Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter 14

To Mask a Man's Pain with Humor

"Isabella," a woman's soft voice called her name, oddly out of place in her strange dream of flower petals floating atop the surface of a rippling creek. It had been the most tranquil dream she'd had in weeks with nothing but soothing sounds of nature and vivid beautiful colors. Her brow furrowed as she looked around her dream world for where the voice had been beckoning her from, but saw nothing aside from a vast and serene landscape, free of anyone but her for miles.

"Bella," it called her slightly louder, this time accompanied with a gentle shake that made the dream fade to the bright sunshine beating against her eyelids.

"Hm?" she hummed, shifting and biting back a groan as her stiff muscles screamed in protest.

"We brought breakfast and coffee. It's waiting for you in the waiting room," the voice said in a hushed tone and she became aware that it was Esme speaking to her. She cracked her eyes open, blearily blinking and trying to focus on her face.

"Mmkay," she mumbled, rubbing at her eyes and trying to wake herself up. How long had she been asleep for? The last thing she could remember was waking up around four am to Edward coughing horribly and sitting up with him for over an hour until he was able to fall back asleep.

"What time is it?" she asked, finally opening her eyes all the way as she stretched her sore muscles.

"A little after eight thirty. I didn't want to wake you, but they're getting ready to change out his catheter and give him a sponge bath. We can come back when they're done, okay?" she said quietly.

Bella nodded as she rose from the chair, noting that Edward seemed to still be asleep, and spent just a minute cleaning up the room. She tossed the rags she'd used over the course of the night into the dirty linen basket and her plastic cup into the trash while Esme folded her blanket and placed it and her pillow back into the cabinet beneath the sink. With one quick glance around the room, they made their way out of the unit.

"I'm going to go freshen up in the restroom, I'll just be a minute," Bella said, fighting back another yawn before breaking away from Esme and heading in the direction of the women's bathroom.

"My lord...I can't believe she let me walk through the halls looking like this," she mumbled to herself, looking into the bathroom's single mirror.

Her hair was everywhere, sticking up and out in every direction from her ponytail holder, her mascara from the day before was caked around her eyes giving her the appearance of a raccoon, and vivid pink lines crossed her cheek from it having been pressed against Esme's throw pillow. It had been soft and comfortable for its small size, but the layers of fabric stitched together decoratively had left quite a mural on the side of her face.

She rolled her eyes at her reflection, knowing it would take a lot more than a sink and some paper towels to fix her appearance, but did what she could with what she had available. She'd skip away after breakfast to grab a hot shower and change of clothes—and god help her, a hairbrush—before coming right back to the hospital.

Exiting the restroom and heading toward the waiting room, Bella had expected to see the entire Cullen clan gathered in the room, but she was surprised to find only Carlisle, Esme, and Emmett.

"Where's everyone else?" she asked curiously as she moved toward the seat Emmett was patting beside him.

"Good morning, Bella," Carlisle smiled. Bella returned his smile as she lowered herself into the chair, relieved to see it seemed as though both he and Esme had rested well the night before. The ghastly evidence of their restless weeks had diminished significantly and their previously bloodshot eyes sparkled brightly.

"Morning," she smiled a bit more genuinely.

"Alice is working down in the ER, she'll get off at around four. Rosalie had a dentist appointment this morning, and Jasper said he'll be by after he tends to some things at the station...whatever that means," Carlisle shrugged. "He wouldn't elaborate."

"Looks like it'll be just me and you for a while today, Wheezer," Emmett chuckled, bumping his shoulder into Bella's as he referred to her by the nickname he'd given her a few days after hanging around her when she was still in the hospital. "Mom and Pops'll be cuttin' outta here in a bit to take care of some business for Eddie-boy."

"Ehhh," Bella scrunched her nose at him. "You'll be partying on your lonesome for an hour or two, Gigantor. I'm in desperate need of a shower and clean clothes."

He grinned and leaned over, playfully sniffing at her shoulder and making a big show of waving his hand in front of his face, "Yeah, please do cuz you stink to high Heaven," he laughed as he rolled his eyes.

"Here you go, Bella. Half cream, quarter sugar and quarter coffee, right?" Esme winked as she sniggered, handing Bella a steaming cup of coffee.

