Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapter 16

The Sun Rises on the Battlefield

Friday evening, Edward's feeding tube was removed, much to his relief, and little by little he began making progress. By Sunday, he'd graduated from clear liquids to something the consistency of mushy oatmeal, but he, nor Bella - who he'd convinced to taste it after much debate - could be sure if it was truly oatmeal or not.

In the days that had passed, she'd become nearly a permanent fixture in his room, and one that he, amazingly enough, hadn't yet grown weary of. She made him laugh with her eccentricities; like Saturday afternoon when he awoke to find her sitting in the corner knitting what looked to be a pastel yellow doily. She'd scoffed at him and told him it was just the start of a baby blanket for his soon to be born niece or nephew. He just quirked a brow at her, because really, it looked like a doily, and the fact that she was merely twenty four and entertaining herself with an elderly lady's hobby was preposterous enough as it was. There was no way she was convincing him that holey ball of yarn would end up resembling anything even remotely close to a baby blanket of all things.

She also kept him endlessly entertained with stories from her childhood, and as the discomfort he'd suffered in his throat subsided, he found himself sharing some of his own memorable tales. Of all the outcomes he could have imagined stemming from the fire they'd both been victims of, gaining a friend hadn't been one of them; but gain a friend he had, and over the course of just a few days, he'd come to enjoy and even look forward to her company immensely. Her presence alone provided a counterpoint of lightness to the darkness of his slowly progressing recovery.

Sunday night he'd fallen asleep, alone for the first time that he could remember, but awoke at some point during the night to find Bella curled up with his mother's blanket in a pair of chairs pushed together. He had been barely coherent enough before falling back asleep to wonder why she'd come to spend the night in an uncomfortable chair instead of just coming by in the morning. So when he opened his eyes Monday morning, he wasn't all that surprised to see her sitting in her usual spot and working on another crossword puzzle.

"You know," he croaked and paused to clear his throat, trying to rid his voice of its groggy roughness. "When I told you to stay with me the night of the fire...I didn't mean literally."

His words, meant to be teasing judging by the slight smirk on his lips, slammed into Bella's mind with startling revelation. That voice and those words that had haunted both her dreams and her waking hours had been his. They hadn't been a figment of her imagination, but a seemingly impossible recollection from a span in time she'd deemed forever lost. How was it even possible that she'd subconsciously remember him saying those words to her when she'd been completely unconscious?

Catching herself mid-stupor as his smirk began to fade into a questioning, and possibly concerned, expression, she quickly rolled her eyes and forced a teasing smile upon her face. "Psh...I just come for the eye candy. You should know that by now."

"Eye candy?" he laughed, slightly curious over the strange look she'd just briefly had. "I think train wreck's more appropriate for my appearance, don't you?"

Try as she may to avoid the slight warmth creeping up her neck, her face flushed lightly as her smile grew as she threw him a teasing wink, "Who said I was talking about you? Have you seen the male nurse next door this morning?"

He narrowed his eyes at her as she fought off the laughter threatening to burst out of her, his lips mashing together in an attempt to disguise the amused smile lying beneath, "Somehow you don't strike me as the perusing the meat market type."

As she erupted into laughter, Edward couldn't help but join in. She had such a heartwarming laugh; full, deep bellied, and honest—not like the grating fake peals he'd grown accustomed to over the years from women attempting to be cute. He'd prefer to hear her rather unladylike snorts any day of the week, sincere as they were, than deceptive coy sniggers which always seemed to invariably be followed by a batting of the eyelashes.

"Ahh, ya got me there," she chuckled as her laughter subsided and she reached up to swipe away at the moisture that had accumulated in her eyes.

"So what was that look about?" Edward questioned while adjusting his pillow behind his head so he could see her more easily without having to raise the back of his bed. "Before the eye candy bit."

Her lips pursed as she nipped at the inside of her cheek, contemplating how ridiculous, or even insane, he was going to think she was if she tried to explain that what she'd thought was just a horribly haunting dream, had really been a manifestation of her subconscious memory. Figuring she couldn't possibly look any crazier after having kept vigil next to a stranger's bed while he'd been unconscious, she sighed and released the soft skin from between her teeth as she turned toward him in the chair.

