A/N: I'm not going to make excuses for myself. Instead, I'll tell you the results of my poll: four votes for any length, three for long chapters and none for short. Hence, here we have a long chapter, with just a bit of experimentation. Enjoy!
Saturday dawned bright – unusually so for Forks – and I decided to take it as a good omen. I'd needed that cry last night, though to do it in front of Rosalie was embarrassing to say the least, but I'd done that now. I wouldn't waste any more time on tears if I could help it. After all, I wasn't achieving anything with them. Resolutely, I decided that today, I was going to be absolutely positive.
That started off with eating breakfast for a change. Glancing through the cupboards, I quickly discerned that unless I wanted Charlie's customary fare of bacon and eggs, my only option was plain cereal. I had been intending to do a grocery shop but I'd got a bit caught up in other things this week. Keeping up with my purposeful mood, I added shopping to my day's plans. I hadn't driven since crashing on Tuesday, and I wondered if perhaps I should get Charlie to take me instead. Then again, there was no reason I would lose concentration so drastically if it was just me in the truck.
I glanced at the ceiling as I thought of Charlie. He must still be asleep. I had no idea what time he'd got in last night, but I knew he had taken the whole weekend off for me. Now I felt kind of guilty about that. What if him being at work helped them find this missing kid?
Nothing I could do about that, I reminded myself firmly. Positive day, remember?
As I sat down with my cereal bowl, I pushed my thoughts away from the missing boy. Naturally, therefore, they wandered straight over to the topic I'd been thinking about pretty much non-stop this week.
The Cullens. What were they? Not human, as we'd established. Beyond that, my mind drew a blank. What was there to be, apart from human? Angels, but I thought not. They were – he was too vulnerable for that. Superhero? But that seemed so ridiculous. Alien? Now I was just being stupid.
What, then, did I definitely know about them that made them different? Cold, hard skin. Supernatural strength and speed. Inhumanly beautiful, of course. They didn't eat or drink. And…
Something Rosalie had said last night abruptly came back to me: You can't escape it, certainly not with us. You dying makes all the difference in the world.
Did she just mean that in that we had so little time left? Or was she talking about something else? Did death mean something different to them than it did to me?
But that was stupid again, I thought, remembering Edward's reaction to my secret. His reaction to death seemed pretty… well, normal, I supposed, if there was a 'normal' way of reacting to a situation like this.
My mind was still buzzing when I finished my cereal, no closer to any logical conclusion. Maybe that was why I wasn't paying enough attention as I scraped my chair back and started to head for the sink.
My foot caught on the table leg; the bowl fell from my hands; I tried to grab it and in doing so completely neglected to try and break my fall. The last thing I heard was the ringing of my spoon as it clattered onto the hard linoleum floor.
"She doesn't want to die, Edward!"
"She doesn't want this either!"
"How do you know that? She doesn't even know it's an option."
"It's not an option, Alice! If I told her, can you imagine the pressure on her? That would be cruel."
"No, what's cruel is not giving her the right to make an informed decision."
"You don't know her, Rosalie."
"I know enough, you pigheaded idiot, and you should see that she's mature enough—"
"You hate this life! You didn't want to be changed at all!"
"She 's in a completely different situation to me!"
"She has you."
"Stay out of this, Jasper."
"Why should I? Edward, you need to calm down and look again at what you're saying."
"He's right, Edward."
When I awoke, I knew immediately where I was. Long familiarity with hospitals meant that they were completely unmistakeable to me.
What wasn't immediately clear was why I was here. What had I been doing? Today was Saturday, and we were going to see Billy and Jacob. I had gotten up, had gone down to the kitchen. That was it: I'd decided I was going to have breakfast! And then… oh, of course, I had fallen getting up from the table. Stupid sense of balance.
I blinked, trying to clear my eyes of sleep, and focused on Charlie. "Hi."
Wow, my voice sounded terrible. I still wasn't quite there; when I tried to cough my throat clear, I didn't yet have enough strength to manage it.
"You okay, Bells?"
Once upon a time, I would have just said yeah, sure, but nowadays I took the question more seriously. I closed my eyes again and did a kind of mental inventory. For half a second I got precisely nowhere, and then sensation came flooding back. My whole left side felt bruised. No, forget bruised, it felt like it had been crushed, my hip and ribs in particular. And my head—
As soon as I became aware of it, my head exploded in pain.
