** Huge shout out to Rob Attack for the fic rec and for nominating Crash Into Me for a Best Golden Oldie of 2013. If you like what you read here - I'd be honored if you'd consider voting for it!
A/N: Standard disclaimer applies – these aren't my characters, they belong to SMeyer. But what they're doing in this story does belong to me.
True Summary (one not under 250 characters): long overdue trip back home turns into something unexpected for Bella Swan, Hollywood's It Girl. Finally, the tireless PA Alice is able to get her best friend and boss to get some much needed rest and relaxation, well, as much relaxation as one can get between hospital visits. And what does Alice's wickedly handsome surgeon of a brother got to do with things?
A/N #2: For anyone reading my current WiP, Nomad, please know I've not abandoned it. But as interest in it seems to be waning dramatically, I wanted to try something different to see if I could spur my muse back into gear and this is the result.
Hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.
It was the biggest cliché in the world, but the car really did come out of nowhere.
One minute Alice and I were singing at the top of our lungs to "Dancing Queen" pumping out of the car's speakers, the next all we saw in front of us were headlights. The world left ABBA behind and filled instead with the sound of screeching tires, scraping metal and shattering glass.
And two lone screams as the car careened into the median and started to roll.
It took an eternity for the car to come to rest again. Over and over it went like the worst carnival thrill ride. I had no conscious thoughts as we spun, I was too busy bracing for the impact I knew was coming. Then I was flying, the world was quiet...
...the ground was hard.
I had just enough consciousness to turn my head and see the car come to rest a few dozen feet away before the world shrank to a pinpoint in my vision then disappeared entirely.
I woke to find the world was still blackness surrounding me, but I could hear voices this time…voices, the sounds of radios squawking at each other and distant sirens.
"Miss, can you hear me?"
"Not much, she's moaning a little, and her eyelids flickered."
Long pause, the sounds of rustling.
"Fuck, d'you know who this is?"
"It's an injured woman? One we should be getting on a gurney?"
"No, man. Look. It's Bella Swan."
"Get off it, what the hell would she be doing anywhere near Forks?"
"God, you don't listen to any local gossip, do you? The license we found on the driver? Belonged to Alice Cullen, the doc's daughter. She's a…well something in Hollywood. Right? "
"Yeah, that's right. Ang was going on about that the other day, all excited because Alice was coming home. They were neighbors before Alice left for college. She didn't say anything about Alice bringing anyone famous. And believe me, she would have."
"Well, she sure has hell did bring someone with her. Wow. "
"Mike, man, you want to focus with me a second? We need to—"
"Yeah, yeah, all right. Think she'll let me have her autograph, maybe a picture? Hey, maybe I can take her out for coffee."
"Dunno. But I'd wait until she's, you know, conscious, before you ask."
"Fuck off, Ben, seriously. You're such a killjoy. All right, let's get her to OMC.*"
"Bella? If you can hear me, this might hurt a bit, but we've got to move you to get you to the hospital, all right?"
I blacked out completely because it hurt much more than a bit.
The next time I came around, the radio sounds were gone. They'd been replaced by the steady beeps that my mind quickly categorized thanks to many childhood ER memories. I was in a hospital.
I managed to get my eyes open, just to slits, really, before I slammed them closed again. Was I being interrogated? What reason could they possibly have for shining an ungodly bright light in my face?
"Bella? Bella can you hear me? Come on, sweetie, open your eyes again, please?"
"Alice?" I started at the sound of my voice. I sounded like a bullfrog.
I felt something cold across my lower lip and it felt wonderful. "Yeah, honey, it's me. I've got some ice for you. S'all you can have, but it'll make you stop sounding like you've gone two packs a day with Captain Nicotine.
I couldn't help it. Even in my disorientation, I laughed.
I sucked on the ice until I could swallow easily and tried my eyes again. It was still blinding.
"What? Oh hell, yeah. Duh." I heard a flurry of activity, the pull of drapes and a switch flicking to the off position. "There. That should do it."
Tentatively, I raised my lids again, sighing when they opened to nothing more than a darkened hospital room.
I turned towards the voice with a smile. "Bett-" I started to agree, but the words froze on my lips. "Oh my God, Alice?"
Behind her, the monitor went a little crazy with the beeping as my heart rate jumped.
"Shhh," she said at once, "it's all right, Bella. I look worse than I am. Just a pair of black eyes and a cut to my forehead that needed a few stitches. It's nothing. Really."
Alice had been my best friend for too long for me to have not heard the unspoken in her voice.
