A/N: Yes, it's been awhile since I've updated, but I hope you guys still haven't given up on me. Who would have thought that university life could be so demanding? This chapter took a real long time to write, and if it hadn't been for the WC sponsored by the Twilight Counsel it would probably still be sitting in my pretty, little head. That night I typed out the majority of this chapter - over 3000 words!
My love and appreciation go out to my lovely beta, Natsu. Also, before I put this out there to you guys, I wanted my Twilight Counsel mentor, AngelGoddess1981, to look it over since I was having doubts about it. You see, this chapter actually deviated quite a bit from the original outline I'd plotted out back in November.
You're going to see quite a bit of military lingo in this chapter. I put what the acronyms stand for in parenthesis next to the acronym, so hopefully it will be easier for you to understand. And for clarification sakes a "Dollar Flight" is the first flight for those in UPT; sortie – flying an aircraft in a combat mission.
The usual disclaimer applies…and without further adieu I give you Chapter 14.
6 Underground – Sneaker Pimps
Take me down, 6 underground,
The ground beneath your feet,
Laid out low, nothing to go
Nowhere a way to meet
I've got a head full of drought,
Down here, so far off losing out
Overground, watch this space,
I'm open to falling from grace
The last few weeks had been a complete whirlwind. Bella and I had survived our first real fight, and I had one doozy of a confrontation with my dad – again.
It seems that's all I've been doing when I attempt to have an adult conversation with him anymore – butting my head against a wall. I just wish we could get along for the sake of mom. Unfortunately, she's the one who ultimately gets the short end of the stick.
When Bella had told me about spying on me, I'd completely flipped out. All I felt was hurt and betrayal. I knew deep down she didn't want to hurt me, but I couldn't help feeling as if I'd been set up. I mean what were the chances that my own girlfriend would be the one to rat me out to my father. Then, I wondered about her reasoning for her actions. If she hadn't come barging into my apartment, then I had no doubt that our relationship would have ended.
She looked defeated, but at the same time, she wasn't willing to throw in the towel. When she walked away, I realized just how much I couldn't bear the thought of ever being separated from her. When I heard her loud truck leave, I thought for sure I'd never hear from her again. I am a completely selfish person, and I didn't care where or what she did as long as she came back. I was honestly surprised when she came back to her apartment. I had expected her to spend the night at her friend's place; I had been so mean to her. But Bella was true to her word, no matter who she makes an oath with.
I didn't mean to just blurt out that I loved her while we were sitting on her couch talking. Damn, she has a way of just getting me to spill my guts. However, I wanted her to understand that I was not in any way going to break up with her. The way her eyes lit up when she made that realization shot through me like a bolt of lightning, I couldn't help but kiss her senseless.
She was right, though. If we had continued on the path we were on, I would have no doubt failed out of the academic side of UPT.
Right after class on Tuesday I drove over to the base hospital and rudely barged into my father's office.
"You really have some nerve," I said loudly, slamming the door behind me.
His eyes zeroed in on me as he leapt from his chair. "Edward, you need to calm down," he replied too calmly. "You are in a hospital."
I attempted to rein in my temper, and failed miserably. I smirked at him instead. "I'll calm down, when you decide to quit meddling with my life. Who the hell do you think you are? Just because you are my father doesn't give you an excuse to have someone from the squadron to check up on me!"
He sidestepped around his desk and stood in front of me. We were toe to toe and neither of us dared to break the stare down that was happening. Both of us had our lips pressed in a tight line, eyes penetrating the other. It was almost as if I was staring in a mirror. I wasn't sure how much time had passed until my father, being the arrogant asshole that he is, threw his head back and began laughing uncontrollably. I blinked. What the fuck?
He spun around, turning on his heel, and retreated to the safety behind his desk. He placed his hands flat on it and eyed me warily. "You should go, Edward. Don't want your newest conquest to wonder where you are," he sneered. "Perhaps when you're done with her, you could send her my way. I could tell her about all the other notches on your bed."
I didn't know what to say to that. For once my father left me completely speechless. I couldn't take the chance of letting my father know anything more about Bella, and if I would have opened my mouth to tell him so I would have definitely let something slip. I did the only thing I could and left. I could hear him chuckling as I rounded the corner and stepped into the elevator.
I sat in front of my computer, puzzled. Tomorrow was my "Dollar Flight" and I still couldn't come up with a meaningful way to give my flight commander my dollar. I could have done the usual and taped a naked woman to the back of it, but it wasn't original. Taping the dollar to a bottle of liquor sounded too cheesy, too. Jasper decided to print and cut out a T-37 and glue one hundred pennies to it. I needed to come up with something to match his creativity.