It was there, in that small waiting room as she shared breakfast with the three members of the Cullen family, that she felt completely at ease and as if she belonged for the first time. Gone was the awkward tension between she and Carlisle as he joined in the morning's newfound lightheartedness, and she relished in the feeling of truly being welcomed. All too soon, however, it came to an end. With breakfast finished, Bella followed behind Esme and Carlisle out to the parking garage to head home for the shower she so greatly desired.

Emmett, left behind on his lonesome and knowing he couldn't yet head into the unit to see his brother, pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and flipped it open, hitting his number two speed dial and pressing the phone to his ear. It only rang once before the expected voice answered on the other end.

"Yeah? Is everything okay with Edward?" Jasper asked worriedly, having not expected Emmett to call him.

"Pretty sure it is, haven't been able to go in yet. Mom said they're changing his catheter or something," he replied, running a hand through his hair as he approached his real reason for calling. "Are you really doing it? You're not even gonna talk to Dad first?"

Emmett's leg started bouncing as he heard Jasper's distressed sigh filter across the line, "Yeah, Em. I can't do it anymore, and I don't want to get into it with Pop because he just won't understand and he'll try to talk me into staying in the job. It'll be easier to just clean out my locker and hand in my resignation to Stillwell since he's acting Chief until Pop comes back."

"What are you gonna do? You've got bills to pay and shit," Emmett questioned, realizing suddenly that he sounded just like Edward.

"I don't know. Ali and I talked last night for a long time after we got home..." he trailed off, falling silent.

"And?" Emmett pressed.

"And...fuck...she wants to separate for a while. She says she wants to try to work things out, but she doesn't think we can do that and live together at the same time. Everything's so jacked up. I'm totally screwed here. I can't pay the rent without a job so we agreed she'd stay in the apartment...I think I'm gonna have to move back in with Mom and Pop until I figure my shit out," he responded, sounding completely at a loss.

"That sucks, bro. I hope you guys can work it out. I'd give you our spare room, but we turned it into the nursery. I can convince Rosie to let you have the couch if ya need it though," Emmett offered sympathetically. "It's comfortable at least...I know that because I've been sleeping on it for the last week straight."

"Rose still on her tirade?" Jasper tried to joke.

"It's not a tirade, douche," Emmett growled angrily. "She's right. I talked to Dad this morning and I'm taking another week off, but as soon as I go back I'll be picking up extra shifts to cover what I'm losing. I got a kid coming in less than two months and he'll need a home to come home to. I can't just not go back until Edward's out of the hospital because there's no telling when that'll be."

It was strange for Emmett, being the youngest of the Cullen brothers and suddenly being a voice of reason and responsibility where Edward had always maintained the role. The aggravation he was feeling toward Jasper tore at him as he realized how many times Edward must have felt the way toward both he and Jasper. He'd always just gotten pissed off when Edward would start in on him or he'd laugh behind his back at how 'holier than thou' he could come off as at times, but now he saw it for what it truly was.

Worry—endless worry at how he and Jasper ran their lives. He finally realized, sitting in that overly stuffy room, just how much grief he'd caused his brother over the years.

And it sickened him to the core.

"I gotta go, Jas. Edward's nurse is out here looking for his visitors," Emmett said, barely hanging on the line long enough to hear Jasper's "Kay, later" before snapping the phone shut and jumping out of his chair.

As he quickly made his way through the halls, his hand raked through his hair anxiously. If Edward was awake, it would be the first time he'd be able to actually talk with him instead of just at him. And he had so much to say but not a clue how to say any of it. How does one go about telling a grown man, family or not, that they love him and that they're sorry for all the unnecessary stress he'd ever suffered because of them?

Emmett's hand fell from his head as he made it to Edward's doorway and his gaze lifted just in time to see his brother's eyes drift toward him from the television. His movement halted, leaving him awkwardly hovering in the entryway, neither completely in or out of the room but right over the threshold.

So many emotions attacked him at once as they took each other in silently; relief at seeing him awake and alert for once, heartache at remembering how he'd freaked out the day before when he realized he couldn't move his legs, sorrow for not being a better brother than he had been and not being able to offer him any type of true comfort in that horrible moment—but most of all, a spark of happiness at the half smile that tugged at the side of Edward's lips as he spotted him in the doorway.

