Forty eight hours later, Bella's condition still hadn't changed. She remained silent and still like Snow White after biting the poison apple but true love's kiss would not awaken her. Edward kept vigil at her bedside, ears and eyes attune to any change. There was none.
He had been seething in quiet rage and held prison by desperate fear the moment he saw Damon carrying her across the field, his face long and drawn, filled with a thousand regrets, followed by a somber Alice and Elena. At first all he could hear was the mumbled cacophony of their thoughts, merged and combined, completely indistinguishable from each other. Their lips remained still, their voices silent.
Alice had looked at him with eyes wide like saucers, Elena's eyes never strayed from the limp form in Damon's arms and Damon wouldn't look at him at all.
Bella was dead. She was dead and soon he would be too.
"NO!" Alice had shouted at him.
A few moments after that he had found out why. If it hadn't been for Bella gathered in Damon's arms, he would have crushed him, he still wanted to. Yet, if Bella came out of this...when she came out of this, she would never forgive him for harming her brother. That was the only thing that saved him.
Edward turned and focused his bleary eyes on Esme, who stood in the door way with motherly concern tainting her eyes and fingers fidgeting with her blouse.
"No," he said, his voice gruff.
Leaning against the door frame, she gently pushed herself off and came into the room. She stopped at the head of the bed and straightened the sheet around Bella before soothing back her hair and placing a kiss on her smooth forehead.
"Have Emmett and Rose returned with any news?"
Carlisle hadn't found any reference to such a phenomenon in all his thick tomes so Rose, Emmett, Alice and Jasper were going to leave on a mission to find out if there was information on anyone else ever bitten by a cold one that had a nocturne's blood in their system.
"Not yet. Rebekah and Elijah went with them. They dispersed in two separate teams to cover more ground."
"For God's sake, why? I would've thought they'd all be long gone by now, trailing after Finn and Kol. They were in such a hurry to leave. Especially Rebekah."
Esme shrugged. "To try to make up for her betrayal, I suppose. To get back in Elijah's good graces. The desire for forgiveness, like the capacity to love, is a human trait that doesn't die with the other human parts of us."
"I don't see how assisting us would reflect on her relationship with her brother."
"For all the bad you may think about him, he values his word and his sister betrayed that. You've been otherwise occupied but he was pretty harsh with her."
"Do you really think they could help?" He had his doubts.
"They've been around a long time, made quite a few valuable connections. They can also compel. We don't want the Volturi catching wind of what's happening with Bella especially given our recent narrow escape."
"True." Edward was in no mood to argue. He wasn't going to deny help where he needed it. If Rebekah betrayed them again, she would not escape his wrath so easily.
"Speaking of forgiveness, Damon wants to be here...by Bella's side."
"Has he sobered up yet or does he still have a bottle of bourbon attached to his mouth?"
"It's not like you're giving him much incentive to stop."
Esme's voice was a gentle reprimand but he still couldn't shake his anger, didn't want to. It was all that was keeping him from falling apart.
"How he chooses to spend his time in regret has nothing to do with me."
"You're being too hard on him. I've kept quiet to respect your pain but this has to stop. It's not what Bella would want."
"She didn't want this!" Edward shouted and buried his face in his hands with a derisive chuckle. "Not yet, anyway." He sucked in a deep breath of air and with a shake of his head he lifted his gaze to meet his mother's. "She changed her mind. After graduation. She wanted more time...to let Charlie see her graduate college - as a human. Now it's gone...her choice, if she..." He shook his head again. "It's just gone... taken from her."
"Oh, Edward." Esme clasped him to her in a tight motherly embrace. "I'm so sorry...but this isn't Damon's fault. Surely, you must see that. Victoria is the one that stole her choice."
"Yes, the blame is Victoria's." He was willing to begrudgingly concede that point. "But if he hadn't interfered, we would know what we're dealing with here. We don't know. She could be dying, the combination of venom and vampire blood too much for her body to take...we just don't know. And that's all Damon."
"The last thing he would ever want to do is hurt Bella. Deep down under your fear, your anger, you know that."
"But that's exactly what he did."
"I know you're furious right now and with good reason but can you honestly look back and say you have a stellar record when it comes to acting without really thinking things through, that you haven't acted rashly, doing what you thought was right to protect the one you love, taken Bella's choices away from her...to protect her with nearly the same disastrous results?"
"This is different."
"No, it's really not. Besides, it's not really your decision whether Damon should be allowed to be with Bella. You know that she would forgive him, that she would want him here. That would be her choice. Don't take that one away from her too."
