True to Alice's vision, the snowplow made it up to the lodge just after 5:30 in the evening, closely followed by the ranger's vehicle and an ambulance. I carried Bella downstairs, where, to her utter mortification, she was placed on a gurney and wheeled outside and into the ambulance. Jasper received similar treatment.

I was not permitted to ride in the ambulance. Alice and I climbed into the back of the ranger's Jeep for the drive down the mountain. Carlisle, as the attending physician, was allowed to accompany Bella and Jasper. He gave me a reassuring nod as the ambulance door closed.

We were just pulling away from the lodge when I caught a glimpse of dark fur between the trees. Jacob was watching us. I rolled down the window quickly and spoke too softly for the ranger to hear. I knew the wolf's sensitive ears would catch every word, though.

"She's fine, Jacob. We're going to the hospital, then we'll take her home. You can probably call her tomorrow."

Alice gave me a reproachful look, but I just shook my head. Now that the crisis was past, I understood Jacob's feelings; he only wanted to keep Bella safe. I wasn't particularly pleased with his presence in her life, but his intentions weren't bad.

The drive to the hospital in Mount Vernon was uneventful. Charlie met us there, extremely glad to see Bella. He fussed over her a bit, concerned that she still looked pale and thin. But his thoughts were relieved.

Esme arrived a few moments later. She had driven up from Forks as planned. With little fanfare, Carlisle feigned helping Jasper into the back of the Mercedes, quietly informing the ER physician that he had made arrangements for an orthopedic surgeon colleague in Seattle to evaluate his son. Rather self-effacingly, my father expressed concern that he had set the bone without the benefit of an X-ray and wanted to be certain there would be no lasting effects from the injury. No one could question his desire for his son to receive the best, most advanced care available.

Emse, Carlisle, Jasper, and Alice left with brief but heartfelt good-byes to Bella. I waited with Charlie while the ER physician, Dr. Leeds, and a nurse took Bella to an exam room.

"I heard you helped out with Eric," Charlie began somewhat hesitantly. I realized he had spoken with Coach Clapp.

"Yes. Really, it was just handing my dad a few things."

He nodded slowly. "And you were there in the room with Bella, too—during the surgery, I mean?"

"I was."

"And what exactly did you do?" His eyes narrowed at me.

"The same as with Eric, mostly," I lied. He wanted more information, so I added, "I passed my dad a few instruments—I'm familiar with most of them because I've studied a lot of his books and had a bunch of hospital tours. I'm thinking about going pre-med... He asked me to keep track of Bella's pulse and respiration, too, and report them every couple of minutes."

For a few moments I couldn't decipher the expression on Chief Swan's face, and his thoughts were unclear. All I could hear was strong emotion. Finally he placed a tentative hand on my shoulder and said, "Thank you, son. I'm sure that wasn't easy for you."

"No," I replied honestly, "it wasn't at first, but I wanted to help, to make sure she'd be all right, so it got easier after a little while."

We sat quietly for a few more minutes. I listened to the doctor while he examined Bella, proud of my father when I heard the other physician's complimentary thoughts as he evaluated the incision site. Carlisle's surgical skills were impressive even in rough circumstances.

Bella was recovering well. There were no signs of infection or other complications. Charlie's heartbeat finally returned to normal when he received this news.

"We can keep her here tonight if you like," Dr. Leeds said, "but really all she needs now is rest; she should make an excellent recovery."

"I want to go home," Bella said softly yet firmly. "Please Dad, I'm really fine."

"Dr. Cullen told me he'd check on her as soon as he returns from Seattle," the physician said. "And based on what I've seen of his work, she can't do any better than that." He smiled at Bella. "You were very lucky that he was there with you."

Charlie gave Dr. Leeds a stern look. "Are you sure she doesn't need to stay here? I don't want to push things…"

"She's been in excellent hands," the physician replied, his expression and thoughts toward Carlisle full of admiration. "As long as Dr. Cullen keeps an eye on her, I'm sure she'll be fine."

Bella smiled at this news. I knew the last thing she wanted was to be stuck in a hospital, even for one night. Somewhat begrudgingly, Charlie agreed; really, he couldn't deny his little girl anything. So he and I settled her in the back of the cruiser with several pillows, including one for my lap, where she rested her head. Her father wasn't terribly pleased with this arrangement, but he didn't say anything aloud.

The drive back to Forks was fairly quiet. Bella dozed, Charlie stared and glared back at us intermittently, while I was simply content to sit with my hand gently entangled in her hair.

Once we had arrived back at the Swans' house, Charlie realized our minor dilemma. My parents, Alice, and Jasper were still in Seattle (not at the hospital, but rather at a luxury hotel enjoying two romantic suites), so there was no one to drive me home. Charlie didn't want to leave Bella alone, of course, so his only option was to send me off in her truck.

I didn't really care one way or the other. I would be back within the hour, as soon as she was settled upstairs in her room.

"You mind being home all by yourself?" he asked me as he stirred some soup on the stove. Bella was resting on the couch in front of the TV. I had come into the kitchen to get a glass of water for her.

He was thinking how remote our house was, wondering if I would feel nervous there alone. I resisted the urge to grin. "Well," I began rather hesitantly, "it's a little lonely, and something's wrong with our alarm system…"

Charlie huffed a sigh. "You can stay here tonight if you want. The couch isn't all that comfortable, but a young kid like you probably doesn't really care. I'll bet you can sleep anywhere."

I bit back a laugh and forced myself to look quite serious. "Thanks, Chief Swan. I'd really appreciate that. It's been a tough weekend, and I was sort of dreading being alone."