" you feelin'?" Emmett asked, finally moving all the way into the room and pulling up a chair next to his bed.

"Like I got hit by the old '67 Mack going full speed," Edward smirked, talking about the antique fire truck their city had and used in parades.

"I guess that's better than the '05 aerial in our bay," Emmett chuckled, knowing the top speed on "Ol' Man Mack", as they affectionately referred to it, was a screaming thirty seven miles per hour. He and Edward knew this firsthand because they'd pushed it to its limit on the highway once for kicks—and blew a gasket. Their father had been livid. Putting it lightly, he'd blown a gasket of his own that day.

"Where's everyone else?" Edward asked as he tried to adjust to a more comfortable position, an impossible feat considering no matter which way he laid he was still in horrible pain.

Just the slightest of movements had him second guessing his request for his caregivers to decrease the dosage on his pain meds. He'd been able to think more clearly since they'd taken it down a notch, but quite frankly, the level of pain he was now in was pissing him off.

"Running errands, the know...painting the town red and all that," Emmett shrugged, rubbing his palms against his denim shorts. "So listen," he started, pausing to clear his throat and shift uneasily in his seat. "I uh...I want to tell you I'm sorry for all the shit I've put you through over the years...especially the last few."

"Em...this isn't necessary," Edward groaned, leaning his head back to stare at the ceiling.

"No, it is," Emmett argued, the break in his voice making Edward's gaze dart in his direction. "It is," he nodded, tears building in his eyes, "I...we've all taken you for granted and I don't think any of us ever tell you enough how much we love you. These last few weeks..." he trailed off, shaking his head as his words got trapped beneath the lump in his throat, his mind giving him an instant replay of every nightmarish moment.

"Emmett, stop. I get it, okay? It sucked, but it's over," Edward said, severely uncomfortable with watching his brother struggle so tremendously over words. "It's over, Em. I'll be fine. Let it go."

Minutes of silence passed between the brothers as Emmett fought to compose himself and Edward granted him what privacy he could by focusing his attention back on the television.

"So, uh...what's the deal with the cliffhanger there," Emmett asked, tapping his nostril when Edward looked over at him. "Why haven't they taken that out yet?"

"They have to make sure I can keep stuff down first," he huffed, not wanting to think about it because thinking about it made him focus on it, and focusing on it made it impossible to ignore it.

"What the...? You have to swallow shit with that thing down your throat?" Emmett balked, grimacing harshly as Edward nodded just once.

"If I can keep 'lunch and dinner' down," he said, making air quotes around the words because what they were giving him wasn't even food, "they might take it out tonight."

"Christ I hope so cuz that just sounds painful," Emmett replied, to which Edward rolled his eyes.

"It's talking so shut it," he said seriously, but the smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth gave his teasing away.

Emmett just bit the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning as Edward turned his focus back to the TV, giving him the prime opportunity to strike back.

"So I hear you finally got a woman other than Mom to spend the night with ya...what was that like?" he asked, cracking up as Edward's head spun back toward him, his face and ears lit ablaze like a five alarm fire.

"Such a prick," Edward grumbled, shaking his head and looking away. He wasn't about to admit it, but from what he could remember, it had been... pleasant. She'd at least been easy to be around, she hadn't driven him nuts like many people would have done and it hadn't seemed like she'd minded silence between them when he hadn't felt up to talking—unlike his oaf of a brother currently beside him.

"What's she like?" Edward mumbled the question hesitantly, studiously avoiding looking toward his brother as he felt heat creeping back up his neck, undoubtedly tingeing his skin a darker shade of inexplicable self-consciousness.

Emmett considered ribbing him over his newly onset case of bashfulness, but one momentary sideways glance from Edward had him backing down instantly. He'd prayed for the chance to be a better brother to him, and his first opportunity was staring him right in the face—figuratively speaking since Edward wasn't even looking at him.

"She's uh...pretty cool actually," he smiled as he replied, nodding as Edward turned his head slightly toward him. "She spent a lot of time in here hooked up to your oxygen valve just to keep tabs on how you were doing when she shoulda been in her own bed."

