Blues and Twos Competition
Your pen name: MACwrites
Title: Flatlines and Fates
Rating: T
Summary: After a moment of honesty and a decade apart, Bella and Edward find themselves drawn back to Forks. Will their undeniable feelings be enough to keep them there?

Bella drummed her fingers on the counter, chin propped on her hand, bored despite the hum of activity around her. It had been a quiet night in the ER - but then, most nights were quiet in this small-town hospital; she was used to the madness and chaos of the New York hospital system. Back there - in her old life - if she had had five minutes to sit down during a shift, it was a rare night. Here, if she had to go retrieve more than one patient, she assumed that hell would be freezing over next.

It had been with great sacrifice that Bella had given up a high-paying nursing job and a high-rent, tiny-but-trendy flat on the Lower East Side to move back home when her father, Charlie, had fallen ill. With her older brother deployed overseas, though, there had been no one else to care for their father, so home to insignificant Forks, Washington she went, quietly dragging bitterness and baggage behind her.

There had been no nursing jobs open at the tiny Forks Community Hospital - which was barely the size of the entire ER she had left behind - but in a town this small, sometimes a conversation was all it took. Charlie had called up his old friend Carlisle, Chief Surgeon at FCH, who had come up with a temporary EMT position for Bella, promising to move her into nursing as soon as a position became available. She had taken a crash course with the EMTs at her New York hospital, and had aced the certification exam in Washington upon her arrival. And so, Bella Swan had gone from Triage Nurse in The Big City to Temp in An Inconsequential Town - a fact she tried to forget as she unpacked her bags in her old room. The room, the house, this town - none of it had changed, which threw into sharp relief the many changes that had taken place within her over the years.

It had been a month now, though, and Bella had quickly remembered how this sleepy town moved like molasses - it was rare that anyone left a job, transferred into or out of town, or even moved down the street. She knew that it could be years before a nursing job opened up, but she held fast to the hope that Charlie would be back on his feet and back at work before long, when she would hightail it out of there and back to New York.

A pealing alarm interrupted Bella's daydreaming, and she jumped to her feet. Moving on autopilot, she grabbed her equipment and walked quickly down the hall and out the double doors to the ambulance, climbing into the back and fastening her seatbelt. "What's the story?" She asked the head EMT, the ever-creepy Caius, who had, on more than one occasion, slithered up behind her to hiss in her ear, startling her and nearly draining her of blood. She hated him, truth be told, but she hid that hate behind a thin and unimpressive facade of professionalism when she was forced to take a shift with him.

He grinned at her eerily now, his catlike eyes almost red in the flashing ambulance lights. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat as he stared. "He's looking at me like he's hungry, and I'm something to eat," she thought. She sat up straighter. "Caius? Are we guessing or are you going to tell us where we're headed?" She said through gritted teeth. "Oh right, right," he replied, looking down at his clipboard. "Caucasian male, 28, wrapped his sports car around a tree on the 101 just north of town," he replied as the ambulance kicked into gear and the ear-splitting sirens wailed around them. "Condition?" she asked, her mind shifting automatically into clinical mode. "Unconscious, possible head injury, reported by another driver who passed the scene and stopped to call 911." "Passengers?" "None."

They rode in silence, and not five minutes later they were pulling off the road in front of the scene. She didn't recognize the car, which was unusual. In a town this small, where she had lived for the first eighteen years of her life before spending six glorious years in New York, everyone knew everyone, and most of the time when she went out in the ambulance, she came back with someone she had grown up with in Forks. This car was unfamiliar, though, and she felt a rare glimmer of hope that perhaps this time, she would be spared the gut-wrenching shock of seeing someone she knew, battered and bloodied. It was a horror that she had never once experienced in New York, a city so large that anonymity was practically guaranteed.

She hopped down from the back of the ambulance, letting Caius out before pulling out the stretcher. She pushed its legs into position, but the wheels stuck in the moss and mud. There was no way for her to wheel it over to the patient, so she took a deep breath and lifted it, its size and shape making it difficult for her tiny body to manage, but she wrestled it over to the side of the road and rolled it down the street, managing to pull it to the car across a well-positioned spot of gravel. "What've we got?" She asked Caius, peering around him to take a look at the patient.

Caius had the door open, but all she could see was the back of a head of wild bronze hair atop a crisp, white collared shirt and black pants. The patient was still face-down on the steering wheel; Caius was taking his pulse and his blood pressure. "Knocked out, but vitals look good. No signs of any head trauma. I think he'll be fine," he said over his shoulder. "Well, then let's get him out of here," she replied, shivering against the biting wind and shoving the stretcher closer, not-so-accidentally knocking it into Caius. "Sorry," she said flatly, clearly not sorry at all. He glared at her, then turned to lean into the patient, setting him back into the seat. "I'll pull his shoulders; you guide his feet," Caius instructed, and she obeyed.

They had him strapped the the stretcher and in the ambulance, which was on its way back to the hospital, before she got a good look at his face, practically going into cardiac arrest herself when she recognized a face that had been burned into her brain for ten years. Caius had the patient's wallet out and was checking ID as her eyes traveled up the patient's body, noting how tall he was now and how he had filled out even more since the last time she saw him. She was about to blurt out his name when a warning bell sounded in her head. "Caius will never let you hear the end of this," her mind warned her. "Name?" She said shakily, pretending she didn't already know it, and grabbing her clipboard and pen to begin her initial report. "Edward Masen Cullen," quoted Caius from the driver's license, holding it out to her. "Carlisle's long-lost son. Whaddya know. Should we send Carlisle a ransom note?" He grinned at Bella, oozing creepy, as she took Edward's driver's license from Caius and pretended to copy the name and date of birth from the license, as if she hadn't had them memorized since she was fourteen.