"You're not that bad, either."
"Oh all right. You're fine, but you took the worst of it. As…"
I managed a smile and finished with her. "As usual. Give me the damage."
"You've broken your femur and wrist on your left side. Cuts and lacerations everywhere, mild concussion. And your eyes look just like mine. You got thrown from the car after the first turn. The cop said something about the impact hitting the seat just wrong and wrecking the mechanism on the passenger side."
I laughed this time. "Of course it did. It's me, remember?"
Alice laughed with me and I could see the tension leave her tiny shoulders.
"You do tend to be a magnet for accidents, don't you?"
"Always have, always will." I looked down at my body, the plaster on my arm. I knew I didn't want a mirror to see my face just yet. Not that I spent a great deal of time doing that, I just wasn't ready to see myself battered and broken. Hell, I'd had a hard time with it even when it'd just been Zaf's handiwork for a scene.
I stopped my train of thought. My mind seemed a bit muzzy, whether from the concussion or painkillers, I didn't know. But something wasn't adding up. I took another visual inventory. Plaster on my arm? Check. Broken wrist. But Alice had said I broke my femur as well. I looked back down my body. Sure enough, no cast at all. Just a weird thing that looked like my leg was guest staring on the Syfy Channel.
"Alice, if I broke my femur, why isn't my leg in a cast as well?"
I raised an eyebrow and she signed. "All right, all right. The break was…they said compound fracture. The bone was," Alice shivered, "well, it was sticking out. So they're going to have to operate on it, Bella. I'm so sorry."
I snorted. "Relax, Alice, this is hardly the first time. I've been in surgery for a break. Doubt it'll be the last time, either."
I counted up mentally, the times I'd been in a similar position in my twenty five years. I toted up four breaks (two that needed surgery to set), fifteen strains/muscle pulls/tendonitis and more stitches and bruises than I ever wanted to think about again. I was, for lack of another word, an eternal klutz. Jake was always saying I could walk across glass and find something to trip over.
"Did you call…?"
Alice mock gasped, hand flying dramatically to her chest. "I'd hardly be a worthwhile PA if I didn't call him the second I regained consciousness, now, would I? I'm actually offended that you'd even ask." She added a small sniff.
"My heartiest apologies, O She Who Keeps My Shit Together," I grinned back.
She kept her voice aloof, but I could hear the smile in her voice. "I'll think about forgiving you. Maybe. Of course, I was the one driving and am partially responsible at least for you being here, so might be we've just tipped the scales back to even and not put you in my debt."
"Alice, this was an accident. I'm not letting you take the blame for it, not at all."
She waved me off, and I could tell she wasn't all the way appeased.
"Come on, look at it this way. You promised Jake you'd make sure that I rested, now your job's even easier. I doubt I'll be walking much on this any time soon."
"True! And I can take all the credit."
"There you go," I laughed, then sobered when the door opened and a nurse in bright green scrubs came in.
"Good evening, Miss Swan, I've come to give you your sedative before we take you in to surgery. Your doctor will be a along in a few minutes, he had a phone consult with another doctor."
I noticed by the way she didn't meet my eyes at all that she knew precisely who I was, but was trying not to make a big deal of it and just treat me like any other patient. I appreciated that more than I could say. She added the sedative to my IV line and left with a smile and a quick flick of her eyes towards mine.
We were both distracted when Alice laughed. "Phone consult. Did he tell you to say that? What he's really doing is talking to Dad, and probably Mom, calming them down about me being fine."
I turned to face her. "Your brother is my doctor?"
She nodded. "He was on his way home when Dad called him about the accident and he headed right back here, thinking it was me all banged up. Don't worry, Bella, he's an excellent surgeon. Keeps getting courted by the big hospitals in Seattle, but he's too happy here to budge."
My mouth opened and closed several times, but words were starting to be harder to find. My tongue felt thick and my eyes started to swim. I knew that feeling only too well.
"Ohfuck, th'sedatively is…" I waved my hand in front of my face…then became enthralled with my fingers. How could I not? There were at least twice as many as I'd had before. I looked over towards Alice and giggled. There were two of her, too. But I didn't remember her being quite so…pink before.
"Alice, you're all pink," I told her.
At least, that's what I thought I told her. Apparently, the only thing that came out was the color.
"Yes, Bella, pink." Alice laughed; she knew the drill, knew me on heavy pain killers. I guess I wasn't much different on sedatives.
"No, you. Pink." I tried to get the idea across, but if the way Alice was patting my hand was any indication, I'd left English officially behind me.