If he had one more pot of coffee and one more blood bag, he was going to explode, much like that stupid gum chewing character, Violet from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, nearly did. He was sober, maybe even too sober if there was such a thing. They had confiscated his liquor, even the secret stash he thought he kept well hidden. When had become so predictable?
He was being left alone for the most part to wallow in his misery, except for the few times they had to physically restrain him from barging into the room that Sparkle Pants forbade him to enter. Who gave him exclusive rights to decide if he should see his sister? No one, that's who. If Jasper hadn't interfered with his mind melding mojo and his own conscience creeping in, telling him that it wouldn't be healthy for Isabella to hear the fighting, if she could hear anything at all, he would've fought harder, forced his way through hours ago.
It would be a cold day in hell before he would ever forget the way Edward all but ripped Isabella from his arms like he was the enemy incarnate. The sad truth was, he only had marginal regrets about spiking Bella's bloody mary with his blood. If he could rewind the clock, he wasn't sure if he would make a different choice.
Isabella would be fine. She had to be. That's all there was to it. Any other alternative was just not acceptable. Just because no one knew how this would turn out, didn't mean it was a bad thing. At least, that's what he was trying to convince himself of. The reality was he just wasn't sure. To believe his sister wouldn't survive was unthinkable, not after everything she'd been through. It was a bitter irony that he could barely think of anything else.
"Screw this," Damon said pushing himself off the couch. He was sick of being treated like the red-headed step child. It was time to attempt another visit upstairs and if anyone tried to stop him, well they were going to be in for a surprise. Now that he was sober, he wouldn't be so easy to thwart. And by God, Edward better let him in. He was done waiting for the almighty to grant him leniency. He was Damon Salvatore, damn it. It was time to start acting like him again.
"Where are you going?"
Startled that he hadn't even noticed here there, he pivoted on his heel towards her. "Oh, now you stoop to talk to me 'Lena? I'm going to see Isabella, if you must know. Please don't get my way."
"I wasn't going to. For the record, I never thought it was fair they wouldn't let you see her."
"So, now you decide to say something? You couldn't do that earlier? Defend your boyfriend...that is, if I am still your boyfriend. You seemed to be pretty darn cozy with your ex earlier. Are trying to rekindle the flame?"
"Don't lash out at me because you're hurt and you're angry. I don't deserve it."
He snorted. "Yeah, I forgot. You're the only one allowed to get angry in this relationship. After all, I'm the only one who makes impulsive decisions."
"That's not fair."
"Yeah, well life's not fair. If it were, Isabella wouldn't be hovering between life and death because of something I only did to protect her. It sucks but that's how it is."
"Damon." She approached him with weary, sorrowful eyes and laid her hand over his heart. "Don't do this to yourself."
"Why shouldn't I? After all, I'm just jumping on the same "pin the blame on Damon" bandwagon that everyone is on...including you."
"I was angry at you, yes, at first, when you told us what you did but not anymore."
"What changed your mind?"
"I love you." She cupped his cheek with the palm of her hand, forcing him to maintain eye contact. "That means I have to accept you...all of you, even if I don't understand or agree all the time. Doing everything and anything to ensure the safety of the ones you love, as small a circle as that is, is as much a part of you as your snarky ass nicknames for everybody. I knew that before getting involved with you and as contradictory as it sounds, it's one of the reasons I fell in love with you in the first place."
"You fell in love with me for my snarky ass nicknaming habits?"
"Will you be serious?"
"So, what are you saying? That you forgive me? Even if that were you upstairs, even though you said you never want to be a vampire?"
"Yes. I'm also saying I'm not as opposed to the idea as I used to be. Not now," she amended with wide-eyes, seeing the shocked look on his face. "I mean in the future, after I've had a few more human years, after we...if we decide...you know, that..."
"This is forever," he finished for her.
"Yeah," she said with a soft smile. "Something like that."
As far as Damon was concerned it was forever but he understood her hesitation...to a degree. He hadn't exactly lived a celibate lifestyle nor a monogamous one in many, years since Sage had convinced him to embrace being who and what he was.
"Come upstairs with me?" He held his hand out to her, a peace offering and plea for support at the same time. She took it, entwining her fingers with his.
As they made their way down the quiet corridor of the top floor, Damon half-expected someone to jump out from behind a closed door and stop him. With fists clenched and body geared for fight, he was prepared. No one stopped him, however. Not yet.
"Should we knock?" Elena asked when they came to Edward's door.
"Pffft. No. I'm sure Sparky knows we're here. Isn't that right, Sparky?"