They were back at the hospital minutes later, and once she wheeled him in the door and into triage, the nurses took over and wasted no time installing him in a room and setting up an IV. Bella went back to the EMT lounge, but monitored his progress on the hospital's computer, watching as he was sent for MRIs and EKGs, and she sighed in relief as the results were entered. Negative for head injury. Heart and lung function normal. She did note that his blood alcohol content was well under the legal limit; he must have lost control of the car, or perhaps fallen asleep at the wheel.

When her shift ended, she didn't want to leave, but it wasn't really appropriate for an EMT to hang out in the room of a patient she had pretended not to know. And so, off she went, clutching her backpack as she went out the door toward the parking lot. As she was trying to fit her key into the lock of her old truck - she hadn't needed a car in New York, and this was the only thing she could afford on her new, meager salary - the keys slipped through her frozen fingers and fell into the mud. She grumbled internally as she bent down to pick them up, but a white hand flashed out to pull them out of the mud, and she started as she stood up.

There stood Caius, grinning like a reptile and holding out her keys. She reached out to pluck them gingerly from his hand without touching him, mumbled thanks, and turned back to the car, unlocking in and yanking open the door. She threw her backpack in, and was about to throw herself into the car after it when an arm reached across to grip the inside of the door, blocking her path. She looked back at Caius, cringing as he leered at her. "So, Bella, where are you off to tonight?" He asked suggestively. "Uh, just headed home," she stammered, looking away from him. "I'm headed over to the Lodge for a beer. Care to join me?" His rank breath blew in her face and she turned to face him, not breathing. His eyes pierced hers, his white-blond hair blowing in the freezing wind. "No thanks, I've got to get home to Charlie," she replied. "Maybe some other time, then," he replied, pushing off of the door and turning away. She let out a breath and leapt into the cab of the pickup truck, slamming the door behind her and locking it immediately.

Charlie was asleep in his recliner, covered in blankets, right where she had left him. A half-eaten bowl of the chicken soup she had made him sat on the coffee table next to an empty mug, the teabag almost dry again. The fire had died down, and the house was cooling off, so she inched up the thermostat before heading upstairs to take a long, hot shower and change into her old sweats. It was going to be a long, lonely evening with Charlie asleep, so Bella took her time drying and straightening her long brown hair, rubbed her favorite lavender lotion onto her arms and legs, and brushed her teeth.

Once she was clean and warm, she slipped on her pajamas and a thick pair of socks and padded downstairs, clearing Charlie's dishes and turning on lights. She woke Charlie to him to give him his prescriptions, handing him a glass of orange juice and standing over him until he finished it. "Thanks, Bells," he said, falling back into the pillow she had propped behind him, and coughing weakly. She hated the sound of his cough. He had always been asthmatic, so she had heard him cough and wheeze her entire life, but this was different. She could hear the congestion in his lungs, could see the effort it took him to draw in a deep breath, and she hated it. His asthma was what was making it impossible for him to kick the pneumonia. He had spent two weeks at Forks Community Hospital, assigned the best doctors and nurses by Carlisle, before being released, but with no one to care for him and to make him take the medications and eat healthy meals, he landed back there within a week. It was then that she had made the agonizing choice to give up everything she had built in New York to move home, back into her old room and her old life, to care for Charlie during the recovery process that, Carlisle had advised her, could take six months to a year.

Once Charlie was settled and the house was cleaned up, she grabbed the one remaining blanket out of the TV cabinet and cuddled up, changing the channel from ESPN - Charlie's standard - to the Food Network. Tonight she had a difficult time paying attention, though, as thoughts of Edward Cullen filled her mind. Before long, the television was just background noise as her mind reached back across the years, to a time when her life and Edward's were not so far apart.

She had been best friends with Alice Cullen since they were two. Carlisle had shown up to Charlie's house with her one Sunday when his wife was out of town, and he had been unable to find a babysitter for his youngest child, so along she came to watch football with her daddy and his friend. Alice met Bella, and the rest was history - the two had become inseparable.

Bella had first become aware of Edward as a member of the opposite sex, and not just Alice's older brother, when she was in the fourth grade, and she saw Edward, then a eighth grader, kissing a high school girl behind the gym after school one day. Bella hadn't understood it then, but looking back later, she realized that the anger that had coursed through her veins and clouded her head had been bitter, bitter jealousy. She had run from the scene then, and had spent five years quietly pining away for Edward and keeping her feelings a secret from Alice. She and Edward ran across each other in the Cullen's kitchen every now and then, barely acknowledging one another with a mumbled "hey" before she escaped the room, afraid that Edward would read her feelings all over her face - "my open book," her father called her.

At the start of their ninth grade year, Bella and Alice had hitched a ride to the high school football game to watch Bella's older brother, Emmett, play his last game before heading off to college. Edward, then a senior and Emmett's best friend, was also on the team, and the girls cheered wildly for both of them. After the game was over - the Forks Spartans having delivered a crushing victory - Emmett ran over to them, scooped up his sister in a sweaty, smelly hug as she laughed, and then turned to Alice, giving the same to her as she squealed and pushed him away. The girls giggled as he joked with them, and as she looked past Emmett, she caught Edward's eye. He was coming toward them, and she blushed and quickly turned back to Emmett, edging slightly to the side so that his hulking frame blocked Edward from view. "What's up, Eddie?" Emmett had bellowed as Edward joined them. "Edward," he correctly sourly. "Ed-ward," repeated Emmett in a nasal, feminine voice. "You going to Angela's party after the game?" Bella tried to pay attention to something, anything else, but every cell in her body was tuned into Edward, standing mere inches from her and smelling like laundry, freshly-cut grass, and sweat, his wild bronze hair sticking straight out from his head. She inhaled deeply, trying to be subtle, but his eyes flashed to hers and she worried that he knew. She looked down, shrinking into herself as Alice and Emmett babbled on about the party. "Yeah, I'll be there," Edward said. "Yay!" Squealed Alice, ever exuberant.

