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Seducing Ms Swan

Summary:
AU Post-New Moon. Bella never jumped, Alice never had her vision and Edward never came back. Six years later, Bella is struggling to make a new life for herself as a teacher in Rochester, New York. How will she fare when a very familiar student crops up in her classroom? Will she be able to remain professional, or will old ties get in the way? Edward is convinced that getting Bella back is just a matter of 'persuasion', but Bella isn't prepared to be that cooperative. What's more, she's in the grip of a dark secret which threatens to prevent her from loving ever again. Bella Swan is slipping under...


Notes:
Thankyou to twike for beta work. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


12. Lucky

Rating 3.7/5   Word Count 8563   Review this Chapter

I'll do whatever it takes

To turn this around

I know what's at stake, I know that I've let you down

And if you give me a chance

Believe that I can change

I'll keep us together, whatever it takes

EPOV

Alice drove like a demon; that much was certain. The twenty minutes it should have taken to reach Strong Memorial Hospital- which I had mentally halved when calculating in Alice’s usual driving speed- soon became eight and a half minutes, and then shrunk down again to a mere seven and three quarters as Alice pushed the aging ambulance to limits I never would have believed possible. The paramedics still hadn’t noticed that she was not one of them- dressed head to toe in overalls as she was- and I thanked God for it; no one could match her speed at the wheel.

Up ahead I could see the road flashing past through the windshield as snow covered trees thinned out to be replaced by more and more densely packed buildings, the relative hush of the suburbs merging in to the blaring, jarring sounds of the city.

But all I really cared about was what was happening inside the ambulance. All I really cared about was Bella.

I was crouching by her stretcher with my hand clasped tightly around her own, as the paramedics fussed around us, checking and rechecking Bella’s oxygen mask and administering pain killers. We all knew that they were just finding things to do; trying to appear useful and on-task, while really just waiting anxiously to arrive at the hospital so that the real work could begin.

They were soon granted their wish, as the ambulance veered around the corner into the hospital complex and everything suddenly went into overdrive.

Alice slammed her feet on the brakes, causing the ambulance to come to a deafening, screeching halt outside the Trauma Unit, the squeal of the wheels against the ice drowning out even the blaring of the sirens. In the time it took for me to throw open the ambulance doors, the Mercedes had pulled up alongside us, its doors bursting open as the rest of the family leapt out of the car.

The paramedics and I carefully unloaded Bella’s stretcher as Alice, still dressed head to toe in overalls, sprinted inside the hospital to raise the alarm. Meanwhile, Carlisle took his place leading the stretcher and began shouting, pushing it hurriedly along, carrying on where he had left off back at the crash site, taking total control of the situation as he ordered the hospital staff in to action. Some of Carlisle’s colleagues were seemingly taken aback by the way Dr. Cullen had burst in to the hospital pushing a young woman on a stretcher with his entire family in tow at eight thirty in the evening on his day off, but they soon recovered from the shock and swung into action, surrounding Bella’s stretcher as Carlisle and I pushed it down the hallway as fast as human constraints would allow. Flanked by surgeons, nurses and general hangers-on, we all but flew through the hospital and into the Intensive Care Unit.

Entering the operating room was like being plunged into another world, one populated by strange, green scrub clad creatures and bulky, frightening looking machines which beeped and whirred ominously from their stainless steel stands.

The second we were through the doors, Bella’s stretcher was wrenched from beneath my hands and I was pushed out of the way as several surgeons and their assistants rushed forwards, shrugging on scrubs as they went. I suddenly realized what would happen if somebody noticed me. The panic and confusion surrounding Bella’s shock arrival and degenerative physical state had so far prevented any humans from realizing that I had gained access into the room- an area which was strictly out of bounds to the public- but it could surely only be so long before I was spotted and ordered away. The fact that I was Carlisle Cullen’s son was irrelevant; I had no authorization to be in this part of the hospital.

I had to think fast.

Using the general level of distraction in the room to my advantage, I darted with vampire speed towards the corner, grabbed a set of scrubs from the wall and dragged them over my head. Within seconds, I had effectively made myself unidentifiable to anyone apart from Carlisle. My intention was, of course, to pass myself off as one of the doctors and so be able to stay in the room and ensure Bella was adequately taken care of; perhaps even perform some of her surgery myself. I couldn’t bring myself to go, leaving her with these strangers touching her, cutting her open, causing her pain…

I baulked at that idea and hastened forward, desperate to get involved. There was an instinctive impulse running through me; a need to help, not just offer emotional support but to actually physically do something. I couldn’t bear to watch this.

I had barely reached Bella however, when an overalled figure blocked my path. I didn’t need to meet his eyes to know who it was.

“Get out of the way!” I tried to dart to the left, but again found myself obstructed.

“Edward.” Carlisle’s tone was firm, and I instantly knew what was coming.

“Let me through,” I ordered him, ignoring his words. Over Carlisle’s shoulder I could see the humans preparing to move Bella from her stretcher to the operating table. I instinctively tried to move towards them, but Carlisle grabbed my shoulder, holding me back with surprising strength. I swore at him. “What are you doing?! Let go of me!”

