Punch Me, Love Me, Save Me

Chapter Eighteen—The Water Level Rises


Emmett was as talkative as the first run the following morning. Edward hadn't seen Bella before they set out and he tried not to care about her or what she was doing. Yet, his thoughts turned to her, even as his muscles burned with exertion.

Did she have as much trouble sleeping as he did?

Was she mad at him?

Why did she punish him? Was it because of the shit he pulled on the home visits or because of what he'd said to her? Or what he'd said at dinner?

Emmett kept running straight into the other building as Edward saw Bella in the courtyard by the pool. She looked as good as she had the day before, a smile on her face. It was hard to tell of it was a lie.

"Same thing as yesterday," she said, tossing him a towel. He stripped his shoes and shirt, as he watched her grab the timer. She nodded as he slipped his feet and legs into the cool water. He groaned at the sweet relief. Within a few minutes, he could feel the burn of her eyes on him. He ignored it and slid into the water. It was at the shallow end of the pool, so it barely reached his waist.

His hands skimmed over the surface of the water, sending ripples outward. A part of him wanted her to say something, but she didn't. Not even after the timer went off a minute later and she handed him a towel.

He went to his room to shower, his clothes once again in their places. A part of his punishment was already over, yet it felt as it stretched the distance between him and Bella. Soon they were on the road on the way to the mobile clinic. The ride wasn't silent, for which he was thankful, but she continued to act as if nothing he said to her in the last two days had hurt her.

How could it not, when it shredded him? Did she not really care?

Their conversation turned toward school, a safe topic. Yet, he was waiting for when she would get him back in the office with the magic couch that made him tell her all his secrets. Why hadn't she insisted on therapy sessions?

"Any chance you'd be willing to take vitals?" she asked unexpectedly, minutes from town.

"No," he said instantly. She tried to hide her disappointment, but the tiny huff of her chest was enough for him to see it.

"Write in the information in the charts?" she tried again.

"No."

"All right."

Edward spent the afternoon in the corner of the clinic, keeping an eye on Bella and the rest of the staff. He refused to hide away in the fucking room again, not knowing what was happening. He did grab a book to keep him company. There had been a copy of Catcher in the Rye in Alec's office, but since he started reading that again with Bella, he knew he couldn't finish it without her.

Stupid, he knew, but it was what he felt.

That night, she sat in the chair by his bed, reading to him. As her voice lulled him to sleep, his eyes snapped open the moment he realized she did not join him in bed, and once again, left without a word.

~oOo~

The following morning's swim lesson was another panic-inducing one, and the most enlightening since they started. Instead of Emmett taking a quick dip in the pool, it had been Rosalie while Edward was in the water. Though he was fucking scared as he stood chest deep in the water, he didn't start to experience panic until Bella walked toward the pool.

Why did he panic when she was near? He didn't understand it.

That afternoon, after he insisted on going to the clinic again despite his panic attack, he grabbed a chart three hours after they arrived. He was fucking capable of writing down shit; he'd only done it out of boredom.

That night, Bella and Edward, played a game of pool in the media room. She kicked his ass three out of five games, but her ass was a distraction, he couldn't help it.

They walked toward his room, exhaustion making him yawn. "Get some rest," Bella said. "We have a big day since it's Saturday."

"What happens on a Saturday?"

She laughed, smirking. "Laundry day," she said as he groaned. He walked into his room to find the bed made with new sheets, blankets, and pillows.

"Oh thank fuck," he grumbled, flopping down on the bed. "Who knew I'd miss things like a fucking pillow."

"I did, asshole," Bella said as she grabbed a book from his nightstand.

Ass side up, he turned his head enough from the pillow to peek at her with one eye. "Why did I get that punishment and the cold water anyway?"

He wanted her to admit he'd hurt her with his words. Why, he didn't know.

"You didn't do the dishes twice," she stated, shrugging. "Your bathroom was a fucking mess. Things that I told you were you responsible for since the beginning. I warned you that there would be consequences if you didn't do your chores. I'm not going to hold your hand and remind you every time, that's your responsibility."

She had given him a razor and shaving cream a couple days earlier, and he left his clipped hair and all over the sink. It was gross and he did know better than to expect a maid around there. He hated cleaning.

She added, "You were listening on a private conversation, too."

"Hey, your friends here do it, too."

"No camera records any longer," she said. "I eliminated voice while the crew keeps an eye on us, unless you use the intercom they won't be able to hear you. So, if you need someone's attention and can't get to the door, wave like crazy."

His brow furrowed. "That sounds dangerous."

"Yeah, well, Jasper is still on my shit list for listening in on our conversation that night by the pool."

"Fucking asshole," Edward growled, his fist clenching at his side.

