Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter 15

The Heart of the Humble

When Bella had left the hospital earlier that morning, she'd never imagined becoming Edward's sole source of comfort upon her return. She'd gone home, showered, made a few calls and stopped by her boss's office, all the while fully expecting Emmett to have been with Edward the entire time, and even suspecting others would have joined him by the time she returned.

But when she'd returned at just before two, he'd been alone and asleep.

She'd quietly placed her bag on the counter and lowered herself into a chair, looking over the settlement contract for her previous landlord that Jay had thrown together on short notice at her request. Sitting in that serenely quiet room, she'd never imagined the relatively moderate sized room would become the stage for a horror show in just under an hour.

"God dammit!" Edward wailed, gripping her hand to the point she feared it might shatter.

"'s okay," she soothed, squeezing his hand back and running her hand across his forehead and over his hair as she lifted her head to look at the resident currently torturing Edward. "Can't you give him something? He's in agony for crying out loud!"

This had been going on for far too long, but no matter how many times he cried out, he refused to allow them to give him anything stronger than he was already receiving to dull the pain he felt every time a jolt of electricity caused one of his leg muscles to contract. The doctor had warned Edward prior to beginning his nerve stimulation therapy that because his nervous system responses were abnormal, the procedure might either go completely unfelt or it could be incredibly painful—or any variation between. Even with that knowledge, Edward had chosen to forgo additional medication, and from the first jolt, Bella had highly regretted that decision enough for the both of them.

"Can't force it if he doesn't want it," the doctor replied absently, not truly regarding Bella as he focused on the dials of his torture contraption. "Only a few more to go, Edward. Are you still hanging in there with me?"

"Yeah...shit, hurry up," he panted, sweat pouring down his face as his breath caught and released raggedly from his chest.

Three jolts and one final wail later, the resident finally called it quits and set about removing all the electrode pads from Edward's legs. He spoke briefly to Edward while Bella fought to regain feeling in her numb, and just beginning to bruise, hand. She continued stretching her fingers as she doused a few rags with cool water.

"I'm sorry...about your hand," he apologized breathlessly, still reeling from the pain he'd gone through.

"It's fine, don't worry about it," she sighed, passing the cool rag over his heated face gently and watching as his eyes closed. "Better?"

He nodded, too worn out to speak but his eyes were full of gratitude when he opened them. Almost as if she knew what he needed before even he did, she grasped his small plastic cup and brought the straw to his lips. As she turned to replace the cup on the bedside table, she caught sight of his chain glimmering as it peeked out from a rumpled section of sheet. She picked it up and gently smoothed out the kinks before placing the medallion back in his palm and threading the chain back around his fist. He watched her closely, the softness of her gaze and tenderness of her touch, and he couldn't help but wonder who she was. Who she really was—this person who was starting to impact his life just as greatly as he'd impacted hers by rescuing her.

"Why?" he whispered, raising his hand slightly to clarify he was asking about the chain.

A small nostalgic smile curled the corners of her lips as she shrugged and gazed at the chain. "When I was a kid, in Sunday school we were learning about Saints. At the end of Mass when my parents came to collect me, I couldn't remember any of their names aside from Saint Michael the Archangel, because that was the one the lady had said looked after police officers."

Her smile grew as her eyes lifted to his. "My dad's a cop and he is, and always has been, my hero. And who doesn't want to keep their hero safe, right?"

Even though he was aware that her question had been rhetorical, he nodded anyway, uncharacteristically enthralled by her words as her gaze drifted away from him again.

"Anyway, call it superstitious or what you will, but my father has pulled through some pretty precarious situations over the years since I gave him his blessed medallion, and I like to think that it played a part in keeping him safe," she shrugged once more and forced herself to look back into his eyes. "After I saw you for the first time, I kind of just wanted you to have something to carry with you to keep you safe. A guardian angel for a guardian angel."

He couldn't help but smile and chuckle under his breath as he toyed with the medallion between his fingers, inspecting it closely and seeing the words inscribed on the back for the first time. Valor, Strength, Bravery—the words firefighters live by every day.

"Well I'm no angel...but, thank you," he said sincerely.

Edward had never been one to wear jewelry of any kind, nor had he ever felt compelled to purchase a Maltese cross pendant like many of his firefighter brothers possessed—either from buying it for themselves or having had it gifted to them at some point. But even for those who owned them, Edward had always viewed the medals as ways in which they showed their pride in their careers, or their loyalty to their department as many of them had their station number engraved upon them.

He thought about the one Emmett owned - that Rosalie had given to him for Christmas one year - and wondered if his brother's cross held even a fraction of the meaning behind it for his brother that the one held in his own hand now did for himself. Granted Emmett's cross was a traditional profession based one, with a helmet, axe, ladder, and bugle in the center and a fire hydrant and another ladder on the sides of the cross like most of the guys in the department owned; not an actual Saint Florian pendant as his was.