I heard a soft knock on my door. "Come on in, Jazz."
"Dude, you do realize you have to be at the squadron in like two hours for your first brief, right?"
I nodded as my index finger scrolled down on the mouse pad of my laptop. "Yeah."
He stepped a little closer to me and peered over top of the laptop. "Dude, have you even gone to bed tonight?" He waved his hand in front of the screen.
I swatted his hand away and looked up at him. "What do you think?"
"Well, judging by the bloodshot look in your eyes, I'm going to say no."
"Good assumption," I drawled, returning my gaze to the screen in front of me. "I still haven't come up with a good idea for my dollar."
Jasper lowered himself to my bed and peered at the laptop screen. "Well, you could always print out a naked woman and tape it to the back."
"How about shoving a model F-15 through it?"
I shook my head at him. "That's been done too many times too." Although I hated to admit it, Jasper was on to something. I wanted my dollar to incorporate my preferred aircraft.
Suddenly, a light bulb went off. I typed in origami in the search engine. Jasper snickered beside me.
"Well, you could say that's original."
I placed the laptop down beside me, walked over to my dresser, and removed the crisp 2009 dollar bill I had been saving for the flight. I picked up the Sharpie from the top of my dresser and scribbled my name and class on it.
"I guess I'll let you get to your dollar. I'll see you tomorrow after your flight."
Without casting Jasper a glance, I nodded. "Sure, man. I'll see you then."
I flipped back and forth between the web page and the small dollar bill as I expertly folded the paper. Deftly, my thin fingers folded, lifted, and folded again until the bill had been transformed into a tiny flying machine. I momentarily debated on tossing it in the air to see if it would fly and ultimately decided against it. I was quite afraid it would crash into the wall and permanently smash in the nose of the tiny aircraft.
Looking at the clock, I realized I only had an hour to shower, dress and be at the squadron for my first briefing before my flight. Excited, I grabbed a towel and washcloth and headed into the bathroom.
After I finished showering and dressing, I guzzled a cup of coffee, shoved my wallet in my chest pocket, grabbed my key and sped like a banshee down the nearly deserted road to the base. To say I was excited about this flight was an understatement. I hadn't been up in the air in the cockpit since I'd completed IFS (Initial Flight Screening) back in Colorado. The flight simulators were close, but nothing competes with actually being up in the air.
I pulled into the large and nearly empty parking lot that was located behind Base Ops and quickly made my way over to the squadron. I courteously waved at the airman behind the desk who scheduled the flights before looking at the board. My eyes found my name, and I found out I would be riding in a T-37, tail number 381 with a take-off time of 8:35. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and sent Bella a quick text before sprinting to the briefing room where my IP (instructor pilot) was already waiting on me.
He stuck his hand out to shake mine, but instead I reached into my other pocket (flight suits are full of them) and produced the intricate F-15. The burly guy chuckled before thanking me. "I was afraid I was going to have to pull your arms off you and beat you with them to get your dollar," he said taking his seat.
These IPs really take their dollar flights seriously.
Before I knew it, the briefings were over and Capt. Greenburg and I were walking across the flight line to our aircraft. I ascended the steps leading up to the cockpit feeling every nerve in my body coming alive. The entire Top Gun soundtrack was playing in my mind, and I couldn't wait to be in the sky. Adrenaline was pulsing through my veins, as my heart rate accelerated. This was it. This was where I was meant to be. I lifted my body into the small cockpit and strapped myself in. Capt. Greenburg sat opposite me.
Damn…if I feel this good going up with my IP, I can only imagine how my first solo will feel.
Capt. Greenburg cranked the engines, checked ATIS and then requested taxi clearance from the tower.
"Cutlass 41, taxi with information Bravo," the tower replied.
I zoned out then, completely enthralled with what was about to happen. My gloved fingers taped my leg, anxious to be in the sky already.
"Cutlass 41, wind 240 at 5, cleared for takeoff," the air traffic controller said. I glanced at my IP with a full blown smile plastered to my face, before snapping my mask into place.
"You ready for this, kid?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah," I replied cockily.
Capt. Greenburg pointed the aircraft down runway 31L, revved the engines then released the brakes. Although, I wasn't thrown into my seat like I had expected with a twin engine jet, I could definitely feel an impact from the speed. Soon, I felt the landing gear lift from the runway, and we were air born.
