Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapter 17

The Grievance of Insecurity

"Edward," Carlisle said softly, gently shaking Edward's shoulder as he saw her entering the room. "Bella's here."

Edward's eyes opened slowly, making him look drowsier than she'd seen him in days as she took hesitant steps toward the empty side of his bed. She self consciously tucked her hair behind her ear as his half lidded eyes sluggishly raked her form.

"You okay?" he asked, his voice deep and hoarse from sleep.

"" she nodded, her voice soft and timid as his questioning eyes locked on hers. What she saw in them wasn't overwhelming pain or fear as she had earlier that day, but genuine concern flickering behind the drug induced glassiness.

"He's better than good...he's flyin' high as a kite," Emmett laughed, getting elbowed in the side by his father as Carlisle mumbled a low, but stern, "Cut it out."

"Are you really okay? What happened?" Bella asked, moving closer to the bed with a slow step, her shaking hand coming to rest on his bedrail as he nodded. His head lolled to the side, his gaze landing on his father. Carlisle nodded to him just once before looking up at Bella.

"He's okay, Bella. He'll be just fine," he smiled reassuringly before explaining. "The pain he felt earlier was from the feeling returning to his legs. Because he hadn't been feeling the pain from his broken leg and the surgery on it, the pain meds they had him on weren't strong enough to dull it, but they've adjusted them to make him more comfortable."

"Wait...let him tell her the best part," Emmett said excitedly as Edward rolled his eyes and looked back at her, a smile tugging at his lips begrudgingly. He didn't want to admit it, but if he weren't so doped up, he'd probably be bouncing around just as much.

"I can move my toes," he shrugged slightly as her mouth dropped open. Before he could even see it coming, her arms were latched around his shoulders, gentle but firm as she laughed in his ear. The sound of her warm laughter caused him to lose his battle with his smile as it broke free, full and clear across his face.

"That's incredible!" she gushed, overcome with happiness for him. "Gosh, I'm so thrilled!"

"Aw c'mon! You're not even gonna show her?" Emmett wailed incredulously as he reached over to snatch the sheet back from Edward's feet. "Wiggle those little piggies, Eddie. You can do it."

"You're a dick, ya know that?" Edward scoffed, leaning forward to snatch the sheet back and scowling at Emmett for talking to him like he was a two year old. "Little piggies...they're friggen toes, moron," he grumbled under his breath in annoyance as Bella covered her mouth to hide her sniggering.

"Awww, I'm just messin' with ya, bro," Emmett teased, leaning forward and reaching over to ruffle Edward's hair.

"What is it with you lately? You're like a damn hemorrhoid I can't get rid of," Edward groaned, swatting away his brother's hand. "Always up my ass and on my nerves."

Bella was sure Edward hadn't meant to hurt Emmett with his words, but one look at his downcast eyes and slumped shoulders told her that he had. In one brief moment, Emmett had gone from teasing and jovial to withdrawn and defeated as he rose from his chair and shuffled awkwardly in place without lifting his eyes.

"I'm sorry, I just..." he paused as he picked at his fingernail before dropping his hand, further closing in on himself as he shoved his hands in his pockets and forced himself to look up at his brother. "I just wanted things to be different between us...start fresh and go back to the way things used to be before I was a fuckup."

"Em," Edward and Carlisle sighed at the same time.

"No, it's okay," he shook his head, smiling sadly. "I want to be here for you, but if you don't want me to's okay."

Bella's eyes began to tear up and she had to look away when she saw the glimmering sheen of unshed tears in Emmett's eyes as he turned and made a speedy exit with both his father and brother calling after him.

"Goddamnit!" Edward growled, fisting his pillow behind his head and sending it careening into the wall with a forceful throw that made Bella jump.

"Edward, calm down," Carlisle urged gently, standing from his seat and looking down at his son. His heart shattered a million times over as he saw the tear trail down the left side of his face as he stared at the ceiling.

Edward couldn't stand it anymore, being trapped in a bed while people hovered around him with guilt rolling off of them in waves. He couldn't remember the last time Emmett had apologized for anything prior to the accident, but since he'd woken, he'd lost count of the number of apologies his brother had uttered toward him. And while Emmett had been filling his day with apologies and forced humor, his other brother, Jasper, hadn't been able to look him dead in the eyes to save his life, much less really speak to him.

