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Survival of the Soul

Summary:
The trauma suffered by Bella for three years has left lasting mental scars. Surrounded by the support and love of the Cullen family, Bella begins to grow and finds out there is more to life than simply surviving. sots banner


Notes:


3. Chapter 3

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 3507   Review this Chapter

Survival of the Soul
By: Lady Saffir
Chapter 3
Chapter Rating: PG (language)
Story Rating: R/NC-17

AN- A big thanks to Megami76 for looking this story over and having wonderful ideas and suggestions.

DISCLAIMER: I own no rights to the Twilight universe.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo F. Buscaglia

************************

True to Alice's vision, Bella called for Esme's assistance in drying off and dressing. Esme was a bit concerned with Bella's balance as they slowly advanced from the bathroom to the bed, the former stumbling twice in the twelve feet separating the bathroom door and the bed. Carlisle entered at the same time Bella slid underneath the sheets, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms about her legs. She warily eyed the blonde vampire, noting the stethoscope around his neck and yet another tray of food in his hands.

"If you don't mind, Bella, I'd like to do a quick exam and make sure you don't have any other injuries that need treatment," Carlisle stated softly, not missing the flinch and look of fear that crossed Bella's features. "I will tell you everything I'm going to do before I do it," he promised. "May I sit on the bed?"

The speed of Bella's heart picked up as did her breathing but she nodded in agreement, her arms slowly unlocking and falling to her sides. Carlisle evaluated his patient's expression before deciding to listen to her heart and lungs through her shirt, rather than ask if he could place the bell of the stethoscope against her bare skin. "I'm just going to listen to your heart and lungs for a moment," he promised, waiting for a nod. Her lungs were clear and her heart, though fast, beat steadily.

"Next I'm going to feel your pulse in your wrists." Another nod occurred before he followed through on his statement.

Carlisle kept his exam minimal, not wanting to put undue stress on Bella. She was hesitant to lift her shirt slightly so that he could exam the bruises on her abdomen and back but did so with an encouraging look from Esme.

The physical part was over but now came the more complex ordeal of appraising her mental state. Time would only tell how much psychological damage Bella had endured in her captivity but Carlisle hoped to gain some insight in to the human he was now responsible for.

"Bella, can you tell me your full name and how old you are?"

"Isabella Marie Swan," she whispered, staring down at her lap.

"And your age?"

"I...I don't know. What is today's date?"

It was perhaps foolish of Esme to be happy with the fact Bella had asked a question. Further thought on the matter had her realizing Bella had only asked the date in order to fully answer the question Carlisle had posed to her and thus hopefully avoid punishment for failure. Her heart constricted again at the tortures she could only imagine this young girl had endured.

"Today is April third, two thousand and seven," Carlisle said.

Bella thought for a moment before answering. "I'm sixteen," she finally answered. She turned her head to stare out the window as Carlisle continued with his line of questioning.

"When is your birthday?"

"September thirteenth."

"How long were you held prisoner?"

"Three years."

"Do you have any family that might be looking for you?"

Bella turned her head back to meet Carlisle's gaze, her eyes dull with grief.

"No, he killed them," came the broken reply.

Esme was unable to stop herself from moving to the bed, the urge to comfort too strong to deny. Bella turned her head to watch her approach, closing her eyes when one cold hand was placed hesitantly on her shoulder. Tears continued to fall unabated down her cheeks. She was afraid to open her eyes and see the revulsion sure to be in the eyes of the vampires in the room with her. Why would they be any different than James and Victoria?

The touch of cloth against her face lightly brushing away the moisture shocked her eyes open. Carlisle had moved closer without her knowing and was gently blotting her tears, his own eyes full of grief.

"I'm sorry, Bella," he whispered. "If he weren't already dead I would kill him for you myself."

The pronouncement obviously meant more to Esme than it did to Bella as she gasped in surprise, her own gaze torn from staring at the crown of Bella's head to that of her husband's. To hear him say such a thing was quite unexpected. He was already beginning to love her as she was, Esme realized.