The four of them had ridden home in Emmett's huge Jeep, the boys in the front and the girls in the back, music blaring, talking and laughing - Bella was the quietest, as she hung on Edward's every word. Emmett dropped Edward, Alice, and Bella off at the Cullens' before heading home to shower and change, and Alice whisked Bella upstairs to get ready. "But Alice," Bella had protested, "I've never worn heels before. And I'm going to freeze; this is a shirt, not a dress." Alice had rolled her eyes. "Of course it's a dress, Bella, don't be ridiculous. And it's high time you learned to walk in heels. Practice while I change, and then I'll do your makeup." Having learned by now that there was no changing Alice's mind once it was set, Bella sighed and resigned herself to a fate of frostbite and twisted ankles.

By the time Alice had finished with her, Emmett had already made it back to the Cullen house, and was lounging on a kitchen stool next to Edward. They turned to face the girls as they descended. Bella watched as they reacted; it was as if someone had swapped their faces. Emmett scowled, and Edward smirked at them. "Alice!" Emmett barked. "You're half naked, and you've got Bella wearing a dress that should be a shirt. Go back upstairs and put some clothes on, now, or we aren't taking you to the party." Edward only grinned, his eyes on Bella's exposed legs, which appeared to be a mile long between the four-inch pumps and the embarrassing lack of skirt length. Alice ignored the warning. "Please, Emmett. Do you see Edward drooling over there? He clearly likes Bella's dress. He'll take us to the party if you won't." Now Edward's face turned into a scowl as he looked at Alice, who stared sweetly back at him; Bella was looking down, examining her stilettos. Emmett growled. "That's why I'm worried. Go put a coat on - you're both going to freeze to death before we even get there." Alice smiled at him, all innocence and sugar. "Of course, we were just grabbing our coats. Come on, Bella." Alice dragged her by the hand to the coat rack that hung by the front door before pulling her in to whisper in her ear. "Did you see Edward's face? I told you that you looked hot!" Alice whispered, even her whisper sounding like a squeal. "Uh, no I didn't see him," Bella lied. Alice rolled her eyes. "I'm not blind, Bella, and I'm not stupid. I know you like my brother, and you know I love to play Cupid. Now, don't ruin my fun." Bella blushed furiously, and said nothing as they followed the boys out the door.

The party had been wild and loud, and Alice, ever the social butterfly, had dragged Bella from room to room while she chatted up anyone who would listen. Bella tagged along, but finally ended up sitting on a loveseat by the door, waiting for Alice to be ready to leave. Edward happened by, noticed her there, and plopped down next to her, smelling of soap, whisky, and peppermints. She inhaled him again as he leaned toward her, not a word spoken, no warning, and pressed his warm lips to hers. It happened so suddenly that she had no time to react before his hands were gently cupping her cheeks, his soft lips pressing to hers again and again. She closed her eyes, melting into the kiss. His tongue was out, running along her bottom lip, and she felt herself becoming warm all over.

There they sat, kissing for who knows how long, when suddenly his lips were gone from hers. She opened her eyes and blinked, shivering from the instant cold as his body heat was no longer pressed up against her, and saw Edward across the room, held fast by Emmett, who was clearly enraged and potentially murderous. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Emmett roared at his friend. "She's a kid, Edward, you lousy sack of-" "Emmett, relax, it was just kissing. My hands were on her face. I was behaving like a gentleman; stop being so damn overprotective of her," Edward replied calmly. "I. Am. Going. To. Kill. You." Emmett ground out the words between gritted teeth, his jaw clenched so tight that Bella was convinced he could bite through steel if he wanted. "Bella, did I hurt you, or force myself on you in any way?" Edward asked her. She shook her head, refusing to look at either of them. "Are you sure? I'll take him outside and snap him in half," replied Emmett. "I'm sure," she whispered, looking down at her hands, which were twisted into a knot in her lap. "You stay the hell away from her," Emmett roared, throwing Edward backward into the wall and turning to Bella. He practically lifted her off the bench and half-carried her out the door, helping her into the front seat of the Jeep and strapping her in before peeling out of the driveway.

"Emmett, I'm sorry," Bella whispered through her tears. "Did he hurt you at all, Bells?" Emmett asked, his eyes flashing to her face. "No, really, he didn't," Bella tried to reassure him. Emmett could be destructive when he was like this, and she worried as she tried to calm him down. "It was just kissing - it was nice, actually," she said, touching her fingertips to her slightly swollen lips without realizing it. Emmett glared at her. "You don't know what he's like. Damn, I never thought I'd have to warn my kid sister about Edward Cullen. He's a womanizer. The girls fall all over themselves to get at him; they practically line up at his locker. He doesn't bother to take their numbers, or even learn their names. Seriously, Bells, he's bad news." "He's your best friend," Bella said, in a weak attempt to defend Edward. "Yeah, and he's a great best friend - at least, he was until he put the moves on my baby sister - but he's not a great boyfriend. In fact, he's never a boyfriend - he doesn't have second dates, Bella, only one-nighters. Do you know what I'm saying? Don't get your hopes up, or you'll get your heart broken."