No, Edward. Carlisle’s thoughts were calm and soothing. He seemed totally unfazed by my hostility.

“What do you mean, ‘no’?! I want to help-”

Don’t be ridiculous.

“Ridiculous? Who’s being ridiculous?!” I gaped at him. Ridiculous?! “This is Bellawe’re talking about!”

Exactly, he thought. You can’t possibly expect me to let you perform surgery on her- you aren’t in a fit state to treat anyone, let alone your own mate. There’s going to be blood; lots of it. We have to remove the metal from her arm, and to do that the area around the wound will have to be opened up, the blood vessels clamped and then the veins and arteries sewn back togeth-

“I have been to medical school, father,” I snarled, a tad too loudly. A couple of heads flickered in our direction, before snapping back to face Bella as a machine let out a loud series of urgent beeps. Scared, I tried make towards the bed again but Carlisle just pulled me even further from the group, whispering out loud to emphasise his words.

“I know you’ve been to medical school, but that doesn’t change a thing. Your practical knowledge is limited at best and, as you never completed a residency, you have very little experience in emergency surgery. Now is not a time to test your skills or self control by subjecting yourself to Bella’s fresh, flowing blood!”

“She was bleeding in the ambulance!” I protested, ignoring what he had said about my experience. It was true, but I didn’t want to admit it.

“Yes, but that was for a short amount of time and from a fixed number of wounds,” Carlisle reasoned. “In order to treat Bella we are going to have to make several more incisions and give her blood transfusions.”

I faltered, trying to find a flaw in the argument.

Please, Edward,” Carlisle implored me, “The longer we argue about this, the worse her chances become. I love both you and Bella too much to allow you to put yourself through the trauma of trying to treat her. Please, just do as I say and go and join the others in the waiting room.”

“But…” My eyes flickered from Bella, sprawled on the cold operating table, surrounded by humans as she was given a blood transfusion. Deep down, I knew that Carlisle was right, but I could hardly bare to leave Bella. That said, every moment that I stood here arguing I was preventing Carlisle from treating her, and he was obviously the absolute best person for the job. I trusted Carlisle with Bella’s life, of course I did.

“Okay,” I muttered finally, exhaling in a long ‘whoosh’ of breath.

Thank God, Carlisle thought and I could see the relief wash through him. He clapped me briefly on the shoulder, before saying in a voice no louder than usual speaking volume: “Alice.”

The doors burst open, and Alice was at my elbow. She must have been hovering right outside the doors to the room. “Take Edward away, please.” Carlisle ordered, meeting my eyes in an intent gaze one more time. I’m proud of you, son. Then, clearly unwilling to spend any more time away from Bella, he turned on his heel and moved swiftly to her side, the humans parting like the Red Sea to let him through.

I stayed still, watching for a few moments, until I felt something touch my wrist. It was Alice. Come on, Edward, she thought took hold of my hand and pulled me towards the door. After one last pained glance at Bella- she was almost blocked from view now- I turned and reluctantly followed Alice towards the doors, out of the room and down the corridor.

I had barely moved ten feet when I began to have regrets, but Alice persuaded me on, all the while speaking with the soothing, reassuring tones one might adopt when trying to coax a suicidal person down from the rooftop of a twenty-four storey building.

By the time we reached the waiting room, I had threatened to go back three times, shouted at Alice twice and come to a complete unexplained halt more often than I cared to count. As we came to the door, I stopped again. “Bella,” was all I said, stupidly. Call it a delayed reaction, but the enormity of everything that had just happened was beginning to sink in. I felt myself turning blindly around. “I can’t leave her,” I muttered to Alice in a hoarse voice, unrecognizable from my own.

“Edward,” Alice said firmly, tugging my arm with renewed force. “We’ve been through this.” Bella’s with Carlisle; she’s in more than capable hands. There’s nothing you can do now. Please come inside.

I closed my eyes, as if trying to block out the rationality of her thoughts. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work.

You need to take a step back, slow down and calm yourself down. She continued. You walked through FIREearlier, remember that? Fire! And you haven’t stopped since. So please, just come in so you can calm down..

Alice didn’t wait for an answer, but opened the door into the waiting room and pushed me through in front of her. I complied with her movements, if only because I felt too mentally exhausted to cope with any more arguing.

Inside were the rest of my family and Tanya. Even without Jasper’s power it was easy to detect their unrest; the hospital chairs sat forgotten as they stood in various groups around the room, speaking quickly in worried, hushed tones. As Alice and I entered everybody fell silent, turning to us with looks that were full of apprehension.

“What’s going o-” Emmett began, but cut off abruptly when he was elbowed sharply in the ribs by Rosalie. She was surveying my expression with a scrutinising air and clearly did not think I was up to answering questions. For once, I couldn’t have been more thankful. My eyes cast downwards; I walked slowly to the window, not speaking to anyone. As I gazed out into dark, their inquisitive and anxious thoughts swirled around my mind, mirroring the snow outside.

