Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Stephenie Meyer owns anything and everything relating to Twilight. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended and in order to keep it that way, No reproduction, copying, reposting, downloading, or any kind of redistribution of this story is allowed. This is to cover my arse as much as yours! And finally, the Original characters, plot, names, nicknames, songs, poems—anything I created from my very own brain—are all the property of the author of this fanfic, My-Bella. Unauthorized use of the material is plagiarism so please be kind and don't steal my creations.

"~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^"

Chapter 24 – Band Together

Sunday, June 22nd

Bella struggled to wake up, feeling as though she'd slept too long and not enough at the same time. She slowly blinked her eyes open and as her room came into focus it took her a moment to figure out why she was here and not in a tent.

The ray. The thought immediately made her aware of the throbbing in her leg and her heavy head, and her unsettled stomach. She also noticed she was propped up and leaning against Edward.

She tried to sit up more but he quickly stopped her by tucking his chin against her shoulder to keep her still. "Take it easy," he said softly.

"What time is it?"

"Late. Or early, I guess, depending on how you look at it."

She glanced at the book balanced on his leg, not entirely surprised by his wakefulness but feeling slightly guilty all the same. She was ready to apologize until she realized her throat was too raw for the lengthy apology he deserved. "Water?"

"Right here." He reached toward the nightstand on his side and when his hand came back into view, he was holding a water bottle with a built-in straw. "It should still be a little cold. Lee changed it out before she went to bed."

Despite Bella's assurances that she was perfectly capable of handling a bottle of water on her own, Edward insisting on holding the bottle in one hand and her head in the other, claiming it was to make sure she didn't drink too much too fast. Bella wasn't sure what to make of it because for all the things she considered Edward to be, a compassionate nurse wasn't one of them. She imagined him to be more the type to say "suck it up" and expect the person to keep going.

"Thanks," she said as she pushed the bottle away.

"You didn't drink much."

"Stomach," she explained as she closed her eyes and relaxed against him, hoping for the somersaults in her stomach to stop.

"Let me get Whit. He can give you something for it. Besides, he needs to check on you anyway."

"Wait," she immediately replied, opening her eyes and grabbing his arm. The last thing she wanted right now was to be poked and prodded. She just wanted to be as still as possible and enjoy the quiet with Edward.

"For what?"

"Just … not yet."

"Bella, he needs to check on you."

"Well I need a little time to just lay here with you."

He groaned a version of her name. "Ten minutes. That's it. Ten minutes and then I'm calling him in."

"Fifteen?"

"Five."

"Ten it is." She half-expected him to call for Whit anyway but he didn't. Instead he wrapped both of his arms around her and very gently pressed his lips against her temple.

"Thank you." When he didn't say anything she asked, "You're not a fan of compromise, huh?"

"I'm not a fan of you being sick."

She smiled, enjoying his attention despite how crappy her body felt. "Can't be helped. Ray venom is nasty stuff."

He didn't say anything.

"You're watching the seconds tick by, aren't you?"

"Want to try drinking some more water?"

Bella smiled and grabbed his shirt, tugging on it the best she could. "You're deflecting."

"You're annoying."

She remembered how afraid she'd been when he'd been hurt by the shark's tail and she didn't want to push him without having a clear idea of where his head might be so she changed the subject. "Did I dream that my uncle is coming?"

"No, that's really happening. He should be landing in about five hours. And your sister's with him."

Bella winced as she pictured the worried faces of her uncle and sister. "Alice is probably freaking out."

"I don't think so. Esme's been in constant contact with your uncle through text messaging so they know you've been improving."

Her forehead wrinkled in her confusion but it hurt her head so she forced herself to relax before responding. "My uncle doesn't text."

"He does now."

"Hmmn."

"I thought I heard voices," Whit called from the doorway.

"I made him give me ten minutes," Bella informed him. "And I have about eight left so you need to go away until then."

"You have six," Edward corrected.

"Which you can have after I check you out," Whit said as he sat down in the chair beside the bed.

"Don't I get any say?" she asked.

"Sure," Whit replied with a grin that had her feeling she wasn't going to like what he said next. "Just as soon as you can eat and drink and keep it down."

"Fine," she grumbled, putting her arm out for her blood pressure to be checked.

Whit checked her pressure, her temperature, and even her ability to focus her eyes and follow his finger. "Your vitals are looking good. Time to check your leg."

"I can feel it's a long cut, but is it deep?"

Whit shook his head. "Just the very end where the barb was dug in but the rest is pretty shallow. I was able to close you up with liquid bandage and avoid stitches."

Bella looked down at her wound and struggled not to grimace at her first look at it. The cut was as long as it felt and looked a little jagged from her perspective.

Edward must have seen her expression because he slipped his fingers through hers and attempted to reassure her. "It's really not that bad. Plus it's already starting to scab over in some spots."

She didn't want him to worry any more than he might already be so she gave him a teasing smile and tried to joke with him. "So you won't dump me for being horribly disfigured?"

His expression was almost as distasteful as the one he'd given her after finding out who she was that night in the bar. "Not. Funny."

Whit cleared his throat and when Bella turned to look at him she found him sporting a very nudging grin. "Stop torturing Masen and talk to me. Tell me what symptoms you have right now."

"Pretty nauseous. And my head is thrumming. It's like a consistent low banging right at the base of my skull."

"Migraines aren't unusual during the first forty-eight hours," Whit assured her.

"How many hours in am I?"

Edward and Whit answered together, "Fifteen and a half."

"What else?" Whit pressed. "The more I know, the better I'll be able to help you."

"My leg stopped burning but now there's a painful throbbing."

"Does it feel hot at all?"

Bella focused on her leg, wanting to give him an honest answer. "No. Just hurts."

"That's good. Means your leg is healing. If it felt hot then I'd be worried about an infection. But just throbbing that way, it's a sign your body is working on healing the cut."

She started to nod but the jolt of pain in her head and neck stopped her. "And I'm tired. Just this little bit of talking and I already want to go back to sleep."

"You'll feel that way for a couple days, I'm afraid," Whit told her. "Do you think you could try to drink and eat just a little?"

"Anything you want," Edward promised.

She could tell from the way he already had one leg off the bed he really wanted her to try eating. And now that she was really getting a good look at him she could also tell he hadn't left her side—not even to change clothes much less take the shower he had to need by now.

"Let's trade. I'll try eating if you go take a shower," she offered.

"I don't need a shower." His immediate denial got a guffaw out of Whit.

"Edward, I'm fine. Go take a shower and relax," she urged.

He ignored her. "What do you want to eat?"

She did her best to imitate his stern look. "Shower."

"Bella."

She felt a little guilty for doing it, but she didn't really see any other option for dealing with his stubbornness. "You really do kinda smell and my stomach is queasy enough already."

Whit helped through nudging. "Come on, bro. Take the deal. You get a warm shower and she gets a meal. It's a win-win."

And I also get to talk to Whit, Bella thought as she waited for Edward to give in.

"Fine. But you eat first and then I shower," Edward hedged. "Just in case you get sick."

Bella grinned, sure she had the perfect rebuttal for him. "Whit is perfectly capable of helping me clean up if I have a revenge of the meal moment. You obviously trust him with my care or I'd be in the hospital. So you go enjoy your shower and I'll try to eat."

Edward looked to Whit for help but Whit just grinned and pointed toward the open door. Edward let out a heavy sigh and Bella did her best not to gloat over her win while watching him get up from the bed.

He stopped at Whit's chair and spoke too low for her to hear but she assumed it was something to do with watching over her since Whit was rolling his eyes and twirling his hand in a hurry up gesture.