That was the last time they had discussed the kiss, and she had never mentioned it to Alice, who somehow had not read it on her face the next day. The thought of it consumed Bella's mind, though, and all weekend she drifted around in a daze, her feet never touching the ground, reliving it over and over in her head. The next day, Emmett was gone most of the day, and when he returned that night, Bella immediately zeroed in on his bruised knuckles and fat lip. "Emmett!" She cried. "What happened to you?" "Nothing, Bella, I'm fine," he replied gruffly, trudging up the stairs. She had followed him, cleaning his wounds and putting an ice pack on his mouth, but he refused to tell her what had happened. "Just taking care of business" was all he would say. She never found out whose misfortune it had been to be on the receiving end of Emmett's fist, or who had somehow managed to land a punch on him, but she had her suspicions, which she kept to herself.

Edward didn't speak to her again that year, and although she could never be sure, she felt as though he was avoiding her at school and at Alice's house. She constantly saw his bronze head ducking around corners and through doorways at school, but she never saw his face. When she went to Alice's house to hang out, Edward was almost never there, and whenever he was there, his was in his room with the door closed, music blaring. Bella never got up the nerve to ask Alice about the change, and Alice didn't mention it, so Bella let it go, and watched from a distance as Edward's graduation and inevitable departure neared.

When Edward graduated with honors and a full scholarship to Stanford, Alice convinced her parents to let her throw a massive graduation party. Emmett, whose friendship with Edward hadn't been the same since The Kiss, grudgingly agreed to attend, as Edward was headed to a summer study abroad before the falls semester began, and the party was really their last chance to hang out together.

The day of the party arrived, and Alice flitted around, touching up decorations and directing the caterers and florists who were scurrying all over the Cullen property. That afternoon, once again, she turned Bella into Party Barbie, this time dragging her from mani/pedi appointments to the hair salon, finally ending up in Alice's staggeringly vast bathroom, where she covered Bella in freesia-scented lotion and applied a thin layer of makeup to her face before dressing her in a simple, deep-blue cotton wrap dress - and of course, sky-high camel-colored peep-toe heels.

The party was a huge success, with every room in the massive Cullen house crowded with teenagers, and Bella looked all over for Edward, finally recognizing the back of his head as he pressed some bottle-blond in a strapless red mini-dress up against the pantry door. Her red nails stood out starkly against his crisp white shirt as her hands gripped his back, pulling him closer. Bella stopped short, her heart turning to ice as she watched their passionate kiss.

Tears filled her eyes and she bit down hard on her lip to keep from crying right there. Just as she turned to flee, the tears cascaded down her cheeks, and she heard her name. "Bella! Come here, there's someone I want you to meet," yelled Alice from across the dining room. Edward's head snapped around, and as she turned back to face him, his stricken expression surprised her. They eyed each other for a moment before the blood-red nails and long, witch-like fingers wrapped around his face and tried to pull him back - but he stepped away, leaving Bottle Blonde to pout, crossing her arms and pushing up her cleavage. Edward continued to stare at Bella as the tears fell down her cheeks, and as he took a step toward her, she turned and fled, hoping to maintain a shred of her dignity. She locked herself in Alice's room, kicking off her shoes, wiping the tears from her eyes and cursing herself for letting Edward see her cry over him. She pulled her curls back into a high ponytail and wiped her mascara-streaked cheeks clean, took a deep breath, and examined her face in the mirror.

She was contemplating just calling it a night and stealing some of Alice's pajamas when a knock came at the door. "I'm fine, Alice," she called, not leaving the bathroom. "It's not Alice," Edward called quietly. She gasped, dropping the crumpled tissue from her hand and turning to stare at the closed bedroom door. "Please, Bella, let me in," he called again. She crossed the room, unlocked the door and opened it slowly, peeking around it to see Edward standing in the hallway, tie undone, top button unbuttoned, hair completely wild, as if he had been raking his fingers through it repeatedly. She tried not to drool, forcing herself to remember that he probably tasted like her lip gloss and smelled like her cheap perfume. "Can I come in?" He asked her, his golden, butterscotch eyes staring into hers. "Um, why?" The words tumbled out before she had a chance to consider them. "We need to talk; I know you're upset," he began, placing a hand on the door and pressing gently. She gave way, allowing him to open the door and enter. He closed and locked the door behind him and took her hand, leading her to Alice's couch, where he seated her. She expected him to sit at the opposite end, but he slid down right next to her, his long legs extending straight out in front of him. He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. Once again, she breathed him in, his delicious, cool scent filling her lungs and soothing her wounded heart.

"Bella," he whispered in her ear, his breath tickling her neck and covering her in goosebumps. She pulled back to look at him, but said nothing. He's just being big-brotherly, she told herself. He just wants to make sure I'm okay; maybe he doesn't know why I was crying. She tried to lower her expectations, but there he sat, arm still around her, his face not a foot from hers. Her heart pounded; somehow, she was sure he could hear it.

"I don't know where to begin, Bella - I want to tell you that that girl, down there - I don't even know her name - that was meaningless, it was nothing. I want you to know that. She meant nothing." Bella stared at him, confusion obvious on her face. Edward tried again. "I know you saw - I saw the look on your face. Trust me, that was absolutely nothing; I didn't try to pursue her, she just threw herself at me, it was just a momentary, meaningless thing." He looked at her questioningly, but she only stared back, her face perplexed but giving away nothing else. "Bella?" He asked, probing her face with his eyes. "I don't understand," she admitted. "What?" He replied. "Why are you telling me this?" She asked. "Because I saw that you were hurt, I saw your tears, and I wanted to make it better. I don't want you to be upset."