"Why? What happened to her?" Edward asked with concerned curiosity. Had she been hurt when he'd fallen, too?

"The smoke, when she was trapped jacked her lungs up real bad. She could barely breathe while just sitting in her bed doing nothing but she still managed to make her way down here a few times a day. Her dad told Pop the doctor said she'll probably have respiratory issues for the rest of her life, but honestly, she's just happy to still be alive," Emmett explained. "It was a close call though. I almost didn't catch her in time."

"What's wrong?" Edward questioned, not understanding the sudden downward pitch of his brother's expression. Emmett had saved her in time, and he, himself, had survived—so what was with the dismal look?

"I just...I keep thinking about that night and wondering if we'd disregarded Dad's orders like you did, if we would have been able to save you both," Emmett admitted as he picked at his fingers. "And sometimes, when I think about it too much, I get pissed at you for being stupid enough to run in there like that. I mean...for shit's sake, Edward," he groaned as he looked up at his brother, gesturing wildly with his hands, "The building was collapsing...but then I think about Bella...and now that I've gotten to know her, I get pissed at myself for not going in there after both of you."

Edward looked away from him, staring at the wall of photos across from his bed; at various memories from his life, but wasn't really seeing them as he thought through what Emmett had said.

"For what it's worth," Edward spoke after a series of silent moments, his gaze drifting back toward his brother. "I'm glad you didn't."

When they'd knocked his pain killer dosage down, he'd begun remembering bits and pieces from the night of the fire. Not enough to piece the entire event together, but enough to know that what he'd done had been insanely reckless and, unquestionably, the stupidest thing he'd ever done. Had it not been for the rest of his squad following his father's orders—the one's he'd directly disobeyed—his actions would have put them all in grave danger.

It was one thing to put himself in danger, but it was something altogether different to put his entire squadron at risk as well. Even so...

"Hey," Emmett's voice and snapping fingers brought him out of his thoughts.

"Huh?" Edward mumbled, realizing he'd zoned out while his brother had been talking.

"I asked if you gave her a hard time last night...Bella," Emmett reiterated. "You didn't did you?"

"I don't...think so," Edward answered, unsure. Just like much of everything else as of late, he could only recall bits and pieces of the previous night. He could remember, however, that he'd woken up briefly sometime after the sun had risen and she'd still been there, seemingly sleeping soundly, so he couldn't have been that horrid to her. At least he assumed he hadn't. God only knew how he'd acted while drugged beyond oblivion.

"I hope not...she's been taking enough shit from Rosie lately," Emmett grumbled, rubbing his face agitatedly. Her interactions with Bella had caused even more fights between him and Rosalie as of late than even their impending financial hardships had. He was pretty certain that if Rose didn't soften up soon, and Jasper came to stay with them, they'd be sharing the couch indefinitely.

"Why?" Edward asked, wondering why Rosalie would have a problem with someone she didn't even know, or did she know her?

Emmett sighed, partially understanding his wife's reasoning but disapproving of it entirely. Regardless if Bella was the reason Edward had been hurt, it hadn't been her fault. And the distinction between the two were clear as day to him.

"She blames Bella for..." he trailed off, gesturing toward his injured brother in the bed.

"That's bullshit," Edward growled angrily, clenching his medallion in his fist as he felt his feeding tube shift slightly in his throat and was forced to swallow dryly against it so he wouldn't gag. His liquid breakfast needed to stay put or he'd lose his chance to have that damn irritating tube taken out later that night.

"You okay, bro?" Emmett asked worriedly, taking in Edward's pained face and bobbing throat.

Edward nodded slowly as he opened his eyes, not trusting himself to speak again just yet, and motioned with his hand for Emmett to find something for him to write with. As soon as he returned, Edward scrawled a quick and messy note on the scrap of paper and held it up in front of Emmett.

Tell her I said Knock. It. Off.

Nearly an hour later, the stilted conversation - caused by Edward's inability to continue talking without severe discomfort - eased its way into a bearable silence between the two men. As Emmett surfed through all fifteen channels on the television, persistent in his search to find something other than daytime soap operas or talk shows to watch, Edward closed his eyes and allowed his mind to drift.

