A/N – Yes, I know I'm late. I'm so sorry. Here's the final chapter. Epi is half-written and will follow shortly. Beta'd by mac. Mistakes are mine. As usual, this somehow turned into dark comedy. I can't seem to help it. Um, enjoy?
When you cut off a limb, it still aches. The scientist in me was always very interested in pain - its role in adaptation and evolution. But phantom pain was something I never understood. How could it possibly be a benefit to survival? The appendage was gone, so why keep punishing the rest of the body? It's not like it could grow back.
I'd never get used to it...all this pain. The gaping, festering wound that shot fire through my veins with every pump of my heart.
But what was missing? A limb? I remembered a bloodied arm, but not to whom it was attached.
"Am I dead?" I asked the paramedic as he wheeled me into the Emergency entrance of Forks Community Hospital.
Edward once told me about the anguish of living forever after losing a mate. Surely losing an arm couldn't be nearly as painful?
Doctors, police, even a fucking priest, but no one could provide me with answers. How could I mourn something I wasn't even sure was real?
"Dad?" My voice sounded like an echo. My entire body felt like an echo. I was light from a star - dead but still reflecting life.
"No more medication. Please? I can't think in this fog."
"I don't know what to do, Bells. Tell me what to do."
Help me to remember. "I just want to forget."
Forgetting was easier. Remembering...oh, god, why didn't I stay in that blissful fugue? As soon as the drugs were out of my system, memories flooded my senses. It's funny, but my first memory of what happened was a smell...pine and mint. At first I didn't understand, but I was so desperate for the smell I nearly demanded a car air freshener.
But then I remembered everything. All at once. A deluge of Edward - his voice, his touch, his body, oh fuck...
The blood...I need to get as much off you as possible before I take you back to my home.
You're just very . . . brave. It's unexpected and quite charming.
I'd like to ask your permission to court you
You're the most beautiful woman in the world to me...there's no comparison.
I don't know much about cooking, but maybe we could look up some recipes on Carlisle's computer?
I guarantee that despite my nature, I'm still very much a man.
May I touch you?
You won't let me change you. I don't think I can leave you.
Twelve days. My father said it was just under two weeks, but it felt like a lifetime. I bit the inside of my cheek and sat beside him, silent. His hand was on my back, my shoulder, my waist, like he didn't want to let me go...like I might disappear at any moment. Words bubbled out of my throat but got caught on my listless tongue. I should have found the words to placate him, but I couldn't bring myself to regret the decisions I made that brought me to Edward. No, I wouldn't even trade the lives of Jessica and Mike if it meant losing the time we had together. If there was a god he would strike me down for such thoughts, but I didn't care. If god existed I probably was going to burn.
"Will you speak to the doctor this time, Bells?" My father's lips moved, but what he was saying didn't register immediately.
"The doctor. Please try to say...anything. Hell, I don't know. I'm trying here, I really am, but you won't talk. How can we help if you won't tell us what happened?"
I shrugged. "I don't remember, Dad. I'm fine." What doctor was I here to see? The dark furniture and stark walls didn't offer any clue.
"You're not fine."
"Well, I'm sorry I'm not a better victim." I glared, hands curling into fists at my side. My knuckles turned white. I'd cut off the blood. Blood.
An image of blood-splattered tile shot through my mind, and while I should have been traumatized by the memory, all I knew was the sweet relief of seeing Edward's face.
A sob burst through my throat.
"Bella...please. Tell me."
I couldn't answer. How could I tell my father the pain lessened when my abductor became more tangible? But then the memory burned, rendering me into dust. I wished I could float away. It was ambivalence. Ambivalence would tear me in two.
"Is it a flashback? Please...anything at all you can remember?"
I shook my head, squeezing his hand, so cold and clammy against my own.
"I can't remember, Dad. I try," truth, "but I just can't." Lie. Always the lie.
"Do you need to take one of those pills...the lorazepam?" He struggled with the child-safety lid of an amber bottle. "I don't know...they said to give you these when you get agitated."
"Sure," I said and popped several white tablets under my tongue. "I'm fine." Calmer.
