Midnight Sun (Twilight Continuation from Edward's POV)

By OliviaLJane

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 14: An Impasse

I captured Bella's bandaged hand before it had the chance to strip the oxygen tube taped under her nose. "No, you don't." I warned and replaced her hand back onto its pillow near her hip. Bella's breath stretched out in a moan.

At once I had an ear to her lips in time to hear my name feather against my cheek.

"Edward?" Bella's sealed eyelids squeezed fluttered open. Feeling all of my one hundred years, I had to stem the gulf of relief crashing through me that she'd awoken at last.

I propped my chin at the edge of Bella's pillow. Her head fell to the side where now, face to face, I greeted her with a smile. Bella's pupils dialed in and out as they adjusted to the fluorescents above her bed.

"Oh, Edward, I'm so sorry!" Bella broke out. She was in the hospital, and she was apologizing to me.

"Shhhh," My fingers lightly touched the top of her head. "Everything's all right now."

"What happened?" The gravelly texture in her voice was one of the effects from being out cold in an induced coma. Her long unconsciousness expedited the healing process. As her leg, head, and chest were furled in dressing, Bella had a great amount of recovering to do.

When it came to her hand, the emergency staff treated the bite site as a harmless flesh wound. Little did they know that the "minor scrape" was the most mortal injury. In between the nurses, doctors and various attendants that would rotate in and out of Bella's room, I'd lay my head on her chest. I wanted to confirm the beeps and clicks sounding from the monitors were telling truth, she was alive.

"I was almost too late. I could have been too late," I admitted.

"I was so stupid, Edward. I thought he had my mom."

If anyone should own stupidity, it was me. If not for Alice's clairvoyance — I didn't want to imagine the outcome. As for my own vision, during this entire crisis, I had been blinded by fear and desperation. I couldn't see the step ahead of me much less anticipate the enemy's overall strategy.

James' masterstroke was simply to wait for my mistakes to catch up with me. Even with the aid and resources of my family, the collaborative effort still failed to cover all the contingencies. "He tricked us all."

Bella squinted her way through the mental congestion that comes from protracted sleep, "I need to call Charlie and my mom."

"Alice called them. Renée is here — well, here in the hospital. She's getting something to eat right now."

"She's here?" Bella attempted to sit up. Her eyes pinched closed in obvious discomfort. I pressed her shoulders back onto the pillows.

"She'll be back soon," I assured her, "And you need to stay still."

"But what did you tell her?" Bella lifted her head in direct disregard to my orders. "Why did you tell her I'm here?"

"You fell down two flights of stairs and through a window." This was the cover story told to the hospital staff, Renée, and Charlie. "You have to admit, it could happen."

A sigh caused another wave of aches. Her eyes traveled down to her chest then to the bulge of her cast hidden under blankets.

"How bad am I?"

Plaster went from her thigh to her ankle. There were bandages on her head and woven around her torso like a medieval undergarment. Her arms mottled with purple and black blooms and scored with cuts were tied up with tubes and wires.

"You have a broken leg, four broken ribs, some cracks in your skull, bruises covering every inch of your skin, and you've lost a lot of blood. They gave you a few transfusions. I didn't like it — it made you smell all wrong for a while."

"That must have been a nice change for you."

I took a slow deep breath. Bella's scent purled over and around me like a following sea. "No, I like how you smell."

She looked at me questioningly, "How did you do it?"

I slipped my fingers under her abused hand careful of the wrapping and wirework. "I'm not sure."

"It was impossible… to stop," I was speaking to Bella's hand when the memory of her blood spilling into my throat excited venom to rise in my mouth.

"Impossible. But I did." My lips bent into a smile when I concluded, "I must love you."

There was a grin on Bella's face. "Don't I taste as good as I smell?"

"Even better — better than I'd imagined." My throat began to ache.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly. Bella was doing it again, blame shifting.

My vision glommed onto the ceiling. "Of all the things to apologize for."

"What should I apologize for?"

"For very nearly taking yourself away from me forever."

"I'm sorry." Bella's voice carried such remorse that now my chest hurt.