Bitterness began to creep through his veins as he thought about all the years he'd bent over backwards for everyone in his family, but it took his nearly dying for anyone to actually attempt to do something for him for once. It ate him up inside to look at them hovering next to his bedside day in and day out knowing they were only there out of guilt. Had he not had such a close brush with death, nothing would have changed. His brothers would still be acting like irresponsible fools, and his father would still be disappointed in him for one thing or another. For years they'd all relied on him, taking what they needed of him with little to no regard of how it affected him. They expected the world out of him but only ever acknowledged his existence when he failed to meet their expectations.

He roughly ran his hands over his face, forcing down his instinct to send his father chasing after his brother and turned his head away from him.

"Where's that puzzle book?" he asked Bella, just noticing her obvious discomfort with the tension still lingering in the room—thick and palpable and demanding acknowledgement of its presence as if it were its own entity.

His benign question caught her completely off guard, making her stumble to catch up with his rapid redirection as she'd just been about to politely excuse herself from the room. Her mouth opened and closed silently as her eyes darted between him, his father, and the door.

"Edward, your brother..." Carlisle started, only to be cut off angrily by Edward.

"Will survive just like I have for the last God knows how many years," he grumbled, just wanting to ignore the last few minutes and distract himself with anything that had nothing to do with family issues, or near death experiences, or pain, or mind muddling medications. He just wanted to escape everything that was causing him stress by any means possible.

"Don't be like this, son," Carlisle sighed, making Edward's head snap toward him the second he heard that damn disappointed tone. Whatever hopes he'd had of finding a few minutes of peace had vanished into thin air right along with that damn strained sigh he'd heard directed at him all too many times in his life.

"Let me ask you something," he nearly spat. "How many times over the last few years have any of you given a shit about me or my health or my wants or needs? Why now? Why now just because I almost died does he, and everyone else, suddenly give a damn?"

As Carlisle looked at his son, anguish constricting his chest and pricking at his eyes, Bella shuffled in severe discomfort.

"I...I should go," she stammered, her unease overwhelming her as she stepped away from the bed to make a hasty retreat. Her shoulders hunched forward, her eyes screwing shut when Edward's hand shot out and wrapped around her wrist before she'd even had a chance to let go of the bedrail.

Slowly she turned, imploring him with her watery eyes as a whispered plea fell from her lips, "Please."

His eyes stayed locked with hers for a series of moments, darting back and forth while his thumb caressed his silent apology across her wrist. When he let go, his head fell back against his pillow as he watched her escape the room and the tension he, too, wished he could get away from.

"I can't do this anymore," Edward murmured after a lengthy silence in which he'd been trapped in his swirling disjointed thoughts and his father in his heartache. His head turned to the side, his eyes settling on Carlisle's pained expression. "I can't keep pretending nothing's wrong with this family, with my life...with everything."

Carlisle's tear filled eyes flickered between his son's, the steeled resolve behind them taking his breath away. "We may not be perfect, Edward...but we do love you..."

"Do you? Do any of you, really?" Edward asked dubiously. "I stopped living years ago, and no one cared. The only time I even exist in this family is when someone needs something or I disappoint you somehow."

As Carlisle's eyes closed, the tears he'd been keeping at bay streamed down his aged and rough with three day old stubble face. His own son, the strongest and most honorable young man he'd ever known, had been crumbling right before his very eyes for years—and he'd been oblivious to it; to his pain, his him.

"You've never disappointed me," Carlisle refuted passionately as his eyes opened. "Not once in your entire life have you ever done anything for me to be disappointed of, son. I've never been anything but proud of you."

At his words, Edward laughed outright; loud, incredulous laughter without even a hint of amusement. As his menacing laughter subsided, anger coursed through him, making him grit his teeth as hot tears filled his eyes and he angrily ripped the sheet away from his body.

"Tell me you're proud now. Look at me, at what I've done, then tell me you're proud. Look me in the face and tell me you're not disappointed that I might never walk again, because I know you are. Look at me," Edward demanded furiously when Carlisle's agonized eyes failed to leave his own. "I did this. There's nothing here to be proud of."

Edward's anger only surged higher with Carlisle's unwillingness to lay his eyes upon his son's mangled body. But Carlisle didn't need to look any further than the spot Bella had been standing in just minutes before to know that there was nothing to not be proud of him for.

"I'm proud of you, Edward," Carlisle told him with every ounce of sincerity he possessed as he looked his son straight in the eyes and moved to stand right beside his bedrail. "How could I not be?"

Edward shook his head at the ceiling, clenching his jaw shut as rivulets of hot, salty tears streamed down his temples and into his hair. His mind was chaotic, jumping from one thought to the next as his emotions went haywire within him. Anger, sadness, overwhelming helplessness, desperation, and depression swirled within him as thoughts that had been plaguing him for days ravaged his mind.