Time passed, despite my stagnation. I was practically gathering moss, but everything else evolved, leaving me behind in this state of half-slumber. Dream-like death, and oh, I felt like Juliet a little bit. Like I'd taken the potion, but my Romeo was dead, dead, dead.
I will kiss thy lips; haply some poison yet doth hang on them...
From my window, I watched the seasons change. Winter melted into spring, and the smell of the wet earth reached me even through the closed window. Nature was a relentless force.
And yet...a tiny part of me was relieved - the cowardly girl who could close her eyes and pretend monsters didn't exist - but most of me was screaming for him. For Edward. The monster and the man since I couldn't reconcile one from the other.
Please, Edward. Come back to me.
Some nights I swore I could hear him, lurking in the shadows like Nosferatu. My eyelids would tremble as I struggled to keep them closed, to pretend rather than open them and dispel the fantasy.
Just darkness there. Nothing else.
My cruel mind screamed nevermore, and I almost laughed, manic. God, I felt so crazy.
But like nature, you can't hold back the tide of time. It passes, and even though I remained stuck, everything around me continued to change. I could see it - the drip, drip, dripping of more time lost, slipped between my fingers, flowing past and beyond me despite every effort to stop it. God, I wanted to just stay here and remember. Remember him.
His name was a punch in my gut. Because time passed, but it didn't heal.
Drip, drip, drip.
Another turn of the earth, and I was dizzy with memories. Memories that burned my lungs and my eyes and my chest. Eventually, they burned my throat, too, leaving my body in the form of vomit.
"Bella? Sweetheart?" Time. It was there again in the lines around my father's eyes. And again in the weathered skin of his hands. We are all the refuse of time.
"Please." My voice was a whisper, my lids squeezed shut. "Just a few minutes longer. Let me pretend a bit longer." In the dark, I could hear him, taking air into his hollow body, smelling, tasting, loving me, not breathing.
Vampires are like snakes, he would explain, nostrils flared.
"Edward...don't go. Stay."
Cold air caressed my torso, a breeze somehow finding its way up my nightshirt, fluttering the material. My skin danced with it - this apparition.
"It's okay. Stay." I breathed, my eyelids fluttering, less timid. "I'm not afraid."
Another quick intake of air, squeaking of floorboards.
"You're here, aren't you. I'm gonna open my eyes."
The curtains rustled, but there was no sign of Edward.
"Come back. Stay."
Crickets chirped somewhere outside my window. The sound of my heart hammering was deafening against the silence.
"Did you take your pills?" Dad asked. I shook my head, breezing past him and opting for coffee rather than serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
"They make me dizzy." Because I was supposed to have food with them. Food made me dizzy, too. So did breathing.
"God dammit!" My father scrubbed his hands over his forehead and scalp, pulling his hair into frustrated tufts. "No more. Fuck! I- I can't just sit here and watch you fade away into nothing. I won't do it!"
I was about to argue, tell him I was fine, but before I could even open my mouth to speak, he'd grabbed my shoulders, shaking me. "Wake up, Bella. Snap out of it!" And then a lick of fire across my cheek. I didn't even know what made the terrible clapping sound that accompanied it, but like a zombie, I moved my hand to my sore cheek. Dad staggered away from me, staring at his open hand in shock.
"Ow," I whispered, watching Dad tremble, glaring at his hand as if it was a smoking pistol.
"I didn't mean to."
"I know, Dad. It's fine."
He shook his head and honked out a sob, burying his head in his hands, palms straining and fingers spread. "I didn't mean to."
"I know, Daddy. I know. Really, I'm not angry."
His eyes were red-rimmed shadows as he contemplated me from across the kitchen. I stood like a statue, patient. I'd nowhere to be; it didn't matter.
"I know. You're not mad. You're nothing. It can't go on like this. You need to go back to the hospital."
I sighed. "Fine, Dad."
It didn't really matter.
"Dad?" I wiggled my fingers, perplexed.
"When did my arm grow back? Limbs don't do that, right?"
"You never lost your arm." His voice cracked.
"Oh. I thought...never mind. I don't know what I thought."