"I know why you did it." My mind reeled at her choice to face James alone. "It was still irrational, of course. You should have waited for me, you should have told me."

"You wouldn't have let me go."

"No." My tone hardened. "I wouldn't."

She winced. Her good hand clasped the bedrail.

"Bella, what's wrong?"

Instead of answering me she asked another question. The subject changing didn't downgrade my concern. "What happened to James?"

I decided to answer her, but in the next minute I was going to get the nurse to make sure Bella rested.

"After I pulled him off you, Emmett and Jasper took care of him." There was nothing left for it, but if I were to do it again, I would have finished him myself.

Bella's features were working to recall something. "I didn't see Emmett and Jasper there."

"They had to leave the room… there was a lot of blood."

"But you stayed."

"Yes, I stayed."

"And Alice, and Carlisle…,"

I smiled. "They love you, too, you know."

"Did Alice see the tape?"

"Yes." A spasm of rage froze my face. I remembered the sickening helplessness I felt when I viewed that tape.

It was Jasper who had recovered the camcorder that against odds survived my assault on the tracker. If there was a redeemable outcome to this near catastrophe, it was learning the mystery of Alice's conversion.

Bella's expression held astonishment. "She was always in the dark, that's why she didn't remember."

James had recognized Alice on the baseball field. Though he first discovered what would have been the jewel of his conquests more than half a century ago. Alice was human then and even more alluring to him than Bella.

But before James could claim his victim, another immortal he referred to as the "old one" rescued Alice from an asylum. The old one transformed Alice just in time. In revenge, James executed Alice's preserver and left her to fend the world of the undead alone.

"I know. She understands now."

I watched the video in horror at Bella's fatalistic valor to save her mother and the gratitude expressed when she realized that Renée wasn't James' captive, wasn't in danger after all but safe in Florida.

James had used one of Bella's childhood home videos to convince her that Renée had been taken. Bile curdled in my stomach when the tracker revealed he was taping his intended crime scene as a letter to me. "I would just like to rub it in, just a little bit," he taunted.

Bella's other hand, one of the few parts of her body that wasn't swaddled in bandages rose to touch me. An IV line impeded her movement.

"Ugh," Bella groaned. Her immediate suffering wiped the stored images from that dastardly tape.

I didn't panic, but my finger hovered over the button to alert the nurse. "What is it?"

Bella flinched away from the IV line inserted in her hand and looked up at the ceiling. "Needles," she whinnied.

"Afraid of a needle," I shook my head when her gaze landed on me, "Oh, a sadistic vampire, intent on torturing her to death, sure, no problem, she runs off to meet him. An IV, on the other hand…"

Bella's eyes found the ceiling again but in annoyance rather than in pain. "Why are you here?"

Oh… It didn't take a second to gather what she said, and that old ping of melancholy skittered though my chest.

Truth was I had no right to be here. If Bella was choosing well, finally choosing well, it was the best thing for her. I answered her with a spineless, "Do you want me to leave?"

"No!" Alarm heated Bella's face. "No, I meant, why does my mother think you're here? I need to have my story straight before she gets back."

"Oh!" I blended my reaction of relief and self-recrimination into something unreadable. "I came to Phoenix to talk some sense into you, to convince you to come back to Forks." My pitch was inflected with the same conviction when I presented this tale to Bella's mother days ago. "You agreed to see me, and you drove out to the hotel where I was staying with Carlisle and Alice — of course I was here with parental supervision," I added chastely, "but you tripped on the stairs on the way to my room and… Well, you know the rest. You don't need to remember any details; though, you have a good excuse to be a little muddled about the finer points."

Bella sucked on her lower lip thinking over my alibi. "There are a few flaws with that story. Like no broken windows."

"Not really." I said, "Alice had a little bit too much fun fabricating evidence. It's all been taken care of very convincingly — you could probably sue the hotel if you wanted to. You have nothing to worry about." This was a promise I hoped to keep. "Your only job now is to heal."

With the back of my hand I caressed Bella's face. Her heart monitor beeped and whizzed like a classic videogame.

She turned away from the equipment. "That's going to be embarrassing."