"Got it, bro. Enjoy your shower," Whit said as he held his fist out.

Edward scowled as he bumped it with his own and then smiled at Bella quickly before finally leaving the room.

Whit pretended to wipe sweat from his brow and then winked at Bella. "I thought he'd never leave. And now that he is gone, what would you like to try eating?"

"Is he okay?"

"Never heard of that meal," he answered with a grin.

She folded her arms and waited.

With a small sigh, Whit leaned forward in the chair. "Write something nice on my tombstone when he kills me for this, will ya?"

She continued to wait silently.

"He's alright for the most part," Whit promised. "He's freaked out the same as you were when the shark hit him. But more than anything, he's frustrated because he has no control. I'm in charge as the medical professional and even though he trusts me implicitly, he can't help but question everything I do. For him, staying in here and watching over you is as close as he can get to controlling things."

"Why does he need to be in control so badly?"

"Because control equals safety for him. And he needs you to be safe, Bella."

She knew from the pointed look Whit was giving her what he hadn't said out loud. Edward didn't want to let her go and as long as he felt in control, he could believe he wouldn't have to. A nasty side effect of experiencing personal tragedy was the inescapable fear of the loss of others; it made it difficult to let in new people. With Edward's limited people skills, Bella could only imagine how challenging it was for him to make friends. She admired and appreciated his long friendships with Whit and Lee all the more and felt as though she finally understood his hesitance with Gopher.

"What can I do to help him?" she asked.

Whit grinned and answered with a single word. "Eat."

Bella smiled back and then rallied up all the courage she could find to go up against her tender stomach. With any luck, she'd be able to keep down a little food and water and help Edward to relax. And then hopefully he'd talk to her so she could know he wasn't feeling the urge to flee that she had felt when he'd been the one who was hurt.

"~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^"

For the first time he could remember, Masen was cursing his long hair and the time it took to get it dry enough to not drip water all over the place. He wanted to get back to Bella, already having spent far more time away from her than he'd planned.

He'd been against the idea of a shower at first but once that hot spray had started beating down on his sore back and tired muscles he had been grateful for being forced into it. He'd done a lot of reflecting and thinking during his shower which was the reason he'd been in the bathroom for almost a half hour instead of ten minutes like he'd planned. There was a lot to think about … Bella, the accident, her possible reactions when she finally felt lucid, meeting her family. And then there was the biggest of all—his realization that he did indeed love Bella in a truly deep and heartfelt way. Even though he'd admitted it to himself and kind of admitted it to her, it still didn't seem real that it was happening.

There had been a time in his life when he'd tried hard to picture himself with someone, a second half of a whole unit. But after seeing Esme fall in and out love over the years and then helplessly watching the fuckery that had been Whit's relationship with Maria, Masen had decided it wasn't worth the hassle and wasn't anything he needed. Until Bella—a completely unexpected theme in his life lately.

While he was still undecided on the hassle part, he definitely agreed with the need. A week ago he would have been able to say with a straight face that he only cared if Bella was around for the sake of the internship. Now, in this moment, the internship was the furthest thing from his mind, which seemed impossible even as he acknowledged the truth of it. He was far more concerned with making sure Bella was comfortable and healed quickly. And with meeting her uncle and sister under strained circumstances.

Deciding his hair was dry enough, Masen tossed his towel into the hamper and stepped out of the steamy bathroom into the cool living area. He stopped to check the thermostat to make sure the air felt different only because of his shower, and then he stopped again because Whit was standing in the kitchen.

"Seriously?" he asked, his hands balling into frustrated fists.

Whit chuckled. "As impressive as your threat of pain and death for leaving Bella alone truly was, I'm still not afraid of you, Mase." He let out another chuckle and added, "Besides, she's not alone. Gopher's in there with her."

"What's he doing up?"

"Midnight snack."

"It's almost two-thirty in the morning." He knew because he'd been checking the time on his phone incessantly since getting out of the shower.

"So it's a two in the morning snack," Whit said with a shrug. "He was up, he wanted to check on her, he's in there with her." He scowled at Masen while saying, "As if I would just up and leave her alone when she's sick. Acting like a damn fool, like you don't even know me, bro."

"Whit." Masen meant it both as an apology and a thanks and knew his best friend would understand.

Whit let his scowl turn into a smile. "It's fine. Go check on her before you burst from the curiosity."

Masen grinned, gave him a nod of thanks, and then headed off to Bella's room. Just as he walked through the doorway, the lamp next to her bed clicked off and plunged the room into semi-darkness since there was still a lamp on in the living room.

"Turn it back on," he ordered the Gopher-sized shadow standing next to the lamp.

"Don't you think she'd sleep better without a light in her face?" Gopher questioned.

"I know she won't," he insisted. "Turn it back on."

The lamp clicked on and Masen immediately looked to Bella. She was sound asleep lying on her side with both arms curled around a pillow. Her nausea had to have lessened considerably for Whit to be allowing her to sleep lying down instead of propped up.

He tucked her blanket around her better and then carefully pressed his lips to her temple, partly to check her temperature but mostly because he needed to touch her in some way. He didn't understand this new urge but he also didn't see any reason not to indulge it—at least for now.

"Look at you showing off your Charmin Ultra," Gopher said as Masen sat in the chair he'd pulled up beside him.

"My what?"

"Your soft and smooth side, bro."

"Did you really just compare me to toilet paper?"

"Yep. You're typically the abrasive shit that no one touches unless they have no other choice. But with Guppy—"

"Don't," Masen warned, stopping him right there. Knowing the way Gopher's mind tended to work Masen was sure the man had nothing worthwhile to say.

"Alright. But can we talk about how long you've been sneaking around with Guppy?"

"No because I haven't been sneaking around with her."

Gopher snorted and pointed toward the nightstand. "That lamp says differently, dude. The only way you can know anything about her nighttime habits is if you've witnessed them."

"We did share a tent."

"Yeah, but we had a full moon that night so she wouldn't have been worried about darkness. And it wasn't the night before that because you two spent it cuddled up on the sofa together."

"Where'd you hear that?"

Gopher chuckled. "Pretty much from everyone but you. So fess up, bro. When did you start sleeping with the intern?"

"I'm not sleeping with her."

"Fine. Semantics. When did you start sharing her bed at night?"

"Even if I was doing that, it wouldn't be any of your damn business."

"Deflect all you want, Mase," Gopher said with a grin and a shoulder bump. "But I knew your ass wasn't being spontaneous with that Superman kiss. I knew you'd had to build yourself up into being that open."

Masen was equal parts annoyed and curious by this point, and a little surprised that Gopher was so damn interested in his personal life. Then again, the man had taken a shine to Bella right away. Maybe this was some sort of trolling for her sake—which was admirable but still annoying.

"Why do I feel this is a conversation you've had with someone else?" Masen asked as he got up and tugged Bella's blanket closer to her chin, having seen her shiver. She craned her head toward his hand and he found himself smiling at her wanting him near even in her sleep.

"She okay?" Gopher asked from behind him.

"Yeah, she just caught a chill."

"You should crawl in bed with her. You know, just to keep her warm."

Masen didn't need to turn around to know Gopher was grinning like an idiot; he could hear it in the man's tone. Of course, he was smiling too since he had pretty much been thinking the same thing. So he did. He dislodged the pillow from her grip under the guise of making her more comfortable and then moved her head to rest in the crook between his shoulder and neck, exactly where it had been through most of the day and night.

"Jumped right on that shit," Gopher said with a low chuckle.

"Shut up."