"Ow. No. Head," I managed, screwing up my face before realising that stretching the skin like that just made it worse. I couldn't relax, though.
Somewhere beyond the boundaries of my awareness, Charlie was calling for Dr Cullen.
"Bella? Can you tell me about the pain?"
His beautiful voice cut through the pain haze.
I'd done this so many times; I knew that the next two questions were going to be 'where does it hurt?' and 'on a scale of one to ten, how much does it hurt?' so I pre-empted him. Even a doctor as young as Carlisle would have asked those questions enough to understand my answers without actually asking.
I'd never yet said ten, just in case. Sometimes, people said that they couldn't imagine more pain existing than they were currently feeling, but I'd felt enough to know there was always more.
So much for my positive day. I wasn't sure whether it was the meds or the pain that knocked me out first.
"No, Carlisle, please don't say anything."
"You know I don't want to hurt you. But I think the others have a point about letting her make an informed decision."
"How could it be informed with such little time? How could she understand? And even if she could, she's a seventeen year old girl, of course she wants to live. She'd make a hasty decision and then regret it later."
"Why are you so sure? She seems to me to be a remarkably self-possessed young lady. I think she knows her own mind."
"But we can't know how the idea will affect her."
"Knowing isn't everything, Edward. Sometimes, you just need to have faith."
The next time I woke up, the first thing I did was check for the pain. Sure enough, there it was, but it was much, much less intense. Like a dull throbbing, maybe only a three or four out of ten. I breathed a sigh of relief, wincing slightly when my ribs protested and opened my eyes to see what had changed.
The light was different, slightly brighter, and I guessed it was getting on afternoon now. It was harder to tell here in Forks than it was in Phoenix. Plus, hospitals were places where sometimes it seemed like there was no day or night at all. The electric lights were always on, always casting that same clinical luminescence over everything.
The next thing I noticed was that Charlie wasn't there. Sitting in his place, with his eyes trained on my face, looking for all the world like it was him in physical pain, was Edward.
I couldn't help it. Despite the pain, despite the setting, despite the terms on which we last parted, I smiled.
"Hey," I breathed.
He tried to smile back. "Hello."
"Are you okay?" I croaked.
He snorted gently. "Should I not be asking you that?"
"I'm used to this," I reminded him. "You only just found out." My voice sounded absolutely pathetic.
"Oh, Bella," he said, and he sounded like he was going to cry.
I'd kind of been intending to claw him out over the mystery of what he was and why he was the only one who didn't want to tell me, but in the face of his distress, how could I?
"Sh," I told him. "I'm not going anywhere today."
"But a week." His voice cracked.
"I know," I said. "Life's not fair, you know?" I half smiled.
He didn't answer; I don't think he could. With a supreme effort – my body, besides being on its last legs, was well and truly drugged up – I moved my right hand closer towards him. He saw the movement and caught my hand with both of his. His skin was cold as ever; I could tell that even though my own circulation wasn't at its best.
"Edward, it's okay," I said, trying to sound soothing and only managing weak.
He looked at me, and I changed tack. "Well, alright, it's not okay. But you've got a whole life ahead of you. You've got to remember that."
He was shaking his head, but he didn't contradict me. As it happened, Dr Cullen appeared at that moment, so he didn't say anything.
"Hello, Bella," the doctor smiled. "You're looking much better than you were this morning."
"Yeah, thank you," I replied, struggling to speak louder.
"How's the pain?" he asked.
"Four in my head, maybe three or two in my hip. I didn't break anything, did I?"
He grimaced apologetically, and Edward looked away. I squeezed his hand gently. Of course, gently was all I could manage.
"You have hairline fractures in your pelvis," Dr Cullen informed me. "Other than that, it's mainly bruising."
"Oh, that's alright," I said, relieved. I could deal with that; I'd had far worse in my klutz's life. "Where's Charlie? I mean my dad?"
Dr Cullen looked down at me, his golden eyes soft and sympathetic. "Your father's gone to get something to eat, but Bella, you should be aware that you probably won't be able to walk on your left leg again."
Edward stroked the inside of my wrist, light as a feather.
"Normally, I would give you crutches for a week or two, but the left side of your chest won't be able to bear your weight for a few days and by that stage—"
"I'll be too weak anyway." I closed my eyes for a second, then admitted: "I think I'd be too weak now, anyway."
"I'm sorry," he apologised.
"It's not your fault. Thank you, Dr Cullen."
