A/N - Sorry for the long delay but I have been swamped lately and could not find as much time for writing as I would have liked. That being said, I hope you enjoy this latest installment.
Charlie was sitting with the rest of my family as Alice and I walked into the small waiting area on Bella's floor. He must have noticed my frazzled appearance because he immediately stood up. The action didn't surprise me really after all this was the room people waited in terrifying limbo to see if their loved one would live or die.
"Edward, Is it Bella? Is something wrong" he asked frantically.
I tried to smile to allay his fears but it just felt like my face was twisting in an unnatural position. "She's fine Charlie. She's up and downplaying everything." I told him. I didn't see the purpose in mentioning that I could literally feel the pain she tried to hide from me every time she moved, every time she took a breath. He would find out soon enough now that she was awake. At least while she was unconscious from anesthesia we could all pretend however naively that she hadn't been almost at the brink of death…beyond the reach of even the most sophisticated of medical practices.
"Yeah…that sounds like Bella." He said with a half smile.
"Renee is with her now." Alice chirped in beside me trying in a futile attempt to squelch some of the overwhelming tension in the waiting room.
"Good." He swallowed hard, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "That's good. She needs her mother right now." He looked around towards the rest of my family suddenly uncomfortable. His mind was a jumble of thoughts. "Uh Edward…can I have a word in private?"
"Sure Charlie." I said motioning for him to walk with me. I could hear my family's questioning thoughts as we made our way slowly down the hall. "What's on your mind?" I asked him.
"About what I said to Billy earlier…about encouraging Jacob. I'm sorry Edward. It's just that he always seemed like a good kid and you…well you had broken her heart." I winced at his disjointed memories of a near catatonic Bella. "If I knew…I wouldn't have..."
"You couldn't have known." I replied taking pity on him. "You only saw what Jacob wanted you to see."
"But you knew." It wasn't a question. When I faced him, I could see the muscle ticking in his jaw, a sign of his annoyance at himself.
I nodded once. "Yes, Charlie. I knew." My eyes never wavered from his. I wouldn't lie to him. Not now. There was already enough deceit between us.
His face flushed and he turned away silently berating himself for being so blind. I heard Carlisle before I saw him and Esme round the corner. "The police are about to question her, son. I know you will want to be there."
"If you will excuse me?" I said to no one in particular as I walked swiftly towards Bella's room.
I strode purposefully in the room taking the seat beside her bed, reaching and taking her hand in mine as I brought it to my lips. She still looked paler than usual and I could detect the tightening of muscles around her eyes sending a silent message that she was still in pain. Discreetly, I pressed the button for the morphine drip to allow a little more into her system.
It was only until I ensured her comfort that my focus drifted to the two officers as they glanced at each other uncomfortably.
Is he even allowed to be in here? He was a witness. I heard the questioning thoughts of the taller of the two.
"I trust my being here won't be a problem." I looked at them directly, daring them with my eyes to refuse me.
"Uh, no…Mr. Cullen…that's…that's fine." The shorter one of them stammered out.
I nodded and turned my attention back to Bella. "I needed to be here." I explained when I noticed her brows furrow in a mute question.
On the other side of her bed, I heard a delicate shift of movement. I should stay to support her but I don't know if I can handle hearing this. I heard the tortured thoughts of Renee as she bit her lip in much the same fashion as Bella often did when she was conflicted or nervous. "Charlie's down the hall. Maybe you want to say hello?" I told her giving her the "out" she so desperately wanted. At her thankful look, I gave her a small smile.
"Bella?" she questioned.
"It's okay, Mom. I'm sure Dad would like to see you. We'll catch up more later, okay?" Bella gave her mom's hand a reassuring squeeze.
"If you're sure?"
"Positive." She replied. After Renee had left Bella turned to me. "Thank you. I don't think she would be able to sit through this. She's fragile, you know."
So are you my love, I thought but wouldn't utter the words aloud. Instead I tenderly smoothed her hair with my fingertips. I was only partially right I had to concede to myself. Bella more than made up for her physical fragility in her strength of spirit and courage.
"Miss Swan? If you're ready, we'd like to take your statement now." One of the officers interrupted.
Bella straightened in the bed and I could tell she was mentally trying to prepare herself. She squeezed my hand…a light grip of support…for her or me, I did not know. "Okay." She said. "Let's do this."
The officer spoke into his small hand held recorder. "Officer Jenks and Officer Wilson taking statement of Miss Isabella Marie Swan for the crimes enacted against her by Mr. Jacob Black."
Bella winced beside me at the words. I absently rubbed soothing circles on the back of her hand with my thumb.
Officer Jenks started the line of questioning. "What was your relationship with Mr. Black prior to yesterday's events?"