"All right, Bella, we're going to wheel you down now."
I felt Alice's lips kiss my forehead, her hand squeezing mine. "I'll be right here when you come out of it, I promise."
I tried to nod and was fairly sure I failed at it. I probably looked more like a bobble-head doll than a human.
I closed my eyes as the gurney went through the hallways for fear motion sickness would set in and I'd cap my evening of car accidents and surgery with puking all over myself. I didn't open them again until we stopped at an elevator. I turned my head to look down towards where we'd come. Was Alice still pink...?
I tried to focus, to see her. Instead, I saw…
I blinked. Then blinked again.
Wasn't there a movie once, about angels hanging around in hospitals, waiting to escort the recently dead to heaven? I thought there was, but my fuzzy mind couldn't come up with anything except Meg Ryan's face.
I tried to focus on the apparition down the hallway, tried squinting my eyes to see if I could see wings, a halo, something on the…entity down the corridor. I didn't. But I could have sworn…
My eyes closed again under the strain of trying to make sense of the nonsense and drifted out of consciousness again. This time, when I opened them, I knew I was in the operating room. People in masks, the beeping machines, the cold table beneath me.
"We're just about ready to go, Bella," an ethereal voice said above me. "We're putting the general anesthetic in now. Just breathe deeply and it'll be over before you know it."
I had a flashback to earlier. Was I wrong before? Was there an angel here?
I looked up and saw a masked face looking back at me with the greenest pair of eyes I'd ever seen in my life. They couldn't be real, there was no way.
"Angel…," I whispered before the meds took me away completely.
I'd fallen asleep to beeping and that's the sound that woke me up again. A steady beep, beep, beep filling the near soundlessness of wherever I was. I knew I wasn't home. I took an inventory without opening my eyes – smell, touch, sound – all confirmed that I was in the hospital.
Hospital. Surgery. Broken femur. Angel.
My eyes flew open wide and I looked around. Was he still there?
I snorted and called myself every sort of fool. Of course there wasn't an angel here. I'd been doped on some seriously heavy drugs. Hadn't I insisted that Alice had turned pink? I shook my head. I really was a light weight. One would think that with all the exposure I'd had to hospitals and pain killers, I'd have built up some sort of tolerance…and one would be wrong.
Now positive I had not taken complete leave of my senses, I took a mental inventory to help bring me out of the general anesthetic. I'd always hated the disorientation and had early on devised this as an antidote. It made me feel like I was back in elementary school, giving an autobiography presentation, but it worked for me.
I was Bella Swan, Bella being a shortened version of the more formal Isabella that I'd never felt suited me. I had one surviving parent, Renee; my father having died shortly before I started high school in the line of duty. I was an only child.
Always close to my father, I'd fallen into depression after he died. My mother had tried everything she could to break me from the downward spiral, but nothing had worked. My doctors convinced her after two years' efforts that relocating us entirely might be the only way to break the cycle; to help me stop dwelling on the places Charlie wasn't anymore. For reasons I still didn't understand (on my more whimsical days I credited fate), she'd chosen Los Angeles.
My mother's effervescent personality had helped get her a job teaching kindergarten at a prestigious private school for the performing arts, and her employment there garnered me free tuition. I remember laughing when she told me, because we both recalled only too clearly my attempt at learning ballet when I'd been six. Disaster was an understatement.
With no alternatives open to us (the art and music options were too ridiculous for me to even contemplate), she'd enrolled me in the dramatics track.
We had both been shocked when drama came as naturally to me as breathing. I'd found an ability, one teacher had actually used the word gift. God only knew where it had come from, but I was able to immerse myself in character so deeply that for the time I was onstage, skittish, shy Bella was replaced with anyone from Lady Macbeth to Blanche DuBois to Gwendolen Fairfax to Emily Webb. Comedy or drama, period or current; I played them all and played them well.
I'd been contacted by an agent before I'd graduated high school; his daughter attended the school as well, but had turned him away. I wasn't interested in acting full time; I was going to college, get my degree in English, become a teacher, and go on with a perfectly normal life. Acting had just been something to do in high school.
Regardless of those lofty ideals, I'd ended up trying out for parts in the UCLA Drama department before Freshman year was half over. Much as I loved my English classes, I missed acting. A lot. Some parts I got, some I didn't; and when I didn't, I worked backstage, learning all the ins and outs of theater. By junior year I'd changed my major officially from English to Theater and set the course of my life.