Bella felt herself grow unexpectedly frustrated. Clearly he knew about her feelings, and was trying to repair her opinion of him. Why? Did he really expect to keep her waiting in the wings forever? "Why are you assuming that I was crying about you?" She asked him hotly. That threw him. "Uh, well you were standing right there when you started to cry," he replied uncertainly. "And why would you think that telling me that she meant nothing would make it better?" Bella fired at him. "Is that the kind of person you are, Edward?" His face twisted at the sound of his name in her voice; he had never heard her say it before, and his heart ached to hear it again. "Bella, I... don't know."

Edward sighed. "Look, I might as well put all of the cards on the table here. I think you're amazing, and beautiful, and brilliant, and if I had anything to offer you in a relationship, believe me, I'd be on my knees begging you to be with me. But as Emmett has no doubt told you, I've got nothing but a lot of baggage and a departure date next week. I just... don't want you to think that I care about that girl down there, when really, I care about you. That's why I wanted to kiss you at the beginning of the year, and why I fought with Emmett when he came to read me the Riot Act about kissing you - because it was different, with you, because I cared. And - now please don't be embarrassed, because now you know how much I care about you - but from what I gather from Alice's comments and thoughts, those feelings might not be totally unrequited." Bella blushed deep red, looking down to hide her face from Edward, but then his finger was under her chin, pulling her face back up to his as he leaned in to her. She closed her eyes as his lips pressed softly to hers, and his hands slid up to cup her cheeks.

He kissed her gently, but in each press of his lips she felt her heart melt even further, felt herself being pulled under by his current, as she fell even harder for him. It would cause her physical pain to be separated from him now, but that's just what was coming - separation, when he went off to begin his new life at college, surrounded by girls much older than fifteen, who were capable of giving him more than she was. Her heart ached at the thought, and she pulled away, angry that he was leaving and crushingly bitter that he had just now - at the cusp of his departure - decided to tell her how he felt. "Why are you just now telling me this? Why make me wait until now? You're leaving in a few days - what's the point now, what good is it to torture me by telling me that you care about me, and kissing me like this, when all you're going to do is leave me?"

His hands dropped from her cheeks, and his face dropped into his hands. "I don't know," he replied. "I wasn't going to tell you at all, because I'm so bad, so wrong for you, but you were hurting tonight, and seeing that hurt me too." He mumbled. Her heart melted at the same time as her temper flared, filling her with bitterness for the time they had lost and could not regain. "You've wasted all this time that we could have been together, Edward, and now you're leaving, which is going to be even harder than before, because now there's the what-could-have-been elephant in the room. Are you trying to break my heart?" She said softly but accusingly, her voice cracking as the tears spilled over. He looked up at her, his face so sad that her heart ached for causing him pain. "No, Bella, never," he said. "That's the last thing I want to do - but you have to know that I'm not good enough for you, that there isn't a what-could-have-been because we couldn't have been together. Emmett would have killed me - I mean, literally shot me or run me over with the Jeep - and I have nothing to give you, no relationship experience, no way to be a good boyfriend. I would have poisoned you, and I couldn't let that happen."

Bella stared at him; she had nothing else to say, as he had just argued against, sentenced to death, and adjourned the trial of their potential relationship. "Well then, I guess that's that. Good luck in college," she said, her voice cracking badly as she rose to flee to the bathroom before she unleashed the sobs. "Bella, wait," he said, holding her fast by the hand and looking up at her, pleading. "What? What else is there, Edward? As you've so succinctly pointed out, you're leaving, so there's no possibility for a relationship, and even if you were staying, you wouldn't want to be with me, so that's all there is to say, right?" His arms slid around her waist. "Bella, please, I don't want to leave like this." "I'm sorry, Edward, I can't do this right now. This was already hard enough, and now it's infinitely more complicated and difficult, and I need to go." She extricated herself from his arms and locked herself in the bathroom, turning on the hot water of the shower to drown out the noise of the party below. She took her time under the hot water, soothing her puffy face and calming her tears, and when she exited the shower, clothed in Alice's pajamas, Edward was gone.

As she thought back to that night, over a decade ago, Bella recalled the years of trying to get over him, of avoiding the Cullen house on Christmas breaks and summer vacations when Edward was home from school. Her heart had taken a long time to heal, for the pain to stop crushing her every day, and she had no interest in reopening those wounds with the knowledge that he would simply leave again when classes resumed. And so, the rest of Bella's high school years passed, as Alice dated profusely and was crowed Prom Queen, and Bella watched from the sidelines, turning down dates and tagging along mindlessly after Alice through their sophomore, junior, and senior years. From what she heard through Alice and Carlisle, Edward was partying his way though college, still pulling perfect grades and charming the pants off of the ladies - in short, nothing had changed except his location. Bella tried to ignore these reports, but the thought of Edward far away, surrounded by strange girls who, just like at home, lined up for a chance to be with him, turned her stomach every time.

Bella and Alice both graduated with honors. Bella went off to the University of Alaska to enroll in their pre-med program, and Alice went off to California to study fashion. Bella had worked hard in college to truly get over Edward once and for all, forcing herself to go on dates with bland and boring men just to forget the date she could never have, just to prove to herself that she could date someone else, could care about someone else, and that she wasn't doomed to be alone. She and Alice had drifted apart once they went to college, and Emmett, too, had drifted away somewhat when he graduated from high school, immediately enlisting in the Army and moving overseas. Now that she was home in Forks, Bella missed them both terribly, but the thought that they were both happy, wherever they were, consoled her and assuaged the loneliness a tiny bit.

