24. Doctor

Volterra
13 July 1789

“You will be seen as backtracking on your earlier position, Brother,” Caius snapped. “You will appear insufferably weak. Of course, if that is what you wish…”

He shrugged.

Aro got the message. When he answered, it was in a level, authoritative tone.

“No man who has the power to kill those who disobey him is ever weak, Caius. Perhaps it is you who need to rethink your position.”

The older vampire frowned, but sat in his chair with a huff. “Fine. Aro, you do what you wish. You are not beholden to me, nor I to you. I’ll simply be glad to be rid of him.”

To be rid of him. Aro massaged his temple.

The talk with Marcus a few days before had decided him. Of course Aro could destroy another simply for the desire to defect. He had done it before, and Caius was well aware. But to give Caius the satisfaction of destroying Carlisle just gave him one more thing to lord over Aro. So it was decided. If the Englishman returned—which Aro felt he would, he still had many possessions here—he would be banished. Asked never to return to this place. But Aro would order the guard not to attack. To lose Carlisle would be to lose this fascinating experiment which had such potential for helping them understand their nature.

“I do not understand why you choose not to destroy him,” Caius muttered.

“It is simple, my fiery Brother. We let him go so that we can learn from him.”

“He learns from us. What have we to learn from him?”

Everything, Aro thought. But his answer to Caius was measured.

“Imagine he succeeds at living this life of his. Continuing to deny his natural food source. Becoming a physician.”

Caius raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. Aro went on.

“He will show us how best to do this, Brother. We have to send out our sisters and brothers who are gifted; Heidi must use her extraordinary allure to draw in our prey. Why? Because we stand out so badly. What if we simply understood how to blend in?”

The white-haired vampire cocked his head, a small smile appearing on his lips.

Marcus, however, rolled his eyes. “Always the exploit, Aro. Only you could take such an extraordinary man and find a way to use his uniqueness to your eventual gain.”

A cold rage shot through him, but just as quickly he suppressed it, saying coolly, “It is a collective gain, Brother, which is exactly what we hope for from any of our kind.”

Caius shrugged. “If we allow him to leave, it is only fair that he be supervised.”

At this, Marcus actually stood. “Only fair? He arrived here of his own free will. He has transgressed none of our laws—in fact, he transgresses no laws, including the ones we so regularly do. He arrived as a visitor, and he ought to leave as one.” He frowned. “Aro, I would argue that we should put this question of tracing him to a vote, except that I understand that I would lose. So I simply beg you to reconsider. Carlisle has not wronged us. He has simply not agreed with us. And if we’ve crossed such a line that we now feel a need to keep an eye on everyone who disagrees with us—well, the list is long, Brother.”

With a swirl of black fabric, he disappeared from the Great Hall.

“Idiotic,” Caius muttered, a bit loudly. He pushed himself from his chair, turning to face Aro. “Do what you wish, Brother. But when the Young One exposes us all and you are forced to destroy him—remember that I counseled you otherwise.”

Then he, too, disappeared.

It took Aro the better part of an hour to leave his study. When he did, he walked to the Englishman’s room. The desk was bare, save for the mortar and pestle and a few crumbs of the last herbs the man had been working with.

A tiny sliver of sunlight stretched across the stone floor from the slit of a window in the room. Aro was reminded of the day, not so long ago, when Carlisle had stood before them in the Great Hall, turning in the sunlight and sending rainbows skittering over the walls.

He’d appeared fascinated with himself; even as he explained that what had once been extraordinary would no longer even be believed. Science would rule, and their kind defied science…

Humans were not afraid of them any longer. For all intents and purposes, they had ceased to exist.

Carefully, Aro began to put the other’s things in order. There were so few of them—a handful of journals, the mortar and pestle. Carlisle’s only truly significant possession was a hulking wooden cross which had appeared the last time he’d returned to Volterra from England. When the others laughed, he shrugged and explained that it was carved by his father, and he wished to keep it.

It stood leaning against the wall now, and Aro moved it so that it was nearer the other man’s couch, running a hand across it as he did so.

The cloak still lay puddled where the other man had dropped it, in rippling on the stone like a puddle of ink.

Aro picked it up, turning it over in his hands.

It would have been interesting, to have Carlisle with them. He hadn’t lied about that. To have a voice that valued something entirely different; someone who saw the world in a way that Aro found uncomfortable.