Poor Edward-Oh God, he’s cracking up again-I feel so helpless-Please let Bella be okay…

I leaned forwards, closing my eyes as I pressed my cheek against the cool window pane. I tried to focus on memories of Bella in happier times in order to block out the buzz of other peoples’ thoughts. Random images flickered forwards.

Bella swathed in sumptuous satin as I helped her out of the car on prom night, the ugly cast on her leg at a total juxtaposition to her beauty; us sitting together on the piano bench back at the house in Forks, tears rolling from the corners of her eyes as I played her lullaby; running through the forest with Bella on my back…

Some time later, I heard Emmett whisper, apparently to no one in particular: “Should we try and talk to him?” Nobody answered. I was glad; conversation would just get in the way of my daydreams.

… Bella laughing in the cafeteria at one of Emmett’s jokes, totally unaware of her own exquisiteness as I watched, mesmerized; kissing her for the first time; lying on her bed; her watching me uproot trees, sparkle in the sunlight and run rings around our meadow as I tried to prove how much of a monster I was…

“I’m going to see if there’s any news,” Esme murmured, much later into the night. I could hear her thoughts focus on me, then, as if she was waiting for me to ask to be let out too. I knew it was pointless; if there was news then Carlisle would come and find us. I buried myself back in my memories, where I found that darker recollections were beginning to creep into my mind, tainting thoughts which had originally been happy.

…the first Biology lesson, where I was convinced that Bella was both demon and angel sent to taunt me; the second lesson, when I found myself electrocuted by her mere touch; all the ones that followed, when I tried to ignore her but just made myself more and more miserable; the raging, uncontrollable jealousy I felt whenever Newton so much as looked at her; playing baseball; Bella in the snow; Tyler’s[TW2] van careening unstoppably towards her across the ice…

More hours must have passed, because the sky was beginning to lighten; I could faintly detect a hint of pink far off on the horizon. Why was Bella’s surgery taking so long? The only answers I could produce to such a question were too horrible to contemplate, so in true self-delusionary fashion I ignored them, pushing them back into the nether regions of my mind and focusing on the safety of dreams once again.

the way Bella smelt in the rain; the way she looked at twilight; the first time I ever caught sight of her across the cafeteria; watching her sleep, captivated by the sound of her beating heart; carrying her out to the nurse’s office after blood-typing; introducing her to my family for the very first time; buckling her up in Emmett’s jeep the night we ran from James; the betrayal and devastation in her eyes as I told her I didn’t love her; Bella at my house; Bella in the woods; Bella in her garden; Bella; Bella; Bella…

*~*~*

It was early morning by the time I next surfaced. Dawn had just broken and pale slithers of sunlight were trickling through the window, causing faint shimmers to bounce off of my skin reflect onto the surrounding walls.

The composition of the people in the room had changed since before. Tanya had gone as, I realized after a few moments, had Esme. Rosalie was sitting by the door, her eyes staring unseeingly at the closest bit of wall. Emmett sat by her side, hunching slightly as he tried to fit his large frame into one of the uncomfortable blue plastic chairs that was to be found in waiting rooms the world over. His expression was that of passive distance, and one glance at his mind told me that he was focusing all his efforts on counting the floor tiles. I could only assume that the mundanity of the activity served as a type of escape from the frustrations and stress of the past twenty-four hours.

Alice and Jasper were sitting together on a low, battered couch closer to me and the window. Alice’s eyes were closed, her head lying hopelessly on Jasper’s lap. Jasper’s body was stiff, but apart from that there was no visible indication that he was stressed or worried. He was toying gently with Alice’s hair, his hand caressing the black locks slowly and deliberately. I have to admit that the fact he was able to keep his bloodlust under total control in a hospital was shocking to me; had I not been so distracted over the last few hours I would have commented on it.

Unfortunately, I was not in a suitable state to congratulate my brother on his new found self-restraint. Now that I had ‘awoken’ from my contemplative trance (which, now I thought of it, had almost certainly been of Jasper’s creation) I was in total emotional turmoil.

I jumped to my feet and let out a low exclamation that was half way between a curse and a cry. I all but flew to the door, only to find that it was locked. I really did swear then. Whipping around, I glared at my siblings.

“What the fuck?” I growled, causing Jasper to send a hasty wave of calm around the room, but I fought it. “Why is the door locked?!” I demanded, wrenching it. I heard the metal buckle slightly as the door began to give way under my strength. It was fireproof and therefore reinforced; otherwise I would have been through in seconds. I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that nobody had answered my question in words, but they didn’t need to- it was clear in their minds. They’d locked the door to stop me getting out and running to find Bella while she was still in surgery. Enraged, I swore at them all again and battered the door again, causing it to let out a deafening CRUNCH.

“Um,” Jasper said, eyeing the door apprehensively, “you probably shouldn’t do that.”

The language I used on him then would have made my mother turn in her grave. Even Emmett seemed slightly shocked. With one final WHAM, I hit the door, my fist punching a clean hole through it, before making the entire thing go crashing to the floor.