It wasn't, however, the Saint upon the medal that meant much to him, but rather, the belief and reasoning behind why she'd given it to him that, in the span of a moment, had turned it from a hunk of metal into one of his most valued possessions.

"Does your dad want his back?" Edward asked, his eyes catching sight of the worn chain and pendant pinned to the wall above the department t-shirt people had signed. He couldn't imagine him not wanting it returned with the knowledge of how much it must mean to him.

"No," Bella chuckled as she shook her head, looking at the tarnished charm that had once shone brilliantly. "My mom and I bought him a new one. He said when he gave it to you he told you to keep it for the next eighteen years or something."

As silence descended upon them, Bella thought back to the night before and the confusion she felt, and continued to feel, over whether or not he cared for her accompaniment. She fidgeted nervously, pinching part of her lip between her teeth as the awkward silence continued on.

"Edward?" she breathed, her nervousness coming to a peak as his eyes flitted up to her own. "Is it uncomfortable for you with me being here? I mean..." she paused, her eyes nervously darting around. "I know it's awkward because we don't know each other and all, but, I meant what I said last night about wanting to get to know you. I just...I don't want to be a burden or bothersome to you if you don't want me here."

While he watched her body language portray her anxiety and listened to her hesitant words, he couldn't help but wonder what he'd done or said that had given her the idea that he didn't want her there. Her presence the few times he'd awoken had confused him, not understanding in his medicinal haze why she was there and tending to him, but he couldn't recall her having ever done anything that would have annoyed him. If anything, her presence and tenderness had been nothing but soothing outside of his confusion.

Chuckling at the oddity of the entire situation, he held out his right hand to her. Her brow furrowed slightly until he spoke.

"Edward Cullen...firefighter," he said, a smile tugging at his lips as she breathed a sigh of relief and took his hand to shake it.

"Bella Swan...unconscious victim," she replied, an answering smile spreading across her lips.

While he felt better that they'd formally introduced themselves to each other, there was still one little issue. It was apparent that she knew at least a little bit about him, given the time she'd spent with his family and how highly they seemed to think of her, but he didn't know the first thing about her in return.

"Well pull up a chair, Bella," he said, his voice strained as he repositioned himself in the bed, spotting his nurse coming in with his "dinner".

Before sitting in the chair she'd moved to his bedside, Bella fetched him another cup of ice water as the nurse got him situated. As soon as she left the room, Bella's face scrunched up slightly, taking in the items on his tray.

"What is that?" she questioned, highly suspicious of the bowl of colored water.

"It's nasty is what it is," Edward grumbled after swallowing a spoonful. "Salty water."

"Gross," Bella grimaced. "I'd stick with just the dessert if I were you. Let me know when you graduate to solids and I'll sneak ya in some real food."

He wasn't sure how, but by some miracle he managed to force down everything he'd been given, saving the small bowl of flavored gelatin for last since it looked the most appealing. With a stomach filled to the brim with liquid, Edward's eyelids began to grow heavy. If it wasn't for how uncomfortable he was, he probably would have been able to nod off at a moment's notice.

"Having issues?" Bella smirked, looking up from the crossword puzzle she'd been doing with intermittent assistance from Edward to see him raising and lowering the back of the bed, trying to find a comfortable position.

"Yes," he grumped, letting out a huff of frustration as he gave up.

"Here, let me help," she said, putting the book down on the chair as she stood. "Wanna try laying on your side for a bit?"

He nodded as she took over the controls, reclining him before helping him roll slightly onto his right side and placing pillows behind his back to recline on.

"Now I can't see you," he grumbled, earning a snicker from her as she dragged her chair around to the other side of the bed.

"Better?" she chuckled as she sat back down. He nodded and watched as she went back to their crossword puzzle. "Four letter word for quarrel...tiff doesn't work."

"Spat," he answered, adjusting the pillow beneath his head and watching as a victorious smile spread across her lips.

As he watched her, he absorbed how different she was from the majority of women he'd ever known. The calmness she exuded and the ability to sit in his room without needing the distraction of a television or feeling the need to fill the air with endless chatter, as everyone else had during his brief spans of consciousness, was strangely comforting. He didn't feel pressured to converse with her when it caused him discomfort as he partially had when Emmett and Alec had been with him earlier. She was easy to be around, her presence felt almost natural in the room, and that was something he'd never experienced with a woman before.

Even Peanut drove him up the wall on occasion with her inability to just sit and be for more than a few minutes at a time. But those weren't the only differences he noticed.

Her clothing wasn't flashy, didn't bear any of the trademark designer logos that his sister in-laws often wore, nor did she wear an array of expensive looking jewelry. In fact, she didn't wear any except a weathered thumb ring that reminded him of one of those candy and trinket machines at the exit of a store that kids routinely pumped their parent's quarters into trying to get the precise sticker or piece of junk they wanted out of it.

