A/N: Still not mine. I'm just messing around in SMeyer's playground.
A/N #2: A million thanks to everyone for the reviews, favorites, alerts and rec's. I will admit to having a small moment of hyperventilation when I found out I'd been rec'd on ADF. I'm so thrilled that people are enjoying this story because I'm having SO much fun writing it. I still get the goofy grins whenever my phone chirps with review alerts…people at work are starting to wonder about me again ;)
The grin Edward shot back at me ought to be illegal. "Are you trying to get rid of me, Bella?"
"Not at all," I replied, trying desperately to keep myself from stammering. "I just don't want to be selfish."
"Sometimes, selfish isn't such a bad thing."
My mouth was open to say something – I'd like to think it would have been something spectacularly witty and clever – but I never got the chance.
"I'm back! What'd I miss? Anything? I hope not breakfast, because I'm starving."
Jake barreled back in the room like an invading army. It didn't help that he was bigger than any man had a right to be and just sucked up all the available space. Besides, how could I fault it when his exuberance was the reason I had a career? It's not like he knew I was hoarding time with my doctor – and I wasn't about to tell him that, either.
"Alice left you a muffin," I told him.
"A muffin? Singular?"
I grinned. "Trust me," I said and caught Edward's eye, glad to see he was smiling back conspiratorially. Damned monitor blipped again.
"Did she send the press release?"
I smiled wider. "Nope, she just bitched a lot about how she doesn't work for you. Apparently, you'll be chatting about that later."
"Great," he groaned and opened the bag. "Holy fuck, what're they doing to the muffins up here? Steroid injections?"
I laughed, watching the way his eyes remained riveted to the bag's contents.
"Told you to trust me; you never do."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Quiet down, I'm having a moment."
I turned back to Edward while Jake worshipped at the House of Muffin. "Sorry about him. I fed him once and he followed me home. Haven't been able to get rid of him since."
"Not a problem," he said. I was happy that his smile was still in place, but not too happy that he was still standing. "It sounds as though you've got work to do."
I was about to protest that it could wait, but Jake took that moment to pipe up from his muffin. "Yeah, we do. The sooner the better."
I groaned. "Jake, I can't imagine that it's going to matter a damn that I'm laid up in a hospital again to anyone, why exactly do we have to let the world know?"
Jake shot me the "you have no idea" look that usually meant I was in for a long reminder about the fact that I was, in fact, famous and had certain responsibilities along those lines.
I hated that talk.
"So, Doc, did I sleep through finding out the prognosis on my girl here?" He affected a B-movie melodramatic pause. "Will she ever walk again?"
I threw a plastic cup at him. "For Christ's sake, Jake, really? I can almost hear the violins."
"Well, Doc?" Jake pressed, still looking at Edward.
"I hadn't quite gotten around to that part yet," he said smoothly. I could almost see him slip the doctor hat onto his head. It shouldn't have been as appealing as it was.
And God, was it ever. Damned appealing.
Because I wanted to see him smile again, I put on my actress hat and batted big, sorrowful eyes up at him. I infused my voice with a heavy dose of my own soap-opera melodrama. "Will I, Doctor? Will I walk again?"
"I'm not sure." Edward looked down at me, his face solemn and serious. "As I understand it, you didn't do such a bang-up job of walking before your surgery, though, so I'm not taking responsibility for it now."
I cocked an eyebrow at him and he shot back with a wink and the smile that seemed just a little crooked.
My laughter was drowned out a bit by Jake's guffaws at the foot of the bed. "Good God, there's no Alice in you at all, is there?" He snickered again. "Bang up job of it, that's brilliant."
"That's not nice, you know," I mock-accused through lingering giggles. I reached over to swat at Edward playfully with my uninjured hand just as he moved to take up my chart from the end of the bed.
Our hands touched again. I felt this one all the way through me – and here I'd always thought that the struck-by-lightning thing was just an author's fabrication. I now knew it wasn't. In fact, I was amazed my skin wasn't smoking from the contact burn.
