chapter 24: an impassePost Reply
My eyes opened to a bright, white light. I was in an unfamiliar room, a white
room. The wall beside me was covered in long vertical blinds; over my head, the
glaring lights blinded me. I was propped up on a hard, uneven bed — a bed with
rails. The pillows were flat and lumpy. There was an annoying beeping sound
somewhere close by. I hoped that meant I was still alive. Death shouldn't be this
My hands were all twisted up with clear tubes, and something was taped across
my face, under my nose. I lifted my hand to rip it off.
"No, you don't." And cool fingers caught my hand.
"Edward?" I turned my head slightly, and his exquisite face was just inches from
mine, his chin resting on the edge of my pillow. I realized again that I was alive,
this time with gratitude and elation. "Oh, Edward, I'm so sorry!"
"Shhhh," he shushed me. "Everything's all right now."
"What happened?" I couldn't remember clearly, and my mind rebelled against
me as I tried to recall.
"I was almost too late. I could have been too late," he whispered, his voice
"I was so stupid, Edward. I thought he had my mom."
"He tricked us all."
"I need to call Charlie and my mom," I realized through the haze.
"Alice called them. Renée is here — well, here in the hospital. She's getting
something to eat right now."
"She's here?" I tried to sit up, but the spinning in my head accelerated, and his
hand pushed me gently down onto the pillows.
"She'll be back soon," he promised. "And you need to stay still."
"But what did you tell her?" I panicked. I had no interest in being soothed. My
mom was here and I was recovering from a vampire attack. "Why did you tell
her I'm here?"
"You fell down two flights of stairs and through a window." He paused. "You
have to admit, it could happen."
I sighed, and it hurt. I stared down at my body under the sheet, the huge lump
that was my leg.
"How bad am I?" I asked.
"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."
"No, I like how you smell."
"How did you do it?" I asked quietly. He knew what I meant at once.
"I'm not sure." He looked away from my wondering eyes, lifting my gauzewrapped
hand from the bed and holding it gently in his, careful not to disrupt the
wire connecting me to one of the monitors.
I waited patiently for the rest.
He sighed without returning my gaze. "It was impossible… to stop," he
whispered. "Impossible. But I did." He looked up finally, with half a smile. "I
must love you."
"Don't I taste as good as I smell?" I smiled in response. That hurt my face.
"Even better — better than I'd imagined."
"I'm sorry," I apologized.
He raised his eyes to 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," I apologized again.
"I know why you did it." His voice was comforting. "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," he agreed in a grim tone, "I wouldn't."
Some very unpleasant memories were beginning to come back to me. I
shuddered, and then winced.
He was instantly anxious. "Bella, what's wrong?"
"What happened to James?"
"After I pulled him off you, Emmett and Jasper took care of him." There was a
fierce note of regret in his voice.
This confused me. "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 said in wonder.
"They love you, too, you know."
A flash of painful images from the last time I'd seen Alice reminded me of
something. "Did Alice see the tape?" I asked anxiously.
"Yes." A new sound darkened his voice, a tone of sheer hatred.
"She was always in the dark, that's why she didn't remember."
"I know. She understands now." His voice was even, but his face was black with
I tried to reach his face with my free hand, but something stopped me. I glanced
down to see the IV pulling at my hand.
"Ugh." I winced.
"What is it?" he asked anxiously — distracted, but not enough. The bleakness
did not entirely leave his eyes.
"Needles," I explained, looking away from the one in my hand. I concentrated on
a warped ceiling tile and tried to breathe deeply despite the ache in my ribs.
"Afraid of a needle," he muttered to himself under his breath, shaking his head.
"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…"
I rolled my eyes. I was pleased to discover that this reaction, at least, was painfree.
I decided to change the subject.
"Why are you here?" I asked.
He stared at me, first confusion and then hurt touching his eyes. His brows
pulled together as he frowned. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No!" I protested, horrified by the thought. "No, I meant, why does my mother
think you're here? I need to have my story straight before she gets back."
"Oh," he said, and his forehead smoothed back into marble. "I came to Phoenix
to talk some sense into you, to convince you to come back to Forks." His wide
eyes were so earnest and sincere, I almost believed him myself. "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," he inserted virtuously,
"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."