Laughing, I studied the re-stabilizing pattern on the screen when I arrived at a thought. "Hmm, I wonder…"

I slowly moved in on Bella. The light and sound show was reaching a climax right before my lips met hers.

Then dead silence.

The beeping and electronic display completely shut down. I sprung up with a start only relaxing when the machines rebooted and the bleeping resumed.

"It seems that I'm going to have to be even more careful with you than usual."

There was a saucy glint in Bella's eyes. "I was not finished kissing you." She had no consideration to being hamstrung in a state of semi-traction. "Don't make me come over there."

I felt it my duty to obey her wishes and leaned into her. When my smile relented to her lips, the lights, beeps, and clicks went berserk. Bella's unbandage hand grabbed the buttons of my shirt in twist. I was expecting a siege. Instead she kissed me with such tenderness that I would have promised her anything, given her everything.

My smile reappeared right in the middle of our kiss when I overheard Bella's mother. Renée was recreating the hospital scene from any TV melodrama that had a hospital scene. "I think I hear your mother."

"Don't leave me," she pleaded. With one hand still clawed to my shirt, her gauzy hand pawed my forearm.

Oh, Bella. "I won't." Then I said with a grin, "I'll take a nap."

I hopped out of my chair and back-glided onto the peacock colored recliner at the foot of Bella's bed without making the faux leather upholstery squeak. I pushed it all the way back and lowered my eyelids.

"Don't forget to breathe," Bella teased. At her direction, I manipulated my lungs to respire at believable intervals.

As Renée approached the room, her voice became more audible and more distressed as she spoke to one of the nurses. She poked her head through the door before stepping inside.

"Mom!" Bella's voice was no more than a rasp that her mother didn't hear her at first nor did she see that Bella was awake.

Renée's first glance was to me on the recliner. "He never leaves, does he?"

Bella spoke up. "Mom, I'm so glad to see you!" Love and concern filled her greeting.

Renée was quickly at Bella's side. My eyelids opened a quarter. I saw Renée stoop low to carefully hug her daughter. Renée's voice was shaky with tears. "Bella, I was so upset!"

Bella soothed her with maternal affection, "I'm sorry, Mom. But everything's fine now, it's okay."

"I'm just glad to finally see your eyes open." Renée scooched herself onto Bella's bed.

"How long have they been closed?"

"It's Friday, hon, you've been out for a while."

"Friday?"

"They had to keep you sedated for a while, honey — you've got a lot of injuries."

"I know." Bella blenched.

"You're lucky Dr. Cullen was there. He's such a nice man… very young, though. And he looks more like a model than a doctor…"

"You met Carlisle?"

"And Edward's sister Alice. She's a lovely girl."

"She is."

Renée glimpsed my sleeping form over her shoulder. "You didn't tell me you had such good friends in Forks."

Bella winced and grunted.

"What hurts?"

My eyes popped open and connected with Bella's just as her mother turned to her.

"It's fine," Bella was speaking to the both of us. It wasn't convincing. "I just have to remember not to move."

Bella then segued into one of her mother's favorite topics. "Where's Phil?"

"Florida — oh, Bella! You'll never guess! Just when we were about to leave, the best news!"

"Phil got signed."

"Yes! How did you guess! The Suns, can you believe it?"

"That's great, Mom."

"And you'll like Jacksonville so much," Renée was speaking excitedly. "I was a little bit worried when Phil started talking about Akron, what with the snow and everything, because you know how I hate the cold, but now Jacksonville! It's always sunny, and the humidity really isn't that bad. We found the cutest house, yellow, with white trim, and a porch just like in an old movie, and this huge oak tree, and it's just few minutes from the ocean, and you'll have your own bedroom — "

"Wait, Mom!" Bella interrupted. "What are you talking about? I'm not going to Florida. I live in Forks."

"But you don't have to anymore, silly." There was new life in Renée's voice as she revealed her plans. "Phil will be able to be around so much more… we've talked about it a lot, and what I'm going to do is trade off on the away games, half the time with you, half the time with him."

"Mom." Bella spoke with more authority. "I want to live in Forks. I'm already settled in at school, and I have a couple of girlfriends" — I perceived first Renée's then Bella's eyes on me.