Another monitor stutter and this time, Edward's eyes flashed up to mine. Or maybe he was already looking at me? I couldn't tell and the moment was over before I could figure it out. He'd turned his attention to the monitor at my bedside.
He pulled out the tape readout and checked it over, a frown on his brow. "I think it might be time for this one to go down and get calibrated," his voice was low, clearly talking to himself and not to us. "No reason you need one anymore, anyway."
He made a note on the chart he'd finally picked back up. Thank God. I could do without the medical proof that my doctor was causing strange things to happen in my chest.
"So, Doc?" Jake asked again.
I jumped. I'd actually forgotten he was there.
Edward nodded once, glancing over the chart and replacing it. "Everything looks in order. We're going to keep her here until she's fully mobile, probably a few more days. The sooner she's up and moving, and getting circulation going in that leg, the better. We'll get the IVs and catheters out by tomorrow, I think."
I sighed. "Wonderful."
He smiled. "The good news is you're in good physical condition, Bella, and the break was a clean one. Recovery for an injury of this severity is normally three to six months..."
I saw Jake stand up straighter out of the corner of my eye.
Edward angled his body so he could address both of us. "Normally, yes. But with Bella's overall health and condition, I'd put her closer to the three side than the six, especially if she starts physical therapy sooner rather than later," he said then leveled a smile at me, "and keeps up with her exercises."
"She will," Jake said firmly. Great. That meant he was going to be worse than annoying about my rehabilitation. I could almost hear the sound of a personal trainer/torturer in my future. Lovely.
"But not overdo it," Edward broke in, obviously seeing the same fervor in Jake that I did. "Overexerting would be just as detrimental as not enough."
I could have kissed him for that.
Why did I have to think about kissing him?
God, I really was pathetic. Utterly.
"All right then. Looks as though we've got our work cut out for us then, Bells. You had a two month window for your vacation and even then there were meetings you were going to have to fly back for," Jake started, already pulling out his iPad.
I rolled my eyes and looked back at Edward. "What he really means is thank you for everything, Doctor."
"Doctor?" Edward said, a brow arching over a beautiful green eye. "I thought we'd progressed to you calling me Edward at least."
"Edward, then," I smiled back.
Jake cleared his throat and I was tempted to kick him with my good foot.
"Sorry to interrupt. But we do have a bit of work to do?"
Jake phrased it as a question, but the underlying meaning was there. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
"Of course. I'll see you soon, then, Bella."
I had to physically press my lips together to keep from asking when "soon" was. Instead I silently watched him cross the room to the door. I straightened when he paused there; the traitorous monitor blipped again.
"Fish sticks," he said, turning back to me.
"Alice said she'd save you from fish sticks, or from the Gorton's fisherman. What did she mean by that?"
I felt my face heating to the point I feared the fire-suppression system would go off.
"They make me sick," I said simply.
Jake, naturally, couldn't leave it at that. "Sick? You projectile vomited all over George Clooney."
Edward frowned slightly, shooting a look at Jake I couldn't decipher, then nodded and left the room without another word.
"Thanks ever so much, Jake," I groused, but the pout was lost on him. Jake was, no doubt, back on set, watching me in his mental movie theater as I spewed lightly breaded fish all over the other actor. At the time I'd thought it was mortifying, but with time and distance (and the fact George was a great sport and still teased me about it) I'd come to see the humor.
Or I had. Now I was mortified all over again.
"All right," he said and wiped the tears from under his eyes. "Let's get to work, shall we?"
I was glad it was Saturday.
Saturdays meant sleeping in, a long run through the forest trails, and a day to decompress and just...be. Do whatever came to mind whether it was music, small repairs to the house, going into the city for a film, museum, or gallery...or just hanging around in my sweat pants and watching a Star Wars marathon or messing around on my computer.
At least, that's how I spent my Saturdays before my sister invaded.