The next morning, after getting Charlie's breakfast - he complained about the oatmeal and fresh fruit, and begged for biscuits, gravy, and sausage, which she refused - Bella dressed in her favorite dark-blue scrubs and headed to work. It was tough not to drop right into Edward's room the second she got there, but she managed to start her day, chatting with her friends at the nursing station and reviewing the schedule for the day. She groaned when she saw who was on shift with her, and a second later, there he was, breathing in her ear and making her jump from shock and gag from the smell. "Well hello, Bella," Caius whispered, exaggerating the L's in each word and dragging them out. "You're looking lovely today." "Thanks," Bella replied, shuddering in disgust before hurrying away from him and ducking around the next corner.

It was an uneventful morning - apparently none of Forks' 3,150 residents or the few visitors to the area got into any trouble, and she spent the morning playing Scrabble with Rose, one of the sweet, grandmotherly nurses on duty that day. The rest of her shift passed quickly, and soon she was packing to go home. "So, Bella," asked Rose with a smirk. The other nurses gathered around, knowing what was coming; apparently this had been discussed before Bella arrived. She steeled her nerves for whatever it was going to be this time - Rose's nephew Mike, perhaps, or Kate's son Eric, or Irina's latest ex-husband, who she always tired of quickly, but recommended to Bella - who, as apparently the last single girl in town, must be getting desperate by now.

"Yes?" Bella replied, shoving her sweatshirt into her backpack with more force than necessary. "Well, there's the most handsome man in room 106, nice and tall, great teeth, no wedding ring, and Shelley here can tell you that he has the cutest butt - she was the one who changed him into the gown. Isn't that right, Shelley?" Bella turned to the large, red-headed nurse in the bright orange scrubs. "Oh yes," Shelley replied. "I just wanted to pinch those cute little cheeks!" Bella blushed deep red at the thought, and Rose didn't miss it. "Look at that blush, girls. Bet she noticed how cute he was when she brought him in. Handsome man like that probably still looked good covered in blood and mess!"

Rose smiled at Bella good-naturedly. "Well, girl, what are you waiting for, then? Go check him out! He came to last night, but he's got a few broken ribs, so he's good and drugged up right now. You can peek all you want and he probably won't even wake up." "I can't just go barging in there, I'm not his nurse," Bella said weakly, the temptation to run straight into Edward's room nearly overpowering her. "Well, darlin, the rest of us are going to make ourselves busy, so maybe you can help us out a bit. 106 needs his vitals taken - I'm assuming you know how to do that, darlin, so get going." Rose grinned at her. "Shouldn't one of you do that? I'm not a nurse here," Bella replied uncertainly, biting her bottom lip. "You know what to do, Bella, so quit delaying and go see 106! " Rose said again, shoving a chart into Bella's hands as she and the other nurses scattered, leaving Bella standing there, staring down at her own handwriting on the intake sheet.

Bella slowly made her way down the hall to room 106, and cracked the door open hesitantly. Edward was asleep. She was struck by how young he looked - almost as if he hadn't aged a day since high school - and her heart immediately swelled as she approached him. As she rounded the curtain that divided his half of the room from the empty other bed, she noticed Alice, curled up like a cat in the recliner, sleeping next to Edward. As Bella approached, Alice's eyes flew open, and she leapt out of the chair and into Bella's arms. "Bella!" Alice squealed, drawing a grumble from the sleeping patient. "Hi!" Alice whispered, hugging Bella tight. "I'm so glad you're here. Dad called me last night when he heard, and I flew in this morning. How is Edward really? Dad says he's going to be fine, that he has a few cracked ribs that have to heal, but I always worry that he's trying to protect me and that I'm not getting the full story," Alice babbled, pulling Bella over to the second bed to sit. "Well I'm not his nurse - but his chart says that he does have a few cracked ribs, and he lost some blood, so right now they just want to monitor him and make sure that he begins to heal."

Alice heaved a sigh of relief. "I'm so glad to hear that. He's kind of been spiraling out of control the past few years - well, I'm sure you've heard - and -" Bella shook her head. "I had no idea," she interrupted, staring down at Edward's chart so that Alice wouldn't read her like an open book. "Really? Well, let's just say that he's done some really stupid stuff. He got arrested for beating some guy senseless, and he smashed that gorgeous grand piano he'd had for years with a baseball bat, and just last week he left this really amazing job in Toronto to-"

"Alice," a gruff voice commanded from the other side of the curtain. "Will you please shut up? I appreciate the favor, but I'm sure I can handle destroying my own reputation in the eyes of whoever you're talking to over there." Alice smiled, standing and walking around the curtain to the edge of Edward's bed. "Well, Edward, I'm glad to see that you're awake, but I'm not sure that you are entirely capable of trashing your reputation in Bella's eyes - I still don't think she's convinced. I can continue, if you'd like." Edward coughed, and then groaned in pain before responding. "That won't be necessary. Why don't you give us a minute?" Alice danced over to kiss her brother's cheek, and then skipped out of the room, smiling widely at Bella, who was still frozen on the bed.

"Bella?" Edward rasped, his voice scratchy and raw, but still the same unmistakably deep, velvety sound that her heart had danced to so many years ago. Bella steeled her nerves, smoothed her hair as she stood from the bed, and rounded the corner. His magnetism hadn't lost any of its effect, and it pulled at her now. Edward's golden eyes went to her face immediately, and they stared at each other for the first time in over a decade. He pulled out a needle-tethered arm and held out a hand to her, his arm still laying weakly on the bed. "Are you okay?" She asked him softly as she edged forward to take his hand, sitting in Alice's recliner and setting his chart on the windowsill. His eyes probed her face. "I'm fine," he replied dismissively. "The question is, how are you?" "Fine," Bella stammered, hating the way that her voice shook, certain Edward could hear it. He stared at her for a moment more before apparently satisfying himself that she was telling the truth. He looked away, out the window, still retaining his grasp on her hand. "So, it seems that neither of us could stay away from Forks, doesn't it?" He said, a smile playing on his lips.