"This is probably completely certifiable...but...after I woke up, after the fire, I kept having this dream...nightmare really," she shook her head as she revised her description. "Anyway, I could never see anything in the dream, but this distorted voice kept saying 'Stay with me, Bella...Just stay with me'...and now I'm wondering if it wasn't a dream, but it was really you that night...your voice saying that to me. Crazy right?"

Edward just shrugged, not really seeing what was so crazy about it. After all, her voice had sounded vaguely familiar to him after he'd awoken, and she'd never said a word to him that night.

"I wouldn't say it's's not like it's completely impossible for someone who's unconscious to not be at least a little bit aware of what's going on around them," he replied, wondering if it was possible he'd become familiar with her voice while he'd been in a medically induced coma.

He'd just been about to mention his recognition of her voice when a sudden tingling sensation, reminiscent of an extreme case of pins and needles, exploded throughout the entire lower half of his body. He gasped, nearly choking on the air rushing into his lungs as his torso lurched forward in shock.

"What the hell is that?" he wailed, ripping the sheet back as the feeling intensified.

"Edward? What is it? Are you okay?" Bella panicked, shooting out of her chair and rushing to his side.

"I don't...aahh!" he cried out, his hands flying to his left knee as excruciating pain tore through it.

"Bella," he gritted through his teeth, his horrified eyes locking on hers, "Get the nurse."

She was out of his door in a mere second, frantically looking for his nurse. Not finding her right outside the room, or even in the patient room next door, she ran down the hallway to the nurse's station, no longer looking for his specific nurse, but anyone to come to his aide. She grabbed a hold of the first person she came across and tearfully pled for their help.

"'ll be okay," the unfamiliar doctor attempted to assure her as he quickly made his way down the hall. "Go have a seat in the waiting room and try to calm down while we take care of him."

She paused in the hallway, terrified tears spilling down her cheeks as he looked back at her over his shoulder. "He'll be okay. I'll send someone for you as soon as I can."

As the gloomy gray unit doors opened, their mechanical whirl drowned out by a cry of pain from Edward's room, and Bella's watery eyes landed on Alec's tall form approaching from down the hall. A sob ripped from her lungs as her feet rapidly carried her in the direction of his quickening steps and she collapsed into his awaiting arms.

"Bella...what happened?" he questioned, his stomach lurching as sheer terror tore through his veins. "What's wrong with Edward?"

"I don't know!" she wailed as he gripped her tighter while she spluttered tearfully. "He was fine one minute...and then grabbing his leg and screaming the next. I don't know what's wrong!"

His legs nearly gave out as relief surged through him like a tidal wave. When he'd seen her face, his first thought had been that his best friend had taken a horrible turn for the worst, or even more horrific than that—had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.

"Come's okay, he'll be okay," Alec breathed as he guided her toward the waiting room. He led her to one of the seats and knelt down in front of her as she sat and buried her face in her hands. As she sobbed quietly into her hands, he fished his cell phone out of his pocket and quickly dialed Emmett's number.

"Hey, Emmett...something's going on with your brother. I don't think it's serious, but I think you should get a hold of your parents and Jasper and head down here," he spoke as soon as he answered.

"I'm on my way. Have you seen him?" Emmett asked, his heart taking off at a frantic pace as he shot out of the bed.

"No. I just got here and ran into Bella coming out of the unit in tears. She's a wreck, man. Whatever's going on, it has something to do with his leg," Alec answered, rubbing Bella's back as she cried into his chest.

"Shit...okay. Rose is calling my parents now. We should be there in about twenty," Emmett replied, yanking his shorts on with the phone pressed between his ear and shoulder.

As Alec slipped his phone back in his pocket, he rose from the floor and took the seat next to Bella, pulling her into his side and rocking her gently.

"Calm down,'ll be okay," he said softly, not liking the strangled sound of her breathing. "Come on, honey. Slow deep breaths."

Her head shook into his shoulder, her fingers clutching handfuls of his shirt as another sob ripped from her chest. She could feel her lungs tightening, making it harder to breathe with each broken and stuttering breath she took in, but she couldn't stop it. As a wet wheeze started to set in, her fear and worry shot through the roof. She couldn't be hospitalized and bed ridden again, not when something was obviously going wrong with Edward.