I thought about it for a moment. "There are a few flaws with that story. Like no
"Not really," he 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," he promised, stroking my
cheek with the lightest of touches. "Your only job now is to heal."
I wasn't so lost to the soreness or the fog of medication that I didn't respond to
his touch. The beeping of the monitor jumped around erratically — now he
wasn't the only one who could hear my heart misbehave.
"That's going to be embarrassing," I muttered to myself.
He chuckled, and a speculative look came into his eye. "Hmm, I wonder…"
He leaned in slowly; the beeping noise accelerated wildly before his lips even
touched me. But when they did, though with the most gentle of pressure, the
beeping stopped altogether.
He pulled back abruptly, his anxious expression turning to relief as the monitor
reported the restarting of my heart.
"It seems that I'm going to have to be even more careful with you than usual."
"I was not finished kissing you," I complained. "Don't make me come over
He grinned, and bent to press his lips lightly to mine. The monitor went wild.
But then his lips were taut. He pulled away.
"I think I hear your mother," he said, grinning again.
"Don't leave me," I cried, an irrational surge of panic flooding through me. I
couldn't let him go — he might disappear from me again.
He read the terror in my eyes for a short second. "I won't," he promised
solemnly, and then he smiled. "I'll take a nap."
He moved from the hard plastic chair by my side to the turquoise faux-leather
recliner at the foot of my bed, leaning it all the way back, and closing his eyes.
He was perfectly still.
"Don't forget to breathe," I whispered sarcastically. He took a deep breath, his
eyes still closed.
I could hear my mother now. She was talking to someone, maybe a nurse, and
she sounded tired and upset. I wanted to jump out of the bed and run to her, to
calm her, promise that everything was fine. But I wasn't in any sort of shape for
jumping, so I waited impatiently.
The door opened a crack, and she peeked through.
"Mom!" I whispered, my voice full of love and relief.
She took in Edward's still form on the recliner, and tiptoed to my bedside.
"He never leaves, does he?" she mumbled to herself.
"Mom, I'm so glad to see you!"
She bent down to hug me gently, and I felt warm tears falling on my cheeks.
"Bella, I was so upset!"
"I'm sorry, Mom. But everything's fine now, it's okay," I comforted her.
"I'm just glad to finally see your eyes open." She sat on the edge of my bed.
I suddenly realized I didn't have any idea when it was. "How long have they been
"It's Friday, hon, you've been out for a while."
"Friday?" I was shocked. I tried to remember what day it had been when… but I
didn't want to think about that.
"They had to keep you sedated for a while, honey — you've got a lot of injuries."
"I know." I could feel them.
"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," I agreed wholeheartedly.
She glanced over her shoulder at Edward, lying with his eyes closed in the chair.
"You didn't tell me you had such good friends in Forks."
I cringed, and then moaned.
"What hurts?" she demanded anxiously, turning back to me. Edward's eyes
flashed to my face.
"It's fine," I assured them. "I just have to remember not to move." He lapsed
back into his phony slumber.
I took advantage of my mother's momentary distraction to keep the subject from
returning to my less-than-candid behavior. "Where's Phil?" I asked quickly.
"Florida — oh, Bella! You'll never guess! Just when we were about to leave, the
"Phil got signed?" I guessed.
"Yes! How did you guess! The Suns, can you believe it?"
"That's great, Mom," I said as enthusiastically as I could manage, though I had
little idea what that meant.
"And you'll like Jacksonville so much," she gushed while I stared at her
vacantly. "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 a few minutes from the ocean, and you'll have
your own bathroom —"
"Wait, Mom!" I interrupted. Edward still had his eyes closed, but he looked too
tense to pass as asleep. "What are you talking about? I'm not going to Florida. I
live in Forks."
"But you don't have to anymore, silly," she laughed. "Phil will be able to be
around so much more now… 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
"Mom." I hesitated, wondering how best to be diplomatic about this. "I want to
live in Forks. I'm already settled in at school, and I have a couple of girlfriends"
— she glanced toward Edward again when I reminded her of friends, so I tried
another direction — "and Charlie needs me. He's just all alone up there, and he
can't cook at all."
"You want to stay in Forks?" she asked, bewildered. The idea was inconceivable
to her. And then her eyes flickered back toward Edward. "Why?"