Bella emphasized her point, "and Charlie needs me. He's just all alone up there, and he can't cook at all."

"You want to stay in Forks?" Renée's tone lowered as she glanced back at the recliner again. She didn't make any judgments about me, not yet. A heart-to-heart with her daughter was required first.

What was fascinating about Renée was that her thoughts, unlike Bella's and Charlie's, were far from hidden. They were straightforward and rarely unarticulated. There was no need to read her mind. "Why?" she said.

"I told you — school, Charlie — ouch!" Bella attempted to shrug her shoulders, which clearly hurt her to do so. Renée's hands hovered over Bella to see if she could make it better. But deciding she didn't want to make it any worse, she ended up with a hand to Bella's forehead.

"Bella, honey, you hate Forks."

"It's not so bad."

Renée returned her gaze to me then back to Bella. "Is it this boy?"

Awkward seconds ticked on. "He's part of it," Bella eventually confessed. "So, have you had a chance to talk with Edward?"

"Yes." With a sudden dissecting stare to me she addressed her daughter. "And I want to talk to you about that."

"About what?" Bella tried to sound guiltless only it just verified she was up to something.

Seeking a private word with her, Renée whispered. "I think that boy is love with you." Within moments of meeting me, Bella's mother knew.

And perhaps it was futile to debate the obvious Bella agreed. "I think so, too."

"And how do you feel about him?" The probing spike in Renée's inquiry fired my own curiosity.

Bella exhaled, a little more aware of her compromised ribcage. "I'm pretty crazy about him."

Crazy. Yup, that about summed up this whole certifiably insane state of affairs.

"Well, he seems very nice, and my goodness, he's incredibly good-looking, but you're so young, Bella…"

My uninterrupted bedside presence worried Renée. She didn't want Bella becoming too serious too soon. She didn't want her daughter to make her mistakes.

"I know that, Mom. Don't worry about it. It's just a crush."

Hmmm… crush was it?

For Renée this was enough of an explanation.

"That's right." Her mother released a breath that announced something was resolved. She checked the clock hung on the wall above my head.

"Do you need to go?" Just like that Bella provided her mother an out from another block of hours at the hospital.

Renée didn't exactly confirm that she needed to go but provided Bella with a reason why she probably should. "Phil's supposed to call in a little while… I didn't know you were going to wake up…"

"No problem, Mom."

That settled it for Renée. "I'll be back soon. I've been sleeping here, you know." Bella's mother reminded me of Emmett when Rosalie let him win something. It was kind of endearing.

Bella sighed, "Oh, Mom, you don't have to do that! You can sleep at home — I'll never notice."

"I was too nervous," Renée confided. "There's been some crime in the neighborhood, and I don't like being there alone."

"Crime?"

"Someone broke into the dance studio around the corner from the house and burned it to the ground — there's nothing left at all! And they left a stolen car right out front. Do you remember when you use to dance there, honey?"

My brothers had made quick work of purging any trace of the tracker while setting it up to look like the dance studio fell victim to joy-riding hooligans. Not only did my siblings set the scene at the studio and at our hotel, but they sanitized Renée's home of the tracker's intrusion there as well.

"I remember." Once more Bella cringed. This was getting out of hand. That made more than a half-dozen visible episodes of suffering and who knows how many others she hid. There were painkillers in Bella's future whether she wanted them or not.

Concerned, Renée offered, "I can stay, baby, if you need me."

"No, Mom, I'll be fine. Edward will be with me." That made me smile inside. If Bella wanted me, I wanted to take care of her.

Renée apparently sensed my designs. "I'll be back tonight," shifting a look in my direction.

"I love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, Bella. Try to be more careful when you walk, honey, I don't want to lose you." Risking my performance, that made me smile outside.

Bella's nurse breezed in for her hourly check-up. Renée then pecked Bella on the forehead, held her mummified hand, and backed out the door with a relieved grin.

The nurse was reviewing the printout from Bella's heart monitor. "Are you feeling anxious, honey? Your heart rate got a little high there."

"I'm fine."

Right. Not so fast, Miss Swan.

"I'll tell your RN that you're awake. She'll be in to see you in a minute."