"They're supposed to turn down the volume while I'm talking with one of you after the first week. You know the whole patient-doctor confidentiality thing."

"That's appreciated, but like I said, that can be dangerous."

Bella nodded. "We'll use hand signals, if needed."

Good, Edward thought. Unable to keep his yawn at bay, Bella insisted on him getting some sleep. From the look of her eyes and the circles that surrounded them, she needed some, too.

"You going to read to me?" he asked, patting the spot beside him on the bed. Thought he'd try it even though he didn't deserve anything from her.

"Nice try," she said, handing him the book. "Don't stay up too late."

"You're not locking me in?" he asked when he noticed she hadn't taken her keys out.

She looked over her shoulder and shook her head. "No. Anyway, you can't leave using any of the outer doors."

"So, I'm still a prisoner," he stated, rubbing the tip of his chin with his middle finger. As she left, she sang a soft "goodnight."

Edward couldn't understand why she continued to talk to him, as if he hadn't done or said things that were horrible. He fell back on his pillow, staring at the ceiling and wondered how much abuse he could throw her way before she finally hated him. And he thought that maybe it was for the best.

~oOo~

Swim lessons the following day were a revelation for Edward. "I don't fucking get it!" he panted from one of the lounge chairs. The panic had receded, but his heart rate and blood pressure still raced.

Bella didn't say a word, only slowly stroked his arm, taking his hand in hers from where she sat beside him. "When did you feel the panic set in?"

His eyes lifted to hers, trying to remember. "I-I think when you were in the water."

She seemed confused by a second. "I was in the water for most of the five minutes, Edward. That can't be it."

Edward realized she knew exactly when he started to panic; she only wanted him to figure it out on his own. He thought back to the first time she'd put her feet in the water the day before. The panic didn't start until Rosalie had left from her quick swim.

Bella caught his attention again with a squeeze of her hand. "You didn't get this bad when Rosalie took a swim the other day."

He shook his head. "She looks like she could take care of herself."

Was that really it? He thought it could be. It made sense to him. Emmett swimming alone didn't bother him much, either.

She cocked an eyebrow. "And I don't?"

No. "Fuck if I know!"

Why wouldn't she just tell him what she thought? Instead of doing that, she asked him another question, one that was completely off topic. Or was it?

"Why don't you want to be a doctor anymore?"

Edward had waited for her to ask that question. He'd even come up with shit answers to give her that would either piss her off or she'd misdiagnose him. Yet, as she fingered some of his sweat-slicked hair from his forehead and met his gaze, he knew he couldn't lie to her.

"I don't want the responsibility of another life in my hands."

His gaze couldn't remain on her, not with those deep brown eyes that could easily read a person's soul on him. At least, what was left of his soul, she'd have to squint to see the tiny fragments that remained.

She said nothing again for a while, playing with the fingers of his hand still encased in hers. How could something so fucking small, still feel so big and important to him? Where was she when she thought so hard? What was she thinking about him, them?

When she looked up at him again, he allowed his gaze to linger. Pink lips, slightly chapped, begged him to test their softness, taste their cherry flavor lingering there. She'd been carrying a chapstick for days now, and whenever she put some on, he wanted to kiss it off.

"Say something," he asked. In the time he'd been there, over two weeks, he never asked her to talk to him. If she wanted to, she'd do it. If he told her to shut up, she'd done it. He asked her to talk for the first time, needing to hear her words. Instead, she gave his words back to him.

"You don't want the responsibility of another life in your hands."

The repetition of those words allowed them to penetrate through the chaotic thoughts that still raged in his mind. They were on opposite sides of the spectrum, no fucking middle ground and that often left him on uneven terrain.

He wanted saving.

He wanted to forget in the nearest bottle of alcohol.

There was no middle about his addiction.

It was a mixed bag of emotions. It often caused him to say the worst shit imaginable and hurt those around him. Bella wasn't the first. Alice had been at the end of his shitty attitude, too. Yet, there were times he was capable of so much more, love and tenderness, but could he really give that to those who deserve it.

His mind wandered to an hour earlier. He caught Bella asleep, on her side, in a lounge chair after his morning run.

Emmett skipped his morning cool down in the pool, favoring his right side for some reason. He'd gone straight to his building, for his wife.

Edward skirted the pool, making his way toward his harpy. Since the night of the incident, she hadn't slept in his bed. It was obvious in the last few days that she'd been losing sleep, though; the dark circles under her eyes were a telltale sign of that.

She was dressed in a black bikini, not the itty-bitty kind with miniscule strings holding it together. The one she wore was more conservative, but still sexy as hell. Her ass looked amazing in it. He couldn't resist.