The voice startled me back to the present. My eyes fluttered open, glad the lights didn't seem as piercing as they had earlier. "Y-yes?" I croaked. My throat felt like Death Valley. I turned my head towards the sound of the voice, and recognized it from the operating room.
I willed my eyes to see through the fog of lessening anesthesia and focus. It took a maddeningly long time.
"Bella?" he asked again.
I tried to clear my throat, but there was still a desert in there. I nodded instead and pointed to the source of the problem.
I saw the fuzzy outline of his head move, I assumed it was a nod. "Jessica, could we get some ice chips here?"
"Of course. Right away, doctor," came the snappy reply from across the room. I don't know why, but I got the feeling she'd have responded with the same enthusiasm if asked to hack off her own arm.
I didn't scoff too much, however, because her haste to please meant that I had cold, soothing liquid down my throat and I could swallow without it feeling like someone had replaced my throat lining with glass.
"Thanks," I said after the fourth piece had melted away.
"You're very welcome."
My eyes had finally cleared enough to see him without blurs…and I understood exactly why I'd mistaken him for an angel. He was, without doubt, the most beautiful man I'd ever seen in my life.
I remembered the eyes straight off, hard not to when the rest of him had been hidden behind a surgical mask. Now that I saw the rest – well, there were men back home who would give up their royalties to achieve this level of beauty.
I tried to figure out what it was about his face, but there wasn't one thing. It wasn't just the eyes, the straight line of his nose, the full lips or rock-solid jaw. It wasn't the wavy reddish-brown hair that looked as though he'd just stepped off a speedboat. It wasn't any one thing. It was the whole package. The smile brightening his green eyes just added to the package.
It was almost...dazzling.
"Is everything all right?" he asked.
"Yes," I smiled back in my best and most casual voice. "I was just thinking you favored your sister very much." And he did. Alice was clear in the line of his nose as well as the shape of his lips and smile.
He laughed. "So I've been told, almost from the moment she arrived. We've never been formally introduced, though. I'm Edward Cullen."
We hadn't, no. Between my schedule (which Alice's usually shared) and his, he'd never made it to Los Angeles to visit his sister at a time I was able to meet him as well.
With a smile, I tried to raise my arm to shake his hand. When it flopped feebly under the blanket, I laughed. "Apparently not all the drugs are gone yet. But it's a pleasure to meet you finally, Edward. Alice talks about you all the time."
He laughed at that and I was entranced. I was starting to feel like I was back in high school again. Though it hadn't made an appearance yet, I was almost positive there was a giggle somewhere on the horizon.
"I can imagine she does," he said, the laughter still lighting his green eyes.
"Almost as much as your other brother, Emmet, but you're her favorite."
"I shouldn't care about that," he said on another laugh, "but it gets under Emmet's skin, so I'll enjoy it for that reason alone."
I'd heard story upon story from Alice over the two years we'd been together and I knew the family was almost unnaturally close. Little Alice, nearly ten years younger than the youngest of her big brothers, who ruled the pair of them like a kitten leading a pack of wild dogs.
It was one of the reasons I'd decided to come up here with her. I wanted to meet the mythical family at last.
"Excuse me, doctor, but Miss Swan's room is ready," the same nurse from before had come over. She rested her hand in what could only be a possessive manner on his shoulder, and he did nothing to displace it.
Edward, I noticed, looked a little startled. "Really, already?"
"Yes, doctor," she confirmed. "I can wheel her down there if you're ready to go."
"That's fine, but I'll come along. I wasn't able to inform Bella about her operation yet, or her prognosis."
"But you've been over here ten minutes at least, you never…"
"Thank you, Jessica, but I'm sure Miss Swan would rather rest in her room and not in the depressingly quiet recovery room."
"Of course," she said, clearly stung by Edward's abrupt tone. She then busied herself with getting my gurney in motion.
Edward walked beside me through the recovery room doors. I could hear a squeaking as we walked, one I couldn't place right away. Until I remembered the sound from another place, a movie set, one scene in a hospital with an officious little prick of a co-star who was almost anal in his attention to detail…and insistence those details be followed
It killed me now, over a year later, to find that he'd been right.
I looked up at Edward. "Are you seriously wearing Crocs?"
His booming laugh echoed down the corridors and didn't stop until we reached a private room with flowers and balloons already on the table. I knew without doubt they were from Alice and Jake. He waited through the painful process of getting me from the gurney to the more permanent bed, and the even more pleasant task of getting my leg hooked to the device that would keep it elevated and ensure that I wouldn't sleep well for the near future.