Once the door closed, I was out of the recliner and took my seat beside Bella.

She raised an eyebrow at me. "You stole a car?"

Actually, Jasper was the one guilty of grand thievery this time, but there was my reputation to uphold. "It was a good car, very fast." I grinned.

"How was your nap?"

With a measuring gaze, I said, "Interesting."

"What?"

"I'm surprised. I thought Florida… and your mother… well, I thought that's what you would want."

"But you'd be stuck inside all day in Florida. You'd only be able to come out at night, just like a real vampire."

But I was a real vampire, which was the center of my contention. After she healed and didn't need me anymore, arrangements must be made for her future. It was time to be deadly serious. "I would stay in Forks, Bella. Or somewhere like it." My body was mounting an insurrection against what I was saying. "Someplace where I couldn't hurt you anymore."

She looked at me like someone who was about to be pushed off a cliff. The RN entered the room then while the machines reported Bella's respiration and heart rate accelerating in an arhythmical sequence.

The nurse gently flicked her IV line. "Time for more pain meds, sweetheart?"

"No, no," I could hear the bare emotion that Bella attempted to shield. "I don't need anything."

"No need to be brave, honey. It's better if you don't get too stressed out; you need to rest."

Bella didn't respond.

"Okay," the nurse said with a sigh. "Hit the call button when you're ready." As if she knew I was the cause of Bella's distress, she doled me out a glare that would make me believe she took lessons from Rosalie. Then she wedged in one more evaluating glance at the monitors before repairing to the nurses' station leaving Bella and me alone again.

I collected Bella's face between my hands. "Shhh, Bella, calm down." A scrim of tears formed over her eyes.

"Don't leave me." Those tears began to fall freely.

"I won't," I promised. "Now relax before I call the nurse back to sedate you."

Her heart continued to pulse through her chest.

"Bella." My fingers brushed hot tears from her cheeks. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be right here as long as you need me."

"Do you swear you won't leave me?" Bella muttered between broken sobs.

I refreshed my hold, my nose a fractional width apart from hers. "I swear."

If dazzling was ever in order, it was now. My eyes bolted onto Bella's pupils with my breathing pacing a tempo to slow her breathing. "Better?" I removed my hands from her.

She sniffled. "Yes."

Hidden inside a grumble I said that she couldn't afford another overreaction.

"Why did you say that?" There were deepening fissures in Bella's voice. My dazzling skills really needed work. "Are you tired of having to save me all the time? Do you want me to go away?"

"No, I don't want to be without you, Bella, of course not. Be rational. And I have no problem with saving you either — if it weren't for the fact that I was the one putting you in danger… that I'm the reason that you're here."

"Yes, you are the reason," she husked. "The reason I'm here — alive."

"Barely." I looked at her hand, chest, and leg. "Covered in gauze and plaster and hardly able to move."

"I wasn't referring to my most recent near-death experience," Bella said emphatically. "I was thinking of the others — you can take your pick. If it weren't for you, I would be rotting away in the Forks cemetery."

I chilled at her words.

"That's not the worst part, though." I would forever be haunted by the blood, the fractured bones, the contusions, and the crescent wound on her hand. "Not seeing you there on the floor… crumpled and broken." Something cold suddenly lodged in my throat. I struggled to speak around it. "Not thinking I was too late. Not even hearing you scream in pain — all those unbearable memories that I'll carry with me for the rest of eternity. No, the very worst was feeling… knowing that I couldn't stop. Believing that I was going to kill you myself."

"But you didn't."

"I could have. So easily."

"Promise me," Bella pleaded. It was scarcely traceable even for my ears.

I pretended I didn't know what she was asking me for. "What?"

"You know what." I was making her mad, but she was utterly infuriating. She stared at me, angling her head to reassert her challenge. And curse it all, I would succumb, but not without turning up the intensity of my glare.

"I don't seem to be strong enough to stay away from you, so I suppose that you'll get your way… whether it kills you or not." The frustration at my weaknesses was scaling a higher strata.

"Good." A look of relief settled on Bella's face. But I made sure no official deal was struck.

She went on, "You told me how you stopped… now I want to know why."