"Alec..." she whimpered as she began feeling slightly lightheaded. Her tears were coming down in torrents as she realized she'd left her emergency pack in Edward's room.

"Bella, come on. You gotta calm down and breathe or I'm dragging you down to the ER," Alec warned gently, moving to the edge of his seat and turning toward her.

"No," she shook her head violently. "No ER...I need my inh..." she spluttered, her words getting lost as she started coughing harshly.

"Your what?" Alec asked, rising from his chair, ready to throw her over his shoulder and storm down to the emergency room. He'd very nearly done so when she tried to repeat herself and started coughing so hard she'd triggered her gag reflux, but it was at that moment that Esme and Carlisle barreled into the room.

"Oh my," Esme gasped, rushing to her side as she rambled frantically. "Honey, where's your air pack? You're supposed to bring that with you everywhere. You didn't leave it home did you?"

Bella shook her head through her increasingly strangulating coughing as she tried to motion in the direction of the intensive care unit, not daring to try to speak again after making herself heave.

"Alec, go get Alice. She's working in the ER, see if she can get away for a few minutes," Carlisle commanded. "Esme, you stay here with her. I'm going to see if I can get into Edward's room. I think she may have left it in there."

As Alec and Carlisle sped out of the waiting room, Esme pulled Bella into her side and spoke to her soothingly while rubbing her arm. Bella tried to concentrate on the warm intonations of Esme's soft voice in a futile attempt to will her breathing under control while horrifying thoughts of what Edward was going through right at that moment combined with her fear of being trapped in a hospital room once again.

"They wouldn't let me in the room, but one of the nurses went in and got it for me," Carlisle's voice spoke rapidly, a barely concealed tremor of worry lacing his tone.

Bella's eyes shot open, her hand stretching out to reach for the bag urgently. On the verge of panicking, knowing if she didn't get her breathing under control by the time Alec returned with Alice she may very well be heading to the ER, she tore through the side pockets in the bag looking for her inhaler. Her eyes, still blurred with tears, couldn't focus on her shaking hands and it felt like it was taking her forever to find what she needed. More tears spilled down her cheeks as she began to hyperventilate, short bursts of whistling breaths entering and escaping her lungs.

"Sweetie," Esme sighed, placing her hand over Bella's trembling ones and taking the pack from her. "Let me."

"," Bella rasped, taking the inhaler from her just a moment later with a quaking hand as Carlisle tried to help Esme untangle the oxygen tubing and get it connected for her.

"How many liters?" He asked, unsure what flow rate she'd been instructed to use.

"Six," Alice's breathless voice ordered as she jogged into the room, Alec hot on her heels, and dropped to a crouching position in front of Bella. With the ease of well practiced fingers, she had the tubing and mask connected and was affixing the mask to Bella's face within moments.

"Are you dizzy at all or feeling any tingling anywhere?" Alice asked, focusing her hazel gaze on Bella's face as she slid her fingers down to her wrist to check her pulse, which, unsurprisingly, was racing. She shook her head, even though she really was dizzy and her feet had just begun tingling moments before Carlisle had returned.

"Jeez, girl. Your heart rate is soaring," Alice mumbled more to herself as she tried to time it against the clock on the wall. When her gaze returned to Bella's, she locked on her deep brown depths. "Bella, I need you to be honest right now. Are you having a panic attack?"

Bella didn't answer for a series of moments, simply staring blankly into Alice's beseeching and worried eyes as they flickered back and forth between her own.

"Please, Bella," Alice whispered. "I know you don't want to be admitted again, but I can't help you if you don't let me."

With a pleading look, Bella lifted a shaky hand and tilted it back and forth silently, acknowledging that she was having a slight attack.

"Alec, can you go get me a cup of water?" Alice asked while digging through Bella's bag. As soon as she found the small white capped plastic brown bottle, she quickly read the prescription and pulled her cell phone out of her pocket.

"Who are you calling?" Esme asked worriedly.

"The ER..." she trailed off, holding up a finger as someone answered. "Can I speak with Dr. Wade please?" Alice's gaze lifted back to her mother in law as she covered the speaker of her phone with one hand. "They prescribed her 2mg of Ativan to take if she began to have a panic attack, but she's already in slight respiratory distress. I'm not sure it's safe for her to take that dose right now."