When I trudged down towards my kitchen this Saturday morning, Alice had progressed her music to some sort of punk playlist as she flitted her way around the cabinets.
I turned back around immediately, praying she didn't see me. I knew my prayers were for naught when the music died away.
"Morning, big brother!"
"Just going for a run," I called back over my shoulder.
"Going for a run?" she questioned from right behind me. "In your slippers? I'd think an orthopedist knew better than that. Horrible for the arches or something."
I laughed softly and turned back to her. "And just when did you become an expert on arches, Midge?"
"Dr. Scholl's commercials" she laughed, hooking an arm through mine.
"Well, he'd know," I nodded sagely, taking a seat at the breakfast bar. Alice picked up her own coffee mug and slid one over to me. We drank our coffee in a companionable silence that I knew couldn't last.
"What are your plans today?"
Somewhere in the far reaches of my brain, alarm bells were going off. But because either the coffee hadn't yet awakened my higher brain functions or I was just plain stupid, I didn't listen and answered honestly.
"I was going to go for a run this morning, but after that, nothing much."
As soon as the words were out I wanted to call them back, especially in light of the twinkle in my sister's eye.
"Why?" I asked, too late.
"No reason. I was just hoping you'd be able to run something in to Bella for me. I didn't have enough room for a full change of clothes when we went yesterday and she texted that she's getting tired of the nightgown, especially since she's going to start moving around today. Said she doesn't want her ass hanging out for the rest of the hospital to see."
I barely managed to keep from choking on my coffee. The last thing I needed was to be thinking about Bella at all; and I really didn't need to be thinking about her bare...
"Yeah, sure," I heard myself agreeing stupidly. Of course I could take clothes in. Straight to the nurses station and no further. I didn't trust myself beyond that.
"Everything all right?" Alice asked over a quirked brow.
"Of course it is," I said easily. "I was just thinking if there was anything else I needed while I was in the Port."
Alice seemed appeased. "Perfect! I'll get a bag together while you run." She set down her coffee and darted over to my side, kissing my cheek. "She's great, isn't she?"
"Hmm?" I said, pretending to be distracted by the morning paper on the counter.
"Bella? She's great, isn't she?"
I kept my face blank again. "She seems very nice, yes," I agreed blandly.
Back in my room, I pulled on my running gear and did some preliminary stretches. I managed to keep my mind focused on the immediate present as I limbered up, walked down the back stairs and headed out the mud room door. For the first half mile I thought of nothing more than the constant thud thud thud of my feet as they landed on the soft trail floor.
Then my mind started to drift as it always did as I moved through the familiar terrain. Running had been my salvation during college and med school. Every time the pressure got to me, I'd run. If there was a case I couldn't figure out, I'd run. When I was learning to name every bone in the human body, I'd run. There was something about tuning out conscious thought and letting my mind wander as I lost myself in the continual plod of feet against ground. I could always find ways around the problems that plagued me while I ran; or baring that, a break from the incessant circular thinking that sometimes made finding answers difficult.
I doubted I'd have such luck today.
Because no matter how long or far I ran, I'd still want to plow my fist into Jake's jaw.
I could still see her pale face lit by the embarrassed flush on her cheeks as her agent dwelled on something that clearly made her uncomfortable.
My hands fisted again and I had to work to relax my fingers.
How could he do that? Wasn't he supposed to be with her? In love with her, if the nurses and the gossip sites were to be believed? And God, did the nurses ever go on and on about it. While I'd updated Bella's information at the nurses' station, that's all they'd done was go on and on and ON about Jake's devotion (he slept in that horrible chair all night!) until I'd had to leave. I doubted that kicking a wall would do much for me other than a few broken toes and make the hospital start to doubt my sanity.
Hell, that wouldn't be anything new. I was starting to doubt it myself.
The only thing not in doubt was that Bella was with a man that very clearly didn't deserve her.