But now—

Carlisle’s chamber had a small fireplace, and Aro flung the robe into it. It was aflame before Aro even realized he’d ripped the torch from the hallway. The flame licked at the fabric, slowly shriveling the fabric into ash.

Watching the robe burn ate at him in an odd, unexpected way. It would have been different, having Carlisle among them. He was nothing if not a singularity; his uniqueness would be an asset and would strengthen them.

But it would also keep him from ever wanting to join them.

The fire burned for the better part of thirty minutes, and when the room again went dark, Aro left.

Several hours later found him standing in the Great Hall, with all of those from the compound assembled. They stood by rank: darkest robes in front, the closest to the inner circle, fanning out to the lightest gray, the ones he could easily lose, and who, frankly, often destroyed one another in their squabbles.

The orderliness pleased him. The situation had set everything else into disarray; but here were his guard, in order according to their importance to him.

Neatly. As they should be. Only one of their number was missing, and he was the reason they were assembled in the first place.

Aro rarely called the full guard. If he traveled, he took Renata, or perhaps Charmion, or, Alrigo if he needed brute strength. When he needed messages to go to the guard, he told them in pieces and let the message spread. After all, he would double-check the accuracy of the transmission later, with each and every member.

But to see them here now before him was comforting.

He stood.

“My good people,” he said. “I’ve asked you here because as you know, one of our number is not with us.”

Around the room, heads nodded. The whisperings grew more intense by the day, he knew. Where had the Englishman gone? France? Back to England? Would he return? And if he did, would Aro destroy him?

The others began to murmur.

“Silence,” Aro ordered quietly, and at once, the room went still.

“We expect that he will return,” he went on quietly. “And when he does, no one is to harm him.”

The murmurs began again at once. Aro held up his hand.

“He has been asked to leave us,” he said. “To keep one who is such an—aberration—to our kind has proved useful neither to him nor to us.”

“Then why allow him to live?” a voice piped up. Alrigo, of course, his fists already flexing as he prepared for a fight.

“Because he has done nothing wrong.” This time it was Marcus who spoke. “We are not tyrants, and we will not become so. Our law is singular and it is absolute. When Carlisle reveals us for who we are, then we will take action. But as yet, he’s done nothing of the sort, and as such, we find no fault with him.”

The guard all stared.

“But he will be asked to leave,” added Caius, and there was almost a questioning tone to his voice, as though he needed Aro to confirm that this was true.

Aro nodded. “It is best for him and best for us. But I wished to make it clear to all that Carlisle is not asked to leave for transgression, nor is he to be attacked. Anyone who attacks him will be treated as though they have attacked one of us.” He gestured to his Brothers.

“Will you track him, Master?”

Rafael, the consummate tracker. Of course.

Aro pursed his lips. To be perfectly honest, he hadn’t come to an entire conclusion on this himself yet. Would he keep tabs on the blond? See if he would truly adhere to the odd lifestyle he’d chosen? Verify if he indeed, become a physician as he so fervently hoped?

“We will not follow him,” he answered. “But I will remain interested in him.”

Which was an understatement of epic proportion.

He waved his hand in the direction of the guard.

“That is all,” he told them.

For a moment, no one moved, and it wasn’t until he waved his hand for a second time that the crowd began to dissipate; first the lower guards sliding in pairs out the doors, and then the higher guards, who milled confusedly for several long minutes before following them.

When the last guard exited, Caius stood.

Instead of saying anything, however, he simply shrugged, and disappeared.

“You make him unhappy,” Marcus commented. “He would prefer the opportunity to kill.”

“Keeping Caius happy is not my aim. And we’ve lived together for two thousand years. He will come around.”

Marcus chuckled.

Aro stood, and made his way to his own chamber. He was there, studying the Solimena, when pale arms slipped around his waist.

“Arnza,” Sulpicia purred. She laid her head on his shoulder—as always, it fit perfectly. He’d chosen her for this—sought out a human for his companion, with the plan that she would be endlessly devoted to him. And she was.

She followed his gaze.

“In the painting, he looks so much like he could be there with you and Marcus and Caius.”

And he did. The painter had depicted Carlisle enrobed just as the other three were, although in the man’s imagination of them as gods, they wore robes of white rather than black. It appeared perfectly natural.

Except that Carlisle would never pose as such.

“With all those people in distress below him?” Aro chuckled. “Carlisle would never stand for that.”

