These nurses...they sure do like to hover. I get it. Just look at him. Even with a little bald patch on the side of his head, underweight, unshaven, and clad in a cotton poly blend hospital gown, he's easy on the eyes. There's no denying that bone structure. Edward Cullen is prettier than any man has a right to be. I'm not jealous, not really, but when Nurse Sue with the pink scrubs and the intense eye contact comes in to give Edward his sponge bath I swoop in quicker than you can say "porno cliché". I swear Sue glances with disdain at my obviously bare ring finger before handing over the washbasin to me.
"Don't laugh." He laughs anyway. I pretend to sniff the air around him and make a moue of distaste.
"You just want to get me naked."
"Maybe." Two days later, they have finally moved him out of the ICU, in to a private room with a real door and not just a flimsy curtain that almost any stranger off the street could walk through. He raises up slowly from the hospital bed and swings his legs over the side of it. The doctors had him up and walking around as soon as he was able, to assess whether or not there was any damage caused by the surgery. So far it seems he moves with the same easy grace that he always had. I'm still adjusting to seeing him not attached to all those wires. The sound of those monitors was oddly reassuring. It was proof that he was alive, stable, safe, that they were doing something. Watching him let free like this, untethered, this wait and see business, I know I should be grateful...but it's almost unbearable.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm taking a bath."
I look over at the yellow bowl and the stack of towels Nurse Sue has left. He ignores it and instead walks to the bathroom.
"Edward, your head..."
"Is fine." He leans down to turn on the water.
"I won't get it wet."
"And what if you have a seizure? You could hit your head..." No seizures either. We were warned that might be a problem. But he hadn't had any before the surgery and hasn't had any yet. It's funny, they said we were lucky. Lucky. I looked at Edward when we heard this and by the slight quirk on his lips I knew he was thinking the same thing. Getting tangled up with a mad scientist who drugged him and conducted illegal underground experiments on his body, the fact that he was a werewolf in the first place. I'd say he was cursed. And yet...somehow it's true. They did an MRI yesterday and it looks like they were successful in removing all of the tumor and he emerged from surgery with all his motor skills intact, with just a little cut and some stitches on the side of his head. He can still read and write and remember that he hates Carlisle and loves Esme.
"Then you'll have to stay and watch." He turns toward me, untying his gown and pulling it off. I'm incapable of anything he's suggesting right now, but like a magnet, my eyes immediately zero in on my favorite part of his anatomy. Nurse Sue doesn't know what she's missing. With a sigh, I drag the chair from his room into the doorway of the tiny bathroom to watch the show. Like I said, lucky.
"You could join me."
"Should I call Sue?"
"You do that." How can he be so glib? I'm happy that he seems to be doing well enough to flirt but a little annoyed with him for taking his rehab not so seriously. The doctors never said anything about sexual activity, but he's supposed to be taking it easy and I don't want to risk his health, not for a handjob. Edward responds with a low chuckle, leaning back in the narrow tub and closing his eyes.
I've spent the last few days sitting vigil over him as he slept. He's more tired than usual, his body exhausted with the formidable task of making itself whole again. I haven't been able to sleep more than an hour at a time, waking in a cold sweat to scramble for his pulse, listen for the intake and release of oxygen from his lungs. Even now, with his eyes closed, I watch. The space between here and gone is as faint as a wisp of smoke. I fear if I let him out of my sight, he will slip from my grasp forever. I try to stifle the small catch in my breath, but his green eyes are open, watching me. I drop my eyes to the floor.
I can't lift my gaze. But I swallow, and stare at the linoleum tiles. I rise from my uncomfortable chair and walk the few steps to the tub and perch on the edge. He takes my hand and weaves his long, elegant fingers through my own. He dwarfs me. I never feel so small, so delicate as when he is holding me. I am as fragile and papery as a white moth and he could crumple me up like I was nothing if he wanted to. I watch the edges of my vision blur, the lines of the dim, fluorescent lit bathroom rendered as a impressionistic watercolor. He erases my tears with the rough pads of his thumbs but there are new ones to replace them.
"Baby...baby don't cry..."
He's so soft with me, so gentle, and it is completely devastating. This man. Oh God, this man. He kills me. Anything...everything I have to give, it's his. I would cut my own heart out of my chest if he asked me to. And I know he would do the same for me. He rises from the bath, water everywhere, on the floor, soaking me to the skin. The sound of sobbing, ragged, shuddering breaths, I can't keep it in anymore, this flood. I'm so weak. A failure. I can't even keep from crying like the same stupid, little girl I always was, not even for him. Because of him. Edward. My Edward. I could lose him still. And then his wet arms around me, so strong. How is he so strong? He never lets go, not even when the water gets cold.
He straightens suddenly. I can see the tiny hairs on Edward's neck, pale blonde in the light, standing on end. He knows something's up. There is a loud banging on our door, and Before I can answer it it swings wide open.
"Alright Cancer Boy, are you ready to get your mind blown?"