A long suffering sigh was heard from behind the door.
"Told ya," Damon said as he twisted the knob.
"You should see her alone, in private, Damon," Elena said for Edward's benefit, hoping he'd get the hint. "I'll wait here until you're ready," she added in a quiet tone.
Damon squeezed her hand and went through the door, closing it behind him. He was met with the sight of Esme and Edward sitting bedside, obscuring his view of Bella. Esme smiled at him as she stood up and patted Edward's shoulder.
"I'll leave you two alone so you can talk. Play nice."
Damon approached the bed slowly once Esme left and sank onto the chair she just vacated, his eyes inspecting every inch of Isabella's still form, looking for any sign of life. Her dark lashes fanned out against pale skin. Lips that were usually pink, remained bloodless. There was no tell-tale rising of the sheets covering her to signify the inhaling and exhaling of breath.
The stillness wasn't untypical of a transformation for his kind. They were usually quiet, sedated affairs. Death then undead life, with a corpse like sleep in between. But this wasn't a typical transformation, if it was a transformation at all. No phoenix amulet adorned her bare neck. It was gone. Damon prayed that with it, hope was not gone as well. They could all be waiting for her to wake up only to realize that day would never come.
"What's it like?"
"What's what like?" Edward's voice was gruff, dark, defeated. His fingers never strayed from their caress of Bella's palm.
"Alice mentioned your change was different, more painful, that it doesn't look like this."
Edward was silent for a few moments, thinking. Bowing his head, body stiffening with the memory, he began to speak, his dark and low. "It feels like your whole body, each organ, each cell, every vein, every pore is bursting and going up in flames from the inside out. You can't help but scream, flail and writhe just to get away from the feeling but it never comes. For three days it goes on like that until suddenly it stops. Then the only burning you feel in in your throat, the mad thirst for blood and lots of it. The hunger is insatiable."
He was sorry he asked. No wonder why Alice had been so evasive with her answer when he asked her the same thing. She wanted to spare him. Sparkles, of course, wasn't going to offer him the same luxury.
"So." Edward cleared his throat and cast a sideways glance in Damon's direction. "I don't like to admit I'm wrong-"
"No shit, Sherlock."
"…very often," he finished, ignoring Damon's comment. "I overreacted like I usually do when it comes to Bella's welfare. I should've realized you were doing the same. It was wrong of me to shut you out and I'm sorry."
"I bet you those words hurt on the way back up. Are they yours or Mom's? You know what? I don't care. Hearing you say that you're wrong and you're sorry in the same breath with a straight face is enough for me."
"You don't know how to accept an apology graciously, do you?"
Not in this buddy, Damon thought. He didn't forgive or forget so easily.
"Not usually, no. You granted Steffie free access. That stings."
"He wasn't the one that fed his sister his blood masquerading as cocktail."
"Because he's not as creative as I am. Now are you going to give me time alone with my sister?"
Damon saw the indecision warring in Edward's eyes before he stood up and placed a soft kiss on Isabella's forehead.
"Yeah, yeah." Damon waved his hand, dismissing him. "If anything changes, I'll sound the alarm."
The door closing behind him only offered the illusion of privacy. There was none to be had in this house but he'd take what little he could get and go with it. He didn't have anything to hide. Not today, anyway.
"Looks like it's just me and you, Piccola – finally. I would've been here sooner but the glitter goon squad led by you-know-who kept me away…said I screwed up, punished me by banning me. And I suppose I did, screw up, I mean but don't tell anyone that. That'll be our secret.
"I have to be honest, with you, Isabella, this whole Sleeping Beauty thing you have going on, well it's kind of scaring the crap out of me, just so you know. Anytime you want to wake up and tell me to shut the hell up, feel free."
Damon sat back, waiting breathlessly for any change, any sign that she was going to awaken. Pools of sunlight danced on her face, giving the appearance of animation where there was none. It was growing increasingly difficult not to let hopeless thoughts seep in.
Those thoughts were squashed immediately. They had no place here in this room. He would not allow his dark emotions taint this sanctuary even if faith was a hard commodity to come by.
He abruptly stood up and walked to vast window, staring out at the evergreens and the midday sun. Down below Bonnie was showing Wolf Boy what was in her bag of magic tricks and Caroline and Stefan were perched on a fallen log, heads bent together having what looked to be an intense conversation. Stefan was sucking up all the sympathy while he was thrown all the blame. Typical.