"Call me Carlisle," he said suddenly, and from the corner of my eye I saw Edward look up at him. "I hear so much about you at home that it feels like you're already part of the family."
"Carlisle—" Edward began to protest, but he fell silent when his adoptive father looked down at him, not quite sternly.
Not quite because there was compassion there. And it was because I could see that compassion that I kept looking and noticed when the doctor's—when Carlisle's eyebrows rose slightly, like he was asking a question.
What was it Edward had said yesterday? That his father had been thinking some weird things at the hospital.
And then Edward shook his head.
"Okay," I said abruptly. "I know this sounds stupid. And I know you probably wouldn't want me to ask. But can you read minds?"
They stared at me, both of them shocked. But Carlisle was more surprised than Edward, I saw, and neither of them was looking like they'd never considered such a stupid idea. No, they just looked surprised that I had come up with this idea. They were probably glad that there was no one else in the room, too.
And then they both spoke at the same time.
"Don't be absurd," said Edward.
"How did you work that out?" asked Carlisle.
I smiled, triumphant, as they looked at each other, both clearly disapproving of what the other had just said.
"Rose, why do you want her to be changed? I mean, you always say—"
"I know, Em. And I don't want her to be changed, exactly, I just want her to be given the choice. No one asked us, did they? I couldn't ask you, and Carlisle couldn't ask me. And that was the most unfair part. But Edward can ask Bella."
"You didn't like her much last week."
"Last week she was a perfectly ordinary human girl who would have found out the truth and tattled to all her human friends and family and put us all in danger. And you and Alice and Edward, behaving like she wasn't just another teenage girl."
"Hey, you can't insult teenage girls. I'll have you know my wife's in her teens."
"You are so ridiculous."
"And you love me for it."
I'd thought they were about to start arguing, but Edward cut in quickly.
"Charlie's coming back," he warned.
My smile widened into a grin. It seemed he wasn't going to pretend anymore.
"Explain later?" I asked.
He nodded, reluctantly.
The door to the ward swung open, and Charlie hurried back in. He looked relieved upon seeing that I was awake. Awake and not in too much pain. Poor Charlie. He wasn't used to seeing me like this like Renée was. He came to my bedside like he wanted to break into a run!"
"Bells! Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Dad," I assured him. "I'm all drugged up."
"'Course you are," Charlie said, throwing a glance at the IV in my left arm. I'd barely noticed it.
"I'm sorry for giving you such a scare," I apologised.
"You should be," he joked half-heartedly. "Thought a bomb had gone off."
"Guess I woke you up," I realised. "Sorry. I was going to let you sleep in."
He rolled his eyes, as did Edward, I noticed. "Bells, I'm glad you woke me up. If you hadn't…"
"Okay, fair point," I conceded.
Carlisle stepped in, then. "Good afternoon," he said formally.
Charlie nodded at him. "Afternoon, Dr Cullen."
"Good afternoon, Chief Swan," Edward said.
Charlie started slightly, like he hadn't noticed that Edward was there. Perhaps he hadn't. I supposed I made a good distraction from the other occupants of the room, from my father's point of view.
"Chief, this is my son, Edward," Carlisle explained. "He and Bella are friends from school."
Friends, I scoffed internally. What a pathetic word to describe whatever it was between Edward and me. Then I noticed that Charlie was looking slightly alarmed, and realised what he would be thinking.
"Dad, it's okay, Edward knows, too."
He frowned, looking between us. "I thought you weren't telling everyone? First Angela…"
I bit my lip, realising how completely out of the loop my dad was. "Uh, yeah, but Emmett—that's Edward's brother—he overheard the school nurse yesterday and it would have been cruel if he was the only one in the family who knew."
That much was true, but it implied that I had then sat down with all of them and told them straight. Would that have been the right thing to do? Maybe, but it had been a Friday afternoon and I wouldn't have seen them all together until Monday lunchtime. Anyway, they had all known by the time Alice had come round in the evening.
"Right," said Charlie, distracting me from my train of thought. "Why were you with the nurse yesterday?"
"Don't worry, Dad, they were just blood-typing in Biology. You know what I'm like."
"I sure do," he muttered.
"Anyway!" I said, though the effect was lost slightly since my voice still had little volume. "Has Dr Cullen told you about the whole walking thing yet?"
"Yeah, he has." His face crumpled. "We'll sort it out."
