I slip out of my empty bed. It's still early—just past five in the morning. I'm so used to being awake at this time from being in the Navy. I can't regret my decision to leave, though. I've spent the last twenty years serving as a combat medic and then surgeon, and now that I'm a civilian, I can finally relax some. I thought I'd miss it more than I do, but I love my new job as an attending trauma surgeon at Harborview here in Seattle. It's still exhilarating and rewarding without the risks of being shot at or blown up.
Plus, I'm only hours away from my family after fifteen years of living out of Maryland when I wasn't on a tour.
It feels . . . right—except for the fact that half of my heart's been missing for fifteen years.
I jump onto the treadmill for forty-five minutes before having coffee on my balcony that overlooks the city. The sun is starting to rise, and the air is crisp but not too cold for an August morning. I see a plane fly overhead and wonder if Kate is on it
We've been together for about six years, and while I can't love her the way she deserves, I care about her. We met at my aid station outside of Fallujah. She came in with shrapnel injuries, and it was easy enough to patch her up. She had to stick around for a few days, which is how we got to know each other.
It was just her first tour, compared to my third, but we found peace with each other during the fighting and horror surrounding us. Of course, it wasn't until after she healed and returned some months later that our relationship escalated, but it's always remained the same.
While everything else around us is chaotic and often unknown, we've always been each other's constant. Now that I left the Navy, though, it's been different. There's been a shift.
Over there, I could forget my past—even if only for a little while. Here, it's always with me, like a ghost holding my hand. It's her, and she's everywhere. When I go home to see my parents, and even here in Seattle, there are lasting memories of the other half of my heart.
Fifteen years ago, the love of my life—my wife—Bella, disappeared, and nothing has been the same since.
I'm not the same.
What I have with Kate sometimes feels like I'm cheating on Bella, but I don't love Kate. I can't, and she understands. We're just two broken people holding each other together.
I take another sip of my coffee before shaking my head. I've got a long day ahead of me, and I need to prepare instead of thinking about my life. My patients need me at my best, so I try to put everything out of my head and go inside to grab a quick shower so I can leave for work.
I live about two miles from the hospital, and when it's nice out, I walk and leave my truck in the garage below my apartment complex. Today is one of those rare sunshine days. I stop at my favorite coffee shop and grab a cup and a muffin.
The owner, an older woman, smiles, handing me my baked good and my coffee. "Have a good day, Dr. Cullen."
"You too, Lorna." I stuff a five in the tip jar and head back out.
I take a bite as I stop at a light and look around, watching as the people go about their lives. Looking diagonally, I see a young girl in an oversized hoodie step into the street. Our eyes meet for a brief moment, and she smiles—her eyes suddenly growing as if she recognizes me.
. . . It all happens so suddenly.
A car doesn't stop when it should . . .
Tires screech . . .
Someone screams . . .
And the young girl I had locked eyes with topples over the hood of the car in the intersection. I'm running before I know it and reach her seconds after she falls onto the asphalt.
"Oh my God!" The driver yells as I drop beside the girl and press my fingers to her neck. "What did I do?"
I concentrate on the girl as a crowd begins to gather. She's unconscious and hasn't stirred, so I grab my pen light and check her pupils, finding the left less reactionary. Fuck, probable TBI. Traumatic brain injury is the greatest of my worries, but she's clearly suffered broken bones as well. From what it looked like, her pelvis took the brunt of the impact, and a quick assessment tells me it's unstable—quite possibly shattered. Her left leg is no better, with both bones protruding. She could easily have massive internal bleeding too.
"Has someone called nine-one-one?" I ask, looking around as multiple people nod.
"Can I help?" a young woman asks, stepping forward. "I'm just a CNA, but I'm in nursing school."
I nod, motioning for her to come over. "I just want you to hold her head for me. If she wakes up, I don't want her moving even a centimeter, okay? What's your name?"
She nods, taking a position at the girl's head. "I'm Leah Clearwater."
The last name rings a bell. "Quillette?"
"Yeah, you know the Rez?"
I nod. "Grew up in Forks. I knew Harry Clearwater. He helped—" I stop myself, realizing I'm about to talk about Bella. "He was a good man."
She smiles sadly. "Yeah, he was. I'm his daughter. Are you sure there's nothing else I can do?"
I move her fingers over the girl's carotid artery. "Monitor her heart rate."
"Got it. It's bad, isn't it?"