The errant thought of wondering if anyone had thought to gather his mail while he'd been out of it led him to thinking of all of his responsibilities that had probably gone ignored in his absence. He wanted to ask Emmett who had Tango, if anyone had known where to find his checkbook to pay his bills, or if they'd even gone to his house at all over the last three weeks. He could only imagine how tall the grass had gotten, and he was nearly sure that his refrigerator's contents could now be classified as science experiments at the very least. That is, if they hadn't already transcended into biohazard material territory.

"Hey thanks for the heads up, asswipe," a familiar voice suddenly resounded within the room. "What'd ya forget my phone number?"

Edward's eyes opened and focused on Alec just in time to see him jestingly punch Emmett in the shoulder.

"Mornin' sunshine, sleep well?" Alec grinned, getting Edward to roll his eyes and flip him off.

"F-off," he grumbled hoarsely, but the corner of his lips turned up in a smirk.

"What are you doin' here, man? I thought you were workin' today. I was gonna call ya later tonight," Emmett said, addressing Alec as he pulled up a chair beside him.

"I am," Alec nodded. "Got a text from Bella this morning telling me Eddie here had been taken off the vent and was awake. Nice to know at least someone around here keeps me in the loop."

"'s just been kinda crazy these past few days," Emmett responded, feeling horrible that no one had called him.

"S'ok, I kinda figured. Anyway, we just got off a call not too far from here so the guys dumped me off. I got about twenty minutes or so before they get back," Alec said, waving off the overlook and focusing on Edward. "So how ya feelin, bro?"

"Like hell," Edward rasped, completely truthful. He was uncomfortable after having been in nearly the same position for so long, but moving caused him horrific pain and his lowered dose of pain medication wasn't cutting it anymore as it was.

"So I take it now's not a good time to tell ya I backed your truck into a pole, huh?" Alec asked, making Edward's eyes shoot open as his head darted to the side.

"You didn't," he fumed, narrowing his eyes until Alec started laughing.

"No," he shook his head. "I didn't, but I did use it for a week or two. It's in your garage safe and sound now, and I even filled the tank."

"Asshole," Edward breathed, his head falling back against his pillow as his anger slowly subsided. After a few seconds, he began to chuckle under his breath as he shook his head, staring at the ceiling. Only Alec would say something stupid like that to take his mind off of his current woes—if only for a minute or two.

Twenty minutes had never before flown by so quickly in Edward's entire life, and nearly all of it had been consumed by Emmett's attempts to fill Alec in on all of the happenings over the last few days. Before he knew it, Felix's voice was crackling softly through Alec's radio, alerting him to their return. It was the first time since he'd awoken that he felt the undeniable pull toward the job that he'd felt his whole life, and he wished more than anything that he was down in the trucks with the guys rather than strapped down to his hospital bed by wires, IVs—and a pair of unmovable legs.

"Alright, I gotta bail, but I'll be back first thing in the morning," Alec sighed as he rose from his seat, not ready to leave, but needing to.

"Tell the guys I said hey," Edward mumbled quietly, the burdening weight of depression beginning to settle back upon him.

"I got a better idea," Alec smirked, moving around to the other side of Edward's bed and pulling his radio off his belt buckle. He brought it up to his face, smiling wickedly at his best friend as he spoke, "Felix, everyone close by with ya down there?"

"Everyone but Newton...he went to take a squeedge. Why? Everything with Edward okay?" Felix's voice crackled through once again.

"Take the helm, bro," Alec grinned, holding the button down for him. A smile spread across Edward's face as he shook his head, knowing instantly what to say.

"What'd I tell you guys about radio etiquette?" he asked as Alec and Emmett burst out laughing.

Not a full second had passed before the radio erupted with the voices of at least six different men hooting and hollering Edward's name. It was ear piercing and chaotic, but the unrivaled enthusiasm in their discordant voices lifted some of the oppressive weight that had settled upon him like an iron spiked blanket.

And then, at precisely twelve fifty nine pm, Edward's smile grew even wider as the radio waves came to life again; this time with not only the sounds of his own crew, but those of every other department across the city as they let their sirens wail in unity—just for him.

The return of a fallen brother could be heard through every street and neighborhood within Tacoma, and for miles around, those who knew what it meant when their city's fire departments sounded off in unity...

They smiled.

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