"How's your breathing? Is it getting any better?" Alice asked, turning her attention back to Bella as she continued to wait on the line.

"A little," Bella rasped behind her mask, nodding minimally. Alice checked the clock quickly as she picked up Bella's inhaler and shook it for her before handing it to her. "Take two more puffs, I don't think you got much the first time around with your shallow breaths."

Bella did as she was told while Esme wrapped her arm back around her shoulders and Carlisle came to sit on her other side. Alec returned just as Alice rose from the floor and began speaking with the person she'd requested to be connected to, and he took her spot on the floor in front of Bella. She nearly jumped in her seat, her eyes shooting back open when Carlisle took a hold of one of her hands, holding it between his rough calloused ones and gently caressing her fingers. Ever since the night she'd heard he and Rosalie arguing, he'd been casual and even friendly toward her, but affectionate gestures hadn't ever been anything he'd bestowed upon her; not that she'd ever expected him to.

In truth, the affection and warmth Edward's mother showered her with regularly still occasionally caught her by surprise. She almost withdrew her hand from his as her discomfort with her inability to distinguish whether or not his gesture was forced or sincere came to a peak. Over the last few days since Edward had awoken, her wariness of his father had faded into the back of her mind with their continually friendly interactions, but his reaching out to comfort her brought it all rushing forward once again. However, she couldn't allow herself to give into that discomfort while still nearing the brink of a full fledged panic attack. Instead, Bella closed her eyes again and allowed herself to accept the comfort he was trying to provide her.

Alec, glancing between the tiny hand held between Carlisle's massive ones and his worry filled eyes, cracked a hidden smile as he ducked his head, knowing Bella had won him over just as wholly as she had nearly every one else.

Including Edward.

"Okay, I have two options for you," Alice spoke as she rushed back into the room, tucking her phone back into the front pocket of her scrub top. "You can either take half of one of your pills, or I can run down and grab you one of mine that's only half a milligram. If it's not that bad, he'd rather you have the lesser dose. So which do you prefer?"

"Ali, sweetie. Why are you taking Ativan?" Esme questioned, having not known she needed such a medication.

"I've been having a hard time..." she trailed off, shaking her head, not really wanting to answer. "It doesn't matter, Esme. I'm fine, it's nothing to worry about. I just needed a little help keeping my nerves under control recently."

It wasn't a lie, as that was the reason she'd been given the medication, but the timeframe of recently was a stretch. She'd been prescribed the medication nearly six months prior when her anxiety over her failing marriage had begun to wreak havoc on her mental state. Her doctor had prescribed her the low dose Ativan to help calm her nerves during the day, and Ambien to help her sleep at night since the prolonged months in which she'd barely slept at night hadn't been helping her emotional or mental well being either.

"Do you want one of mine? I'd really rather you took one of mine if you don't think you need more," Alice urged gently and telling her she'd be right back after Bella agreed.

Esme watched Alice retreat with saddened eyes that she turned toward Carlisle as Alice disappeared from her view. "You don't think she's been taking that because of the troubles she and Jasper have been having, do you?"

"'s not the time," Carlisle groaned, and instantly Bella gently retracted her hand from within his, feeling like the outsider she truly was. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't shrink herself into her chair enough to disappear as she wished to in that moment.

"Sorry," Bella mumbled, her eyes cast down toward her lap as she picked at the hem of her shorts. "I don't...I shouldn't..."

"Bella," Carlisle sighed, taking a hold of her hand again. "Look at me, please?" he asked, patiently waiting until her gaze hesitantly drifted up to him. "Now not being the time has nothing to do with you. If they wanted our help, they can come to us. There's just no sense in Esme and I talking ourselves to death over the why's behind her taking the medication when if she wanted us to know why, she'd tell us...which obviously she didn't and doesn't. It's not because of you that I don't wish to talk about it right now, okay?"

She didn't know what to say, so she merely nodded, unsure if his words were sincere or not. It seemed their family concealed more hidden truths from one another than she wished to be privy to. Bella disliked the amount of knowledge she already withheld after knowing their family for such a short period of time, but what little she knew, she felt wasn't her place to pass along. It was a horrible position to be caught in, stuck in the middle between those who wished to get something off their chest and those who wished the prior would feel they could confide in them.