“Edward!” Rosalie and Alice cried in unison in admonishing, slightly scandalized tones.

“Good one,” Emmett muttered sarcastically. “Now we have to come up with a cover-story for the door too.” I ignored him, darting out in to the corridor…where I came to a dead stop before Carlisle.

Our eyes met, gazes collided- and as we stood just over a foot away from each other Carlisle’s thoughts were relayed over to me in a series of images and words at lightning speed.

Bella lying on the operating table, receiving a blood transfusion- I had to battle the venom rising in my throat at the sight of her open veins, despite the fact that I was just seeing them through Carlisle’s memories. He had clearly been right beforehand; even second-hand it was hard to confront her blood. The memories continued. Carlisle was surrounded by medical staff, all of whom were watching breathlessly as he leaned over Bella’s damaged arm. The shard of metal was lodged in a long gash, which was pumping out blood at top speed. Carlisle moved his hand with great care, making a new incision close by so that he could safely remove the metal.

I shook my head suddenly, banishing the recollections. I could dwell on the specifics of Bella’s surgery later; all I cared about in the here and now was whether or not she was okay.

“Just tell me how she is,” I ordered, unable to cope with the suspense any longer. I watched his face breathlessly, my throat tight.

And then, Carlisle’s face cracked in to a weary, but joyful smile.

“She’s going to be fine.” At his words, my siblings all let out exclamations of relief, but I could not accept his statement so easily.

“H-honestly?” I continued, croakily. I could hardly believe it; I had to make absolutely sure. “She isn’t going to die?”

“No,” Carlisle smiled, “she isn’t going to die.”

Relief washed over me in waves and my legs shook slightly as I felt myself almost overcome by emotion. I closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths to try and steady myself. I felt my family converge around me, their thoughts jubilant, but I held up my hands to resist them. I couldn’t process their happiness and support when I had barely even registered what had happened.

Bella isn’t going to die, I thought, she’s going to be fine.

She isn’t going to die.

Unless she becomes a vampire.

The last thought came to my mind completely unbidden, startling me. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought Alice had put it there. It shocked me that I was now thinking in that way.

And yet... it shouldn’t have. I had already made up my mind on the subject of Bella’s change; I had even told Jasper my intentions two nights ago after the Parents’ Evening, when we had followed Bella back to her house. I had thought that it was the best plan of action; the most logical one.

But then why was I now so unsure? What had changed, to make me lose all my convictions? Was it that I now fully understood how I had broken Bella’s heart? Perhaps it was because now I knew deep down, that her becoming a vampire would not make her happy. We both had a long road to travel before that could happen and turning her would not make it any shorter or easier. I had to heal her heart before I could take away its beat.

I suddenly became aware that I still hadn’t responded to Carlisle’s assurance. I opened my eyes. I could dwell on the future at a later date; all that was important right now was Bella healing.

“I want to see her,” I said to Carlisle quietly.
“Of course,” he nodded, but I thought I detected some of the contentment in his eyes slip away at my sombre expression. I tried to pull myself together for his benefit, and cracked a watery smile.

“Thank you, Carlisle. Thank you for taking care of her.” He inclined his head in silent acquiescence, before taking me in to a strong embrace. I suddenly felt a lot younger than my 112 years; like a teenage son being comforted by his father, as opposed to a vampire by his maker.

After Carlisle released me, he turned silently to the door and I followed, pausing briefly only to throw a glance of wordless thanks to the others.

*~*~*

Not long afterwards, I found myself following Carlisle down a long hospital corridor and then following suit as he came to a halt outside a blue door.

We’re here, he thought, turning his amber eyes watchfully upon me. I stood very still, frozen to the spot, my eyes staring at the blue wood of the door. What was this feeling I was experiencing? It seemed so out of place, so unusual. Then I realized- it was fear. I was scared of the room and what it might hold.

That was a shock in itself because, unlike most people, I am not usually scared of hospitals. When I was a med student I always found it difficult to understand why so many of the patients and their relatives that I dealt with were afraid. To me, they are just buildings like any other- walls, floors, doors and ceiling. I suppose that I have more reason to fear hospitals than most- after all, they have been the setting for some of the worst moments of my life- but I find it hard to attach hatred to long corridors and a team of people whose sole motivation is saving lives.

Despite all this, however, I suddenly found myself unable to enter Bella’s room. Even though Carlisle had said everything was going to be okay, I couldn’t quite believe it.

Carlisle must have detected this, as he opened the door for me, before putting a hand on my shoulder and gently guiding me into the room.

And there was Bella. She was lying on a hospital bed in the middle of the room, her body connected up to an assortment of machines and monitors by wires and tubes which crisscrossed and coiled across each other like something out of a bad science fiction film.

I crossed to Bella’s side in seconds, kneeling down and clasping her hand in my own. “Bella,” I whispered her name, before brining my free hand up to brush a stray lock of hair away from her closed eyes. Her skin was clammy to touch and as I made contact with her face she turned restlessly in her sleep, her breathing hastened and laboured. I let go of her immediately, frightened by the way the beeps from the machine monitoring Bella’s heart-rate had suddenly sped up. Sure enough, it calmed once I moved my hand.

