"Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man."
Bella never cared for Journey. But as she lay there with her eyes closed she couldn't say she was surprised to hear Steve Perry singing about a small town girl. Forks had pretty limited radio reception, and the morning DJ at WMXM seemed to have a thing for the band - this wasn't the first time they'd been her unceremonious wake up call. With her eyes still closed she groped blindly for her bedside alarm clock, hoping to silence their screeching and maybe catch a few more minutes sleep.
And that's when Bella realized that something was wrong.
A sharp pain lanced through her wrist when she tried to move her arm. She jerked the offending limb again and almost cried out as a wave of fire washed up her forearm. She opened her eyes only to be greeted with absolute darkness...and an empty bed.
"Edward?" she whispered, not wanting to wake Charlie. Her voice sounded strange, raspy and dry. Her throat burned from the friction of that one word. And still, there was no Edward to be found. Bella tried to remember if he was hunting. That really was the only time she ever used the alarm clock anymore. But her brain was…fuzzy. She couldn't make the pieces come together right. No date, no time, no sense of when.
Giving up on the alarm clock, Bella tried to approximate where her lamp would be. But again, as soon as she reached for her nightstand that crippling pain shot through her arm. Tears sprang into the corners of her eyes. She cradled her arm to her chest, feeling for cuts or swelling. Maybe she had rolled on it in her sleep?
Her fingers felt normal, and they all seemed to bend well enough. But as Bella explored further she bumped into something trailing out of the back of her hand. Something hard and round and tube-like. She recognized the shape instantly. It was an IV.
Bella Swan was in the hospital.
It was all becoming clear now that her eyes were adjusting to the intense darkness. She could faintly make out the rails on the bed, the series of sleeping machines humming faintly on the wall above her, and a barely lit door that was in the wrong place for it to be the one in her own bedroom. Still, solving that mystery only left her with a new one: what had happened to her this time?
Even more importantly: why wasn't Edward here with her? Her mind drifted back to the days following her encounter with James. Edward had refused to leave her bedside, feigning sleep and forgoing food for days just to watch over her, just to be with her. Had she been unconscious so long this time that he'd been forced to leave her side to hunt? Did she get hurt while he was away?
Where was he?
Bella felt that twinge of panic start build inside her. Her heart was pounding frantically enough to make her hospital robe twitch with each frantic beat. She scrambled with her free hand, searching for a call button, a light switch, anything that could provide her with more answers. Above her one of the machines noted her rising pulse and cackled to life, triggering an alarm that didn't do much to help calm Bella's nerves.
Footsteps thundered outside her door, which was thrown open to the blinding industrial lighting of a hospital hallway. Two shadows ran through, revealed moments later to be two nurses when they had the fortitude to throw on the lights. One rushed frantically to her side, where she slapped off the radio playing softly on the bedside table, while the other sprinted to a phone hanging on the wall.
"Page Dr. Collins," she ordered into the receiver. "Swan, in 214? She's awake." She paused. "Yes, and find her father." Pause. "No, just use the radio. Channel 5. It'll be faster."
The other nurse shined an even brighter flash light into Bella's spot-blinded eyes with one hand, shutting off the blaring machine with the other. "Bella, my name is Linda. Do you know where you are?" she demanded. They were both concentrated chaos, all prodding hands and curt voices. It was sensory overload compared to the quiet dark from a moment ago. Bella had to blink a few times just to get her brain to process it all.
"Bella," the unnamed nurse now chirped, her cold fingers prodding her wrist for a pulse. "Do you know where you are?" She enunciated each individual word, as if Bella was having problems understand the English language.
"In the hospital?" Bella finally ventured. She attempted to roll her eyes, but the motion only made her stomach churn.
"Shhh." Linda now had a stethoscope pressed to Bella's chest, and apparently answering her question was interfering with her listening. Panic was beginning to give way to irritation, and only the dryness of her throat was preventing Bella from saying something snide.
Fortunately they were interrupted as another figure crossed the threshold into the room. Doctor Collins, as clearly identified by her nametag, was a far from imposing figure. She couldn't have been an inch over five feet tall, but her presence instantly silenced the fluttering nurses, both of whom retreated from her bedside.
"Dr. Collins," Bella interrupted harshly. But the doctor only responded with an enthusiastic smile that made it impossible for Bella to resent her.
"Exactly. Can you tell me how you're feeling?" She placed her own stethoscope against Bella's chest and continued where Linda had left off.
"Confused," Bella admitted, taking a deep breath. "Where's my Dad? Where's my fiancé? What happened to me?"