No. There were two sure things. The other was that there wasn't a damned thing I could do about it.
Or was there?
My feet faltered as if they'd been caught in a tree root. They hadn't. The ground was flat in front of me; it was the stray thought that had caused the hiccup in my stride.
Was there something I could do about it?
When I'd left the hospital the day before, I'd decided that the only way to keep myself from giving into the instinct and realigning Jake's jaw in a thoroughly non-surgical fashion was to stay far away from Bella's hospital room. On the drive home, I'd taken it one step further and had a few self-discussions in which I reminded myself about proprieties and ethics and that Bella was a patient.
That hanging around in a patient's room and talking for hours was the opposite of professional.
I told myself a lot of things during that drive. Made a slew of resolutions.
And now, in the course of one five mile run, they were all being swept away.
Was there a way I could do more than fix her leg? Could I help her see that the relationship with her manager was a destructive one, unhealthy? That his belittling should not be tolerated on any level?
My stride slowed. No. No. No.
I repeated the word with every step.
I needed to stick to my original plan, I needed to treat her like any other patient. I was an orthopedic surgeon, not a psychiatrist or counselor. Dr. Cullen, not Dr. Phil. The fact I couldn't seem to stop having dirty dreams about my patient was no reason to start meddling in her life. If anything, it was another reason to stay far away from her.
I would treat her like any other surgical patient. I had checked on her post-operation, I would leave the nurses and physical therapists to their jobs and check her progress in a few days time when she drew closer to discharge from the hospital. There would be follow up visits in a few months.
And that was it. Depressing as fuck, but that was it.
I was still repeating that mantra when I entered the hospital with the small canvas bag in my hand. I was going to go up to the nurses station, drop off the bag and note from Alice, and turn around and walk out again. It was a very rare day in the Port. There was actually blue above us, and big fluffy white clouds, not the drippy, dark gray that constantly covered our section of the country.
I would do this errand for my sister then go to the docks for lunch, maybe a little window shopping, then go home and...do something. Anything. The point was, I wouldn't be here.
Resolve firm, I approached the nurses' station.
"Hello, Jessica," I said.
"Dr. Cullen! What are you doing here on a Saturday?" I watched as her hand raised to her hair. I sighed; I could practically hear her thoughts as she mentally went over her appearance. She'd decided sometime after her first week here that we would be a perfect match. The fact that I showed no interest in her whatsoever hadn't deterred her in the two years I'd been on staff.
"Just dropping something off from Alice for Room 1901," I said easily, proud of myself for using the room number and not the name. Distance. Distance was good. "Would you mind taking it in for me? I've got..."
A loud beeping interrupted us and I thought I heard Jessica mutter something about an old hag.
"What was that?"
She signed. "Nothing. Mrs. Nelson is being a little insistent today," she added with a false smile on her face. We all knew the nurses groused about the patients behind their backs, but the hospital was cracking down about it after one patient's family member had overheard and complained. "Insistent" was nurse code for "pain in the ass."
"Ah. I'll just leave this here then...?"
Jessica shook her head. "Would you mind just taking it in? That bag disappears and I'm liable."
"Disappears?" I looked around the deserted private ward. "You get a lot of theft around here, do you? I'm sure it will be..."
The buzzing started again and I could hear the "insistent" woman calling out now...something about the water in her room being warm.
"Please, Dr. Cullen?"
She was off without another word.
I knew I could just leave it; knew there was no danger of her clothes being stolen in the few minutes it would take Jessica to add ice to the woman's pitcher. Then I caught sight of an orderly at the opposite end of the hall and sighed.
Bella was famous, and the bag did contain her personal possessions.
Wouldn't I feel like a creep if her sweatpants were suddenly available for bid on eBay because I didn't have the balls to walk into her hospital room, deliver a bag of clothing, and walk out again?
And, more to the point, why did that seem like an incredibly elaborate rationalization?
Probably because it was one. I sighed. Hell, maybe I'd get lucky. Maybe she'd be asleep.