The look in Bella's eyes was hard to decipher as she glanced between the two vampires. The curiosity could land her in trouble but she just had to ask.

"Why do you care?" The low tone jerked the married couple's focus back to the human before them. She looked as though she regretted speaking, her shoulders hunching once more from the expected blow.

"Sweetheart," the endearment fell easily from Esme's lips as her hand rubbed gentle circles on Bella's back. "We care because we consider you to be a part of our family now and what hurts you hurts us. We only want you to be happy and healthy and will do everything in our power to make that happen."

Carlisle picked up the conversation. "We know you've suffered at the hands of vampires and understand that it will be a while before you can begin to trust us. We'll do whatever it takes to help you build your faith in us. Esme and I hope that you will feel comfortable speaking with us regarding anything and you have our assurances that we will hold whatever you tell us in confidence. I told you before that this family doesn't have secrets but we do respect each other's privacy," he assured Bella, lightly touching the back of her hand with his fingertips.

Bella nodded in acceptance, sniffling to quell her tears. Carlisle and Esme were content to let her calm herself and Bella found it odd to be allowed the luxury of working through her emotions without fear of retribution. In the past she had been forced to keep her emotions in check and only present a calm facade regardless of the turmoil she was feeling.

This novelty brought a fresh round of tears. It was almost a half an hour later before her eyes dried and she was able to stop sniffling wetly every few minutes.

"Better, darling?" The coldness of Esme's hand on her back was no longer a surprise and almost a comfort, if Bella allowed herself to think in such terms. She simply nodded yes, wiping away the last traces of her tears with the palm of her hands.

The sound of the door opening had Bella looking up, surprised to see Carlisle re-enter the room. She had been unaware of his departure. He held in his hands a steaming coffee mug. Bella accepted the offer of the mug, curling her hands gratefully around its warmth and inhaling the lightly aromatic steam that floated off the top of the liquid.

"Tea," Carlisle informed her. He was for once grateful that their human charade required them to buy food at regular intervals. While they usually gave the food away to shelters, Esme had been unable to make her usual weekly run yet to the shelter in Port Angeles so their cabinets were well stocked.

Bella took a hesitant sip, wrinkling her nose at the bitter taste. The action wasn't even complete before Carlisle was back, a container of sugar held in his hands. "I didn't know how you'd take it so I didn't add anything," he apologized, lifting the lid off the sugar bowl and presenting it to Bella along with a spoon.

Bella gratefully took the proffered sugar, adding two heaping spoonfuls before stirring. Her second sip garnered a much better facial expression and she relaxed back, forgetting that Esme was seated behind her. She tensed as soon as she made contact with Esme's body, afraid to move and risk insulting the vampire yet afraid to stay in her current position. Her body tensed, waiting for Esme's reaction.

"It's alright if you want to lean against me, Bella, I don't mind at all," Esme assured the young woman. "It's also fine if you'd rather lean back against the pillows. They are a bit softer than I am," she stated, a smile evident in her voice.

"I'm...fine," Bella said, surprised to find that she truly was. She was still afraid of provoking the vampires in the house but the man and woman before her seemed...decent. It was already hard to imagine that they would punish and torture her like James and Victoria. She forced her body to relax as she took a larger sip of tea, the warmth making her close her eyes in pleasure.

Bella was unable to see the emotions that flowed over Esme's face as she calmly held the human against her and stroked her hair but they were plain to her husband. The intensity of the love she showed wasn't surprising, nor was the suddenness of its appearance. Esme's ability to love and see the good in everyone was one of her more wonderful attributes.

As much as he was loathe to break the peaceful moment, Carlisle wanted to give Bella more pain medicine and get her settled in for the night. He recalled Alice stating they should go over house rules as well, though he scoffed at the idea. There was only one rule that had to be obeyed and that was to keep their secret from other humans. The rest were more guidelines, really, and it was laughable that Bella would break many of them.

"Bella, before you go to sleep we'd like to discuss what we expect," Carlisle began, knowing his words would cause tension but unable to find a way to say what needed saying without bringing Bella's fear back.