Gopher chuckled again. "And miss out on teasing your Charmin Ultra ass? Not a chance in hell, man."

"Just don't wake Bella," Whit warned as he sat down in the chair Masen had vacated. "The more rest she gets, the quicker her body will heal."

"Wouldn't she rest more if Masen wasn't taking up half her bed?" Gopher challenged.

"Actually, his being there is good for her. Cuddling releases oxytocin in the body, a calm-inducing hormone that helps promote healing."

"Look at this slick fucker," Gopher said, grinning and shaking his head while keeping his eyes on Masen. "He has a doctor's note to cuddle up with the intern."

Masen ignored Gopher completely. "Did she follow through on her end of our bargain?"

"As much as she could. A few bites of toast and almost half a glass of grape Gatorade," Whit answered.

Masen nodded while Bella nuzzled her head into his shoulder for a few seconds before sighing and relaxing in her sleep. He smiled even as he rolled her eyes at her cat-like behavior.

"She also took an anti-nausea pill, and a couple Tylenol for her fever and the ache in her leg and head," Whit added.

"And she said Whit's a great doctor and you're an okay nurse, just a little on the overprotective side," Gopher added, chuckling the entire time. "I asked her if she wanted you in scrubs, Mase. She blushed bright red but she didn't say no. Bet you could order some online and have them here in a couple days."

"She'll be up and walking around by then," Whit pointed out. "Besides, she probably prefers him in boardshorts and nothing else."

"Yeah, a little harmless ogling until she gets him naked," Gopher said, laughing and elbowing Whit.

"If you two asshats wake her up with your ridiculousness, I'll tell Esme," Masen threatened, hoping the fear of disappointing his mom would shut them up.

"That would be our cue to exit," Whit said as he got to his feet. "I'm camping on the sofa so yell if you need me," he told Masen. To Gopher he said, "Get back to bed before Lee wakes up missing you."

Gopher stood up and for once looked serious as he addressed Masen. "All jokes aside, it's good to see you this way. Happy. And with Bella."

Masen only nodded, not sure if he was supposed to take that as a compliment or a slight. It wasn't like he'd been unhappy before Bella. He'd completely loved his life and his work. With her, there was just a little more on the life side than the work side, that was all.

Now that he was finally alone with Bella, he took a minute to check her over, starting with pressing his lips to her forehead to see if her fever was still on the low end. He then checked the color in her cheeks to make sure she hadn't gone back to that gray paleness she'd exuded early on in her sickness. From what he could tell she seemed to be doing fairly well and steadily improving—he breathed a sigh of relief and smiled against her cheek as he softly placed a kiss there.

He glanced at the nightstand and saw Gopher's iPad resting on it. He picked it up and clicked it on, suddenly positive Gopher had been showing it to Bella, and too curious to resist finding out what they'd been looking at.

Some kind of website was pulled up and in large bold letters was the following question … If women think men only think with their penises, do you think they would be offended if I asked them to blow my mind?

Masen snorted, imagining a tomato red Bella rolling her eyes at a chuckling Gopher. Of all of the crew he'd expected to make friends with Bella first, it had definitely not been Gopher. But looking back on it now, Masen could see the appeal of Gopher's silliness to Bella. Here she was in new surroundings, plagued by worry and fear, and there's this big, goofy guy with an even goofier sense of humor.

And a really good heart, he told himself as he thought of his conversation with Lee. He could picture the man nervously sitting on the trunk of his car, watching the entrance of Lee's building for any sign of her. There was no question in Masen's mind that Gopher wouldn't have charged right back up those stairs if Lee hadn't come down on her own. The whole incident hadn't been about leaving like Masen had first thought when he'd heard the story—it had been about being open and honest. Sure, it was a dramatic and maybe even drastic way to handle it, but then again, Lee was pretty damn stubborn and thick-headed so subtly rarely worked.

Bella softly breathed out "Edward" and instantly had Masen's full attention. "I'm here," he whispered, lightly hugging her against his chest to prove it.

"Mmm … You smell much better."

He snorted at her comment. "Glad you think so."

"I tried to wait up."

"You shouldn't. You need to rest. In fact, you should be sleeping right now."

"I ate."

He grinned and pressed his cheek against her head, her soft hair tickling his skin. "I heard. Glad you held up your end of the bargain."

"Sorry for scaring you."

"You don't need to worry about me. You just need to rest and focus on getting better."

"But I do worry."

He both sighed and smiled, knowing the futility of trying not to worry and enjoying the knowledge that she cared about him.

"How about another compromise?" he offered. "You get some sleep and I won't worry while you rest?"

"I can't sleep. Not until I know this isn't going to make you change your mind."

Masen shifted just enough so that she could clearly see his face and see the promise in his eyes because for once he knew exactly what to say to make things right for her. "This, having you hurt, it is scary. I admit that. But it's one moment, Bella. And it's not what I'm going to remember when I look back on this birthday. What I'm going to remember is you laughing while my family teased me, and your teasing comments when I was flat on my ass at the tidal pool … I'll picture the way your eyes lit up and your hands shook when I sang for you … I'll think of the warmth of your skin when you blushed from me kissing you in front of everyone. I'm going to remember you, kapu. Not this moment."

He had almost said the words, those three new ones he'd never thought he would say to anyone in that unique heartfelt way others seemed to experience so easily. Those words had been seconds away from tumbling off his tongue. But then Bella had hiccupped and his sole focus had become stopping her tears and calming her.

She quickly fell into an exhausted sleep and Masen found himself feeling glad for the interruption now that he thought back on it. Not because he didn't feel ready to say the words where she could actually hear them. It was because he wanted her to be fully awake so she would truly remember the moment, just as he would remember the highlights of having spent his birthday with her.

"~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^"

Masen jerked awake, struggling to pinpoint what had startled him out from his nap. He checked Bella from head to toe in search of any sign of discomfort but came up empty. She was still sound asleep, lying on her back with her head craned toward him and her right hand clutching the bottom of his shirt. She looked better—healthier. Her cheeks had color in them and the visible pain lines around her eyes were mostly gone. A wave of relief swept through him, allowing him to finally see just how worried he'd been about her. And how much would still remain until she was up and on her feet.

It was while he was snuggling up to her again that he figured out what was different about her room—there was a young woman sitting in the chair beside the bed. She had short brunette hair that was a similar but slightly darker shade than Bella's.

The young woman smiled and as soon as she was sure he'd seen it, she turned her attention to Bella.

It was the smile that had clued him in to her identity; it was the same lurking sadness he'd seen behind Bella's fake smiles. "You're Alice."

The girl nodded.

"I'm—"

"Edward," she finished for him. "Bella sent pictures of her new friends. Though she seems to have failed to mention how close of a friendship she has with you."

"It's a new development," he said as he lifted up onto his elbow to make sure Bella was still sleeping.

"She hasn't woken at all," Alice informed him. "Not even when Uncle Carl and I hugged her when we first got here an hour ago."

Masen wasn't sure what to say to that and he definitely wasn't ready to think about her uncle seeing Bella for the first time sharing a bed with her mentor. "Bella will be happy to see you," he finally said.

"Not as much as you might think."

He felt like he should reassure the girl for Bella's sake. "Of course she'll be happy to see you. She's missed you a lot."

Alice looked directly at him; her lips were curled into a smile but the fire in her eyes made it clear she wasn't the least bit happy. "I'm surprised she had time to miss me with her being busy cuddling up to sharks and taking photos with them."

Masen blew out a breath while wondering which would piss this girl off more—his silence or his defense of Bella's actions. And technically it was Lee's actions because she'd been the one to tape the photos up above Bella's bed. Bella's going to wake up to a mess with Alice, he thought as he continued to hold her little sister's fiery gaze.