"He was my friend…my best friend." Bella answered in a small voice. "Until Edward came back." She looked at me apologetically. I wanted to assure her that none were needed.
"Were you aware of any romantic inclinations that Mr. Black had for you, if any?"
There was that apologetic look again. Bella was hesitating in her answer, her teeth gnawing on her bottom lip. "He didn't say it in so many words but I knew he was."
"So you retained this friendship with him although you knew he wanted more?" Officer Wilson interjected.
I could feel my lips curl at the thinly veiled accusation. "Do. Not. Even. Go. There." I hissed vehemently through clenched teeth. How dare he make it sound like this was Bella's fault.
"Edward, It's okay." Bella tried to assure me but I was having none of it.
"No, Bella. It is not okay. You nearly…" I tried to force the words out. "You nearly died and he has the gall to accuse you of initiating the attack? I don't think so."
"We're sorry, Mr Cullen. We're just trying to establish motive." Jenks said remorsefully while giving the other officer a reprimanding look. "Miss Swan?"
"He said he was content to be my friend." She looked nervously up at them. "…I didn't lead him on. He knew how I felt… That doesn't make me a bad person"
"Of course it doesn't." Jenks told her. "Can you tell us when he stopped being content just being your friend?"
"When Edward came back." Her brows furrowed in thought. "But he always knew. I never lied to him about that."
"Knew about what, Bella?" Wilson prompted.
"He always knew that my heart belonged to Edward."
"So he was angry that Mr. Cullen came back into your life? Did he confront you about that? Make his anger known?"
"On several occasions. Once he actually grabbed me. Left bruises on my arm."
"Did you tell your father?"
She looked at him wide eyed and stunned as she shook her head. "No Of course not. I didn't want to start any trouble between Charlie and Billy Black. They're best friends. I thought I could handle Jacob on my own."
Inwardly, I berated myself for not letting Charlie know what had happened those few times. At the time I had deceived myself into believing that I could be Bella's sole protector and I had failed…my mistake in judgment nearly proving fatal.
"Okay. Let's talk about yesterday morning."
Everything Bella had told them up until this point I already knew. I felt my whole body tense with the realization that I would finally gain knowledge of what actually occurred between the times she was taken and when I came upon Bella struggling underneath the mongrel on the frigid mountaintop.
Even unable to read her thoughts, I knew Bella so well that when she turned to me with a worried expression marking her delicate features, I knew what she was going to say. Before, she even opened her mouth; I placed my finger over her lips to quiet her.
"I'm staying." I told her in no uncertain terms.
"But." She mumbled from under my well placed finger.
"No." I shook my head. "You need me here. Not even the four horsemen of the apocalypse could drag me away."
And it was true even if she didn't want to admit it. It killed me that I couldn't be with her…protect her when she was in her darkest, coldest hours. I was going to make damn sure I stayed with her now.
She gave me a tenuous smile at my words. Not caring that the officers were watching intently, I replaced my finger with a gentle brush of my lips over hers and whispered in her ear.
"I love you."
I felt her body lose some of it's tension which was what I was aiming for. I sat back down in the chair still holding her hand in mine and nodded for the officers to continue.
"You were on your way to your graduation ceremony, correct?" Officer Wilson asked her.
Bella nodded slowly. "Mmm, yes. My dad was called away to work…a robbery, I think. So I had to drive myself. He said he would meet me later at the high school. On my way, my truck just stuttered and died. I called my dad right away to pick me up."
"When we checked over your vehicle for any trace evidence, we found that there was no oil left which is probably why you stalled out." Finks explained.
"But that's impossible. I just had it changed." Bella exclaimed indignantly.
"It's not impossible if Mr. Black siphoned it out. We also know that he was responsible for the robbery at Fred's Ammo yesterday morning causing your father to be unable to take you to graduation."
"He had this all planned out didn't he…to the last detail." Bella said, a note of horror mixed with anger coming into her voice.
"It's alright, love." I murmured to her. "I've already arranged for your new car although you won't be able to drive it for a few weeks at least."
"What do you mean…a new car? What's wrong with my truck? Doesn't it just need more oil?"
The officers held back a grin and perhaps under better circumstances I may have smiled along with them. It was obvious that Bella knew nothing about cars. "When you drive with no oil, it kills the engine I'm afraid." I explained to her. Just as well. She needed a new car. I made sure she got the safest one out there.
Bella's beautiful mouth formed a small "o" as she realized exactly what I was telling her. Finks cleared his throat just then obviously wanted to get back to Bella's statement. Bella gave me a look to let me know that this conversation wasn't over. I held in a sigh but the truth was I knew she would balk over me buying her anything…let alone a new car. For some silly reason I could not fathom she reasoned that if I bought her anything it would tip some cosmic scale of balance out of her favor…as if the existence of her and her unconditional love hadn't irrevocably changed me…made me a better man wasn't enough. To me it was everything.