Bella's eyes popped open, looking at him with fear before flickering down to the quilt draped over her legs.

"First, this is your room. If you are in here with the door closed we will respect your privacy, but you can't hide in here all the time. After a few weeks we'd like to see you downstairs with the rest of the family. The same goes for eating. We don't expect you to trust us immediately but once you're comfortable being around us you should eat in the kitchen."

"Feel free to decorate in here however you see fit, but we do expect you to keep it neat," Esme added. "When you're ready let me know and we'll go pick out furnishings that you like."

Bella nodded, staring in to the depths of her mug. Her own room and she could decorate it however she wanted?

She squashed the joy the thought brought her, unwilling to get her hopes up so soon. She would wait and see what else they required and how well they kept their word first.

"Feel free to go anywhere in the house. We'll point out which rooms are bedrooms and the shut door policy applies there as well. We'll work on getting you caught up on your schoolwork so that in the fall you can attend high school like a normal girl," Carlisle stated, ignoring the startled look he received.

They were going to let her leave the house routinely? No, that couldn't be right. Why would they risk her running away or telling other humans that vampires existed? They didn't seem like the type to lie though....

It was too much to think about right now, Bella decided, pushing the thought of being out with other humans from her mind.

"Alright," Bella agreed. "What...what am I expected to do?" This was the question she had been dying to ask. In exchange for everything they were doing for her and giving her, what would they have her do for them?

Husband and wife exchanged a look before Esme answered. "For now simply focus on feeling better and improving your appetite. Once you feel up to it we'll look at the household chore list and see what we can find."

That was it? They were doing so much for her and all she had to do...was eat? It wasn't right.

"I'll cook for myself."

The softly spoken words were like music to Esme's ears. It was a small thing, but Bella was re-negotiating with them already.

"Why don't we take it day to day," Carlisle compromised. "We won't rush you in to anything but you won't rush yourself either."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was nearing ten o'clock at night when another knock sounded at the door. Esme had just finished coaxing Bella to eat more before going to sleep and Carlisle had given her some Percocet to help with the pain in her arm. She was therefore rather relaxed and, for the first time in years, warm, comfortable and without too much pain.

Anxiety came flooding back as the door opened to admit the largest vampire Bella had ever seen. It wasn't just his physical height but also the rather large muscles that rippled across his body at the slightest movement. She instinctively went very still, afraid to even breathe.

"Emmett!" Esme scolded, turning to face her son. "What are you doing?"

The quick grin that brought out dimples on the dark haired vampire's face was quite disarming. It was a smile full of mischief and without malice, and Bella found herself relaxing infinitesimally.

"Aw, mom, I just wanted to meet Bella before she went to sleep," Emmett's booming voice could only be described as matching the rest of him. "It isn't fair that Jasper and Alice got to meet her already. Hey, Bella, I'm Emmett," he continued, not allowing Esme or Carlisle a chance to interrupt. "Anybody give you any grief or upset you, you tell me and I'll kick their ass for you, got it?" The loud laugh that followed this statement did not detract from its truthfulness.

Bella simply nodded, her eyes wide, as she watched Carlisle berate the bear of a vampire.

"Emmett, that could have waited," Carlisle admonished. "There was no need to come in here tonight for that. Save it for when she goes to school and you can terrify the other boys in to behaving."

"Excellent idea, dad," Emmett cracked his knuckles, grinning at the thought of the mental torture he could inflict on his fellow schoolmates. "I'll get Jasper and we'll start planning out our big brother routine."

He flashed another grin at Bella before stepping back in to the hallway. Even through the closed door his voice was quite distinct as he bellowed, "Jasper! I get to be the unreasonable one!"

"You already are the unreasonable one," came the yelled reply. "No one expects any different."

The quick smiles and exasperated shakes of both Carlisle and Esme's heads told Bella this exchange was normal in this house. She relaxed a bit more, the drugs beginning to work their magic. She burrowed further under the blankets and quilt, enjoying the luxurious feel of soft cotton against her skin. Of their own accord her eyelids began to fall, her blinks becoming longer and longer as sleep began to drag her under.