I didn't know what to expect from this flight, so I was mentally and physically prepared for anything my IP was going to throw at me. In all actuality, I half-expected him to try his damndest to make me throw up. Seemed I was assigned a mellow IP, though. All he did was fly us around in the MOA (military operations area) above Columbus.
It felt amazing being up in the air, looking down below. The cars reminded me of those tiny Micro-machines zooming along the highways that kids played with, and the buildings looked like models an architect might present a client.
Before I knew it, our time was up and we were beginning our descent. That is when all hell broke loose.
Damn Canadian Geese.
A gaggle of geese were flying straight at us. Capt. Greenburg radioed the tower to let them know we were changing our flight path. The geese decided to mimic us and continued on the path straight toward us. Next thing I knew, Capt. Greenburg was taking evasive action as sirens began blaring in the cockpit.
"Shit! Engine 1 is down. I think two of them were sucked in there!" he bellowed.
Instinctively, my hands grasped the stick in front of me tightly.
"Hold on tight, I'm declaring an IFE (in flight emergency)," Capt. Greenburg said to me before contacting the tower about what happened.
The aircraft was down an engine, and I sent a silent prayer to whoever was above that we would land safely. The jet was difficult to handle with an engine out, shaking and vibrating as it slowed down and descended. It was almost as if I was on some old wooden roller coaster, but I wasn't sure when the ride was going to come to an end, and if I would walk away unscathed.
My mind drifted to Bella and all the time we had been together. It wasn't enough. I needed her. I whispered her name reverently, a near silent prayer that I would be with her again.
God, please let me survive this.
It was a rough, rocky landing, but our wheels touched down and Capt. Greenburg applied the brakes. I was amazed at the reception that awaited us at the end of the runway. Two base ambulances, a security forces cruiser, and nearly every truck from the base fire department. Two more patrols with their lights and sirens blazing were rapidly approaching us as Capt. Greenburg shut the T-37 down.
We both unfastened our oxygen masks and turned to face each other.
"Thanks for your help up there. I don't think I could have landed it alone," he said.
I was still waiting for my heart to return to its rightful place in my chest. I tried to reply, but no words made it past my mouth, so I simply nodded to him. Capt. Greenburg unlocked the canopy and it lifted up to allow us to exit the jet. I don't think I was ever so thankful to touch solid ground when my boots finally hit the pavement. If it wouldn't have made me look ridiculous, I would have gotten down and started kissing the runway.
After being accosted by the medics, I was rushed to the backside of one of the ambulances. After taking off my parachute, I unzipped my flight suit and removed my arms from the sleeves. Before I knew it, a blood pressure cuff was being secured to my bicep. My head was spinning and I felt dizzy, so I sat on the bumper of the ambulance and attempted to relax.
I saw her then. Rapidly I blinked my eyes, hopeful that she wasn't some figment my imagination had come up with. She stepped out of one of the patrols that had just arrived to the scene and began scanning the area.
She's looking for me.
I knew she shouldn't be here, but I welcomed the sight of her even in her uniform. Her eyes zeroed in on me, and we connected. Slowly, but deliberately, she began to walk toward me. She never averted her eyes once. She had a determined look on her face as a big Security Forces guy grabbed her arm, and it took everything in me to remain seated.
No one touches Bella like that!
She struggled against him, but never took her eyes from me.
"Let me go," she shouted at him.
The big guy only shook his head.
I pushed myself up from the bumper, determined to make my way to her, but faltered after two steps – crumpling to the ground.
Bodies swarmed around me, and I was instantly hit with Bella's scent. Several arms tugged at me, trying to lift me up to a prone position.
"Will you guys just back off him!" she all but yelled at the throng of bodies. "Give him some space."
"Uh…Sergeant Swan, you may want to step back…to…the car," the big Security Forces goon suggested.
Bella cast him a death glare. I hope I'm never on the receiving end of those.
"Sergeant McCarty, can't you see my cousin needs me right now?" she snapped at him. She turned her attention back to the two medical technicians that were assisting me. "You two, I suggest you get him to the base hospital now, or I will inform Lieutenant Cullen's father of your hesitancy in getting him proper treatment. Now!"
I looked at her warily. What was she up to? Threatening to go to my father? She's completely lost her mind. I reached my hand out to her. "Bella?"
When she turned to face me I saw the exact expression I had been wearing while I was up in the air scared shitless. I could see the trails the tears had traveled down her cheek, and her eyes were swollen. "It's okay, Bella," I whispered reassuringly. "I'm alright."
She nodded slightly, letting me know that she understood me then retreated back to the cruiser where Sergeant McCarty was waiting. I watched as the two of them conversed, unable to hear a single word that was said between them.