Emmett had been a sucker for those machines when they'd been kids and Edward clearly recalled his little brother throwing himself down on the floor once when he was about five or six after their father refused to give him yet another quarter. He'd wasted over two dollars trying in vain to get some flaming dragon temporary tattoo out of the machine, but each plastic ball he popped open had some girly design. Edward and Jasper had laughed hysterically at Emmett's pile of butterflies, flowers, and hearts, and later that night, while Emmett had been asleep on the couch, he and Jasper had transferred a hot pink and purple butterfly right onto his forehead.

"Tell me something about you," Edward said, wondering what her life was like. If she had any siblings that she once shared great relationships with, only to have them become strained over the years, or if she had friends that she was closer to than her own family. He wondered if the reason she was so different from the majority of people he'd known was because she was more like him than she was them—because much like her, he'd always been different than the majority of people around him as well.

"Like what?" she asked, closing the book and setting it aside, giving him her undivided attention.

"Anything," he answered, not having the energy to participate much in a conversation, but wanting to get to know her at the same time.

"Hm," she hummed, not really knowing what to tell him. "Let's see...I'm twenty four, and an only child. I have one cousin, but I'm not close to her and only really ever see her like once a year. Usually at Christmas. I'm a bore...a real fuddy-duddy."

He ghosted a chuckle as he opened his eyes, "Why do you think that?"

"Because I am," she laughed. "I'm a homebody. I'd much rather spend a night with a bowl of popcorn and a movie in my pajamas than out on the town in uncomfortable shoes. I'm also a workaholic, and my job is just about as boring as I am...which is kind of fitting, though it's not the career I saw myself having when I was a kid."

"Which was?" he prodded, closing his eyes again.

"A my dad," she answered and then chuckled to herself. "When I was little, every year for Halloween I wanted to be a cop...well except when I was like six. I think that was the year I wanted to be Wonder Woman and I made my dad be Superman."

She paused, wondering if her mother still had the Polaroids from that year. Her father had grumbled under his breath for eight straight blocks as she skipped at his red and blue spandex clad side.

"Anyway, when I was in the second grade, my dreams of being a cop like my dad bit the dust. During recess we'd been playing cops and robbers, and a hostage situation arose...real scary right? A bunch of eight year olds holding one of their friends captive at the top of the jungle gym," she scoffed, shaking her head at herself. "But yeah, so a hostage situation arose and I had a severe panic attack. It sounds dumb now, but I've been prone to panic attacks since like age five."

"Did you really?" he asked, unable to stifle his chuckle as he focused his droopy-eyed gaze on her.

"Yep," she nodded, embarrassed. "Needless to say, that was the day I surrendered my plastic badge and handed my father my formal resignation...written in magenta crayon on yellow construction paper."

"So what do you do now?" he questioned, incredibly curious.

She sighed, shrugging her shoulders as her nose scrunched up slightly, "I'm a legal assistant. I admire people like you and my dad...even Alice, for having the ability to have such exciting careers, but ya know, it wouldn't really be good to have the person who's supposed to save you hyperventilating and passing out in the corner. It's safer if the most dangerous hazard I face while at work is like...choking on a dust particle or something. Like I said...I'm a bore."

Edward shook his head, laughing at her quirkiness. "'re pretty damn funny."

When he shifted in the bed, his chest tube tugged slightly at his side, making him hiss as he brought his hand around to coddle it. The sight of him in pain again brought Bella's spirits down like a sinking ship. Looking at the devastating effects of his heroism, she just had to know the answer to a question that had been plaguing her for weeks.

"Edward? Can I ask you something?" she questioned softly, unsurely. When he nodded she averted her gaze, focusing on her jittering fingers. "Was it worth it?"

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, her eyes shot up to his, "I mean...everything you're going through now...was it really worth it?"

Of everything she could have asked, he hadn't been expecting that question. The airing of it sent his mind right back to his thoughts from hours before when he'd been processing how his actions could have put his entire crew in mortal danger. But no matter which way he looked at it or thought about it, his answer remained the same now as it had been hours before.

"Are you alive?" he asked. It was obviously a rhetorical question, but he expected her to answer, and she did.


He'd regretted many things he'd done in his life, but saving a life had never been one of them. No matter what condition he'd woken up in, or how much pain he'd go through while recovering, he'd never be able to regret saving hers—simply because her presence in his life, when she truly had no reason to be as she owed him nothing, wouldn't allow him. How could he possibly regret it when she was doing what so few would do by standing by his side? One look into her warm cinnamon eyes gave him the only answer he'd ever need.

Saving her life was something he never would, or even could, regret.

He locked his gaze with hers, knowing had he not done what he had she wouldn't be sitting just feet from him, and he answered with every ounce of sincerity he possessed.

"Then it's worth it."

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