deep voice in the hall caused her thoughts to shift once again.

The doctor?

The doctor isn’t God.

Elizabeth took to staring at the ceiling again. The brown water stains were still there, but now they seemed to swirl a bit.

At once, the nurse was there again. The hefty one, with the gentle smile; the one who seemed to like the doctor.

He’s not careful with you…he’s wise…he knows too much .

New words? Or old? Elizabeth wasn’t sure.

And just as soon as the nurse appeared, she was gone.

Nurse Dorothy was right. The doctor was different. It was, perhaps, why Elizabeth had felt drawn to ask him twice to save her men, first in the grungy intake room in this very hospital, and then again at the armory only a short time ago. He knew something.

She stroked Edward’s hair, and he moaned, his eyes opening just so slightly. Just enough that she could see his eyes in the twilight.

But the brilliant green was cloudy; the pupils wandered lazily, and before long, his eyes closed once again.

Dead.

She screamed. Her heart pounding, at once she shook him so hard that his head bounced against the pillow, his hair flopping in front of his face. Briefly the eyes fluttered open again, and then closed.

Elizabeth loosened her grip. Instead she laid her head on her son’s shoulder, letting the tears that had already overtaken her in her panic drip down into his collarbone.

Not dead. Alive.

But would she ever look into those eyes again?

Her mother had always said the sea-glass eyes made Elizabeth look bewitched, otherworldly, as though she weren’t human. They had the opposite effect in her son; the green gave him depth and humanity in what otherwise would be the face of an unfeeling, stubborn man. The doctor’s eyes were like that, she thought. That odd yellow, like a cat’s—it made him look alternately soft and hard, at one moment the most humane of humans, at another, like a man possessed.

He knows too much.

Was it possible that he knew something that he didn’t let on?

She had asked the doctor for a miracle. Each time she’d asked him for a miracle, and he’d agreed. He hadn’t been able to deliver for Senior, and she remembered his face—as crushed as hers, if she had to recall it. He’d failed her, and he’d known it. And when she’d asked for one again, he hadn’t wanted to promise. She remembered the startled expression, the way he told her he couldn’t, the way he tried to wave them off. But then she remembered the soft look in those yellow eyes, the gentle way his arms had cradled her child as he carried Edward off to a bed.

Growing up, she had always loved fairy tales, and of course, she’d shared them with Edward . In fairy tales, it was always three…three houses, three huffs, three sisters to try on the glass slipper.

Always in threes. There was magic in three.

And if anyone needed magic, she did, now.

She ran her hand through Edward’s hair and he grunted; he was still here. For now.

“There could be such a thing as magic, Edward,” she whispered.

She’d asked doctor Cullen for a miracle…but only twice.

So tonight, she would ask him one more time.

 

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§ 3 Responses to 20. Miracle Worker"

  • Jfly says:

    Third time’s the charm.
    The delerium of fever. Lost time. Stuttering hours and lapsing minutes. It’s all so well executed. You have all the tricks up yer sleeve, sharp as tacks. I’m waiting to lose blood.
    X

  • soonermom says:

    So did Elizabeth come to the realization that Dr. Cullen is “magic” because of and through her delirium or through a rational thought process? I like that you leave that up to the reader and personally, I think it’s a little of both. Delirium fed by her keen observations. I’m looking forward to getting to the next chapter!

    • giselle says:

      Heee. Yes, exactly.

      I have my opinion about what Elizabeth thought. But my opinion isn’t what should drive the story. And I love that 100 years later, Carlisle can’t be 100% certain that’s what she meant. *That* is key.

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