"I told you — school, Charlie — ouch!" I'd shrugged. Not a good idea.
Her hands fluttered helplessly over me, trying to find a safe place to pat. She
made do with my forehead; it was unbandaged.
"Bella, honey, you hate Forks," she reminded me.
"It's not so bad."
She frowned and looked back and forth between Edward and me, this time very
"Is it this boy?" she whispered.
I opened my mouth to lie, but her eyes were scrutinizing my face, and I knew
she would see through that.
"He's part of it," I admitted. No need to confess how big a part. "So, have you
had a chance to talk with Edward?" I asked.
"Yes." She hesitated, looking at his perfectly still form. "And I want to talk to
you about that."
Uh-oh. "What about?" I asked.
"I think that boy is in love with you," she accused, keeping her voice low.
"I think so, too," I confided.
"And how do you feel about him?" She only poorly concealed the raging
curiosity in her voice.
I sighed, looking away. As much as I loved my mom, this was not a conversation
I wanted to have with her. "I'm pretty crazy about him." There — that sounded
like something a teenager with her first boyfriend might say.
"Well, he seems very nice, and, my goodness, he's incredibly good-looking, but
you're so young, Bella…" Her voice was unsure; as far as I could remember, this
was the first time since I was eight that she'd come close to trying to sound like a
parental authority. I recognized the reasonable-but-firm tone of voice from talks
I'd had with her about men.
"I know that, Mom. Don't worry about it. It's just a crush," I soothed her.
"That's right," she agreed, easily pleased.
Then she sighed and glanced guiltily over her shoulder at the big, round clock on
"Do you need to go?"
She bit her lip. "Phil's supposed to call in a little while… I didn't know you were
going to wake up…"
"No problem, Mom." I tried to tone down the relief so she wouldn't get her
feelings hurt. "I won't be alone."
"I'll be back soon. I've been sleeping here, you know," she announced, proud of
"Oh, Mom, you don't have to do that! You can sleep at home — I'll never
notice." The swirl of painkillers in my brain was making it hard to concentrate
even now, though, apparently, I'd been sleeping for days.
"I was too nervous," she admitted sheepishly. "There's been some crime in the
neighborhood, and I don't like being there alone."
"Crime?" I asked in alarm.
"Someone broke into that 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 used to dance there, honey?"
"I remember." I shivered, and winced.
"I can stay, baby, if you need me."
"No, Mom, I'll be fine. Edward will be with me."
She looked like that might be why she wanted to stay. "I'll be back tonight." It
sounded as much like a warning as it sounded like a promise, and she glanced at
Edward again as she said it.
"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."
Edward's eyes stayed closed, but a wide grin flashed across his face.
A nurse came bustling in then to check all my tubes and wires. My mother
kissed my forehead, patted my gauze-wrapped hand, and left.
The nurse was checking the paper readout on my heart monitor.
"Are you feeling anxious, honey? Your heart rate got a little high there."
"I'm fine," I assured her.
"I'll tell your RN that you're awake. She'll be in to see you in a minute."
As soon as she closed the door, Edward was at my side.
"You stole a car?" I raised my eyebrows.
He smiled, unrepentant. "It was a good car, very fast."
"How was your nap?" I asked.
"Interesting." His eyes narrowed.
He looked down while he answered. "I'm surprised. I thought Florida… and your
mother… well, I thought that's what you would want."
I stared at him uncomprehendingly. "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."
He almost smiled, but not quite. And then his face was grave. "I would stay in
Forks, Bella. Or somewhere like it," he explained. "Someplace where I couldn't
hurt you anymore."
It didn't sink in at first. I continued to stare at him blankly as the words one by
one clicked into place in my head like a ghastly puzzle. I was barely conscious
of the sound of my heart accelerating, though, as my breathing became
hyperventilation, I was aware of the sharp aching in my protesting ribs.
He didn't say anything; he watched my face warily as the pain that had nothing
to do with broken bones, pain that was infinitely worse, threatened to crush me.
And then another nurse walked purposefully into the room. Edward sat still as
stone as she took in my expression with a practiced eye before turning to the
"Time for more pain meds, sweetheart?" she asked kindly, tapping the IV feed.