I nod, assessing the rest of the patient as I hear the wail of distant sirens. "Yeah," I sigh. "At least we're close to the hospital."
I thank God we are because I'm worried. She has numerous injuries. Her left lung has collapsed, so I worry her spleen may be ruptured from the impact as well. She just needs to hold on a few more minutes, and I will do all I can to save her life.
"Hold on for me, little one," I whisper. "I'm going to take good care of you."
Police and an ambulance soon surround us, and I rattle off the girl's injuries and what I want to be done. I recognize the ambo crew and am thankful I got a good one. They listen without missing a step and quickly get her loaded onto the stretcher.
We're only a minute or two from Harborview, so we spend the time getting access for fluids, getting her on monitors, and I intubate to secure her airway.
Her blood pressure is low, and I know it's because she's bleeding somewhere—the pelvis for sure, and maybe the spleen. The poor kid took a car at forty miles an hour. It'd be a miracle if her spleen were still in one piece.
My team meets me at the doors, and I go through the list of suspected injuries. I order blood tests and imaging and then tell them to prep for a chest tube and call for an OR and a neuro consult.
I scrub my hands as they start working and transfer the girl to our gurney. Her vitals are tanking as I turn to her and quickly get the chest tube inserted. I fucking hate working on kids, and I'm already invested in this one.
"CT's ready," someone calls out as the x-rays come up.
I'm right about her pelvis—it's in fucking pieces—and her chest and abdomen aren't much better. Four ribs on the left side are broken, and there's blood in her belly. She has a minor skull fracture, but I can't see a bleed—the CT will tell us for sure.
"Has anyone found any ID?" I ask, wanting to know her name.
"Nothing in her bag but a change of clothes, about twenty bucks, and a journal," a nurse, Penny, says.
That doesn't sit right with me, and I start looking at her closer. She has bruises on her right ribs—a few days old, at least—and she's small and frail. It hits me that someone wasn't taking care of this girl and that just . . . enrages me.
"Let's get her to CT, and then an OR needs to be ready," I say, pulling off my gloves.
I follow them and meet the neurosurgeon, Dr. Peter Bradley, in the hall. He's been a good friend of mine since medical school, and I'm glad it's him on call.
"You saw it happen?" he asks, and I nod.
"It was a hard hit. Look, she smiled at me before it happened, and something about her . . ." I shake my head. "She's going to be a special case."
He nods. "Understood. There's no massive bleed, at least. I'll make sure she can still smile."
The CT shows a small subdural hematoma on the girl's brain, which could very likely kill her if not treated quickly. Peter is a great neurosurgeon, which gives me some hope, but I know her belly and chest will be a battle. She's losing blood faster than we can replace it, and I'm honestly worried.
Getting her up to the OR, I let the team prep her and go to scrub with Peter. We discuss a plan of action as we wash our hands, and he's confident he can repair the subdural hematoma without much risk. It's small right now, but it needs to be fixed, or the swelling will cause neurological damage.
"Are you going to take her spleen?" he asks, and I nod.
"There's no saving it from what the CT shows. She's a broken mess, to be honest, but I told her I'd take care of her, so I won't give up."
"Let's go save her life," he says, stepping away from the sink.
We gown and glove, finding her prepped and ready for us. I step up to her left side, taking a scalpel from a nurse. Peter starts, making a small incision on her head along her hairline, which should hide the scar.
"How old do you think she is?" he asks.
"Thirteen, maybe," I sigh, finding her belly full of blood as I make my incision. "Goddamn it."
A monitor goes off, and I know it's her fucking blood pressure tanking. I made a promise to this kid, whether she knows it or not, and I don't plan on failing. I've handled worse throughout my tours with the Navy—Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria; I've been through the Middle East and witnessed absolutely horrific things. Why she's a mission to me now, I'm not sure, but I'm damn sure going to do everything in my power to save her.
"She's in V-Fib," the anesthesiologist calls out as every alarm seems to sound.
Don't own Twilight.
Thanks to May, Brier, and Mary for prereading. And thanks to Fran for beta'ing.
Okay, we're doing this again, but hopefully better. I've changed most of the story, putting in in first person instead of third, so we'll have different POVs from time to time. I know exactly how this fic goes this time, so updates should be weekly. I have five weeks prewritten and I'm almost done with the sixth. If you're giving me another shot, thank you so much. If you're new to this fic, welcome! This will be an angst fest, but I'm a strong believer of HEAs.