I watched her for a moment or two, before straightening up and turning to Carlisle. Now I was ready for details.

“Tell me everything,” I told him, looking back to Bella. “How badly was she hurt?”

Carlisle nodded his head and walked forwards, coming to stand beside me at Bella’s bedside.

“Three of Bella’s ribs were broken and her left shoulder was dislocated when the motorbike fell on top of her,” he said quietly. “She sustained some deep lacerations to her arm when the truck exploded, which meant that she lost an inordinate amount of blood; we had to give her several transfusions. She also has a few second degree burns and there’s some bruising across her body.”

I winced at the severity of Bella’s injuries. When Carlisle had said she was going to be fine, I hadn’t expected it to be with so many exceptions.

“Has she been unconscious all this time?” I asked.

Carlisle shook his head, “she regained consciousness once- about twenty minutes after arriving in the operating room, but she was put under general anaesthetic almost immediately afterwards so that we could begin surgery.”

“And she hasn’t opened her eyes since?” I asked, a note of alarm creeping into my voice.

“No, Edward, but that’s nothing to worry about- it’s to be expected. Bella’s been through an awful lot; her body needs to rest. After that, she should make a full recovery.” He paused, and then continued. “I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but Bella really was unbelievably lucky.”

I turned to face Carlisle, outraged. “Lucky?! You call this lucky?” I gestured at Bella’s comatose form on the bed. “Broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, a partially destroyed arm, burns and bruises across her body and you think Bella was lucky?!”

“Yes I do, because it could have been so much worse,” Carlisle replied. And then, unspoken: she could have died.

I winced and nodded curtly. Carlisle was right; I was forgetting myself. Bella was alive. She was alive.

And even if she hadn’t died, Carlisle continued, things could have been much more serious for Bella.

I looked up sharply. “What do you mean?”

Carlisle motioned towards Bella’s right arm, now covered in bandages. “The shard of metal from the truck was embedded barely inches from Bella's right brachial plexus.”

I gasped at Carlisle’s words. Years of Med school meant that I recognized the ‘brachial plexus’ as the technical term for a group of five critical nerves that control feeling and movement in the arm. If these nerves were damaged in any way, the results could be disastrous. I focused back onto what Carlisle was saying.

“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you,” he said seriously, “that had the metal moved even slightly, those nerves would have been totally ruptured. They never would have worked properly again, and Bella’s right arm would have been completely paralyzed.”

It took me a few moments to realize that I’d stopped breathing. Carlisle was watching me, waiting for a response. When I finally spoke, it was in an odd voice that sounded nothing like my own. “Paralyzed?” was all I managed to say.

“Yes.”

I felt as though something dark and terrifying was closing in on me, pinning me to the spot where I stood. Bella could have been paralyzed. Her life could have been ruined.

All because of me

I could sense that Carlisle was still watching me and, judging on his next words, I could have sworn that he could read minds too.

“Edward, stop blaming yourself.”

“What?”

“There’s nothing you could have done to stop this; indeed, it’s a testament to swiftness of your actions and your courage that Bella was not killed. If you hadn’t been there to save her, she almost certainly would have died.”

“If I hadn’t been there, she never would have gotten into the crash in the first place,” I corrected. “She never would have been driving a motorbike along an icy road in the dark in a blizzard. She wouldn’t have been at our house in the first place, she would have been at home; dry, warm, safe.” Happy.

If only she had never known me.

It was clear from Carlisle’s thoughts that he did not even begin to agree with me, but I did not want to hear his protestations; I knew in my own heart that the mess Bella was in now was entirely of my own making, and the knowledge killed me.

“Please can I be alone with Bella for a while?” I asked quickly, cutting off Carlisle’s words. He creased his brow at me, as though trying to read my expression, before sighing heavily and inclining his head in assent.

“Okay,” he said. “If you need anything…”

“I know who to call,” I completed. “Thank you.” And with one last concerned look, Carlisle exited, leaving me alone with nothing but my guilt-ridden conscience and plenty of time to dissect, examine and list all the many ways in which I had failed Bella.

Carlisle’s words rang in my mind. “There’s nothing you could have done to stop this…if you hadn’t been there to save her, she almost certainly would have died.” To an extent, he was right. Even I could recognize that, this time at least, Bella’s accident had been just that. This was not the same as the time she had been attacked by James. Last night, she had met her match in a drunken driver and icy roads, not a murderous vampire on a quest for her blood. Her adversary had been a natural one, of the sort that she could have met at any time in her life. The accident had been inevitable, out of my control. Not my fault.

Only of course that wasn’t true. I was to blame in every way. No matter how I tried to explain the event away, the fact remained that, yet again, Bella’s blood had been spilt on my account. She was driving away from my house when she was hit and she was trying to escape me; no one else. She had been nearly paralyzedbecause of something I had done; or rather, had not done. Yet again, she had suffered pain as a result of my neglect and yet again I had not done enough to save her.