Whit chose that moment to come barreling into the room with his head down like a charging bull, his tell that he had reached the limit of his patience. "Mase, you've gotta do something with Lizzy. My toes are not—"

The sparkly pink flats had almost certainly caught his attention but it was the face of Alice Cullen that Whit stared at in wide-eyed wonder. Masen had never seen Whit act this way and he wondered if his friend was suffering from sleep deprivation.

"Whit, this is Alice. Bella's little sister," Masen introduced, hoping to break Whit from his stupor.

"It's you," Whit breathed.

Alice surveyed him from head to toe and then she began to smile. "What took you so long?"

Whit quickly ran a hand through his hair and then tried to smooth the wrinkles from his shirt and shorts, all while keeping his eyes firmly focused on Alice's face. Masen almost told him to try rubbing his stomach and patting his head at the same time—it would do him about as much good.

"This isn't how I pictured this," Whit finally answered.

"I suppose that's just as well since this isn't when I expected it," she responded. "You've kept me waiting an awful long time."

"Do you two know each other?" Masen asked, his blue eyes switching from his best friend to Bella's sister.

Whit and Alice smiled at each other and answered together. "Yes."

Maybe Masen really did need a full night's sleep because as hard as he tried to figure out what the hell he was witnessing, he was still clueless. "Since when?"

"Since the first time she walked through my dreams," Whit answered as he continued to look only at Alice.

"Not quite," Alice said with a short, soft laugh. "You stumbled into mine first."

"Wait a minute," Masen said, trying to sit up and not jostle Bella at the same time. "She's your dream girl? Bella's sister?"

"Edward?" Bella's sleepy call had his immediate and full attention.

Masen leaned over her and cupped her cheek with his large hand. "I'm right here, kapu."

She gave a sleepy smile while pressing her cheek against his hand. Her skin felt much cooler than the last time he'd touched it and he hoped it meant her fever had finally broken.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, hoping she would be hungry or at least thirsty.

"Tired. So tired and achy."

He was about to tell her to go back to sleep but from the corner of his eye he noticed Alice vibrating near the end of the bed. He remembered how anxious he'd been to hear Whit speak in the hospital and that made him change his mind.

"Kapu, your sister's here," he said softly so only Bella could hear him. "Think you're okay to sit up and talk with her for a minute?"

Bella's eyes popped open and she turned her head to search for her sister; he could tell the second she found her by the huge the smile that appeared on her face. "Alice."

Her sister practically jumped the distance to her and sat down so fast that Masen never had a chance to stop her. Thankfully she missed bumping Bella's leg—just barely.

Damn girl moves like a hummingbird. Didn't even have a chance to stop her. Wonder what Whit will think of calling her Hummer, Masen thought.

"Bella, I was so so so worried about you." Alice's fast way of speaking had Masen lifting his eyebrows at her. Between the speed of her mouth and the speed of her body, Hummer was seeming more appropriate by the second.

"Alice, switch sides with me," Masen told her as he stood.

"I'm fine right here." She seemed to be under the impression he was asking.

He walked around the bed and looked down at her, wanting to make sure she could clearly see he wasn't making a suggestion. "It's better for everyone if you sit on the other side."

Alice slowly rose to her feet, her eyes glued to his face and her expression every bit as serious and stubborn as his. "And if I don't want to move?"

"Children, play nice," Whit warned from his spot at the edge of Bella's bed.

Alice finally moved and went to sit on the other side—far away from Bella's injured leg—while he sat in the chair.

"How are you?" Alice asked, holding her sister's hand.

"I'm okay," Bella assured her. "My friends are all taking good care of me, especially Whit and Edward."

"How did this happen?"

"We were snorkeling and I startled a ray."

Alice rolled her eyes. "I know that part. I meant you being here with them and them," she demanded, pointing at Whit and Edward first and then the photos of the sharks.

Masen gave Alice a warning stare while saying, "I'm sure you have lots of questions and I know Bella will be happy to answer them all, but now isn't the time."

Alice's jaw dropped as if he'd slapped her. And then her face became pinched and red and she looked like she was ready to release one hell of a tirade on him.

Bella stopped her, though. She patted her sister's hand and smiled gently at her. "Sweetie, I promise we'll talk later. I'm just a little tired right now."

Alice responded with a terse nod to Bella and a side-eye glare to Masen.

Little sister can be pissed all she wants so long as she's not stressing out Bella, he thought as he held back his grin. No one—not even her family—was going to derail her progress on his watch.

Whit walked up behind Alice and smiled down at Bella. "Bella, I hate to interrupt, but I really need to check your vitals."

"Oh, okay. Alice, why don't you get Uncle Carl for me while Whit does his doctor duties?" Bella suggested.

"Why don't you send your friend?" she challenged, nodding toward Masen.

Hummer's insane if she thinks I'm gonna be the one to leave this room. He almost said those exact words—minus the nickname for now—but he decided to see what Bella would say since this was her sister.

"Please, Alice?" Bella's gentle plea was answered with a loud sigh and a terse nod, and finally the departure of her sister.

Bella held her arm out for Whit while setting her sights on Masen. "You need to be nice."

"I was very nice. I didn't push her off the bed after she almost sat on your injured leg."

"There was plenty of room between her butt and my leg."

"Not from what I saw."

Bella sighed and then softened her eyes, giving Masen an adorable yet infuriating visual for the term "doe-eyed". No matter what she said next, he knew he was going to agree to it just to get her to stop looking at him like that. She looked so damn sad and all he wanted to do was fix it for her.

"She's a scared kid, Edward. Can you please be nice to her? For me?"

He set his arms on the edge of the bed, leaning in to her. "I'm not trying to be mean. She just … She needs to be more careful is all."

Bella smiled sweetly at him and slipped her fingers through his hair, gently sliding her fingertips along his scalp. Having her touch him that way—it was damn hard not to close his eyes and get lost in the feeling. If this conversation wasn't about her health, he would have gladly given in to it. But it was so he held on tight to his focus.

"I'm glad you're watching over me." From the set of her lips he already knew there was a 'but' coming his way. "But I really am feeling better so please dial it down some."

"She's right, Mase," Whit stated with a grin. "Her blood pressure is back in normal range and her fever's broken. You can relax."

Masen shook his head. "She needs rest, bro. You know her fever will spike and her pressure will tank again if she doesn't rest."

"She'll rest, Mase. We'll all make sure of it. Now move so I can check her leg."

Masen glared at him but got up from the chair all the same.

Whit peeled back the bandage and carefully inspected Bella's injury. "It's scabbed over end to end with no sign of redness or infection. Bella is officially off the injured list and on the healing one."

"I think we should hold off on updating her status until after she eats."

"Hey, I ate last night," Bella defended.

Masen's lips curled in a smirk. "A few bites of toast is not eating."

"It's a form of it," Whit replied, giving Bella a wink. "Besides, she hasn't had breakfast yet so you can't pull that claim yet."

"So how about it, kapu? What do you want for breakfast?" Masen asked her. He wanted her to ask for a real breakfast and then be able to eat it all and keep it down. He truly did. But he also had a tiny little part of him that wasn't quite ready to let her leave this bed and have to share her with everyone else. That part wasn't anything to worry about, though. He knew he would do what was right for her. And now he knew why he felt that way … He would do it because he loved her.

"~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^"

Bella didn't give a request for breakfast because her uncle came into the room with Alice and Esme right behind him. She honestly forgot all about it in her excitement to see her family and her desire to ease whatever worries they might have. She really did feel better this morning despite also wanting to go back to sleep.