"Uh, Lieutenant…I don't want to piss your cousin off any longer. I would really like for her to not report me to the Lieutenant Colonel. How about you hop in the back here with me, and we take you to the hospital," a scraggly airman suggested.
"Yeah, sure," I said, still dazed, and climbed into the back of the vehicle. I watched as Bella got in the passenger side of the cruiser through the rear window as the ambulance sped off.
Damn. My father is going to have a hay day with this.
Technically, I wasn't supposed to go to Bella's tonight. However, technicalities be damned. I had just had one helluva day, and didn't know if my first flight in UPT was going to be my last. I needed to see my girlfriend, if only just to reassure both of us that I was okay.
Luckily, my stay at the base hospital was a short one, and I didn't have to endure my father at all. He had decided to take leave for the week and wasn't at the hospital. Bella had scared the pathetic medical technician to death. He was certain he was going to receive an LOR (Letter of Reprimand) for not getting me to the hospital faster.
After I left the hospital I headed back to the squadron via Sergeant McCarty. Apparently, Bella had told him to wait for me to be released. The trip was a silent one. The only words that filled the cruiser were when the female desk sergeant came through over the radio.
The out brief was horrible. Capt. Greenburg and I had to go over every detail of the mishap too many times with too many people, including the Squadron Commander, Wing Safety, Operations Support Commander, and the Chief of Maintenance. I left the squadron feeling totally exhausted and nauseous. Although no one was pointing fingers as us, it seemed as if they wanted to. Perhaps if I hadn't been so damn worried about giving my IP the stupid dollar to begin with then I would have gotten enough sleep. My reflexes would have been more rapid. The "what if's" continued to plague me, and all the head honchos opted to open up a full investigation. Definitely wasn't what I hoped for from my Dollar Flight.
The drive to the apartment complex was too long, and I yearned to be near Bella. That yearning is the only thing that kept me alert as I traveled down Highway 45. I pulled into the parking lot and noticed several other vehicles parked outside mine and Bella's apartments. I really needed a shower after the day from hell, but I needed Bella more. I ran up the steps to her apartment and knocked. The door swung open and instantly Bella's arms were wrapped around my neck.
"Oh my God, Edward! I was so worried!"
I wrapped my arms around her waist and whispered, "It's okay, Bella. I'm alive, and I'm not going anywhere."
The clearing of a throat in the background snapped me back to the reality that Bella and I weren't alone. Bella and I disentangled ourselves, and she spun around to face the group of people that were in her living room. I closed the door behind me while Bella walked to her kitchen.
Following after her, I nodded to the congregation in her small living room. "What's with the welcoming party?"
"Well, when I first found out about the IFE, I contacted Rosalie. She in turn dispatched Emmett to come pick me up while she called Alice so she could get hold of Jasper. After everything was said and done, we all decided to meet at my place and discuss everything."
The way she said the word everything left me feeling a little confused. What all did the eight of us need to discuss? She grabbed an arm full of Bud Light's from the fridge and headed back out to the living room. I took two more and wandered in there behind her.
Jasper and I locked our gaze as I entered, silently communicating that neither of us were really up for this. Honestly, if someone other than the group of people who were already here were to come and visit Bella, all of us except for Alice would be getting our asses handed to us.
I handed Bella a bottle after she handed out hers and took a seat on the carpet beside her. She leaned against me, as if confirming that I was really there. I slipped my spare hand around her waist and pulled her closer, the scent of her shampoo infiltrated my nostrils and for once I didn't become aroused. Instead, I felt at peace.
Alice sat on Jasper's lap watching the interaction between myself and Bella before leaning back against Jasper's chest and exhaling loudly. "So, are you gonna tell us already?"
I took a swig of my beer before launching into what had happened during the flight. When I reached the part when we had realized we had lost an engine due to the strike, I felt Bella go rigid against me. I tried to keep the conversation light and not go into too much detail. Her hand was resting upon my thigh squeezed the muscle momentarily before letting go. It was almost as if she were still afraid I was in some terrible danger.
"So, two birds actually went through the engine?" the big guy, Emmett, asked.
I nodded my head. "That's what Capt. Greenburg and I think. I mean, two geese were no longer with the rest of the flock. So, we assumed that they were suctioned in."
"Holy shit! You would think the second bird would have learned from the first."
I actually chuckled at his logic. "You would think."
That one comment seemed to lighten the tension in the room. Bella relaxed infinitesimally, Jasper started laughing along with me. Alice looked at a stunned Rosalie, while Emmett just seemed to be in awe of the whole thing.