My room was white with round edges. Not that an edge could be round. It was difficult to articulate myself - even in my head. I couldn't muddle through my thoughts. The drugs made things easier. I could crack a smile like an egg. And if the corners of my bed, table, and dresser were round, the corners of my smile were sharp in contrast. My brain had been smashed open, and it was all I could do to keep the truth from oozing out.
I had to protect Edward.
The rustle of keys derailed my train of thought, rerouting my attention to the door of the hospital room. I could hear the key turn in the cylinder of the lock, and Tanya - my nurse - entered. She wore blue scrubs and a blade of a smile, so crisp it rivaled my own.
"How're you feeling today, Bella? Is the Effexor helping?"
"Is that why I'm so sleepy?" On cue, I yawned.
She frowned and looked at her clipboard. "Dr. Banner had you on Thorazine. Lower dose since last week, so I imagine he's weaning you off. Shit, I'm not supposed to make inferences like that."
"Why? It sounds logical."
"I'm your nurse, not your doctor."
My smile softened. "You guys run this place. I trust your judgment over some White Coat who barely speaks to me five minutes a day."
"Well, aren't you sweet." She wrapped a blood pressure cuff around my arm, and I cringed as it tightened. My throat tightened, too.
"You look familiar," I said.
She laughed, and it sounded like bells. "I've been your nurse all week. I'd be concerned if I didn't look familiar by now."
"That's not it...you just, I don't know, remind me of someone."
"I have that kind of face." She shrugged, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder.
"You're doing great, Bella. You should be ready to leave any day now. I wouldn't be surprised if tonight was your last night."
Despite the fact my window was barred shut, a breeze woke me some time in the night. Shivering, I pulled the scratchy sheets around my body and drew my knees to my chest.
Mint and forest and cool fingers on the small of my back.
"You're not real," I moaned, falling back into endless night. I couldn't wake up.
"I'm not. None of this is real, love. None of it was ever real." Dream Edward's voice cracked with a sob. "Forget me."
"I can't," I said to no one.
"Just promise me you'll be careful? You're so fragile; it terrifies me. Every moment I'm worrying about you - how I can no longer keep you safe."
"Keep me," I murmured.
"I would have. I've had time to think, and I'll never forgive myself for how I treated you. I've been an old fool."
"No. I love you."
His fingers, so like smoke in this strange dream, crawled up my torso and rested on my arm. "My love is selfish. I still want you all to myself."
I sat up, itching to reach for him, but my hands clutched air.
Edward dissolved, his form pixelating into static. This hallucination was most cruel.
Dad sat, hunched down on a stiff leather chair in the visitation room. The furniture in the hospital was sane and austere - a study of contrasts with the people who inhabited the space. A few other patients were scattered around the room, listening to music or reading or speaking quietly - to other people or themselves - but the lone television in the room was ignored.
My feet were slower than I'd intended. I wanted to rush to my father, but my limbs ignored my brain, moving like the air was viscous. Dad stood when he noticed my approach, his posture defeated, shoulders curving.
"Did you bring me a cheeseburger?" I grinned, wrapping my arms around my father.
"They were out of the girl toys. I hope you like Transformers." He handed me the familiar red and yellow box that held my Happy Meal and urged me to sit.
"They don't have sharp parts, do they?"
"They're a kid's toy...so probably." He mussed my hair like I was twelve. "I've missed you, kiddo."
"Me too. How long have I been here? I mean, it feels like a week, but the meds make it hard for me to know for sure."
Dad flashed a smile, but it dragged at the corners, the skin of his face stretching tight with effort. "It's been more like three weeks. This is my third visit...don't you remember last week?"
Automatically, my hand reached for my cheek - the spot where he'd slapped me. Dad bowed his head and rubbed his eyes. "I reported myself for that, but they won't do anything unless you press charges."
"Abuse," he mumbled.
"You didn't abuse me, Dad. Can't we just let it go?"
"Not until you press charges."
I shook my head. There was no way that would happen, but rather than argue, I decided to change the subject. "I'm starting to feel more like myself. So I was thinking...since I'll be getting out in a couple days, maybe we could start visiting colleges?"
Dad frowned. "Bella...you're not quite...there yet. Dr. Banner mentioned weeks of treatment before you're ready to leave."
