A/N: Thanks again for the reviews, alerts, and PMs. Thanks always to Irritable Grizzzly. And thank you to those of you who have been rec'ing and pimping this fic around.
This is one of those chapters where the characters take over and ruin my mental outline. It's okay, I sort of love when that happens. I can't wait to get your thoughts at the end.
The wind was crisp and the sky was unusually clear. Bella's grip around Edward's waist loosened as she relaxed with the movement of the motorcycle. She wasn't used to letting someone else have control, but it had become apparent as they whipped out of the lot that Edward knew what he was doing. She breathed in the night air and leaned her head forward so that her chin rested on his shoulder. She couldn't remember a time when she'd been happier, or felt more alive.
As they made it to the end of the straightaway leaving La Push, and approached the switch-backs that would take them along the cliff's edge toward the turn-off for Forks, Bella looked back to make sure Alice was following. She knew that the back roads could be confusing, especially at night.
The Volvo was there, keeping its distance, but staying in sight.
Edward took the first turn steadily to test the bike's capabilities. It rounded the bend easily and felt solid and powerful beneath him.
"This thing's in good shape," he called to Bella over the sound of the motor.
"Yeah, Jake built it himself."
The road opened up as they approached the next turn. The trees that had been obscuring the view thinned until the rocks along the ocean's edge were high and bare. The cliff rose up next to them, creating a wall, so there was no place to look but at the ocean. The moon was full and high in the sky, its light reflected in one long stream across the water to the edge of the horizon. It was a seascape that was all blues, grays and whites.
"Some view," Edward commented.
Bella agreed. She'd seen it dozens of times and it was always beautiful, but never the same.
"How's Alice doing back there?" Edward didn't take his eyes from the road as it weaved steadily downhill, back and forth with the shape of the cliffs.
"She's right behind us, I just looked." Bella replied, but then she heard frantic horn-honking and saw Alice flashing her lights.
"Something's going on. Pull over," Bella said, bewildered.
Edward slowed the bike and in no time the car was beside them. Alice had the window down. Her hands were gripping the steering wheel tightly, her panic-stricken eyes were wide.
"What's wrong?" Edward called sharply.
"I don't have any brakes," Alice called back, keeping her voice calm in contrast to her expression.
"What? What do you mean?"
"I don't have any brakes!" Alice repeated, this time a little frantically. They rounded the next wide curve side-by-side, and the pace increased. "What do I do?"
Bella felt her pulse racing and tried to think clearly. She knew these roads well. The hill would continue for almost another mile along the cliffs. Toward the bottom of the hill the turns would be sharper. The ocean would always be on one side, a sheer rock wall on the other. The tide was low, which meant that a trip into the ocean would be deadly, the shallow rocks barely concealed below the water's surface.
Inevitably one of two things would happen: either Alice would lose control and end up driving off the cliff on a fatal trip into the ocean, or she would hit the rock wall first and possibly stay on the road, but the road was narrow and the odds of the car staying away from the edge of the cliff was slim. Bella's mind raced as their speed increased. She knew Edward and Alice were calling back to one another, but she couldn't focus on what they were saying. She could think of only one way…
"You're both going to have to trust me!" She called suddenly, her mind made up.
She felt the tension in Edward's torso, but he nodded.
"Okay!" Alice gritted her teeth as they took the next bend, but still kept her cool.
"There's a place up ahead where it will be safe to go over."
"Over the cliff?" Edward's voice was harsh.
"It's the only way," Bella yelled back. "The water's too shallow everywhere else. There are sharp turns up ahead. How long do you think she'll have control of the car?"
Alice was too busy now to hear them. Even Edward was struggling to stay beside her as their speed inched up past fifty miles an hour. "I trust you Bella," Alice yelled to her, and then to Edward she ordered, "Just do what she says!"
"I'll wave you off," Bella said, "Do you understand? I'll be standing where you need to drive off the cliff. The water is deep there. You're going to be okay, Alice."
Alice gripped the wheel tighter and nodded through her concentration.
She tightened her grip around Edward and yelled, "Go! It's just up ahead."
Edward increased their pace to outrun the speeding car. They whipped around three more curves before Bella yelled at him to stop. She was off the bike in an instant and running toward the edge of the cliff. "Put the headlight on me!" She screamed over the sound of engines and the Volvo's squealing tires.
Edward obeyed without thinking; there wasn't time. The car was barreling toward where Bella stood, waving her arms. She jumped back just in time as the tires spun through the gravel and crashed through the small barrier. For an instant that lasted a lifetime, it hung in the sky, its tires spinning in the air, before it plunged into the ocean below.
Edward's gaze peeled away from the place where the car had disappeared into the blackness and he tried to focus on Bella. She was yelling something at him. He concentrated on her voice.