I cringe slightly at the moniker. Rosalie has burst into the room carrying several plastic bags, followed by Emmett, who is equally burdened, the most wonderful aromas emanating from them. Edward looks about ready to spring from his hospital bed, he leans so far forward, ready to snatch at the bags.
"We weren't sure what you liked, so we got a little of everything dude," Emmett announces. He's grinning, we're all grinning, Edward most of all. The biggest smile on his face, fingers itching to get at the contents.
Rose starts to pull a container out of the bag and pauses, "Unless you'd rather stick with the hospital food?"
"Fuck no. Cancer boy likes everything." Edward says emphatically. The nausea is gone and he's able to eat again, a small triumph, but short lived as the hospital fare can barely be classified as food.
"Wait..." Emmett looks sheepish. "Can we do the thing, you know, with the blind fold?" Edward rolls his eyes but nonetheless obliges by closing them. "Okay Eddie, what's in the bags?" He takes a deep inhale and opens his mouth to speak. This is absurd. He knew they were coming, the moment they stepped off the elevator.
"Oh fuck it, I just want to eat."
It's like Christmas morning, as the plastic and paper containers emerge. Every ethnic group in our neighborhood is represented here it seems. There are brilliantly spiced curries from our favorite Indian restaurant, where you can always count on a cricket game playing on the tv and the naan being fresh out of the tandoor, and pastries from the little Sicilian bakery where a pair of absurdly handsome brothers craft the most exquisite, delicate, pear and orange blossom scented delicacies, fragrant Vietnamese noodle soup, ziplock baggies, foggy with steam from hot queso tamales with red and green salsa, it's never ending.
"You darling girl." I just want to cry again. If I hadn't spent all my tears already, there would be major waterworks. He's so happy, his whole face lit up like a Christmas tree. He and Emmett heaping their paper plates full of food. I squeeze her side and she gives me a grimace smile.
She shrugs. "Emmett needs feeding every two hours anyway. Thought we'd swing by the hospital. How's your boy? He looks better, except for that fucked up haircut," she laughs. "What's next?"
"I think we might be able to go home soon. They say we could potentially walk out of here tomorrow."
"Yeah." I can't help the smile. Edward looks up at me, just as he's about to take in another bite of food and grins. I love watching him eat. He does this thing sometimes when he tastes his food and he closes his eyes, just for a moment. He doesn't even realize he's doing it.
"How are you holding up?"
"Better. I'm kind of a mess. I don't know. It doesn't matter."
"Hey...if there's anything I can do..."
"Thanks Rose. I'll never be able to...you've been such a good friend, with Edward, and Banner, and..." I can't finish, just gesturing at the joyous tableau before me. It's just so...it's too much. I can't guarantee that the next sound out of my mouth won't be a sob.
"Hey, hey...B...It's okay. If you need to cry, cry. Here." She plucks a brand new box of tissues from her giant purse and brandishes them in front of me, as if to fend off any onslaught of emotion.
"You came prepared." Of course she did. This is typical Rose. What did I ever do to deserve such a good friend? A few tears have escaped but I'm laughing now. I open the box and take out one and dab lightly at my eyes.
"You should eat something."
"Maybe in a little bit."
"I've been thinking...about all this." She waves in Edwards direction. "Like, what is the point?" Edward? "No B, not that. I mean, what is the point of Banner going to all the trouble of tracking down Edward, well, Jasper really. I guess Edward was just convenient? Why did Banner go to the trouble of procuring himself a werewolf to do experiments on, if only to kill him with cancer? It doesn't make sense."
"I can't figure it out either. If he wanted to kill him, he could have done so a long time ago. There are easier ways." A gun. Poison. Banner could have slipped some deadly cocktail into Edward's meds if he'd wanted to. He could have killed him at the cabin. Hell, I nearly did.
"I know right? I don't think he wanted to kill Edward." I've come to the same conclusion. I nod. "So I've been thinking...Banner figured out a way to suppress Edward's immune system, which as far as I can tell seems to be the major side affect associated with lycanthropy, other than the turning into a wolf business. If he didn't have that superhuman ability to heal, he'd probably die after transforming. There's no way a person survives having all the bones in their body broken, muscles and organs ripped to shit, month after month." Rose had witnessed just the beginnings of Edward's transformation that night we broke him out. But it was enough.
"What if...I know this is crazy. What if Banner wasn't lying? What if he figured out a way to cure Edward?"
I've been thinking these thoughts too, but unable to vocalize them, or even allow myself to consider the remotest possibility, because...no. It's too good to be true. Banner the good guy? Edward, cured. A normal life, no more fear, no more hiding. It's too good to be true. No. She watches my for for my reaction.
"But you saw him change, before you put him in the van."
"Girl, I don't know what I saw. He was still human when I dragged him in there."
"But you said..." "His eyes were milky and he was gross and clammy and his hands looked a little fucked up, But he was still a dude. Nobody saw him turn into a wolf."
"Rose. He could still..." I can't finish the sentence. Another week, another CAT scan scheduled. I want to start breathing again but I can't. Not until I know he's safe.