"It certainly seems like you have the best care here," her uncle said, using his fingers to brush her hair back from her face. They'd both did their best to calm Alice and then she'd gone off to the kitchen with Whit to fix some food for Bella, though she doubted she'd be able to stay awake long enough to eat it.

"Sweetheart?"

"Sorry. Tired," she said, giving him a smile to hopefully reassure him. "I have the best care. It's a perk of having friends who are also a great team. They really know how to work together to take care of each other. And Whit knows his stuff. He's an excellent doctor."

His smile was that knowing one that had always made her feel like confessing, even if she hadn't done anything. "Edward seems … attached."

Bella grinned while toying with the fit of the word for him. Edward was still technically in the bed with her; he was sitting on the edge and facing Esme, the two of them talking too low for Bella to hear them.

She pulled her eyes away from them and looked at her uncle once more. "Uncle Carl, it wasn't anything expected and it's not his normal behavior. We just … we care for each other a lot. So much that we can't ignore it, but we are also being respectful of our careers and the internship."

"You plan to continue then?" he asked. He didn't seem surprised about it, just curious.

"Absolutely. When I tell you everything they've helped me do so far … It's so much more than I had hoped and I can't quit now. I won't."

He looked above her head, his eyes moving swiftly and taking in every detail of the photos taped there. And then he looked at his niece, smiling softly. "Then I support you."

Bella opened her mouth to thank him but a loud yawn came out instead.

"You need to rest, sweetheart." Her uncle tucked her blanket up to her chin and kissed her forehead gently. "We'll talk again after you've had a nap."

"I love you."

"I love you too, Bug. Sleep well." No sooner than he was standing, Esme was holding on to his arm and leading him out of the room while Edward was snuggling up to Bella.

"Bug?" Edward questioned once he was under her blanket with her.

Bella hummed and nodded while pulling herself closer to him. "I want to tell you but I'm so tired."

"Sleep, kapu. We've got plenty of time to talk later."

She was awake only long enough to feel his lips on her forehead, completely missing his promise to get the story of the nickname from her later.

When Bella woke again, she could tell from the light in the room that it was early afternoon. She was still tired but more than anything she wanted to wash away the carpet-feel of her tongue and the icky feeling from her entire body. She considered asking Alice to help with a shower but she knew her sister wouldn't be able to hold off on her questions alone in a room with her and Bella wasn't anywhere near ready to answer them.

Lee would help, Bella thought. We're friends now and Edward will trust her.

As if she knew Bella was thinking about her, Lee came into the room. "Hey, hope I didn't wake you," she said as she set a water bottle on the nightstand next to Bella. "I just wanted to change out your water for you."

"No, I was already awake. In fact, I was wondering if you would help me take a shower. I feel like there's a layer of filth over every inch of me."

Lee pressed the back of her hand to Bella's forehead. "Still feels like your fever is gone. If you think you can stand long enough for a shower, I can handle Masen."

"He's still worried?"

Lee chuckled. "Like a momma bear with an injured cub. But that's just his way of feeling in control in an uncontrollable situation."

She was about to confide her conversation with Whit to Lee when Alice came into the room. "You're finally awake."

Bella smiled at her sister. "For a little while anyway. Have you met Lee?"

"I've met everyone," Alice answered with a nod.

"Good. I hope you and Uncle Carl can stay for a few days and really get to know all of my friends."

"A few days?" Alice questioned. "It shouldn't take that long to pack your things," she continued. "You only have the trunk and one backpack."

"Pack?" Edward asked from the doorway. He had Lizzy in his arms and Bella figured he must have been out taking his puppy for a walk.

"No one's packing," Bella said firmly, looking only at Edward. "Alice just got a little ahead of herself."

"No, Alice did not," her sister declared, her face pinched and her arms crossed. "You're obviously delirious from your fever if you think you're staying here."

"She doesn't have a fever," Lee told her, crossing her own arms and taking on a guarded stance next to Bella.

It was wonderful to have Lee being protective of her but it also hurt to have Alice looking so angry and confused. Bella wasn't sure what to say to her sister to make this right.

"Everything okay?" Esme asked, entering the room with Carlisle right behind her.

"It's fine," Edward assured her. "Alice was just under the mistaken impression that Bella would be leaving."

Alice glared at him. "She is leaving."

Uncle Carl gripped her shoulder and turned her to face him, taking both of her small hands into his. He spoke in his calmest voice, laced with a bit of authority. "Alice, this is your sister's choice and she has chosen to continue the internship. We must support her."

"No. No, no, no!" Alice declared, punctuating each word with a tap of her foot on the wood floor. "Absolutely not! She's coming home with us."

The worry in Edward's eyes had Bella feeling angry with her little sister for the first time in a long time. "Alice, I'm a grown woman and this is my choice."

Alice shook her head and then spun around, grabbing the first thing she found, which ended up being one of Whit's medical books. She marched it over to Bella's trunk, dropped it right in, then spun around to make sure Bella had witnessed her act of defiance. "You aren't thinking clearly. Once you're home, safe in your own bed, you'll see how insane it sounds for you to stay here."

Bella folded her arms, making it clear she planned to be just as stubborn. "First of all, that's Whit's book you just tossed in there and I'm sure he'd like it back. Second of all, my thinking is clearer than it has been in years. For so long I have been afraid of what I love most … being out on the water. Every day that I've been here, I've conquered a little more of that fear and regained the joy in it. I'm not leaving."

Alice's face turned bright red and her dark eyes narrowed into a steely glare. "Not until you've been killed. Not until you die the same way Daddy did."

Bella felt a sharp stabbing pain in her chest and suddenly found herself unable to breathe. It was sort of like one of her panic attacks, only she'd never had one so quickly or one that hurt so much.

And yet she was acutely aware of everything going on around her. She heard her uncle roar her sister's name and she saw him trying to usher her out while Whit pleaded with Alice to leave before she said something else she'd regret. Esme was doing her best to prod them all toward the doorway, urging them to talk in another room. Gopher, Lee, and Edward were surrounding Bella, each of them asking if she was alright and why she had her hands pressed to her chest.

"Bella, look at me," Edward ordered.

"Sister or not, I'm gonna beat her ass for this," Lee threatened.

"She's not breathing right. Maybe I should get Whit," Gopher suggested.

Bella struggled both with breathing and processing everything going on. She had expected her family to be worried but she'd never expected for Alice to lash out like that. Maybe this was it. Maybe this was the moment when Alice finally started hating her for not swimming fast enough, for leaving their father in the water long enough to be attacked. Her breathing hitched once more and then the tears and sobs began pouring out of her.

"Bella, what can I do?" Even with her feeling so devastated she could hear the begging in Edward's voice.

Her hands weren't doing any good at stopping the pain in her chest so she wrapped them around his neck in hopes he could help stop the hurt. Edward held her tightly, rocking her and assuring her everything would be alright.

She hated this. She didn't want him to see this, to worry it was going to change her mind. Because it wasn't. As much as Alice's words had hurt her, as much as she loved her little sister, she belonged here. She had earned her spot on the team and her work here wasn't done yet. And also, she loved Edward. There was no way she could leave here before she knew for sure how he felt about her.

Bella forced herself to calm down, to lock down her hurt and her tears. She needed to be strong, to reassure Edward there was nothing to be worried about. She was not going to let this thing with Alice derail her relationship with him or set it back at all. She would talk to her and make her sister understand. And if she couldn't … Well she would just have to tackle that problem if it arose.