She was only vaguely aware of a cold hand smoothing hair back from her face and a whispered, "Sleep well," that came from above her as she sank into the welcoming darkness.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Carlisle closed the door softly, removing his hand from the knob before he crushed it. His hands fisted, the anger he felt towards the now dead vampire unabated from earlier. What was done was done, he reminded himself, consciously flexing his hands to release the tension they held. Anger would not help Bella now, only patience, understanding and love.

Beside him, Esme seemed to be having the same talk with herself, the frown line marring her brow smoothing out slowly. She let out a quick breathe before turning to her husband. "Time to go have a talk?"

Carlisle nodded in agreement and together they headed downstairs, softly calling for the rest of the family to join them in the dining room. He took a seat at the head of the table with Esme on his right. The spot to his left was vacant, as Edward usually sat there. Emmett and Rosalie completed that side while Alice and Jasper were seated next to Esme, respectively.

"Alice and Jasper have filled you in on the condition we found Bella?" Carlisle asked, waiting for an answering nod from Alice. "Good. We can discuss how we will proceed then."

"I still don't see why we had to be the ones to take her in," Rosalie sulked, glaring at her husband when he patted her hand.

"It was that or let her be killed," Carlisle refuted. "Alice saw that she would be a part of our family which is what allowed us to be there in time." He continued, "Time is something we will need to give Bella, as well as space. She has suffered not only physically but also mentally at the hands of vampires, so it may take her some time before she views us in a favorable light. I fully expect each of you to be understanding and compassionate during this time."

"We've given Bella some house rules and now it's time to explain what we expect from the five of you," Esme spoke up.

"What? Rules? Ah, man," Emmett grumbled, quieting at the look Esme and Carlisle gave him.

"Guidelines, then, if they help you think better of them," Carlisle said wryly. "We don't expect you to tiptoe around the house and avoid making scenes, but please keep in mind that Bella seems to equate any negative statement on our behalf with physical punishment, so please try to be civil around her for the time being."

Alice broke in. "Get in the habit of saying 'mom' and 'dad' fairly regularly. She needs to see that we truly are a family. I am going to be very upset if any of you further worsen her self-esteem," she added, looking pointedly at her sister.

Rosalie took offence to the glare Alice sent her way. "Why are you looking at me? And do you expect me to compliment her all the time?"

"No, but if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything," Alice shot back.

"Girls," Carlisle interrupted. "Perhaps it would be best to just say that we should live by the golden rule and leave it at that, shall we?"

"I can't wait till she goes to school with us. When are you planning on enrolling her?" Emmett asked, smiling again at the thought of playing older brother.

"Not this year, Emmett."

"Aw, man, I gotta wait?" he complained, huffing in annoyance.

"Yes. We'll try to have her ready to attend school when next year starts. Jasper, if you could have Jenks make the necessary documents," Carlisle directed, waiting for Jasper's nod of agreement. "I think that's it for now. Just please, please be patient with Bella in the mean time."

The Cullen 'children' nodded, scattering to various parts of the house when Carlisle announced they were finished. Rosalie headed for the garage and her favorite thinking spot, Emmett to the living room to catch a recap of the day's sporting news and Alice and Jasper to their room. Carlisle headed to his office to study a patient's chart to prepare for surgery the following day. Esme was unable to resist heading back to the third floor and checking on Bella, even though she had left her only ten minutes before. She found her deeply asleep, curled on her side into a tight ball. Fearing she was cold, Esme retrieved another quilt and spread it gently over the sleeping girl.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Alice poked her head in to Carlisle's office about an hour later, grinning at her father figure when he looked up. "If you want to explain things to Edward without us around, you need to be at the edge of town at two-sixteen so you can meet him." With that she ducked back out, not giving Carlisle time to respond.

He shrugged and looked at the clock. There was enough time for Esme and him to step out and hunt, but would Bella be okay if they weren't here?

"She'll sleep through the night!" Floated through the air as Alice saw his decision to hunt.

"Thank you, Alice," Carlisle murmured, bookmarking his spot before going to find his wife.