"I know. I don't want to get your hopes up. But we have to consider all the possibilities. I just wish I could find the fucker." I look over at Edward and he's laughing at something on Emmett's phone. Rose rolls her eyes. She digs into a bag a pulls out a container of samosas, offering me one. I shake my head, but she presses the deep fried pastry into my hand. "When's the last time you ate real food? You look like hell B."
"Thanks." I take a bite of my samosa and force myself to chew and swallow. I usually find these irresistible but today they taste like cardboard to me. We sit in silence, eating, watching our boyfriends laugh in unison over another video. Edward is so easy with him, so much lighter.
"Well, whatever his motive, Banner chose a good bullet."
"There aren't a whole lot of things that would cause serious damage to Edward, no? Okay, so bullets obviously. Duh. You shot him. But how long did it take him to bounce back from that?"
"Right. So..." She laughs. "I can't believe you shot him! Anyway, gunshot wounds, knife wounds, poison, any illness, cancer cells pretty much anywhere else in the body, he would have healed in a few days. Right?"
"But the genius with introducing them to his brain, those types of cancer cells specifically, is that they impair his main superpower. He can't heal himself, he actually gets sick. Bingo. Banner knew exactly what he was doing. He found Edward's Kryptonite." Where is she going with this? The rest of my samosa sits forgotten on my plate.
"So Edward shows up in Chicago about...five weeks ago? I was looking over the case file and it looks like Banner started prescribing meds to Edward about a week into his treatment. So the therapy was obviously just a front, covering his tracks for the hospital, building a case against Edward, to get him locked up later, who knows. Or maybe Banner's just a perv and wanted to hear about your boyfriend slutting it up?"
She raises one perfectly arched eyebrow at me. I press my lips tightly together. We haven't discussed it, his past. He knows I know. But for some reason, in between engaging in a few felonies and goddamned brain cancer, I haven't found the most opportune time to bring up his sordid sexual history.
"Not now Rose."
"Okay, okay. Not my business. But if it was my business–"
"Okay, as I was saying. I think this whole thing was planned. There was a method to it. Luring him to Chicago, getting him admitted into the psych ward. Edward's complaints seemed to follow a pattern, as if he was receiving regular doses. Hell, Banner could have been planning this with that Jasper guy, if he hadn't inconveniently offed himself."
"Rose!" Edward has probably heard this entire conversation but he doesn't react.
"Sorry. That was insensitive. You get what I'm saying though, right? Who knows how far back, or how deep this goes? Or who else is involved?"
The truth is I haven't thought about Banner in days. While my roommate was constructing conspiracy theories, plausible ones, but theories nonetheless, I've been living and breathing just Edward. But if he comes out of this alive, our problems don't just miraculously disappear. There's still this unknown entity, lurking just beyond the corners of our consciousness. The truth is...the truth is we know nothing.
I'm jolted out of my reverie by another knock at the door. Nurse Sue is back, here to change out the dressing on the wound, with another young nurse in tow. Emmett and Rosalie help clean up our feast and make their goodbyes, Emmett plopping a fat wet kiss on my cheek, and Edward's as well before leaving. The room feels suddenly smaller.
"How are this afternoon Edward?"
"Any pain? Headaches?"
"I'm just going to check on your dressing, alright?" He nods. I turn away to give the woman some room to work. I hear the clink of scissors, the quiet snip snip of gauze being cut. After some time, I realize Sue hasn't moved.
"Would you page for me Lo?"
"What's wrong?" I ask, suddenly alert.
"Nothing to worry yourself about."
But I do worry. It's been my constant state for the last 72 hours. Lo scuttles off quickly without another word. Less than ten minutes pass before Edward's doctor comes into the room. Lo must have told him something was up because there's a studied casualness to his demeanor.
"Dr. Cope, I thought you might want to see this."
She cuts away the rest of the gauze. I'm standing on the other side of her, seeing what so alarmed her earlier. Being a nurse in the brain tumor treatment center, she's probably done this hundreds of times. She knows exactly what this kind of wound should look like. And it's definitely not this. Pink, perfectly smooth skin with just a neat scar line, maybe an inch and a half long.
I've been too distracted of late to notice. To look at him, really look at him. I take in the clear green eyes, the face, thin but no longer gaunt, the healthy flush to his skin. He's filled out in recent days, even despite the shitty hospital food. Ten, fifteen pounds, I'd guess. The bewildered medical professionals examine him closely, looking back at each other, the silent questions forming in their heads. How is this possible? Edward captures my hand and he squeezes. How did I not see this before? There's a glimmer in his eyes. He looks like he's holding in a grin. He knew of course. No one could be more aware of their body. Nurse Sue removes the rest of the bandage. There's no need to redress the wound...because there is no wound.
The doctor is saying something but it comes out as underwater gibberish to my ears. All I'm seeing, hearing, is Edward. I'm crying again but it's okay this time, and it's Edward stroking my hand and telling me baby it's going to be all right. It's going to be all right. This time I believe him.