"Why?" This time I truly didn't understand what she was asking.

"Why you did it. Why didn't you just let the venom spread? By now I would be just like you."

How in the world…? How did she...?

Alice. Of course.

DAMN IT.

"I'll be the first to admit that I have no experience with relationships," Bella continued ignoring the fact that I was ready to go through a wall. "But it just seems logical… a man and woman have to be somewhat equal… as in, one of them can't always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally."

I crossed my arms on her bed and placed my chin onto them to talk to Bella sensibly.

"You have saved me." How could she not see that this whole thing was lopsided in my favor?

"I can't always be Lois Lane," Bella persisted, "I want to be Superman, too."

My eyes found enormous interest in the seam of Bella's pillowcase. "You don't know what you're asking."

"I think I do."

"Bella, you don't know. I've had almost ninety years to think about this, and I'm still not sure."

"Do you wish that Carlisle hadn't saved you?"

"No, I don't wish that." I made myself return Bella's gaze. "But my life was over. I wasn't giving anything up."

"You are my life. You're the only thing it would hurt me to lose."

Bella's heart was in her eyes. Her heart that I had no business meddling with.

I knew all too well conversions borne out of hunger, disease, grief, violence, misfortune, loneliness, and fear. But love? No. Love would have no part in transforming Bella and neither would I.

With a decisiveness that would not waver, I told her in no uncertain terms, "I can't do it, Bella. I won't do that to you."

"Why not?" Bella's words filed off with hurt. "Don't tell me it's too hard! After today, or I guess it was a few days ago… anyway, after that, it should be nothing."

I glowered at her. "And the pain?"

"That's my problem." The little color in her cheeks drained. "I can handle it."

"It's possible to take bravery to the point where it becomes insanity."

"It's not an issue. Three days. Big deal."

Evidently, Alice's instruction was quite thorough, as Bella understood with great detail the dynamics of vampire conversion. I was incensed, but I collected my remaining restraint to finish this conversation.

"Charlie?" I contended, "Renée?"

"Look, that's not an issue either." Bella's poor reply was shored up with sounder reasoning. "Renée has always made the choices that work for her — she'd want me to do the same. And Charlie's resilient, he's used to being on his own. I can't take care of them forever. I have my own life to live."

"Exactly." I could feel my growing frustration icing my skin. "And I won't end it for you."

"If you're waiting for me to be on my deathbed, I've got news for you! I was just there!"

"You're going to recover." I would make certain she would at least be physically indemnified.

Bella helped herself to what looked like a cleansing breath and then fixed me with a sharp gaze. I returned it.

"No," she labored, "I'm not."

"Of course you are. You may have a scar or two…" or seventeen.

"You're wrong," she kept at it, "I'm going to die."

"Really, Bella." I didn't know how to react to this. "You'll be out of her in a few days. Two weeks at most."

She skewered me with a long penetrating stare. "I may not die now… but I'm going to die sometime. Every minute of the day, I get closer. And I'm going to get old."

I shut my eyes. It was all too likely that I was going to implode in exasperation. "That's how it's supposed to happen. How it should happen. How it would have happened if I didn't exist — and shouldn't exist."

Bella scoffed, "That's stupid. That's like going to someone who's just won the lottery, taking their money, and saying, 'Look, let's just go back to how things should be. It's better that way.' And I'm not buying it."

My eyelids flipped open. "I'm hardly a lottery prize."

"That's right. You're much better."

My eyes were about to roll out of their sockets. "Bella, we're not having this discussion anymore. I refuse to damn you to an eternity of night and that's the end of it."

"If you think that's the end, then you don't know me very well." She was defiant. "You're not the only vampire I know."

With her threat, my patience was entirely devoid of any more elasticity. "Alice wouldn't dare."

That feeling you get when you made the wrong move suddenly came over me. There was something I said or did or given up. Because somehow Bella pieced the full puzzle together.

"Alice already saw it, didn't she?" Her features widened. "That's why the things she says upset you. She knows I'm going to be like you… someday."

For the love of all that is precious and holy! When did this conversation become so horribly misdirected?

"She's wrong. She also saw you dead, but that didn't happen, either." Geez, good one, Edward.