"No, no," I mumbled, trying to keep the agony out of my voice. "I don't need
anything." I couldn't afford to close my eyes now.
"No need to be brave, honey. It's better if you don't get too stressed out; you
need to rest." She waited, but I just shook my head.
"Okay," she sighed. "Hit the call button when you're ready."
She gave Edward a stern look, and threw one more anxious glance at the
machinery, before leaving.
His cool hands were on my face; I stared at him with wild eyes.
"Shhh, Bella, calm down."
"Don't leave me," I begged in a broken voice.
"I won't," he promised. "Now relax before I call the nurse back to sedate you."
But my heart couldn't slow.
"Bella." He stroked my face anxiously. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be right
here as long as you need me."
"Do you swear you won't leave me?" I whispered. I tried to control the gasping,
at least. My ribs were throbbing.
He put his hands on either side of my face and brought his face close to mine.
His eyes were wide and serious. "I swear."
The smell of his breath was soothing. It seemed to ease the ache of my breathing.
He continued to hold my gaze while my body slowly relaxed and the beeping
returned to a normal pace. His eyes were dark, closer to black than gold today.
"Better?" he asked.
"Yes," I said cautiously.
He shook his head and muttered something unintelligible. I thought I picked out
the word "overreaction."
"Why did you say that?" I whispered, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
"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." I frowned. "The reason I'm here — alive."
"Barely." His voice was just a whisper. "Covered in gauze and plaster and hardly
able to move."
"I wasn't referring to my most recent near-death experience," I said, growing
irritated. "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."
He winced at my words, but the haunted look didn't leave his eyes.
"That's not the worst part, though," he continued to whisper. He acted as if I
hadn't spoken. "Not seeing you there on the floor… crumpled and broken." His
voice was choked. "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."
I knew I needed to stay calm… but he was trying to talk himself into leaving me,
and the panic fluttered in my lungs, trying to get out.
"Promise me," I whispered.
"You know what." I was starting to get angry now. He was so stubbornly
determined to dwell on the negative.
He heard the change in my tone. His eyes tightened. "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," he added roughly.
"Good." He hadn't promised, though — a fact that I had not missed. The panic
was only barely contained; I had no strength left to control the anger. "You told
me how you stopped… now I want to know why," I demanded.
"Why?" he repeated warily.
"Why you did it. Why didn't you just let the venom spread? By now I would be
just like you."
Edward's eyes seemed to turn flat black, and I remembered that this was
something he'd never intended me to know. Alice must have been preoccupied
by the things she'd learned about herself… or she'd been very careful with her
thoughts around him — clearly, he'd had no idea that she'd filled me in on the
mechanics of vampire conversions. He was surprised, and infuriated. His nostrils
flared, his mouth looked as if it was chiseled from stone.
He wasn't going to answer, that much was clear.
"I'll be the first to admit that I have no experience with relationships," I said.
"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."
He folded his arms on the side of my bed and rested his chin on his arms. His
expression was smooth, the anger reined in. Evidently he'd decided he wasn't
angry with me. I hoped I'd get a chance to warn Alice before he caught up with
"You have saved me," he said quietly.
"I can't always be Lois Lane," I insisted. "I want to be Superman, too."
"You don't know what you're asking." His voice was soft; he stared intently at
the edge of the pillowcase.
"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." He paused before continuing. "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." I was getting
better at this. It was easy to admit how much I needed him.
He was very calm, though. Decided.
"I can't do it, Bella. I won't do that to you."
"Why not?" My throat rasped and the words weren't as loud as I'd meant them to
be. "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."
He glared at me.
"And the pain?" he asked.
I blanched. I couldn't help it. But I tried to keep my expression from showing
how clearly I remembered the feeling… the fire in my veins.
"That's my problem," I said. "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."
Edward grimaced again as my words reminded him that I was more informed
than he had ever intended me to be. I watched him repress the anger, watched as
his eyes grew speculative.
"Charlie?" he asked curtly. "Renée?"
Minutes passed in silence as I struggled to answer his question. I opened my
mouth, but no sound came out. I closed it again. He waited, and his expression
became triumphant because he knew I had no true answer.
"Look, that's not an issue either," I finally muttered; my voice was as
unconvincing as it always was when I lied. "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
"Exactly," he snapped. "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
"You're going to recover," he reminded me.