She'd never experienced anything like it in her nearly twenty five years as her family had always been open and honest with each other. Her parents had always been aware of troubles she'd had in her life, financial, emotional, physical—all of it, and likewise, she'd always known of theirs as well. They trusted each other unequivocally, and trust was something the Cullen family severely lacked with one another.

And one look into Alec's steel blue eyes as he nodded, told her he knew exactly how she felt, simply because he, too, withheld the same information she did, and undoubtedly much more.

Before Alice could make it back to the waiting room, Emmett and Jasper came storming into the room with a waddling Rose trailing behind them, all three of them breathless as if they'd just run at full speed all the way from the parking lot.

"What's going on with Eddie? Have you found anything out yet?" Emmett asked, shooting worried glances between his parents and Bella, but before anyone could answer him, his brow furrowed as he pointed to her, "What gives? She okay?"

"I told you on the phone she was a wreck," Alec rolled his eyes, looking up at Emmett from his spot on the floor. "She started having trouble breathing and her nerves are shot so Alice is coming back with something to calm her down."

"You're okay though, right? Bella?" he asked, turning his gaze to her, needing her reassurance over his.

"I'm okay," she answered half truthfully, not wanting him to stress out any more than he already was.

At the very least, her hyperventilating had subsided allowing her to take in full breaths that were only slightly raspy, nothing like the crackling wheeze she'd suffered through during the first week after the fire. However, she could feel her entire body trembling from the anxiety she couldn't seem to stamp down, and she nearly moaned in relief when she saw Alice coming back toward the room, head down and walking briskly. She barely paid any attention to the new additions within the room as she squeezed past her husband in the doorway, removing the pill bottle from her scrub top pocket and tapping two out onto her palm.

"Take one now and if you feel like you really need the other one, you can take it in an hour, okay? I'll leave it in your bottle for you," she said as she handed Bella the tiny blue pill. "I have to get back to work, but if you need anything, I'll have my cell on me."

"Thank you, Alice," Bella smiled gratefully after swallowing the pill with the entire cup of water.

"Have you taken any of your Ativan yet?" Alice asked, taking the empty cup from her as Bella shook her head.

"It's low dose, but it still might make you a little tired. If you want to go home, have Alec or someone drive you and I'll pick you up after I get off of work so you can pick up your car," Alice responded, looking to him to make sure he was okay with that. As soon as he nodded, which she'd known he would, she lowered the flow rate of Bella's oxygen to two liters per minute before leaning in to give her a quick hug.

"Send me a text when you find out what's going on with Edward, please? I won't be able to get back up here until my shift ends," she whispered before pulling away.

"I will," Bella nodded as Alice gently reaffixed her oxygen mask.

"I'll see you guys later," Alice said as she made her way out of the room, seemingly addressing everyone but looking at the floor as she slipped past her husband again. His hand slapped against the doorframe as he turned to take off after her and, unlike everyone else in the room, Bella averted her gaze as they began having a hushed, but obviously heated, argument just feet from the door.

Bella closed her eyes, relaxing herself into her chair as she attempted to drown out everything going on around her and wait for the medication to settle her nerves. She listened absently, not really paying attention as the Cullens and Alec began conversing with one another over what little they knew of the situation with Edward. She couldn't add anything to the conversation for them really, as they knew about as much as she did. He'd been fine one moment and then grabbing his leg and crying out in pain the next.

At some point, she wasn't sure exactly when, but the Ativan had taken effect and she had dozed off. When she awoke, she found herself curled into Alec's side with what she thought was his chin resting atop her head. Her oxygen mask had been removed and put away, the bag sitting on the chair beside him. Her hand came up to rub the sleep from her eyes and at her stirring, Alec's torso began to shake with his nearly silent chuckle.

"Good afternoon, sleepyhead," he grinned, pulling his head back as she tilted her head up to look at him.

"What time is it? Where is everyone?" she asked groggily.

"Just before noon," he replied as she pulled away and stretched her aching limbs. "Esme, Carlisle and the boys are in with Edward. They'd only let four people in at a time so Rosalie went to go get some lunch downstairs. Speaking of which, I'm starving. You wanna head down there with me?"