"Tell us about when Jacob Black showed up." Wilson said.
I held Bella's hand tighter, letting her know that she wasn't going to go through this alone a second time. She went on to explain how Jacob had snuck up on her from the cover of the woods, how he cold cocked her in the head with his gun as her hand absently went to fidget with the bandage on her forehead; how she had woken up cold and in pain with her hands and feet bound.
The monster in me fought for control; to rip apart the corpse that lay in the morgue as I listened in excruciatingly vivid detail of my love's ordeal. A part of me wanted to give the monster free reign; to wreak havoc but I quelled the beast reminding myself that my wants and needs had no place here, not when Bella's needs came first. So I continued to sit and hear feeling the quake of rage in my body synchronize with the tremble in her voice as she told her tale.
"Did he untie you?" Finks asked her when she hesitated to take a breath and a sip of water from the plastic cup I provided for her.
Swallowing, she shook her head and closed her eyes leaning back against the headboard of the hospital bed. I could see a few tears leak from the sides of her eyes. "No." she finally said. "He was trying to torment me…not physically." She amended with a quick panicked glance in my direction when she heard the low growl that escaped from my lips. "It was more of a psychological torment. You see I was trying to convince him to let me go but he wasn't rational at that point although he pretended to be. He told me…he told me that I didn't belong with Edward and the only reason why Edward took me back was out of pity and obligation…that he would grow tired of me and toss me away again."
The rage I was barely holding back nearly broke the surface at her words. She had to know it wasn't true. "Never." I whispered gutturally. She ran her small fingertips down my cheek.
"I know." She whispered back with a sad smile. "I told him that I would never want him and he got so angered he threw down the small knife he had been whittling with and he stormed outside. The knife landed close enough to me that I could grab it with my teeth. After I dropped it into my hands I began to try to cut through the ropes, hence why my wrists look like the way they do." She said with a shrug of her shoulders.
My beautiful, resourceful girl. She had managed to get free by herself. My momentary relief was short lived when she started to speak again of the horrors she was forced to deal with in the hours that came ahead.
"I pretended to be asleep when he came back in the tent only to fall asleep for real. When I woke up he was sleeping and that is when I tried to leave." Bella paused for a shaky breath. The retelling of what happened was starting to take it's toll. My eyes glanced towards the monitors by her bed side, checking to make sure her blood pressure stayed within normal levels. They were elevated somewhat but she wasn't in any danger zone…yet. If that happened, this interview would have to halt immediately.
"Bella. It's okay. You're doing great." Wilson said in a calming tone.
Bella gave a small nod and stared straight ahead lost in her memories. He hand squeezed mine tighter. "He must have heard me cause he woke up just as I was crawling out of the tent. He grabbed my ankle trying to pull me back so I kicked at him, scrambling to loosen his grip so I could get away…I did for a moment. He caught me again. We struggled. I still had his knife. I stabbed at him…repeatedly. It's still a blur but I remember running away criss crossing my tracks as much as possible so he wouldn't be able to tell which way I went. I climbed up a tree hoping he wouldn't find me up there. It was so cold. I remember thinking I was going to die." She stopped and inhaled deeply. "I didn't want to die." She said her chin quivering as she looked at me once again.
There was nothing I wanted to do more at that moment than embrace her in my arms to let her know she was safe…to assure myself that she was safe. That Jacob Black could never hurt her again.
"He found me." Bella finally said. "He taunted me again. I could tell he was going to climb up after me so I did the only thing I could do…I jumped out and away. When I landed, I kind of rolled down some sort of incline towards the edge of the mountain. He ran after me and jumped on top of me. I knew then what he was going to do. I tried to fight but he was much stronger. I couldn't feel my body anymore. I was numb. That's when Edward and Sam showed up and then everyone else. I am sure you know what happened at that point." She said with defeat in her voice and a casual wave of her hand.
The all too vivid memories assailed me again at that point as my mind conjured up the visions of Bella trapped with a gun pointed at her head and the rest of us rendered immobile unable to do anything for fear of the outcome. I had to turn away to collect my composure; to try to clear my mind of the horror that would remain with me for the rest of my existence.
"We did take a statement from the others but we would like to hear what happened from your point of view." Finks told her.
"Is that really necessary?" I bit out through clenched teeth. "Hasn't she been through enough?"
"It's imperative we get all the facts, sir." Finks replied solemnly. "Bella, I wouldn't ask unless it was important. We need all the information so none of this can be questioned."