I pushed the door open and peeked in.
I was in luck. Her head was turned away and angled down, her breathing slow and even. The room was silent save the classical music coming from an iPod on her bedside table. I was happy to note that the dickhead agent was nowhere to be seen. At least I wouldn't have to try and make polite conversation with the asshole. I was testing my resolve enough by being in here, having to speak with Jake would probably be shade past too much to handle.
Gingerly, I eased my way into her room. My eyes were focused on the end of her bed where I was planning on setting the bag. Unfortunately for me, that meant they weren't on my own feet – or the wheels to the bedside stand. The contact between it and my shoe sent the wheeled table skittering a bit. Not enough to make noise, but enough to take her open laptop off screen saver mode.
I could have made it out of there easily and undetected if I hadn't looked up. If I hadn't laughed.
But I did, and I had, and Bella's eyes fluttered open.
"Edward?" She looked around, confused. "What?"
"I'm sorry," I said softly. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"No, it's fine," she assured me, her good hand on the mattress as she tried to push herself more upright. "I just dozed off a bit. Were...did I hear you laughing?"
There was no hiding it, I knew, because the smile was probably still lingering on my face. Instead of answering, my eyes darted to her laptop where two characters were locked in an embrace, little green diamonds over their heads.
"You play Sims?" I commented, pressing my lips together.
She flushed again. Her good hand darted out, landing on the top of her laptop monitor as if she meant to close it from view.
"No! Don't do that. The game won't save and you'll lose all your progress," I said in an effort to stop her.
Her hand paused, still resting on the top edge of the laptop screen. "You're not going to tell me you play Sims."
I dropped the clothes bag onto her bed and crossed my arms, cocking a brow at her. "And why not? Last I heard the game was available to everyone, not just world famous actress types. Even we doctorly peons can lose ourselves in cruelly manipulating the lives of unsuspecting digital creations."
She giggled and I refused to think about the reaction that sound caused.
"You really play? You're not just teasing me?"
I pulled up the chair and sat down into it; I told myself it was because she shouldn't have to strain to look up at me. That sitting in the chair was the gentlemanly thing to do as it brought our eyes onto a level and she wouldn't have to crane her neck to look up at me.
I decided I'd think about my rampant rationalizations later. Much later.
"I really do play. Started in med school when all the information would just be too much to take in and I'd need to disconnect from the books for a while. You can only stare at ligaments and tendons for so long before your eyes start to cross. Playing in a virtual world seemed a good way to do that."
"Have you ever gotten a character to lifetime achievement?"
It was my turn to laugh. "I did. He was in the law enforcement track, so he got the superhero costume. It was great."
And so we talked.
My brief dash in to drop off clothes turned into a full on discussion over tactics and cheats, the differences between versions, and expansion packs. I barely felt the time passing.
I was halfway through my theories on why hiring a house cleaning service was the first thing I did in every new Sim house, when I realized Bella's face was starting to distort every now and then.
"What, you disagree?"
"No," she said and her cheeks were warming again. "Not at all. I do that too. Why spend time making beds and risking eating spoiled food?" Her face twisted up again.
"Then what is it?" I was on my feet in a flash. "Are you in pain?"
Her head shook, and the blush went deeper. "I. They took my catheter out this morning."
It took me a few seconds. "And you need to take care of things manually?"
She nodded, laughed a little. The delightful little blush was back on her cheeks. I tried not to stare. Unsuccessfully.
"Do you need help?"
"A little, yes. Just with the basics, standing and sitting and such. But I'm getting better," she said, the pride in her own achievements was clear in her tone.
"Of that I have no doubt." I stood, reluctantly. "I'll leave you to it then. I'll send a nurse in to help you on my way out."
"Oh," she said, her voice a little lower. "Do you have to go?"
Every resolution I'd made with myself ebbed away in that moment, wiped clean by the deep brown eyes that implored up at me.