His mate laughed. “You’ve mentioned this before.” Stepping out from behind Aro, Sulpicia put a tentative finger out to stroke the painting-Carlisle’s face.

“You’ll miss him,” she said quietly.

At once, Aro stiffened. “I don’t need him.”

“Of course you don’t need him. But that’s exactly why you’ll miss him. He is interesting to you, Arnza. Neither of you need the other.” She turned back to him, a sad smile on her face. “You know, if you had ever stopped trying to force him to be someone he’s not, you might have ended up friends.”

In one fluid motion, she was behind him again, gently squeezing his shoulder.

“I think this solution is for the best.”

And then she disappeared altogether.

They might have been friends.

He’d never thought of it in quite that way.

Aro stared at the painting for another long stretch; whether it was a half-hour or a half-day, he couldn’t be sure. Time was not that important to him.

Finally, he reached out, and removed the painting. Two seconds later, he stood with it in Carlisle’s chamber.

He leaned it next to the wooden cross.

~||x||~

Paris, Kingdom of France
14 July 1789

The smell of imminent freedom was what Garrett called it.

Carlisle would’ve called it piss and sweat.

The crowd surrounding the prison had grown every day they’d been here. They shouted at the walls and fired muskets into the air; demanded that the prisoners be set free and the governor sent to the guillotine. The crowd surged around him, pressing in on all sides so that he could smell their sweat and hear the blood rushing through their veins.

“Distraction,” Garret had called it, his reason for being able to resist being utterly surrounded by his prey. And it was true enough—Garrett stood at the head of the charge. They called him “The American,” and were impressed with his French and that he had come aboard the same ship as the American ambassador.

He stood near the front now, talking to several of the human protesters. He stood on a bucket, Carlisle believed, though he couldn’t see very clearly. But in any event, Garrett stood a good head and shoulders above the other people to whom he spoke.

“We cannot let deLaunay decide for us what the people shall have!” he shouted.

A resounding cheer.

“We demand the release of this last bastion of the elite to the people!”

The cheer which followed was deafening.

Carlisle, for his part, hung back, picking his way among the people. Most were men, disgruntled workers of Paris who’d gathered at dawn this morning, and a few defectors from the Royal Army. But there were women and children here as well. Some of the children seemed to be having a rollicking time, particularly the boys, who galloped about near their fathers, pretending to fire guns into the air and whooping.

He hoped they would be all right. The death of children had been a reality when he’d been a human, but it had become more and more difficult to take with each passing year of his immortality. He’d lived a hundred forty-five years now; fourteen times as long as a ten year-old boy.

It was impossibly cruel that the world would see fit to allow someone so young to die, and yet never take Carlisle.

In this frame of mind, he skulked his way through the back of the crowd. He nearly tripped over a young man, who sat on the stone road so that a tiny break appeared in the crowd above him. Bodies flowed around him, making him a pebble in a river of disgruntled Parisians.

The boy had his leg pulled up to his chest and had both arms crossed over it, rocking himself back and forth. He was crying.

Carlisle knelt next to him.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

The boy looked up. He had piercing blue eyes, and dark hair. When he looked up at Carlisle, however, he immediately recoiled, scooting away so as to put more distance between himself and the other man.

Carlisle frowned. It was the reaction he had expected when he was first turned; that every human would see him as exactly the beast he was and recoil. But he’d become accustomed to blending in, at least to a degree.

“Come, child,” he said quietly. “What troubles you?”

But as the boy stared at him again, Carlisle recognized him. He was the thief from the day before, the one whose looting of the patisserie had been unexpectedly thwarted by the extreme likelihood of a vampire attack. He was much younger than Carlisle had originally thought; in that flash of chasing him through the window, he’d seemed the right age to riot and loot for the sheer enjoyment of it, perhaps just coming of age, but still rambunctious enough to want to be a part of this destruction. Now, looking at the way the wisps of brown hair fell over the boy’s eyes, Carlisle realized he was much younger—twelve or thirteen, at the most.

And he was frightened.

“For my family,” the boy muttered.

“The bread?”

The boy nodded.

“That was noble of you, then,” Carlisle said gently. “You were in danger; that was why I chased you away.”

The boy only stared.

“Why do you sit?”

“My leg,” he answered, gesturing, and Carlisle remembered at once—the way the broken glass had gouged into the boy’s leg, drawing a good deal of blood, to say nothing of Garrett’s attention.