I sighed and ran my hands hopelessly through my hair. What would happen to us now? Bella had already had more than enough reasons to detest me and now with this latest development, I would not be surprised if she refused to let me within her sight ever again. How could I possibly make things up to her then?

While I was lost in these musings, Bella’s eyelids fluttered slightly, the tiny movement alerting my attention immediately. I stared intently at her for a few seconds, wondering whether she was about to wake up. Although I wanted to see her eyes open more than anything, I had to admit that I was terrified of how she would react on seeing me. After a few moments, however, she let out a weak sigh and I settled back into my chair, knowing that she was still asleep.

I sank back in to my chair and closed my eyes, letting time pass me by. For the next hours, it seemed to vary between rushing forward in great swathes to inching by in seconds that stretched on interminably. My thoughts drifted back to Bella’s words outside my house; to her tears, her accusations, her love, hatred and heartbreak, the heat of her kiss…

I stopped breathing for a few seconds, lost in sensation, before I heard the sound of the door opening. I knew instantly that it was Esme.

I sat up, my eyes snapping open. I had almost forgotten that my family were in the hospital with me. They had so far been giving Bella’s room a respectfully wide berth- no doubt at Carlisle’s request.

I glanced at the clock on one of the machine screens by Bella’s bed. It was ten minutes past nine. The room was now almost completely washed in wintery sunlight, giving Bella’s pale skin an unearthly, almost translucent appearance… The feelings of self-hatred and guilt that had been kept at bay whilst I had day-dreamed for the last couple of hours came rushing back with renewed strength as I watched her sleep. She lay inert, looking shattered, fragile, broken…

I heard the light tap of footsteps on linoleum as Esme came to sit next to me.

How are you feeling? Her thoughts were kind and soothing, which bothered me- I did not deserve her pity.

I acted as though I had not heard her question, keeping my eyes fixed on the regular pattern of the line on Bella’s heart rate monitor. But my hands gave away my emotions; they dug hard into the arms of the chair, causing my fingers to indent the plastic. But before I could inflict too much damage on the furniture however, I felt something touch my wrist. I jerked my head and looked around to see Esme, her hands on my own. Her eyes were troubled, a sense of real sorrow ingrained into the gold irises. Don’t Edward.

“What?” I asked, though of course I already knew what her answer would be. It was strange to speak; I was shocked by how deadened and flat my voice sounded. It felt like years since my conversation with Carlisle, although I knew it had barely been a couple of hours.

Stop torturing yourself, Esme replied, this isn’t your fault.

I brushed off her hands immediately at those words and got to my feet, pacing towards the window. I stood there in the light; looking at the dull sparkling sheen it gave my skin.

“You’re wrong, Esme. You have no idea.”

Then tell me. She was still sitting on the chair, watching me with pained eyes. I could feel the despair in her thoughts and I felt yet another pang of remorse as I reflected on how much this situation was affecting her. Yet something else to add to my list of regrets, I thought.

“No,” I whispered, shaking my head and closing my eyes, “you wouldn’t understand, because you’re too good a person. You could never feel this guilt, because you would never hurt anyone this badly.” Even to my own ears, my words sounded like those of a spoiled, hormonal teenager- Nobody can understand my pain, nobody knows how I feel; the clichéd angst-ridden lament of adolescents across time. Yet in this case, it was as close to the truth as possible. Esme was so compassionate, kind and loving… it was surprising she wasn’t tarnished by my mere presence.

I had so much to be ashamed of as far as Bella was concerned. I had devastated her emotionally six years ago, and I had almost succeeded in physically destroying her last night.

There was a long pause, in which I continued to stare out of the window with unseeing eyes. I could feel Esme’s gaze boring into me, but I pretended to ignore her. I knew she was waiting for me to speak, but I couldn’t. Finally, she broke the silence.

But you aren’t going to leave again. It wasn’t a question; it was a statement.

I knew that there was no way I could avoid sharing my thoughts with Esme. A small part of me even relished the opportunity; perhaps it would help me expel a small amount of my grief.

“No,” I sighed, turning to face Esme, taking in Bella’s sleeping form as I did so. She was still so beautiful, despite the ugly mass of machines and straps confining her frail body. “I couldn’t leave Bella again; I can’t believe I ever did.” My eyes met Esme’s. “I love her,” I said simply. “I love her with all of my heart; more so now than ever, even though I wouldn’t have believed that possible. She’s everything to me. She holds me without touch, without words or chains; one look, one breath is all it takes. I can’t exist without her… I know that now.” I paused and looked away, aware that my hands were visibly shaking. I felt as though the walls were closing in, trapping and enslaving me. When I finally continued, I could barely stop my voice from trembling.

“How can I live without her?” I said, more to myself than anyone else. There was a long silence, in which Esme just watched me. “Tell me how to leave her, Esme,” I eventually whispered. “Tell me how I can save her,” my voice rose slightly, with a note of desperation… before fading down again into almost nothing: “Please…”

She did not reply; I had not expected her to.