"Did you know that the night I was brought in was my second trip through the ER in just as many days?" Edward asked absently, not really speaking to his father, but more just airing his thoughts aloud. "I got hurt tackling Emmett at a call earlier in the shift, but kept working even when I knew I shouldn't have."

Edward's head slowly turned to the side, his gaze falling upon his father, "I kept working because I didn't want to disappoint you for the second time in one day. You got upset with me for requesting something I needed...but it's never about what I need, is it? As long as your two sons are kept out of harm's way and your shifts are covered, right?"

That entire shift had been fresh in Carlisle's mind ever since the moment he watched Edward disappear into that burning building. The promise of an ice fishing trip and sharing a smile with his son at the very beginning of Edward's shift had played over and over again in his mind for days on end because he feared it would have been his last memory of his son ever smiling again. But that memory had been tainted. It had been tainted each time he recalled that day and he relived the distressed phone call his son had made to him just an hour after he'd departed the station. The phone call in which his son had hung up on him and immediately left the station afterward.

That call had been the beginning of the downward spiral into Carlisle's worst nightmare. Edward had refused his calls for the rest of the morning, and by early afternoon, Carlisle, exhausted from worry and lack of sleep, had thought it best to just give him a little time and space to simmer down until he was ready to talk again. He'd never heard anything about him getting hurt. He'd never heard anything about Emmett almost getting hurt, or even the fight that had broken out in the station where Edward had gotten injured even worse trying to break it up.

He'd never heard any of it until after the moment he'd feared he'd seen his oldest son for the last time—being wheeled off on a gurney, barely alive, and rushed off to the nearest hospital.

"I wasn't upset with you..."

"Right," Edward scoffed at his father's denial. "You were overcome with joy that I requested to be put on a different shift."

"Dammit, Edward! I wasn't upset with you!" Carlisle cried out, throwing his hands in the air. "Yes, I was upset, but not with you...never with you." His head shook as his mind reeled, still replaying that horrid day over and over again as if, somehow, by reliving it, he'd be able to change it. "I was pissed off at and disappointed in your brothers, not you. You've always been the perfect don't know how many times I've wished Jasper and Emmett could be more like you. Christ, son...the man you've grown into is the only thing I've ever done right as a parent. Can't you see that? See why I'd never have a reason to be disappointed in you?"

Carlisle's eyes came back into focus, drifting down toward his son as his weak voice caught in his throat. "You've never brought anything but joy to your mother's and my lives, Edward. I don't know what I would have done if we'd lost you...I don't think I would have survived it..."

Edward stared as his father for a long minute, unsure of what to make of his declarations. Why would he have wanted Emmett and Jasper to be more like him, unhappy and barely living as he'd been? And was it the Chief or his father that didn't know what he would have done if he'd lost his life? Because the Chief and his father were, and had always been, two drastically different people. And still, he couldn't help but question whether his survival had been a blessing or a curse.

"It might have been better if you had."

Edward's words had been barely audible, just a whisper upon a pained breath. Even so, Carlisle had heard them as clear as though he'd shouted them from a rooftop, and they caused his watery eyes to spill over, yet again.

"I'm sorry, son," he cried, grasping a firm hold of Edward's hand. "I'd give anything to trade places with you. I'd give my life to be able to go back to that night and have it be me that went into the building instead of you. I hate that you're in pain. I hate that you're afraid you'll never walk again. I hate that I can't take any of that away from you, because if there was a way, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

"I would, too."

On the verge of an erupting sob, the heartbroken hushed voice emanating from the doorway nearly went unheard by Edward. It was all too much for him to handle; seeing his father cry, hearing his sorrowful apologies and heartfelt praise—and then to hear Jasper, his brother who'd barely spoken a handful of words to him since he'd awoken, agree with his father. The trembling sob that he'd been fighting down forced its way through his clenched teeth as his eyes streamed burning tears down his face, each tear timed with one of his brother's footsteps as he neared the bed. A strangled groaning and tearful sigh whooshed its way from Edward's lungs as his hand gripped his father's in a fierce clench; more to keep a hold of himself and his chaotic emotions than to absorb any level of comfort his hand provided.

"I've been a poor excuse for a brother recently..." Jasper paused, looking down at his hand on the bedrail as he shook his head at himself. "More than recently. I think I've always been a horrible brother to you, and I'm sorry for that...but you need to know that I..."