"What did your father say at the hospital?" Jasper asked. "Did he give you hell about the incident?"
My sudden lightheartedness died instantly with the mention of my father. All the laughter and wonder subsided and the tension returned. "No. My father wasn't at the hospital."
"So, Bella, did you tell him?" Rosalie asked in a happy tone.
I turned my head to find Bella staring wide eyed at her friend. "Uh…no," she replied shaking her head.
"Tell me what?" I asked, intrigued. Any good news would be welcomed.
"It's nothing," she insisted, shrugging her shoulders. "Just some personnel issues at the MPF, that's all."
I shrugged my shoulders at her response. If she didn't want to tell me, then I wasn't going to push her. I learned that lesson the hard way a couple weeks ago when she had something on her mind and didn't want to tell me. She will let me know when she wants, and I will support her in every way imaginable just because I love her and want her to be happy. If only I had been that smart then. Then again, wisdom comes with experience.
"Well, babe, I'm exhausted," Emmett said to Rosalie. "I think I'm going to head out. You want to join me?"
Rosalie turned her attention from Bella to Emmett, placed her hand on his thigh, and smiled. "Sure. I'll meet you at your place in about an hour."
Apparently, Emmett wasn't too happy with her response. "But, Rose. I…uh…," he whined before sighing in defeat at her expression. "Fine. I'll see you in an hour." He stood, stretched and exited Bella's apartment rather quickly.
Rosalie then directed her attention back to Bella. "Can I speak with you and Alice in private?"
Bella and Alice nodded, stood up and retreated down the hallway to Bella's bedroom and shut the door. Jasper and I were left alone. I stood up from my position on the floor, went to the kitchen and grabbed two more bottles of beer.
"Here," I said, handing him a full bottle when I walked back in the living room. I sat down next to him and drank greedily. The amber liquid hit the back of my throat and I swallowed fast. I just wanted this day over with.
"Bella was pretty shaken up earlier," Jasper commented before raising his bottle to his lips.
I lowered my beer. "Yeah, I kind of got that feeling when I came in."
Jasper chuckled. "No, man, I mean she was really, really scared. Alice said that she hadn't seen her this torn up in a real long time. Apparently not since she and her douchebag ex boyfriend broke up."
My eyebrows shot up at his statement. "Yeah, but I seriously doubt that this was the first time she's heard of a bird strike taking out an engine. She must have known that we would land safely." Even though I had said the words, I didn't really believe them. While I was up there I had been scared shitless myself, uncertain if we'd land safely. My nonchalance about the whole situation was purely for everyone else's sake. If they had known just how frightening it was up there, with an engine down and the warning tones sounding, they would do everything in their power to have me grounded. Plus, if I were to really think about what happened, I would never want to step foot inside a jet again.
"Perhaps," Jasper mused. "Then again, she never had to worry about who was in a jet. If you two hadn't gotten together then do you really think she would give this accident any further thought?"
Jasper was right. Everything started sinking in then. How is she going to be able to handle my hazardous occupation when I'm deployed to a foreign country flying sorties and engaging enemy aircraft? Would she align herself with my father, even if it means outing us, ruining our careers just to keep me safe? That whole incident on the flight line, which I had found romantic at the time, seemed extremely careless now.
Jasper nudged me in the shoulder, bringing me out of my thoughts. "Whatcha thinkin'?"
"Edward, I've known you for a while. That expression on your face right now is anything but nothing. You're having doubts about her aren't you?"
I looked at him, shocked and paralyzed at the same time. My body wouldn't move to deny his accusation even though I wanted it to. Hell, I wanted to deny that I was having doubts, but I couldn't. As quickly as the sensation hit me, it was gone. Realizing I had control of my body once again, I stood. "Tell Bella that I decided to sleep at our place. I have another briefing tomorrow, classes and another flight, so I don't know if I'll swing by afterward or not, depends on how tired I am, okay?"
Jasper only nodded.
I glanced down the hallway where Rosalie, Alice and Bella were holed up. My only thought was I loved her. But was love enough?
A/N: Raise your hand if you are upset with me right now… *Raises Hand*. Yes, even I am upset with this turn of events. Both Edward and Bella completely pissed me off this chapter. It seems as if they've taken this story into their own capable hands and are leaving me out of the mix. I wasn't lying when I said this chapter deviated from the course. I'd actually planned a much happier (if not lemony) ending for this chapter.
Much to think about…I would love to hear your thoughts on this chapter.
As always, please leave me your love (or hate)…Jenn