“I can’t exist without her.” I sighed, after an almost interminable pause. “And yet I don’t know… I don’t know how I can ever repair the damage I’ve done to her. I failed her in so many ways; hurt her physically and emotionally to an extent that I’m only just beginning to comprehend. I want to stay with Bella forever, but I can’t see how… h-how things can ever be the same between us after what I’ve done.”

My voice shook and I choked back a sob, raising my eyes to the ceiling as though trying to prevent the build up of tears in a subconscious and compellingly human movement- one of the few habits I retained from my previous life. It spoke volumes about the young man I had been; the one who had yearned for approval from his father and recognition in a world where composure, strength and bravery were the qualities prized above all others; the teenager who had dreamt of starched uniforms, shining medals and fanfares. That boy would never have shed tears if he could help it and, despite the fact that I no longer had to fear such displays of weakness- being unable to cry at all- I had inherited the impulse to prevent them at all costs.

“Oh Edward…” Esme sighed, and in one fluid movement she had moved towards me and enclosed me in a tight, compassionate hug. I leant into her arms and tried to return her embrace, but almost felt too numb to really reciprocate her touch. “You don’t have to leave her,” Esme murmured into my shoulder, “Bella doesn’t want you to leave her. She loves you and needs you; weren’t you listening to what she said last night?”

“Yes, and she said that she hated me,” I choked, withdrawing from Esme’s arms slightly.

“Yes, but she still loves you,” Esme replied soothingly. “She feels betrayed, Edward. Betrayed and hurt and- I wouldn’t be at all surprised- more than a little embarrassed. She spent six years believing that you did not love her, that you had moved on from her. Can you imagine how painful that must have been?”

I opened my mouth to respond; of course I knew what she had gone through- I had felt it too- but Esme pre-empted me.

“Oh, of course I’m not devaluing your suffering,” she continued quickly, “I know that…that you barely survived without Bella.” Her eyes tightened and in her mind I saw memories of me at my most grief-stricken and unresponsive. Esme shook her head slightly, her hands stiffening on my forearm at the memory and for the thousandth time I found myself again inwardly cringing at how much I had hurt her.

After a few seconds Esme’s grip loosened and she slowly continued. “I…I saw you struggle through every single hour… and it broke my heart to see you in such… agony. But- and this is a big ‘but’, Edward, - you, at least, had the advantage of knowing that Bella still loved you. You had never had to go through the misery of hearing her reject you, or believing that she had outgrown you.

“But Bella did. As we saw last night, she truly believed your lies; she never knew they were just to protect her; she never stopped believing them. And yet, despite all of that, she has never stopped loving you. That’s why she’s angry, Edward, not because she hates you or wants you to leave[TW3] .”

I couldn’t answer; I didn’t know how to. Esme’s words made so much sense that it felt churlish to oppose them, yet at the same time I could barely dare to let myself believe I hadn’t ruined everything with Bella. I wanted to know that Bella still loved me; I wanted to believe that she would continue to do so even despite this accident, but it was so hard after everything that had happened.

“I can’t promise that things are going to be easy from now on,” Esme continued softly, rubbing my arm consolingly, “especially after the accident. Nor do I really think they ought to be completely straightforward; love is not love that does not suffer from impediments or difficulties. It may take months or even years for your relationship to be as it was… but it will get to that point eventually, I promise you. And who knows? Perhaps you and Bella will even be stronger for it.” She came to the end of her speech quietly, with no flourish or great conclusion; just unassuming honesty and gentle sympathy.

“Thank you,” I murmured to her, kissing her on the cheek; I didn’t need to say what for. Esme knew, as she always did, exactly what I needed to hear. Call it motherly instinct, or else just years of practice and observation of my moods; whatever the cause, she had proved time after time that she was my rock.

Esme just shook her head with a smile that said: ‘don’t mention it’. She squeezed my hand once more, before letting go and looking towards the door.

“Go,” I said, waving my hand encouragingly; I could see she wanted to return to Carlisle. She hesitated, but I just nodded at her. “I’ll be fine,” I assured her, “I’ll see you in a while.” She silently thanked me, before swiftly exiting the room, leaving me to evaluate everything that had just been said.

I was still scared and guilt-ridden; I still regretted my actions and blamed myself for almost all that had happened between Bella and me. I knew that in many respects our future was a most dark and undecided place.

However speaking to Esme had made me certain of one thing, and it was this: that I would not let myself lose Bella ever again. I needed and craved her more than I had ever craved anything in my life; more than war, humanity or blood even. A future without her was unthinkable- life without her unliveable.
This left me with just one option.

I would spend the rest of my existence trying to atone for what I had done. I would do whatever it took to persuade Bella that she could trust and love me again. I had been so wrong before; my goal should not have been to change Bella, ‘win’ her back or seduce her, but to make myself worthy of her. Never again would I see her as an object to be won; I should have listened to my own words when I told Emmett that Bella was not a game.

There were still so many things Bella and I would have to work through, but at least now I knew there was a glimmer of hope; a flicker of light in what had previously been blackest dark.