Life was moving forward, continuing and he hated it. Hated that Isabella was stuck, immobile, trapped in her own body and he couldn't do a damn thing about it. Hated that so much was unknown. Hated that he hadn't been the one to kill Victoria himself.
Bowing his head against the glass, he clenched his eyes shut, concentrating on not being consumed by his own failings.
The voice was so quiet, like a gentle whisper on a breeze, he was so sure he imagined it.
"Bella?" Damon whirled around, eyes wide.
He stared at her for what felt like an eternity, too afraid to move. There was no change, not even a flutter of an eyelid.
"Great. I'm hearing things now." He chuckled derisively to himself. "I must be going nuts…certifiably nuts. What's next, a padded room, a nifty white coat with the buttons up the back?"
"What?" Now he knew for sure he was going crazy. He heard her. It was Isabella's voice yet her lips remained still.
"Black leather straight jacket."
The voice wasn't just in his head. It couldn't be. It was her. From whatever place she was stuck in, she was trying to reach him.
"You're trying to come back to me…to us, aren't you, Piccola?"
Blowing out a breath, he picked up her delicate but cold hand, wrapping both of his hands around it. It didn't seem so fragile and breakable as before. Under the soft layer of her skin, there was a hardness that hadn't been there before. He traced his fingers up her arm, pressing the tips down lightly, his brows drawing together in confusion. Everywhere he touched, was the same, like permeable flesh over stone.
"Come on Isabella. You can do it. I'm right here."
The door crashed open with a bang. Edward stood there wild eyed, a cell phone clasped in his hand with Alice's distinct yelling coming through the receiver.
Damon never took his eyes off Bella. "She's coming back. I can hear her."
Edward stalked forward, assessing Bella with his eyes for any change. "What do you mean you can hear her?"
"She spoke to me in my head."
"Are you sure you weren't hearing things?"
"Does a vampire suck blood? Yes, Doubting Thomas, of course I'm sure." He wasn't going to tell them he was questioning his own sanity minutes ago.
"See!" Damon pointed at Isabella, a broad smile widening on his face. "Did you hear that?"
Edward heard it but couldn't wrap his head around it. It was the sweetest, most welcome sound he ever heard. After two days of silence, he could hear her voice again.
"Bella, love. It's Edward. Can you hear me? Are you in pain?"
"Something's happening…I can't…"
"Bella?" Edward's voice cracked as he shook her gently. There was no response, nothing. "Carlisle!" he shouted, desperate confusion clinging to his voice.
A series of footsteps clamored up the stairs. Carlisle shouldered his way into the room, his black medical bag in his hand just in case. Stefan forced his way in behind him. Everyone else stood hovered in the doorway, watching, praying.
"Some room, please." Carlisle told both Edward and Damon as he began removing items from his bag and placing them neatly on the bed, near Bella's legs. "What's going on?"
Damon briefly explained hearing her voice, the changes he felt in her arms. Carlisle nodded once and continued his examination, his thoughts and his face giving nothing away.
"Alice saw her coming back to us," Edward admitted while he watched Carlisle work.
"What exactly could she see?"
"It was fuzzy," Alice's voice, calmer now, came in through the phone. Edward put her on speaker so everyone could hear her. "I can't tell you any more than that."
"Can't or won't, Gidget?"
"It's not that easy, Damon. I don't know what I'm seeing enough to explain it. We're on our way back now. I have to call Rose and tell them."
"Did you find out anything?" Stefan asked.
"I'm sorry. It looks like Bella is one of kind. I…have to go. I'll see you soon."
"She knows something," Damon said when she hung up the phone.
"We can't worry about that now."
"Because Bella's eyes are beginning to move. Give her some room." Carlisle got up, urging Edward, Damon and Stefan to move back. None of them did. "We don't know what she is going to do. This is uncharted territory, unprecedented. Now stand back. Please."
For minutes they all watched as Bella's eyes darted under closed lids like she was submersed in a REM state. The rest of her remained motionless. Her fingers began to twitch, curl and clench but her inner voice remained silent. Without warning her back arched off the bed and her mouth opened in a gasp like she was taking her first breath after being under water.
"Bella?" Edward ignored his father's urging for space and stepped closed to the bed, reaching out a trembling hand to touch her. His fingers skated over her arm and he pulled back immediately in shock. She was still warm. Colder than normal but still warm. How was that possible? Did Carlisle know this already? He had to have. He just examined her.
Before he could open his mouth to let his questions tumble out, Bella's eyes snapped open, her chocolate brown, human eyes.
A/N - Thank you so much for not losing patience with me. Please review if you wish to let me know what you think. They are all appreciated.