"I'm okay," she said, forcing a smile for Edward and ignoring her hurt as best she could. "She just caught me off guard. And with all the medication and the pain … I'm fine. Really."

Edward pressed a kiss to her forehead and then tucked her head under his chin. "You're not fine. You might want to be but I can see you're not. You don't have to pretend with me, Bella."

"I just don't want you to worry. I'm not going anywhere."

"Oh, I know you aren't. I already told you, I'm not letting you go." He hugged her tighter to back up his words.

"Well you will for just a little while," she told him, once again looking up into his worried face. "I want a shower."

"Your leg just scabbed over. I don't think a shower is a good idea."

"I'll cover it up and make sure it's waterproof on that one spot but I'm getting a shower."

"Bella."

"Lee's going to be with me and help me. Right, Lee?" Bella asked, looking over at her in hopes she would agree.

Lee smiled devilishly, always happy to prove to Edward that he wasn't always in charge. "Absolutely."

"Bella, really—"

Lee cut him off by yelling out loud enough for the entire house to hear. "Whit! Bella wants a shower. That cool with you?"

Whit's quick response was loud and clear. "Go for it."

"Doctor's approval," Bella said, forcing a grin for Edward's sake.

He actually looked defeated and it made her feel bad. She decided the best way to make it up to him was to grab hold of his face and kiss him as hard as she could handle, to prove that she really was alright.

He looked much more content when she let go of him and he actually let her get off the bed without too much of a fight. But he also followed Lee and her all the way to the bathroom door.

"You make sure she's careful," he ordered Lee for the sixth or seventh time.

She chuckled at him. "Unclench your sweet cheeks, Mase. I've got your girl." She shut the door on him and locked it for good measure before turning to face Bella. "Before we do anything in here, level with me. How are you?"

"My legs feel a little rubbery but I think that's just because I've been in bed so long."

"That's not what I was asking."

"I know but I can't think about that right now. Just please believe me when I say I'm not going anywhere. I want to be here, whether my sister understands or not."

"I'll do what I can to help you make her understand. We all will. First though, let's get you cleaned up. Oh and nice job on forcing Mase into a shower last night. Whit told me all about it."

Bella grinned without having to force it this time. "He did smell a lot better after."

Lee chuckled. "Come on, Guppy. Let's get you smelling better too."

Bella grabbed her arm and stared into her eyes, wanting her to believe completely what she said next. "I don't want to hurt him or worry him with this. I want him to feel sure that I'm staying."

"If he had any concerns, he wouldn't still be in control-mode over you. He'd be trying to shut down and I'd be kicking his ass for it."

"Thank you."

Lee shrugged. "We're a team. We look out for each other."

"So when does my shirt arrive?" Bella hedged with a grin.

Lee laughed. "Let's get your leg waterproof so you can hop in the shower. Then we'll discuss your shirt."

"~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^"

The bathroom door finally opened and Lee poked her head out of it. Masen was on his feet and halfway there before she even got the first word out.

"She's wiped out and I didn't want to risk her falling," Lee said as she opened the door further.

Bella sat on the edge of the tub looking down at her feet with her hands resting on her lap. He thought for a second she might have already fallen asleep but then she lifted her head and gave him a weak smile. All the color was gone from her cheeks and she didn't fight at all when he lifted her up and carried her out of the bathroom.

"Thank you," Bella said as he set her down on her bed.

Masen tried to keep his frustration out of his voice. "I'm going to kick your doctor's ass. I knew it was too soon for you to be moving around so much."

"I'm fine. And really, it's my fault. I should have eaten first."

He finished tucking her blanket around her and then sat down beside her. "Is that really all it is?"

She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around his neck and resting her head against his chest.

He wrapped a hand around her damp hair, noting the way it curled at the edges, and then moved it aside so he could kiss the back of her neck. "What can I do?"

"Just be with me."

"I'm here, kapu."

Masen felt the bed shift and looked up to see Lizzy at the edge of the bed, crawling toward them on her stomach. She knew she wasn't supposed to be up here and that was why she was trying to be cute with the crawling thing.

"Lizzy, living room," he ordered.

"No, I want her to stay." Bella let go of him and grabbed the puppy, cuddling her to her chest and accepting a lick to the cheek. "I bet she's missed you."

Masen reached out and scratched behind Lizzy's ear, getting a happy growl from her. "I've missed her too. But you come first right now. Besides, I took her for a walk earlier."

"Maybe tomorrow we can walk her together?"

He frowned, wondering how she could possibly think she could handle a walk in the sand if she could barely handle standing in a shower. "Doubtful."

"Can we at least go out on the patio later? I'd like to see some sunshine."

"Maybe. If you eat. Whit put a plate of food in the oven for you. Want me to grab it?"

"Yeah. And some of the grape Gatorade I had last night?"

"I'll get it," Lee called from the doorway. He hadn't realized she'd stayed. Even without her worried expression he'd know something was up just from her offering to grab the food instead of trying to make him go get it. Whatever had happened in that bathroom, it wasn't just a shower.

Masen put his curled finger under Bella's chin and lifted until he could see her eyes. "Talk to me please. I promise I'm not going to say anything to your sister. I just want to help you feel better."

"I don't want you to form an opinion of her based on this. She's really not bad at all."

"My opinion of her is going to be a hell of a lot worse if you don't talk to me."

She sighed and took hold of his hand, gripping his fingers hard. "I get it. I do. I'm on the other side of the world and I get hurt. I get where that's scary for her." She lifted her eyes, letting him see the pain she felt. "But I was alright when I woke up this afternoon. I honestly felt so much better. That should have eased her fears. So why did she say that? Does she finally hate me?"

"No," he said sternly. "Don't even think that. What she said, she said because she was freaking out. It's not you being sick right now that has her acting like that." He tilted his chin up toward the pictures. "It's those photos above your bed."

"But … She's never shown any fear the way I do. She'll watch shark movies and not even bat an eyelash. She even owns that stupid Deep Blue Sea movie about the sharks with the altered brains."

"Everyone deals with fear in a different way, Bella. Whit and I went right back to surfing, determined not to show any weakness. Maybe that's what those movies are for Alice. Maybe that's her way of not letting the fear get to her. And maybe it's worked up until now. Until she saw you with your hand on a shark."

"What if she doesn't let me explain? What if she won't listen to how it was a safe and controlled environment?"

He shrugged. "Then it'll be her loss. She'll never get to know how brave and determined her sister is and that'll be a shame."

Bella shook her head. "No. It can't end like this. Not after everything we've been through."

"Sorry to interrupt," Lee said as she came in with a tray of food and drinks. "He made enough for you too, Mase. Want me to pull the door so no one interrupts?"

"Yeah, that'd be good," Masen replied, helping her to settle the tray on the bed.

"Thanks, Lee," Bella said, managing a small smile for her.

Lee smiled back. "Try to eat and not worry. I'm sure you'll work things out with your sister once she calms down."

Bella nodded while wiping away a stray tear with the back of her hand. "I hope so."

Masen waited until Lee was gone and the door was closed to speak. "What if I ask Esme to step in? She's great at moderating shit between me and Whit and Lee. I bet she could get Alice to understand."

"I appreciate that. But she's my sister. I should be the one to talk to her."

He hated seeing Bella look so sad and in his urge to fix it he made a stupid joke that he immediately regretted. "I could always tie her up and hang her upside down from the winch base on Galeos until she agrees to listen."

She glared at him. "Oh I'm sure that would have her feeling really agreeable. Is that something you think of doing to me whenever I disagree with you?"

He knew he was already in trouble so he figured he might as well go all in. He pulled out his shitty grin and said, "Tying you up sure, but not to the boat."