“May I?” Carlisle said, and as he did so, he at once doubted himself. What right did he have, asking to see someone’s injury? Yes, he could restrain himself when Aro presented him with a body, or even when all the others in the castle in Volterra were feeding, but to examine a wound?

The boy looked at him skeptically. “Are you a doctor?” he asked.

I want to be, Carlisle thought, and his stomach wrenched. He’d left Martina and her sister in Volterra. Had the baby been born yet? Was the mother in pain?

“I know a good deal about medicine,” he replied.

Reluctantly, the boy showed him his breeches. They were rolled up nearly to his hip. A wide gash, probably a third the length of Carlisle’s forearm, stretched down the boy’s leg. Its edges were jagged, and the entire area had turned a dark red and swelled.

At once, Carlisle began to run his fingers over the boy’s wound, holding his breath as he did so. There was considerably less blood than there was a gooey yellow substance. He wiped some of this away with his sleeve, causing the boy to cry out.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, and in doing so, drew breath.

The smell of fresh human blood washed over him, intoxicating and sweet and lovely.

And yet…

He found he was still thinking. Still examining the skin, the way the two pieces met unevenly, and the way the yellow-greenish liquid seemed to stick the two parts together. He was fascinated by this.

“When was the last time you bathed?” he asked.

The boy shook his head.

“You don’t know?”

Another shake.

Carlisle had read something about this, though the article had been nothing but observation. Some physician here in France who was learning about wound care, who had begun advising the Royal Army to bathe more often, particularly if they had been injured. There was no good explanation for why, but there seemed a connection between the amount a soldier bathed and his decreased likelihood of dying from a wound.

Now, this boy wasn’t in any danger of dying, but…

“I’ll be right back,” Carlisle said, and in an instant, he was running down the street. It wasn’t long before he discovered what he sought—a bucket of water, carelessly left on a stoop, its owner nowhere in sight. Snatching it up, Carlisle ran back to the boy as smoothly as he was able.

Tearing a rag from the hem of his own shirt, he plunged his hand into the tepid water and began to gently wash the boy’s wound. The boy made a low grunt, but gritted his teeth.

The yellow substance washed away at once, which reopened the wound, causing it to begin to bleed again.

Instinctively, his entire body became taut. Every muscle coiled, ready to run the split-second he felt himself lose control.

But his fingers kept working. His mind remained clear.

An odd warmth rushed through him. He could do this. At once, he actually laughed. He dunked the rag in the water after each swipe to rid it of the blood—but it was unnecessary, it seemed.

He was inches from a bleeding, living human and he was fine.

The boy gave him an odd look as he sat with his leg outstretched, allowing Carlisle to work. When the wound was clean, it appeared pinkish, the blood flow already slowing as it began again to heal itself.

Ripping another rag from his shirt, Carlisle tied this clean one over the wound. A tiny splotch of red seeped through, but it seemed to be controlled. Carlisle pulled the leg of the boy’s breeches back down so that it covered the bandage.

“You should do that each day,” he told the boy. “I understand it is painful, but wash the wound, and put a clean bandage on it.”

“What will it do?”

Carlisle laughed. “You know, Boy, I am uncertain,” he admitted. “But it’s been found to help.” He helped the young man to his feet. There was a bit of a stagger, but then the boy was fine. He could put weight on his leg.

“Would you like to come to my home?” he asked timidly. “My mother would give you a meal for helping me.”

Smiling, Carlisle shook his head. “My good friend remains up there, exciting the crowd. He’ll not want me to disappear. But you ought to go. Have your mother give you a meal instead—and tell her what I said about washing yourself.” Mothers had a knack for insisting on that kind of thing, Carlisle thought.

“Thank you again, monsieur.”

Carlisle nodded, watching the boy disappear back into the crowd. Then he made his way back toward where he’d last seen Garrett. He felt like screaming with joy.

He had done it. He had treated a human, pressed his fingers into the sticky mess of human blood, and washed it away.

He could do anything.

As he began to jog, a bark of laughter bubbled up from his chest.

You see, Aro? I will succeed, no matter what you think of me.

His mind began to swirl with the possibilities. He’d leave Volterra, of course. But where would he go? Back to England? To France?

Or…he could go with Garrett…

This last thought caused his pace to quicken.

Carlisle ducked and weaved his way through the heaving mass of people, searching for the sandy hair he knew so well. But just as he began to reach the front of the crowd where Garrett had stood, a loud CRACK! split the air, and suddenly the people surged forward like an uncontrollable tide.