While she slept, cautious and aware, he swept the palm of his hand from the top of her knee and along her thigh, and up the curve of her hip with a feather light touch. Her skin was smooth and hot beneath his hand. The color of his skin was only a shade darker than her lightly sun-kissed color.

Fuck, she's beautiful.

Her eyelashes fluttered slightly, and he could see that she was listening to music. An ear bud and the wire were visible from under the wealth of her dark hair. He glanced over her body, picking up the iPod to see what she was listening to, Ho Hey by the Lumineers. He smiled then and put it back down beside her, lightly tapping a few fingers over her navel.

His hand moved back to her hip, lingering too long. He knew, yet he couldn't move away from her.

"What are you doing?" Jasper asked from behind him. Edward sighed, knowing that he'd have to face the fucker sometime.

"Checking what she's listening to," he said with a shrug. He gave her hip one last swirl of his thumb before he rose to his feet, a bottle of sunscreen in his hand. The one he grabbed from beside the mp3 player. "And I was grabbing this." It was the truth, just not all of it.

"What's going on?" Bella asked, her voice still thick from sleep. Edward couldn't help the groan that escaped as she stretched like a little kitten on the lounger. Long legs shifting from side to side, arms stretched overhead, and her breast thrust high in the air. She was trying to kill him.

"Jasper just got here," Edward answered, having to clear his throat once. "Wanted to know what I was doing."

"Oh," she said, rubbing one of her eyes with a small fist. "I'm sorry. Give me a few minutes to wake up before we start."

"I'm in no hurry," he stated and watched as she walked over to the pool to splash her face with water. Edward's hands started to sweat, much like the first time he'd seen her so close the pool's edge.

"How about I join you?" Jasper said, already dropping his jeans to reveal some swim trunks.

"Whatever," Edward hissed, having forgotten that the asshole was still there. "The minute you say something to make fun of me, I'll crack that jaw of yours." Jasper gave him a smile that was both menacing and placating. He wanted to knock in his teeth, anyway.

"He would never do that, Edward," Bella stated from beside him. "If he did, I'd kick his ass."

"I might be an asshole from time to time, but I would never make fun of someone having a panic attack."

Edward growled, "Like you don't enjoy watching me breakdown."

Jasper shook his head. "No, I don't. I've had a several bad ones myself. So no, it's not fun to watch someone go through that, even if he's an asshole."

Edward tried to ignore him as Bella grabbed the timer and then it hit him as he watched her ass in that butt-hugging bikini. She wasn't wearing shorts like those she usually wore; she was dressed to get in the water.

"You're getting in the water, aren't you?" Edward gasped, rubbing at his chest. Bella turned at met his gaze as she tied her hair into a ponytail.

"I was planning on it, that's why Jasper is here."

Edward swallowed. He wanted to scream at her for putting him in that position. There was no way he'd tell her to stop with that asshole Jasper around. She had to know that. What kind of game was she playing?

He only nodded in response, removing his t-shirt. Jasper was doing the same and he couldn't help but stare. The man was covered in burn scars, from the bottom of his pectoral muscles, down to the waistline of his shorts.

"I'm not that pretty, Edward," Jasper said with a grin. "These are the scars I bear. The fire that caused them and the loss of my family was why Bella came to get me."

"You got into drugs," Edward said. "The pain had to be horrible."

Jasper nodded. "Yeah, and that's why I got addicted. After I was better, I kept taking them to erase the memories. Its hard to get over seeing your mother burn alive."

"Jesus," Edward hissed. "Why are you telling me this?"

Jasper shrugged. "We don't lie here, like Bella and the others said. Plus, I hoped it would explain why I was asshole the other day."

Edward shook his head. "I thought that was your lovely personality."

The man before him laughed. "Maybe, but I can see a lot of me in you. At least, the way you acted when you first arrived."

"It would take an asshole to recognize an asshole." The easy smile that came then was genuine.

They heard a sniffle and they turned to see Bella wipe away imaginary tears. "Are we going to hold hands and sing Kumbaya next? The bromance developing between you is so thick, I can't see through it."

"Fuck you, Swan," Jasper said with a roll of his eyes.

"Kiss my ass, 3B."

"3B?" Jasper said to Edward, looking confused.

Edward grinned. "Bubble Butt Bella."

There was a twitch of Jasper's lips, and then a heave of the man's chest before a torrent of laughter left him.

Bella groaned. "You are both assholes!"

"I'm not going to deny that—" Edward said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Jasper is still an asshole."

Jasper clapped Edward's shoulder, making his skin sting. Thankfully, he managed to keep the wince from his face. "And this asshole will still kick your ass if you ever hurt Bella again."