"I'd like to keep you in for the weekend," Carlisle told me. For a half second I considered protesting, then realised it would be utterly pointless. "We can re-evaluate on Monday."
I stared as he named the day. "I won't be going back to school, will I?"
Carlisle shook his head. "I'm afraid not."
Another ending. No more walking, no more school. No more homework, no more studying. I would never see Mike or Jessica again. I hoped Angela would come visit me.
I walled that away and focused. "Okay. So when I do go home, will I have a wheelchair?"
"Yes," said Carlisle, and then he and Charlie started discussing logistics like sleeping on the couch because I wouldn't be able to get upstairs, and whether I'd need a nurse or a carer or someone while Charlie was at work. I tuned out and just watched Edward, who still hadn't let go of my hand, who looked like he would never be able to let go.
How short my week seemed now.
"What's she like, Alice?"
"You'd like her. She's about five foot three, with thick brown hair, red tints that catch in the light, a beautiful rich colour. She can't have had chemotherapy because it's long, right down to her waist. Her eyes are brown, too, very pretty. She's pale, but that's to be expected."
"And her personality?"
"I'm getting there! She's very strong. And self-sacrificing. And I think she has a guilt complex; she keeps worrying about us. This evening she asked if we were mad at her for leading us on."
"The poor dear."
"Will he change his mind, Alice? I couldn't bear to see him lose her."
"I don't know, Esme. I'm almost tempted to just tell her myself. Rose would do the same."
"Wait a few more days, dear. She's his mate."
"We don't have a few more days! And if I have to see her funeral one more time… I can't bear it, Esme, I really can't."
"I'll talk to him."
"You won't change his mind. The only one who could do that is Bella, and she doesn't know to ask."
"It will all turn out well in the end."
"I'd be happy if I could see that."
It was only an hour or so later that my prediction that this would be a good day actually started to come true.
Admittedly, it didn't seem like it at first. Charlie and Edward were both still there, though Carlisle had gone off to tend to other patients, which meant I couldn't quiz Edward on his alleged telepathy, and it was all just slightly awkward. Charlie wasn't exactly a big talker, and everything I wanted to say to Edward would be weird with my dad around. Plus, I could feel the tiny amount of energy I'd gained from drug-induced sleep slipping away.
I was just starting to consider chucking Charlie out by way of telling him to get me something to eat when my good day arrived, in the shape of two people I hadn't seen for years.
"Hey Charlie!" called Billy Black. He was wheeling himself through a door being held open by his son. Although I had barely remembered him before he entered the room, Billy suddenly seemed familiar to me. His voice, rich and slow, threw me right back to my childhood and summers in Forks. He was smiling warmly, the russet skin crinkling merrily at his eyes and I couldn't help but smile too. "Hey Bella," he added upon reaching us.
And then he saw Edward.
I hadn't known it was possible for someone with such dark skin to actually go pale.
Thankfully, Charlie didn't seem to notice. "Oh, hi Billy. Hi Jake. What are you guys doing here?"
It was Jake, Jacob, with whom I'd made mud pies (I knew this only because Charlie had the pictures up in the hall) and whom I didn't recognise at all, who answered.
"Well, we figured that since Bella couldn't come see us, we'd come see her," he announced with an easy smile. He had the sort of face you could only imagine smiling. "I mean, we'd already bought the cakes." He gestured towards a plastic bag on Billy's lap.
Billy tore his eyes away from Edward, though he kept glancing back at him. "It was Jake's idea. He thought you might get lonely up here."
"Thanks," I said. I tried to think of something normal to say. "That's so nice of you. How are you both? How are Rachel and Rebecca?"
"Oh, they're good," Billy said, almost absently, and again he was staring at Edward.
I wasn't really surprised, therefore, when Edward leant forward to whisper in my ear.
"I'd better leave," he said. "I'll be back, though. I love you."
"You too," I said, knowing no one else would have heard what I was echoing.
He stood. "I'm going to head home," he said for Charlie's benefit. "Goodbye, Chief Swan. Goodbye, Bella."
"Bye," I said, trying to keep my voice casual, wondering what on earth that was about.
He left quickly, and Billy visibly relaxed.
"Who was that?" asked Jacob. Unlike his father, he didn't seem to have any adverse reaction to Edward's presence.
"Edward Cullen," I answered. "He's a friend from school."
Was it just my imagination, or did Billy stiffen further when I said the name Cullen?