"No, go ahead," she said after yawning. "I'm gonna hit the bathroom to try and splash some life back into my face."

"You want anything?" he asked as he stood and stretched, his muscles kinked and stiff from sitting in the same position for nearly two and a half hours.

"A ginger ale, if it's not too much trouble?" she asked, wishing she hadn't left her purse and wallet behind in Edward's room.

"Well break my piggy bank why don't ya?" he laughed, shaking his head. "Sure you don't want some food?"

She shook her head, telling him she didn't think she could eat with how queasy her stomach was at the moment and followed him out of the waiting room, only to part ways just outside the doorway. She'd only been at the sink for a minute or two before the bathroom door swung open and Rosalie waltzed in, sparing her a huff and eye-roll combo as she made her way toward one of the stalls.

"So I see you haven't grown tired of playing Florence Nightingale yet," Rose remarked snidely as she washed her hands at the sink beside the one Bella stood before. Bella crumpled the paper towel she'd been dabbing her face dry with and tossed it into the trash beside her before wheeling on Rosalie, suddenly exasperated with her relentless attitude.

"What is your problem with me?" she demanded.

"I'll tell you what my problem is," Rosalie sneered, turning toward her after angrily ripping a wad of stiff paper towels from the dispenser. "My problem is that every time we have to look at you, we have to be reminded that you're the reason he almost died."

Bella felt her eyes prick with tears, but she forced them back as she narrowed her eyes, "This coming from the one person in his family that hasn't looked at me in what? Three days now?"

"I'm pregnant if you can't tell," Rose shot back, gesturing at her protruding stomach as if it could somehow be missed. Bella crossed her arms over her chest, refusing to stand down for once.

"I'm sorry...I wasn't aware that pregnancy had recently become a handicap that incapacitated your ability to accompany your husband in the car and, god forbid, take a two minute ride in an elevator to see your brother in-law," Bella retorted, feeling slightly ashamed at the small amount of satisfaction she felt as Rosalie's face bloomed a furious red.

"Who the hell do you think you are? You don't know jack shit about me or any part of my family to be passing judgment on any of us," Rosalie fumed. "Why are you even still here? What do you think he's some knight on a white horse that's going to ride you off into the sunset? He doesn't need another one of your kind fawning over your hero. You aren't even close to being his type so get over it and move on."

"Rosalie, that's enough."

Neither Bella or Rosalie heard nor saw the bathroom door open, but as Esme's voice echoed within the tiled room, they both eased instantly from their angry stances. Esme approached the two women, a fire in her eyes that Bella had never seen before, but from the look on Rosalie's face, it was apparent she had. An apology was just about to roll off Bella's lips as Esme's gaze softened in her direction, the fire dimming from her eyes and being replaced with sincere remorse.

"Edward was asking for you," Esme said as a warm smile crept across her lips.

Bella nodded, moving to make her way toward the door. As her hand grasped the cool metal of the door handle, she paused and turned her gaze back toward where Rosalie stood with Esme scowling at her.

"I know it's not often that a victim like me tries to support the person who saved them. That's been made more than clear to me recently, but I was raised to help those who help me. I'll never be able to repay him for what he did for me, but I'll be there for him for whatever he needs and for however long he needs or wants me to be," she said determinedly. Her words faltered as a look of overwhelming pride and appreciation shone toward her from Esme and her gaze flickered back and forth between the women. "And as far as knights in shining armor on white horses go; I'm not a little girl anymore. I stopped believing in fairy tales years ago. He can tell me to leave him be at any time, but until then, you'll just have to deal with me."

With her intentions cleared, Bella exited the bathroom and made her way into the unit. Rosalie's words continued to resound in her mind, making her wonder if her accusation had been borne from past experiences Edward may have had with women, or if it had just been thrown at her with the sole purpose of pushing her away. As she turned the corner, she decided it really didn't matter because she had no hidden intentions behind her actions. What she'd told Rosalie had been the truth; she hadn't kept vigil at his bedside in some disillusioned belief that their tragedy was the start of some kind of fated romance.

The mere idea of it had never even crossed her mind.

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