"That's not what my nurse said!" I jumped to my feet, noticing a ward assistant across the room, previously seated, also stand. "It's okay. I'm calm," I told him, smiling my sharp smile. "I just want to stretch my legs."
Cold again. The window was still sealed shut, but my veins pumped ice chips from my heart. I blew out air as if it was smoke, my teeth crashing, sharp like serrated thorns, and I bit my lip by accident. A tear of blood fell to the sheets. In the dark, I imagined it blossom scarlet against white cotton.
"Doctor Banner!" I yelled, unsure if he was even on call tonight. "Something's wrong with my room."
My door squealed on its hinges; I hadn't even heard the lock turn. Tanya appeared in front of me, her movements ridiculously graceful and swift for the middle of the night.
"I'm cold." I said the words as if they were an apology.
"I know. It's the morphine."
"Why am I on morphine?"
I frowned. "I'm not in pain."
"It's for the best, Bella. Trust me on this one. He's not certain it'll make a difference, but one can only hope, right?"
Nodding, I rolled onto my side, swinging a leg over the side of the bed.
When I was seven, I burned my hand on the stove.
My body reacted even though my mind hadn't caught up yet.
I ran. As soon as my foot touched the ground, I was running before I fully understood why.
It was my nurse - her perfect skin and inhuman eyes. She reminded me of Rosalie. She'd come to kill me.
"Bella." Her voice was in my ear as I ran down the darkened, hospital corridor. "Don't run. Carlisle wants you to stop running."
A scream rose in my throat, but I swallowed it. Every instinct, every nerve and synapse was occupied, propelling me forward, moving my feet, pumping my heart, filling my lungs. There'd be time for terrible fear later, now my mind was a sharpened point, focused on escape.
I would survive.
"I'm your friend. Honestly, you're being ridiculous."
My head whipped side to side, and I cautioned a glance over my shoulder, but Tanya was nowhere to be seen. I kept running, kept breathing, kept the blood flowing, concentrating on the steady whoosh of my heart keeping time as I fled. The long shadows kept time with me, too. I'd barely noticed that only the emergency lights were lit, and the back-up generator was rumbling. Now, in the silence, it was deafening.
When I reached the nurses' station, I pounded against the glass. "She's trying to kill me! She's come to kill me!"
Shadows so dark here. I couldn't see anything - not even any light from the computers. I knocked harder on the window and heard something break.
"Please," I whimpered, hands sliding along the glass partition. "Where is everyone?" Something sharp tore my palm, and I screamed as a security light illuminated the shattered pane.
Blood roses: crimson blossoms against white tile.
"Oh, god." My stomach lurched. I swallowed, breathing and counting to stay calm. Move slowly. Killers like moving targets.
It was just like the 7-Eleven. Bodies on the floor. Dead eyes, darkened irises, black against a white face and a gaping mouth. My feet became wet.
I dropped to the ground and covered my head. Like a soldier crawling through a minefield, I stayed low, my hospital gown sopping up blood as I dragged myself toward the exit.
A pair of feet appeared as if from nowhere, and a scream gurgled out of my throat.
"There you are!" Tanya smiled. A blade glistened in her hand. She brought it to her nose and inhaled, closing her eyes.
My legs tightened, and I shot forward like a dart, ready to run.
"Don't tire yourself out, sweetheart. You can't outrun me." Her hand was on my arm before I could take a step.
"You killed them?"
"I know. Gah, I feel awful about it, but Carlisle insisted. Just this once, he said, because it's for the greater good."
"E-E-d-dward s-said." I inhaled, swallowing a sob. Breathe! I screamed at myself. Stay calm. You've survived this sort of thing before.
"What did he say?" She wiped blood onto her scrubs, still wearing a psychotically pleasant grin. She loosened her grip on me and dropped the knife. There were no sounds, save my own erratic heartbeat and metal echoing against linoleum.
"His family doesn't eat humans."
Tanya's nose wrinkled. "Oh! No, I didn't eat them silly! I just stabbed them. I'm a Denali. Jesus, my sister would kill me if I ate human."
"What the fuck is a Denali?" I'd thought it was a truck.