The drawbridge. They’d dropped the drawbridge. The Parisians swarmed into the outer courtyard, and suddenly the air became filled with the POW! POW! POW! Of musket fire—from the Parisians, yes, but also from the walls of the Bastille.

Chaos.

Screaming. Shouting. Gunfire. Cursing.

And a sudden yelp of pain…

From the corner of his eye he saw a man fall. Quickly, Carlisle darted to him, picking him up. Blood already seeped through the man’s shirt, a tarry, dark substance.

A gunshot wound.

Carlisle gulped. This would not be as simple as washing a the leg of a fifteen-year-old boy.

“Sir,” he called to the man. “Sir! Can you hear me?”

But the eyes remained unfocused, and the chest heaved only twice more. The eyes closed halfway, and the limbs went frighteningly limp.

Horrified, Carlisle dropped the body. It flopped to the ground with a sickening, hollow sound.

He’d never held a dead human before.

Arms tingling from where the man had lain, Carlisle began darting between the people. The gunfire and shouting continued, but his ears were open only to cries for help.

He dragged a woman and her child out from beneath a fallen wagon. He covered a young boy who’d landed in direct line of fire of the guards of the Bastille. He dug musket shot out of a man’s leg wound with his bare hands—in his desperation not to have another die in his arms, he didn’t even notice the way his palms and wrists became covered in blood.

There was shouting and gunfire and smoke, and screaming and crying and surging and running—and in the midst of it all was Carlisle, darting back and forth, catching fallen bodies, creating makeshift bandages from anything he could get his hands on, helping men and sometimes women and children stagger their way to the edge of the horde.

The first cannon blast shook his whole body. A hole appeared in the rock of the nearest wall.

A deafening roar rose from the crowd.

Where did they get cannons? he thought for a split-second, but at once plunged back in.

These weapons were deadlier. He’d have to work harder.

Time ceased to matter. It was two minutes, or two hours; Carlisle couldn’t be exactly certain without stopping, and stopping was not possible. His clothing soaked from pink to red to tarry black as he dragged bodies from the fray. He washed their wounds, gave them what water he could draw from the putrid Seine, left them lying free of the fracas.

He didn’t see Garrett, and could only assume that his companion had charged off at the beginning of the battle.

He kept working.

At last, however, from somewhere Carlisle picked out the shout, “They open the gates! DeLaunay surrenders!”

And the crowd surged once more, this time into the inner courtyard, cheering.

Carlisle remained outside.

Gun and cannon fire had been replaced by silence; screaming and shouting by moaning and crying. Those who were able surged into the inner courtyard, leaving only the wounded and the dead outside. There were scores; bodies lying in the path of the revolutionaries. People trampled into the dirt. Men dragging themselves to safety.

He wasn’t sure where to begin.

Médecin!” someone called. “Médecin, over here!”

It took Carlisle a moment to realize the person meant him.

How many had he helped, he wondered? How many would live?

Médecin!”

It was a young man, beckoning to Carlisle with his whole arm, as he held his friend upright with his other.

Doctor. Martina and her sister had called him that for several years. But today, for the first time, it felt true.

From inside the stronghold, he could hear cheering.

“Liberty! Liberty! Liberty!” came the chant.

Liberty.

Doctor.

A smile creeping onto his face, Carlisle jogged toward the beckoning man.

Chapter Notes

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§ 5 Responses to 24. Doctor"

  • jfly says:

    Okay, I needed this burst of joy to firecracker up in my chest and explode out loud from my mouth after two hard and heave wet-eyed chapters. Is it greusome to be joyful when there were scores of bodies? You know that’s not the part that lit me up. Your descriptions of the festering wound were lovely, and Carlisle’s reaction to holding an empty body was endearing– the deadliest hunter grossed out by a corpse.
    Thank you for this… and everything, always.

  • Kayla says:

    Awwww. I love you!! GREAT chapter and so gut wrenching!

  • NixHaw says:

    I read this last night on ff.net but had to come over here to check the notes. I was sure you’d have notes with those wonderful scenes of the storming! Awesome chapter.

  • soonermom says:

    I don’t know that I’ve ever commented much on the three Italians, but I love that you’ve given each of them their own distinctive voice.

    I also loved what we got to see of Carlisle here. Poignant that he should find such happiness amid such horrors. As always, I loved the update and look forward to the next. Thanks for sharing!

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