She flicked him in the forehead hard enough to sting her hand and his head—but she was also fighting a smile. "I'm going to eat now. You should probably eat too to keep from saying anything else stupid."

Masen managed to keep his own grin under wraps while handing her one of the plates. "Gopher's iPad is still in here. Want to watch some Jeopardy while we eat?"

"First to answer gets a point?"

"You want to keep score?"

She smiled for real this time. "Unless you're afraid of losing to me."

"Kapu, I'm already lost to you." He kissed her cheek quickly and then jumped up to setup the iPad—and to give himself a moment to deal with how close he'd just come to admitting his true feelings. He wanted to. Badly. But now wasn't the time. Not when she was hurting over her sister. Even with his lack of people skills he knew better.

For the next hour, they ate, drank, and yelled out questions. For sixty minutes he gave her a reprieve from the shitstorm with her sister. The fact that it actually seemed to help made it easy for him to handle losing to her despite her win coming from a ridiculous question that hardly any man on Earth could have answered in his opinion.

The Category had been In Between and the answer had been "In the Twilight Saga, this book was written in between Twilight and Eclipse." With no hesitation, Bella had called out, "What is New Moon?"

He'd never heard of the books or the author. But Bella had. Even worse was finding out Lee had introduced her to the series. Not only was he going to get razzed for losing to her at his favorite game show, he was pretty damn sure Lee would find a way to force the entire team to read the books.

Still … Seeing Bella smile for even a little while … Mostly worth it, he thought as he leaned in and kissed the side of her neck.

"~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^"

"Which kind of loser are you?" Bella asked as Edward moved the tray with their empty dishes to the floor. Now that she'd had time to calm down and eat, she had a lot more energy.

"Are you never playing with me again? Or will you become super competitive?" she questioned.

He flashed a cocky smirk while stretching out beside her. "I have plenty of plans for playing with you."

She rolled her eyes and shook her head at him, with very pink cheeks and a different kind of knot settling low in her stomach.

"As far as Jeopardy is concerned, there will absolutely be a rematch."

She studied his eyes and his smile for a moment. "You think it was a lucky win," she accused. "Admit it."

"Yeah? So?"

"That's just …" While she was floundering for the right adjective, he was smiling away and brushing soft kisses along her arm.

When he reached her shoulder, his smile widened. "You were saying?"

A knock on the door interrupted which was just as well since she had lost the ability to think. She could technically blame it on the headache that had yet to go away but she knew the truth would be in her pink cheeks.

The door opened and her uncle poked his head in. "Bella, sweetheart, is it alright if I come in?"

"Absolutely," she answered with a smile for him.

Edward immediately got up but her uncle waved him off. "Stay, Edward. There's a perfectly fine chair right here."

For once, Edward was the one with the pink cheeks. "I just thought you might like some privacy."

Uncle Carl grinned. "So it's not to make sure I don't sit near my niece's injured leg?"

Bella let out a groan. "What did Alice tell you?"

Her uncle chuckled. "Just that Edward was very persistent in his mission to take care of you."

Edward remained silent, scratching at the bridge of his nose.

Ha, Bella thought. It is his nervous tell! Busted!

"So, Edward, are you staying or going?" Uncle Carl asked.

"Whatever Bella wants." His blue eyes never left her face while he waited for her answer.

She smiled and patted the bed. "Might as well stay. He'll get me to tell him everything later anyway."

Edward snorted while Uncle Carl chuckled.

"So seriously, what did Alice say?" Bella asked, turning her attention to her uncle.

"First, tell me who this little one is curled up in your lap," he said, running his hand along Lizzy's back.

"This is Edward's puppy." Bella lifted the puppy's paw and waved it gently. "Lizzy, this is Uncle Carl."

Lizzy gave his hand a lick and yipped once, then curled right back up into her spot in Bella's lap.

Her uncle grinned and gave her a knowing look. "Another admirer of my niece then."

"Yes, I'm all kinds of popular. Now what about Alice?" She didn't mean to short with him—she just couldn't take not knowing how her sister was doing. They so rarely fought and for it to be over something that meant so much to Bella … She just didn't have the patience to wait any longer.

Carlisle sighed as he put his hand on her knee. "Alice is very upset. She doesn't understand your choice to come here initially or to stay now. But she's also not ready to listen to anything anyone has to say."

Bella nodded as she tugged at the corner of the blanket covering her legs. "She's so stubborn. If she'd just let me explain, she'd see I have to be here."

"She's the pot to your kettle," Edward joked.

"Shut it," Bella replied, elbowing him in the side while trying not to smile. It was remarkable that he was able to make her want to with as worried as she was about her sister.

"Alice just needs time to calm down," Uncle Carl assured Bella with a gentle pat to her hand. "Once she's had time to think about her behavior, she'll be ready to apologize."

Bella nodded, hoping he was right. "Well until then, you should be with her. I don't want her alone on top of being upset."

His lips twitched but he didn't say anything.

It was Edward who spoke up. "Pretty sure Whit's got that covered."

"Yes, your friend certainly seems to have taken an interest in my niece. If not for Bella being sick, I'm sure he'd be coming along on the trip to town we'll be taking shortly." Carlisle turned his attention to Bella and continued, "Esme suggested Alice and I accompany her on a grocery shopping run. She thought it might do your sister some good to get some fresh air."

"Whit can go if he wants," Bella replied. "I'm feeling fine. And I want Alice to become friends with my friends. Besides, I'll have Lee and Gopher and Edward here with me."

"Define that fine," Edward challenged.

"Fine. Okay," she answered, turning her head to look at him. "As in able to be without his medical supervision for a couple hours."

"Fever still broken?"

"Yep."

"Stomach still queasy?"

"Only a little. You saw me eat half of the plate of food he made. And it's staying down."

"Headache all gone?"

Bella didn't respond.

Edward smirked while repeating his question.

"Well, no, but—"

"Then you still need medical supervision."

"Medication, yes. Medical supervision, not so much," Bella argued.

"Then it's settled," Uncle Carl said, giving Bella a wink. "I'll let Whit know he has his patient's permission to travel with us."

Bella chuckled at the gesture and then snuck a glance at Edward, finding him pouting. She swallowed down her laughter and said to her uncle, "Tell him to bring back plums to appease his best friend."

Her uncle smiled and then got up and kissed her forehead. "I love you, Bug."

"I love you, Uncle Carl."

He reached over and shook hands with Edward. "Edward, make sure she doesn't overdo it. She still has mending to do according to Whit."

"I'll keep a close eye on her," he promised. Now that he'd basically been given permission to boss her around by her own uncle, Edward was all smiles.

As soon as her uncle was out of hearing range, Bella shifted to face Edward. "What's going on with Whit and my sister?"

He shrugged but she saw the sparkle in his blue eyes.

"Edward, tell me."

"It's not my story to tell."

"There's a whole story? How? She hasn't been here that long."

He chuckled and shrugged.

"You have to tell me. What do you know?"

"The only things I have to do are breathe, eat and drink so I can live." After a short pause he added, "And respect my mom because Esme would kill me quick if I didn't."

"Alice is my sister. I should know what you know."

He scratched at the bridge of his nose for a few seconds and then sighed and looked at her. "Does your sister have vivid dreams sometimes?"

"Yes, actually. She dreamed I would get promoted to the dolphin exhibit two months before it happened. I'd thought she was nuts at the time because all the positions were filled and there was a hiring freeze. But then a couple staff changes happened and I was in."

"Whit sometimes knows when things are going to come along. Not often and usually not anything big, but he knows sometimes. He knew he was going to be meeting a woman but he had no idea it would be your sister."