Then Bella's comeback cut me to the quick. "You'll never catch me betting against Alice."

I was speechless. And after throwing back in my face what I had once spoken, she didn't have another word to say. We just glared at each other over the loud silence.

"So where does that leave us?"

I laughed my aggravation. "I believe it's called an impasse."

Bella expelled a full breath. "Ouch."

At another display of pain, I instantly adopted a different tact. "How are you feeling?" My vision expanded to the call button beside her bed.

"I'm fine."

Martyrs are liars when it comes to their own welfare.

"I don't believe you."

"I'm not going back to sleep."

"You need rest. All this arguing isn't good for you."

"So give in," she said since she wasn't going to.

"Nice try." And I pressed the button.

"No!"

I paid Bella's protest no mind.

"Yes?" A magnified voice traveled through the wall-speaker.

"I think we're ready for more pain medication."

"I'll send in the nurse." The voice lazed off.

Bella announced, "I won't take it."

I looked to the liquid-filled bags swaying slightly from dint of our last exchange. "I don't think they're going to ask you to swallow anything."

Bella's heart rate sped. I didn't need the machines to tell me it was going off the charts.

On an exhale I reiterated, "Bella, you're in pain. You need to relax so you can heal. Why are you being so difficult? They're not going to put anymore needles in you now."

"I'm not afraid of the needles," she said. "I'm afraid to close my eyes."

I scooped her cheeks into my palms again. "I told you I'm not going anywhere. Don't be afraid. As long as it makes you happy, I'll be here."

With my hands still molded around her face, that thing in my throat tugged.

Bella locked my gaze, "You're talking about forever, you know."

Big ideas were shaping in her eyes. She was all eyes, chocolate brown eyes.

I tried to minimize the electric fields they were generating. "Oh, you'll get over it — it's just a crush."

Bella shook her head free from my touch but reinforced her stare. "I was shocked when Renée swallowed that one. I know you know better."

I did know better. "That's the beautiful thing about being human." That frigid obstruction in my throat was making it hard to speak. "Things change."

Her eyes were flamethrowers. "Don't hold your breath."

Then the nurse armed with a syringe walked in on me laughing my head off. I loved it when Bella put me in my place.

"Excuse me."

I was in the way of the IV line; so, I picked myself up and spaced myself at the other side of the room.

"Here you go, honey." The nurse emptied the syringe, and in dripped a dosage of narcotics. "You'll feel better now."

The drugs had a fast effect. Bella sleepily replied, "Thanks."

"That ought to do it." The nurse noted after we both observed Bella's heavily lidded eyes close. She next scuttled out the door to finish her rounds.

I was across the room and at Bella's bedside. Her cheeks still moist with tears and hot from our earlier debate cooled beneath my fingers.

"Stay." It was more a sound than an actual word.

"I will," I told her, but like Bella I was having trouble talking. "Like I said, as long as it makes you happy… as long as it's what's best for you."

"'S not the same thing," she muttered in a pharmaceutical fog.

"Don't worry about that now, Bella. You can argue with me when you wake up."

She was grinning, but the muscles in her face weren't cooperating. "Kay."

My mouth moved against her ear. "I love you."

"Me, too." Her drowsy speech was growing increasingly unintelligible.

"I know." I cleared my throat with a snicker.

Bella then called forth enough energy to move her head like she was seeking something or someone. It took me a slow second to figure out what she wanted.

Then lowering myself into the little space between us, my lips topped her lips. And with the strength she had remaining, Bella returned my kiss.

It was mind-blowingly sensuous yet impossibly sweet. Whatever was in my throat began to melt and expand.

"Thanks," she breathed.

"Anytime." I choked out despite being vocally debilitated. It was then that I realized the frozen lump in my throat was my own damn heart.

It was suddenly quiet aside for the rhythm of the machines. I believed Bella to be asleep, but she parted her mouth and rolled out my name one last time. "Edward?"

"Yes?" I answered just a notch above a whisper.

Bella sighed, "I'm betting on Alice." Although her voice was weak from sedation, it was warm and irreverent, and heartbreakingly hopeful.

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