"Call for help!" she said. Then before he could do anything to stop her, she leapt off the cliff.
The wind rushed through her hair for one long moment before she hit the water. It was black and icy, but she barely felt it as adrenaline coursed through her veins. She had only one focus: Alice.
Water pushed at her, and churned around her in angry bubbles and disorienting waves. She could see the car farther out, half-floating in the sea. She swam toward it, gasping every time another wave broke over her head, nearly forcing her back. She heard herself whispering Alice's name over and over. It felt like an eternity before she reached the Volvo.
The car was turned on its side. The passenger-side doors faced the sky but they were bent in where the low barrier had made impact. She could see Alice inside. There was still an air pocket where she was vainly trying to force the passenger door open. The car was disappearing lower and lower into the water before Bella's eyes.
Alice saw Bella swimming toward her and mouthed, "The door is stuck!"
Bella mouthed back, "Other side!" and taking a deep breath, plunged below the surface to get to the driver's side door.
It was silent and black. Bella felt her way around the car as she forced her body down. She searched blindly for the door handle and felt her heart flutter when her fingers found their way around it. She pulled at it as hard as the cold water would allow. Her lungs screamed for air, but she ignored her survival instincts, focusing only on the task at hand. The handle snapped out of her hand the first time, and she panicked when she didn't find it again right away. Her heart raced, her brain demanding breath, but still she stayed focused. She wasn't coming up without Alice.
She found the handle again and this time she braced her feet against the car as she yanked. The door swung free and she felt the brush of Alice's body as she swam by. Relief brought with it the sensation of acute pain in her chest, and she turned to swim back to the surface. She pushed off the car and when she was yanked back, she gasped on instinct. Her sweatshirt was caught on the door somehow, but her breath was already gone and icy water was filling her lungs. She didn't have the strength to struggle, or time for any last thoughts before her icy, black reality became oblivion.
"Come on Bella," the voice forced itself into her consciousness, demanding, hard, and desperate. She felt nothing, could do nothing, but listen to the voice.
"Come on." She didn't know what the voice wanted her to do. She wished they would lift the fiery stones from her chest. They were going to kill her. She was going to burn to death or she would die from the pressure. Then there a gentle touch against her mouth, and the stones in her chest quit burning for a moment.
"Is the water out?" Another voice joined in.
"She coughed it up," the desperate voice replied, "but she's not breathing on her own." There was pressure against her mouth again, and again the burning lessened. "Bella? Bella come on, breathe. You have to breathe."
"Do you want me to take over? They'll be here any minute."
"No," the voice snapped. "No, I just – I need her to breathe. Please, Bella."
To ease the pain in the voice she tried to understand what she was supposed to do, but the stones were in her way, so she couldn't help. The darkness came back, inviting, and she went into it willingly.
When she opened her eyes, she realized she didn't know where she was. Nothing looked familiar, and she made a small sound of distress. A hand was on hers in a moment, and Charlie's anxious face filled her vision.
"Bella? Bella can you hear me?"
She cleared her throat to answer and cringed as a thousand tiny needles sliced at her airway.
"No, no, don't try to talk." Charlie leaned over her bed and in a rare show of affection, pushed her hair away from her forehead. "The doc said your throat will be sore for a while."
"What happened?" Even her whisper was hoarse.
"Don't you remember?"
She thought about it. At first it was hard to pinpoint the last thing she knew for sure. Then she recalled the image of Alice fighting with the door and panicked. "Alice!"
"Shhhh," Charlie soothed, "she's okay. I finally convinced her and Edward to go downstairs and get something to eat. They've been here around the clock. They'll probably be upset that they weren't around when you regained consciousness."
"You've been out for a little over twenty-four hours." He gripped her hand. "When they get back I'll go get the doc and tell him you're awake. You gave me quite a scare you know."
"Sorry." She gave him a small smile.
"You don't have to be." He squeezed her hand. "Bella, you saved Alice's life."
"And I'll never be able to repay you." Alice materialized at the other side of the bed. She had tears in her eyes. "I'm so glad you're awake."
It all happened so fast that Bella hadn't had a chance to think or feel. It seemed more like a dream than reality. Something about seeing Alice again, alive and well, put it into perspective and made it real. It may have been hours for the others, but for her, it was moments and reaction began to set in. "Oh Alice," she whispered, and her hand began to tremble as she reached out, "I thought…"
"Hush Bella, it's okay. Just rest. There'll be time to talk later." She squeezed Bella's hand and then looked toward the foot of the bed. Bella followed her gaze to find that Edward. He was keeping his distance, his expression unreadable.
Alice turned back to Bella, "How do you feel? Just thumbs up or down."
Bella lifted her hand and held her thumb out to the side. Alice laughed. "I guess that's good enough."