I got up from my chair and walked towards the window, welcoming the faint heat of the winter sun light on my cold skin. For the first time since the accident I noticed that my body ached somewhat and, sure enough, there were faint marks on the uncovered portions of my skin from where I had run through the fire to get to Bella. Nothing serious, of course; they would probably be gone by tomorrow.

And then, something happened outside to catch my attention.

Out of the window I saw a dirty grey vehicle spin around the corner into the hospital parking lot. Even from my position three storeys up, I could read the blue writing on the circular sign on the side of the car: Rochester Airport Taxi-Limo 247-7678.

That struck me as odd. What was a taxi which transported airline passengers to and from the airport doing in the parking lot of the hospital? Furthermore, why had it entered through the back entrance- the one reserved especially for emergency vehicles?

I could think of only three solutions; the driver was lost, he was carrying someone injured, or he was in such a hurry that he simply didn’t care about the rules. Intrigued, I continued to watch, intending to see who exited from the taxi’s passenger door. But before the car could come to a complete stop I saw a member of hospital staff run up to the driver’s door and begin shouting and gesticulating at a nearby ‘EMERGENCIES ONLY’ sign. I saw the driver stick his head out of the taxi window and protest, only to be beaten down by the medic. Chagrined, he stuck his had back inside the cab and reversed at top speed. I could just make out his grumbling thoughts as he did so:

Like I’m the one who wanted to come this way…I’ve got no problem with coming through the main entrance, but he wanted to come this way… made me do 80 all the way from the airport… not worth the extra cash… if the firm hears about this they’ll take my licence…

I withdrew from his mind, thoroughly confused. It appeared that the driver had been paid double by his passenger to bring him to the hospital as quickly as possible, regardless of the danger or risk. I tried to search for the passenger’s ‘voice’; by now I had become engrossed in the little drama unfolding before me and was interested to learn more.
It was hard to locate his thoughts; partly because he was a total stranger to me but also because he was by now out of sight range. I could tell that he was very distressed, which undoubtedly contributed to my difficulties. Frustrated, I concentrated all my efforts on penetrating the elusive mind, but just as I thought I succeeding, the door to Bella’s room burst open behind me.

I whipped around, wrenching my mind from the search for the stranger. Alice was standing in the doorway, her expression taught with anxiety. I had been so absorbed in my antics that I had not heard her footsteps or her thoughts as she ran towards Bella’s room.

“What’s wro-” I began to say, but before I could finish my question I was plunged into Alice’s mind; consumed by an unfathomable web of thoughts, memories and visions. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced; it was as if Alice’s powers had been thrown into overdrive. Her mind was working so fast that I could barely keep up with what she was trying to tell me. It was almost as though her brain was trying to convey every single thought and vision it could as quickly as possible, as though it knew it had only a short amount of time left in which to do so. But how could that be?

Past: us arriving at the hospital; Present: “Edward, we have a major problem”; Future:the sound of shouts as a faceless person runs up the stairs to our corridor; Past: me sitting motionless, waiting for Carlisle to return from surgery; Present: “You have to stay calm”; Future: someone coming towards me, darkness descending around us with each step, as though the world was being dismantled piece by piece…

My mind was recoiling under the pressure being exerted upon it; I tried to stem the flow of images attacking me in an attempt to understand what I was being told. “Alice, I don’t…”

Past: A nurse sitting in front of a computer running through a database of details, clicking on ‘BELLA SWAN’; the sound of a phone ringing; Future: Shouts of outrage; snarls; the sounds of fighting; and THEN…

Faster than a heartbeat, everything stopped. It was as though someone had pulled the plug on Alice’s visions. I clutched the window-sill, panting slightly as I tried to recover from the onslaught. From the corner of my eye I could see Alice dropping to her knees, clutching the side of her head. I could still hear her thoughts, but all hints of the future had disappeared, replaced by a seemingly endless void of nothingness.

I could feel panic rising in my throat. “Wh-what just happened?” I asked, still shaking.

Alice did not look up from where she was crouched, her small frame trembling as though she was having a fit. “I d-don’t k-know,” she rasped, “I’ve never… felt… anything like it.” She coughed violently and I felt the urge to comfort her, but first it was vital that I understood what was going on.

“What did you mean earlier, ‘we have a major problem’?” I demanded, “What does that mean? Why did you show me those memories?”
Alice’s eyes met mine in a frantic gaze of sheer desperation. “One of the nurses rang Bella’s father,” she said hoarsely.

Had I been human, my heart would have skipped a beat.

“She rang Charlie?!” I asked, aghast.

Alice nodded, her shoulders heaving. “Nobody thought to change Bella’s details, and Charlie’s her next-of-kin. He was rung almost immediately after Bella was admitted, but Carlisle only just found out.”

Now it was my turn to be thinking in over-drive. If Charlie had been rung then he would know Bella was injured, he also would have told her mother and… and…

“Oh, God,” I said, as comprehension swept over me.

Exactly, Alice replied.

The taxi from the airport. The unreadable stranger. The faceless figure whose very presence caused Alice’s visions to explode into oblivion.

It could only mean one thing.

We were about to be paid a visit by Jacob Black.