"Oh, right," Jacob said, and now there was a reaction from him. He glanced at his dad, and he looked… embarrassed? So he knew the reasons behind Billy's odd reaction and didn't agree with them, I deduced.
Hang on. Maybe it was too much to hope for but… did he know what it was Edward didn't want to tell me?
I made up my mind to try to question Jacob further, if I could get him alone. Perhaps I wouldn't have to wait for the Cullens to tell me their secret. Perhaps I could get it from Jacob.
For now, though, I changed the subject. "So, thanks for my truck. It's great."
"You really think so?" Jacob asked, sceptically.
"Sure I do. It saved my life last week."
Well, Alice Cullen saved my life last week, but I couldn't exactly tell them that.
"You mean you were going fast enough to endanger your life?" asked Jake. "I thought it only went up to fifty."
"Nothing wrong with staying under fifty," Charlie said.
"Sure there's not," Jack retorted, but he was smirking.
I laughed. Already I was starting to really like Jacob Black.
"They're all against me, Bella. They've been arguing with me all night, ever since Alice caught up to me in the woods.
"They don't understand. I would love to save you. I would love nothing more than to save your life. But that's not what I would be doing. I'd be killing you, taking away your soul. Surely nothing is worth that.
"They keep telling me that you'd be giving up your friends, your parents anyway. Should that matter? Should it matter what the alternative is? To condemn you to an eternity of darkness and blood, you, who are so light and innocent! You're so pure, Bella. For me, who has sinned so badly, you are a breath of fresh air. I can't sully you like that.
"And yet I know I would rather die than go on without you. I've known you only a week, but that doesn't matter. I saw the beginnings of Carlisle and Esme's bond, and of Rosalie and Emmett's. They knew just as soon, just as surely as I do. Perhaps I won't go on without you.
"But could I do that to my family? I know I could, and I know I would, but will I? If I changed you, it would be all the better for them, but this isn't about them. It's about you.
"Did you know you're beautiful when you sleep? I miss sleep, so much. If only… but no, if I were human, that wouldn't help you. You would still have only a week more to sleep like this, and to wake, and to eat and drink and live and laugh and love.
"Oh, Bella. I wish I could tell you everything. But to do that would be to put such pressure on you. With only days left, how could you look objectively at the notion of immortality. You would decide too hastily, and you would regret it. And then you would resent me.
"Oh, my love. I cannot be without you, but I will not destroy your soul. And so what do I do? In a few hours, you'll wake up and you'll have one less day to live.
"I cannot. I cannot do it. I will not do it. I will spend these days with you, and then I will join you in death. It's the only right course to take. Right, but in no way easy. I love you."
Jacob kept the mini party laughing pretty much single-handedly. Actually, at one point he made me laugh when I had a piece of cake in my mouth (apparently Billy hadn't had much say in deciding what constituted sensible hospital food) and I started to choke. The atmosphere had turned suddenly very tense and a nurse, who had been looking over disapprovingly even though the ward was empty, rushed over to help.
"I'm sorry," Jake said, looking honestly remorseful. But then he spoilt it all with a grin. "Still, would've made a great epitaph: Isabella Swan, killed by cake."
Charlie frowned, but all I did was start snickering again.
"You're so right," I said through my giggles. "Can I have that anyway?"
"Just eat some more cake," he suggested.
"Perhaps not," Charlie overruled.
"Relax, Dad, it's fine," I said, though I did pop another piece of cake into my mouth. I probably wouldn't eat anything the hospital provided. When you didn't have an appetite to begin with, hospital food became a complete waste of space.
Eventually, Billy needed a bathroom break, and Charlie offered to go open doors for him.
"He doesn't need help," Jacob told me as they left. "They're just like little schoolkids who have to go everywhere together."
I laughed yet again. Well, I say laughed—I really didn't have the energy or the ribs for that, so it was more breathy giggling.
"Hey, tell me something," I asked, wondering how long we had alone. The nurse had left a few minutes back. "What was up with your dad when you came in?"
"Oh, that." Jacob rolled his eyes. "It was because of your friend, the Cullen guy. We on the rez don't like the Cullens."
"What, the whole tribe? That's crazy—why?"
He shifted slightly. "I'm not supposed to say. Tribe secrets, you know."
"Oh go on," I said, trying not to sound too desperate. "Who am I going to tell?"
"Good point," he acknowledged. "So. Do you like scary stories?"