"Okay, I'm going to go find the doc and I'll be right back." Charlie patted her hand one more time before leaving.
"And I promised Angela I'd call her as soon as you woke up. Do you need anything?" Alice stepped back from the bed and dug her phone out of her pocket. When Bella shook her head she said, "All right then, I'll just be out in the hall." She slipped out and shut the door behind her, leaving Edward and Bella alone.
Bella wasn't sure where to look. Edward hadn't moved since he'd entered the room except to occasionally pinch the bridge of his nose. She wanted to ask him if he had a headache. He looked pale and tired, with an extra day's worth of stubble to make the shadows on his face appear deeper. He didn't speak for a few long seconds and then he came around the bed next to her, all the while his face a mask that she couldn't see behind.
She offered him a small smile, feeling awkward. He watched her for a moment and then he lifted a hand to brush her hair back as Charlie had done; only his touch left a trail of fire behind.
The silence dragged on, his eyes intensely burning into her. Slowly the mask was fading and little-by-little his face revealed what he was feeling.
"Edward I'm-" Bella whispered. She wanted to say something – anything - that would remove the pain from his eyes. She wasn't sure what had caused it, but she couldn't bear to see it.
He cut her off. "Don't." It was a rough command, spoken quietly. "Don't, just…" his hand moved restlessly from her forehead and cupped the back of her neck, "I just need a minute." And then, before she could respond, he was kissing her.
It took all of his self-control to keep the kiss gentle. There was a need in him; a powerful, all-encompassing need to hold onto her. Something inside of him had snapped when he'd reached through the dark and found her lifeless form twisting in the water. He hadn't known until that moment exactly what she meant to him. He hadn't been able to breathe properly since, knowing that he could lose her.
She felt the tenderness in the kiss, and the barely-veiled desperation. Confused, she gave back what she could, hoping that he would be able to tell her what was going on.
The kiss was brief, but when he pulled away, he simply rested his forehead against hers. "Bella…" He took a moment to get a hold of himself and then he leaned back to look into her face. She stared back at him, wide-eyed. He picked up her hand and toyed with her fingers. "I thought you were dead," he said simply without looking at her. "When I pulled you out of the water I thought you were gone. I – I've never been that scared before in my life. I just – I need you to know that you're important. You mean so much to me; more than I realized."
Bella watched his eyes as he spoke and wished the sand in her throat would go away so that she could speak. "You mean a lot to me too," she whispered. "I'm sorry you were scared, but I'm fine. Really."
He was still looking at her fingers as he shook his head. "You jumped off of a cliff, Bella." Finally he met her gaze. "I stood there and watched you jump off those rocks and I couldn't do anything to stop you. What were you thinking, doing something like that?"
"I wasn't thinking," she replied. "I just reacted. I needed to get Alice out of the car and I was already moving before it even registered. I'm sorry I worried you. I've watched the pack go off the rocks there a million times, so I knew it was safe. It just seemed like the only way. I thought I could handle it."
"You don't have to handle everything alone Bella." His voice had a hint of accusation in it. "I couldn't help you. You were under the water somewhere and I couldn't find you." He pushed away from the bed to pace the room, frustrated that he couldn't find the right way to say what he wanted her to know, and frustrated that he wasn't even sure what that was.
"I dropped my phone next to the bike and I went in after you. I saw you go down, but I was still too far back to help and I kept waiting and waiting for you to break the surface. Then Alice pops up and she's smiling, and she turns around like she's expecting you to be right there, and you aren't…because you're down there somewhere just – just drowning… and I can't do anything about it."
"Edward, I'm fine now," she said it softly, wanting to ease the misplaced guilt he was feeling and to erase the pain from his face.
"I couldn't find you!" he exploded. "Do you know what that felt like? I stayed down for as long as I could, until my – my lungs were on fire and knowing all the while that you'd been under there even longer, and I couldn't find you. Then finally, finally you're in my arms and Alice is helping to pull you out, but it's been how long? Five minutes? Ten? And your lips are blue and you aren't responding and I'm thinking this is it. Now I've lost her because I couldn't stop her from jumping."
"If something happened to me, it wouldn't have been your fault Edward. I jumped. It wasn't up to you to stop me. You saved me. You found me and you saved my life. I don't – I don't know why you're so upset."
He paced back and forth next to her bed. After her speech, he dropped into the chair next to her and put his head in his hands. A few moments passed before he lifted his head. "I guess I'm upset because I thought the woman I love was dead."
"W-what did you just say?"
"I said I thought you were dead." Edward watched her face carefully, noting that most of the blood had drained from it.
"That's not all you said." She was afraid she'd heard him wrong.
"I said that you're the woman I love." He felt the truth of the words the moment they left his mouth. He didn't move from the chair and their eyes stayed locked. "I love you."