"No," I said while calling myself an idiot, "no, I don't have to go."
Bella's shoulders relaxed, a smile raised the corners of her Cupid's bow mouth, and I continued to berate myself. "But I will step outside to give you some privacy. Alice sent clothes as well, by the way," I said offhand, as if my whole reason for being here was just that inconsequential. "If you wanted to change into them while you were...already up," I finished lamely.
Her smile widened, and I knew just why she'd been dubbed America's Sweetheart by the press. That smile was goddamned deadly, especially when aimed right at you. I thought seeing it on screen or in magazines was bad – but in person it was at least fifty times more potent.
"Yes! I knew she'd come through for me, she always does."
She shifted a little on her hospital bed and I nodded. "Right. A nurse coming right up."
I stepped out and looked around the floor for a passing nurse.
"Dr. Cullen? You're still here?"
I looked up just in time to see Jessica's eyes dart towards the wall clock. I could almost hear her mentally calculating – probably because I was doing the same thing.
I'd been in Bella's room for nearly two hours.
I might have been a good doctor, but I was fuckall at self-motivation.
"Yes, I am," I said, keeping my voice casual, almost clinical. "But the patient needs help with a trip to the lav. Would you mind?"
"I can do it," the other floor nurse said as she walked by. "I was just about to check on her anyway."
"Thanks, Angela. She was, ah, getting a little twitchy."
Angela laughed and stepped past me into the room. "Ready for another trip to Casa de Pee, Bella?"
"God, don't make me laugh." I heard Bella groan good-naturedly as the door shut behind me
Some people in this building were here because they thought medicine was the way to a better life. Jessica was firmly planted in that section. Her desire to be a nurse stemmed directly from her desire to marry a doctor. There were some, however, that were here because they'd been called. Angela was the epitome of that second camp; she had a calling so profound I'd only seen it rivaled in one other. My father.
I tried to look at anywhere but Jessica while I stood just outside the room. I didn't need to see the mental gears turning over why I was staying while Bella took care of her personal needs, and not leaving as most might have done. Mostly I hoped she kept her speculation to herself.
"She's all set," Angela said a moment later.
"You know, Dr Cullen. It's a beautiful day outside. Seems a shame to be closed up in a hospital during such a rare break in the weather, you know? Especially for someone just visiting the area. Even more of a shame now that someone isn't hooked up to anything that would keep her from enjoying a trip away from her hospital room and seeing the hospital gardens."
"Is that so?" I replied, one eyebrow cocked.
"It is," she nodded, a guileless smile on her face. "We even have wheelchairs on the floor. Isn't that handy? If I was lucky enough to have the day off, I'd probably be taking a nice walk outside right now. Might even take someone with me, for company."
I was sure the puzzlement was clear on my face. "Maybe someone's manager will do that, if you mention the wheelchairs to him."
"Jake? Didn't you know? He went back to California already, left first thing this morning."
She smiled sweetly at me and walked around me, back onto her rounds of checking on the other patients.
I turned and stared at Bella's closed door and tried not to grin.
I had no luck whatsoever.
My mind worked on plans while my muscles worked to control the grinning. I really was going to have to stop smiling all the time. I did have a reputation as a curmudgeon to uphold.
I was conscious of Jessica's eyes boring twin laser-beams into my back, but I didn't care. All I could think about were Angela's not-too-subtle hints. No matter how broad her hints, they'd fallen on very fertile ground. Forget my original intent to drop in, drop off and make a quick getaway without ever being seen. Now all I could think about was taking Angela's advice and taking that walk…with someone.
Then I looked up and saw a wheelchair not five feet down the corridor from me.
I didn't think of anything, or anyone, else beyond that. I just grabbed the chair and pushed it into Bella's room.
I went to the University of Google for my medical training. So for what I got right about thigh bone breaks, thank the various websites I hit up…if I got it all wrong, blame me for being too squeamish to go med school ;)