I took a deep breath to calm myself, ignoring the spasm of pain it triggered. I
stared at him, and he stared back. There was no compromise in his face.
"No," I said slowly. "I'm not."
His forehead creased. "Of course you are. You may have a scar or two…"
"You're wrong," I insisted. "I'm going to die."
"Really, Bella." He was anxious now. "You'll be out of here in a few days. Two
week at most."
I glared at him. "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."
He frowned as what I was saying sunk in, pressing his long fingers to his
temples and closing his eyes. "That's how it's supposed to happen. How it should
happen. How it would have happened if I didn't exist — and I shouldn't exist."
I snorted. He opened his eyes in surprise. "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."
"I'm hardly a lottery prize," he growled.
"That's right. You're much better."
He rolled his eyes and set his lips. "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," I warned him.
"You're not the only vampire I know."
His eyes went black again. "Alice wouldn't dare."
And for a moment he looked so frightening that I couldn't help but believe it — I
couldn't imagine someone brave enough to cross him.
"Alice already saw it, didn't she?" I guessed. "That's why the things she says
upset you. She knows I'm going to be like you… someday."
"She's wrong. She also saw you dead, but that didn't happen, either."
"You'll never catch me betting against Alice."
We stared at each other for a very long time. It was quiet except for the whirring
of the machines, the beeping, the dripping, the ticking of the big clock on the
wall. Finally, his expression softened.
"So where does that leave us?" I wondered.
He chuckled humorlessly. "I believe it's called an impasse."
I sighed. "Ouch," I muttered.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, eyeing the button for the nurse.
"I'm fine," I lied.
"I don't believe you," he said gently.
"I'm not going back to sleep."
"You need rest. All this arguing isn't good for you."
"So give in," I hinted.
"Nice try." He reached for the button.
He ignored me.
"Yes?" the speaker on the wall squawked.
"I think we're ready for more pain medication," he said calmly, ignoring my
"I'll send in the nurse." The voice sounded very bored.
"I won't take it," I promised.
He looked toward the sack of fluids hanging beside my bed. "I don't think they're
going to ask you to swallow anything."
My heart rate started to climb. He read the fear in my eyes, and sighed in
"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 any more needles in you now."
"I'm not afraid of the needles," I mumbled. "I'm afraid to close my eyes."
Then he smiled his crooked smile, and took my face between his hands. "I told
you I'm not going anywhere. Don't be afraid. As long as it makes you happy, I'll
I smiled back, ignoring the ache in my cheeks. "You're talking about forever,
"Oh, you'll get over it — it's just a crush."
I shook my head in disbelief— it made me dizzy. "I was shocked when Renée
swallowed that one. I know you know better."
"That's the beautiful thing about being human," he told me. "Things change."
My eyes narrowed. "Don't hold your breath."
He was laughing when the nurse came in, brandishing a syringe.
"Excuse me," she said brusquely to Edward.
He got up and crossed to the end of the small room, leaning against the wall. He
folded his arms and waited. I kept my eyes on him, still apprehensive. He met
my gaze calmly.
"Here you go, honey." The nurse smiled as she injected the medicine into my
tube. "You'll feel better now."
"Thanks," I mumbled, unenthusiastic. It didn't take long. I could feel the
drowsiness trickling through my bloodstream almost immediately.
"That ought to do it," she muttered as my eyelids drooped.
She must have left the room, because something cold and smooth touched my
"Stay." The word was slurred.
"I will," he promised. His voice was beautiful, like a lullaby. "Like I said, as
long as it makes you happy… as long as it's what's best for you."
I tried to shake my head, but it was too heavy. "'S not the same thing," I
He laughed. "Don't worry about that now, Bella. You can argue with me when
you wake up."
I think I smiled. '"Kay."
I could feel his lips at my ear.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I know," he laughed quietly.
I turned my head slightly… searching. He knew what I was after. His lips
touched mine gently.
"Thanks," I sighed.
I wasn't really there at all anymore. But I fought against the stupor weakly. There
was just one more thing I wanted to tell him.
"Edward?" I struggled to pronounce his name clearly.
"I'm betting on Alice," I mumbled.
And then the night closed over me.
Will not be in for a while..