Bella scowled. "Apparently not," she replied, her mind traveling back to Charlie and wondering once again how long it would take him to be fully recovered. When that day came, she would kiss her father goodbye and run away from Forks as fast as a plane could carry her. She looked at Edward. "So what brings you back here?" She asked him, the scowl melting from her face as their eyes met again. "Let's just say that I couldn't stay away," he replied mysteriously. She felt his thumb rubbing circles on the back of her hand, and she looked down at their joined hands. "How is Charlie doing?" Edward asked her. "He's okay," she replied. "He's getting better slowly - when I got here, he was a real mess. I've finally got him eating something other than steak, and the prescriptions your father gave him seem to be clearing out his lungs. I'm hoping that he'll be better soon." "And then you'll leave? Go back to New York?" "There will be no reason for me to stay. I can't even really work here, and I'm definitely not living with Charlie forever."

It was silent for a moment. Nervously, Bella asked the first thing that came to mind. "Are you here to visit Carlisle?" To her amazement, a slight blush colored Edward's pale cheeks - such a rare sight that Bella could remember no precedent for it. "Sort of," Edward replied, evading the question, which bothered Bella. Annoyed that he wouldn't open up to her, and worried that he just wanted to be left alone, she rose, sliding her hand out of his grip and taking a step back from the bed. "Well, I should let you rest," she said brusquely, picking up his chart - which she immediately fumbled, catching it awkwardly and ripping the top page - before starting toward the door. "I hope you feel better soon, Edward." She then made her way around the foot of the bed in embarrassed silence. Before she could reach the door, though, she heard him speak softly to her. "Bella." She stopped, but did not turn to him. "What, Edward?" "Look at me," he said. She turned to face him, huffing in annoyance that he could still exert complete power over her, when she apparently meant so little to him. Tears threatened to make an appearance, and Bella inched toward the door, hoping to avoid the shame of crying in front of someone who obviously felt so little for her.

"Where are you going? Come over here," Edward said, raising both arms now and holding them out to her - a nearly irresistible invitation. Still, Bella fought to preserve the last shred of dignity she had, and stayed put. "Do you need something? Can I call a nurse for you?" She asked him coldly, hugging her arms to herself. Edward's face clouded. "No, I don't need just any nurse, I need you. Please, don't leave me, Bella." At that, the tears welled up and spilled over before she could stop them. "Wh-what do you mean?" "Just what I said. Please, come over here, sit with me, let me tell you what I really came back to Forks to do." Bella took a hesitant step forward, and just in time, as the heavy door swung open behind her, and Carlisle walked into the room, Alice gliding in behind him. Bella quickly wiped her tears with shaky hands and turned to Carlisle, who put an arm around her shoulders to hug her. "Bella, sweetheart, how are you? How's Charlie doing?" Carlisle asked her warmly. "Good, I'm good, and he's fine," she said, once again regretting the shake in her voice. "I should probably get home to him," she added, avoiding Edward's stare and turning to flee. She hugged Alice and took off; as she pulled free of the hospital parking lot, Bella breathed a sigh of relief.

That night, after she had Charlie settled with a bowl of chili and the TV remote, she got into bed, but sleep evaded her. Her head was completely filled with Edward. She didn't have a chance of sleeping, and she lay awake most of the night, staring out the window at the bright full moon.

Bella was free the next day, and although it took a constant fight with her self-control, she did manage to avoid dropping by the hospital to visit Edward. Bella did everything she could to distract herself: she spent the morning cleaning the house from top to bottom, changing the sheets, and washing all of the towels. She made lunch for herself and Charlie, and spent some time chatting with him before he drifted off to sleep. Then she put on her iPod, turned the volume up to ear-splitting, and went for a really long run; afterward, she took a hot bath, shaved her legs, conditioned her hair, and painted her nails and her toes - which had not seen a fresh coat of nail polish since she moved from New York, as her feet were always in rain boots here when they weren't in her work shoes.

By then it was nearly dinnertime, and she took her time making one of Charlie's favorite meals - beef stroganoff, from Grandma Swan's recipe. Charlie felt well enough to sit at the table for dinner, and afterward was good and awake, so she poured herself a glass of wine, and they played a long and competitive game of Monopoly. They joked and laughed, and by the time Charlie had thoroughly buried her small Monopoly empire, her spirits were much lifted. As he settled back into his chair, she packed the game away, and called it a night.

The next morning, Bella was awake bright and early. Laughing at herself just a bit, she curled the ends of her long dark brown hair, which was fluffy and shiny from her conditioner and the blow-dry, and even put on a little makeup. She put on her lotion and her scrubs, and took off for work, so eager that she arrived early for her 6AM shift. As she pulled in, she saw Caius's old beater in the parking lot, and made up her mind to just go on inside; even Caius wasn't going to get to her today. She took a deep breath, checked her reflection in the mirror one last time, and shoved open the door, strolling confidently across the parking lot and into the building.