"We're like a hippy coven from Alaska. If a vampire could actually be a granola eater...well, that would be us."
"Edward never mentioned you."
"We're not exactly close. Carlisle had hopes for us, but," she giggled and bade me to come closer as if she had a secret to tell, "I like girls."
"Right. Stabbed them. Lesbian vampire. Makes perfect sense." I took a step away from her, preparing to run, but I slipped and landed on my thigh, twisting my ankle.
"Ouch. That sounded like a break. Can I see?"
Don't fight! Just do what she says. "Sure. Please." My lips trembled, but a smile still stretched across my face.
"Poor thing." She pressed her cold fingers into my achilles tendon. "This must hurt. Let me help." I cried out as a needle punctured my skin, stinging and sending a deep ache through my damaged ankle. The fire was chased by a cooling numbness. "I'm gonna give you a spinal. Do you know what that is?"
"No," I whimpered. "Please."
With tender, gentle hands, she brushed my hair away from my back. "You won't feel anything at all from the chest down. Carlisle's waiting outside. Do you understand what's happening, Bella?" Her tone was calm, like a doctor explaining a procedure.
"Please...I don't wanna die."
Tanya giggled. "Bella! Oh my god, no. I'm so sorry...no wonder you pissed yourself. We're not going to kill you, silly girl!"
"No, sweetheart. Curl forward, okay? Try not to move." She poked at my spine, and I must have passed out for a minute because I couldn't remember the pinch of the needle. All was soft, empty darkness until I was jarred back into my body by a terrible taste of metal and bitter saliva flooding my mouth. The sensation of pins and needles traveled up my legs, and Tanya lifted me into her arms as if I weighed no more than a newborn.
Certainly I was just as helpless.
"I'm gonna die." The words were garbled and barely whispered.
"Of course not! Carlisle is changing you. Today's your wedding day!"
My vision faltered again, shrouding everything in grey. I struggled to remain conscious, concentrating on filling my lungs, but I could no longer feel my chest expand with my respiration.
"Something borrowed," Tanya said, wrapping my broken ankle with a tensor bandage. She clipped a broach onto my nightgown and added, "Something blue and something old."
"Soon. Patience, Mrs. Cullen. You'll see him soon enough. He's going to be so surprised!" Rain, cold on my skin as she carried me outside, blabbering on and on about the wedding. Vomit poured into my mouth, and I coughed, trying to move my head. Bile burned the roof of my mouth and shot out of my nose. "Oh, shoot! Sorry, sorry, sorry. Don't aspire, okay? Carlisle will murder me if you die."
She adjusted me, clearing my mouth with her hand. "Breathe, Bella."
So I breathed. It burned.
"There you go! Keep taking nice, clear breaths. You're gonna miss it, you know. Breathing."
My eyes rolled back into my head.
"No, no, no! Stay awake, okay? This is the most important day of your life! You're gonna be a bride." She stroked my forehead, still walking through the night with me in her arms. "So we have something borrowed, something blue...what else?"
"Tanya," a voice called in the dark. My breath stuttered.
"Oh! And there's Carlisle. He's waiting, Bella. Ready to become something new?"
A/N – Epi to follow!
Big thanks to mac, perrymaxed, katinki, for beta and pre-reading help. Love to Corie, meranaamjoker for your encouragement. Whenever I threaten to update you're always cheering me on. I appreciate that so much! Big love to all who took the time to pimp! I'm pretty sure most of my readers were sent by fictionfreak and twilover. You guys are awesome friends and fabulous writers.
I know my updating schedule has totally sucked. It was never my intention to suck so hard outside of the bedroom. I really appreciate everyone who hung in there.
I'm currently writing original fiction and a comedic twific called State of Love and Trust. This is a collab with the fabulous MrsSpaceCowboy.
This story never would have happened if it weren't for mac. I emailed her a plot bunny, which was literally a half feral Edward bringing a captive Bella a decomposing bunny to "feed" her. This made us both laugh, so I wrote it.
Reviews are appreciated, read, re-read, sung to, and sometimes even replied to ;)
Do you think Edward will appreciate Carlisle's surprise for him?