He nodded in sympathy. "I'm really sorry about your brother. Sorry I didn't tell you that earlier. I heard it was a pretty bad break."

"Yes, but Dad knows one of the best specialists in the country, so I'm sure Jasper's in good hands." I tried not to imagine exactly whose little hands he was in at the moment.

The soup was apparently done. Charlie ladled some into a bowl and grabbed a spoon. We took Bella's dinner to her together, earning a warm smile from our favorite girl.

When she said rather reluctantly that she supposed she should go to bed, Charlie permitted me to help her up the stairs but expected me to come back down right away. I did, and he hurried up to tell her good night. I spent a fairly uninteresting hour on the couch with Charlie watching baseball, a very boring sport when played the human way. Then the strain and eventual relief of the past two days caught up with him and he stood, ready for a good night's sleep.

I grabbed an old afghan from the back of the couch and plumped one of the pillows. "Sleep well," I said.

He grumbled something that sounded liked "you too" then made his way up the stairs. I stretched out on the old cushions, one arm beneath my head as I waited for the familiar sound of the Chief's soft snoring. As soon as I heard it I flew noiselessly up the stairs and slipped into Bella's room.

She was asleep, but a tiny line marred her beautiful brow, and her heart rate was slightly elevated. I could tell that she was in some pain. Carefully I pulled back her blankets and slid up her shirt to check her bandage. There was no bleeding, and her intoxicating scent was unaltered. She was simply experiencing normal post-operative discomfort.

I noticed that the bottles of Vicodin and Tylenol she had been given at the hospital were unopened. She was back to her endearingly stubborn self. I rested my palm gently over the incision, hoping my coolness would soothe her pain.

"Sleep my love," I murmured. "I'll be right here."

She sighed in her sleep, a little smile erasing the crease entirely.

School resumed as usual for the seniors on Wednesday. Carlisle wanted Bella to remain at home through the weekend, and Charlie readily agreed. I tried to convince Carlisle and Esme to excuse me from school for the rest of the week so that I could take care of Bella, but they insisted that Alice and I return with the rest of our classmates.

Charlie stayed with Bella all day Wednesday, but when Esme offered to come over on Thursday, he happily accepted. Bella was in her capable hands until Alice and I got out of school. Carlisle stopped by during his breaks, too, so Bella was never left alone.

Jasper was supposedly back at the university, preparing for finals. When Carlisle came to check on Bella on Tuesday morning, he told Charlie that Jasper's fracture was not as serious as he had feared. No surgery would be needed, so Jasper could return to school on crutches. By the time he got back to Forks, he would be in a walking cast… at least while he was out in public.

School was utterly interminable on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Still, I tried to pay attention so that I could help Bella with the work she missed. We spent a little time each afternoon studying. The teachers were quite understanding and sympathetic, permitting her to do a minimal amount of work. As long as she could pass her finals, most other assignments were negligible.

While the school day felt endless, the hours with Bella passed in an instant. I had to leave her each evening when Charlie got home, but of course I returned every night to hold her in my arms as she slept.

We spent Saturday reading together and watching a couple of movies. Charlie was in and out all day, finishing up a case, doing some grocery shopping, and picking up lunch and dinner for Bella.

On Sunday Carlisle accompanied me to the Swans' house. He checked Bella again and told her that she could return to school on Monday. I would have to carry her books and be sure she didn't exert herself, but I didn't mind one bit.

I picked her up on Monday morning, driving slowly and carefully to school. I helped her out of the car and kept my arm around her as we walked into the building. Welcoming thoughts and comments greeted her, and some even seemed to extend to me. For once I found myself smiling at several students who spoke to us.

Our first block of classes flew by. My attention was focused on Bella. I kept track of her heart rate and watched her for any signs of pain or fatigue. She seemed a little tired by lunch time but insisted she would be fine after eating. I escorted her to the cafeteria and filled a tray for her.

We sat at our usual table with Alice, Angela, Ben, and Eric, who had also just returned to school. He was using crutches, but Angela and Ben were helping him.

"Some trip, huh?" he said as soon as we were all seated. He gave a short, ironic laugh.

Bella joined him. "It's the walking wounded table!" she joked.

I saw nothing funny in her words, however. I reached for her hand to enclose it securely in mine. She looked at me, her smile fading at my somber expression. She leaned in to rest her head against my shoulder.

"I'm fine," she said softly. "We all are."

Alice nodded in my direction. We're all going to graduate without any problems. There won't be any more suspicions about us. This really did turn out for the best.

For the best? I shook my head subtly. Bella had been seriously ill and needed surgery. I would hardly refer to that in positive terms. However, I had to admit that Alice did have a point.

I had been very focused on Bella throughout the morning, but now I permitted myself to listen to the many thoughts peppering the lunchroom. There was a difference now. People still stole glances at Alice and me, but the slight unease students had always felt before was gone now. She and I had gone through human tribulations, watching the suffering of those we loved, and now we were perceived in a different way. We weren't quite the high-and-mighty Cullens anymore. We were just two high school seniors who had experienced the foibles inherent to humanity.

I lifted Bella's chin gently and kissed her beautiful mouth. "I love you," I murmured against her soft, fragrant hair.

"Love you, too," she whispered.

I wrapped my arms around her and tucked her head beneath my chin. Bella sighed contentedly against my chest. An ironic smile tugged at my lips as I realized that I was looking forward to every remaining day of high school, to every remaining day with Bella in my arms.