Jasper had thought he'd finally known what to say to his brother after days of battling his inability to find the right words, but as he stood there beside him, he once again began to feel the insecurity and strain of believing his words were worthless. Worthless because, for all he'd ever shown his brother with his actions, his words would seem empty and insincere regardless of how honest they were. He'd never given Edward a reason to believe in him, and now that he needed him to, he doubted it was possible any longer.

"You just make it so hard, ya know? It's impossible to live up to Mom and Dad's expectations, or even the guys at the station, because you set the bar so damn high without even trying..."

It hadn't been his intention when he'd come to Edward's room, but his words had come out angrily, betraying the lifelong bitterness he'd harbored toward his older brother.

"Jasper, damnit. Just once in your life can't you..."

"I'm not done," he barked at his father for interrupting, narrowing his eyes at him before returning his gaze to his brother. "What I'm trying to say is that I wish I could be more like you, but I can't. I'm not, and will never be, even half the man you are. That night...I took one look at that blaze and knew I'd never take the chance in entering it. I'd never take the chance because no one in there was important enough for me to risk my own life that way...until you fell through that floor. Once that didn't matter anymore what happened to me, or anyone else for all I cared. The only thing that mattered was trying to get you the hell out of there. I've never been so goddamn terrified in my entire life...not for myself and never for anyone else. And, if I learned anything that night, it's that I'm not cut out for this."

Jasper worriedly looked up from his hands to meet his brother's eyes, wary of the degree of disappointment he'd see in them. Whatever disapproval he'd expected to see, he could find none. Nothing but acceptance in Edward's watery gaze. Acceptance and...pride?

However, his father was another story entirely.

"What do you mean 'You're not cut out for this'?" he asked incredulously. Carlisle couldn't understand it because Jasper had been fighting fires for six years, just one year longer than Emmett since he'd chosen not to attend the academy right after high school as both Edward and Emmett had.

"I mean that I can't do it anymore. I put in my resignation last week with Acting Chief Stillwell and cleared out my locker..."

"You what?" Carlisle growled, incensed at his son going behind his back.

"Back down, Chief," Edward cut in as Jasper began to bristle. He couldn't have been more proud of his brother for doing what was right for him for once. Granted he wasn't all that thrilled with the way Jasper had sneakily gone about it, but he was proud of him nonetheless. Edward had long since known firefighting hadn't been Jasper's desired career line, but more of a family tradition he'd felt obligated to uphold.

"I quit. Don't you get it? I can't ever go into another blaze after that night...not after what we went through to get him out and almost losing him. Every time I close my eyes I see my brother falling to his death, because that's what it looked like down there, Dad..."

Jasper's words trailed off as he choked up, flashes of that night and being lowered down into the pitch black basement attacking his mind. It had taken him what felt like an eternity to unbury Edward from the debris that had fallen over him, and when he had and he'd seen his brother's mangled and lifeless form...

"I thought he was dead," Jasper breathed, shaking the images away from his mind as he opened his eyes. He took one look at Edward and turned his head, clenching his teeth as he looked at his father and a tear rolled down the side of his face. "I can't do it again. I can't see him, or you, or Emmett that way ever again...I just...can't."

In that moment, even through his medicinal haze, mental and emotional turmoil, Edward couldn't deny that, on some level at least, his brother truly did care for him. Not only for him, but for the rest of their family as well. That much was evident with how the tragic night that had nearly claimed his life continued to haunt Jasper so obviously. Jasper's entire frame had began visibly shaking the moment his eyes had closed, and Edward had known instantly where his mind had taken him. He'd been stuck in that mental hell more times than he could care to count when they'd been too late to save someone; something he'd saved both of his brothers from ever having to witness firsthand by ordering them to perform duties away from the horrific images that would haunt him for months on end. They'd never been oblivious to the losses of life, as it would have been impossible to shield them from it entirely, but they'd never had to see death unsheathed the way he and everyone else had.

Seeing Jasper's unveiled anguish for the first time since the first few days after the incident, Carlisle's anger melted away instantly, leaving only understanding in its place. With a nod he wrapped his free arm around Jasper's shoulders and pulled him into his chest, letting his son grip him and shed the tears he'd needed to for weeks.

"It's okay. I get's okay," he repeated reassuringly, gripping the back of Jasper's neck as he sighed and closed his eyes. Giving Edward's hand a gentle squeeze, he uttered the only words of hope that were capable of keeping him upright in that moment...

"We'll get through this. All of this...together."

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