Their eyes met, green to blue. An understanding between them was clear, an unspoken agreement. They didn't want something bad to happen to Bella. Edward just needed the reminder every now and then. Jasper would make sure that he would never forget that promise their gaze had made in a space of a few seconds.

"Let's go for a swim." Jasper dove into the water. As he surfaced, he splashed Bella and Edward. "I'm certified lifeguard, just like Emmett. Nothing will happen to either of you while I'm here."

Edward nodded, his heart pounding again. He slipped into the water, wading until it was chest deep and dove underwater. He surfaced at the deep end of the pool, holding onto the wall. His hands ached from the hold as Bella swam toward him.

He wasn't panicking. It made no sense to him. Jasper started to do some laps as Bella met him at the other end. Her eyes were wide, her smile small, though.

"How are you doing?"

"I think I'm okay."

"I think you are, too," she murmured. Taking his hand, she led him away from the wall. "See we're swimming together."

"I don't understand."

"Not yet, but I think you will."

"My heart still races when you're in the pool."

Edward wasn't stupid. He knew from all the prior experiences that what made him nervous now wasn't the memories from the day Nessie drowned, at least not anymore. It was when Bella was too close to the pool or tried to go into the water. He was afraid to figure out why and the fact that he seemed okay with her in the pool, swimming beside him, his previous theory was proven wrong.

He was starting to believe that he was scared and prone to panic because he cared for her. He didn't react as strongly to Emmett or Rosalie swimming, just Bella.

"Do you want to try to stretch the five minutes?" she asked, bringing him from his thoughts.

Edward only nodded, finally finding the ability to focus on her and only her. The water was up to her neck, her hair slicked back, and for the first time, he was able to make out a small galaxy of freckles below the bridge of her nose. It spread to the tops of her flushed cheeks. His eyes roamed down further, searching for more. On her shoulder was a trio of freckles that he wanted to taste desperately.

"You need to stop looking at me like that," she said softly.

"Like what?" Edward wanted to know what she felt right then.

"As if I'm something to eat," she replied, turning away to give her more cover.

"Pretty sure, despite the chlorine, you'd taste very good."

"That can't happen," she said, looking over her shoulder. The trio he admired earlier was still visible with her back facing him. He lifted his hand and skimmed a finger over them.

"Don't," she whispered. Before Edward could respond, the timer went off. A few things happened after so quickly, his head spun.

First, Jasper lifted himself out of the pool and made his way into the building. Second, Bella swam more than an arm's length away from him. Finally, his heart rate shot up and his vision blurred; it was the onset of a panic attack.

"Where did you go?" Bella asked, bringing Edward out of his memories.

"I only panic when we're left alone."

"I wasn't sure, at first, but yes. I think so."

"You've been testing your theory all along," he said, his hand still in hers.

"At first, I thought it was anyone in the pool," she said, looking away for a moment. "But then you didn't react in the same manner with Emmett, Rosalie, or even Jasper. Only me."

"I thought it was because we were close," he murmured, hating that he had to admit that.

"For a while, I thought the same, until I figured out that you get anxious when we're alone near the pool. It's when you would be the only one to save me if something should happen. Like earlier. You didn't panic even though I was in the water with you. Not until Jasper left."

"I'm scared to be responsible for any life, even in a pool."

Bella nodded. "I think the memories of your sister's death makes swimming and pools in general worse than other instances. As you said, you don't want to responsible for a patient. You feel their life would be in your hands."

His brow furrowed as something else popped into his mind. "That might also explain why I refuse to drive with anyone else in a car."

"That's something I didn't know. It would make sense that, subconsciously, anything that would make you feel like you're responsible for someone would make you nervous."

"I guess now you're going to ask me about Kate. The patient I lost and the reason I walked away from my residency."

She squeezed his hand again. "Not yet. The last hour has been hard enough for you."

He said nothing to that and looked away. "How am I supposed to get over something like this?"

"One step at a time," she stated.

"The swim sessions will continue."

"Yes."

He sighed, looking at her again, his eyes roaming over her body. "It's not exactly a hardship." She rolled her eyes, handing him a bottle of water. "Are we going to the clinic?" It was the last day, so he was positive she would want to go.

"The choice is yours today."

"Let's go."


AN: There were quite a few people that thought she shouldn't have punished him in the last chapter. I'm glad I wrote that note at the bottom of that chapter, it might have been worse. I hope I explained why she punished him and that it was justified to HER. Remember her methods are different so I'm sure I'll hit a few nerves as I continue. I'm okay with that. Also, I added quite a few things to this chapter after it was betaed. All those mistakes are my fault and not my wonderful beta. Okay, I'll go back to no AN's now. ;)