"Whit thinks he was destined to meet my sister?"

"You'll have to ask him. And really, he'll explain it better than me anyway. Besides, there are a couple things I don't know. Like how he didn't realize from the picture of her on your dresser."

"Oh that's easy…He wouldn't. He's never really been in my room on Galeos. I think there was one day he was there but it wasn't for long at all."

"Talk about rough luck," Edward said with a chuckle. "He's seen her now for damn sure."

"Enough that my uncle has noticed."

"Your uncle seems like a stand-up guy."

"You only say that because he basically gave you permission to boss me around. But you are not my boss when we're not working."

Edward's smile turned into a cocky smirk. "I may not always be the boss, but I'm always in charge." And to make sure she couldn't argue, he gave her a slow, sensual kiss that made her toes tingle and her face flush. It also served as an effective end to their conversation for now.

"~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^"

It all comes back to perspective. And Whit's thoughts had come back to that conclusion multiple times throughout the very strange dinner he was having with Esme, Carlisle, and Alice. Esme and Carlisle were chattering away like old friends while Alice poked at her food and avoided eye contact with everyone, including him.

If I look at my life from the viewpoint of all the things that have gone wrong, then I'm one unlucky fucker. But if I look at it from a big picture stance, if I take into account my family and my friends who mean just as much to me, then I am one of the luckiest bastards to walk this earth. And as strange and strained as this situation is, Alice is here. Whether her arrival comes with complications or not, my dream girl is finally here. What I have to do is simple in theory and I mainly just need to figure out how to effect the necessary change—I have to fix Alice's relationship with Bella so that Alice can begin one with me.

"Whit, sweetheart, you're awfully quiet on that end of the table. Is our conversation that boring?" Esme had that look in her eyes that always made him think she knew everything he was thinking. His own mom couldn't pull that look with him but Esme had been doing it from the very first time Masen had taken him to their home.

"Of course not," he answered, smiling to show her he was okay. "You just seemed to have the conversation well at hand and I didn't want to risk interrupting your unique train of thought."

Esme looked to Carlisle and grinned. "That's his nice way of telling me to shut the hell up because I'm boring." Her comment had Carlisle laughing and even got Alice to crack a small smile.

"Actually, I was trying to guess what form of punishment your boy will have waiting for me for leaving our patient," Whit told Esme.

"I wouldn't worry too much." Carlisle's grin looked very similar to the one Esme pulled out when she meddled with Masen without him realizing. "He seemed pleased with the idea of watching over my niece while you were out."

Esme snorted so hard she made herself cough. "You gave my kid permission to boss your girl? Oh, Carlisle, you have no idea what evil you've wrought."

Alice's head popped up and she stared questioningly at Esme.

"Oh, no, sweetheart, I didn't mean anything by that," Esme assured her, giving her hand a pat. "Edward would never do anything to harm your sister. He's used to being in charge so much from our work, that's all. In fact, I'm pretty sure Bella could get him to agree to just about anything right now since he's afraid to argue with her and risk tiring her out."

"Think we should text her and let her know she momentarily has the upper hand?" Whit asked, already pulling his phone out.

"No, let's leave her to rest," Esme instructed. "Besides, from what I've seen so far, she's quite capable of gaining the upper hand all on her own."

"I just wish it wasn't his hand."

Whit was pretty sure he had been the only one to hear Alice's remark. It was surreal to feel torn between a girl he'd technically just met and his best friend. He very much wanted things to work out with Alice but as they stood right now, if he was forced to choose, it wouldn't be her. And not just because Masen had stood by him through a lot. It was because Alice was wrong and Masen really, truly loved Bella.

So much I want to ask Alice but it doesn't feel like it's the right time. And then there's Bella. She's my friend and I do feel a certain guilt for being here right now with her sister instead of being home making sure she's okay physically and mentally. It had to rip her heart up to hear Alice talking to her that way. But again, I am here partly to figure out how to get Alice to see her errors and apologize for them so I shouldn't really feel guilty.

"Whit, can I ask you a question?"

He lifted his head and smiled at Alice as he answered, "Anything, anytime."

"Were you with my sister when she was posing for pictures with that shark?"

As much as he knew it would hurt her, he could only give her the truth. "Yes, I was. I took the photo."

"Why?"

"Why did I take the photo? Or why do I do what I do?"

"I think … Yes, both, please."

"I took the photo because that moment was a major accomplishment for your sister both personally and professionally. And I took it because like me, she sometimes needs physical reminders of her abilities. As far as my part in MMR … There's really no one answer. I do it because being in the ocean is a part of me. I do it because it needs to be done. I do it because Masen relies on me to be his right hand and because I'm damn good at it. But I think more than anything I do it simply because I can. It's an option that's open to me that not everyone has, that I myself almost didn't have. I had every intention of becoming a nurse at one of the hospitals in Hawaii."

"Why a nurse and not a doctor?"

"Nurses help more people." He'd answered this question a lot over the years—except with Bella because she'd guessed right on the first try.

Alice was quiet for a minute and then stiffly nodded her head as if she'd come to some decision with herself.

"Care to share?" he asked.

She smiled while tucking a strand of hair behind each ear, allowing the light to really hit her face and make her brown eyes shine. "When I realized it was you, I was afraid for the first time. I've loved having you in my dreams and I've been excited to get to meet you. But then there you were and all I could think was sometimes dreams are incapable of becoming reality. Hearing you talk just now … You're better than the dream."

Better than the dream? Fuck yeah! Wait 'til Mase hears this! Oh, but I really gotta fix things between him and her. And that might start with actually talking to her and not myself. Whit focused his attention on Alice. "I'm honored you feel that way. I hope that means you'll trust anything I say to you is as much for your benefit as it is for everyone else."

"I will give it my best try," she promised.

"Whisper, whisper, whisper," Esme said, leaning across the table toward Whit. "That's all I'm hearing over here. Speak up for the rest of the class to hear."

"Alice was just asking about my career choice," Whit said, giving Esme a wink to let her know he'd confess all later.

"Whit, I want to thank you again for all you've done for Bella," Carlisle stated. "I was not expecting her to look as healthy as she did when we arrived. And your work on her leg, keeping her from having stitches … Truly, I owe you."

"No, you don't," Whit replied immediately and sincerely. "Bella's part of our family now and we always look out for each other."

"It's true," Esme agreed with a nod. "No matter what, my misfits band together to help each other."

"Why do you call them misfits? Are they prone to getting into trouble?" Alice asked.

"No more trouble than any other young adults their age. It's just something I started calling them long ago. Originally, it was just Edward and Whit. Then Lee joined us in college and Gopher arrived just before we set sail on our first research expedition. And as you know, Bella became part of the band this summer."

"There's always room for more," Whit mentioned, watching Alice's face closely for her reaction. "We've learned a lot already from having Bella aboard so having another fresh mind around would double that."

Alice vehemently shook her head, releasing her hair from behind her ears. "No. Never. Not me. And hopefully not my sister for too much longer."

Well that was an epic fucking fail, Whit thought as he let out a sigh. But this is far from over. If I can nudge Masen into realizing his future has been standing right in front of him, I can get Alice to agree to stick around. I'll just need a little help to get the job done and I know just the man to turn to.

"~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^~~~^~~~~^"

A/N:

Sorry it took a little longer to get this chapter out, everyone! Real life has been enjoying getting in the way too much! We hope you all enjoy!

Shout out to tds88 for the Charmin Ultra line Gopher says to Masen! I know it took us a while to use it but we wanted a really good spot for it. Hope you liked where it ended up.