Bella checked the EMT lounge first, dropping her backpack on a chair without bothering to put it into a locker. The lounge was empty, and she was too worked up to sit still, so she continued onto the nurse's station, which was a flurry of activity. "Rose? Eleazer? Do you guys need help?" She asked as they bustled around her. "No no, we're fine, just have three new patients - triple car wreck, out of towners going too fast on those dark roads south of town last night - so we've got to get them all settled. Why don't you go check on 106, dear?" Rose smirked at her. Bella rolled her eyes, but headed toward Edward's room, meaning only to peek inside to see if Alice was there. When she got to the door, which was open, she was surprised to see that Edward was dressed in a fresh, crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, tucked into dark jeans which hugged his thin hips. He was standing, facing away from her, looking out the window and talking on his cell phone. She turned to go, meaning to give him some privacy, when she heard her father's name. "Yes, Dad, I know what you think, and what Charlie probably thinks too, but it's not like that, not anymore." Bella's heart sank at those words. Did Carlisle know how she felt? Was he trying to convince Edward to spare her feelings? She turned and walked away, closing herself in the EMT lounge and locking the door behind her.

As she sat there, Bella made up her mind that it was time to get over Edward, once and for all. No more carrying the torch for him, no more getting out of other relationships when they turned serious just because the guy wasn't Edward - and especially, no more sneaking into his hospital room, hair curled and nails painted, hoping that he would notice her. She made up her stubborn little mind, set her jaw, and had just stood up to head back to the nurse's station when the doorknob rattled, and someone pounded on the door. She opened it, hating the way her heart pounded as it hoped - against her will - that Edward would be on the other side.

Caius stormed into the room, brushing past her and taking care to brush up against her as well. "Was that door locked?" He hissed at her. "What were you doing in here?" "Nothing, don't be stupid," Bella shot back, reaching into her bag to grab her gear, since Caius was grabbing his. "I don't know what happened to the door - you know it locks on its own sometimes." Caius turned to look at her, suspicious, but she turned her face away. "Where are we headed?" She asked him, changing the subject. "Over to the high school. Some kid's van slid on the ice, and he's a little busted up. I'll brief you on the way there." With that, Caius hurried out the door, and Bella trailed behind him.

Between the kid whose van had hit the ice wrong, the woman who attempted - and failed - to give birth at home, and the old man who had slipped on the rocks while fishing, they had an eventful day. It was as if the universe wanted to help Bella in her mission of getting over Edward by keeping her occupied all day; once he was released, which, from the looks of things, would be today, she assumed that he would go home to Carlisle's for the rest of his visit, and she wouldn't have to see him again. This thought comforted her, and after the third patient run of the day, it was already nearing 4PM; her shift was ending, and she returned to the EMT lounge to pack up her bag.

Once she was packed, she shouldered her backpack and stopped by the nurse's station to say goodbye for the day. Rose made sure to mention that the handsome patient in 106 had been released, and that his father and sister had come by around lunchtime to collect him. Bella told herself sternly that she did NOT need to see him one more time before he left town, and refused to let herself be disappointed as she drove home.

Charlie was up and about when she got home - a good sign. He ordered a pizza and gave her the night off, and with nothing else to occupy her time, she fixed herself a huge container of salad and drove out to the coast to sit on the beach to watch the sunset. She had just settled herself on a large driftwood log and opened her salad when a voice behind her, muffled into obscurity by the blowing wind, startled her; her fork dropped from her hands and landed in the wet sand. She turned, annoyed, and was surprised to find Edward standing behind her, holding a six-pack and a second beach blanket. "Mind if I join you?" He said again. She looked up at him and nodded slowly. He reached down and plucked her fork out of the sand, pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and rubbed it clean before handing it back to her.

Edward moved slowly and gingerly, spreading out his blanket next to hers. He sat down and pulled out a beer, deftly removing the top and holding it out to her. "Would you like one?" She nodded, taking the bottle from him. As the cold beer chilled her body, she shivered, and Edward immediately shifted, moving onto her blanket and shaking off his, throwing it around her shoulders. "Thank you," she said, pulling it tighter to protect her against the whipping wind.

Neither spoke as the waves crashed below them and the sun dropped in front of them. The pink of the sky reflected off of Bella's cheeks as she munched on her salad. After a moment, she held out the container to him. "Salad?" She asked, swallowing a bite of tomato. He smiled at her. "No thanks," he replied. "Alice made a huge dinner to celebrate my 'homecoming,'" he said, putting air quotes around the last two words with affectionate mocking. Alice had never done a thing wrong in her life, in her brother's eyes. "Oh, how nice," murmured Bella.

The waves continued to crash as they sat in silence, and Bella finished her salad. Just as she was putting the container back in her bag, Edward spoke. "Bella, there's something I want you to know. I tried to tell you the other day, but you escaped. Please, give me a chance to explain - this is important, at least to me." Bella's heart threatened to jump out of her chest. "Okay," she replied, staring out at the waves and trying her best to feign indifference. Edward turned to her, reaching across to take her hands as he turned to her. "Bella, there are a lot of things I could tell you about the past ten years of my life - things I'm not proud of, things that might make you hate me. I'll tell you everything if you want to hear it, but for now, the thing I most want you to know is why I'm here." Edward took a deep breath, his golden eyes staring intently into hers. Bella's insides melted as her heart pounded.

"Bella, I heard Alice start to tell you this. I had a job lined up in Toronto, the job I had been pursuing for three years. Then I heard from my Dad that Charlie was sick, and I flew into town for a weekend to do what I could. I got a call a month later from Alice, once she found out that you were back. I quit the job, jumped in my car and drove overnight to get here." Bella drew in a breath at his words, and watched him with bright, eager eyes. "It's a long drive from Toronto - I should have stopped to sleep, but I was too anxious to get here to you. I drove through the night; I guess you know how that turned out, because there you were to rescue me again. Now that that's behind me, there's only one reason for me to stay here, and it all depends on a word from you." Edward paused, seemingly to gather his courage. Anything you want, it's yours, I'm yours, thought Bella.

Edward spoke, the words simple and sincere. "Bella, I came here for you."