"I understand." Bella nodded, her brows wrinkling. "It is almost a blur. But I remember thinking we were at an impasse. No one could do anything when Jacob had the gun and we were standing so close to the edge. It was up to me to create a diversion. So I bit him. He let go of me momentarily and before I knew it Jacob and I were struggling for control over the gun."
"Why didn't you just let you dad take the shot if he had the opportunity?"
The very question I wanted to know the answer to. As I watched her intently, she looked at me. Judging by the expression on her face, she knew I was not going to like the answer.
"Because I didn't want Charlie to have to kill his best friend's son. I don't think he could have bore that kind of guilt…no matter what he would have said to the contrary. At the time I felt I had no other choice."
My gut clenched at her words. No other choice. There were those words again. Of course she had a choice. Did she really think Charlie could live with the guilt if she died? Did she think I could live with it? Never could I forget the image of her falling over the side of the cliff nor the agonizing feeling that came with it. It was one hundred times worse than when Rosalie had told me that Bella had jumped to her death months ago because this time I was a witness to it.
I was so involved with my thoughts, I barely noticed the two officers thanking Bella for her time before exiting the room. Finding it difficult to sit still any longer, I got up and went over to the window staring blindly at the night sky. My emotions were tumultuous at best.
"You're angry." Bella said softly. I could hear the faint rustle of her bed sheets as she shifted her position on the bed and heard her slight intake of breath from the pain the movement cost her.
I clenched my jaw and closed my eyes, not daring to face her just yet; not knowing how to answer her.
"I'm sorry, Edward. I wasn't thinking clearly at the time. I know it must have been excruciatingly difficult for you."
I turned to her swiftly then, stalking over to her; unable to tolerate the distance between us and gave her a kiss marked with desperation and hunger.
"Difficult is the understatement of the century, love." I rasped when our lips finally broke apart. "You can never do that to me again."
Before she answered me I heard Charlie walking towards the room. His thoughts rang out loudly. He was nervous in his anticipation to see Bell again.
"Charlie's coming. I informed her. "I…I should go. Change my clothes." I shrugged.
"Keep up appearances. I know. You look hungry too"
"It's manageable. I'll be back a little later. I don't want to be away from you any longer than I have too. I already have clearance to spend the night." I finished with a small grin.
Bella stroked my hair. "It's alright Edward. If you need to feed you should go. I'm perfectly safe here."
I looked up and spotted Charlie leaning in the doorway with his hands in his pockets. I nodded a greeting to him and kissed Bella's forehead tenderly.
"I'll see you later. I love you." I whispered to her before leaving.
"Love you too." She called out. I left with a final glance trying to resolve that she was in fact safe and the cuts and bruises that marred her face as well as the emotional damage she suffered would heal in time.
Charlie walked in after Edward said his goodbyes and sat in the chair that Edward just vacated.
"That boy really loves you." Charlie said nodding towards the empty doorway.
I suppressed a snort upon hearing Charlie refer to Edward as a boy. If he only knew. "I know. I really love him too." Was all I responded.
"So how are ya doing, kiddo? I must say you look a lot better than the last time I saw you." I noticed he shuddered slightly at his own words. I could only imagine what I must have looked like when they first brought me in.
"I've been better but I'll live." I said nonchalantly. It would have served no purpose to tell my dad that every move, every breath was painful. The morphine was starting to wear off. I was merciful that I was able to cover so well while Edward was here. He didn't need to suffer anymore on my behalf than he already did.
"Yeah. You sure are a trooper." – he let out a breath then and I saw a glisten in his eye – "I am so sorry Bella…for not protecting you…for pushing you towards Jacob. If I hadn't then maybe you would have come to me sooner when he was giving you problems."
How did he know about that? Unless…"Did Edward tell you about that?" I asked, my eyes narrowing.
"You bet he did." Charlie let out a derisive chuckle. "It's a hard pill to swallow knowing you could have prevented your little girl from being hurt."
"Char…Dad. Don't blame yourself. I doubt I would have told you even if you hadn't liked Jacob so much. So really…you couldn't have prevented it anyway. Jacob was sick."
"Edward knew." He supplied still insisting on taking some of the blame.
This time I did snort. "Well Edward almost has like a sixth sense when it comes to reading people. It can be downright scary."
"In this case, it saved your life."
I fought to suppress a yawn but Charlie noticed anyway. The day was taking it's toll on me and I was exhausted even if I had spent much of it unconscious.
"You're exhausted and here I am rambling on. You should get some sleep."
"It's okay dad. I'm not that tired." I said trying to cover up my fatigue, not ready to say goodbye to him just yet.
"You always were a lousy liar, Bells." He laughed. "Go on get some rest. I'll come back in the morning." He gave me a kiss on the cheek before leaving.
Despite the pain I was in, I quickly fell asleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up feeling like I was on fire. It was then the horrible wracking coughs started.