Nurse Jessica tried to linger in the room, fussing with my sheets and showing me the bed controls. Edward was polite but firm after her third explanation of how to recline my mattress and she reluctantly nodded and left, wheeling the gurney along with her.
I waited until she and her travelling bed had gone before looking back up at Edward. "So, really, Crocs?"
He laughed again and took the empty seat next to my bed. "Yes, Crocs. I saw the nurses all walking around wearing them and curiosity got the best of me. I bought a pair and tried them one day. I've never worn anything else on rounds or during surgery since. They're that comfortable."
I chuckled. "I wasn't poking fun," I said, but my laughter belied my words.
"Yes, you were," he laughed back. "But I've got a notoriously thick skin when it comes to my footwear, so it's all right."
We smiled at each other after that and a silence fell. I got the impression we were both searching for something else to talk about…something besides my leg which would mean he had no reason to linger. Unfortunately, neither of us was able to.
I decided not to think about why I'd want him lingering.
"Right. So, your leg. I saw from your records that this isn't your first time with a cast," he started, and I didn't have to ask where he'd gotten my medical records. Alice was just that efficient.
"Not even close, no."
There was an odd look in his eyes when I said that, but it was gone so fast I started to wonder if I'd imagined it. Then I didn't have time to think about it any longer, because Edward was giving me the rundown of my injury, and what he'd done to correct it. I heard about the rod now inside my thigh bone and the screws keeping it all in place. I managed, barely, to keep from wincing in phantom pain. Phantom because I knew I had some heavy painkillers on board right now and wouldn't have felt it if Annie Wilkes from Misery paid me a visit.
"The upside of the rod procedure is that we'll have you up and mobile in a few days' time. Maybe as much as a week, but I doubt that with the shape you're in."
I laughed. "That's right, I'm in the eternal quest to keep ahead of the ten pounds the camera puts on just like everyone else in LA."
Edward frowned. "I hope not to excess. Too much exercise can have just as much…"
I stopped him by reaching over and touching his hand. "I was kidding. I run a few times a week, work with a trainer the other days, and don't have ice cream for breakfast. I inherited my Dad's metabolism, which pisses off a vast majority of my friends, I don't mind telling you."
He relaxed and smiled again. I was very glad. I had a feeling I could watch this man smile for a few hours, or days, and not get tired of seeing it.
"Well, that's good then. Everything in moderation and all that," he paused and chuckled. "I must be tired; I'm sounding entirely too much like my father for comfort. I should be off anyway, let you get some rest. I'm certain you'll be inundated with visitors tomorrow."
I groaned. "Oh God, I hope not."
He cocked his head, confused. "Well, I can tell my parents you'd rather not, but they were quite concerned to hear you'd been hurt."
My jaw dropped. "No!" I shook my head for emphasis. "I mean, I'd love to see your parents, of course. I haven't since they visited Alice last year. I just," I stopped because I could hear my cheeks heating, "I'd just rather no one else know I was here, if that's all right?"
"That's been taken care of, as I understand it," Edward reassured me. "Alice saw to it you were admitted under a false name and I believe she's berating someone to hold the press release until you're released. Words along the lines of 'keeping the vultures from circling until the carrion is moved.'" He smiled down at me. "I'm assuming you're the carrion?"
"Always the flatterer, your sister." I couldn't help but smile. "God, what would I ever do without her?"
Edward laughed. "If we could have picked a better career for her, we couldn't have done it. Bossing people around and telling people where to go. Match made in heaven, I'd say."
"Not going to get any argument from me."
We smiled at each other for a long moment; it wasn't an awkward silence, but it did stretch out quite a long time. Finally, Edward broke it.
"I should be going," he said, and stood up this time.
"All right," I replied and tried to keep my face bright even though I really didn't want him to go yet. "I'll see you tomorrow, though, right?" No force of will could have kept the eager-puppy sound from my voice, so I didn't really try.
"Of course," he said with a smile.
Then he reached over and took my hand. I'm sure he intended it to be nothing more than a reassuring squeeze; it wasn't his fault I felt it all the way up my arm and through every nerve ending. My eyes flew to his, trying to see if he'd felt it too. Again, I thought I saw a flicker of something there, but as before, it was gone before I could be sure.
I either needed to get off of the painkillers or he needed to react slower.
"I'm glad," I said once I'd restarted my language centers.
He had just released my hand when the door to my room opened with a crash.
I turned to look at the disheveled figure standing at my door and smiled. "Hiya, Jake."
*Olympic Medical Center