"Your family is on their way," she said reassuringly, clearly sidestepping the question.
"Follow my finger with your eyes, Bella," Dr. Collins interrupted. "The sooner we get through this the sooner we can talk."
Bella reluctantly followed the doctor's well manicured nail. "I don't--"
"Bella!" A familiar voice proclaimed. "Oh thank God, my baby!" Bella looked up in time to see Renee plow through the nursing staff. Dr. Collins had the sense to get out of the way before she could suffer the same fate. Unobtrusively she ushered the two nurses out of the room, and made herself inconspicuous against the far wall. Renee crashed down onto the edge of the bed and swept Bella into her arms. She crushed her daughter to her chest with no regard for the tubes or wires that tangled them both.
Bella buried her face into the warmth of her mother's neck, reveling in the fact that at least something was making sense. She didn't know why her mother was here, but she was and she loved her and that's what mothers did. The logic of it all calmed her slightly. The sound of steel toes and sharp heels against the tile reached her ears, and a moment later her hands were pried off Renee's shoulders, and cradled between a larger, rougher set.
Her family, together in one room. Back when she was ten this was her wildest dream. Now she was old enough to know it was too good to be true, and that something unthinkable must have happened to cause it. "Mom," she whispered, trying to loosen the vice grip Renee had on her shoulders. "Mom, what are you doing here? What happened?"
Renee reluctantly drew back, but refused to surrender contact with her daughter. With shaking fingers she brushed Bella's cheeks, pushed back her hair, as if checking to make sure she was real. Bella noticed a few gray hairs amongst the brown framing her mother's face. Her eyes were ringed by dark circles, as if she hadn't been asleep for days. She looked…worn down, weary. Bella wanted to comfort her, reassure her that it was all going to be okay, but she didn't know how to, she didn't know that it would be.
She looked up at her Dad in desperation, wanting to find answers in his eyes, reassurances that she didn't usually need from him, from anyone. But Charlie just continued to hover behind them both, still clutching Bella's hand, but with none of his usual awkwardness. Even worse, Bella watched a big, beady tear trickle down the side of his nose.
"I…" Renee hesitated, as though she didn't have the words…or she did but was afraid to use them. She, too, looked over her shoulder at Charlie for help.
"Bells," Charlie murmured softly, his cheeks still damp. The tears looked painfully awkward on his usually stoic face. Charlie wasn't a talker, let alone a crier. That was more terrifying that anything Bella could've imagined. "Honey…" He hesitated and looked back Renee, pleading with his eyes.
"There was an accident at school, Baby," Renee said softly. Again, she smoothed back Bella's wild hair with shaking fingers. Her skin felt cool to the touch, clammy.
"What kind of accident?" Bella demanded, her mind traveling to dark places. The scent of damp stone suddenly flooded her nostrils, a haunting sense memory. Visions of red eyes and faces like rice paper. The Volturi, had they finally made good on their promise? Had she damned everyone she cared about, everyone she'd ever touched?
Charlie sighed deeply, but the anguish on his face was quickly replaced by something close to rage. "You were in a car accident at school, Bells. You remember Tyler Crowley?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "There was a storm. He hit a patch of black ice, lost control, pinned you up against the frame of your truck…"
"Oh baby!" Renee threw her arms around Bella's neck once more. "There was…so much head trauma…I just can't believe you finally came back to us…" A stead trail of warm tears began to course down the back of her neck as Renee's composure finally dissolved into heaving sobs.
Bella clung to her mother with equal voracity. She couldn't breathe, it was as if her lungs had just given up. She tried desperately to inflate them again, but her muscles absolutely refused to listen to her. It wasn't possible! Edward had saved her, had exposed himself by doing so. That was when she knew there was something so vastly and beautifully different about him. That was when...she almost couldn't bear to think it…
That was when she had realized she was falling in love with him.
Deep in the recesses of her mind she felt the touch of his cool skin against the fire of her own, and she lost herself in the gold pools of his eyes. With painful desperation, Bella took in enough air to whisper one question: "When?"
Renee broke their embrace, wiping her nose on the back of her hand like a child. She exchanged another nervous look with her ex-husband. Charlie placed his hand on Bella's shoulder and whispered in a relieved tone, "two months ago, Bells. You've...you've been comatose since then."
The last thing Bella remembered seeing was her mother's panicked face as the blackness closed in on her again, and she willingly surrendered herself into the blessed nothingness.
A/N: This is my first multi-chaptered piece in a long time, so your feedback would be greatly apprecaited, as would your patience with my update schedule. Thanks for reading!